Ed Driscoll

P.J. O'Rourke On The Tenth Commandment

Here’s a fun 1997 essay on Cato’s Website by P.J. O’Rourke on the dangers of redistributionism:

The Bible might seem to be a strange place to be doing economic research, but I have been thinking, from a political economy point of view, about the Tenth Commandment. Now the first nine commandments concern theological principles–thou shall not steal and kill and so forth. Fair enough. Then there’s the Tenth Commandment: “Thou shall not covet they neighbor’s wife. Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s house, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.” I mean, here are God’s basic rules for how we should live, a very brief list of sacred obligations and solemn moral precepts, and right at the end of it is: “Don’t envy your buddy his cow.” What is that doing there? Why would God, with just 10 things to tell Moses, choose jealousy about the stuff the guy next door has? Well, think about how important to the well-being of a community that commandment actually is. What that commandment says is that if you want a donkey, if you want a pot roast, if you want a cleaning lady, don’t bitch about it, go get your own!

The Bible might seem to be a strange place to be doing economic research, but I have been thinking, from a political economy point of view, about the Tenth Commandment. Now the first nine commandments concern theological principles–thou shall not steal and kill and so forth. Fair enough. Then there’s the Tenth Commandment: “Thou shall not covet they neighbor’s wife. Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s house, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.” I mean, here are God’s basic rules for how we should live, a very brief list of sacred obligations and solemn moral precepts, and right at the end of it is: “Don’t envy your buddy his cow.” What is that doing there? Why would God, with just 10 things to tell Moses, choose jealousy about the stuff the guy next door has? Well, think about how important to the well-being of a community that commandment actually is. What that commandment says is that if you want a donkey, if you want a pot roast, if you want a cleaning lady, don’t bitch about it, go get your own!

The Tenth Commandment sends a message to socialists, to collectivists, to people who believe that wealth is best obtained by redistribution, and that message is clear and concise: Go to hell! It’s as simple as that.

All of which ties into the lead essay on Cato’s Unbound blog: “When Does Inequality Matter?”