The Politics of Jealousy

by Rich Karlgaard

A couple of days ago I was out on a walk and heard the sound of a small jet
descending. Believe me, if you love airplanes as much as I do, you learn to
distinguish the different noise prints. “That sounds like an old twin radial,
probably a Beech 18,” I will say. Often I am right.

The small jet circling to land in Bermuda Dunes two days ago was probably a CJ1
as judged by the sound, the shape and the T-tail. My heart leaped for joy. I
have always wanted to own a Citation CJ1. It is a slow aircraft as jets go, but
Cessna builds them to perfection. They are safe and easy to fly. I got to fly a
CJ1 from Wichita to Grand Junction a few years ago and made a perfect
feather-light landing.

Alas, my desire to own a CJ1 won’t get it done, and it is highly improbable that
I will ever own a jet. My best shot was back in 2000 when a company I had
co-founded, Garage Technology Ventures, had planned to go public. Darn, we were
so very close to that magical liquidity event! In April we had filed the
requisite S-1 papers with the SEC. Weeks later I would be worth eight figures.

Of course I didn’t see that the IPO market was about to implode. Garage’s
blessed liquidity event never happened. We eventually sold the company for about
$15 million. Because our final venture round had valued Garage at $55 million,
we founders, as common shareholders, got nothing from the sale.

There went the jet.

According to the latest academic thinking, I am supposed to be wracked with
jealousy every time I see a CJ1. Humans are wired to be jealous, reports the
Economist in its year-end issue [http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=12795581].  We would rather settle for $100,000 if our neighbor also makes $100,000 than
take $200,000 if our neighbor makes $300,000.

That’s the current academic fad. Don’t believe it.

Number one, such studies seem an obvious cloak for socialism. Most academics,
and practically all of them who toil in the fields of psychology and
evolutionary biology, lean to the political left. Thus to see studies that lay
the ground for flatter incomes because of hardwired human jealousy are, well,
dubious on the face of it.

Number two, and admittedly this is personal, such studies do not reflect the way
this blogger reacts when he sees another person’s outsized success. When I look
up in the sky and see a Cessna CJ1, I feel absolute joy, not jealousy. I am
thrilled for the person who owns one. If that person happens to be my neighbor,
I am even happier because I might get to ride in it.

I have often wondered what drives some people to the political left and others
to the political right. Birth order apparently plays some role. There are other
factors, too.

But at bottom, I have always suspected that lefties are more prone to suffer
jealousy more acutely. If most lefties were serious about social justice –
always their claim — they would give more time and money to charities. They
don’t, as Nicholas Kristof recently pointed out in his New York Times column,
“Bleeding Heart Tightwads” [http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/21/opinion/21kristof.html].
Lefties give less to charities.

The jealous man looks up in the sky and is irritated to see a CJ1 that he can
never afford. I look at the same CJ1 that I can’t afford and say: Wow, what a
joyous thing that some people can buy these beautiful machines. Else they would
not exist, and the world would be poorer.