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There are, of course, passing identifications on which many can agree, but there is no fundamental, universal, abstract definition on which all would and must converge. What we call “vice” is simply some act probably harmful to our own interests. These acts are all but invariably committed by other people, who see them, naturally enough, in a rather different light, as we might see them if we wished to commit them ourselves.

To deliver the distant, probable common good we must tolerate the present and certainly irritating success of others, their viciousness as we feel tempted to call it; we must exercise forbearance at the spectacle of a person becoming richer than ourselves, and often for no reason that we can see other than chance, that this person gambled and won. In pursuit of this tolerance we must insist that all individuals should have the freedom to create goods and services and trade these with any other person, without interference from another party. We know that this freedom will not in practice be quite unlimited, since interests inevitably come into conflict, but the principle is an ideal to which we can aspire, compromising that purity as needs must. And when, as a result of these conditions, some people succeed and we do not, we must suppress feelings of resentment.

This is a testing act, and psychologically demanding. Relatively successful people and their immediate descendants who enjoy the fruit of their insight and luck are all around us and little different from ourselves. Worse, they do not always wear their wealth with tact and respect for our sensitivities. They may even revel in their advantage, attributing it all to personal superiority and none to good fortune. Unsurprisingly, we bridle. But in return for a little more absolute wealth now, and a much ampler reward to the interests of our own descendants in the longer term, we must reason away our spiteful instincts.

It has often been claimed by redistributionists that in the interests of the common good the rich must make sacrifices, usually through progressive taxation. However, the evidence suggests that the sacrifice necessary is very general. In order to create rich societies that can withstand disaster and attack, we must accept the dissatisfaction of living with wealth gradients. For the sake of robust societies, for the common good, we have to suppress our malicious, selfish feelings towards the more successful, knowing that this tolerance of success is essential if the minds of the entire population, including our own, are to be engaged and brought to bear on the problems at hand, and great wealth generated for the unknown problems of the future. And conversely we must all exercise restraint in whatever advantage we can attain. Spite is certainly a short-sighted malice; but sneering victors should not be surprised if the patience of their neighbours quickly wears thin. Greed is not good, not good for the rest of us in the short term; and it is puerile as well as inaccurate to suggest that it is so.

Modern economics has not helped here. Indeed, it has done us all an immense disservice by arguing that sustained growth and high levels of wealth are dependent only on the self-seeking of superior wealth creators, and that the proper reaction of the surrounding and inferior population is to be bought off in the short run with a share of the victor’s spoils. It should be no wonder that people do not and will not accept such disgusting and humiliating terms.
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Lawrence James
July 7th, 2018
5:07 PM
'Laws that restrain an individual's adventures' . . . eg the outlawing of the slave trade, the banning of the adulteration of food and legislation which insists upon safety in mines and factories. Victorian laws framed in the knowledge that adventurous capitalists could never be trusted.

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