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The Two Sides of Envy

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  • Boris Gershman

Abstract

The two sides of envy, destructive and constructive, give rise to qualitatively different equilibria, depending on the economic, institutional, and cultural environment. If investment opportunities are scarce, inequality is high, property rights are poorly protected, and social comparisons are strong, society is likely to be in the "fear equilibrium," in which better endowed agents restrain their efforts to prevent destructive envy of the relatively poor. Otherwise, the standard "keeping up with the Joneses" competition arises, and envy is satisfied through suboptimally high efforts. Economic growth expands the production possibilities frontier and triggers an endogenous transition from one equilibrium to the other causing a qualitative shift in the relationship between envy and economic performance: envy-avoidance behavior with its adverse effect on investment paves the way to creative emulation. From a welfare perspective, better institutions and wealth redistribution that move the society away from the low-output fear equilibrium need not be Pareto improving in the short run, as they unleash the negative consumption externality, but in the long run such policies are likely to increase social welfare due to enhanced productivity growth.

Suggested Citation

  • Boris Gershman, 2012. "The Two Sides of Envy," Working Papers 2012-19, American University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:amu:wpaper:2012-19
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    Cited by:

    1. Gershman, Boris, 2015. "The economic origins of the evil eye belief," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 110(C), pages 119-144.
    2. Yingchao Zhang & Oliver Fabel & Christian Thomann, 2015. "Pay inequity effects on back-office employees’ job performances: the case of a large insurance firm," Central European Journal of Operations Research, Springer;Slovak Society for Operations Research;Hungarian Operational Research Society;Czech Society for Operations Research;Österr. Gesellschaft für Operations Research (ÖGOR);Slovenian Society Informatika - Section for Operational Research;Croatian Operational Research Society, vol. 23(2), pages 421-439, June.
    3. Zeballos, Eliana, 2015. "Getting a Leg Up or Pulling it Down? Interpersonal Comparisons and Destructive Actions: Experimental Evidence from Bolivia," 2015 AAEA & WAEA Joint Annual Meeting, July 26-28, San Francisco, California 205660, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    4. Barnett, Richard & Bhattacharya, Joydeep & Bunzel, Helle, 2016. "The Fight-or-Flight Response to the Joneses," School of Economics Working Paper Series 2016-12, LeBow College of Business, Drexel University.
    5. Boris Gershman, 2016. "Long-Run Development and the New Cultural Economics," Working Papers 2016-06, American University, Department of Economics.
    6. Ahamad, Mazbahul, 2016. "Envious Preferences in Two-sided Matching," 2016 Annual Meeting, July 31-August 2, Boston, Massachusetts 235482, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Economic growth; Envy; Inequality; Property rights; Redistribution;

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • D62 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Externalities
    • D74 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Conflict; Conflict Resolution; Alliances; Revolutions
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General
    • O43 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Institutions and Growth
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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