Envy in the Market Economy: Sin, Fairness, and Spontaneous (Dis)Order

Faith & Economics 61/62 (Spring/Fall 2013): 33-53

23 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2012 Last revised: 25 Jun 2015

See all articles by Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor

Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy

Victor V. Claar

Florida Gulf Coast University

Date Written: November 4, 2013


This paper explores the problem of envy (“sadness at another’s good”) from both theological and economic perspectives. The theological analysis helps show why envy is a perennial feature of human existence and an ongoing problem for ordered and flourishing social life. The economic analysis examines various attempts to come to grips with envy and its implications, showing the complexity of envy’s tractability (or lack thereof), and the resulting complications for attempts to minimize or eliminate envy through public policy initiatives aimed at inequalities resulting from market outcomes. The authors conclude that there are two variables at play in the calculus of envy: our sadness and another’s good. Envy could theoretically be reduced via the destruction of some goods, which often is the unintended result of policy solutions. But a more socially beneficial and morally responsible course of action is to focus on the economic, spiritual, and cultural causes of envy and their corresponding remedies.

Keywords: envy, allocation mechanisms, justice, fairness, economic growth

JEL Classification: A13, D31, D63, H11

Suggested Citation

Ballor, Jordan J. and Claar, Victor V., Envy in the Market Economy: Sin, Fairness, and Spontaneous (Dis)Order (November 4, 2013). Faith & Economics 61/62 (Spring/Fall 2013): 33-53, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2156424 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2156424

Jordan J. Ballor (Contact Author)

Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy ( email )

HOME PAGE: http://crcd.net

Victor V. Claar

Florida Gulf Coast University ( email )

10485 FGCU Blvd S
Ft. Myers, FL 33965-6565
United States
2395907361 (Phone)

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