The envy-barrier and economic inequality

29 Pages Posted: 3 Feb 2023 Last revised: 13 Apr 2023

See all articles by Simone Sarti

Simone Sarti

University of Turin - Department of Economics and Statistics

Date Written: December 14, 2022


Envy is a universal painful emotion, whose economic effects are highly significant, although often neglected. Several anthropological studies have shown how it can create a significant barrier to the evolution of many poor populations, as it causes the formation of a set of institutions that impede economic development. A popular vision describes economic inequality as a variable that increases the intensity of envy in a community. Consequently, wealth redistribution is proposed as a means of leading such communities out of the cage of norms.

The article aims to demonstrate that this vision is incorrect, by gathering and explaining the arguments that contradict it. It presents theoretical reasons collected from several scientific fields. Empirical data on envy are, unfortunately, hardly obtainable. However, empirical findings acquired by studying the relationship between inequality and some different variables, which are related to envy but more accurately measurable, provide considerable evidence that the commonly proposed policy is erroneous. To break the envy-barrier and contrast the harmful institutions that inhibit growth, policymakers should not worry about the degree of inequality, which has little to do with envy. An element that deserves attention is, instead, the belief in a zero-sum game.

Suggested Citation

Sarti, Simone, The envy-barrier and economic inequality (December 14, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Simone Sarti (Contact Author)

University of Turin - Department of Economics and Statistics ( email )

Lungo Dora Siena 100
Torino, 10153

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