In large parts of the oldest civilized region of the world, you will find in nearly every room a pretty blue charm that looks like an eye. It’s in the front entrance of homes, somewhere in every room, on boats, in airports, in restaurants, and built into the designs of everything from wallpaper to grocery bags. It’s on jewelry, wind chimes, and serving plates.
The evil eye looks for success and wishes for its destruction. It is different from jealousy in that sense. It doesn’t desire the wealth or happiness of another. It wants the other to suffer because of the other’s wealth, fame, success, or happiness. People since the ancient world have feared this impulse more than any other. It is more dangerous to persons and society than any natural disaster. It is a greater threat day to day than floods, hurricanes, or wild beasts.
In other words, the concept of the evil eye grows out of a very real conviction that the greatest threat to human flourishing is the malice of human beings who resent success. And that is actually a very keen insight! No wonder it’s had such traction in all religions for so long.
In political theory, this would mean secure property rights. It would mean a legal regime that prohibits the realization of envy. Even if you feel envy in your heart, you can’t use institutional measures to see it enacted.
And yet envy — the evil eye — is the basis of vast amounts of American domestic policy. We tax rich people not because that helps the poor in a material sense but only because it is fun to make the rich suffer. We squeeze middle-class amenities not because it’s good for the social order, but because many organized groups don’t like to see the hoi polloi living well. We block opportunities for business not because that enhances productivity, but because it frustrates the cause of moneymaking.
This is envy at work. It shows up in progressive taxation, of course. And the capital gains tax. And the inheritance tax. Even the sales tax. But it also shows up in monetary policies designed to harm savers and please the debt-ridden classes (especially politicians). It is there in transfer programs that spread as much damage to everyone as possible. It is there is foreign policies that bomb civilized countries, turning them into zones of death and suffering and calling it victory.