Envy And Altruism

Kevin Williamson has a fun article on the joy of stardom and the joy many see when stars like Tiger Woods and Allen Iverson fall from grace.  As a Patriot fan we would add Aaron Hernandez as the one who fell the lowest because just couldn’t stop killing people.  Kevin concludes:

And that may be why we love the ritual public denunciation of fallen idols. If we convince ourselves that they are monsters and moral outliers, then we do not have to face the much more terrifying possibility that they are schmucks like us — and that we are schmucks like them.

We have a different take on it.  We do agree that stars are often schmucks like us.  Failure to prepare for retirement hits all classes of folks.  Any individual’s expertise is limited to a very small area.  Being a great retirement planner is unlikely to make you a great basketball player and vice versa.  On the positive side, the failure of retirement planning provides us with a steady stream of live classic rock.  Yet we think our joy in failure of these stars is more about envy.  And envy connects to politics as the left largely practices the politics of envy although the right is not envy free.  Anytime you hear about press bias from the right there is an element of envy in it.  Envy sells.  We admit to envy about our opponents ability to kill the ball in handball.  We hope they envy some part of our game.

Sidebar: The local lawn care company sells envy too.  The truck says, in big, bright, and bold letters: Kick your neighbor’s … grass.  We understand and expect it is well received.  End Sidebar

First, let’s talk about altruism.  Kevin writes about Allen:

Some guardian angel at Reebok saved him from the very worst of it, persuading him to take a modest $800,000-a-year stipend and leave $32 million in a trust fund that he cannot access until he is 55 years old. So he just has to eke out a living on the better part of a million bucks per annum until he gets paid for real.

Without being privy to the transaction we are pretty sure that Allen wanted the money up front.  We also highly doubt that Allen outfoxed the Reebok folks in determining the discount rate for the annuity.  In fact, it looks like he is getting an unimpressive 2.5% ($800,000/$32,000,000) on his investment.  We also think it is safe to say that Allen is way better off with an assured return and not being able touch the trust fund.  So some folks, like the guy at Reebok, do good.

But most of have a combined awe and envy of folks like Tiger, Allen, Aaron and many others.  We saw Jason Day hit a 260 yard, uphill, three wood absolutely on the pin when he won the PGA.  It was awe inspiring and he didn’t look like he swung hard.  We have a strange combination of envy and worship of these amazing beings that when they fail many of us feel good about ourselves.  As we said previously, (you can look it up) the only time Jordan Speith understood our golf game was when he hit the second shot (third including the penalty) at the 12th at The Masters and had the passing hope that he had hit so bad that it wouldn’t make it to the water.  We have had that joy he missed.

So we envy their talent as much as we love it.  When they fail somehow we succeed and that’s why the stories of abuse and failure are so popular.  We enjoy their epic accomplishment and we might enjoy their epic failures even more.  It works in politics, advertising, and the media.  It doesn’t mean that everyone is consumed with envy as Reebok guy showed but betting against envy is like betting against the market.  It doesn’t work very often.


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