Thou Shalt Not Covet – A New Perspective

Traditionally, we look at the Judeo-Christian commandment “Thou shalt not covet” as an injunction against wanting what other people have. But it can also apply to how what other people have affects the value of our possessions.

“Thou shalt not covet.” This basic part of the Ten Commandments means that we should not crave what other people have. In a day and age where some people have a lot more than we do, it is easy to consume our lives with wanting others’ possessions—the fast and beautiful automobile, the luxurious home, frequent nights out at the finest restaurants, cabins and condominiums in the mountains, and season tickets to professional sporting events are some of the items on my covet list.

But there is a different form of coveting that we don’t often recognize as such. This consists of not wanting other people to have what they have, because their possessions may detract from the value of ours. The problem is compounded in our eyes when our possessions are leveraged to the bursting point with our own mortgages.

It is very common for home owners to wish to limit the kinds of homes that can be built around them. This is often accomplished through zoning laws, which exclude others from building homes around us that would reduce the value of our home. It is fairly common for homeowners to complain to local government when someone plans to bring a mobile or prefabricated home onto the property next door or across the street.

We covet what we think we can change, while we ignore what we can’t. Government is involved in both.

Interestingly when government takes away the value of our homes, we either don’t understand that the process is occurring or we feel impotent to stop it. When government transforms a country lane into a thoroughfare, homes suddenly on the edge of dense traffic lose a great deal of resale value. When government takes homes and properties by eminent domain for non-public purposes or for less than fair-market value, most of its victims feel powerless in the face of the juggernaut. When government policies reduce the standard of living, a sudden glut of homes for sale reduces the value for which we can sell our homes.

When government ‘does it’ to us, we often feel powerless to complain, but when we feel slighted by our neighbors, not only do we covet what they have, we turn to government to ensure the short-term fruits of our coveting. Our coveting enshrines improper government practices, and we become much less neighborly in the process.

The recipe for general reduction and avoidance of coveting contains the following ingredients

  • Living within our means, both as relates to our purchasing power as well as to our real sustenance needs, sharing with others the means that we have left over.
  • Being satisfied with what we have relative to what other people have when they have come by it through lawful means, and pressing for legal remedies when others have acquired possessions illegally
  • Ensuring that government fulfills its proper role, both in the compensation for value lost through takings for public purposes, and in not taking properties for non-public uses
If we’re okay with what other people have acquired fairly, regardless if it is more or less than what we have, and if government contributes to the fairness and predictability of what everyone has, life is a lot more enjoyable among our new-found community of neighbors.


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