“Middle-class society is being strained to the breaking point not, as Marx predicted, by ever-increasing misery but by ever-increasing affluence.” — Eric Hoffer
“Adversity makes men, and prosperity makes monsters.” — Victor Hugo
It goes without saying that it’s better to be rich than poor. However, that doesn’t mean that affluence doesn’t have its own perils. People instinctively recognize this on a personal level. That’s why fabulously wealthy villains are a staple of TV and movies. It’s why we mock spoiled, rich celebrities like Meghan McCain, Paris Hilton, and Lindsay Lohan. It’s why many Americans, fairly or in most cases unfairly, tend to assume that the rich don’t understand what life is like for ordinary Americans. Of course, this bring to mind the following question: Why is it that so many Americans can recognize this when they see it in front of them with individuals, but fail to see the same things happening on a national level?
1) We’re forgetting how we got rich in the first place.
America is like a family that inherited a profitable business from a rich relative. Unfortunately, only some of the family members understand how the business works, while most of the rest just see a big cash machine that’s going to keep printing out money forever. This is not how the world works with companies or with nations.
Most Americans have no clue how exceptional the nation we live in is compared to the rest of the world. Depending on which source you use, America possesses somewhere between the 6th and 8th highest per capita income of any nation in the world. The nations ahead of us are all tiny little countries that range from under 100,000 people to a population of roughly 5.5 million. (Admittedly Canada, which benefits from trade with us and having us defend them militarily, has almost caught up). These tiny countries get by on tourism, natural resources, or small, highly educated populaces, and none of them could even come close to matching the success in a nation like ours which has almost 312 million people.
This country has been such an economic success for a number of reasons, including geographic isolation from Europe during its world wars, mineral resources, a Puritan work ethic, and lack of corruption — along with small government, low taxes, minimal regulations, a comparably small social safety net, and a pro-business atmosphere. Many of the factors enabling this country to grow so successful are eroding away, year after year, and that is sapping the vitality of our economy. Our “cash machine” slows down because so many Americans have no idea how to maintain it.