We hate big business. We hate the wealthy. We hate overachievers. Why? It doesn’t make any sense to me. The amount of contempt I’ve seen recently towards those who are successful is astonishing. Is it part of our society that wishes to bring everyone back to the average? More importantly, could this increasing contempt sabotage our economy? I think quite possibly (and might have already damaged it).
Let’s start with the wealthy. We can include big business in this examination as well since it generates a fair bit of our nation’s wealth and wealthy. Granted there are some in the upper income strata who reside there merely because of family wealth, but a majority of our nation’s most wealthy are first generation success stories. As the book The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy notes, fewer than 20 percent of America’s millionaires inherited 10 percent or more of their wealth, nearly half never received any college tuition from their parents or other relatives, and more than half never received as much as $1 in inheritance.
But, they’re still hated. Chad Lapa agrees,
For some unknown reason we are taught either as kids, or though the left wing media, that people wealthy and successful are born with some special gene that products their success. Due to this unfair power they possess over us, they should be punished and forced to pay crazy high tax rates so their wealth can be re-distributed to the “less fortunate”. [sic]
While I wouldn’t say that people are taught by “the left wing media,” I do agree that “progressive” taxes are the average person’s way of redistributing wealth and, in effect, “punishing” the wealthy. However, the negative repercussions of redistributing wealth are staggering. Frankly, wealth creation is not a zero sum game. Just because one person has it, doesn’t mean another won’t or that it was hostilely taken from another party.
Similarly, big business is often decried as evil. I don’t deny that there is corruption in some companies (see: short term vs. long term). However, they also contribute a majority of our nations productivity gains (read: more wealth) and generate much of our nation’s wealth. By nature, they are more efficient (generally speaking and when they aren’t regulated into inefficiency) and employ a large percentage of the US workforce. Don’t read this to mean I don’t like small/medium businesses or that I believe bigger is better in the business world. My point is that large corporations aren’t inherently evil. Plus, they produce people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett who then donate nearly $100 billion back to the world.
But, let’s think smaller. How many smart kids (“overachievers”) are teased and bullied everyday in school? Why do we have terms like nerd, geek, and dweeb? In my experience, people have been bold enough to tell me to my face that they hope I fail. Or, in the web development world, what about the successful 37signals (software company)? Many people laud them, but with each new, successful offering more and more contempt is directed towards them (for more on this: read their blog about any given day).
So, everyone, when did we start to hate success? Is it human nature?