Milton Friedman said with passion: “The record of history is absolutely clear that there is no alternative way, so far discovered, of improving the lot of ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activity that is unleashed by the free enterprise system.” American capitalism, as imperfect a system as it is, has made America the “shining city on the hill” where immigrants still stand in line and cross borders to find opportunity.
Those who worked hard to earn their American Dream used to be respected. They were a source of inspiration and jobs for those who aspired to their own success. Americans took pride in being the land of opportunity where anyone could better their position in life.
How then have those who have worked hard to achieve success now become the subject of envy and derision? When did it become acceptable for Americans to embrace candidates who could openly brag about redistributing the wealth of the top 5% of wage earners to subsidize their supporters?
A recent trip to the UK surfaced some clues. In Europe, many hold wealthy in such contempt that vandalism against the rich is growing.
In hopes of providing rich urban Paris commuters an alternative bicycle-rental system to match this age of global warming hysteria, the French have provided 20,600 sturdy bicycles—a low-cost, low-carbon alternative to using cars. In a blow to Parisian civility, 80% of the bicycles have been stolen, trashed or damaged. The stylish bicycles are seen as symbols of the “bobos,” the “bourgeois-bohemès,” the rich and trendy urban class. A sociologist reported in the International Herald Tribune commented: “They stir resentment and covetousness. They are often vandalized in a socially divided Paris by resentful, angry, or anarchic youth.”
At one of my leadership programs in Edinburgh, an international sales manager pointed to a beautiful, silver Porsche in the parking lot, “You don’t see many here anymore. Not because people can’t afford them, but because if you own one, you are likely to have the hood keyed by vandals. They don’t think the rich deserve what they own; they must have taken it from someone else to get to where they are. It’s tragic. I hope it never becomes that way in America. The American Dream isn’t just important to your country; it’s important to the world. In the past, America has been living proof that anyone can better themselves.”