The idea that if you're rich then you're smarter/more hard working/more righteous than everyone else has a long history in America that begins well before Horatio Alger. From Cotton Mather, to Ben Franklin, to Joseph Smith (who wrote a book about two ancient American civilizations which were rewarded with wealth for righteousness, although wealth proves to be their undoing as well), all the way to Ayn Rand and beyond, wealth has been taken as an indicator of virtue.

The funny thing is that, in Ayn Rand (who has nearly an entire shelf devoted to her at my local Borders), this idea has been taken so far as to become essentially an inversion of communism. While Lenin thought that the bourgoisie were parasites taking wealth from the workers who really produced it, Rand and her philosophical descendants take the opposite view, dissected by Jonathan Chait in The New Republic:

The idea is that the United States is divided into two classes--the hard-working productive elite, and the indolent masses leeching off their labor by means of confiscatory taxes and transfer programs.

You can find iterations of this worldview and this moral judgment everywhere on the right. Consider a few samples of the rhetoric. In an op-ed piece last spring, Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, called for conservatives to wage a "culture war" over capitalism. "Social Democrats are working to create a society where the majority are net recipients of the ‘sharing economy,' " he wrote. "Advocates of free enterprise . . . have to declare that it is a moral issue to confiscate more income from the minority simply because the government can." Brooks identified the constituency for his beliefs as "the people who were doing the important things right--and who are now watching elected politicians reward those who did the important things wrong." Senator Jim DeMint echoed this analysis when he lamented that "there are two Americas but not the kind John Edwards was talking about. It's not so much the haves and the have-nots. It's those who are paying for government and those who are getting government."

I guess I'm one of those who decided to do important things wrong - I chose a career based on my interests instead of how much money I can make. I'm clearly not as smart or productive as our eminent Congressmen from South Carolina or those AIG employees getting 6-figure bonuses. Neither is my mother, for that matter, who, with a degree in microbiology, chose to go on to become a nurse. She's lived frugally her entire life and is doing ok in her retirement, but without Social Security and Medicare (or some equivalent program) to help her out, she'd be completely screwed.

Most of us are fine with some form of capitalism, and we recognize that some careers are going to pay off more than others - a teacher is never going to make as much as a hedge fund manager. Fine. I'm not trying to stoke class war. But let's drop this delusional belief that, as Chait puts it, "Donald Trump contributes more to society than a thousand teachers, nurses, or police officers."

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