A great number of the richest among us never finished high school, and many who went to college never managed to graduate. That’s because the rich in this country are chosen not by blood, credentials, education, or services to the establishment. The rich are chosen for performance, and for their relentless desire to serve consumers.
The entrepreneurial knowledge that is the crux of wealth creation has little to do with glamorous work, or with the certified expertise of advanced degrees. Great wealth usually comes from doing what other people consider insufferably boring.
The treacherous intricacies of building codes or garbage routes or software languages or groceries, the mechanics of butchering sheep and pigs or frying and freezing potatoes, the murky lore of petroleum leases or housing deeds, the ways and means of pushing pizzas or insurance policies or hawking hosiery or pet supplies or scrounging for pennies in fast-food unit sales, all of those tasks are deemed tedious and trivial.
In short, our rich – America’s best entrepreneurs – perform work that most others spurn.
Socialist regimes try to guarantee the value of things rather than the ownership of them. Thus socialism tends to destroy the value, which depends on dedicated ownership. In the United States, on the other hand, the government normally guarantees only the right to property, not the worth of it. The belief that wealth consists not in ideas, attitudes, moral codes, and mental disciplines but in definable and static things that can be seized and redistributed is the materialist superstition.
It stultified the works of Marx and other prophets of violence and envy. It betrays every person who seeks to redistribute wealth by coercion. It balks every socialist revolutionary who imagines that by seizing the so-called means of production he can capture the crucial capital of an economy. It baffles nearly all conglomerateurs, who believe they can safely enter new industries by buying rather than by learning them. Capitalist means of production are not land, labor, or capital but minds and hearts.
The wealth of America isn’t an inventory of goods; it’s an organic, living entity, a fragile, pulsing fabric of ideas, expectations, loyalties, moral commitments, visions, and people. To vivisect it for redistribution would eventually kill it. As Mitterrand’s French technocrats found early in the 1980s, the proud new socialist owners of complex systems of wealth soon learn they are administering an industrial corpse rather than a growing corporation.
That is why the single most important economic issue of our time – and one that impacts the poor and middle class alike – will be how we treat the very rich among us.