American Economics for Europeans

I’m not an economist, and not even all that interested in economic theory, but in living in the USA and listening to others, I’ve distilled our economy’s central drivers into three passions — three drivers. In our travels around the world and getting to know those who come from different economic systems, sometimes we are asked how Americans can be the way they are. Sometimes, frankly, we come off as heartless and driven workaholics. By and large, we’re neither.

These three passions are what’s at work behind and through it all, and without these the American falls behind. I have no desire here to defend these drivers, and I’m happy to entertain comments for and against, and I’m also keen on having others reframe our “drivers.”

What are the major drivers for American economics? What are its passions? What are its limitations and problems?

But this is how I see it:

First, ambition. America’s economy is shaped by and for the ambitious. If you want it, go get it. If you don’t want it, you won’t get it. One of the finest things I’ve read about America is Joseph Epstein’s Ambition: The Secret Passion. The book is not just about economic, but about “ambition” itself, but his study is one of the few on this topic — and it is quintessentially American. Ambition drives our belief in economic mobility (an idea suggested to me by Michael Kruse).

Second, ownership. What the American earns, the American keeps and owns and doesn’t want to surrender except by choice. The original Boston tea party was an assault on this fundamental American belief — that what the American has the ambition for, that the ambition that drives to an act of labor, and what that ambition has generated by way of produce or capital, is the American’s to keep. Sharing with others is by choice. And again, at work here is our belief in freedom (which also was suggested to me by Michael when he read this post for me).

Third, personal responsibility. If those first two drivers don’t get to you, this one might: Americans believe its citizens are responsible for themselves. They are to find work and do the work and they aren’t to expect others to take care of them. The American impulse is to see the poor as lazy.

Let me say it again, I’m not defending these drivers. Nor am I suggesting that Americans don’t think there should be government checks and balances against some of these three running out of control. What I am saying is that these three drive how Americans think about money and possessions. And I’m not saying any of these is Christian or biblical. I’m just saying that this is what drives our system. I could be wrong.

Can I say this yet one more way: Please don’t even try to read my politics through this sketch.

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  • Andy H

    Interesting post, Scot. You wouldn’t be trying to stir things up, would you? Three questions:
    1. How universally do you think these values are held in America? I can see them at work among the relatively affluent, but what about the poor?
    2. From your reference to “our belief in freedom” in the context of sharing with others, would it be fair to say that this ‘freedom’ is really about the freedom not to share?
    3. And the big question – how do you think these values (or more particularly this combination of values) intersects with the values of the Gospel and the Kingdom?
    I don’t have a hidden agenda in asking this, and I’m not trying to set you up – honestly!

  • James Petticrew

    Thought this was an interesting reflection on the impact of American economics by Roger Olson

  • N.T. Wright’s latest book- on virtue- and his underscoring of character come to mind here. Economic theories are important, and we need to try to work them out within a theological grid to be sure.

    I think there tends to be an either/or mentality which says you can’t have what is outlined in this post along with some sense of responsibility to all of society. Does that need to be mandated? I think so to some extent. But it’s the will of the people. And what is in the American psyche is not easily changed.

  • Peter

    Also writing as a non-economist, thank you for turning this soil over for us: there may be something fruitful to grow from it! I think that the American economic mindset is pretty well described with these three drivers. I must admit that I do interpret the first two drivers as forces for good that protect individuals, communities and perhaps even this nation from poverty. The problem with the third driver is that a) you are correct in how you describe it; b) it is sometimes true that people are lazy and suffer the consequences of that; and c) poverty itself is much more complex than that and there are many examples of state and non-state efforts to relieve poverty that have been very ineffective, leading most to believe that it’s a complicated issue and I would have to agree.

  • smcknight

    AndyH, et al,

    The sensibility of caring for others, charity etc, is written into the American fabric more through volunteerism than through taxation, though since mid20th Century and on it has become increasingly seen as the government’s job. But the implication of assigning that task to the government requires more taxes, and that grates the nerves for many (if not most). Hence, we have expectations but don’t want to do what it takes. I’m not sure there’s another way of saying it better.

    How widespread? It’s our ethos and our mode of being and it’s written into the pages of our history. But, one can’t speak for this being universal in the USA since many have needed governmental assistance and, frankly, our lack of checks and balances have at times created an almost dependence on the government for some.

    I get what you mean by affluent vs. poor here, but I think it is more middle class and affluent than anything else. The Tea Party, which is making some of Thomas Paine’s themes more prominent than they have been in years, is not really an affluent society group but a working class, middle class group.

    The “freedom” point: well, it can be looked at in either good or bad directions. Yes, Americans want to choose to whom they give their money rather than to have the Feds tell us to give our money. So, the resistance to taxation is an expression of freedom not to … and there are many today, though I doubt a majority, who want to see charitable actions to be given back to the person and to the local community and removed from the purview and control of the Feds.

    On intersection with the gospel, now you’re meddling! It is a mistake for Christians to trust in the government to care for others; Christians ought to have the compassion to care enough for others that they voluntarily choose to help others. So, the question for the Christian is not “if” but “how” and “how is this done best?”

    I believe followers of Jesus ought to be leaders in these areas. Local churches ought to be beachheads of compassion and justice for that local community. Christians ought not to be the ones who think poverty means, tout simple, laziness. Christians ought to be sensitive to systemic hermeneutics, but instead of being blamers they ought to be restorers.

    But I’m not naive. There aren’t enough Christians like this to solve the problems or meet the needs, so Christians ought to be able to make public appeals to Americans to consider the needs of others. That means I would support a mixture of faith-based compassion [and I’m happy to tell you that our church, Willow Creek, is a leader in these matters] and government-based assistance. But government-based assistance needs to be managed better and it needs to be remedial and temporary. We have a tendency to think that giving money solves problems.

    The single-most important element in solving poverty in the USA is the creation of jobs, but that has to occur alongside immediate and urgent help of those in need. I don’t believe we are doing enough to create jobs. Obama has had only two years but his focus on health care has eclipsed his concern with job creation too much. That is why the vote of Nov 2 happened as it did.

    Sheesh, this was a long response. Sorry.

  • Peter

    Yes, it was a long response, but a well articulated one. It reminds me of “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. Although I understand the need for government intervention in these matters, I think the mustard seed principle must not be forgotten. No one, government or NGO, has ever done this well if measured by effectiveness, and particularly if measured by efficiency, but where there has been effectiveness it’s been SMALL and personal, more extravagant than efficient (which might be a kingdom principle, don’t you think?).

  • Danny

    Scot, Joe and Joan should HOPE that the American economy looks like the European economy:

    (From Reuters:)

    In these days of renewed gloom about the future of Europe, a quick test is in order. Who has the world’s biggest economy? A) The United States B) China/Asia C) Europe? Who has the most Fortune 500 companies? A) The United States B) China C) Europe. Who attracts most U.S. investment? A) Europe B) China C) Asia.

    The correct answer in each case is Europe, short for the 27-member European Union (EU), a region with 500 million citizens. They produce an economy almost as large as the United States and China combined but have, so far, largely failed to make much of a dent in American perceptions that theirs is a collection of cradle-to-grave nanny states doomed to be left behind in a 21st century that will belong to China.

    So where is the best place to live? For the past 30 years, a U.S.-based magazine, International Living, has compiled a quality-of-life index based on cost of living, culture and leisure, economy, environment, freedom, health, infrastructure, safety and climate. France tops the list for the fifth year running. The United States comes in 7th.

  • Diane

    A lovely post. I largely agree with you, especially on ambition as a driver, and on the need for job creation. In a country driven by ambition, people need the jobs that will help forward their ambitions or for other to have the jobs, and hence income, to support their entrepreneurial activities, be it book writing or restaurant owning.

    We tend to condemn the poor as lazy but not those who inherited their wealth yet are doing nothing. I do think we have a problem with overly-admiring wealth, so that, in a society run by ambition, people want more and more and more, to excess.

    As for the work ethic, John Woolman, the Quaker abolitionist, was very hard working but also suffered from a weak constitution, and so had compassion for those who perhaps were condemned as lazy by the high energy people. He feared, on a mission trip to the Indians, that he might be enslaved (as the Indians were uprising) by a physically robust master who would label his physical limitations laziness and work him to death.

  • Peter

    Interesting contribution from Danny highlights the contrast between American ambition and the European perception of the role of the State in caring for the citizen. See the contrast again between French citizens rioting because of a proposed delay in the retirement age vs. American citizens demonstrating against government’s attempts to “care for them” in ways that they haven’t asked to be helped.

  • Andy #1

    I’d echo much of what Scot wrote. I don’t know that you can say that any value is universally subscribed to in America. But in the popular mythos is the idea that America is the land of opportunity. Anyone can make it to the top. Thus, if I’m a working class person, I’m not someone in poverty. I’m someone on my way to being one of those people who achieve the American dream. Therefore, my vote is based less on my current economic condition and more on who I aspire to be. So there are wide swathes of lower to middle class people who oppose many poverty programs and expansive government. This will block their attainment (and their neighbor’s attainment) of the American dream.

    Going back to Alexis de Tocqueville writing in the 1830s coming up to the present, social commentators have always been struck by the high levels of volunteerism and personal contributions to charity (either directly to others or through institutions.) It is also interesting to note those who attend worship weekly (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, whatever) volunteer and give at much higher rates than those that don’t … and to causes other than just their church. The uncharacteristically high religious involvement in America compared to most of Europe plays a role in the ethos.

    The American formative experience was one of relatively isolated communities having to build their lives in the absence of larger societal structure. You expected everyone to take care of themselves but you also supported each other and came to each other’s aid. In such communities you could neither tolerate excessive “slackers” nor expect to make it entirely on your own. So also in the mythos is that “our community takes care of its own.”

    My great grandfather, Carl Kruse, migrated to Nebraska from Denmark in 1880. His father had been a member of the Danish Parliament. Carl had a pretty respectable comfortable life if he wanted to keep it. But he was the youngest of eight children and wanted to farm. There was little land to be inherited our bought so he migrated. He labored in breweries in Omaha and established an 160 acre tree claim in central Nebraska (plant forty acres of trees on the 160 acres and live on the land a few days out of the year, and after five years, the land was yours). After getting his land, he built and lived in a sod house during the 1890s. It was a fairly lonely existence but he relied on the community of other homesteaders for survival. I could tell you of other ancestors who migrated westward from New England and from North Carolina over the past two or three centuries. These stories are the quintessential American narrative.

    The ancestors of most Americans came here because of oppression in their place of origin or for better opportunities here. There was a great sense of egalitarianism giving many a better chance. You had the opportunity go wherever your dreams and ambitions could take you.

    In the Twentieth Century we have the emergence and competition of other narratives in response to the incredible inequalities in wealth brought on by the industrial revolution and the rise of corporations … really from about the 1890s on. But the traditional narrative still has strong pull.

    Two nights ago, the new Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, was giving his victory speech. When expressing his gratitude, he began describing his working class background and how he done menial jobs, never dreaming he might one day be here. He choked up and shed tears as he tried to recount his narrative. It was a tug at the American heart strings moment. It is a narrative the Tea Party types strongly resonate with. They symbolically see the world the progressives are trying to create as a European (i.e., that world their ancestors escaped) corruption of the American Dream. Not saying that’s fair or entirely accurate but I think it gets to the gut level response.

    Now we all know that everyone can’t make it to the top but the economic mobility up and down the economic ladder in America is significantly higher to the point that some do make it big. And that seems sufficient to keep the mythos alive.

  • #5, @smcknight wrote: “our lack of checks and balances have at times created an almost dependence on the government for some.… I get what you mean by affluent vs. poor here, but I think it is more middle class and affluent than anything else. The Tea Party, which is making some of Thomas Paine’s themes more prominent than they have been in years…”

    But in our 21st century technologically advanced society, we’re all dependent upon government — the edifices and structure and just about all core functions and every advance post WWII is directly due to government. Our power, communications infrastructure, the internet… on top of the social constructs (justice system) that enable and empower…

    Second, equating the Tea Party with Thomas Paine is a mighty stretch — Paine proffered progressive ideas like social security and railed against aristocracy, unlike the Tea Party which is an “arm” and manifestation of aristocratic interests (i.e., Fox News foreign billionaire ownership, Koch brothers, etc.…).

    #10, @Michael W. Kruse

    May have been true in the past, but today, U.S. ranks poorly on social mobility compared to those other developed (European) nations.

    And both comments really miss that the U.S. middle class was created by government act — while industrialization and advancing technology created wealth, prior to FDR and New Deal, there really was no sizable middle class in America.

  • Ben Wheaton


    The “European” economy is larger than the American economy because of population alone; per capita the American economy is larger.

  • MD

    1) How does “ambition” relate to the “the work of our hands?”
    2) How does “ownership” relate to “stewardship?”
    2) How does “personal responsibility” relate to “accountability?”

  • RobS

    One thing I wonder… do the ideals that seem to be prevalant in America either promote or discourage the people to be more (or less) receptive to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

    Or do we find in other European countries that people are more/less receptive to Jesus Christ because of the ideals or role of government in society? The role of government only being determined by the passions and economic drivers of those socieities.

    There still remains 100s of years of culture, acceptance, rejection, and social structure that drive these issues all together — but it’s all quite interesting.

  • “… Tea Party which is an “arm” and manifestation of aristocratic interests (i.e., Fox News foreign billionaire ownership, Koch brothers, etc.…).”

    I was watching a CNBC interview with a Wall Street beat reporter about the impact of the Tea Party on Large Corporations, particularly Wall Street. The interviewer was wanting to know why we have heard so little one, one way or the other, from big corporations.

    While there are aspects that big corps like about the T. P., the interviewer pointed to the Tea Party’s anger over the corporate bailouts. In other words, the T. P. may be a threat to their corporate welfare. The financial regulation that the Dems just passed was relatively tame compared to the rhetoric surrounding it. The Wall Street firms believe they may be able to manage the regulation with the Dems. Not so sure with the T. P. The reporter said he thinks it likely that the Wall Street firms are going to side with Dems and Obama over the next two years. Probably so for many big corps.

    It is a myth that Dems are the party of the people and GOP the party of big business. In many industries, regulation creates barriers to entering the industry. That means less competition. So big corps welcome regulation that they can influence to their favor. Thus, Dems and regulation are seen as allies in many industries. Furthermore, Reps find their base with middle to upper-middle class voters, not the corporate elite. It is hard to be precise, and it varies by industry, but the majority of big corp CEOS are Dems and the foundations of big corps and CEOS give more to progressive causes.

    Yes, any time a populist movement arises, somebody with power and money is going to find themselves in alignment the movement. There is always a dance between the populists and the interests that would like to co-opt or influence the movement. That does not mean a movement was manufactured by those interests. But my bigger point would be that to the degree that Darth Murdoch, the Koch’s, and others swayed voters, they did so through appeal to the mythos I described.

  • Robin


    This post is somewhat confusing for me. Economics is economics, whether it is in America or China or England. All other things equal people would rather have more of most goods than less, they would rather have a diverse mixture of goods, etc. The only thing that makes America unique is the combination of historical, institutional, and cultural factors that affect the strength of particular desires.

    We could start with social welfare systems, since that seems to make us look selfish, etc. Why do countries in Europe embrace higher taxes and more generous benefits? Just off the top of my head (1) they have relatively homogenous populations so your taxes benefit people with your skin color (2) they were influenced very early by the socialistic thinkers (3) they are used to being under heirarchical authority and quite comfortable with government dictating things that we wouldn’t (It isn’t just historical accident that people who didn’t like authority came to the new world) (4) they have parliamentary governments that are more efficient and less corrupt so they can be more confident that taxes will provide genuine goods and not just line Senators pockets (5) In many countries the institution we consider responsible for safety nets (the church) is intertwined with the state, so that there is little difference between private and public provision (6) Europe was in shambles following the Great Wars and private provision of services would have been next to impossible, etc.

    That is just off the top of my head. All I’m trying to say is that economic behavior is the same around the world, it is just that some cultures have developed different preferences for work, leisure, public benefits, taxation, etc. due mostly to their historical, religious, and institutional backgrounds.

    Compared to almost every other nation on the earth we are a pecuilar peoples. We all (with the native american exception) got here because someone in our gene pool was either fleeing religious persecution, a criminal, escaping incredible poverty, escaping communism and political persecution, or simply pursuing advanced education.

    And all the people in Europe, etc. that have different economic preferences are still populated by the descendents of the people that persecutued our religious ancestors, shipped our criminal ancestors to penal colonies, were wealthy while our ancestors starved, or politically persecuted our ancestors.

    Their ancestors were content (or at least unable to escape) that history; our ancestors fled it. Given all of this it shouldn’t be surprising that we have very different values that manifest themselves in our religious, economic, and political decisions.

  • Robin

    I guess the point of my previous comment is that it really isn’t useful to discuss “American Economics”

    The root issue is why do Americans have such different preferences for all kinds of things than the rest of the world.

    When this recession started the stimulus was promised to keep unemployment below 8% and now that it sits around 9.5% we feel like our world has collapsed. Since 1983 in France the average unemployment rate has been 9.5% and I can only find 2 or 3 year where it was below 8%. Do they get worked up about unemployment? Does it make them feel like their economy has collapsed?

    No, 9.5% unemployment is normal and expected (I think we only feel safe when it is below 6%), but if you tell them they will have to work until age 62 to get pension benefits, they’ll burn cars in the streets (hyperbolic).

    Those aren’t differences in economics, those are vast differences in culture and history and preferences.

  • James Petticrew

    “And all the people in Europe, etc. that have different economic preferences are still populated by the descendants of the people that persecuted our religious ancestors, shipped our criminal ancestors to penal colonies, were wealthy while our ancestors starved, or politically persecuted our ancestors.” …. what kind of understanding of history is this? There are lots of people here who are the descendants of people who were persecuted and decided to stay not because they couldn’t escape to the promised land across the ocean but because they wanted to build a better society here and by and large they succeeded.
    I am sure you are not trying to suggest that the people in the States are the descendants of all the “nice people” while those of us left in Europe are descendent of all the nasty persecutors or of those without the ability or intelligence to escape but that’s how it reads.
    You are right our national histories have shaped how we look at economics etc but lets not be simplistic in that understanding of history

  • America’s economy is shaped by and for the ambitious. If you want it, go get it. If you don’t want it, you won’t get it.

    I’ve been seeing a corollary to this come up quite a bit, and I find it quite pernicious.

    “If someone else has something you wanted, they therefore must have wanted it more than you did”

    While I don’t want to diminish the reality of ambition playing a part in competition for resources, this always angers me, because it fails to recognize any role that other factors (for example, economic or social status) may play into the acquisition of resources.

    A person already wealthy needs to make very little sacrifice at all to get a hamburger, but that doesn’t mean the poor person doesn’t want the hamburger more than the wealthy person who actually manages to get one.

  • #15, @Michael W Kruse wrote: “It is a myth that Dems are the party of the people and GOP the party of big business. In many industries, regulation creates barriers to entering the industry. That means less competition. So big corps welcome regulation that they can influence to their favor. Thus, Dems and regulation are seen as allies in many industries. Furthermore, Reps find their base with middle to upper-middle class voters, not the corporate elite. It is hard to be precise, and it varies by industry, but the majority of big corp CEOS are Dems and the foundations of big corps and CEOS give more to progressive causes.”

    If speaking in “absolutes”, of course the Democrats compete for those corporate dollars and lobbyist influence has reaching tentacles. But relatively speaking, FIRE (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) business sectors are predominately Republican. But you’re speaking “in the abstract”, and fails to do proper justice to political demographics.

    Just peruse the election result exit polling — liberal base is primarily comprised of low income, minority, and above average educated, urban “information” workers. The MBA crowd overwhelmingly tilts Republican.

    You are correct that it’s not all “big business” — the tech sector, for example is heavy Democratic now, mainly due to the anti-science GOP screeds and xenophobic sentiment of most of the conservative leadership.

  • Robin

    James Pettigrew,

    I’m not really trying to set up an us vs. them mentality, I just want to show very clearly that the groups of people that left Europe are significant;y different than the groups that stayed.

    In England for example, the first big chunk that left were explicitly escaping religious persecution and the ones that didn’t leave either got killed, endured the persecution, were the persecutors, or were bystanders. Apart from value judgements, that tells me that the people that fled were different from the people that didn’t flee.

    When I think about the different waves of immigration, the same story holds. Some Irish fled during the potato famine and some didn’t; I think there were probably differences between the 2 groups. Heck, even once they got to America, Virginia had an inheritance system that guaranteed the majority of the estate to the firstborn son, so most of the secondborn sons either went into trades or moved to places where they could start their own estate. There was an unusually high proportion of secondborn sons among the early Kentucky settlers.

  • @Naum,

    What is your source for the statement that the tech sector is heavily Democratic? Google aside, the tech sector is largely regarded as being apolitical.

    Either way, by the same token, you can say that the “MBA crowd” is heavily Republican due to the anti-economic Democratic screeds. Asserting that we can create green jobs by regulating carbon is the economic equivalent of saying the Earth is flat because the stars are up in the air.

  • Timothy

    One difference between US and the Old World is the fear of failure. We in the Old World have tended to fear it far more but US has a great tradition of entrepreneurs failing, dusting themselves off and getting back into the fray. The bankruptcy laws may have helped here.
    The issue of personal responsibility is interesting because I feel this is one of the biggest problems of UK. Whether this is a consequence of the welfare state I do not know nor am I clear how you could demonstrate this. But I do feel that failure here is part of the British failure economically.
    One might also ask that if the three drivers cited by Scot have been so successful, and despite current problems they have, what has gone wrong now? Has one of the drivers fallen out? Has some other thing put a stick in the spokes?

  • #22, @kevin s wrote: “…anti-economic Democratic screeds.”

    REALITY: The numbers tell a different story. Especially over time. In the past ~30 years, economic performance was significantly greater under Democratic administrations than Republican administrations.

    While I would proffer that both sides cling to flawed economic models (one is just more regressive and ill advised) that no longer are relevant for our 21st century society, the shibboleth about “anti-economic Democratic screeds” hardly bears merit.

  • I don’t think #3 is a fair description.

    There is a certain distrust of the chronically poor, but everyone also knows people who are down on their luck or who honestly work like a dog but just can’t get ahead. People generally don’t think those folks are lazy.

    America has a long tradition of people taking care of their neighbors. Whether it was communal barn-raising or community support when the barn burned down, we took care of each other when things got tough.

    Then came people who wanted the goverment to care for the poor. You no longer needed to care for your neighbor — the government did that. But the government did it with tax money — so your help to your neighbor looked just like all the other money the feds took from you. And the dollar they took for your neighbor, only 50 cents or so actually made it to him.

    Charity from your neighbors encourages you to rise up above your situation. Faceless charity often doesn’t: You don’t have to go to someone with your hand out; you just fill out a form. So charity became a right, and the right became a life-style for far too many. And many taxpayers began to resent supporting this life-style.

  • “REALITY: The numbers tell a different story.”

    This doesn’t address what I wrote. Also, you didn’t answer my question about the tech sector.

  • DRT

    This seems close to right but with one caveat.

    Ambition – yes its true, but only insofar as its attainment of either power or money. What about excellence in science or engineering, excellence in artistic impression, excellence in care. It is greed more than generic ambition. It is self fulfillment, nothing more.

  • DRT #27

    I don’t agree. Over American history people have come because they could not pursue education, religion, science or the arts in their place of origin. For some it was about ambition for a way of life … like my ancestor mentioned above who simply wanted to farm on land of his own.

    The American mythos has certainly had material betterment as a central piece but the mythos is more generally about being able to become whatever you want to be.

  • DRT

    Michael, let me say it this way and see if you buy in. It is ambition of the self, not the society or the art or the science. It is ambition for individual attainment.

  • DRT,

    One of the richest women in America spent $150 million of her own money to run for office. Our nation invented the motion picture, and puts out the most compelling cinema in the world.

    Our health insurance doesn’t quite work, but our health care is fantastic. Our scientists are world class, and work at world class facilities. We have the best colleges in the world by far.

  • DRT

    OK, I’m not going to win this one because it has more to do with the motivations of people than the outcome attained. We need data to examine that.

    My experience with most of the people out there in the business world is that they are doing it for the sake of getting more for themselves. Wow, kevin is the shining optimist and I am the pessimist on this one. I need to go back to bed and get well…

  • smcknight

    kevin s,
    But Dublin has the coolest library.

  • Russ

    I don’t think these primarily positive descriptions tell the whole story – to them need to be added, or they need to be modified by:

    1) Desire to strike it rich: the Gold Rush, Lotteries, and Las Vegas, American Idol, and Wall Street are all driven by the same underlying desire to hit it big with minimal effort. It’s ambition, minus the work.

    2) The morality of riches/immorality of poverty. This is the underside of personal responsibility. A rich person is (believed to be) by definition a hard-working, moral person, while someone in poverty is (believed to be) by definition lazy and immoral. Structural problems, etc. are rarely taken into account into America. Those who put in extra hours are better than those who don’t (even if one puts in fewer hours to be a better father or mother). Further, the wealthy have no obligations to the poor.

    3) Individualism/Zero-sum competition. If I do better, someone needs to do worse. Equality is no virtue in American economic assumptions.