From Mona Charen, in her brief sketch of Arthur C. Brooks.
The value that connects ownership and possessions to labor, hard work and one’s ambition is eroding.
The American work ethic can be eroded though, and will be, Brooks argues, by an expanding welfare state. It isn’t just that people who believe life to be unfair demand that governments “equalize” outcomes. It’s that once governments undertake to equalize things, people begin to believe that success is more a matter of luck than of hard work. A 2005 study of 29 countries found that where taxes are high and wealth is redistributed through social programs, people are much more likely to believe that success is a result of luck.
When government confiscates from some to give to others, the givers are affected. Or maybe they start out that way. Redistributionists are a lot less charitable than free-marketeers. A 1996 study found that people who disagreed that “government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality,” gave four times as much to charity as those who agreed. And those who disagreed “strongly” gave eleven times as much.
Charity aids the giver as well as the recipient. Teenagers who volunteered their time were far less likely five years later to report serious life problems than those who didn’t volunteer. Americans who donate to charities (time or money) are 43 percent more likely to describe themselves as happy compared with those who don’t. When the state expands and soaks up more and more of the helping opportunities for those in need, it creates “learned helplessness” among the needy and deprives others of the improving possibilities of charity and service.
Americans remain, for now, an aspirational people, less seduced by the politics of envy than Europeans are. But with every passing day, that spirit is being sapped by the government behemoth. Brooks relates a telling anecdote from the singer Bono:
In Ireland people have an interesting attitude to success; they look down on it. In America, you look up at . . . the mansion on the hill and say, “One day . . . that could be me.” In Ireland, they look up at the mansion on the hill and go, “One day I’m gonna get that bastard.”
That’s the spirit of the Democratic party. It’s the mode of President Obama’s demonization of “millionaires and billionaires.” If successful, Brooks warns, it will smother the greatest engine for prosperity — especially for the poor — in human history.