It’s one of our national mantras that we all heard as children: America is the land of opportunity; it’s the land of rugged individuals whose grit and determination built a nation and made amassed great wealth. Work hard and a fortune is yours for the taking. Rockefeller, Carnegie, and JP Morgan: they’re our icons, proof positive that hard work pays off. We are all taught the mantra that, “Work shall set you free.”
It’s a stirring message. It sparks hope in young breasts knowing that all one need do is keep his nose to the grindstone and the only sound he will hear is the clang of coins tumbling into his pockets. If you’re poor it’s because you didn’t try hard enough, so stop bitching and head for the nearest bodega with your meager fistful of food stamps.
It’s a wonderful description of Americans, at least the top 5 percent that controls the lion’s share of our nation’s wealth.
It is also a coded message. The truth is that work, in and of itself, doesn’t get you shit. When our leaders speak of “hard work” they really mean “greed and venality.” And forget the rugged individualism nonsense. It’s not what you are but who you know that counts.
But it takes more than greed and venality: you’ve got to dress right, look right and talk right. If you’re a smiling sociopath, the world is yours. If you meet that criteria, you’re part of the nation’s elite; if all you have are the greed and venality, you’re a common criminal.
Mother Jones summed it up nicely when she said:
I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad he would be a United States Senator.
The key to success in America is to steal big and steal with a smile. Then you let your PR flacks and congressional employees deal with the fallout.