Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Work Hard, Get Rich

A recent caller to C-Span’s Washington Journal commented on the plight of individuals in economic distress. He didn’t have much sympathy for them. His simple solution to the complex problem of personal poverty was the age-old formula, "work hard, spend wisely, and you’ll get rich." Certainly that has been the American dream that brought millions of immigrants from other countries to our part of the world. The promise is if you work real hard, you will make a lot of money. Also, if you’re wise in how you spend your money and save as much as you can, you will maintain your wealth. Oh, I wish it were that simple.

I believe in the value of work. Everyone who has the ability should be engaged in productive labor. I also believed in careful spending. In fact, my motto has been, "spend less money than you make." But, my observation on the facts of life in America is that hard work does result in wealth, but not always for the person who does the hard work. If that were so, the housekeeper who will clean my hotel room when I go to the convention next week, the cooks at the restaurant where I will eat, and the waiters who will serve me would be millionaires, while Paris Hilton would live in grinding poverty. However, the reverse seems to be true. Paris Hilton’s wealth does indeed come from hard work, but certainly not her own. Rather, she benefits by the hard work of others, who in turn live on the edge of poverty.

While some people do gain wealth by their own industrious lifestyle, most wealth is accumulated by benefitting from the labor of others. In today’s world it seems that manipulating the financial system is the sure road to riches. From my perspective, one should engage in productive labor because it is a satisfying life, not merely to get rich. The old saw still applies: the sleep of the laboring man is indeed sweet.

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