The self-made myth is one of the most cherished foundation stones of the conservative theology. Nurtured by Horatio Alger and generations of beloved boys’ stories, It sits at the deep black heart of the entire right-wing worldview, where it provides the essential justification for a great many other common right-wing beliefs. It feeds the accusation that government is evil because it only exists to redistribute wealth from society’s producers (self-made, of course) and its parasites (who refuse to work). It justifies conservative rage against progressives, who are seen as wanting to use government to forcibly take away what belongs to the righteous wealthy. It’s piously invoked by hedge fund managers and oil billionaires, who think that being required to reinvest any of their wealth back into the public society that made it possible is “punishing success.” It’s the foundational belief on which all of Ayn Rand’s novels stand.
If you’ve heard it once from your Fox-watching uncle, you’ve probably heard it a hundred times. “The government never did anything for me, dammit,” he grouses. “Everything I have, I earned. Nobody ever handed me anything. I did it all on my own. I’m a self-made man.”
He’s just plain wrong. Flat-out, incontrovertibly, inarguably wrong. So profoundly wrong, in fact, that we probably won’t be able to change the national discourse on taxes, infrastructure, education, government investment, technology policy, transportation, welfare, or our future prospects as a country until we can effectively convince the country of the monumental wrongness of this one core point.
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So obvious, it shouldn’t need saying. But it does.