It Takes a Village to Make a Millionaire

19th Century American author Horatio Alger made a living selling
the myth of the self-made man. In each of his novels, a young
protagonist overcame hardship and adversity through hard work and
determination, pulling himself out of the gutter by his own
bootstraps and earning his success as a proverbial army of one.
This myth has long been intertwined with the American
consciousness, used as an explanation of and justification for
society’s staggering triumphs and dramatic inequalities. But a new
report, ‘I Didn’t Do It Alone: Society’s Contribution to Individual
Wealth and Success,’ presents a cross section of successful
entrepreneurs and shows that their success, while based in part on
personal achievement, can also be attributed to their circumstances
and community. Each individual profiled in the report attributes a
large measure of their success to education, government assistance,
and existing infrastructures.

The report hinges on the idea that any individual’s
accomplishments are inevitably supported by the public sector. One
such individual, former biotech CFO Jim Sherblom, says, ‘The
opportunities to create wealth are all taking advantage of public
goods — like roads, transportation, markets — and public
investments. None of us can claim it was all personal initiative. A
piece of it was built upon this infrastructure that we all have
this inherent moral obligation to keep intact.’ The healthy funding
of public resources, then, more than tax cuts, effectively
encourages entrepreneurship.

The study has significant implications in the realm of public
policy, particularly tax law. ‘How we think about wealth creation
is important since policies such as large tax cuts for the wealthy
often draw on the myth of the self-made man,’ says the report’s
co-author, Chuck Collins. ‘Taxes are portrayed as onerous, unfair
redistribution of privately created wealth — not as reinvestment
or giving back to society. Yet, where would many wealthy
entrepreneurs be today without taxpayer investment in the Internet,
transportation, public education, legal system, the human genome
and so on?’ The recognition of the public role in private profit is
crucial to any kind of profit, public or private — the myth of the
Horatio Alger protagonist must be demolished if Alger’s dream is to
become reality.
Brendan Themes

Go there >>

It Takes a Village to Make a Millionaire

Related Links:

Related Links from the Utne

Comments? Story tips?
Write a letter to the editor

Like this? Want more?Subscribe to Utne

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.