Setting aside every ounce of cynicism that I possibly can, I’m able to address the economic left and economic right on their stated views of prosperity.
Specifically, the economic left assumes that extraneous factors (luck) are the driving force behind prosperity (and paucity). The economic right assumes that hard work is the driving force behind prosperity, and the lack of hard work is the driving force behind paucity.
As is always the case, reality is somewhere in the middle. For every Jobian sob story the left trots out in their parade of horrors and for every Paris Hilton they shame, there are thousands… tens of thousands… of everyday people who have worked hard, weathered the uncertainties of life, and retired comfortably as millionaires.
Personally, I think the economic right is closer to the truth than the economic left. As Roger Penske said, “(Good) luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” A barista with an oppression studies degree isn’t a victim of bad luck. She’s suffering the consequences of her poor decision making. Somebody who makes a ton of money in the stock market isn’t “lucky” as much as they’re reaping the benefits of their preparation.
This isn’t to say that I don’t think that people get royally fucked or incredibly lucky. However, my personal observation is that most “bad luck” is a result of shortsightedness and a lack of risk management. Most “good luck” is observed by an envious person who doesn’t see the hard work required to achieve good things. The one situation where my belief in personal responsibility wavers ever so slightly is in kids and teenagers. It’s a tall task to ask an 18 year old who has grown up in a financially illiterate family and a financially illiterate culture, with all of the incentives pointing in the direction of financial ruin, to grow up, make good decisions, and not fuck up.
However, there are three reasons why government has no business getting involved. First is that when you’re the primary cause for fucking up the culture, you shouldn’t have a voice in the solution. The modern economic left fucked up a variety of American cultures’ perception of money over the past 75 years. They have no leg to stand on when they complain about the results of their own idiocy. Second is this is exactly the right place for private charity. Cutting financial illiterates a check is idiotic and amplifies the cultural defects that cause the financial illiteracy. However, private charities are much more likely to condition any financial assistance on learning financial literacy. Third is that in 21st century United States of America, you get to fuck up quite a few times financially before you’re screwed for life. People have come around at age 50 or later and still have been able to retire with dignity. An 18 year old has 40 years to have their “come to Jesus” moment and live on less than they earn, and they’ll still be able to shop in the produce section for groceries instead of the cat food section.
“Oh, but they can’t get a decent job with a living wage.” Bullshit. First, that’s exactly the kind of “bad luck” that is actually poor decision making causing completely foreseeable consequences. If you haven’t gotten your GED, it’s not bad luck keeping from getting beyond minimum wage. Second, I’ve met people who have saved enough for a comfortable retirement as janitors, in retail, and in fast food. Y’know what they did? They lived austere lives, took very few risks, spent less than they made, and invested for decades. I remember hearing a story of a janitor who averaged less than $50k annually over his career, and retired a millionaire.
“Oh, but the American dream is dead, you can’t do that anymore.” Bullshit, again. I think there’s a massive divide in my millennial cohort, and I think that this divide articulates why the American dream isn’t dead. Looking at my classmates from high school and college, the divide is simple. Those who learned uncommon skills are making bank and those who did not learn uncommon skills are mooching off their parents and supporting Bernie. Obviously the dividing line isn’t as stark as I’m describing it, but it’s a pretty strong difference. Classmates with education and humanities degrees are struggling to progress beyond beverage arts. Classmates with STEM and business degrees are finding career jobs.
Where’s the luck in that? Well, I guess you could call being born to parents who cared enough to call a spade a spade good luck. I guess you could call a mathematical aptitude and a disdain for the easy way good luck. However, that massively undercredits personal agency. That’s really the issue, isn’t it? The left seems to believe that agency occurs where opportunity fates it. If you succeed, it’s because you are privileged with good fortune (in the traditional Greek conception of the term). If you fail, it’s because the fates have conspired against you. They double down on this rejection of agency for young people. They assume that a 15-20 year old (or 26 year old) is incapable of exerting control on their own life. Nevermind the fact that adolescence is a new concept, teenagers are made out as completely unequipped to make adult decisions. Much of this is the fault of a failed education system and a culture of irresponsibility, but the fact remains that the average 17 year old is treated more like their 12 year old sibling than like their 21 year old sibling.
I often think back to my high school and college days. There were many times when I passed up fun (as a 15-20 year old) to achieve something more important. I remember getting out of bed at 5am on a Saturday to hop on a bus and drive up to Testicle State for a math competition and to hop on a bus to Rose Hulman for a robotics competition. I remember sitting in a restaurant across from the campus bars on a Tuesday night, watching the education major girls lined up for another night of drunken dancing , knowing full well that I’d pass them during their walks of shame the next morning as I walked back from then engineering lab after pulling an all-nighter. We both got fucked, them much more literally than me. I had my fun, I wasn’t anhedonic, but when the left tries to paint my millennial cohort as victims of a student loan crisis, I think back to those images burned in my memory. Are they victims of bad luck, or were they just immature idiots poorly prepared for adulthood?
Once you cut out all the fluff, it comes down to a simple piece of introspection. Are you a victim in your personal narrative, or are you a hero? The left self-identifies as victims. The right self-identifies as heroes. As with all things in the real world, the truth is a bit of both.