Chapter 1

Wealth in America

The Indispensable Rich

Every man thinks God is on his side.

The rich and powerful know He is.

—Jean Anouilh

Few Americans—including few wealthy Americans—have given much thought to the role that wealth plays in the American polity. We tend to take it for granted that America always has and always will consist of wealthy families, middle-income families, and poor families. And when we do think about it, most Americans—including most wealthy Americans—tend to imagine that wealth constitutes, at best, a necessary flaw in the way the American democracy should work. Perhaps, we concede, the lure of wealth is necessary to encourage people to work hard, to come up with and commercialize new ideas, to build the companies that provide employment. But still and all, in a society where we are all created equal, there is something incongruous about the fact that some people have so much more money than others.

If the wealthy constitute a flaw in the way American society should work, why should we tolerate it? If we really put our minds to the problem, couldn't we come up with a system that offered similar incentives but that didn't produce wealthy families in such profusion?

What is it, then, that accounts for the persistence of wealthy families in the American democratic republic? Why do we tolerate the rich, with their godlike influence over people and affairs, when it is abundantly clear that the wealthy, like everyone else, are not endowed with godlike wisdom ...

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