Tuesday, April 03, 2007
At TCS Daily is a column by Jerry Bowyer that is worth a read. He writes on a subject I have considered off and on for some time: how life experience (or lack thereof) can aid or hinder the development of one's moral character.
Charles Koch built the largest private corporation in the world, and then wrote a book about it. His publicist mailed it to me this week. It's a great read. It just so happens that at the same moment I was reading about how Koch and J. Howard Marshall banded together to take control of Great Northern Oil Company, a newsflash appeared in my in-box announcing that Marshall's widow is now known to have died of a drug overdose. The book in my lap contained the story of how J. Howard Marshall's great fortune was created in life. The PDA in my hand told the story of how that great fortune destroyed a life. Then I realized something: Anna-Nicolle Smith died of a sudden and massive injection of unearned wealth. [bold added]I cannot read Bowyer's mind, but I suspect that he over-simplifies to make a point here. Be that as it may, human beings have free will. Neither dead, wealthy woman was determined by the mere possession of great riches to take her own life or otherwise to behave foolishly while still alive.
Nevertheless, Bowyer has a point, although with the profusion of seductive "virtuous cycle" arguments floating around out there, it is in risk of being lost. The mere possession of wealth cannot make or break anyone. One's trajectory in life will be guided by his philosophical ideas, be they implicit or explicit.
Our culture presents everyone with an overwhelming mixture of numerous choices and good and bad ideas. To the extent that one must act in order to achieve any measure of wealth however small will require that person to accept at least implicitly many of the better philosophical influences floating around in our culture. And to the extent that someone has met challenges in life and succeeded, he will see the pleasure of being in control of his life and will be happy. He will probably not feel a strong need to escape temporarily (or permanently) through drugs.
The severing of having to act from staying alive observed in two wealthy women by Bowyer is also a big part of why our government-dependent underclass -- despite its poverty -- sees more than its share of deaths related to drug overdoses. These unfortunates often start out around the worst cultural influences, end up with much less than the normal amount of experience in exercising virtue to overcome adversity, and are consequently less happy. They are not determined to end up this way, and many can and do become successful adults, but the lack of experience can make it harder for them.
This is a valuable point, which could only be improved upon by a more explicit linking of morality to philosophy and of both to the requirements of life on this earth. But do credit the man with pointing out that wealth creation requires virtues!
The thing about wealth creation is that it requires certain virtues, like patience, thrift and diligence. Jefferson taught us about this. It's why he wanted a nation of owners. There are certain tests an entrepreneur has to pass in order to go from mild affluence to millionaire status.Our society seems too often obsessed with the trappings of wealth and not with how to create it, as evidenced by its enthusiasm for various schemes of wealth redistribution. We would do well to have a few more people in the know pointing out that wealth doesn't grow on trees.
Better still would be for the basis of our nation's success, the better elements of its implicit philosophy, to be explicitly identified and made much more commonly known. Then its beneficial influence would be available on a less haphazard and incomplete basis than through mere cultural osmosis, which as we have seen with the British, can be of very limited value. "Virtuous cycles" cannot last indefinitely without the guidance of explicit philosophical ideas that correspond to the requirements for man's life.