A disquieting paradox is increasingly apparent. Americans hope for the self-respect and happiness that arise from a hearty sense of earned merit. Yet, we simultaneously desire greater wealth and advantages than deserved by any prudent measure of social responsibility. We reckon ourselves upstanding because of petty morality, while seeking to exploit lawful loopholes that aid wealth acquisition. Our strange sense of deservedness is rooted in strategic play and name recognition, not the true value of our contributions.
Our bifurcated economic recovery — great for the top 5 percent while meager for the bottom 75 percent — belies claims that all is well. The spread of financial pragmatism (i.e., follow any working trend) has left most Americans inattentive to the morality of national laws that shape economic activity. Indeed, the ease by which we speculate in many markets has calloused us to the notion of earned merit. Ultimately, market opportunity is our moral compass; that is, when we’re not admiring the highly disproportionate rewards of celebrity.
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Timothy J. Barnett is an associate professor in the political science department at Jacksonville State University. His Ph.D. was earned at the University of Kansas. Email: email@example.com.