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Wise words from Alexis de Tocqueville



James Pethokoukis has a post that is worth repeating in its entirety in this election season:

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America:

There is in fact a manly and legitimate passion for equality that spurs all men to wish to be strong and esteemed. This passion tends to elevate the lesser to the rank of the greater.

But one also finds in the human heart a depraved taste for equality which impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level and which reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom.

That is the difference between aspiration and redistribution, between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome, between earned success and learned helplessness. My boss, Arthur Brooks:

Earned success means defining your future as you see fit and achieving that success on the basis of merit and hard work. It allows you to measure your life’s “profit” however you want, be it in money, making beautiful music, or helping people learn English. Earned success is at the root of American exceptionalism.

The opposite of earned success is “learned helplessness,” a term coined by Martin Seligman, the eminent psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. It refers to what happens if rewards and punishments are not tied to merit: People simply give up and stop trying to succeed.

All surveys show that most Americans still embrace our free enterprise system—today. The crucial test is whether the country is willing to support the hard work and policy reforms that will sustain it. The cost of failing this test will be more human than financial. In our hands is the earned success—and thus the happiness—of our children and grandchildren. The stakes in the current policy battles today are not just economic. They are moral.

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