If you’re poor, many Americans think, it’s your own fault. It’s a sign of your own moral failing.
I don’t personally believe that, but the idea has roots in our culture going back centuries.
In The Wealth of Nations, the foundational work of modern capitalism, Adam Smith extolled the virtues of working hard and being thrifty with money. That wasn’t just the way to get rich, he reasoned — it was morally righteous.
Sociologist Max Weber took the idea further in describing what he called the Protestant work ethic.
To Puritans who believed that one was either predestined for heaven or for hell, Weber wrote, working hard and accumulating wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. Those who got rich, the Puritans thought, must have been chosen by God for heaven; those who were poor were damned.
Even major American philanthropists have subscribed to this idea.