This quote by Balzac is probably, for the most part, true. Americans, generally, believe that making a lot of money is all about playing by the rules and that if you work hard you’ll rise to the top. At one time that was partly true, a poor person could provide a service or product with minimal investment and if it was really good there was a market for it and regulations were mild. A person could practice a profession often without having to go through credentialing outside of apprenticeship. Any person could start a business and not have to deal with regulations and paperwork expressly written to favor large corporate interests by corrupt legislatures. It is harder to get out of real poverty today than it was a century ago–our society is becoming increasingly stratified wherein the people at the top are a permanent aristocracy and the people in the bottom and middle are unlikely to stray very far from their origins–we are next to last in the GINI coefficient of OECD countries.
Most spectacular wealth acquisition comes about through dishonest and predatory tactics. Many people get all gooey eyed, for example, over the large country houses of England, many of which were built as a result of the British looting of the wealthiest society on earth in the 17th century, India, so that by the 19th century it became one of the poorest societies on earth–how that happened in interesting and I leave it to you to investigate. In the same way the wealth of American is based on the genocide of Native peoples as well as the use of slaves and the use of child workers in unspeakably bad conditions. Rules were routinely broken, con games common, bribery ever-present throughout our history. But, despite all that, the United States managed to share the wealth at times, particularly the period between FDR and Carter–the golden age of American culture.
We can look at the movie Citizen Kane to see the general attitude of some American capitalists of that era that managed, today, to be the attitude of ALL American capitalists–although today it is an institutional attitude not the whim of a particular person although some of those exist like George Soros or the Koch brothers.
Donald Trump is a remarkable example of an American capitalist “success” story. He’s ripped of everyone he could. There are stories out there how he stiffed contractors and customers and found ever more creative ways to make a lot of money–he seemed to genuinely enjoy that game. So he gets a lot of headlines and a lot of criticism for using techniques that all other major institutions and capitalists use routinely. I submit to you that, today, there is no such thing as a “honest” capitalist of business titan. They are nearly all no better than professional criminals. Unlike former ages when it was possible to survive and be honest particularly when respect of the community was required, today in the age of large corporations you will never find a George Bailey (of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life) in a significant position in most towns in the U.S. Our society is run by a cabal of Mr. Potters who are in charge of almost every level of almost every large corporation. But for “liberals” Mr. Trump is a monster–a man who cannot be allowed to become President because he speaks more naturally than the carefully rehearsed CEOs of large corporations who have learned to speak in the language of PR so that their destruction of much of the world economy as Wall Street managed to do some years back, will be depicted as a series of “mistakes” rather than the conscious and planned con it was. I have personal and “inside” reasons to say that many on Wall Street knew that the new instruments generated at the time would lead to a disaster–they were only waiting for the right moment to sell. Trump, compared to those guys is an honest businessman. I suggest to you that the vast majority of corporate executives are criminals and their corporations are criminal enterprises who have managed to loot the wealth of the world.