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The Unseen Root of Wealth


The Antiplanner has posted on James J. Hill and the beginnings of the Great Northern Railway. Hill was surely proof the American Dream can be realized. Few are so gifted and so driven to achieve Hill’s level of riches. But remember, the dream is not about dollars and motorcars. It is to be allowed to attain according to capacity, without confinement to class or caste.

Whether one aims to build a railroad empire, or just to provide a decent life for one’s family, following certain principles will bring the goal more quickly to hand. There are several primers on these principles. As guides to cultivating a mindset for accomplishment, they are indispensable.

The most valuable volume in this section of the Negative Railroad’s bookshelf is Think and Grow Rich. A primary and overarching lesson from the book is that success takes effort. And great success takes great effort. What is so often seen as luck is actually the product of work. We see, and we envy, the attainments of others. Many claim the rich are too rich, and the world is not fair. But the world, or at least that part of the world governed according the American Dream, is fair.

Perhaps cruelly fair. Cruel, because as in wild nature, the idle will starve. And fair, because the industrious will thrive. When we see magnificent trappings of wealth, we are blinded. We do not see the work which led to their attainment. Perhaps the greatest of all unseen factors is the effort spent building wealth. Whether in terms of individual fortunes, the social capital in society, or the transformations made to make the earth better serve mankind, all the wealth was earned.

It is in the United States, where the American Dream lives, that those who earn most closely correspond to those who have. We have a choice. One one hand we can get lost in envy and a sense of entitlement. We can focus on what we see, and build an outlook that life is unfair, using unequal outcomes as proof. Or, we can look for the unseen. We can appreciate the effort, the genius and the sacrifice which led to the wealth we see.

By recognizing, appreciating and respecting effort we are more likely to find the kind of inspiration that builds railroads. If we desire a world of more wealth and more comfort to be shared, we must reward those who create wealth. And in this there is no difference between the mechanic and the manager. Each must get his share. But those shares need not be equal. Rather than insist on equality of outcome, let us examine the inequality of effort and ability.

We must know what works best. Even for those who aim to contradict or diminish the the cruelty of nature, a first requirement is the production of something to share. The infirm cannot survive off well-wishes. The productive must be rewarded. To work without reward is slavery. And who is morally qualified to be another’s master?