America likes the idea of the self-made man, the man who starts his own business, pulls himself out of obscurity, and becomes a success.
Over time, some Americans have started to believe that a self-made man should also be a selfish man. That a millionaire shouldn’t pay taxes because they’ll only be “squandered,” that a smart businessman roots for the economy to collapse so he can buy real estate cheaply, that taxes on business should be lowered so the wealthy can do better. In much of America, that attitude is regarded as an important component of how a self-made man succeeds—applauded, because it’s thought to be a sign of the vigor of America.
But plenty of millionaires feel differently. Some contest the notion of a self-made man altogether, arguing that anyone successful has relied on government spending—infrastructure, an educated workforce, enforceable contracts—to make their mark. Some of them even believe that paying more taxes and investing in public services is the way to more prosperity—for everyone. “What I’m talking about is what policies will not just help me personally, but that I think will be good for our country and my kids’ generation,” Morris Pearl, a former managing director at the investment fund BlackRock, told me. He added, “I don’t want to live in a country where a few people do amazingly well and everyone else does poorly, because anyone, including me and my kids, may end up not being one of the winners.”