Culture > Q&A

'Earned success'

"'Earned success'" Continued...

Issue: "Dead heat," Sept. 22, 2012

Two questions: First, how should we define fairness? Seventy percent of Americans believe that true fairness means rewarding merit and creating an opportunity society, which is exactly what the free enterprise system is designed to do. The fairest system is one in which people have an opportunity to rise. That doesn't mean they shouldn't have a safety net, but a safety net is not middle-class welfare. It's not spreading the wealth and getting rid of risk: It's simply making sure that people don't have the most abysmal poverty and starve.

So you don't think the Patrick Henry "A" students here should give 10 percent of their points to the "D" students so they can move up to "C"? I tried this once at my college. About halfway through a semester I said, "I'm going to take a quarter of the points from students at the top of the class and give those to people at the bottom of the class. Why? Because I'm going to spread the wealth around!" Every person in the class - including the "D" students - knew that was idiotic because it wasn't fair.

Second question: "Earned success" is a key concept in your book. What does that mean? Earned success is the idea that you're creating value with your life and value in the lives of other people. It's not money per se: It's the value you create with your life. You can denominate it with souls saved, or neighborhoods that are habitable, or clean drinking water in Africa, or lots of money, or beautiful works of art, or having children who are honest and have good values, or whatever. People who say they've earned their success are the happiest people. It has to be earned.

So we should try to let everyone have a shot at earned success? We have to try to recognize the ways that our opportunity society fails, and then take it upon ourselves to rectify those failures. What are we doing, for example, about the civil-rights nightmare that is public education today? We have whole public-school systems that exist for the benefit of grown-ups and not kids.


Watch Marvin Olasky's complete interview with Arthur Brooks:

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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