It has been suggested that Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) is the writer/early poli-sci wonk most likely to be invoked by people who've never actually read any of his work; along those lines, his most-(improperly?)-quoted work would have to be Democracy in America. I have read de Tocqueville, at length, and so I feel not at all like a dilettante in paraphrasing the overarching supposition of his thoughts on democracy and, by extension, the free market.
The man believed that in order for a democracy to work, it must be peopled and run by men (and, yes, women) of moral intent; inversely, he believed that absent those moral intentions (and/or the controls to keep folks on the proper path), the democracy will be undone by man's natural (Hobbesian?) tendencies toward avarice and self-interest. The whole thing will implode.
The numbers make clear that we are a society that's rapidly being undone by its Hobbesian (or Gordon Gecko) tendencies. The wealth is not being spread. America is imploding.
Think of how things would run in some hypothetical society that truly were governed by good will toward one's fellow man, and then compare that Elysian vision to what we know about American reality. In today's society, does the entrepreneur who banks his inaugural $1 million think first of distributing bonuses to the rank-and-file who helped get him there? Does he think of adding more employees for the altruistic purpose of spreading the wealth among more of his neighbors, which is to say, not chiefly for the purpose of further expanding his empire?
We know what most such entrepreneurs and highly paid execs, manifestly, do or don't do. They do not cut the million dollars into, say, 25 $40,000 bonuses, or 50 $20,000 bonuses. What they do instead is run out and buy themselves a McMansion and a jaunty sport coupe more befitting their new station in life. And even if you want to excuse that as typical nouveau riche extravagance...what to conclude, then, about successful businesspeople who act the same basic way with the first $10 million and $100 million? They may hire on new employees, but that is simply a pragmatic/organic function of building their business to still greater heights of personal glory. They continue to hire employees for the best salaries at which they can get them. If they themselves earn a salary 100 times larger than what their average employee is earning, they are not the least squeamish or apologetic about it. In fact, they flaunt it. They seemingly dedicate their public lives to the newfound ethic of being and looking and acting rich. They do their Christmas shopping on Luxist, where they outfit their homes with insanely pricy accoutrements that, each individually, could've paid the expenses of a struggling middle-class family for a year.
Such successful Americans are not acting with the good will de Tocqueville had in mind. They are acting more like another notorious Frenchman (or -woman), of "let them eat cake" infamy.
Now let's talk about you. Suppose you're the lucky SOB who beats the roughly 505 million-to-one odds and sees the *Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol pulling up in your driveway, to bestow upon you your $1 million a year "forever"! Do you immediately, after being revived, write checks to everyone in your neighborhood or city or state who didn't win? No, maybe if you're super-generous you decide to tithe—giving 10% to charity "forever." Then, if you're also super-practical/sensible, you arrange to pay off all the family mortgages and set aside college funds for your kids and grandkids.
But why should your kids and grandkids go to college when there are other kids who aren't even eating three squares a day? How do you construct a moral justification for keeping all that money to yourself and a privileged few others that you hand-select? See, we Americans, raised amid the ethos of rugged individualism, just don't think this way. We "take care of our own." And we justify it by arguing that "if everyone takes care of his/her own, then no one's at a disadvantage."
Unfortunately, not everyone can take care of his/her own. No matter how hard s/he might try.
Speaking of trying hard, let's leave behind the rarefied air of Publishers Clearing House and bring things down to the workaday level. If you work very hard and get a great promotion, doubling your already well-above-average salary from $125,000 to $250,000, how do you celebrate? Maybe you run out and buy your spouse that new convertible s/he always wanted? Get a new kitchen? Trade the McMansion for a nicer home without the "Mc"?
Again...why? Did you work harder than the other five people who were up for the promotion and didn't get it? Not necessarily you didn't. Maybe you're just the right color or ethnicity or gender. Maybe you're taller or better-looking (both of which accidents of birth, we hear, pay substantial dividends in pay). Maybe the boss likes the way you laugh at his/her jokes, or enjoys looking at your tits or that bulge in your pants** when you attend meetings, which you'll be attending more of now that you're senior management.
Did you even work harder than the 50 people in middle-management or the thousand people in cubicles (you know, the "hump day" crowd) who never even got a chance to be considered for the big promotion?
And they probably never will.
For that matter, do you work harder than the guy or gal who swabs out the john in your building? The cook in that diner up the street who prepares your Caesar salad several days a week? The agri-worker in Southern California who supplies some of the ingredients for the salad? And don't try to fall back on telling me how smart or ambitious you are. Did you choose to be smart and ambitious? Or were those attributes hard-wired? Did you choose to be born in a family that could afford to send you to the good college that stood out so prominently on your resume, and helped get you the job in the first place?
Sure, many of these problems fall in the category of "that's life," and as we all know, life isn't fair. No, life isn't fair. But a moral society, a moral people, would try harder to make it so. That's what I'm pretty sure old Alexis would tell you, anyway.
** We'll assume for the sake of argument that no one candidate offers both attributes.