The New York Times’ David Brooks quotes Michelle Obama in the context of America’s changing attitude toward capitalism.
“Don’t go into corporate America,” she told a group of women in Ohio. “You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. … Make that choice, as we did, to move out of the money-making industry into the helping industry.” As talented people adopt those priorities, America may become more humane, but it will be less prosperous.
What the First Lady is saying: Don’t be so selfish, you smart people. Don’t obsess about making money. Dedicate your life to those less fortunate instead. Because that’s virtuous.
In “The Morality of Making Money” at the Atlantic Sentinel I previously contested this sentiment, citing Ayn Rand who considered money representative of productiveness and freedom. Making money, according to Rand, rests on the axiom “that every man is the owner of his mind and his effort.”
A virtuous man, a man who makes money honestly and purposefully, is a proud man. Pride, consequently, is one of the defining values of Objectivism. “It means that one must earn the right to hold oneself as one’s own highest value by achieving one’s own moral perfection,” wrote Rand in “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness (1964). One must strive relentlessly for accomplishment and success to pursue happiness and the will to “make money,” to create one’s own wealth, is the indispensable articulation of this code.