The very rich are different from you and me,"
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote. "Yes," Ernest Hemingway teased
Fitzgerald, in a short story of his own, "they have more money." To
Fitzgerald, the rich inhabited a world apart. To Hemingway, the rich were just
like the rest of us, only with nicer furniture.
A curious paradox defines the politics of welfare in the United States. On the one hand, we are an extraordinarily generous and forgiving people. In 1998 Americans donated more than $170 billion to charity, and we have proven open to giving just about anyone (even, say, a philandering president) a second chance. Americans are willing, even enthusiastic, supporters of vast social programs aimed at protecting individuals from what Franklin Roosevelt called "the hazards and vicissitudes of life."