The United States is a country where individualism has always had great merit. American fortunes and lives have been made based on the idea of individual liberty. But while this concept is more than valuable, it has also led to the belief among some that it is they who have entirely made themselves. This way of thinking leads to some other conclusions which are misguided in my opinion. For example, people who strongly stress individualism can slide towards egotism. At the very least, they believe that there should be a "to each his own" culture in which every person looks out for himself or herself (They also point me to the struggle for survival in nature, which is as far-fetched a comparison as one can imagine)
I have had this argument with people I know who oppose tax hikes and argue that they are not responsible for the rest of society. In my opinion, what they don't understand is that every man, no matter how talented he may be, is inevitably shaped by society. In fact talent itself is defined by the times in which one lives. A hundred years ago, the kinds of talents that have propelled billionaires to the top of the social ladder right now may have been meaningless. Individual talents without a doubt are responsible for success, but any person who thinks that it was he and he alone who made his success possible clearly is having a fit of fantasy. This does not mean that he is obliged to help others (in case libertarians take umbrage) but it also does not mean that he is independent of the system and therefore inherently not obliged to help others. The point is, individuals grow along with society, and it is not possible for long if at all to keep individual success divorced from social prosperity. I wish all those who oppose higher taxes almost as a gut reaction understand this. Adam Smith had said this. Even Bill Gates said it, that the bedrock of progress is individual success combined with that of society, which comes about by those who are privileged reaching out to those who are not in creative ways.
But it is easy for people like me to say this, and probably more difficult to demonstrate it. I am happy when I see examples of people from whom such quotes may superficially sound surprising. That's why I was quite pleased when I saw a quote from another exemplary person who without a doubt is an immensely talented individual, and who should know the role of individualism better than most others. Yet he says
"Many people have this idea that it's "their money' and they deserve to keep every penny of it. What they don't factor in is all the public investment that lets us live the way we do. Take me as an example. I happen to have a talent for allocating capital. But my ability to use that talent is completely dependent on the society in which I was born into. If I'd been born into a tribe of hunters, this talent of mine would be pretty worthless. I can't run very fast. I'm not particularly strong. I'd probably end up some wild animal's dinner.Point to note in my opinion.
"'But I was lucky enough to be born in a time and place where society values my talent, and gave me a good education to develop that talent, and set up the laws and the finanical system to let me do what I love doing-and make a lot of money doing it. The least I can do is help pay for all that."