The most dangerous four-letter word

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There's a nasty four-letter word that ends in "u-c-k" that we're starting to hear more and more in America these days. We're hearing it on broadcast TV. We're hearing children say it. And lately, big-time celebrities, intellectuals, and even the President of the United States have been saying it in public.

Of course, the word I'm talking about is, "luck," and this word is far from a benign little noun. Because when it's given too much importance and becomes overused, it threatens our economy, our freedom, and our society.

More and more, we're hearing about how luck is a major positive or negative component in our lives. And this week, even President Obama admonished Americans to realize that their economic successes or failures owe a lot more to luck than they may realize. This push is simply a jacking up of the "you didn't build that!" philosophy of Senator Elizabeth Warren and others who have long sought to take down the notion that rich and successful people in this country got where they are mostly thanks to hard work, risk taking, and brain power. The purpose of this is to impose more tax hikes and regulations and enact more government control over the economy overall. These so-called "progressives" believe that growing income inequality is a sign of luck run amok, and thus the government must be allowed to level what they see as a tilted casino.

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First, let's look at how this kind of thinking hurts the economy. I don't think any billionaire in the world truly thinks he or she made it without any aspect of good luck playing a role. But we've all heard the old saying: "the harder I work, the luckier I get," and the fact that most of the most successful people keep working even after they make their initial fortunes is a testament to the drive that got them there in the first place. The effort to debunk or degrade their hard work or genius is a classic case of destructive sour grapes. It's destructive because it discourages many would-be entrepreneurs or hard-workers from making that kind of supreme effort. And it also actually worsens the condition the progressives say they're trying to improve, because income inequality is really only increased when we discourage more people from buying in to the idea of hard work. That leaves a less crowded playing field for the already hard-working geniuses to stand out. In other words, it's another case of a progressive campaign that in reality is quite regressive for everyone.

The economy is also harmed by relying on emotion and not the actual data. It might feel like it's harder to get rich in America today, but the evidence shows this country has a ever-growing number of self-made millionaires and billionaires. The pushback on this data has been almost laughable. The best the left-leaning United for a Fair Economy could come up with to counter this encouraging trend was a study of their own insisting that 40% of American billionaires have received a major asset from a spouse or other family member along the way. I call that laughable because that means that even according to their own study, a healthy 60% majority of the richest Americans are indeed self-made. And in the course of overall human history, that's a relatively fantastic playing field for upward mobility.

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The obsession with luck is also a serious threat to our freedoms. Remember that freedom means the freedom to succeed and the freedom to fail. But those who are obsessed with how luck determines our fate are basically saying that free will is a mirage. And if freedom and free will are illusions, what's the big deal if someone comes along to take away what you didn't really have or own in the first place? That's the logical regression to slavery that this so-called progressive belief in luck is taking us. Today it might be tax hikes and more regulations on health care, tomorrow it could be new restrictions on freedom of speech and movement. Again, if freedom is really just something some of us have by chance, then it's not something anyone can effectively fight for no matter what the Constitution says.

But as frightening as those threats to our economy and freedom are, nothing scares me more about the growing belief in the power of luck than the deleterious effect it poses to our individual families and our society as a whole. As parents, we're always faced with the challenge of convincing our children to work hard in school and strive to achieve all they can in life. That might sound easy, but try getting your kid to buy in to the fact that she needs to do her algebra homework correctly every single night! Beyond schoolwork, good parents must always instill the concept of personal responsibility in their kids. But if we continue to lump more and more importance onto the concept of luck, personal responsibility suffers. Think about it from the mindset of a kid: if success and wealth and happiness are more of a crap shoot anyway, why should he take full responsibility for the things he does or the things that happen to him or his family and friends? And that's why this focus on luck is also a serious attack on the family. We even now have intellectuals openly bemoaning what they call the unfair advantage children who come from loving two-parent families have over others. I shudder to think what they consider to be a fair solution to that problem, but we do know of governments and regimes from just the last 100 years who have literally taken children away from their parents all in the name of improving society and making it "fairer for all." Sadly, this isn't an ethos that only exists in dystopian young adult novels.

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Surely, there's a time and a place for teaching the concept of good and bad fortune to our kids. We do want them to value the act of charity and community service. And we should never demonize the poor simply for being poor. We also don't want our kids to forget to thank those who have helped them along the way. But de-emphasizing the focus on luck does not mean we de-emphasize gratitude. And we will do much worse than demonize the poor if we convince them and ourselves that there's very little they can do to improve their own situations because it's all about lucky anyway. I know some very well-meaning progressives who insist their only goal is to improve opportunities for everyone, and not to simply give in to twists of fate. But they forget that by telling poor people they're poor primarily because of uncontrollable luck is the same as saying they won't ever be able to get rich or into the middle class without another dose of luck that they also cannot control. That's not uplifting, it's downright depressing.

If President Obama, Senator Warren, and all the progressives really want to help the less fortunate, they should stop talking so much about luck. Instead, they should focus on the many uplifting stories of Americans who have overcome poverty and focus on the non-lucky factors that made it happen. We should be celebrating success, not denigrating it like some kind of buffoonish character in Aesop's Fables.

And if the downside of that is that we get a country filled with more successful people who don't adequately acknowledge the role good fortune had in their success, who cares?

Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of "Power Lunch." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.