One thing that both the minimum wage and the taxi/TNC debates constantly remind me, is that contrary to our popular mythology, this is not a country that honors hard work. No, this is a country that honors financial success.
Start a successful business or reap a stock option windfall at some spiffy startup, and we celebrate your ingenuity and effort. Fail at business, or find yourself on the wrong side of some economic disruption (or just unable to overcome the inherent socioeconomic disadvantages of being born poor) and we revile you as a loser and a moocher, no matter how long or strenuous your labor.
It is no doubt comforting to believe that those less comfortable than ourselves struggle due to some fault of their own, rather than from some structural inequity in the system from which the rest of us prosper. But it is much more than that. No, this fetishization of financial success (and contempt for failure) is deeply rooted in the Calvinist ethos that still pervades even the modern secular American psyche—one in which your reward in this world is reflective of your reward in the next, and thus a full measure of your moral worth.
You do not need to understand the theology behind this ethos to understand that it still holds sway. How else to explain the unselfconscious argument that the interests of business owners are somehow more worthy than the interests of the low-wage workers they exploit, or the total lack of empathy for (and even vilification of) the taxi drivers who have failed to effectively compete against the disruptive technology of the TNCs?
We do not reward hard work in this country because we do not honor it. And it is financial reward alone by which we generally measure a person’s true worth.