OT: "The Self-Made Myth"

User Forum Topic
Submitted by davelj on April 30, 2012 - 11:57am

I haven't read this book yet but I plan to. Based on the summary in this article, this looks like a book I've been waiting for someone to write.

http://www.alternet.org/story/155149/the...

Don't get me wrong, I have an appreciation of markets and many things capitalist (and even certain insights of that kook Ayn Rand!), but... Marx (among many others) had some valid points as well.

I particularly like the fact that the authors address Taleb's issue of "luck", thus making this look like a pretty robust analysis of "success" and from where it comes. Anyhow, I'm looking forward to reading the book.

Submitted by briansd1 on April 30, 2012 - 12:20pm.

I agree on the point luck. Being born in the right family and environment are the most important factor.

People love the self-made myth because it gives them relevance. Psychologically, it's more impressive than simple luck. And since "successful" people have more power that narrative becomes dominant.

I've ordered the book. We should have on online Piggington book club.

Submitted by harvey on April 30, 2012 - 1:01pm.

Of course this is an intractable question. It's impossible to separate circumstance from individual choices. But most everybody loves to talk about it!

Malcom Gladwell has written a few books on this subject. Here's one I enjoyed:

Outliers: The Story of Success

http://www.amazon.com/Outliers-Story-Suc...

One of the themes of this book is how seemingly minor circumstances can have a huge impact on success. For example, in some professional sports the birthdays of all the athletes tend to cluster around a certain time of year. In some leagues, the data is such that everyone was born in a three month window or so and nobody was born in the other months. The explanation? The cutoff dates for age groups in youth sports leagues gives an advantage to the older kids (as being 11 months older can make a huge difference when you are only five years old.) The "better"/older kids get more playing time, coaching attention, promotion to club teams, etc. and thus get better still...

The book is full of statistical and specific examples of how successful people had a great deal of "luck." Some of the examples are light and the analysis can sometimes be shallow, but overall it does provide some thought-provoking material.

The challenge when adopting these ideas to government policy is to eliminate the imbalances that are due to "luck" without removing the incentives that drive success. Often attempts to balance out "luck" end up encouraging people to find ways to be labeled "unlucky."

Submitted by Rich Toscano on April 30, 2012 - 1:45pm.

pri_dk wrote:

The challenge when adopting these ideas to government policy is to eliminate the imbalances that are due to "luck" without removing the incentives that drive success.

Exactly what I was thinking as I read the article...

I suppose it would be a nice first step if everyone would acknowledge that luck DOES play a role, and we could figure it out from there...

Submitted by harvey on April 30, 2012 - 2:10pm.

Rich Toscano wrote:
I suppose it would be a nice first step if everyone would acknowledge that luck DOES play a role, and we could figure it out from there...

I'll acknowledge that luck plays a role, especially for those who are more successful than me.

But everyone else just needs to work harder!

Submitted by sdduuuude on April 30, 2012 - 2:37pm.

Just because luck plays a role doesn't mean that government manipulation, whether or not it changes the role of luck, is justified.

Submitted by Rich Toscano on April 30, 2012 - 2:37pm.

sdduuuude wrote:
Just because luck plays a role doesn't mean that government manipulation, whether or not it changes the role of, is justified.

Perhaps. That's a good debate to have, though, don't you think? But it's a different debate than you'd have with someone who thinks luck doesn't play a huge role in these things.

Submitted by sdduuuude on April 30, 2012 - 2:40pm.

Rich Toscano wrote:
sdduuuude wrote:
Just because luck plays a role doesn't mean that government manipulation, whether or not it changes the role of, is justified.

Perhaps. That's a good debate to have, though, don't you think? But it's a different debate than you'd have with someone who thinks luck doesn't play a huge role in these things.

I'm not sure there are many who would ever say it doesn't.

I wonder if the lottery is a good example of a government program designed to eliminate luck from the equation.

Submitted by sdrealtor on April 30, 2012 - 2:46pm.

How about bad luck? Thats most of what I've had

Submitted by harvey on April 30, 2012 - 3:00pm.

I think if we are going to use terms like "justified" then we need to try to define the parameters. Who decides what is justified and/or what criteria do we use?

The issue that many today have with government programs are that they take from some and give to others and therefore are inherently "unfair." We often hear the term "redistribution" of wealth these days.

The OP article asserts that everyone obtains their wealth as a result, at least in some part, of government policy and institutions. So it is reasonable for the the government to take some wealth back so that others have the same opportunities. In other words it is "fair" that people be obligated to participate in the cycle.

(my interpretation, I'm sure there are others...)

I think the challenge for policy finding the balance between "fairness" (i.e. equalizing "luck") and making wise (and sustainable) investment choices.

Some policies are outrageously unfair but may be good investments for society. Give a poor, but bright, young student a science scholarship and they may someday make a tenfold contribution to society in return. At face value, the scholarship is unfair - you are giving the money to one person. But it still may be a wise role for government to encourage these things.

For many policies, however, it is difficult to identify the potential return on investment. Do food stamps really generate an economic return?

And then there are the ethical questions; even if the cold calculations of investment return don't pencil out, does government have any moral obligation to prevent hunger and suffering...and do we try to distinguish between hardship caused by bad "luck" vs. personal decisions?

Submitted by harvey on April 30, 2012 - 3:03pm.

sdrealtor wrote:
How about bad luck? Thats most of what I've had

But you ain't no Albert King!

Submitted by sdduuuude on April 30, 2012 - 3:32pm.

pri_dk wrote:
The OP article asserts that everyone obtains their wealth as a result, at least in some part, of government policy and institutions.

But not by their own choice, ironically.

When you force someone into a position such that they have no choice it increases the effect of luck, not personal choice, on their life.

The logic seems to be as such:
Because the government intervenes and reduces the effect of personal choice in people's success, the government must further intervene to ensure luck does not play a part.

It's insanity.

pri_dk wrote:
Who decides what is justified and/or what criteria do we use

Exactly.

Submitted by harvey on April 30, 2012 - 3:58pm.

sdduuuude wrote:
The logic seems to be as such:
Because the government intervenes and reduces the effect of personal choice in people's success, the government must further intervene to ensure luck does not play a part.

It's insanity.

I'm not sure about your interpretation.

First, the goal is not to "reduce the effect of personal choice." It's to reduce the negative effect of circumstances that are not a result of choice.

And the idea that the government must "further" intervene isn't part of the argument at all. You seem to be implying that it's being "piled on."

I mentioned in my post that the logic implies that there is a cycle - the government provides the framework, we all participate, some come out ahead, and those that end up with more should provide the funding for continuing the process...

It can work and is logical, provided the process is setup with sustainable parameters.

Today we have some policies that are sustainable, others that are not. For example there is nothing inherently unsustainable about progressive taxes. Even debt spending can be sustainable, depending upon the terms of the debt and economic growth. But a continuing progression of commitments to open-ended obligations will never be sustainable.

Submitted by sdduuuude on April 30, 2012 - 4:24pm.

pri_dk wrote:
First, the goal is not to "reduce the effect of personal choice." It's to reduce the negative effect of circumstances that are not a result of choice.

Great. The government is regulating luck now.

pri_dk wrote:
And the idea that the government must "further" intervene isn't part of the argument at all. You seem to be implying that it's being "piled on."

It is, without a doubt, being piled on. Since about 1920, I'd say.

The logical fact remains - when the government starts making decisions for people, it removes choices from every-day people, increasing their reliance on luck.

There's no two ways about it from my perspective.

And I'm quite certain that the government shouldn't be in control of luck.

Is it even possible to control luck?
Isn't that the definition of luck?

Somebody writes a book saying luck plays a part in people's success and all of the sudden, we need the government to get involved to fix the whole problem.

True insanity.

Submitted by outtamojo on April 30, 2012 - 4:33pm.

briansd1 wrote:
I agree on the point luck. Being born in the right family and environment are the most important factor.

People love the self-made myth because it gives them relevance. Psychologically, it's more impressive than simple luck. And since "successful" people have more power that narrative becomes dominant.

I've ordered the book. We should have on online Piggington book club.

Let's not forget luck is also involved in being born with half a brain as opposed to being born a moron.

Submitted by harvey on April 30, 2012 - 4:46pm.

sdduuuude wrote:
Great. The government is regulating luck now.

So do you have any actual examples or support for your arguments, or just are you just going to fill the thread with simple-minded libertarian platitudes?

Submitted by sdduuuude on April 30, 2012 - 4:51pm.

pri_dk wrote:
sdduuuude wrote:
Great. The government is regulating luck now.

So do you have any actual examples or support for your arguments, or just are you just going to fill the thread with simple-minded libertarian platitudes?

Wasn't saying it has actually happened. Was saying that you seem to have suggested it:

pri_dk wrote:
The challenge when adopting these ideas to government policy is to eliminate the imbalances that are due to "luck" without removing the incentives that drive success.

And again:

pri_dk wrote:
First, the goal is not to "reduce the effect of personal choice." It's to reduce the negative effect of circumstances that are not a result of choice.

Apparently, without even realizing it.

Submitted by sdduuuude on April 30, 2012 - 4:52pm.

pri_dk wrote:
sdduuuude wrote:
Great. The government is regulating luck now.

So do you have any actual examples or support for your arguments, or just are you just going to fill the thread with simple-minded libertarian platitudes?

And, by the way, you don't have to be a dick about it.

Submitted by harvey on April 30, 2012 - 4:53pm.

So let's try a real-world example, one that I already mentioned:

Should the government support the education of poor kids with a strong aptitude for science?

Of do we limit our pool of doctors, computer scientists, aeronautical engineers, etc. to children of the rich?

Submitted by sdduuuude on April 30, 2012 - 4:55pm.

pri_dk wrote:
So let's try a real-world example, one that I already mentioned:

Should the government support the education of poor kids with a strong aptitude for science?

Of do we limit our pool of doctors, computer scientists, aeronautical engineers, etc. to children of the rich?

These are not mutually exclusive choices.

Submitted by harvey on April 30, 2012 - 4:57pm.

sdduuuude wrote:
pri_dk wrote:
sdduuuude wrote:
Great. The government is regulating luck now.

So do you have any actual examples or support for your arguments, or just are you just going to fill the thread with simple-minded libertarian platitudes?

And, by the way, you don't have to be a dick about it.

Yeah, you use the phrase, "true insanity" in response to two of my polite rebuttals, and I'm the one who is being a "dick?"

If you are going to make it through life as genuine "self-made" independent libertarian, you're gonna have to get some thicker skin.

Submitted by harvey on April 30, 2012 - 4:58pm.

sdduuuude wrote:
pri_dk wrote:
So let's try a real-world example, one that I already mentioned:

Should the government support the education of poor kids with a strong aptitude for science?

Of do we limit our pool of doctors, computer scientists, aeronautical engineers, etc. to children of the rich?

These are not mutually exclusive choices.

Fine, then propose an alternative.

Although it's a simple, relevant, yes/no question:

Does the government provide student aid?

Can you answer it?

Submitted by sdduuuude on April 30, 2012 - 5:02pm.

Not with tax money, no.

I would rather they play the role of encouraging people to donate voluntarily and managing the distribution of those funds.

If no funds come in, then the society has chosen not to do this. If lots of funds come in, then society has chosen to support it.

Submitted by sdduuuude on April 30, 2012 - 5:10pm.

sdduuuude wrote:
Not with tax money, no.

I would rather they play the role of encouraging people to donate voluntarily and managing the distribution of those funds.

If no funds come in, then the society has chosen not to do this. If lots of funds come in, then society has chosen to support it.

Sorry. You asked "do they" I answered "do I think they should"

They do provide student aid. But I don't think they should with taxpayers' money.

Submitted by harvey on April 30, 2012 - 5:10pm.

sdduuuude wrote:
Not with tax money, no.

I would rather they play the role of encouraging people to donate voluntarily and managing the distribution of those funds.

If no funds come in, then the society has chosen not to do this. If lots of funds come in, then society has chosen to support it.

Um, we pretty much do that already.

It's called paying taxes.

Now you seem to be advocating more of a pure democracy, "line item" approach to budgeting, where people vote for specific polices and programs with their wallet. Which is would be interesting, complicated, and an absolutely infeasible mess.

I'd like to hear how that would work...but not really. Because I doubt you've thought this through yet.

Submitted by sdduuuude on April 30, 2012 - 5:15pm.

pri_dk wrote:
sdduuuude wrote:
Not with tax money, no.

I would rather they play the role of encouraging people to donate voluntarily and managing the distribution of those funds.

If no funds come in, then the society has chosen not to do this. If lots of funds come in, then society has chosen to support it.

Um, we pretty much do that already.

It's called paying taxes.

Now you seem to be advocating more of a pure democracy, "line item" approach to budgeting, where people vote for specific polices and programs with their wallet. Which is would be interesting, complicated, and an absolutely infeasible mess.

I'd like to hear how that would work...but not really. Because I doubt you've thought this through yet.

I have thought it through - more than you'll ever know.

Since you would not really want to know, I'm done with you. You really are a dick, you know. Discussions between you and several people always seem to take a turn that results in you being a jerk. Starting to realize it isn't them.

Submitted by an on April 30, 2012 - 5:17pm.

pri_dk wrote:
So let's try a real-world example, one that I already mentioned:

Should the government support the education of poor kids with a strong aptitude for science?

Of do we limit our pool of doctors, computer scientists, aeronautical engineers, etc. to children of the rich?


Yes they should and already are. But I would say they should only do it for STEM degrees. If you want to be a liberal arts major, do it on your own dimes. However, those liberal arts major are also getting government support right now too.

Submitted by davelj on April 30, 2012 - 5:20pm.

sdduuuude wrote:

The logical fact remains - when the government starts making decisions for people, it removes choices from every-day people, increasing their reliance on luck.

There's no two ways about it from my perspective.

Your perspective is incomplete. When you take one person's money - say, a wealthy person's - and redistribute it to another person - say a poor person - you are removing the choice of what the the first person will do with that money, but... you are increasing the choices available to the person receiving that money. The wealthy person has already benefited from luck. All you're doing is raising the odds that the poor person will benefit as well. Now, in reality, many poor folks will be HURT by receiving that money because it will set up a negative incentive (ouch!), but... in many other cases this redistributed "assistance" will help that disadvantaged person. The price of the former is one expense related to helping the latter. And, admittedly, I'm oversimplifying (just as you are).

sdduuuude wrote:

And I'm quite certain that the government shouldn't be in control of luck.

Spoken as someone who has benefited from luck and thus wants to simplify the debate into something that is silly on its face.

sdduuuude wrote:

Somebody writes a book saying luck plays a part in people's success and all of the sudden, we need the government to get involved to fix the whole problem.

True insanity.

The problem is not "luck", per se, and you know this. The problem is massive income (and thus influence) inequality of which one source is "random fortune" (or "luck").

While I don't advocate a Scandinavian-socialist model, it's pretty clear to me (at least) that our system is rigged to perpetuate the ultra-wealthy and, as we saw during the financial crisis, to "protect" these folks from the actual downside risks associated with the risky assets from which much of this group's wealth is derived (think of much of Big Finance). If these folks are going to have a permanent put related to their wealth - as it appears they do - I think they should pay for it in the form of redistribution that reduces the level of inequality that we see today.

I'm not saying this is a perfect model (far from it, in fact) - to be clear - I'm just saying the model we have now is completely screwed where the middle class is concerned vis-a-vis the 1%.

Submitted by harvey on April 30, 2012 - 5:24pm.

sdduuuude wrote:
You really are a dick, you know.

Yeah, I know.

Submitted by harvey on April 30, 2012 - 5:37pm.

AN wrote:
Yes they should and already are. But I would say they should only do it for STEM degrees. If you want to be a liberal arts major, do it on your own dimes. However, those liberal arts major are also getting government support right now too.

So there is a line somewhere that needs to be drawn. But how do we determine where? I understand your point about STEM degrees, as I purposely setup a fairly uncontroversial example.

But why not liberal arts? Are they of no value at all? What about people that become lawyers? The rule of law is the most important aspect of our society. And who writes our history books?

I don't have an answer, but I know it's not so simple.

Do we limit our pool or lawyers, historians, and teachers to the children of the rich?

Submitted by harvey on April 30, 2012 - 5:47pm.

davelj wrote:
The problem is not "luck", per se, and you know this. The problem is massive income (and thus influence) inequality of which one source is "random fortune" (or "luck").

I'm the one who is responsible for emphasizing the term "luck" in the discussion (although I quoted it to suggest that it wasn't quite the common use of the word.) Perhaps "circumstance" is a better word.

Quote:
While I don't advocate a Scandinavian-socialist model [...]

Oh no, we are talking about Europe and socialism!

I didn't start it, I swear!

Do you know IKEA is the largest tax-evasion scheme in the world? I love this story:

http://www.economist.com/node/6919139

Quote:
it's pretty clear to me (at least) that our system is rigged to perpetuate the ultra-wealthy

Although I agree it would seem this way lately, there is some pretty basic evidence to the contrary:

Look at the list of the 20 or so richest people in the US and notice most of them are first-generation wealth. And most of the rest are second-generation.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.