Self Made Fantasy



By now anyone that pays any attention to what the Presidential candidates are saying has heard about Mitt Romney’s ridiculous assertion that young people should just “take a risk, get the education, borrow money if you have to from your parents, start a business.” This advice makes perfect sense to him since, in his fantastical reality, all people are born into families affluent enough to bankroll their kid’s every wish, whim, and dream. But if his chauffeur ever takes a wrong turn into a working class community, he might see some of the people that are working hard every day just to pay their mortgage and feed their kids. He might see that there are hardworking Americans out there that are stretching every dime just to get by. And he might note that very few of them are complaining about it.

 Of course if his chauffeur ever takes the wrong exit into one of those low income/high crime neighborhoods that he’s heard about on television, all he’d see is a reason to fire his chauffeur. He likes doing that.

 Mitt Romney suggesting that young people should just borrow money from their parents is just further proof of his inability to connect to the reality of the American working class. But that disconnect is already so clear that to debate it any further would be like debating the roundness of the earth. Anyone paying attention already knows it, and far too much of the extreme right will deny it despite clear evidence.

 What his statement reminded me of was just how many so called “self-made” men and women truly believe that they did it all on their own. Why doesn’t everybody just borrow 25,000 dollars from their dad, after graduating from prep-school, and start a company like Jimmy John Liautaud did? Clearly the answer is laziness and over-dependence on the nanny state.

 There are too many wealthy people in this country that ignore the benefits of growing up with wealth, security, superior education opportunities, and often inherited business advantage. And judging by some of their attitudes towards the U.S. government, they clearly don’t recognize the sheer advantage of simply being born in America. The established education and infrastructure systems of this country have literally paved the way for accelerated economic growth for generations. Not to mention the overall benefits of living in a consistently safe and secure country.  Having an educated populous provides both a more easily adaptable work force to draw from as well as a motivated and viable consumer base. Our utilities and transportation infrastructures have allowed businesses in this country to focus their energy on their specific field of innovation while taking for granted the means needed to get their product (whether it be information, technology, or manufacturing) distributed across the country and the globe. Throughout U.S. history, our government has provided a pallet for success that is so taken for granted now that these self-made patriots have convinced themselves that they’ve conquered the system and made themselves into the successful people that they are in spite of it and therefore owe nothing in return. And their disrespect of the country has now become a political movement dedicated to denying the government’s past services to society and to cutting it “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

 I wonder how many financially lucrative lobbying firms Grover Norquist would have founded if he had been born in Sudan. I’m guessing none, because he would have spent his teen years trying to survive in a country torn apart by civil war instead of volunteering for the Nixon campaign in this overgrown monster of a government. Luckily he was able to persevere through his Ivy League education (note: this was before a college education was considered an elitist liberal indoctrination), and channel that determined spirit into tax avoidance and the dismantling of the systems that make so much success possible. What a patriot.

 No one is saying that none of the most successful people in America have ever worked hard, or that they necessarily had anything handed to them (though many did). Most of the successful people in this country worked incredibly hard. But the idea that they did it all on their own in spite of the country’s system of government seems to feed into the idea that the lesser successful people in this country just don’t try hard enough and therefore don’t deserve our respect, and certainly not our empathy. Too many of the upper income recipients hold their advantaged success as evidence of the vitality of The American Dream without any recognition or understanding that some people have to fight equally as hard as they did just to avoid starvation and homelessness. The finish line in America is roughly the same for everybody. It’s the starting line that varies so wildly, and for perceived leaders to deny an advantaged starting position is disingenuous at best and deceitful at worst. And to go further after so much success, and attempt to dismantle the system so integral to their own success while ignoring the people still working so hard within it is insulting.

 What is more unsettling to me is the segment of true working class society that has overcome real adversity in order to achieve even a modest level of success, and upon achieving that success joins themselves ideologically with the elite (that will never truly respect them) in their attack on the government structure that allowed them their opportunities. People that studied hard in an underfunded school system in order to get the best education they could to move on to higher education and greater employment, but choose to look back at the others languishing in that same path with disdain instead of understanding. People that took a high-school education and mixed it with years of back breaking work to build a career for themselves and then choose to look at others struggling in the bog of high un-employment just to say “get a job ya bum,” as though it’s really that simple.

 Why do the richest among us automatically get so much respect from the hardest working members of our society, while the poorest among us get inaccurately labeled as non-working leaches of the system? The rich should not be demonized for being successful, any more than the less fortunate should be characterizing as ne’er do wells always looking for a handout, especially with more evidence every year that the richest among us are paying so little back into the system. Is that not a handout? They get all of the enormous financial benefits of living and doing business in this great country but aren’t expected to give anything in return. And save that “job creator” silliness.  I’m not buying it.  Everybody wants the guy with nothing to get “some skin in the game,” but doesn’t seem to mind at all that huge American corporations funnel billions of dollars out of our country every year in order to avoid paying taxes back into the system.

 It’s disrespectful to the country that made their success possible, and the more they want to deny that, and the more they want to dismantle the things that made their success possible while attacking the less fortunate, the more I disrespect them in return. The rich didn’t work harder than everyone else. The rich don’t work harder than everyone else now. And the rich don’t deserve my respect simply because they have a bigger bank account. I don’t measure human value in that denomination.


6 responses to “Self Made Fantasy

  1. The only role government should play is where it HAS to…in areas where market forces won’t fulfill a need or where the resources are critical to the nations security. I am very happy with roads, laws that protect commerce, and the military. Scratching my head trying to think of more but I’m sure they are there. I’m not a fan of government wasting my money…would even argue that the government withholding more money than it should for my taxes is also a waste because I could have invested it instead of receiving it back with NO interest.

    Not everybody qualifies for a loan…but, then again, not everybody should. If you don’t have a plan that a bank believes will pay off the loan (business plan) then you won’t qualify for the loan. That’s obviously simplified…but banks usually don’t like to make bad bets. I’m not a Romney fan, but I don’t get irritated with his comment.

    The inherited business advantage I’m all in with you on, but I probably view it differently. The advantage I see is the ability to see opportunity and take calculated risk. That is something I wish I had been exposed to more. Now I’m too risk averse.

    I don’t disagree that thei is an imbalance in our country related to taxes…but it may be a reach to tie this generation of businessman to a lack of dedication to the country. When did income tax even start? Around World War II. Up until then it had mostly been taraffs on imports. Hard to tax imports when your fighting wars against some of those importing countries. I don’t hear anybody complaining that FDR wasn’t patriotic. I also don’t see people on the left or right paying more than what they have to by law.

    We need reforms in a lot of areas. Don’t disagree with you there. Great read, thanks for posting.

    • I guess I could buy into the attacks on government more easily if I felt like they weren‘t always directed at the services that help so many. I rarely hear any of these “big government” criers trying to end the oil company subsidies. Why are we subsidizing the most profitable companies in the world with tax dollars? They don’t need it, and I don‘t believe we get a very high return on investment. Hearing so much focus on the social safety net programs (and the postal service), without acknowledging self sabotaging policies put upon them, and ignoring the money spent (and often wasted) on foreign aid all over the world gets to me. I don’t have a problem at all with my tax dollars going to welfare programs, social security, Medicaid, and federal education programs. Any or all of them may need some adjustments, but I rarely hear politicians even begin to discuss adjustments. They too often and too quickly talk in exaggerations. It keeps people riled, misinformed, and scrambling for a leader. The perfect atmosphere for snake oil salesmen to get their miracle tonic racing off of the shelves.

      As far as the government keeping too much of your tax money without paying interest, that’s as simple as changing your W-4 to reflect more dependents. Your pay will have less taxes withheld, and when you file in April, you will likely owe taxes. But you will have gotten more throughout the year and will have been able to invest the extra money however you like, and perhaps earned enough extra to cover the tax debt. I know a few people that do that every year. I’m lazy. I claim zero, and get a refund every year.

      I don’t say any of this as any kind of denial that there is a huge need for overall tax reform. It does need to be simpler. Loopholes have to be eliminated. And American companies funneling money into foreign banks to avoid paying taxes need to have all government benefits cut off. And I mean all government benefits, including copyright and patent protection. If a so-called American company wants to open a small office in Sweden to avoid paying U.S. taxes, awesome. Move to Sweden. I do see it as unpatriotic to have so much contempt toward their country not only of origin but of huge business advantage, that they‘d rather funnel their huge profits into another country‘s economy just to avoid paying taxes. That arrogance drives me crazy. They honestly believe that they are more valuable citizens than you and I, and therefore deserve more for less. And somehow they’ve convinced a large segment of hard working Americans that they’re right. I disagree.

      You’re right that a great advantage of the rich is the ability to recognize opportunity and calculate risk.
      But the risk of investment is always going to be less when losing that investment is never going to leave the person destitute. There are lots of working class people that are more than capable of seeing huge opportunity, but when they would have to risk everything they own to seek out that opportunity, they absolutely have to be hesitant and cautious. When someone like Bill Gates sees that same opportunity, he can just throw money at it. If it succeeds, awesome. If it fails, he’ll write off the loss, and his family will never even feel the bump. That is the difference that people like Mitt Romney don’t understand. Their investments are only risks of finance while to the majority of the country, those same investment would be risks of entire lifestyle. He’s never wanted for anything in his life. And he’ll never be able to understand that experience from reading a book or listening some “Last week, a waitress in Iowa told me” type story that ALL politicians love to churn up.

      The thing I worried about most when I started writing this blog was the risk of trying to make small points on such complicated things without implying that I thought everything is simpler than it is and therefore easy to solve. I know that everything in politics is extremely complicated and difficult to fully express in such a small platform. I do appreciate your input and involvement. I’ve always respected you and your opinions, and I still do. Thanks.

  2. I read enough blogs to recognize the limitations imposed on those that run them. Intellectual discourse is the name of the game. You and I won’t agree on much, and that’s OK, I enjoy the dialogue with those of opposing viewpoints, I learn more about the issue and refine (or sometimes discard) my own ideas. The blog is great, I wouldn’t change a thing.

    Can’t say I’m a huge fan of social programs that aren’t accompanied by incentives to get off of those programs. I felt the President missed an opportunity with Health Care reform (see Singapores health care program…ideal in my mind)…there is a way we can take care of people while at the same time incentivizing them taking better care of themselves.

    Incentives, I think, drive companies to do these types of things. Incentives to drive up stock prices…and I definitely fault Congress and Wall Street equally.

    Bill Gates IS a self made man. Loved the book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell…his argument is somewhat opposed to yours and he pins it more to work ethic. It’s the 10,000 hour rule and not the silver spoon. Having worked over 10000 hours in the Navy and still scraping for a dollar…I acknowledge he could be wrong. Haha.

    • Well said. And I bet if we were talking in person, we would have a lot more in common than it may seem in a written back and forth exchange. I almost took Bill Gates’ name out of my reply, because I respect him so much and didn’t want to mix him into my initial point. I respect the charity foundation he and his wife founded, and have never heard him complaining about the government. I don’t follow his life, and have no idea about his politics, but he was a bad name-drop on my part. Also, I don’t want to come across implying that no one of wealth works hard. They do. My point was that even Bill Gates with his natural genius wouldn’t have been able to make himself who he is today had he been born in Somalia. But he was, fortunately for the entire world, born into a developed country…and even better America. I think he probably understands that and that is probably why I don’t see him every four years whining about the size of government and endorsing some twit that swears he’ll fix everything by eliminating everything. These Grover Norquist and Koch Brothers types are wanting for nothing and still crying like babies about their tax burden. I probably pay a higher tax rate. I can’t respect them. They’re the selfish leaches in this country.

      The incentives issue is a little more nuanced for me. Maybe I’ll write a blog about that issue specifically some day. I’m obviously not against incentive programs to help people eliminate any need for social programs but there will always be some level of society that just will not do for themselves. Every bell curve has outliers. I think it’s a mistake to focus on them when changing things that affect so directly the larger group of people trying hard to get back on their feet and supporting themselves.

      I also think that companies making their quarterly stock price increase their #1 motive is cause of a lot of problems with the way that employees are treated. If immediate profit is the only goal, then the worker is always going to be in direct conflict with that. I much prefer the attitude of the Costco organization. The owner gets flack from wall street bankers all of the time because the treats his employees too well and offers too high of a benefits package. His stock doesn’t skyrocket wildly, but it rises steadily and his employees say they want to retire from that company. It’s warehouse retail store and people want to retire there. Why? Because they‘re treated like a valued commodity and not like an expense. It’s because he’s made a conscious effort to put a plan together that is designed to create a long term successful business with excellent employee loyalty, instead of just trying to sky-rocket his stock value for a select few stock holders. It was incredible to read about. So simple and so rare, because too many people have placed immediate financial gratification above all else in their business model, and unfortunately in their lives as well.

      Always good chatting with you.

  3. Because of what America is and what I hope always will be, people like the ones you pointed out have to speak. We get the good with the bad in terms of spokesman for issues (just so happens this one circles around government revenue and expenditures). If you don’t believe that on the whole, government is extremely wasteful…at every level, then I look forward to your future blogs that come back to this point. My starting point isn’t how much we should pay, it’s how much government should spend. I try to look past the person delivering the message and figure out if it’s true. The devil telling me that Hitler should have been stopped in Germany doesn’t make it any less true.

    I think your comment about the bell curve is one that hovers near the heart. Those that cannot do for themselves should be the outliers (#1) and policies must be carefully crafted to ensure that you don’t move that normal distribution towards the outliers. In other words…social programs are good for the few…but not when they encourage those that otherwise would have worked hard and not needed something like…disability…to suddenly cheat the system and figure out a way to take from the program instead of just putting in. I bring up disability because it became easier to qualify for disability in the 90’s and since then it has been bankrupting the Social Security program. Government has to look into the numbers and ask why when the unintended consequences reer their heads. Without going into detail I believe people are cheating the system because their is an incentive there.

    Don’t disagree with your Costco story. As I sit at Starbucks it’s one of the same reasons I like this company. Not sure how to get at the heart of that. There have been some catastrophic issues on Wall Street going back for 30 years and nobody seems willing to do anything to prevent a repeat.

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