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Myth of the Self-Made Individual

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Bill Posted: Sat, Apr 28 2012 2:16 AM

Hey Ya'll,

Here is an interesting article which cites a study about the myth of the self-made individual. It claims that the idea that people became wealthy through their own independent action is wrong and that it is the main basis for the policies and philosophy espoused by conservatives and libertarians alike. For the authors, the idea that people can do things on their own is on that is proven wrong by the necessity of things like infrastructure, state aid, and luck. I personally don't think this is a wrong position but I also think that it helps highlight the idea that people obviously need eachother to cooperate with, division of labor anyone? it seems pretty clear that very few people have ever existed on their own or improved themselves without some help(a word that has a very loose definition). what do you all think?


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NEPHiLiX replied on Sat, Apr 28 2012 4:18 AM

The most pressing issue I have with this piece (aside from the shallow premise/thesis) is that the conclusion is absolutely guaranteed even before the "research" is conducted. We are living in a very high intervention economy, so clearly everyone they interview, operating within this extremely regulated eco-system, will not be "self-made" in the sense of the term as they define it. In fact they cannot be given the criteria--those people have been successfully slain by this mass-intervention society (the new economic ecosystem favors a different breed of man). Is this really something worth celebrating?

A more interesting question in my view is what kind of millionaire, what kind of market has been sacrificed in pursuance of this mass-intervention system that yielded these state-made men?

If you've heard it once from your Fox-watching uncle, you've probably heard it a hundred times. "The government never did anything for me, dammit," he grouses. "Everything I have, I earned. Nobody ever handed me anything. I did it all on my own. I'm a self-made man."

By the way, the term "self-made man" is usually used not to denote some kind of fortune-generating individual operating in a vacuum but rather in contradistinction to someone's inherited fortune. Clearly your Fox-watching hick uncle shouldn't be your source on defining such matters when writing an academic article/book.

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As was kind of mentioned, the term "self-made" is not meant to imply that someone created everything he has on his own, from scratch.  Obviously no one could do that.  As the "rational optimist" points out, not a single person on Earth knows how to make a simple computer mouse...or even a pencil.

When someone says "self-made" they are meaning that they built/earned their fortune through their own personal efforts, as opposed to simply receiving it from someone else...that is, they created opposed to simply taking wealth that someone else created.  This was covered really well (and in many different ways) in the Elizabeth Warren thread.


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bloomj31 replied on Sat, Apr 28 2012 5:53 AM

Where's the article about the people who have access to all the same stuff but fail at life?

Oh wait..."Most of us probably know hard-working, brilliant, or extraordinarily talented people who aren't being rewarded at anything close to their true value."

Love this gem: "Rich conservatives have to downplay the role of luck. After all, if we think they're just lucky, rather than exceptionally deserving of exceptional wealth, we'll be a lot more justified in taxing their fortunes."

Hey that guy has been fortunate, get him!  Love this stuff so funny.

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As usually, the statists completely misunderstand the point of markets as a reward system. I have been noticing for a long time that especially leftists are very concerned with the "deservedness" of income. They seem to think that if they can argue that income is not deserved, i.e. unearned or unneeded, then they have justified expropriation. But the point of markets is not to allocate income to those who "deserve" it, the point of markets is to efficiently allocate scarce resources. Income is merely a tool for that. If that means that some people get richer than they "really need" to be, or that some people get rich without really doing much or because they were lucky, that's just an irrelevant side-effect of efficient market allocation.

"They all look upon progressing material improvement as upon a self-acting process." - Ludwig von Mises
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Neodoxy replied on Sat, Apr 28 2012 9:27 AM

I'm not going to bother read this because it's attacking a strawman. No one could rise to any sort of status in society without interacting with their fellow men in such a way so as to elevate them to that state. In almost all long-standing cases in our day this involves a great deal of cooperation. This does not then necessitate that everyone have equalized income, or be forced to give to others. The fact that men can only rise to their place in society through cooperation indicates that they have paid their debt to society itself. 

At last those coming came and they never looked back With blinding stars in their eyes but all they saw was black...
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