The Self-Made Myth

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Brian Miller and Mike Lapham argue that how we view the creation of wealth and individual success shapes our choices on taxes, regulation, public investments in schools and infrastructure, and CEO pay. Their book The Self-Made Myth: And the Truth about How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed investigates profiles business leaders who recognize the public investments and support that helped them succeed—including Warren Buffett, Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s, and New Belgium Brewing CEO Kim Jordan.


Mike Lapham and Brian Miller

Comments [33]

Chris Garvey from Amityville

Income taxes don't tax the rich, as much as they tax those who are earning for the purpose of becoming rich.
Regulations don't hurt the corporations which have lawyers & compliance officers, and enough money to pay fines & bribes.
Regulations hurt the start-ups who don't suspect what gratuitous irrational rules and huge fines they will face. Such regulations protect the established from new competition.
Archer Daniels Midland regards the free market as a quaint idea they have never had to operate in. The government gives them $10 in subsidy for every dollar of their profit.
The government is much more effective at suppressing new success than at helping people get started.
These authors' tales are of mercantilism, pay to play subsidies, & crony capitalism - - Don't confuse them with the free market.

Mar. 30 2012 02:28 AM

Gene: Peter Agre was right.

Mar. 28 2012 08:18 PM

To our economics-worshipping poster:

I liked what Noel Prize winner in chemistry Dr. Peter Agre said when Steven Colbert asked him the provocative, "Do they give a Nobel Prize for throwing your own feces?"

He was taken aback, but only for a second, then he said, "That’s the economics prize, I think."

Mar. 28 2012 06:39 PM

Chris Garvey from Amityville: But don't you know, Chris, that the two economically-ignorant guests think that this is the "help" that businesses need to be successful?

Those two ignoramuses look at certain individuals who have used our corrupt fascist big business/big government system (with money from most of us tax payers; just think of the bailouts of the corrupt banks and the inefficient auto companies) to get ahead in business, then the two ignoramuses write a book claiming that this is somehow the "norm" of a market economy. Most successful people in this country start businesses (which, by the way, are always small to begin with) and are successful because they make products or offer services that other people are willing to pay for. The immoral few individuals who use the guns of government for special privileges are not typical of most people; that is not how a true economy works.

As for the two guests, I would like to quote a great economist:

"It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance."

Mar. 28 2012 04:44 PM

Though I'm not a fan of Any Rand, she lived off Social Security and Medicare because she PAID for them when they were forcibly deducted from her earnings by the government. Getting back your own money is not "living off" of someone else's hard earned money.

Mar. 28 2012 04:32 PM
Josh Karan from Washington Heights, northern Manhattan

Even if you believe that individuals who start with an advantage also work hard, thereby contributing to the social welfare, and thus are deserving of acclaim --

Why does such acclaim have to be in the form of monetary payment and the power that buys?

Cannot people be honored if they contribute to social betterment by producing a better computer or other such technological innovation? Put up a statue, or name a public building or street after them.

If you believe that people will only exert themselves if they receive money as a reward, then I believe that you have a very limited view of human potential.

Moreover, even if you believe that money should be part of the reward, why should this reward be inheritable by progeny that had nothing to do with any parental accomplishment? Do parents need to be able to pass on their earnings in order for the parents to be motivated to work hard? Another unseemly point of view which denies the pride of accomplishment that we are all able to feel.

And additionally, if you believe that money is needed to motivate accomplishment, would not such inheritance
then necessarily inhibit the next generation from applying themselves to similar accomplishments? Or do the children only then exert themselves because they are even greedier?

To top this off, institutional structures of our society, and that and of others, allow such monetary resources to also buy political influence which leads to the crony government that reinforces the inequalities which undermine so many while further enriching the few.

Can't a different basis for society be striven for. Some have called that socialism --- with the motto "From each according to their ability, to each according to their need".

Mar. 28 2012 03:13 PM
Gerlad Fnord from Palos Verdes, Ca

Herr[?] UdoDirkenschneider:

What about living entirely without myths? Democracy works better than other system because it can provide better feedback, but to the extent that the information believed by the polity were distorted from reality that feedback can converge on solutions non-consonant with what people would prefer.

We can handle the truth; anyone who says otherwsie is selling something you otherwise wouldn't be willing to buy.

Mar. 28 2012 02:18 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

@ Lonnie
"I'm always reminding young 'Ayn Randians' that she wrote FICTION - Not Philosophy. And then she lived on Social Security & Medicare"

Sssshhhhhhhh, you wouldn't want the myths of Randianites to be broken by facts and reality, would you?

Mar. 28 2012 02:01 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

The old conflict between indiviualism and collectivism goes back a LONG time. When I was a kid learning elementary school civics back in the 1950s, we are described as a "mixed economy," a partnership between public and private enterprise. But both sides in the Individualism vs. Collectivism debate create myths. One of the seminal myths was created by Karl Marx in his Das Kapital. Ideological extremism on both sides created mythologies just as religious extremism did in the more distant past.

Mar. 28 2012 02:01 PM

Lonnie from Brooklyn!!! ~

Will you marry me?

Mar. 28 2012 02:00 PM
John A.

I missed the first 5m of the segment, but have been enjoying most of their supporting sub-arguments. Perhaps they've just put off people by using an offensive summation? I too have met people who were both self-made and unmade. Stay motivated, people!

Mar. 28 2012 01:59 PM

Lenny -

Ideology always trumps reason. Facts become irrelevant when you believe... even it you're a hypocrite!

Mar. 28 2012 01:58 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!


have you been listening to the speakers? In practice it does the affirms racism and sexist attitudes actually by not acknowledging the disadvantages that many start out with and promoting the idea that those of a particular social class who were able to succeed due to to the inherent advantages they were either born with or were handed to did it all alone and that anyone else who was not able to do the same didn't because they were "lazy" or some such idea.

yes we all have a mother, father, etc but if you listen to the speakers, what i meant is that they ALL have help other than that. They get tax cuts, benefits or just people helping them along the way in other capacities, as the speakers have demonstrated.

So again, I think it is a garbage myth that unfortunately affirms all kinds of prejudices and it needs to be abolished.

Mar. 28 2012 01:58 PM

More class warfare crap. Disappointing story.

Mar. 28 2012 01:58 PM
Gene from NYC

CATO and its ilk aren't "think tanks," they don't "think," they advocate. They're high-end PR firms, hired to develop and disseminate the arguments that benefit their funders, and undercut a government of the people, for the people and by the people. Yes, traitors.

The companies can't release this junk on their own, it'd be too obvious what's going on. They need a third party. Advertising works best when you don't realize it's advertising. Thus, CATO.

So, Leonard, let's call CATO what it is-- a PR agency-- and quit helping it advance its cynical game, like an unthinking dupe.

Next you'll be saying it's "fair and balanced."

Mar. 28 2012 01:57 PM
Lonnie from Brooklyn!!!

I'm always reminding young 'Ayn Randians' that she wrote FICTION - Not Philosophy. And then she lived on Social Security & Medicare!

Mar. 28 2012 01:56 PM
art525 from Park SLope

Let's not forget that Ayn Rand spent her last years lving off of social programs. What a phony. What a hypocrite.

Mar. 28 2012 01:55 PM
gene from NYC

When I read 1 or 2 Ayn Rands in college, that was enough; I had assumed they'd have some literary worth, but I considered them nothing more than psuedo-intellecual bodice-rippers. Let's not forget, glorious rape is a key factor in these books.

Mar. 28 2012 01:55 PM
Rosa from White Plains

This lie, that you can make it on your own, has been the greatest contributor to this country's decline. I don't know when this lie was propagated or by whom, but it has penetrated and taken hold of our psyche to the point where we have stopped demanding more from our government. This attitude, of course, also translates to other areas. For example, we ask very little from our employers because, hey, I just have to keep my head down and work hard. Productivity keeps going up, even though companies continue to lay off workers. Those that remain simply roll up their sleeves and work harder, their salaries reduced, their benefits slashed, faithful in the belief that someday, they will make it big.

Mar. 28 2012 01:54 PM

Chris Garvey from Amityville ~

THAT is some very sick SH*T!!

Those numbers are astonishing!! It is hard to fathom...

Thanks for posting!!

Mar. 28 2012 01:54 PM
Anonymous from Brooklyn

Could your guests talk about the negative connotations of the word "entitlements" and why they think people are incredibly eager to undermine safety nets that help everyone, including those who mistakenly think they don't rely on public investments?

Mar. 28 2012 01:51 PM
gene from nyc

The primary aim of business is Monopoly; proper regulation thwarts this effort, to allow for other business to provide competition and thus innovation and increased efficiency.

Mar. 28 2012 01:49 PM

I agree that no one is self-made, after all we have a mother and a father and a langauge and so on...
I strongly disagree that it is a "garbage myth".

It is the best myth ever and it comes from the rejection of racism and elitism: there was a time a few generations ago where all success was attributed to: a) God, b) your "blood" (aristracted pretended to be literally a different species with "blue blood".

As myth goes, this one is the best, most empowering myth!

Mar. 28 2012 01:49 PM

Chris Garvey from Amityville~



Mar. 28 2012 01:49 PM

In the USA™, we sacrifice individual entrepreneurialism and true freedom to protect Korporate Health "Insurance" Industry® profits.

We are held hostage so that H. Edward Hanwa at Cigna can enjoy his immoral $12,236,740 salary!

Mar. 28 2012 01:48 PM
Chris Garvey from Amityville

Before we raise taxes on the productive, let's abolish welfare for bankers.
16.1 Trillion $ Federal Reserve since 2007 to:
Citigroup: $2.5 trillion($2,500,000,000,000)

Morgan Stanley: $2.04 trillion ($2,040,000,000,000)

Merrill Lynch: $1.949 trillion ($1,949,000,000,000)

Bank of America: $1.344 trillion ($1,344,000,000,000)

Barclays PLC (United Kingdom): $868 billion* ($868,000,000,000)

Bear Sterns: $853 billion ($853,000,000,000)

Goldman Sachs: $814 billion ($814,000,000,000)

Royal Bank of Scotland (UK): $541 billion ($541,000,000,000)

JP Morgan Chase: $391 billion ($391,000,000,000)

Deutsche Bank (Germany): $354 billion ($354,000,000,000)

UBS (Switzerland): $287 billion ($287,000,000,000)

Credit Suisse (Switzerland): $262 billion ($262,000,000,000)

Lehman Brothers: $183 billion ($183,000,000,000)

Bank of Scotland (United Kingdom): $181 billion ($181,000,000,000)

BNP Paribas (France): $175 billion ($175,000,000,000)

Mar. 28 2012 01:45 PM
Chris from Yorktown

"Self made" people, if you want to use the term are different from others in their drive and their having put something together that others have not. A lot of us are perfectly happy to work for a company or corporation, but those who are able to create something should be given credit for that being something different, something valuable. You can't say that's all due to the state, government etc. Your speakers sound like guys who envy others and haven't themselves made something from nothing.

Mar. 28 2012 01:44 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

There is no such thing as "self-made", not one person ever does it ALL alone...not one. It's a garbage myth.

Mar. 28 2012 01:42 PM

This is very unhelpful: it tells me that I should just wait for circumstances to change, rather than rely on my initiative.

a) What Miller and Lapman are saying is not denied by anyone: there is no one who believes that e.g. you could be a great violinist in a country without violins. No one is denying this.

b) Given rule of law and free markets + roads and so on, the rest depends on YOU.


So what they are saying is not incorrect, but its psychologically destructive.

Mar. 28 2012 01:41 PM

Isn't it true, however, that if a majority of people believe in the self made myth that it become a reality ?

Mar. 28 2012 01:41 PM
Benjy from Crown Heights, Brooklyn

To what degree is government separable from the highest earning individuals? Those highest earners are exerting a vastly disproportionate influence over government through lobbying etc.

Mar. 28 2012 01:40 PM
Gerald Fnord from Palos Verdes, Ca

My father, as close to a "self-made" man as I've ever met, used to refer to them as 'products of poor workmanship' (attributing the phrase to Shaw, but I haven't been able to verify this).

In the State of Nature, that is to say in the absence of Society (which, pacem Ms Thatcher, exists in the same way 'rights' and 'duties' and 'morals' and the like exist), no-one or very, very, few can heap-up, keep, enjoy, or pass on large amounts of wealth---you can hire guards for it, but usually you end up fearing your guards.... And limited liability is _completely_ a State artifact, as are patents and copyrights.

In its turn, the State owes all those it has helped to dispossess by virtue of protecting the un-natural claims of others. Tom Paine's "Agrarian Justice" is a good start here; to it I'll add that since the State makes wealth owed me by others hiding behind an artificial person potentially unrecoverable, it owes me at least the ability to do the same, including credit card and student loan debt...and if I am imporverished by the actions of such a State creation, I'd say I were owed the minimum to support life....

"Property rights" is an excellent technology for many things, including a basic security of essentials against governement seizure, encouragement of innovation, and the like...but not for everything, and like every technology it does not have an unlimited domain of usefulness. ---and, gvien that most of our important property rights are State creations, it is unreasonable not to expect the State to dip its beak.

Mar. 28 2012 11:40 AM

Government "helps" businesses. I believe this is called "Crony Capitalism."

Mar. 28 2012 09:45 AM

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