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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

SELF MADE MEN AND THE PARTICIPATION TROPHY ERA

"As a youth, Rockefeller reportedly said that his two great ambitions were to make $100,000 and to live 100 years."

I had an idea a while back to write about all the great men in the past who failed utterly but kept going and finally found astounding success.  Self-made men who kept going despite things not working out, such as Milton Hershey, who failed over and over again trying to start his own candy business. 
Each time Hershey tried out a reasonable, promising new business, it fell apart, such as the pushcart selling candy he and his friend started when he was 19.  But staying up all night making candy and pushing the cart around all day was wrecking his health and he had to give it up.  It got so bad his family refused to loan him any more money to follow his dreams.
Milton Hershey of course is the guy behind Hershey's chocolate bar and a massive candy empire.  Eventually it worked out.
Henry Ford failed over and over in his youth.  He started out an engineer working for Thomas Edison, and built his own car company at the age of 23 in Detroit, Michigan.  The Quadricycle debuted in 1896, built from salvaged scrap.  It was too small and not ready for large scale production and was a failure.
Undaunted, Ford pushed on, fascinated by the possibilities of the gasoline engine.  He designed a better car, one that could be produced more easily and was larger but still compact, easy to drive, and easy maintain he quickly found investors, thanks partly because of Ford's energy and enthusiasm.  However it took too long to get the business functional and by 1901 the Detroit Automobile Company collapsed and Ford was broke and without a business again.
One of his backers still believed in Ford's genius and design ability, so the Henry Ford Auto Company was formed, and having learned from his failure, Ford designed a more specific car rather than trying to appeal to too many drivers.  However, continual interference from investors who knew nothing about design doomed that company, too.
His next effort was backed by a Scotsman who was a visionary as well, and with this money Henry Ford created his auto manufacturing plant which could put out 15 cars a day - Henry Ford didn't invent the assembly line, others had done it in the past, but he perfected it and applied it to the automobile.  And this one worked.  Ford became the premier car company in America and to this day still is highly regarded.
Then there are the many other examples, from John D Rockefeller to Andrew Carnegy, to Howard Hughes, Sam Walton, Bill Gates, and on who started with almost or actually nothing and became immensely rich, often through repeated failure.  I figured it would be inspiring, hopeful, and show the way capitalism and America works - or, worked.
But the thing is, these days when you talk about hard work, tough times, and perseverance that leads to success, people don't respond positively.  They respond with resentment and anger.  Mitt Romney's nomination at the 2012 RNC was all about this theme and it fell flat.  Rush Limbaugh recently spoke about this on his show:
The Republican National Convention? My gosh, from the standpoint of timely and timeless American tradition, it was terrific. One story after another of how up-from-nothing success occurred. Hard work. You know, people smirk now when you tell 'em that kind of a story. "Yeah, I worked hard." You can see it, too. You can. You can watch people react to a politician on TV or anybody who talks about, "Yeah, I came from nothing. I worked really hard. My parents raised me right.

"I remember doing two or three jobs to pay my way through school," and people smirk at it now. What's happened is the Democrats/the left have successfully convinced people that they are the party of freedom, that they are the party of liberation, that they free people from constraints or bondage or what have you. For the longest time I noted, and I always laughed at it -- and, as usual, I should have taken it more seriously than I did, I remember when Bill Clinton was inaugurated.

You know, in the celebrations that takes place a week before the inauguration, all these liberals showed up and they had parties in Washington on the Mall. Every day people like Aretha Franklin would get up and sing songs about, "We shall overcome! We have overcome!" like they just got out of jail, like they were just freed from tyranny. I sat there and laughed, and said, "What kind of locoweeds are these people?"
Yet this is what too many people in America think: they are set free from labor and effort and personal risk by the government.  That the federal government will shield them from having to try hard, to strive and sacrifice and work, and that big brother will protect them from hardship.
It sucks to not have enough to pay your bills.  It eats away at your guts if you have any dignity or honor at all if you have to go in debt.  Its no fun not having enough money to do the things you want or even think you should.
Yet almost everyone on earth lives that way, almost every human being that has ever existed has lived day to day, striving to make it through to the next paycheck, or its equivalent.  Its only very recently with the concepts of the free market and democracy begun in England and given true form in America that people had the chance to get past that and make more of themselves.
But to do so means you have to face risk, failure, and difficulty.  It means hard work, luck, and connections.  It means being in the right place at the right time with the right idea.  It means sacrifice, long hours, and doing without things you want to get things you need or dream of.  It means putting the future in front of the present, and striving until you can make that future happen.
Sometimes - maybe often - it doesn't work.  Sometimes you never make it no matter how hard you try, sometimes people are too weak or sick or limited to become rich and comfortable.  Few people have what it takes (luck, connections, timing, personal ability, health, etc) to really make it.  So we are the ones who work for the guys who do
Sometimes you fail, a lot, but make it eventually anyway. Ask Milton Hershey, pushing a heavy cart around all day then going to work at cooking candy all night.  It almost always means starting low and poor.  Ask John D. Rockefeller working 12 hour days as a bookkeeper at Hewitt&Tuttle for 50 cents a day.  Ask Andrew Carnegie working for $1.20 a week at the age of 14 in a factory.
That's not for everyone, but that doesn't mean there's some evil afoot.  Nobody is crushing you because you can't make a billion dollars, it takes a very special person and set of circumstances to pull that off.  If everyone made a billion dollars it wouldn't be worth much.  If everyone had the same money, it would be average pay, not an exceptional amount, and you'd be no better off than a guy working an average job.
The basic economic fact is that you have to start somewhere and work your way up, unless you're given everything to begin with.  If you're 16 and starting your job, you don't get the executive suite and the company jet.  You get the mailroom and are glad of it.  You work up through the company by demonstrating your ability and your drive, or you don't get noticed and move to another job where you will.  That's how its supposed to work, and its good that it works that way, because it teaches the virtue of getting paid for your work and earning your place rather than being given it.  That's a lesson all those men listed above learned, and it served them well.
Instead, today we have congressmen demanding $22 an hour minimum wage, that every job pay "living wages," that businesses are greedy for not paying every single worker enough to have their own home and support a family.  We have people angry that they aren't given health insurance at their job, then enraged that they have to pay anything toward the costs of that insurance.
I've written over and over on this theme, but its true: people sense something is terribly wrong, particularly with America.  But their aim is totally off, so they are shooting at their own foot instead of the target.  They blame businesses, capitalism, and the free market rather than cronyism, vast government overreach, wasteful spending, and a culture of getting everything without doing the work to get it.
When you're raised to think you are a special gleaming diamond, a unique wonderful snowflake that gets a graduation ceremony for going from the 5th to 6th grade, and a prize for simply playing in a game instead of winning, the idea of having to work hard to accomplish something is alien.  Its outside your entire world's reference, you have nothing to compare it to.
Raised in a bubble of protection to keep them from skinning a knee, told they are golden star dust from birth, and praised for doing only what they ought, young people grow into middle aged people without a clue how life works or what it takes to make it.
So you have people on the streets angry that they're expected to pay back a loan, angry that they have to pay for a house, angry that they can't live on that McDonald's fry cook job, and calling for the government to fix it all.
That's the drive behind reelecting President Obama; they saw Romney's worldview in the RNC and were horrified.  They saw President Obama as the guy who'd give them stuff, and Romney as the guy who'd run things and expect them to do it for themselves.  All those rich people can pay for it, they have plenty to spare, after all.  Who cares if the numbers don't add up, truth is relative and math is fascist.  We shall overcome.

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