Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sauron Himself Is But An Emissary - Part V-A

A Thought Experiment - Continued

Consider now the other theories of why some have wealth and others don't. If you believed that hard work was not merely a usual component in wealth, but its overwhelming driver, how would you look at your various neighbors. How would you see yourself?

If you believed that wealth beyond a minimum level was by definition an exploitation, a taking of what belonged to others for your own comfort, how would you view the wealthy and the poor. Remember to expand this thought experiment to include other wealths, such as beauty or education.

If you believed that all of this was written before the beginning of time, and your worldly goods immutably set by an omniscient good, what would be your view of government? Or of God Himself?

As I noted early on, few if any people are absolute purists in these matters. But some do lean very strongly toward one or another belief, so it is worth considering the pure situation. When I return this discussion to perceiving what the core values of modern progressives are, the weighting of these factors is going to loom large, and all answers lead to contradictions.


karrde said...


The Exploitation claim is an old one, often the cry of (relatively-poor) commoners against wealthy people who handle money professionally.

Think the Jewish banker in Europe during the Middle Ages. (The Knights Templar also may have fallen prey to such hatred, also...) Bankers did things with money that most commoners, and many rich nobles, could not understand. These people assumed that wealth came primarily from land. How could a man become wealthy by moving money around?

In that frame of mind, people find it easy to assume that the wealth gotten by this niche of never-get-their-hands-dirty people must have been somehow stolen.

This is true today in less-developed parts of the world. Imagine a country with a medium-low standard of living, which suddenly comes of interest to a wealthy company from the richer parts of the world. That company gives the locals work at wages which are competitive (sometimes better) with anything else local. But the CEO who handles the company drives an imported Mercedes, and lives in a house twenty times better than anything else the locals have seen.

It is easy for them to assume that he is somehow stealing wealth which ought to be theirs.

karrde said...


This can come in several flavors, from solid Calvinist assertions that God knew the value of your business's bank account to the penny from before the foundation of the earth, to a generic feeling that the Man Upstairs keeps an eye on Good People, and that if a person is rich they must be Good.

Or, if they are Rich and not Good, then God is going to take it from them. (And He really should get his act together, for the sake of the impressionable children who see a man who is Rich but not Good.)

It is easy to marry this to the assertion that those who are wealthy were given that wealth so that they might Do Good with it.

While that thought is noble, it is easy to mutate into social pressure that a wealthy person who doesn't have some Cause that they donate to is selfish and uncaring.

(For historical perspective...many artists and musicians depended on a wealthy patron to support the Arts...because the Arts were in favor, and the social pressure to help the Poor was not so heavy.)

karrde said...

And, to return to Hard Work...

I've known several men in my life who seem unable to stop working. One of them began in a construction-related business, doing the back-breaking labor of cutting and drilling in concrete.

Thirty years later, he has retired (after selling his company which specialized in concrete sawing and drilling), and is a wealthy man. Not millionaire, but an order of magnitude wealthier than many of his blue-collar neighbors.

And he still works, mostly with his hands, as much as he can. Even when he managed his business, he still put in a day or two of manual labor every week.

Just last week he told me a story of a job he took up, in which he dug up a driveway, re-did the drainage system underneath it, and re-poured the concrete. (Along the way, he found an old glass bottle, of the kind once used to deliver milk, under the driveway. 'Amazing what you find, isn't it?', he asks.)

This, in a microcosm, is what I think of when I think of hard work. He is a man who doesn't know any other way of life, and has managed to make himself comfortably wealthy while doing so.

There are also men like Henry Ford (or Samuel Morse, or Bill Gates, or Johannes Gutenberg, or Wilbur and Orville Wright), who take technology which is still experimental/unproven/unusable and turn it into a powerful idea or business which changes the face of the world.

Each of those men utilized a combination of technical talent, vision, knowledge, and years of persistent work to produce their business. They followed a path littered with failures, also-rans, has-beens, and ideas which turned out to be worthless.

Their success might have been partly luck, but the luck would have been worthless without the hard work.

Thus, when I see a man who is successful, and I see that he would not have been successful without hard work, I give him respect.

It is easy to treat such a man as if he is a new superman (or a demi-god). It is easy to assume that because he is good at that one thing, he is smarter than everyone in all ways.

It is easy to marry this respect for hard work to the feeling that the hard worker somehow deserved what he got. (Ignoring the hundreds of people whose hard work has resulted in nothing noteworthy or famous...because they aren't well-known, and so are easy to ignore. Were they less deserving? Less hard-working? Or just not in the right place at the right time with the right kind of idea to work hard at?)

OBloodyHell said...

> Their success might have been partly luck, but the luck would have been worthless without the hard work.

Not to denigrate Gates excessively, but his was much more a story of luck and connection than most grasp. I've often joked that Gates somehow gained possession of The Shadow's Ring (the one with The Power to Cloud Men's Minds) in order to get, and retain, his success.

A little history is worth noting here:

VERY key to the initial success of M$ is its relationship to IBM, as the creator and supplier of PC-DOS. The fact is, when IBM introduced the PC, there was already an existing, very established, and heavily used OS for the Intel series processessors, which should have nominally been the obvious choice for IBM to use: CP/M-86

There are various legends and claims surrounding why IBM chose to not go with CP/M by default, suffice to say, the window for an alternative was opened. Luck counts

M$ was then a tiny, largely unknown little corporation operating out of the Seattle area. Its chief creation to that point was M$ BASIC, which was fairly widespread and, in particular, was a cash cow for its presence on many Apple ][s.

Gates heard about IBM casting about for an alternative Intel-based OS, quickly realized the potential, and located a small company from which he could license a working OS from, and did so, buying the rights to it.

Now, here's a key element.

How did Gates come to be seriously considered by IBM for a product like the PC (mind you -- IBM did not grasp in any way, shape, or form how successful the PC was going to be... they thought it was a niche market)?

You or I could not get serious consideration for this sort of thing.

Weell, this would be a mystery, until you are made aware that Bill Gates' mother was on the national board of the United Way.

Another person on that board?
The Chairman of IBM.

Yeeeaaaah. Connections count.

Even so, IBM hedged its bets. When the IBM-PC was released, one had three options as far as the OS went -- CP/M-86, PC-DOS (M$'s product) and The UCSD P-System.

One of those came free, and you could buy either of the others -- but IBM pushed PC-DOS.

And there lies one of the other "luck" components.

Gates retained the right to also license the product for other uses as MS-DOS. IBM, seeing the product as an insignificant niche market, allowed him to do that in his contracts (it was not typical practice for them -- they usually owned sole marketing rights to anything they sold).

Certainly there are a lot of key factors where sense, business savvy, hard work, and technical acumen mattered as far as Gates becoming one of the richest private citizens around.

But one cannot underestimate the significance of luck and connections, either. It was luck, in the form of Gary Kildall somehow screwing up when it came to IBM, such that they did not want to use his product. It was luck in IBM not grasping the future significance of the PC marketplace, which allowed him to retain separate marketing rights. And it was, most importantly, his connections to IBM which got his tiny company taken seriously enough to be considered as a provider of the key software.

Subsequently, there have been a number of other events in which luck also played a lot into the creation and growth of the M$ juggernaut... but I think this covers enough.