Self-Made Men, Debunked - AlterNet
“The Self-Made Myth: The Truth About How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed” is a clear, concise, easy-to-read-and-use summary of government’s central role in creating the conditions for economic prosperity and personal opportunity.
Miller, the executive director of United for a Fair Economy, and Lapham, a co-founder of UFE’s Responsible Wealth project, argue that the self-made myth absolves our economic leaders from doing anything about inequality, frames fair wages as extortion from deserving producers, and turns the social safety net into a moral hazard that can only promote laziness and sloth.They argue that progressives need to overwrite this fiction with the far more supportable idea of the “built-together reality,” which points up the truth that nobody in America ever makes it alone. Every single private fortune can be traced back to basic public investments that have, as Warren Buffett argues in the book, created the most fertile soil on the planet for entrepreneurs to succeed.
To their credit, Miller and Lapham don’t ask us to take this point on faith. Right out of the gate, they regale us with three tales of famous “self-made” men — Donald Trump, Ross Perot and the Koch brothers, whose own stories put the lie to the myth. (This section alone is worth the price of admission — these guys so did not make it on their own!) Once those treasured right-wing exemplars are thoroughly discredited, the middle of the book offers a welcome corrective: interviews with 14 wealthy Americans — including well-known names like Warren Buffett, Ben Cohen, Abigail Disney, and Amy Domini, who are very explicit about the ways in which government action laid the groundwork for their success. Over and over, these people credit their wealth to:
* An excellent education received in public schools and universities. Jerry Fiddler of Wind River Software (you’re probably running his stuff in your cellphone or car) went to the University of Chicago, and started his computer career at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. Bookseller Thelma Kidd got her start at Texas Tech and the University of Michigan. Warren Buffett went to the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Nebraska as an undergrad. And beyond that: several interviewees paid for their education with federal Pell Grants and Stafford loans.
Over and over, the point gets made: Public universities — and the good public schools that feed them, and the funding programs that put them within financial reach — have hatched millions of American entrepreneurs who might not have been fledged without that opportunity to get an education.