Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
A Self-Made Man Looks At How He Made It (scalzi.com)
240 points by barredo on Dec 25, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 137 comments



This speaks to a few things and our opportunity to participate in them:

No one is self made. Everyone owes it to breaks from those around them. Get over yourself. Your life isn't the only hard or misunderstood one.

Give more breaks than you get. No one is a stranger or enemy. Treat everyone as your friend and they'll become one. Treat someone like an adversary and they'll become one too.

If you don't take the time to learn someone's story you have no right to an opinion other than wishing them well.

Keeping kindness, goodness, and sharing opportunity is the bedrock of a world I want to live in.

Keeping kindness, goodness, and sharing a growing thing is a world I want to work on. We're dealing with our own stuff, together. Not everyone will get, or do this. I have my choice.

Remember how connected we are. How I treat others is how I truly do end up treating myself or being treated. Things aren't black and white, but the greys can lighten or darken based on me. The drop is in the ocean, and the ocean is in the drop.

Our universal responsibility for and towards each other. When we can see that we are owed nothing and owe our respect and contribution to the world in exchange for becoming better every day, we begin to realize what life is really about.

It's your job to understand yourself first, enough to keep moving, inward, onward and upward. Through your understanding of yourself, you'll be able to connect to others deeply and in a meaningful way. As much as this may terrify some, it will involve learning to use your heart and gut as much as your mind.

Our responsibility for our society, and our society towards us. We get the responsibility we deserve and demand/contribute to in our actions.


Great lines!


Wow, wrote this and went to bed. Glad you liked it, learning one line at a time and I try to remember to practice it one line at at time.


Yep certainly is a daily task. All the points derive from knowing yourself IMHO. You did a great job sumarizing lots of my own thoughts!


Two things comes to mind; the author embodies "I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have."

And second I wish the author wouldn't try to ram his point about tax down. He's looking back at his life and saying taxes gave me a leg up and ignoring the places where low taxes and regulation did the same (the private school, AOL).

Nobody who is libertarian argues that there should be charity or we shouldn't care for our fellow person (well nearly nobody, I'm sure their are some mean spirited people out there). The point is how efficient we do it.

He's looking down the one path that happened to him but what if instead of having a military when he was young there was just lower taxes and better support for mothers would society be better off? What if instead of Pell grants there was better primary schools? What if we gave Bill Gates more money to try and make the world a better place? What if lower taxes made food cheaper so that he wouldn't have to be fed through the schools lunch program?


> "Nobody who is libertarian argues that there should be charity or we shouldn't care for our fellow person (well nearly nobody, I'm sure their are some mean spirited people out there). The point is how efficient we do it."

I disagree. More often than not when libertarians come around on HN the "it isn't efficient" argument seems more like a proxy for "we shouldn't do this" without sounding heartless.

It's also based on a bit of blind faith that, failing any requirement to help their fellow person, people will do it on their own, at rates high enough that the people who need help will be helped. This bit of blind faith simply doesn't jive with observable reality around the world.

Most of the time I see the argument made "government is inefficient, we should leave social assistance to charities" is made knowing full well that such a scheme will never work, and that the unfortunate/needy will simply be left in the cold. It's intellectually dishonest and a cheap ploy to avoid saying "well, let them die".

The entire stance - or at least, the stance in the way it seems to be most commonly expressed - is fundamentally mean-spirited, made all the more galling by the disingenuous reframing.


Why allow anyone to handle any of their responsibilities? There's a chance they may not, so government should be doing it.


You are making an awful lot of assumptions of the way we think and what we believe with absolutely no evidence to back it up other than this is what you think we think.

Maybe you should look at the stats on charitable giving and come back to this discussion. For a prominent example, Romney gave 4 million to charity last year. Meanwhile, Joe Biden gave less than half of what I did, while making 1/8 of what he did. < 4k if I remember correctly. If you insist I'll look it up but I'm just on mobile.

I know this is anecdotal, but the stats across the board show huge discrepancies. Liberals want to force everyone to be taxed more, conservatives actually give their money to help people.


> You are making an awful lot of assumptions of the way we think and what we believe with absolutely no evidence to back it up other than this is what you think we think.

> Liberals want to force everyone to be taxed more, conservatives actually give their money to help people.

Just going to leave this here


Which would you like citations for? That liberals want higher taxes or that conservatives give more to charity?


I could show you contrary citations and easily disprove your generalizations, but that's not the point. The point is that your statement was stupid and hypocritical.


How is it hypocritical? He suggested he knows what we think that is completely contrary to what we say, while I gave statements that can be backed up by data which I included anecdotal evidence of, and can give you significant evidence to back it up. His statement can't possibly be backed up with anything.

I'd love to see your evidence of liberals giving more to charity. And if you have evidence of them not wanting higher taxes that'd be great news.


You told two ill-defined groups what they believe while lamenting people telling you what your group believes. I don't know what to say if you don't see the hypocrisy in that.


That would be hypocritical but that's not what I did. Liberals and conservatives aren't ill defined at all, and its hardly a secret to say liberals are in favor of higher taxes. It's not even an insult. It's just a fact. It's a plank in the platform. It's just the way it is.


It's not "just a fact." It's an (as of yet) unsupported assertion. Liberal is an inclination, not a party. There is no platform. Unless you're talking about a party that calls itself Liberal, which would mean you need to be clearer when making sweeping generalizations.

I am a liberal-minded person. I don't want taxes any more than I want gas in my car's tank, but neither can be avoided under the present system. I would consider supporting a way to maintain civilization in a fair and equitable way (rough definition of liberal) that doesn't need taxes, should someone propose such a thing.


You're being awfully pedantic. Liberals in the United States generally identify with the Democratic party, and they generally favor more taxes and more government. Conservatives in this country generally identify with the Republican party, they generally favor less taxes and less government.

If you want to use a different definition of liberal and call yourself liberal but actually favor less taxes and less government I guess you can do that, but you would be the one using an ill-defined term.

FWIW, A small bit of stats on conservative vs. liberal giving - http://geekpolitics.com/heres-why-christians-dont-want-gover...


We shouldn't have to rely on the kindness of a few strangers, and be beholden to them. Making the poor rely on charity, and not government, does just that.

Government programs like welfare and public schools are much more effective at helping the poor than "charity." If you think they're run badly, you must know a lot about the inner workings of these programs, and I suggest applying for a job with the government and fix them up.


Romney was running for president then. His whole life really, excluding his gay-bashing days in high school.


People are starving this very second. Instead of helping them you're sitting on your first world ass commenting on a forum. Does it not bother you they're dying and you can do something about it? Why are you so mean spirited and cold? I'd like to steal half of your property and donate it to the needy and less fortunate. So what if I steal your means of production? Sure, you'll also become poor and require my generous assistance - but that's welfare. Rinse and repeat.


> "So what if I steal your means of production? Sure, you'll also become poor"

This is such a huge straw man it may in fact spontaneously combust.

Your post is so full of mindless rhetoric, blatant exaggeration, and outright falsehood that I feel stupid for having responded to it.

If you would like to have a conversation about very important issues re: taxation, the duty of the individual (or lack thereof), and other such issues that are pertinent in our time, I would be glad to do so as soon as you are willing to talk without sounding like a raging manifesto.

Good night.


Why is my rhetoric so offensive, but not your own?

> It's intellectually dishonest and a cheap ploy to avoid saying "well, let them die".

Claiming libertarians are against welfare because they secretly enjoy watching poor people die is intellectually dishonest. If you can't see the irony in this..


His point was that leaving assistance to charities is a safe way out of saying, "I'm not sure how to fix this problem right now, so I'd rather just not do anything." Again, you're taking his valid points and turning them into unfounded and extreme assumptions disguised as counter points. There's no way you could logically get from, "well, let them die" to "I take pleasure In watching poor people die" otherwise.


I don't agree with your interpretation. OP specifically mentioned that the libertarian position is fundamentally 'mean-spirited' and they disguise their mean-spirit with 'disingenuous reframing'. Does your interpretation fit that bill?

If your interpretation were correct, then it would still be wrong. Libertarians don't believe in 'not doing anything' -- which is clearly a disingenuous reframing of the libertarian position. Any one who knew the least bit about libertarianism would know that voluntary charity is absolutely ideal.


In the immoral words of Paul Graham, "will you two please stop?" It's Christmas.


Seriously. Instead of feeding this kind of a monster, I don't know why people don't do anything better with their energy.

The world fights over personal interpretations far more than over politics or religions. It's so much insecurity wrapped in ego obsessed with worshiping doubt so blindly to convert everyone to feed their own self-doubts instead of what might be possible.


immortal*?


God dammit. Thanks. It's too late to edit and that's the worst typo ever.


How does the edit feature work? It sometimes seems to time be out faster than other times. I can understand locking down a comment such that retrospectively completely changing it doesn't occur, but I get caught too often as the hacker news app I use (and like despite this) lets you hit post when trying to scroll (and doesn't allow editing!) and editing via mobile safari is a chore.


So there's no middle ground? Extreme libertarianism / survival of the fittest or you must try to help all 1.29 billion people in poverty?


Middle ground on what? Libertarians love charity. You should give until it hurts. I just don't believe in forcing you to give, and I don't think you should force me to give. Maybe I'm stuck in "treat others the way you want to be treated" mode. Do you have a better principle? How much welfare is enough? What's the objective? How is it measured?

Edit: I don't mean to sound like I'm attacking you, just genuinely curious about your first principles.


I was only responding to your strawman. Still, if you want a specific example of welfare that everyone should be forced to pay even without an appeal to morality - emergency room treatment. Despite all the moral hazards, you want the service to be there, and you don't want to tell anyone, "well, you're bleeding to death, but you didn't think to pay for insurance and you have no money, so go die." It's no substitute to have it be a charity; then you'd have either no service or even more free riders. At least this way even those living paycheck to paycheck still contribute.


> Despite all the moral hazards, you want the service to be there, and you don't want to tell anyone, "well, you're bleeding to death, but you didn't think to pay for insurance and you have no money, so go die."

There's no doubt that this is an issue, but does it justify forcing people to donate? I like donating to entrepreneurs in poor countries to enable them to create a sustainable living. Why should anyone force me to give to a hospital rather than a cause that I see more fit? I just believe that finding voluntary solutions are better than coercive ones. That said, if I had a button to shutdown all welfare services to the poor - I wouldn't use it. That's not my idea of practical.


Do Libertarians believe that government is efficicient at providing anything? Why not voluntary contributions for other 'hazard of the commons' based goods, such defense, infrastructure , etc.


Libertarian is a broad term. You have anarcho-capitalists, minarchists, libertarian socialists, etc. The least authoritarian, an-caps, do wish that everything was voluntarily. Then there those in America who I'll call practical libertarians who simply want to follow the U.S. Constitution more closely than has been done while still adhering to libertarian principles.

In this case, they believe that the federal government should be involved in defense and aiding interstate commerce (without abusing the terminology as has been done by Congress), and leave everything else, as the 10th amendment states, up to the state.


Libertarian ideology isn't a philosophy about government, rather a philosophy about how humans should interact. Libertarians believe that using coercive measures against people and their property is not acceptable behavior, regardless of the alleged intent. This goes towards mafias, gangs, cartels, you name it.

So to answer your question, I don't think an ideologically consistent libertarian would support government for any goods or service.

With that said, I think social safety nets are absolutely critical - and that voluntary solutions exist to the problems we face. The threat of force is never a tool in creating sustainable value.


And like many philosophies, it sounds good until you get to the details. E.g:

A) Why is "threat of force" an axiom? What's wrong with force? You just don't like to be forced? I don't like having to work for a living. Maybe I can center a philosophy around that. Rather, balance the downsides of force against other values. Except then it's more complicated.

B) Who is the priesthood of deciding what's considered "force"? Who elected them? Extreme libertarians seem to agree that I can use force against a terrorist to get information to diffuse a bomb, because the terrorist used force first. But I really, really don't like it when someone doesn't have insurance and then they need emergency care. Why is choosing not to have insurance, and thereby, with some probability making me miserable not an initiation of force? It's not the same magnitude as a bomb, sure, but why do you get to draw the line between "force" and "not-force" instead of me?

This being the internet, I expect to have convinced no one, but at least you'll know libertarianism is arbitrary even if you won't admit it. And if I sound bitter, it's because libertarianism is specifically a "smart-person disease" and I wish that "smart-people diseases" wouldn't exist.


I feel that the goal of libertarianism is to promote a framework of interaction that is most compatible with the nature of individuals. In that sense libertarianism isn't arbitrary because there's a goal that can be reasonably observed. Whether it's is a worthy goal is up for debate.

a) To a libertarian, force is bad for the same reasons rape and slavery is bad. It violates the preference of individuals by means of agression.

With that said, what principle do you hold that says rape or slavery is bad? Do you believe those principles are idealistic or unreasonable? Would you be willing to compromise those principles for 'the greater good' or some other abstract notion?

b) Who decides what's considered force? Typically the individuals involved. How do you decide if you're being raped? Do you call your congressman and ask if forceful sex is legal? If rape were legal, would rape cease to exist? If rape were socially acceptable, would it still be rape? Most libertarians would say yes because the ethics of action is not relative to legality.

If someone chose not to have insurance, they don't have the right to force you to pay their bill. You can just let them die. Like we're letting people of other poor countries die this second.

Now, I won't pretend that I have a formula for deducing whether an action is agressive -- but that doesn't make it less real. So why do you see libertarianism as a disease? Do you have a more consistent philosophy? Is there a specific idea that libertarians hold that is offensive?


Marxism is also arguably a philosophy about humans should interact, and like libertarianism -- in the sense that you're using it -- it's a philosophy which seems to be rather at odds with what we've actually seen in human society throughout all of recorded history.

The problem is that even if all the stakeholders agree to a given sociopolitical system that agreement lasts for only one generation. The second and future generations consist of people who didn't explicitly sign up for your system, and there are only three options for them. If they have both somewhere to go to and the resources to get there, they can leave, but neither of those are necessarily under your group's control and thus that may not be a viable option. They can stay and submit to The Way You Do Things, which they may not fully agree with no matter how perfect you think that way happens to be. Or they can stay and try to change The Way You Do Things, which is not likely to be successful if The Way You Do Things works well enough for most people.

So the second option is by far the most likely -- and it's not an option those people ever explicitly agreed to. This is the situation most libertarians (and Marxists) face today, but this is not a situation that gets fixed by discarding the concept of the state. Either being born into a society that has rules you didn't explicitly agree to and that only gives you a "take it or leave it," non-negotiable implicit contract for citizenship is coercive, or it isn't.


Government is there to do the things that the individual citizens should not or will not do. The government is not there to "force" you to do things against your will; unless of course your will involves doing things directly at odds with the public good (murder, theft, etc.). If you equate taxes to "forcing" you to give, then you are clearly arguing from a staked out position that clearly misunderstands the things that the government does with your money.


I'm not sure if the quotes are meant to address this, but there isn't really a choice when it comes to taxes. Doesn't that mean you are being forced? It seems to me the government -is- there to force you to do things... isn't that the whole point?


I agree. One cannot just look back at all the things that have happened and conclude they are right because you have prospered. We have, or some do, the capacity to think in principles and what things actually provide real benefit.

I happen to think people are more generous when they are free to be successful and they aren't bled to death.

Even with the high taxes in the US, I read that charitable contributions are up around $300 billion.

And private charity has some incentives that are absent in government charity. People are actually more careful with their own money. And when the results are obviously bad, they change what they are doing.

The federal government has let many bad things happen for decades before addressing them. The disastrous public housing projects. Welfare that destroys the work ethic. It eventually changed course on these things, but not without much political wrangling. A private donor would move to change it after seeing the evidence.

Worse still is the total lack of gratitude and sense of entitlement that many recipients of public money seem to have. I feel most people when receiving a gift from a private donor would say please and thank you. And if the private donor could not continue to give for some reason, they'd say thank you just the same, not harass them.


Your comment bothers me in very fundamental ways, though this is far from the first time I have seen this sentiment.

At the core of it is that your entire position is based around supposition - notice the generous use of "I feel that... would...", "I happen to think", and pointing out a lot of theories - that people would spend private charity differently than government charity, that welfare destroys the work ethic, that public housing would not have been implemented if the money was in private charitable hands, that people who receive public money are ingrates, etc.

Where is the empiricism that we hackers pride ourselves in? Your entire position is based on your personal behavioral model of how people think, that isn't verified against copious observations from around the world. This is, I think, a long-winded way of saying "citation desperately needed" and drawing big bold underlines beneath it.

Have you actually talked to a substantial number of welfare recipients to know that they generally do feel a "total lack of gratitude and sense of entitlement"? Or, pardon the bluntness, is that entirely a personal assumption?


I think you're right without realizing it: the actual criticism is that the onus of proof is on the one proposing the program in question. If there is a random government program X (and I'm not referring to welfare, it can be any program), it should not be allowed to continue without sufficient proof that it is making a positive difference. The reality is that most programs are not backed by much evidence since such evidence is really hard to get or even impossible. We can't really scientifically test how things would happen without program X (and all other things being equal) in either direction. I completely agree that I do not know how much program x actually subtly hurts the economy/society/whatever in the same way you cannot know how much it really helps. Everyone's personal intuition guides them to feel that certain perceived positive consequences outweigh certain unperceived negative consequences, and thus justifies their belief that in that case correlation is causation, but there is no proof. As such, the position presented often is that "if you're going to use my money, it is up to you to prove that it will actually be used well, not up to me to prove that it won't be used well," in the same way that if you present a new theory of physics it is up to you to prove it, not the rest of the community to disprove it.

The problem is thus precisely as you described it: this is an area endemically (and perhaps fundamentally) lacking empiricism, and arguably one where you can't practically have empiricism. I don't think it's a stretch to argue that most policy positions are supported on blind faith, emotion, and pseudo-science.

A good example of this, to hopefully gain some common ground with you and move away from an emotionally charged discussion on welfare, is patents. There is really absolutely no proof that patents "encourage innovation". It's not even clear how to measure that. There may be tons of studies done, but they are useless as we have no baseline to compare to. We don't know what's not being invented because of patents. Had patents come about naturally as common agreements between corporations, then it really wouldn't be my business to opine, but since instead it is a government policy, supported through my own tax dollars, courts, and "implict agreement" to not break said patents under penalty of law, it is very much justified that I should demand they go away without myself needing to prove much of anything -- on the contrary it is those wishing to continue the patent system that need to offer proofs.


My gf is a healthcare economist working for LSE. She analyses and evaluates state (UK) interventions based on the data as reported. There is science being done, and often the data are fairly clear. But we live in a democracy, and there are chunks of the population who believe that state charity is a soft touch. Many times it is democracy and politics itself that forces inefficient outcomes.


Theories about what would free people with their freedom don't have to proven. THEY are responsible for them. No one is forcing them to do anything at the point of a gun.

Those advocating the use of force to solve a problem, on the other hand, completely own the results. Just as I would if I decided to force my neighbor to do something if were given the authority to do as I saw fit.

I say "I feel" or "I think" to qualify what my guesses about what people will do because I don't arrogantly assume that I know better than they do how to run their own lives or allocate their scarce resources.

Most people do a fine job without me forcing my views upon them. And would do even better without massive funds being diverted to people that clearly mismanagement many, many things.


Counterpoint: black people.

The federal government subsidizes Chicago's public schools to the tune of $1 billion. You think private charity would be so generous to a district that's 90% black or Hispanic? You're out of your mind if you do. Whites fought, violently, for 100 years, to keep blacks from integrating into society. When the courts desegregated the cities, whites fled to the suburbs to avoid having to integrate, leaving the urban decay that is a major target of welfare today.

The history of race in this country is an unavoidable prong of the welfare debate, and it really undermines high-minded notions of how great a system of charity could be.


You are making most of that up. There are more than 1 way to look at something, and you seem to be focusing at the smaller part.

There are also "white people" that have ended slavery (something done by every race since the beginning of time), fought for other races giving them full rights, helped integrate those races into their society, made programs that removed barriers to schools and jobs while discriminating against their own kind, and funded integration to the tune of 100s of billions dollars a year (and now a trillion dollars / year).

…Something that no other race has done in the history of the world.

> whites fled to the suburbs to avoid having to integrate

No, that's only part of it, the human part (that likes unity of race, culture and behavior). They also fled because they were scared that crime and violence would follow.

Your blame of the dysfunctions of the black community is seriously misplaced. White people are not responsible for the care of black people anymore than I'm responsible for you having a life. Until you figure this out and stop the blame game, that dysfunction will likely continue.


The idea that you can inherit money but not obligations is dysfunctional. We who live in the U.S. are the beneficiaries of tremendous investment into the country by Americans who came before us. We either inherited these benefits, having been born here, or bought into them, by choosing to immigrate here. We have inherited their sins as well. I was not born here, but every morning I ride to work on a train line that was built when Jim Crow still reigned in the U.S. and would still reign for another half a century before it was dismantled by the federal government. The obligations incurred by our predecessors are baked into the brick and concrete and steel of the civilization which they built.

The marginalization of blacks in the U.S. is not some academic issue that happened in the long-forgotten past and involved long-forgotten people. At the time my grandfather was starting his medical practice, which would sew the seeds for the prosperity of his family in my own time, blacks in the United States were systematically oppressed, prevented from participating in society or getting an education. This all happened in essentially modern times. George Wallace made his stand to resist integration 16 years after the transistor was invented at Bell Labs, and 5 years after the first integrated circuit was demonstrated at Texas Instruments. It was not that long ago even on the technological time scale, and a blink of an eye on the sociological time scale.


> The idea that you can inherit money but not obligations is dysfunctional.

The idea that white people come from old money that gets passed down from generation to generation is not based in reality. Many whites came here from the peasant class, and stayed this way for centuries. And most still are in this class one way or another.

> We have inherited their sins as well.

Sure, if you ignore every single positive thing white people have done; and if you assume that white people have some type of an agenda to actively discriminate against non-whites (at a greater degree than non-whites do against whites).

But what it really seems like you are saying is that white people in America should feel ashamed and guilty for being white.

That's a personal choice you made for yourself. Don't make it for me.


But what it really seems like you are saying is that white people in America should feel ashamed and guilty for being white.

No, that's not what he's saying, at all. Nowhere has "old money" or "guilt" entered the equation and that you are feeling very defensive does not give you license to put words into his mouth. rayiner (who I often disagree with, but I have to applaud him for this) is saying that people with privilege have responsibilities as well as benefits. You have, and I'm going to use a technical term, a metric fuckton of privilege being born white and male in the United States.

He is saying that you have a responsibility to society to be better with it than to say "fuck you, I've got mine."


> He is saying that you have a responsibility to society to be better with it than to say "fuck you, I've got mine."

As a citizen of the USA I agree that I have a responsibility to my country and society. I just don't agree that you get to decide for me what that responsibility is.

> You have, and I'm going to use a technical term, a metric fuckton of privilege being born white and male in the United States.

Please, be specific about my situation and what you have decided my skin color owes, just don't use nebulous politically-correct terms such as white-privlege ... unless you are trying to end the conversation.


> As a citizen of the USA I agree that I have a responsibility to my country and society. I just don't agree that you get to decide for me what that responsibility is.

Society does. That's why it's there. You don't define the social contract. That mindset is what leads to "fuck you, I've got mine."

> Please, be specific about my situation and what you have decided my skin color owes, just don't use nebulous politically-correct terms such as white-privlege ... unless you are trying to end the conversation.

You're joking, right? "White privilege" isn't a term of political correctness. It's a sociological construct that's used to frame and discuss relative advantage given majority or otherwise preferential traits (such as, in the United States, being any or all of white, male, heterosexual, and Christian).

Using the common constructs of the topic isn't "ending the conversation", it's being specific. I'm not going to fall prey to the commonly-used tactic of enumerating exactly why privilege is what it is so that you can attempt to bury the overall point beneath the details on which you think you can nullify the entire academically settled topic. You are welcome to educate yourself on the topic if you so choose.

You won't, but you are welcome to.


So you won't define this social contract that you (you somehow also representing the society) are holding me to (the contract I'm supposedly violating or ignoring somehow by disagreeing with something you said, or having a different P.O.V.), nor will you enumerate what my white privileges are; both of which you have brought up. Because if you did so, you'd be falling prey to my (my!) tactics. And E.O.C to me too.


A contract that you cannot get out of and that never allowed you to approve or reject it in the first place, is not a valid contract. Its slavery.

Of course, it is fictional. And if they can get you to submit to the fiction, they are only too happy to tell you how it obligates you to serve their pet projects.


I didn't say anything about coming from old money, or feeling guilty about being white. Don't put words in my mouth. What I said is that we (in the sense of We the People) have built a civilization, called the United States, and in that process we oppressed the black race for hundreds of years, an oppression that didn't even arguably end more than just several decades ago. We, those who continue this civilization, both benefit from the actions of our predecessors and are bound by their obligations. We don't need to feel personally guilty for those obligations, because we did not personally incur them, but we're no less bound to them then we are to the debt we back by the full faith and credit of the United States or the Constitution we uphold as the supreme law of the land. None of us personally had any hand in any of these things, but that fact does not free us to disregard them.


> The idea that you can inherit money but not obligations is dysfunctional.

I can't upvote this enough, and this in particular reminds me of a Salon article from not that long ago[1]. The rhetoric is a bit much, but the core thrust of the article is sound.

http://www.salon.com/2012/07/01/southern_values_revived/


> There are also "white people" that have ended slavery

But of the roughly half of the country that wanted to end slavery, about 0.0001% of them actually thought both races were equal. The notion was considered absurd.

Even the "good" ones that thought that possibly, in theory, there could be equality, that was ruined by a century of forced ignorance and illiteracy.

His bigger point -- that there are things a Gov't must do because private charity never could/would, is pretty hard to refute I'd say.

> White people are not responsible for the care of black people anymore than I'm responsible for you having a life.

Read about most of the Black Laws in the northern states. In many states it was ILLEGAL for blacks to move into the state and take up residence -- born free, former slaves, doesn't matter.

A black man couldn't serve on a jury. Worse: A black man couldn't appear as a witness against a white man in open court. So white men could bring any crime they chose against a black man so long as there were no white witnesses.

White people were 100% responsible for the ghetto-fication of the black community because that was the only place black people felt safe.

All sorts of immigrant communities -- even catholics who were largely despised in the antebellum period (gradually getting better after) -- were able to fully integrate themselves into the American fabric and prosper. But not African immigrants. Why do you suppose that is?

You act like slavery was the injustice and, hey, white people freed the slaves. No way dude. It goes far, far past that.

Emancipation was only supported by a majority when the case was made that slaves were being used to build fortification and power the Rebel war machine. Among the majority of Unionists that supported emancipation, most considered it a tactic. Some a strategy. Very few an objective.

We -- caucasians -- built a layer cake of misfortune and discrimination. The fact that it's been 150 years since emancipation is meaningless. We absolutely have a responsibility to right this wrong and it is taking a long, long time.

And no, this doesn't apply to EVERY person of color. Many have achieved great upward mobility. Yes, we have a black President. To them, the idea that we need to provide charity to them is maybe insulting, perhaps indicating that we believe they've been prosperous only because of that charity.

But that doesn't change the burden to continue unwinding the twisted wrong of generations of discrimination.


> No, that's only part of it, the human part (that likes unity of race, culture and behavior). They also fled because they were scared that crime and violence would follow.

So you mean it's precisely that.


I can't really talk about black people, as the entire set of black people I know personally are maybe 10 engineers or other students at school, and a bunch of military people -- none of whom really need charity, are generally upstanding citizens (with flaws, but not much different from anyone else, etc.)

However, I can speak from first-hand knowledge about poor white people from Appalachia (unfortunately). There's substantial federal subsidy there as well, and a lot of it serves to "enable" dysfunction, rather than fix it.

I'd be fine with much smaller flows of money going in if they were tied to demands to actually fix the underlying issues. Building useful (physical or human) infrastructure, fine. Subsidizing loss-making operations temporarily, fine. Removing any pressures to improve, not fine. Which is essentially the same problem with government and NGO charity in places I've seen (Middle East/Central Asia/North Africa), vs. "private" (generally, faith-based, or returning diaspora, but hyper-focused issue based like Gates too) charity.


How's that subsidy working out?


It at least maintains the pretense of equality of opportunity for those kids. The alternative, a spiral of urban decay tha would leave the great American cities pockets of third world poverty, is not one I could stomach. My family left Bangladesh for a reason, and I love my adopted country for the fact it has no equivalent to the favelas of Rio or the slums of Mumbai.


>One cannot just look back at all the things that have happened and conclude they are right because you have prospered.

Absolutely. This is the just world fallacy:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just-world_hypothesis


If you think taxes are high in the US, perhaps you should come to the UK.


>What if we gave Bill Gates more money to try and make the world a better place?

Is this sarcasm or do you truly believe this? I hope not but if so, perhaps you should read this[1], where the particular criticism I'm concerned with is the irresponsibly zealous research funding on a malaria cure with the consequence of alienating other important fields of research that are just as important. Ironically enough this is exactly the sort of thing government funding is so notorious of, namely, ignorance or ulterior motives that lead to a less efficient budget that could have been employed is so much better ways.

However, that is only one wealthy man, not enough data for a solid argument, but even on a purely rational basis, I would very much, rather the money was in a place where the general population had, at least in theory, some say on where it is to be spent. To me it seems that by going from public to private funding one is exchanging inefficiencies. The inevitable economic inefficiencies of bureaucracy for new inefficiencies in the way the money is allocated from the perspective of what benefits the citizens of the nation.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_%26_Melinda_Gates_Foundat...


I don't have faith in any one individual or group of individual to make good decisions for all of us. That is why I believe in radical decentralization, allowing for experimentation and innovation.

I completely disagree with you. I don't want the general population to have a say where Bill Gates' money goes. I want money to be in the hands of thousands of different-thinking individuals who can try to find an opportunity that the rest of us don't know about.


You're completely free to go out and earn a couple of billion and then to spend it in the way you propose. Bill Gates gets to spend his the same way.


Here is the thing I never understand: where is all this libertarianism before people get rich on the back of our society? Bill Gates started a business in the U.S. with full notice of how our system works. It's not like we decided after the fact "hey, this guy is rich, let's take his money." Indeed, he's gotten an even better deal than he originally bargained for--taxes now are lower than they were in the 1970's and 1980's.


And second I wish the author wouldn't try to ram his point about tax down. He's looking back at his life and saying taxes gave me a leg up and ignoring the places where low taxes and regulation did the same (the private school, AOL).

Furthermore, millions of others avail themselves of the same benefits without anything close to this result. He seems to imply that without the help of "the taxpayers" he would never have made it, but honestly both he and his mother sound like the sorts of people who would have "found a way"


> I am a great believer in hard work. The luckier I get, the more of it I seem to be able to do.

Correlation != causation.

People fundamentally underestimate the complexity of the world and due to a variety of psychological factors grossly over attribute successful outcomes to personal attributes.

Give some more of your hard work bullshit to people without legs.

Oh yeah, you don't, because your ability to see complexity only extends to the edge of your own ego.


Not to mention a level of success that enables them to ascribe it to hard work.


"I pay a lot of taxes. I don’t mind because I know how taxes helped me to get to the fortunate position I am in today."

Exactly! I pay a lot of taxes too and do not mind. How could I be stingy on welfare, public healthcare, education, etc, anything that can help others. (no sarcasm, I mean it)


On the subject of paying taxes... there are places I could live where I would pay less taxes than I do in New York City. Texas comes to mind, but also India or for that matter Somalia. Yet people generally move in the opposite direction as they become more successful.

I find it deeply ironic that David Koch lives in Manhattan, with its high state and city taxes, as well as extensive welfare spending. It's almost as if paying taxes buys you access to civilization, which makes living in a place desirable.


With respect to India, I thought I'd give you a little more insight.

A grossly generalised point of view:

* Low class group don't pay taxes

* Middle class group do pay taxes

* High class group might not pay taxes

The middle class group usually bear the burden of the development of the country. The taxes that does reach the government is cut by a large extent by high income corrupt politicians, who obviously, don't pay taxes.

Bottom line, the ROI for a middle class person in India to pay taxes is not high as you thought it would be. Hopefully, this changes.


New York is a city in which the very rich enjoy some of the best living in the world because it is the largest and wealthiest city in the United States. The city has enormous areas that are simply terrible to live in, but people like Koch are shielded from it. I understand that Koch, like most rational people, uses tax reduction strategies, so his tax rate is probably less than that of many ordinary people in the city.

I do not think the fact that rich people cluster in cities commends high rates of taxation in cities when so many citizens of them suffer poorer housing, worse schools, worse crime and general higher cost of living in addition to not having the benefits of living in a more spacious, green area.


The Bronx, etc, housing projects are unpleasant, but quite a bit better than what those folks would have otherwise. They have access to education, healthcare, and housing. The rural poor are dramatically worse off.


Couldn't agree with this more. I grew up in the Bronx, and now live in Manhattan. There are plenty of great neighborhoods in the Bronx as well as the rest of the other NYC boroughs.


I find it a little troubling that you're implying that welfare and high taxes made New York one of the richest cities in the world.


He's not implying that at all. I think he's saying that the wealthy like to live in places with high taxes and welfare because places with low taxes and no welfare are shitholes.


I would say it's the opposite: places like New York have high taxes because there are people there who can pay them. You can't get blood from a turnip.


The interesting thing about the discussion on taxes is that usually what gets discussed is how much we pay and not what it is used for. "We should pay more taxes" doesn't really mean anything to me until you explain the context which with those taxes will be used -- of course the grand elephant in the room is that it is preferred we not know or discuss the specifics of that. It is a great irony that voters have much more control in how many taxes they will pay, but rarely in how they will be used. Whether through electing a president who promises to raise taxes on the wealthy, or one that promises to lower taxes dramatically, or an initiative to increase sales tax -- it is almost never known what will be affected, even when a new tax is given a "purpose" it is almost always in the small print that it doesn't necessarily have to be used for that purpose. And so our system allows us to often end up with the worst of both worlds:

1. Citizens perceive waste and thus push for lower taxes, yet there is no guarantee the "wasteful" programs are reduced, and thus often it is the important programs that are hurt.

2. Lack of funding in important programs is used to convince citizens that higher taxes are needed, but there is often no guarantee that the higher taxes will be used for those programs.

Notice, for example, that there are certain "blessed" government programs that there seems to always be money for. Yet it is always the roads or education that will suffer catastrophically if taxes aren't increased.


One of my biggest problems with taxes is that the output of my hard work is spent on things that I find morally reprehensible. I feel it is absolutely evil to take someone's money at gunpoint and spend it on something he finds evil. For me, that's abortion.

We needn't labor the point of why other people don't find it evil - that's irrelevant to this discussion. The important part of my argument is that, short of going to jail, there's no option for me not to subsidize something I find morally reprehensible.

Failing to let individuals make that sort of decision dehumanizes them. I'm sick to my stomach every time I think of it.


> One of my biggest problems with taxes is that the output of my hard work is spent on things that I find morally reprehensible.

That's something you choose to believe. You could just as easily choose to believe that your money goes to support all the programs you favor and the money that goes to those things you hate comes from people who support those programs. Money is fungible and government is not alacarte so you have to realize every program that exists has supporters who pay taxes and want those things to exist and they feed from a common pool.

It's just silly to torture yourself over the idea that some of your money goes to a program you don't support. If it were actually possible to track every dollar you gave, you'd find it's not evenly distributed across every government program, so you may as well believe you're paying for the programs you do support because it's just as true. I support abortion, you may as well consider that my money that's paying for that.


People have been paying tribute to leaders of the tribe ever since civilization has existed. Part of the wheat your ancestors reaped fed the army. The army provided protection, but probably did some pretty terrible things, too.

Unlike your ancient ancestors, you are free to emigrate to a country that is more in line with your values.

I find suburban zoning laws to be morally reprehensible. They create isolating, ugly, and car-dependent wastelands. If you go really deep, you could even say members of our military have died defending this way of life. Even though I live in NYC, I'm sure that some of my tax dollars end up enforcing those laws. Would not paying my taxes change any of this? No. This is not an with taxes, it's an issue with the law.


Does it help to realize that the amount of money spent on abortion is basically a rounding error?


You are absolutely right. In my comment I singled out programs that I agree with.

I did not want to make this too political, but of course I object to the parts that I perceive as waste such as: Financing two useless and expensive wars, bailing out banks that should have been allowed to fail, the "war" on drugs and other questionable law enforcement initiatives, much of the NSA and CIA spending, etc, etc.


In California you get to pay a lot of taxes but it goes to retired government union workers instead of public services. We have the highest marginal tax rate in the nation, but terrible services.

But Californians really enjoy paying taxes so they keep on going up. Maybe if we put enough money into the broken system some good will eventually come out of it.


Yes, I appreciate public services. But I don't enjoy paying my taxes to inefficient institutions, or institutions that spend my tax money primarily to benefit insiders rather than the needy. And I don't want to live in a high-tax society where private individuals don't have the means to independently experiment with their capital in ways that benefit us all.

If the United States had taxes as high as Denmark, then Elon Musk wouldn't have had the money left over from Paypal to start Space X. When you watch the rockets fly to Mars, thank whatever god you believe in for low American taxes.

I appreciate the sentiment behind some of these comments, but fuck all these straw men and apologists maintaining a smoke screen for poorly run institutions (cough Sacramento cough). And no, I'm not evil, selfish, greedy, or ignorant if I want lower taxes. I am making a rational judgment based on what I believe will make the best society to live in.


  If the United States had taxes as high as Denmark, there
  would be no Elon Musk.
Why do you believe this? Denmark also has multmillionaires that fund startups or start their own.


Elon invested all his money from the Paypal sale to make Tesla, Space X, and Solar City at the same time. He had to borrow money from friends to make rent. Take away an additional 30% from his Paypal money and either Tesla or Space X would have never been born.

And that's only one entrepreneur's story. That same scenario is repeated thousands of times around the country. Taxes are sand in the gears of an entrepreneurial economy.


No entrepreneurial economy would exist if there wasn't a government to streamline the organisation of many mundane things such that the entrepreneurs aren't bothered by them. No entrepreneurial economy exists without a police force, a fire department and an influx of capable employees.


You are right! And it is perfectly possible to provide those public goods without European levels of taxation (or hell, Californian levels of taxation!). Hong Kong manages to do it with an 18% flat tax.


True, but those things are quite inexpensive compared to all of the other stuff that governments spend taxpayer money on, at least in the United States.


upon what data do you base this assertion? you can have entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial activities in anarchy. you can definitely do so without a police force, a fire department and employees.


With any story like this, I have a hard time extrapolating it to the circumstances of anyone else. Most people have been fortunate to run into individuals that ultimately benefitted their careers. I certainly have. But let us not extrapolate one man's experience to everyone's experience. Most people never have the opportunity to even be easily lucky. Often, people have to work very hard to grasp just a little bit of luck. That reality should be recognized. And I cannot complain. I have done well for myself by working hard and grasping opportunities.

Scalzi is right to consider how he arrived at his current position. However, the tacit assumption that everyone in his position enjoyed the advantages he did is false and pernicious. Many people work much harder and sacrifice much more than the story portrays. I don't begrudge Scalzi in the slightest. My concern is that people will think his experience is typical.

Hard work is a big part of it, luck is a big part of it, and being in the right place at the right time is a big part of it. People that work smart, hard, and efficiently are not common but those that do, or at least occasionally approximate it, generally do well over the long term no matter how their "luck" plays out.


You missed the point. This is not an expectation of luck, but is his acknowledgement that he could not have made it alone. The post is not meant to help you achieve like him (which I understand is different from most of what is posted on Hacker News), but is a retrospective acknowledgement that it is impossible to succeed alone.


You so nailed it.

As a corollary I think it also speaks to the importance of keeping moving, be it inward, onward, and upward in life.


>Hard work is a big part of it, luck is a big part of it, and being in the right place at the right time is a big part of it. People that work smart, hard, and efficiently are not common but those that do, or at least occasionally approximate it, generally do well over the long term no matter how their "luck" plays out.

Where would you be if you were born in Somalia to average Somali parents? How much hard work would it take to bring your average per-capita income of what, two hundred bucks a year up to something we Americans would call success? I'm not saying it couldn't be done, just god damn, you'd have to be an incredible human to pull it off.

I mean, the majority of the humans in the world live in places where our average yearly per-capita of forty-eight grand or so a year would be a staggeringly large income; I think your average per-capita worldwide is well under ten grand a year. Just being born in the wealthy parts of the world means you are very lucky, and that you've cleared an enormous hurdle.

Race and gender. And height. I mean, sure, here in America, Women do make it sometimes. In my field, at least, they are at an obvious disadvantage, but it's something they can overcome if they are smart, lucky and hard working. But if she was born in Iran? Overcoming that birth handicap would be incredibly difficult. I'm not going to say impossible, but you'd need to be truly incredible, one out of a million, to get as far as I have as a mediocre, maybe one in fifty, if that, white guy born in the US to poor-ish but educated parents.

And what if you are born stupid? That's luck, too. I mean, sure, it's a mixture of genetic and environmental factors, but hell, you don't have much control over the environmental factors until you are mostly grown, so either way (environment or genetics) a lot has to do with the luck of choosing the correct parents (either as genetic materiel donors, or as keepers of your environment.)

Sure, there are some things you can do after 18 to move the needle in either direction, I'm sure, but man, you are really behind the kid who got lucky.

As a good friend (who is vastly more intelligent than I am, but maybe 6 inches shorter) said:

Me: "I don't believe in luck."[1]

Him: "that's because you are lucky."

And yes, most of the luck was me having the good sense to choose sensible parents. (And vs. this guy, I mostly got lucky in terms of height... I think I could argue that my ability to project confidence was at least partially learned through my own hard work. Part of it was the luck of the parents; my dad did encourage entrepreneurship; I had real sales experience at the age of 12 (low dollar; we grew pumpkins, and I walked them around the mobile home park in a wheelbarrow, knocking on doors "twenty five cents for the little ones, seventy five for the big ones." (I mean, obviously, at 12, he did a lot of the work.) I can claim some credit for expanding on that, but from what I know of his early family life, I got lucky in that area, too, and he got particularly unlucky.)

Confidence is obviously bullshit, but it has a huge impact on your income. But this guy, for that matter, was pretty lucky, too. I mean, the poor bastard had to work for me for a while, which I'm sure is miserable, but a real employer did eventually notice him and he makes reasonable money now. He's lucky for being born here in America, where he can make a decent living because, well, he's brilliant, rather than some desert or jungle where he'd have died an early death for being easy to beat up. I mean, he could have done a lot to generate some fake confidence. It'd probably improve his life a lot. I'm just saying, because of the extra six inches the genetic lottery gave me and not him? I don't have to try nearly as hard, in spite of the fact that he is better qualified, by virtue of his superior intellect, for nearly every job I've had or applied for.)

Now, if you are saying that it is better for a person who is easily discouraged to believe that there is no luck? sure, you are absolutely right. You can't change luck. I mean, it's a little bit like AI, once you figure out how to change something, it's no longer luck. So yes, if your brain, for whatever reason, can't handle the fact that most of your potential was set before you reached the age of majority, yeah, you're better off fooling yourself. Because focusing on the bits that were luck is useless. You've gotta focus on the hard work part, 'cause that's what you can change now.

(Recognizing what you have the potential to be good at is useful... but it's also really hard to do, and it's easy to make expensive mistakes. Figuring out how to work as hard as you are able, though? nearly always pays some dividends. So sure, until you figure out how to work as hard as you are able, that should be your focus.)

[1] Yes, I actually say things like that. Part of the practice for that confidence thing. You know, pretending to be white, and all that. It's kinda ridiculous, sure, but eh, you can pay me to look a little bit silly.

The thing is, you need a certain, I don't know the Chinese for it, but the translation is "Good face" to do well. There is this whole set of social rules you need to follow- this whole set of, well, this identity you need to assume to do business... or really, even to get someone else to hire you to write code. I call assuming the required mask in technical/business situations "pretending to be white" - because the most accessible and understandable 'good face,' for me, at least, is the "Real American" face. It's seeped into the rest of my life by now, too, which I find hilarious. I'm not the sort who can switch masks on the drop of a hat. It takes years, for me... So this bleed over into the rest of my life feels honest, authentic. I really am, in a small way, becoming a "Real American." I genuinely enjoy Johnny Cash now, though the country they play on the radio, well, that can still only be enjoyed ironically.


Which influences make people work smarter, harder, and more efficiently than others and how does one attain these influences?


This reminds me of what my grandfather told me once -

"I often hear many people(mostly teens) claiming that they are independent and they can live life as they wish. They say they don't care about society. They wrongly perceive society as something evil that is stopping them to live the life they want. They forget that in society we are neither independent or dependent, but interdependent. It is next to impossible to live completely independently."


These are really great words that stand the test of time. Inherent truth is eternal.


I think that if we want to have more John Scalzis in the world, we need to lower taxes. I am glad his mother could get him into private school. There are many parents who could if they did not have so much withheld from their paycheck, did not have a large property tax bill, or did not have to pay rents inflated by taxes. We don't need to pay for such an expensive military just to give military moms some help. We could give free healthcare to so many more poor women and still save money if we reduced our military budget.


They wouldn't need a private school if higher taxes paid for better public schools. Which they do in most of Europe.


The United States spends more money per pupil than most European countries[1] in K-12 education, $11,000 per student compared to the EU average of $7,700 per student. Where are you getting your beliefs from?

At some point, the public bureaucracy needs to stop draining the blood out of the private economy and learn to do more with less. Or, in the case of US schools, do more with more.

[1] http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/education-at-a-glance...


You are asserting generalities, while your arguments are based on your current government spending money inefficiently. If you would stop arguing in generalities and instead try to address the actual problems you have (which is not the height of the tax!), you may actually achieve something.

As your own numbers show, European governments have succeeded in organising education much more efficiently than your government. This is a counterexample to your general assertion.


I went to a k-12 school in Utah. There were ~200 students in the entire school. Per pupil there costs a lot more than a school in NYC.


We spend quite a lot on education, up to 40% of state budgets in our largest states like California. Spending per student is among the highest in the world. There is no reason to think we would do better by spending even more. To be European, we should probably spend less.

If we want to emulate Europe, and in some ways we do, we should reduce the size of our schools (e.g. France), end a lot of our special programs for challenged children and replace them with a high level of personal attention with the goal of integrating the child (Finland), and develop integration programs and job tracks for immigrants and tightly enforce participation (Germany.)

One of the boldest and most European proposals is to eliminate much of the Department of Education, which does not successfully regulate curricula and implements one expensive program after another without progress. European countries have ministries and departments to oversee education, but since the countries are smaller, the departments are closer to the size of some of our state programs. Eliminating or reducing the DoE to one or two small, specialized, service- and research-oriented departments might possibly reduce expenses while increasing the quality of education in the country at the same time.

In short, I think you will want to support fewer education layers, programs and departments, and smaller schools and budgets, if you want public education in the United States to be more European.

Edit: I would like to add that private schools are very diverse and their students accomplish many remarkable things. In addition to meeting needs that standardized schools cannot, and being run better as small, atomic organizations usually are, private schools and universities drive innovation in education and are the places today from which tomorrow's public best practices will be derived. In most European countries, there are many private schools, so that is another thing you will want to emulate in the European model.


If you count higher education, over 50% of California taxes go to education.


Why is California education so bad (with the exception of a few districts and some of the UCs), then?


Taxation is not equivalent to charity or 'giving back.'

This is sadly an incredibly common conflation.


I don't think he's arguing that it's equivalent to charity, but that's it's part of building an equal-opportunity society. He's arguing that he benefitted from that society, much of which was funded by other people's taxes, and is happy, now that he has money, to pay taxes that keep it in existence for others.

My parents have a vaguely similar view. My dad lived for a few years when he was a kid from social-security disability payments that his father received; and he went to college on a CalGrants scholarship, which at the time covered you almost fully if you had good high-school grades and were attending in-state. He would've been in quite difficult circumstances if those programs didn't exist, and would've had to hope for charity, which tends to be much less reliable and less uniformly available (e.g. churches tend to help their own members first) [1]. So now that he's an upper-middle-class engineer, he doesn't have a problem paying taxes that support those kinds of things.

[1] This is actually an argument F.A. Hayek makes for why there should be a minimal state safety net, even though most of Hayek's writing is anti-socialist and pro-free-market. He argues that, otherwise, people have to rely on more cliquish safety nets (extended-family clans, churches, etc.), which produces a tribalist rather than individualist society. So, perhaps counterintuitively, a little bit of collectivism at the top level (safety net for everyone) produces more individualism throughout society (people don't feel the need to cling to these tribalist groups for safety). He supported taxation to pay for education for similar reasons, though he argued for provision of the education to be market-based (via school vouchers).


Nor is it equivalent to handing over the fruits of your work to armed thugs, another incredibly common conflation.


Try not paying them then


It can be. For instance: school funding.


TL;DR Always work hard, keep your eyes open, and be helpful.

On the point of luck, yes there is a whole lot of lucky circumstance which you have no control over that puts in you in a lucky position. But I believe you pass a point in your life where it goes from being purely lucky to being just plain prepared. If Scalzi didn't work at his craft or his networking, the opportunities that availed themselves to him probably would not have happened.

I think a lot about where I am and where I'm going. There's lots of things I do now that don't have immediate payoff. Rather, I think of everything as just training for something else down the road. So I try to get good (or at least passably decent) at a breadth of things and specialize in a few. Hopefully then when luck swings my way I'm prepared to go after that small window of opportunity with full force.

I'm also a big fan of paying it forward, like Scalzi. Not everything is money---often it's just time. Giving someone honest feedback, lending them a hand, or supporting their efforts is all good karma. When you help others in a way you help yourself: growing your community of interest, raising the overall standard of living, moving groups of people forward.


This reminds me of my favorite joke:

Man has progressed to the point of rivalry with God. Man talks to God and brags about his accomplishments. God agrees that Man has accomplished a lot.

God reminds Man that God made him from dirt. Man says "Oh, we mastered that long ago." God says he'd like to see that.

Man smiles, and reaches down for a handful of dirt.

God says "Ah, no, you go get your own dirt."


It's great that OP had super public school teachers. Mine were lousy. Sorry, it's just a fact, they collected their checks and went home on the clock and didn't give a damn about the kids they taught.

There was one who was outstanding. He got laid off in a budget cutback because he was junior. Everyone agreed it was a shame, but no one did anything about it. That's what taught me what those people were about.

I've been helped by a great many people. Public school teachers aren't in my particular set.


I was not impressed with both the individual and the article.

First off the man deserved all the success he achieved but seriously, he had a solid education, high self-esteem, he was summarily effectual, he showed up to work and was industrious. (80% of success is just showing up- Woody Allen)

If higher taxes assisted him then why is the United States faltering and our educational system becoming such a joke? I mean to say are we not paying enough taxes? If so how high should they be?

I pay federal income tax, SSI taxes, state tax, sales taxes, property tax, garbage fees, gas taxes, utility taxes, I pay car registration fees, and probably a bunch of fees I am missing.

My fed tax rate is 21.7%, my California tax rate is 9.55%, sales sax 8.75% I believe, but with all of the above I easy pay 40% of my income.


If higher taxes assisted him then why is the United States faltering and our educational system becoming such a joke? I mean to say are we not paying enough taxes? If so how high should they be?

Keep in mind that in the US, much school funding comes from property taxes, and is highly tied to the specific location of the school. Thus, affluent areas "magically" have better schools, and poorer areas have worse schools.


I'm confused as to why so many comments on the story are stuck on the very few lines regarding taxes. The vast majority really leads back to his Mom's abilities to seek out ways to provide for him and then putting him in front of opportunities that eventually helped him become who he is.

If she had not been so active in putting him in the right places at the beginning, his life would have been vastly different.

But I can't place where he advocates higher taxes or the misuse of tax money.


Internet libertarians -- of which there are a few on HN -- do not like anything that even hints at the possibility that government can do anything positive, or that taxes should be seen as anything other than a government SWAT team kicking down your door and stealing all your money at gunpoint to give to people who don't deserve it.


He wasn't making a case for higher taxes. He was simply stating that the taxes and programs that went into our military having good medical facilities for themselves, spouses and children. The taxes that go into grants and education (and school counselors ), and the taxes that go into providing food to the least fortunate. All had a very positive effect on allowing him to turn himself into a successful and happy person.


My national tax rate is ~35% an sales tax 21%. Then there's some stuff I'm missing. Altogether areound 60%. I'm not complaining; I live in the most awesome country in the world.


This is a really great and inspiring read. 

The key takeaways, at least for me, were:

Your parents play a huge part in establishing a primary path through life for you. His mother worked hard and did what was necessary to give him a chance to concentrate on learning, to appreciate books, and to give him opportunities to grow and explore his world.

Your integrity, earned respect, and power of networks and relationships can't be emphasized enough. At almost every critical junction in his life, it was a personal relationship or the recommendation of people who had respect for his abilities and skills that opened a door and led to better opportunities.  That says a lot, not just about the impression he's made on others (purposely or not), but on the confidence his friends, peers, and acquaintances had in him. That was no easy feat, tho some people can do it without effort.  It is interesting that he remembers so many names, all the way back to teachers in elementary school.  I may not have the best criteria for "great people" but to me, someone who makes the effort to remember key people in their lives for decades is in turn worth remembering. 

Grab opportunities. Put in the work. I know this should be a given, but I know it can still be daunting. He took jobs he had no experience in and he moved to better opportunities as he saw fit.  Passion can manifest in a kind of restlessness, and properly tapped, can mean the difference between mediocrity and absolute fulfillment.

Lastly, the most important part I think is the acknowledgment that you don't get to be where you are alone.  Yes, one has to have that rare combination of drive, talent, intelligence, charisma, and everything else that makes up a certain formula for success, but "luck" can also be the result of stirring the pot just right. Being at the right place at the right time can also be attributed to having enough people recognize all the memorable and remarkable qualities one has that will make them remember to recommend you for a position or even just to point you out as an authority on a particular subject. The people around you are just as important to success. 


One major thing missing here: luck! Lucky to be born in the U.S.A., of course, but also lucky to be born with a high IQ (those test scores that got him into the University of Chicago), lucky to be born with a creative streak, and lucky to make certain connections in the right time in his life, etc.


I believe that everyone is helped out by a hefty dose of luck across their lives - being in the right place at the right time often serves us well.

Admittedly, it often comes down to hard work and preparation in the daily struggle, but that day where you needed to guess a few test answers and got them right, or you posted a job offer to a company you didn't think would notice you and happened to catch a random recruiters eye, or you happened to perform well on the exact day your boss wanted to promote somebody to an empty senior position they wanted filling.

Life is a series of hard work, intermingled with sprinkles of luck, sometimes good, sometimes bad.

True, having the IQ at a young age to go to a private school on a scholarship is fortunate and not the kind of advantage most people have, but I'm sure it still wasn't easy at some points, the author simply had the ability of self preservation to survive their trials.


I might be inclined to charecterize things in the opposite way: life is a series of lucky opportunities that you work hard to take advantage of.

Anyone who has the test scores to get into the University of Chicago is very likely in the top 1-2% of IQ's. It's hard to say that everything doesn't ultimately stem from that initial stroke of luck.


The term "Self-Made" is repulsive. If you're not acquainted with the term "survivorship bias" get to know it well before you read any success story.

Just after the end of the 90's boom, I was taking care of the storage of my [insert name of any large luxury item] and on the other side of the counter was a guy about my age and disposition who said, "hey what do you do for a living?" I gave him a minimal description and he soon responded with "Wow that's nice, my (tech-related) business went bust and now I work here behind the counter and live upstairs, trying to get back on my feet."

There wasn't the remotest possibility that there was a thousand-fold gap between us in any entrepreneurially-related skill category yet Lady Luck had placed us on opposite side of the service counter that day.

Always be humble. Life is not wholly deterministic.


Your point is not a bad one, but you clearly didn't read a word of the essay.


I got the point of the essay. Mine was more a practical rant that the term Self-Made is so widely accepted as part of culture. Being a parent for many years now I've seen more "just believe in yourself" messages in kids' movies than I can count.


Was he really unlucky..or did he just make bad decisions?


That would depend if he was ever offered an exit. By the end of 2000 free-wheeling money for tech was gone. If that didn't kill a business, 9/11/2001 was a second blow. Those who had a chance to exit by Y2K and had a clue about financial bubbles thrived personally. Certainly though, there were smart people who were never offered an acquisition.


Beautiful. I fear this is a story about the OLD America, before The Right took intellectual control. Most Americans now believe that welfare is a handout to the lazy, as though the poor chose to be so, and would rather receive than work.

But these people don't view the cranky old miser in It's a Wonderful Life as a glorious capitalist hero, or George as a socialist. I know these people agree with giving to those they know in need, but when it's broader assistance, like through government, and those being helped aren't friends, they lose interest.

We need to get The Right to have empathy for strangers.


Or as Chris Sacca once put it in "The Trouble With Libertarians":

> I think, sometimes, like, arguing with libertarians can be really frustrating because, I think, it can be, um..., I think it can be intellectually lazy. And I think it can be convenient, and, in the same way that, um, you know when everything is going right it's easy to attribute it to your own success and when things are going wrong, it's because you got fucked or because you were unlucky etc., like, I think sometimes, like, the libertarian point of view can be, um..., can be rooted in a limited set of circumstances where you give yourself a little more credit than, um.., than you want, or than you are due, probably.

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ViHuU6-CFDo

I recommend watching the entire Chris Sacca Pando Monthly Fireside chat.

It is extremely awesome.

Just a teaser of what you'll see: $12 million is gained and lost, bankruptcy makes an appearance, the dot com crash crushes everybody, the rise of Google, playing with $4 billion in cash at FCC poker, running a billion dollar hedge fund, being a ski bum whilst simultaneously graduating near the top of his class at law school, then going on to live in poverty and working his ass off just to stay in the game and getting really, really, really fucking lucky :)

Yes, that awesome.

Entire talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqUG2_cmZ6I

Both the above article, and Chris Sacca are actually referring the the just world fallacy, a derivative of the fundamental attirbution effect, which in combination with cognitive dissonance, allows people to do the following:

> As a simple example, consider a situation where a driver, Alice, is about to pass through an intersection. Her light turns green, and so she begins moving forward when an ambulance blows through the red-light with sirens blaring and lights flashing, and cuts her off. Despite knowing that there is a good reason for the driver's behaviour, she is likely to form a negative opinion of the driver, e.g. "what an inconsiderate driver!".

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_attribution_error

You will not believe how many things in life are, ironically enough, a derivative of the fundamental attribution error (e.g. republicans/conservatives/religion/start-up conferences - so many others).

And another video on what entrepreneurship feels like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3NC_w9AOSA


I begin to understand why HN is so filled with negativity.

A lot of people here are bitter because they failed or because they know that they'll eventually fail. This place is a hive of socialists who do not have what it takes for to create future wealth.

It's very ironic to see them using hardware and software made by Intel / Google / Apple / etc. to spread their poisonous words.

Don't forget what made your country great (I'm not american and I'm not in the U.S.) and which kind of men you owe the technological world you live into (including, but not limited to, computers, space rockets, medecine).

And please: stop to try to create things and stop being negative with those who do. Go find a job as a state servant and, please, leave enough oxygen to those trying hard to create future wealth.


Interesting, but a useless exercise.


Far from it; if anyone's able to take inspiration, or bring success to themselves or those around them, it is of great use.


Genetically gifted, "a self made man". A dickotomy.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: