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The Self-Made Myth: And the Truth about How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed

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The Self-Made Myth exposes the false claim that business success is the result of heroic individual effort with little or no outside help. Brian Miller and Mike Lapham bust the myth and present profiles of business leaders who recognize the public investments and supports that made their success possible—including Warren Buffett, Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s, New Be The Self-Made Myth exposes the false claim that business success is the result of heroic individual effort with little or no outside help. Brian Miller and Mike Lapham bust the myth and present profiles of business leaders who recognize the public investments and supports that made their success possible—including Warren Buffett, Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s, New Belgium Brewing CEO Kim Jordan, and others. The book also thoroughly demolishes the claims of supposedly self-made individuals such as Donald Trump and Ross Perot. How we view the creation of wealth and individual success is critical because it shapes our choices on taxes, regulation, public investments in schools and infrastructure, CEO pay, and more. It takes a village to raise a business—it’s time to recognize that fact.


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The Self-Made Myth exposes the false claim that business success is the result of heroic individual effort with little or no outside help. Brian Miller and Mike Lapham bust the myth and present profiles of business leaders who recognize the public investments and supports that made their success possible—including Warren Buffett, Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s, New Be The Self-Made Myth exposes the false claim that business success is the result of heroic individual effort with little or no outside help. Brian Miller and Mike Lapham bust the myth and present profiles of business leaders who recognize the public investments and supports that made their success possible—including Warren Buffett, Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s, New Belgium Brewing CEO Kim Jordan, and others. The book also thoroughly demolishes the claims of supposedly self-made individuals such as Donald Trump and Ross Perot. How we view the creation of wealth and individual success is critical because it shapes our choices on taxes, regulation, public investments in schools and infrastructure, CEO pay, and more. It takes a village to raise a business—it’s time to recognize that fact.

30 review for The Self-Made Myth: And the Truth about How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    A Brilliant Contribution to the Public Debate About Politics and the Economy Last week the Republican majority in the House of Representatives passed a budget that slashes taxes for corporations and high-income taxpayers while drastically cutting federal assistance for food and other safety-net programs. It’s hard to imagine a more dramatic expression of contemporary “conservative” ideology. It’s straight out of Atlas Shrugged, based on the tragically misguided notion that brilliant, driven indiv A Brilliant Contribution to the Public Debate About Politics and the Economy Last week the Republican majority in the House of Representatives passed a budget that slashes taxes for corporations and high-income taxpayers while drastically cutting federal assistance for food and other safety-net programs. It’s hard to imagine a more dramatic expression of contemporary “conservative” ideology. It’s straight out of Atlas Shrugged, based on the tragically misguided notion that brilliant, driven individuals produce the country’s wealth and are solely responsible for creating jobs for the rest of us. Brian Miller and Mike Lapham’s thoughtful and impeccably reasoned new book, The Self-Made Myth, goes straight to the heart of the conservative argument that favors limited government and coddling the rich. Rather than quibble about this program or that issue, or fasten on the transparently shoddy logic of a Republican budget that promises to reduce the federal deficit when in fact it will surely increase it, Miller and Lapham’s argument strikes at the fundamental values and assumptions underlying today’s conservatism. For more than a century, the U.S. public has been in thrall to the dangerous fiction of the self-reliant hero propagated by more than 100 of Horatio Alger’s novels and decades of self-promotion by 20th Century corporate leaders and self-help gurus, with their most extreme expression in the works of Ayn Rand, notably Atlas Shrugged. Now, finally, we have in one slim, well-executed volume an answer to the claptrap that lies at the heart of the right-wing politics which has driven American democracy to the brink of extinction over the past three decades. First, they argue, the self-made myth overlooks the accidents of geography and history. “Being born in this country is the ingredient that most reliably determines whether a person has the opportunity to become wealthy [and . . . o]f the 75 richest people in all human history, 14 were Americans born between 1831 and 1840, including John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, J. P. Morgan, Frederick Weyerhauser, and Andrew Carnegie.” Time and place matter. Then the authors cite the circumstances of personal history that also are significant factors in determining one’s potential to become rich: race, gender, and (even more so) whether the parents are rich, not to mention such other factors as whether and where one goes to college. Then comes a fundamental set of questions about the business environment in which fortunes are built: a strong currency, a judicial system that upholds contracts, a predictable set of rules for ownership and investing, protections for intellectual property through patents and copyrights, and the physical infrastructure of our nation, including the interstate highway system, bridges, tunnels, and ports, all of which would never come about if it weren’t for government (and almost exclusively the federal government). Finally, in delving further into the argument at the core of the book, Miller and Lapham pose these questions: “Did Mr. Self-Made Man grow up in a VA or FHA-funded house? Attend a public school or college? Go to school on the GI Bill, Pell Grants, or student loans? Does he claim a mortgage interest tax deduction every year? Does he support his retired parents out of pocket, or does Social Security do it for him? Does his employer get government contracts or subsidies that make his paycheck possible?” As extensive as is this list of factors, there’s more. For example, take Charles and David Koch, who have spent “hundreds of millions of dollars over the years demonizing government and promoting pure free-market capitalism.” The Koch brothers can hardly be viewed as avatars of the self-reliant business geniuses their ideology celebrates. They started their fortune with $300 million inherited from their father, and they “have been unashamed recipients of corporate welfare. They graze cattle and harvest timber on public lands, reaping the profits while paying minuscule fees. They use the government’s power of eminent domain to obtain routes for their thousands of miles of gas and oil pipelines. They even take advantage of direct government subsidies to produce ethanol. This last bit of public largesse is especially ironic, since ethanol subsidies are the kind of government spending that is a perennial target of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank backed by Charles Koch since its founding in 1977.” The Koch brothers call President Obama a socialist. Yet they “have no problem doing business with a real socialist when there is profit to be made: since 1998 they have been partners in a fertilizer factory with a state-run firm in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela.” Miller and Lapham devote a chapter in their book to analyses like the above, profiling the many advantages enjoyed by Donald Trump and Ross Perot as well. In a much longer chapter, they introduce 14 other business owners and leaders, all of whom describe in their own words how their circumstances, and especially government investments, helped them succeed in business. Among the profiles are famous names — Warren Buffett, Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s, and Abigail Disney — as well as others known largely in their own communities or industries. The book concludes with a long list of policy changes the authors advocate to shift the federal government’s emphasis from the self-made myth to what they call the “built-together reality” — changes in tax policy, public investment choices, and regulations, chiefly of financial institutions. Any public official who professes to be progressive or even liberal should read this book forthwith. So should anyone engaged in economic activism or the news media. If you fall into none of these categories but simply wish to understand better what makes our society tick, read The Self-Made Myth. This is one of the freshest and most important contributions in many years to the public discourse about the future of the United States. (From www.malwarwickonbooks.com)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    This book absolutely destroys the idea that rich people are primarily responsible for their own wealth. There are no "self-made" people. Reality, and people, so the authors argue, are "built together" and responsible for each other. But this book does not stop there. A full blown defense of the relational self and a communitarian politics, this is a must read for anyone who wants to make the case for a progressive politics and see what such policies would actually look like. This book absolutely destroys the idea that rich people are primarily responsible for their own wealth. There are no "self-made" people. Reality, and people, so the authors argue, are "built together" and responsible for each other. But this book does not stop there. A full blown defense of the relational self and a communitarian politics, this is a must read for anyone who wants to make the case for a progressive politics and see what such policies would actually look like.

  3. 5 out of 5

    donna

    The self-made man is a myth. No one becomes rich and successful on their own. They’re either born into a wealthy family or they, like the many successful entrepreneurs profiled in this book, benefited from taxpayer-funded government programs. Whether it was the public schools they or their staff attended, the roads their business uses to transport their products, the government funded university research that lead them to their lucrative invention, or the courts that protect their intellectual p The self-made man is a myth. No one becomes rich and successful on their own. They’re either born into a wealthy family or they, like the many successful entrepreneurs profiled in this book, benefited from taxpayer-funded government programs. Whether it was the public schools they or their staff attended, the roads their business uses to transport their products, the government funded university research that lead them to their lucrative invention, or the courts that protect their intellectual property, America’s businesses rely on the government to support the fertile system that contributes to their success. America creates success and wealth and without a progressive tax system, we are pulling up the ladder and saying that we will no longer support the bright, hard-working entrepreneurs of the future. The rich did not earn all their money without help from the rest of society’s tax dollars. It is time for them to give back. The idea that no man is an island and that every successful American business had help from the government is repeated in these stories in this book over and over again. We need to challenge the self-made myth and compete with the prevailing ideas that taxes are evil and that the wealthy are job creators. Buy a copy of this book. Read it. Learn it. Donate a copy to your local library. Give copies as gifts to friends. It’s time everyone understands the real truth behind American wealth.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    I really like United for a Fair Economy and Brian Miller is a friend. However, this book is way too classically liberal, pro-capitalist, for it to feel very hopeful or be very inspiring. Still I really appreciate the way it made visible and explicit the many subsidies that the rich and business owners receive from society. Also, because Tracie is trying to start a small business right now, it was interesting to hear from people who were "successful" at starting businesses about all of the commun I really like United for a Fair Economy and Brian Miller is a friend. However, this book is way too classically liberal, pro-capitalist, for it to feel very hopeful or be very inspiring. Still I really appreciate the way it made visible and explicit the many subsidies that the rich and business owners receive from society. Also, because Tracie is trying to start a small business right now, it was interesting to hear from people who were "successful" at starting businesses about all of the community and social support, governmental support and family advantage that supported their success. I'm glad this book exists, but I want to be pushed further to think about what the "build it together reality" could look like in a world with fair economies.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Linda Rogde

    The Self-Made Myth exposes the false claim that business success is the result of heroic individual effort with little or no outside help. Brian Miller and Mike Lapham bust the myth and present profiles of business leaders who recognize the public investments and supports that made their success possible—including Warren Buffett, Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s, New Belgium Brewing CEO Kim Jordan, and others. From the blurb.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    Great perspective from people who are successful in business today. Really kills the "we need the job creators to save us" rhetoric from the Right. I think this is a must read for anyone who thinks "government is the problem". Great perspective from people who are successful in business today. Really kills the "we need the job creators to save us" rhetoric from the Right. I think this is a must read for anyone who thinks "government is the problem".

  7. 4 out of 5

    Maria McGrath

    I'm not sure why I got so bogged down in the middle of this, but they finished strong. It's nice to know that some rich entrepreneur-types acknowledge that they didn't make it alone and that they should give back rather than pulling the ladder up behind them. I'm not sure why I got so bogged down in the middle of this, but they finished strong. It's nice to know that some rich entrepreneur-types acknowledge that they didn't make it alone and that they should give back rather than pulling the ladder up behind them.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rayburn Wilkins

    Well written This book is very concise very well elocuted. I haven't come across a better piece of work that makes Donald trump look like the pompous jackals he is. Well written This book is very concise very well elocuted. I haven't come across a better piece of work that makes Donald trump look like the pompous jackals he is.

  9. 5 out of 5

    !Tæmbuŝu

    KOBOBOOKS KOBOBOOKS

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mr. Wakiki

    I want to give this a 3.. but slightly better... I think it isn't because of the intent...or the facts but because of the tone/read/fact combination I want to give this a 3.. but slightly better... I think it isn't because of the intent...or the facts but because of the tone/read/fact combination

  11. 4 out of 5

    Tanmay Inamdar

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Byrd

  13. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jim Sherblom

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ahmed Raheem

  16. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Alan

  17. 4 out of 5

    John

  18. 5 out of 5

    Brian Hull

  19. 5 out of 5

    John

  20. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Nies

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rob Kall

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dean Lisle

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  24. 5 out of 5

    Frederick S.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Brendan Kearns

  26. 4 out of 5

    Scott Ryalls

  27. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

  28. 5 out of 5

    Charles

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sean Hopp

  30. 4 out of 5

    Raena

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