Home
The other day I asked aloud in this blog if there might be some sort of anti-success trend emerging in society. I think I found it.

Some folks emailed me directly (dilbertcartoonist@gmail.com) to say they believe it is a waste of time to pursue success because it is a zero-sum game. In other words, they believe they can only be successful by making someone else less successful, on the theory that there isn't enough success in the universe for everyone to get a meaningful slice. They tell me it would be "wrong" on some level to pick the pockets of strangers for self-enrichment.

And there it is.

I doubt that sort of thinking would have existed before the massive media campaign against the "top 1%." The power of the top 1% story is in the false impression that rich people stole the money from the poor and middle class, and therefore it would only be fair to give most of it back.

Clearly some of the financial titans are doing little more than picking pockets. But those are the exceptions. Most one-percenters are growing the economy and creating jobs. That's obvious to people who were born in the "rising tide lifts all boats" era. And it's obvious to anyone with a bit of economics education.

But if you are in your twenties, with no deep understanding of economics, wouldn't you believe success is evil? That's the dominant story of their generation.

Making matters worse, success, money, and abuse of power are all conflated in our minds because that's how the news lumps that stuff.

So while the benefits of success are entrenched in the minds of my generation, the young might be learning that it's something to be avoided.

I can't back this hypothesis with data. We're in anecdotal territory. But it's something to keep an eye on.

Update 1:

Another reason success might have lost its luster is that successful people are considered narcissists, and narcissism seems to be more condemned lately than at any time I can recall. (Or maybe that's just me.) But it turns out that, according to one study, a little bit of narcissism actually helps people succeed as leaders. That's a problem because what 20-something wants to be seen as a narcissist? Narcissism is the new racism.

Update 2:

Here's more evidence that success is being demonized by the young. The University of Georgia's Student Government Association is demanding fewer success stories because it makes those who are less successful look bad.





 
Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +34
  • Print
  • Share

Comments

Sort By:
Jan 16, 2014
@alphasigmookie

[For individuals in their 20's the cost of education has skyrocketed so that most who are intelligent enough to get an education have to take out the equivalent of a mortgage to afford it and once they graduate they have to deal with the massive student loan payments and a crappy job market.

None of this is enough to justify individuals not reaching for the most success that they are capable of. There are still opportunities out there for those intelligent or creative enough to find them. Unfortunately, not everyone has one or both of those qualities, so it's much easier to complain and blame other people for their lack of success. ]

You came close here but didnt quite reach where you should have been. Its possible for a young person to be intelligent, creative and hard working and still give up on success because of the strong possibility that going to college will result in you still being out of work but with a five (maybe even six) figure debt that you cant get rid of (student debt is harder to get rid of than other kinds of debt). This situation makes it easier for them to blame the system for their lack of success not just because going for it is hard and risky, but because theres just enough truth in the 'its the systems fault' assertion for it to work.
 
 
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 16, 2014
Nearly all transactions are of the win-win type or people wouldn't do them. People that believe the zero sum theory don't understand even simple economics. What do they have in mind to replace some form of capitalism? There are real problems with capitalism and democracy but everything else is worse.
 
 
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 16, 2014
Clearly we need to make the pie higher.

TANSTAAFL
 
 
Jan 16, 2014
From a purely economic perspective the data shows a few trends that are clearly helping to cause this "wealth envy" or "anti-success" feeling.

1) The income and wealth distribution has become increasingly concentrated at the top. This is not to say those at the top didn't earn it, but it is a fact and it seems unfair to a lot of people, especially given at least the perception of how many at the top spend their money (buying politicians and !$%*!$%* up the economy)

2) The fraction of corporate revenues that go to wages are near an all time low while the profits are at an all time high. This leads to a situation where the average worker is overworked and/or underpaid while the stockholders and CEO's profit greatly.

http://www.businessinsider.com/profits-high-wages-low-7-2013

3) The general distribution of jobs available in the economy has shifted gradually over the decades such that there are fewer jobs available that pay a "middle class income" vs. those that pay barely or not enough to get by (take a look at your average suburban strip mall and ask yourself how many people working there make more than $10-12/hr)

4) For individuals in their 20's the cost of education has skyrocketed so that most who are intelligent enough to get an education have to take out the equivalent of a mortgage to afford it and once they graduate they have to deal with the massive student loan payments and a crappy job market.

None of this is enough to justify individuals not reaching for the most success that they are capable of. There are still opportunities out there for those intelligent or creative enough to find them. Unfortunately, not everyone has one or both of those qualities, so it's much easier to complain and blame other people for their lack of success.
 
 
+24 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 16, 2014
Posting again because reading the comments it is sad what people don't understand about economics. Yes, we live in a world of limit resources. It is a fundamental law of economics, but everyone who says wealth cannot be created misses the importance of EFFICIENCY. A computer from the 1960s cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and used a huge amount of power to do a few operations. A calculator today can do the same thing for 10 bucks on a tiny battery that will last years. Are you saying there is no VALUE creation in that? The same TASK can be accomplished with less resources. That is a better value.

As for the zero sum people who think that to get rich someone else has to get poor, maybe you should stop buying everything. The whole idea of capitalism is that when there is a voluntary transaction, BOTH parties have to end up better off. If you buy a hamburger at McDonalds for $1, you value the burger more than the buck and McDonalds values the buck more than the burger or the transaction wouldn't occur. Or maybe you are stupid and trade things that are valuable to you for things that you don't value. In that case, I have some lint in my pocket I'd like to trade you for your car.

[That made me laugh out loud. You have just the right amount of perplexed anger in that explanation. Nicely done. -- Scott]
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 16, 2014
"Narcissism is the new racism"

Ouch! That hurts. I think you once said something about how most analogies fail because they aren't even close....well try again on that one.

Also, in the age of Instagram and Twitter and people posting "selfies", I think narcissism is being embraced rather than shunned. And who are the people participating in such behaviour the most? Youth, the group you allege wouldn't want to be viewed as such. Maybe some people are narcissistic and just don't know it.

As far as the view of success, not sure there. I'll be sure to let everyone know my brilliant opinion when I think of it!

[Narcissism and racism are similar in the sense that we see those qualities in others and imagine we don't have them ourselves. You might as well accuse someone of being carbon-based. Here I am using racism in its modern form that simply means prejudging based on patterns that can often be misleading. -- Scott]
 
 
Jan 16, 2014
[I doubt that sort of thinking would have existed before the massive media campaign against the "top 1%."... Most one-percenters are growing the economy and creating jobs. That's obvious to people who were born in the "rising tide lifts all boats" era]

Seriously? Thats a serious question not a rebuttal. Im too young to remember the 60s and only barely remember the 70s but the impression I got was that young people during those times were more anti-rich and anti-success than they are today. You lived through those times. What was your impression?

[People were anti-war and anti-government and anti-authority. But I never met anyone in those days who opposed success as a concept. That was my experience anyway. -- Scott]
 
 
Jan 16, 2014
The worst part is, people get upset about rich people and want to take away all their luxuries or tax the heck out of them forgetting that those luxuries employ middle class people. Taxing yachts or personal jets just hurts people who manufacture yachts and small jets. Making it less desirable to buy supercars hurts supercar makers and those are usually hand built instead of made by robots.

I always ask people who hate the 1%ers what they think rich people do with their money... Do they burn it? Stuff it under the mattress? Swim in it like Scrooge McDuck? No, they either A) put it into the stock market and encourage corporate growth, B) put it into bonds or savings accounts or other loan backing investments which allows capital to flow to people with less assets, C) buy stuff which employs people, or D) hire people. What do the poorest 1% do with money? They get payday loans, buy liquor/drugs, or buy lotto tickets (generalization of course).

The whole idea of wealth redistribution is taking money away from people who know how to manage money and giving it to people who don't. It's taking money away from people who planned for the future and giving it to those who squandered. Charity is one thing, but what we do now is encourage poor planning and discourage good planning. Don't believe me? What is the current interest rate? Is the Fed encouraging you to save your money or go out and buy a house with a loan? Don't we already have a problem with too much debt?
 
 
Jan 16, 2014
Exhibit A is Andtalath's comments and that leftist youtube video. You are correct that the young do not want to be seen as narcissists but they happen to be the most narcissistic generation ever. That is why they need someone to blame for their failure - and the rich came along just in time. The times, they are a changing!
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 16, 2014
Dude!

You need a vacation! :-)

Nydhogg

PS: And you're working really hard on #8 :-)

[Oh how we hate anyone who tries to be rational. I get that. -- Scott]
 
 
Jan 16, 2014
If success is defined as a larger accumulation of goods and experiences that we enjoy, then I have to agree that it is, in fact, a zero sum game - if not now, then at least later. Population continues to climb heavily, and earth has a limited set of resources (even if we tap solar power for all it's worth). Especially in richer northern hemisphere countries goods and experienes all have an environmental cost that impacts everyone else.

It's a zero-sum game in another respect as well. Your success, Scott, is well earned because you're very smart, very funny, and you found an excellent niche. But there aren't an infinite number of niches for all of us to inhabit, even if we are also smart and funny. A lot of talented people haven't hit the big time, and most of them never will: you only have so many famous people. If everyone was famous, no one would be famous.

[Hypothesis somewhat confirmed: People believe the zero sum game idea for success. Amazing. -- Scott]
 
 
Jan 16, 2014
20-somethings don't want to be seen as narcissists?

Explain this little website called Facebook then...

[That's the site their moms use. -- Scott]
 
 
-15 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 16, 2014
Accumulating wealth is by necessity an act which removes money from other people.

Also, most of the things we do expend non-replenishable resources as well.

And, while trickle down economics has some merit to it in some cases (notably in small regions), it's quite obvious things have gone to far.

The 1% is a term which couldn't have existed during any age of fair distribution of wealth.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0ehzfQ4hAQ
Is a good representation of just how absurd USAs situation is currently.

Economic theory is always based on what has already happened and trying to justify why it did.
And, well, my guess is that economic theory will change quite a lot in 30 years.

My point?
We are living in extraordinary times economically, and they are growing more and more extreme by the minute.
We are growing beyond even the english colonial high-point.

And it's gross.

[Adding you to the people who don't understand economics. -- Scott]
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 16, 2014
I think the situation is clear and simple. Momma and Poppa always said **there is no such thing as a free lunch.** In the first decade of the century a lot of people with a lot of authority, like banks, realtors, etc. pushed hard to get people to go against momma and poppa, saying this is a new age with new financials gizmos. And it turned out to be a big lie. So people are what I call burned skeptical. It spills over to ever aspect of the world. **Don't give me no free stuff...cause I can't afford it!!!!**
 
 
 
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog