Every single leader I have worked with – man or woman – had either an emotionally unavailable father; a father who was deeply unhappy and unfulfilled in his own life; or a father who was never satisfied with the achievements of his children. Many leaders had all three.
So, what evidence do we have of this negative predilection toward risktakers? Three specifics have always struck me:
1. The very first act of the Obama administration was to kill the voucher program for poor families who had chosen to send their children to non-traditional, non-public schools in the District of Columbia, which has, arguably, the worst public schools in the country. This was done, clearly, to assuage the teachers union, which sees these schools (and the school choice movement) as a threat to their guaranteed jobs and their low-risk view of life. The irony of this cut was that its impact was felt entirely by minority (almost exclusively Black) families.
2. The staggering burden of new taxes instituted by this administration will fall predominantly on the shoulders of small, independent business people (sole proprietors, partnerships, LLC’s, etc.) who run “pass thru” operations. These men and women create 85% of the jobs in America, and have razor thin margins in their businesses. Additional dollars of taxation put them in the position of keeping a tight lid on their overhead, which translates into no new hiring, or even worse, laying people off. These folks are the real risktakers in our society; not the “barons of industry” that the media is always carping about.
3. Obama’s sticky alliance with the union movement is not accidental. The mission of the unions is to maximize guarantees and minimize risk, which is the antithesis of what built this country. The pioneers of every epoch were not looking for guarantees; they were seeking opportunities. America’s creativity and ingenuity are driven by risktakers, not bureaucrats. I learned an indelible lesson living in western Europe and spending much time in Scandinavia. The higher you raise the floor, the lower you bring down the ceiling. And the ultimate physics of this dynamic is inescapable and fatal. The culture dies of suffocation.
I am not opposed to reforming the healthcare/health insurance system in our country (and I know no one who is). What bothers me is the sledge hammer approach and the unstated agenda of further removing risk from the culture and substituting guarantees. We need to remember that there was not one peep from unions, government regulators, the media, nor the public at large, when Wall Street “wheeler-dealers” were raking in the profits and filling the coffers of union pension funds; when Fannie and Freddie were underwriting loans that could never be serviced; and when financial advisors were helping private citizens stuff their pockets with cash. I have never had much respect for selective outrage, particularly when it comes from politicians.
I have heard much these days about how we are to judge what a “good society” is. Most of it says something to the effect that the good and noble society is defined by how it takes care of its “less fortunate” citizens. I couldn’t disagree more. From my perspective, the good and noble society is distinguished by how it supports, incentivizes, and rewards its most successful citizens. Without these risktaking and courageous people there would be no resources whatsoever, to help anyone with anything. The greatest threat to our culture, at this point, is not external. It is the continual discouragement and demonization of those amongst us who have done the best. Class warfare and hostility, generated by envy, has destroyed many societies. I fervently hope we can move beyond it.
At the Bear’s games we would sit quietly, most of the time, freezing our asses off, until an exciting play occurred and/or the Bears scored. When this happened, my father would shoot out of his seat, screaming at the top of his lungs, and pounding anyone around him on the back (as I got older, it was often me). As soon as the play was over, he was back in his seat, looking intently at the field. When I was real young, these outbursts were a little scary. As I got older, I anticipated them, and saw them as part of the game experience.
The racetrack culture was one of the most unique societies I had ever been exposed to (or have since experienced). It was a weird amalgam of upper middle class professionals (it was said that if you needed a doctor or a dentist, in Chicago, on a Wednesday or a Saturday, you’d best be prepared to go out to the racetrack); and gambling addicts and racetrack touts. The touts were men who spent their whole lives at tracks throughout the country, hanging around the stables, talking with trainers, handlers, and jockeys, and making their living giving tips to well-heeled bettors. If the tips paid off, they got “tipped” with a portion of the winnings; sometimes quite handsomely. My father knew the most well-known tout, a Persian immigrant named “Charlie Potatoes” (no one knew his real name). He took great pride in the fact that he never owned an overcoat, nor ever worked a day in his life at a regular job. One day, toward the end of the season in Chicago, he had a spectacularly successful day, and since he was headed south anyway, he took a cab from Chicago to Miami (I believe he said that it cost $10,000). I have very fond memories of those times. They may have been the beginnings of my lifelong interest in interesting people and unique subcultures.
N.B. This newsletter is labeled “April” because I got behind, again, and considered the last newsletter to be “February/March.” I will try to get on schedule again, but there are no guarantees. As you may have deduced by now, I struggle with getting these out. I very much like the end product, but I hate the process, and still can’t figure out why.
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