Challenging Conservative Business Icons’ “Self-Made” Claims

March 13, 2012

The iconic "self-made" businessman is a tired and false cliche; it's time for a more honest national dialogue about what makes wealth and success possible. And a new book by two UFE staffers aims to do just that. 

The Self-Made Myth—And the Truth About How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed, released this month by UFE executive director Brian Miller and Responsible Wealth project director Mike Lapham, exposes the false claim that business success is solely the result of the heroic effort of a single individual. The book contend that, among other supports, businesses are built atop public structures and services established and maintained by taxpayers’ collective investments made through government. As such, they owe something back to society.

“Debunking the self-made myth is critical, particularly during an election year where taxes and the role of government are center-stage,” says Brian Miller in a press statement released today. “We wrote this book because how we view wealth creation and individual success shapes our choices on policies, including taxes, regulations, public investments in schools and infrastructure, CEO pay, and more.”
             
Since the Reagan presidency, those involved in the broader conservative movement have based their anti-tax efforts on the notion that wealth is derived from the superior efforts of “job creators.” This frame fuels an anti-government and anti-tax narrative that the authors say is counter-productive to the kinds of investments we need to make to get our nation’s economy back on track.

“Members of Responsible Wealth, including some of the business owners profiled in our book, understand that there’s a lot more working in their favor than smarts, creativity or hard work,” says Mike Lapham. “They believe they owe a chunk of their good fortune to government investments in education, research, infrastructure and a regulatory system that have created a fertile business environment.”

The co-authors of The Self-Made Myth add that social relations can also provide an economic boost. “We hear these icons of business success, Donald Trump, Ross Perot, and the Koch brothers, for example, tout themselves as ‘self-made,’” said Miller. “But their failure to acknowledge the role of luck, privilege, and even government is misleading and dishonest.”

The Self-Made Myth book tour launched last week, fittingly at a public institution of learning, the Boston Public Library. The tour will continue around the country, with stops in New York City, Portland (Oregon), and Seattle.

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