You Can Make It If You Try

14 Jan 2012 /

“It’s becoming conventional wisdom that the U.S. does not have as much [economic] mobility as most other advanced countries,” said Isabel V. Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution. “I don’t think you’ll find too many people who will argue with that.”

English: Jerry Buss (LA Lakers owner) playing ...

Jerry Buss

I’ll argue with it . . . the fact that people are not doing something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a hard thing to do. Maybe people aren’t trying to do it. Maybe people don’t want to do it.

From Daniel Kahneman‘s Thinking, Fast and Slow:

A large-scale study of the impact of higher education . . . revealed striking evidence of the lifelong effects of the goals that young people set for themselves. The relevant data were drawn from questionnaires collected in 1995-1997 from approximately 12,000 people who had started their higher education in elite schools in 1976. When they were 17 or 18, the participants had filled out a questionnaire in which they rated the goal of “being very well-off financially” on a 4-point scale ranging from “not important” to “essential.” . . .

Goals make a large difference. Nineteen years after they stated their financial aspirations, many of the people who wanted a high income had achieved it. Among the 597 physicians and other medical professionals in the sample, for example, each additional point on the money-importance scale was associated with an increment of over $14,000 of job income in 1995 dollars!

In other words, one reason that people differ in their incomes is that some people care more about having a high income than others. People have different ambitions. Some people will gladly sacrifice things like family and leisure time for money and some people won’t.

Here’s an example of what it takes to be rich in America: Laker owner Jerry Buss spent so little time with his family when his kids were growing up that when he and his wife separated, they didn’t tell the kids, and it was five years before any of them noticed the difference.

True story.

Not everyone is willing to show a Jerry Buss level of ruthless disregard for their family in their pursuit of financial success.

I’ve spent a lot of time with my family. Jerry Buss owns a basketball team and I don’t. Good for him! I’ve lived my life a certain way and I could have lived it a different way if I’d wanted to.

A lot of Americans are self-absorbed morons whose principal activities are eating and watching television. The fact that these people are not shooting up the economic ladder doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a hard thing to do if you really want to do it.


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