How Much of Our Success Should We Claim Credit For?
Our most recent podcast was called “Would a Big Bucket of Cash Really Change Your Life?” It showed that the winners of a 19th-century land lottery did not appear to convert their windfall into intergenerational wealth. This challenges the modern argument that cash transfers are one of the most effective ways of helping a poor family escape poverty — and, therefore, as we said in the podcast, might be seen as a depressing conclusion.
Judd Campbell from Odessa, Texas, wrote in to dispute the depressing part, and offer some worthwhile commentary:
I just finished listening to the latest podcast about the Georgia land lottery in the 19th century. I actually found it not to be depressing at all.
1. It would be depressing to me to know that poverty has existed into modernity, and the solution would be a simple one-time transfer of wealth. Surely, we could have figured that out by now and eliminated poverty. Clearly, the issue is more complex than that, and thus we have an excuse for not developing a solution. Yet.
2. While I don’t consider myself wealthy, I do make a healthy salary and live in a comfortable home with 4 kids. There are a couple of things that I believe about my life, that may or may not be logical or factual, but provides me comfort:
a. My financial success is not due to my parents. I did it on my own. I did grow up in a comfortable home with loving and supportive parents, my father has a master’s degree, and I appreciate what they have provided me. But in my gut I feel like I achieved my own success. This podcast was uplifting, because it seems to confirm that I am responsible for my own success.
b. On the other hand, I feel like my financial success will help my children be financially successful. Even though I don’t give my parents credit for my success, I believe that I can influence my children to be successful.
I thank Judd for his thoughts. I think the seeming contradiction between points 2a and 2b highlights a common problem when thinking issues like these: we are able to judge, assess, and analyze our own experiences so much more than others’, and therefore probably over-attribute causality; when we look at the experience of other people, meanwhile, we probably tend to impose our own experience onto theirs more than we think.
So, the big open-ended question of the day: how much of our success should we claim credit for? I think about this question a lot. In my family there wasn’t much money but my parents gave me and all my siblings (there were eight of us) good health, an appetite for curiosity, and a sense of optimism. How much is that worth?