Oregon Magazine

The Secret to Sucess is Failure
The lives of Tom Edison and some other categories of famous people (writers, for example) cause me to suspect that, ironic as it may seem, sometimes the best  place to look for personal success is under a pile of failures.
-- LL

This is about you.  Stick with me through the necessary history, and you will receive an injection of personal potential.  You will see no graphics below.  No entertaining videos or photos.  This is a tiny instruction manual. All you will find is words that might just change your life for the better.  Okay, here we go ...

Bailouts.  Flushing millions of dollars into a floundering General Motors so that the jobs and benefits of union members are secure, and remain lavish.  Dumping billions on Wall Street and quasi-government agencies like Fanny May and Freddie Mac, so the bad mortgages they have purchased from banks and savings and loan-like institutions across America can be supported.

It's called "state capitalism" these days.  It's just another word for communism, some say.  I say  it's just another word for fascism, since it perfectly describes what Adolf Hitler did to bring Germany out of its horrible post-WWI economic disaster.

What's bad about "state capitalism?"  It requires slaves to make it work.

America Happened

China, these days, is profitable (for the government), but not dynamic.  This makes it part of the past.  Dynamism is not a typical quality in human national affairs from an historical standpoint.  Egypt, Greece, Rome, Imperial China -- name your exciting ancient civilization and, it's all the same.  There are no remains of four-bedroom Egyptian suburban commuter communities for Indiana Jones to dig up.

Why is that important to you, personally?  Because it means that when the king owns everything, the most that will trickle down to the citizenry is crumbs.  Pure monarchy, socialist "democracy" or a fascist/communist state, it's all the same.  All the money stays at the top and the poverty stretches all the way to the bottom.

 State Capitalism was the order of the day in those ancient cultures.  The "capitalist," as in China, today, was the government.  There were merchant and artist classes which served the state and were a little better off, but their "workers," often as not, were slaves.

You can create wealth without full-throated dynamism, and when you do, end up with hovels looking out on gigantic structures like the pyramids and the Coliseum, but that's where it stops.  It's like having great powerful arms and wimpy legs.  Only part of the body is dynamic.  This limits the potential for victory.

Then, the United States of America happened.  The State didn't own everything, anymore.  The full force of dynamism was unleashed in a nation for the first time in history.

It's about human energy

Let us say that you were an employee in a pyramid building company in ancient Egypt.  What was your future potential?  Zero.  Unless you were related to Cleopatra or one of her princes, there was no ladder you could climb.  That's how it is in some places, today.  Let's say you are an employee in a present-day Chinese factory.  What is your future potential?  I say almost zero, for one simple reason.  Companies owned by the government are run by bureaucrats.  You are welcome to send us examples of inventions, improvements, innovations and incandescant revolutionary production breakthroughs by bureaucracies in any place, at any time in history.

Bureaucracies are about the continuity of bureaucracies.  A job that lasts forever, no matter what the bureaucracy does.  A frozen employment tableau, offering frozen job positions and government-guaranteed benefits.  You may, if you wish, describe the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles as dynamic.  Nobody in my lifetime has ever used that word to describe the DMV.

If it's owned by the state, dynamic is the last thing you should call it.  And "market responsive?"  A government-run, government-owned operation?  Shirley, you jest.

Okay, I'm happy, now.  I have just accomplished a goal.  Many of you out there, for the first time in your life, have just learned the difference between a bureaucracy and a private company.  You now know that there is no motivation to improve a bureaucracy because there is almost no chance it will "fail." 

Only private businesses can fail.  Unless Democrats get poliltical donations from them, of course.  Then, the government will use taxpayer dollars to make sure they don't fail.  General Moters in 2010, for example.  But, you saw the video of the GM workers getting drunk and serviced by prostitutes during their lunch hour, earlier this year.  Did you ask why it was happening?  Well, here's the answer.  When you can't lose your job, it doesn't matter if you work, let alone how good you are at it.  Who gives a crap about the customer, then?

Adios private industry insecurity, and thus motivation.  Hello bureaucratic state of mind.

Survival of the Fittest

The world abounds with irony.  Take Darwin, for an example.  He is the God of the secular evolutionist.  The fact that he studied to be a minister should be deleted from history texts.  Anyway, Darwin described all existence as being a battle for survival.  Living things which through occasional DNA changes happen to have a trait which provides an advantage within their sphere of existence, live to reproduce in greater numbers.  That is the entire story.

Life is competitive.  The entire story of Darwin has to do with ways to better deal with problems.  If government jobs depended on providing an ever improving service or product, one day you actually could refer to the DMV as a dynamic operation.

So why, anybody with a working brain will ask, when liberals create governments, do they create ones which, according to them, solve everybody's problems? And why, whether or not the solution works, or even if the people who are forced to accept the solution genuinely hate the idea, don't they fix what is obviously wrong with the operation? 

Why, in God's Name (irony intended), are Darwinists all anti-Darwinists?  Where does it say in Darwin's Theory that dynamic evolution is a sin? 

Because what you hear from them isn't what you get when they're in power.  Taken to its natural extreme, in a socialist state, if you suggest a better way to do something in a bureaucracy, it will go into the get-to-it basket and lay there until the paper turns brown.  In the worst of those kinds of states,  you are instantly off to work in an agricultural commune.

And, though, you don't know it, you just read the key to improving anything.  In the common American parlance, it's called "freedom."

Here we go.

My Life as a Job Gypsy

The United States of America.  The right to pursue happiness.  What happened here, back then?  Well, freedom happened.  After the Revolutionary War, the government blue bloods of England weren't there to tell you what they needed you to do, any longer.  If a guy thought he was a better blacksmith than his plantation boss's brother, the third Earl of Devonshire and the fifth cousin, once removed, of King George, he could walk off the farm, borrow some money and open up his own blacksmith shop in a nearby village.

Before the U.S.A., if he had done that, he would have been whipped or jailed, possibly both.  Now, he could give it a try, and nobody could stop him.  The problem, of course, was that a private business isn't like a bureaucracy.  It involves risk.

On the other hand, if he made it, besides being able to do things the way he wanted, instead of doing everything the way the Earl wanted, there was the matter of wages.  If he was really good at blacksmithing, he could make some real money.

You're beginning to get it, aren't you?  This means you are a real American.  You can smell freedom and a few extra bucks to buy a motorcycle you've always wanted, from two counties away, God Almighty bless you for that.

Now to the story about how part of my life is living proof of the point, here.

Larry Leonard Leaves School Without Any Idea What He Should Do
  (by Larry Leonard, of course, and that's ironic, as you will soon see.)

The year was 1959.  High school in Hillsboro, Oregon, was finished.  I was on my own, without a lick of support from relatives, most of whom were either dead or not in the least interested in what happened to me.  Oh, you should have lived in those times.  A tiny government compared to now.  Hardly any bureaucrats to tell you that you can't do this and shouldn't say that.  Your taxes were paid by February.  There were almost no government "programs."

If you wanted something, you had to make the money to buy it, and it was yours.  If you lost a job, your unemployment checks lasted for months instead of years.  If you wanted some property, you established your credit by proving you were stable, and after saving up enough for the down payment  bought it. 

A glorious time.  We need it back.

Anyway, I went out and got a job at a department store.  I was lousy at it, and was fired.  Then, I got a job changing tires in a tire store.  I was lousy at it, and was fired.  Then I got a job shoveling squash in a cannery.  Guess what happened?  Then I got a job roofing houses.  Yup, same thing.  About twenty times.

Then, my new wife said she wanted to go back to Coos Bay, her home.  So, off to the gloriously soggy Oregon South Coast we went.  There, I got a job in a plywood mill.  Yup.  Same thing.

Then, something magical happened.

I went to the local newspaper, bought one from the street box near the front door, and looked in the classified ads for the next job I would fail at.  While staring at the possibilities, what is called an "epiphany" happened.  It's pronounced E-piff-eh-nee and means "a sudden twinge of mental inspiration or invention slightly outside of the box."

I thought, "I have been getting jobs out of newspapers ever since I left high school.  Why not try getting a job in a newspaper, this time?"

So, I studied that newspaper from a totally different perspective.  Not making classified ads, certainly.  You'd have to know Czechoslovakian for that.  "GrnLine pllr for chain" and like that.  Well, what about news?  I had no experience or training in the field.  I'd never even considered writing for a living, and barely got passing grades in English.  But those big ads.  They all said the same thing.  "Sale."  "Big Sale"  "Discount Sale"  That didn't look all that difficult.  So, I walked into the newspaper office and asked who did those.

"That's the display advertising department," replied the receptionist.  "Would you like to talk to Mr. Jones, the man in charge of that?"

Well, I walked into Mr. Jones' office and told him that I was an unhappy young man.  I had failed at dozens of occupations because I couldn't shake my dream -- which was working in the Display Advertising Department of a daily newspaper.  I had dreamt about doing that as long as I could remember, and it just wouldn't let go of me.  Even though I had never studied journalism in high school, and had no college, at all,  I had driven people crazy at the Hillsboro Argus (a weekly paper) just hanging around and bothering them with question after question.  And, I even made sample Display Ads as a hobby.

"Could I see those ads?" asked Mr. Jones.

"Certainly, sir," I said,  "They're at the apartment.  I'll go get them and be right back."

Statistics are far from the only damned lies

You've already got it, don't you?  Everything I told that nice man was a damned lie.  There wasn't a lick of truth in any of it.  Hell, I didn't even have an apartment in Coos Bay.  I was living with my wife's parents.

But, I left that office and went to the nearest Payless Drug Store.  There, I bought some notebook paper and some black and colored pencils and crayons.  Then, on the way back to the newspaper, I made up ads for the stores I passed.  Then, I walked into Mr. Jones' office and gave those "advertisements" to him.

"Son," he said, "you have talent.  How'd you like to run tear sheets and other errands for us?  I think we could turn you into a pretty good ad man."

Thus, it wasn't truth, but lies, which set me free.

(Note: 10/21/11 -- Since I posted this story, I have been asked why I lied to the man.  The answer is, I don't know.  Perhaps it would be useful for you to know that this was the one time I did it.  Never before and never after.  Just that one time.  I write it off to love at first sight.  Tell the girl anything, just to get her to talk to you. Certainly it was a lie that paid off for that man.  I accomplished the impossible while working in that newspaper.  He and his boss, the publisher were well-rewarded for hiring me. Perhaps one day, you'll find an asterisk here, which will take you to that amazing story. LL)

I loved the business, and all the disciplines around it.  Advertising, journalism, the whole thing.  From there, I went on to other newspapers, then to small ad agencies, then to big advertising agencies, ending up as Pacific NW Creative Director for the largest independant (Non-New York City connected) ad agency chain on the West Coast of the United States of America.

Here, read this when you get a chance.  
The Alaska Airlines Eskimo

After that I went on to write for all sorts of newspapers and magazines, including this one.  It has been great fun for decades.  And, since I am a political conservative, can you imagine how many citizens of the People's Socialist Democratic Republic of Oregon I have irritated along the way?

Every day has its problems, but being able on a regular basis to drive your enemies crazy makes for what Jimmy Stewart would call "A wonderful Life."

The Point is ...

For centuries, people have been dying (sometimes literally) to get to the United States of America.  Why?  Because the country the Founding Fathers created here offers freedom.  Not guaranteed success, but rather the opportunity to try what you want -- or if you don't even know what you want, the opportunity to keep casting your fly until something you just love bites on your hook.

That is the secret to economic dynamism -- having the largest number of people who aren't stopped from trying to realize their dream. 

From an economic standpoint, economic freedom, capitalism, allows the cream to rise.  Unlike a bureaucracy, capitalism favors those who can do the job best.  Yes there are blue blood companies where relatives, or at least people who graduated from the right colleges, get the opportunities.  But, in America, in those days, and to a lesser degree in these days, if you were good at doing what those blue bloods were doing, you could rent a place to do it, and compete with them !!!

In a controlled economy, the favored ones do not like competition.

But, in a capitalist economy, somebody can start out from scratch and with damn good luck, damn good judgement and damned hard work, one day buy the blue blood store.  Their only real risk is failure, which is a kind of freedom.  Why do I say that?  Did you read the quote at the top of this essay?  In America, it's amazing how many multiple failures turn out to be learning experiences that train a man how to finally do it correctly.

In America, unless you help the socialists turn it into a government-controlled bureaucracy, failure can end up being nothing more than a rocky path to a roaring success.  And even if it doesn't, until it is turned into a socialist state, at least you can't be stopped from trying.

That's the secret to national economic dynamism -- letting folks take a shot at their dreams.  And, that's the secret to your own economic dynamism, as well.  Believe in your future, your untapped potential.  If you don't know what you want, look around for it.

It's there, waiting for you, like writing was there, waiting for me.

                               -- LL

© 2010 Oregon Magazine