Life’s Work and What We Are Owed

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

Abraham Lincoln once warned that “it is hard to verify quotes on the internet because it is hard to verify their authenticity.”  I read that on the internet so it must be true.

It is with that “quote” from Lincoln that will caveat the authenticity of two things I found on Facebook this weekend that frame a big picture debate as we struggle toward an economic rebound.

The first was a quote attributed to Mark Twain.  It said simply “Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”

Several of my friends “liked it” and a good number shared it on their wall.  A left leaning friend of mine was the first to comment on it asking “who goes around saying this?” and questioned the attribution to Twain from various right wingers.  I have no idea if Twain ever said it, but I posted it because I had just returned from my annual family reunion and it reminded me of things my dad used to say as he did his best to prepare me and my siblings for the harsh realities of life.  So if it isn’t Twain’s, I’m sure my late father would be glad to take it.

A few hours later, I ran across a note which is supposedly something Apple employees receive on their first day of work.  Apple is currently the world’s most successful publicly traded company if you judge success by shareholder value.  It is a company that was virtually insolvent just 15 years ago and is now worth more than a half trillion dollars with some of the best profit margins of any manufacturer in the world.

The note says the following:

There’s work and there’s your life’s work.

The kind of work that has your fingerprints all over it.  The kind of work that you’d never compromise on. The kind you’d sacrifice a weekend for. You can do that kind of work at Apple. People don’t come here to play it safe. They come here to swim in the deep end.

They want their work to add up to something.

Something big. Something that couldn’t happen anywhere else.

Welcome to Apple.

The backdrop as I was finding these gems on the internet was the news coming from Europe where French President Sarkozy lost to a socialist candidate promising to soak the rich with 75% tax rates rather than to continue with budget tightening austerity.  In Greece, voters threw out leaders who attempted to rescue the country from default by attempting to bring spending in line with the country’s ability to collect taxes.

Here at home, last week’s good news of the drop in unemployment was not due to new jobs being created, but by roughly a half million people leaving the workforce during April alone.  One half million people have simply given up trying to find work – much less their life’s work – in one 30 day period.

While this is traditionally and simply a left/right argument, it need not be.  Even the far left Occupy Wall Street crowd gleefully paraded around with the latest Apple MacBooks, iPhones and iPads during their encampments.  There has to be some recognition of a company that has channeled its employees to greatness.  At least on some level, we recognize the risk taking and hard work as good, and the innovation that it creates as worthy.

As consumers, we understand this.  As voters, more and more of us want to tax away those gains and redistribute it to those who have given up.

We need fewer people giving up.  But we also need more people who understand that the world doesn’t owe us anything either.


  1. I believe many French also look at our (admittedly puny) fiscal stimulus measures and compare it to their austerity and wonder why their economies are still stalled and ours has at least gotten off the ground.

    In fact, one of my favorite numbers to look at (maybe most depressing is the better word) is right below the headline number in the jobs report: private sector and public sector. Over the last two years, private sector number is way higher than the overall job number because there have been so many cuts in the public sector.

    Now, if a Republican president was running for re-election, and pointed to an economy that isn’t adding 500k jobs a month (only happened 10 times since WW2 btw) but said: look it’s growing, we only had to do a modest stimulus, and in the process of net job growth we’ve also eliminated a lot of public sector jobs, which means the private sector is growing while government is shrinking in the labor market, I think a lot of people on here would be singing a different tune.

  2. I Miss the 90s says:

    That was a nice post, Charlie. You miss a crucial point though, while the world may not owe us anything as citizens of a common political jurisdiction we owe something to each other.

    Nobody, literally nobody in Washington, wants to “redistribute the wealth” like you people on the right-wing think they do. We believe high-income individuals should pay more because they require significantly more infrastructure to maintain their standard of living. It is very simple math and logic.

    I, for one, still believe in the American dream. Our president has lived it and he is proof that the American Dream is still attainable. To borrow a line from Senator Franken, “America is still a country were anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, but it is the job of the government to make sure its citizens have boots.” Those boots are programs that ensure children have access to affordable, even free, healthcare and that they are fed.

    Poverty cycles through generations for one main social reason: poor people generally have no idea how to raise and socialize a child to pursue anything greater. This is particularly problematic when poverty is concentrated in urban ghettos and suburban/rural trailer parks. It would behoove all of us if these communities were broken up to allow for the children of these communities to be socialized in a productive environment. Ending welfare programs will not achieve such a goal. They will make the crime elements far worse. The welfare programs we have in place have been a good start, but something more needs to be done to break-up communities defined by shared states of poverty.

    This is not a matter of redistribution, this is a matter of justice.

    • I Miss the 90s says:

      Oh yeah, the best Twain quote is: “Patriot: the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about.”

    • Doug Grammer says:

      And where does your “justice” end? Do we take every TV from every low income house in the US and ship them to central America ?

        • Doug Grammer says:

          Did I say communist? All I asked was to what limits do we apply “justice” where we owe something to each other? From each according to their ability? To each according to their need?

          We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

          That is not a guarantee that we will redistribute assets until all of us are equally happy.

          • Rick Day says:

            LOL no you ‘implied’ communist. Who else advocates the forced redistribution of wealth? fascists? wait…

            And how does the rich paying a few more percentage points more share of taxes to the government equate to wealth distribution to the poor?

            Do you think SSI is wealth? Are paying for food stamps talking a damn bean off your dinner table?

            Justice? pfft. Irrelevant in the conversation.

            jus·tice   [juhs-tis]
            the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness: to uphold the justice of a cause.

            Equitableness? Oops… heh heh what is THAT doing in there????

            Justice in government is about punishing the guilty, not rewarding the poor. Set justice aside and think about…well think about what Jesus would do, Doug. I know you can do that. Think about who The Jesus would want you to assist and defend, the poor man or the rich man?


            • Doug Grammer says:

              Rick, I miss the 90’s started using the word “justice.” Does the phrase “I was talking to him and not you” mean anything to you?

              But you are welcome to join the conversation. The term “equitableness,” to me means equal application of the law. It does not mean we all own the same amount of assets.

              I think Jesus was want me to help all men regardless of their economic stature in life. Do you think rich men or poor men sin any more than the other?

              As an individual, I give time and money to charity and sometimes to individuals. That is not the roll of government. The government should not take a higher percentage from a rich person just because they are rich. We should not have a system that punishes people for success. When is the last time a poor person gave you a job? People who are rich enough to help the poor should do so because they want to do so, not because the IRS will seize their assets if they don’t.

      • I Miss the 90s says:

        stillaskeptic, I am not a fan of quotes at all. I like some, but quotes are inherently statements taken out of context.

        It is not my justice, Doug. It is component to social justice theory in general. And no, social justice is not some liberal, academic concept. It shows up in texts throughout history (namely the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, etc). I am not a radical and it may be hard to understand, but policy change should only rarely occur drastically. Drastic policy change tends to overstep the Will of the People. I will not state “how far” any policy idea should be taken, but it should be done incrementally and without denying individuals their civil rights. Take taxation as an example. We do not know the optimal rates of taxation for the different types of taxes we have. Optimal rates are determined by the data, not ideology. Conservatives do not understand this. Conservatives think the optimal tax rate is lower than it currently is…which is incorrect. The tax rates we currently have are sub-optimal. The Bush Tax cuts were made on the premise that taxes were too high, based on ideology not fact, and the tax cuts were too deep. So deep that we needed to, and still do, borrow from foreign creditors to pay for the cuts. This would not have been the case if the government took an incremental approach…making targeted and small cuts to determine if the rates were optimal. Instead, a bad policy decision was made and we have racked up over a trillion in debt because of it. This could have been prevented with an incremental approach to tax relief.

        The great irony/paradox of conservatism, if there is such a thing as conservatism, is that it both praises the idea of community and despises it as well. The attraction to local government and the idea of “community” is attractive to nearly every human on Earth. What conservatives tend to deny, and this is something inherent to liberalism itself, is the idea that communities shape individuals. This is problematic for those of liberal ideologies because it means we do not entirely decide who we will become and the decisions we will make. It is obvious that we do not have total control over who we are, but rarely recognized and often detested when belief motives are questioned. The impact a poverty and crime stricken community has on the individuals that reside in that community are very rarely positive…positive in the sense that these citizens are aware of the choices available, how to increase the number of choices available, and can reasonably select preferred outcomes given their own idiosyncratic value system.

        • Jeff says:

          “The great irony/paradox of conservatism, if there is such a thing as conservatism, is that it both praises the idea of community and despises it as well.”

          Concur. Something about “conservatives” I am getting more and more of a laugh out of is that while they decry “socialism” from the rafters, in almost every arena they support some form of “community” where “everyone owes society” something or everyone is bound by a “social contract” or some fallacy along those lines. That is an idea known as “collectivism” and is… GASP!… simply a couple steps down the road that socialism is MAYBE a half a dozen steps down and outright communism is within a couple dozen steps of.

        • Doug Grammer says:

          When I looked up social justice on the web, I found two different definitions.

          “Social justice is the fair and proper administration of laws conforming to the natural law that all persons, irrespective of ethnic origin, gender, possessions, race, religion, etc., are to be treated equally and without prejudice.”

          I am fine with that definition and support it.

          “Social justice generally refers to the idea of creating a society or institution that is based on the principles of equality and solidarity, that understands and values human rights, and that recognizes the dignity of every human being.”

          (I’m OK with that.)(continued)

          “Social justice is based on the concepts of human rights and equality and involves a greater degree of economic egalitarianism through progressive taxation, income redistribution, or even property redistribution. These policies aim to achieve what developmental economists refer to as more equality of opportunity than may currently exist in some societies, and to manufacture equality of outcome in cases where incidental inequalities appear in a procedurally just system.”

          I am not fine with that definition and I do not support it. If that is your definition, I call it wealth redistribution and stealing.

          While I am not a libertarian to the point that I think we should not pay taxes, we were doing OK without personal income tax up until 1862. Lets see, that’s 1776 to 1862, that’s 86 years. They did away with it in 1872, so they had 10 years worth of income tax. It had another short life between 1894 and 1895, and SCOTUS said, “nope.” From 1913 we’ve had it ever since. So, all in all, we have had an income tax for about 110 years and we have been without an income tax for about 126 years. I give you the history lesson because of your logic that “the Bush tax cuts were too deep.”

          I happen to think, and more and more conservatives think, that tax rate is not too high, but unfair. We need a simplified tax code that no longer picks winners and losers. We need to close the loopholes so that everyone pays a fair amount. It need to be the same rate across the board. It can be a flat tax, it can be a national sales tax, but what we have isn’t fair.

          You are making the assumption that our problems come from not collecting enough taxes. You are WRONG, IMO. It’s the spending that is the problem. We have to look at entitlements and make long term changes in the way we do things

          I agree with you that those born into wealthier families do better than those born into poorer families, but life is not fair. We can’t pass laws that will make it fair. I’m not go agree with you that the way to solve the world’s or the US’s problems is to reallocate wealth. I’m fine with economic freedom of opportunity, but not with guaranteed equality of assets. As romantic as Robin Hood sounds, I’m not going to be OK from stealing from the rich to give to the poor. I am all about giving the poor the chance to work and become wealthier.

          It appears that your social justice theory stops at the US border if you are not willing to take from our poor and give to the poorer around the world.

          • Rick Day says:

            so the wider the gap between the wealthy and the not wealthy, the better you think things are, entitlement wise….for the wealthy.

            A Fair Tax is like Legal Marijuana. A good idea whose time is yet to come.

            In the meantime…..Doug….? In the meantime, FAMILIES ARE SLEEPING ON THE STREET.

            Fix. This. NOW. Now, tomorrow, next session, next election, whatever but for your Christ’s sake, SHARE some.

            *shakes head* Fair tax…Lord have Mercy!

            • Doug Grammer says:


              If you see families sleeping on the street, do you invite them into your house? I haven’t personally seen a family on the street in 15 years, and I look in the areas that might have them near where I live. You can fix that families’ problem, TONIGHT! Not later, not next session, nor the next election….if you have room in your house, SHARE it!!!!!!!! Will you?

              *Shakes head*….hypocrite….

              That’s what I thought. For what it’s worth, I have let someone who needed a bed stay a few months with me in the past, but they weren’t complete strangers. No, it was not a sexual thing. I helped get them on their feet. However, the government shouldn’t FORCE me to do so.

              I didn’t say that a gap would be better for the wealthy. I said we have to change the way we do things. I would be OK with personalized social security accounts. I think I can manage my money better and get a better return on it than what the government can. That might not be for everyone, but eventually, if we don’t change the way we are doing things, the money will run out.

              • saltycracker says:

                Doug – with you – prefer my government to be exclusive and short term with safety nets, not inclusive and long term. Would like them to stop picking winners and loosers anywhere on the economic ladder and focus on opening opportunity as opposed to providing it.

  3. Rick Day says:

    Well true, the WORLD does not owe us something, but our government does.

    See, we made a deal. We all make this deal.

    The deal was, if I paid my taxes into the general funds of the local, state and federal coffers, obeyed as many of the laws I possibly could without causing any negative effects towards others, went to work, voted, registered my guns, paid for my drivers permit, the the government would provide and maintain an infrastructure that I can safely survive (and thrive) in, AND to provide for those who can not provide for themselves; the disabled, elderly and for whatever reason, poor by subjective measurements. Because at the drop of a hat, that definition could fit any of us, given ‘bad luck’.

    My safety net. But today, we have whiny ass bytchez trying to dismantle the safety net that they themselves someday WILL need, all in the name of ‘inefficiency in government’. Your work can be lost forever, with an accident or health malady, or just bad luck. But your life’s work can not continue if you are scrambling every day to remain with shelter, and planning ways to feed your kids.

    Cheaters in the net? Yes, and they get caught. Cheaters in the tax code? I don’t hear any whiny bytchin about all the money we lose from rich tax cheats, only poor welfare cheats. Which do you think takes ‘more out of your pocket’?

    So quit yer bytchin. The government does owe us something. This is not a one-way relationship.

    • SallyForth says:

      +1 What he said!

      I also add that we, all the taxpayers large and small, who fund the government forget that the government is supposed to work for us – not the corporations and big industry groups who have lobbyists lurking in the Congressional halls full time. We pay our taxes to operate our government administratively and to also help fellow Americans who are less fortunate than ourselves. We never intended for the billions of tax dollars being given every year to corporations and big industries that are more than able to fund their own research and development for products to sell to us, for constructing their profit-making facilities, etc. In the free market, if they can’t run their business and make a profit, they should simply go out of business like small many smaller fish have to do. Corporate welfare is where the government train ran off the tracks, and that needs to be stopped.

  4. saltycracker says:

    Steve Jobs response to market research was legendary. Not everyone is so innovative but many can develop skills required in a large, free market.

    Globalization and living in the world’s most successful economy is changing our own paradigm.
    Millions of Americans are not preparing themselves to move forward with what we have created. Our standard of living today demands skilled or innovative workers.

    The rank & file low skilled workers/administrators outside government are being squeezed as are those trying to forge on in busted bubbles.They are the ones being left behind in this economy.

    The future belongs to those retraining themselves for skilled vocational or professional employment. Taxpayer support for millions that will not or cannot accept this is enabling a nation.

    America’s educational sytem is failing the masses of unprepared while serving its own employee empire. If you are graduating from UGA (or anywhere) this week with a BS in business or english or sociology or history or….. you’d better have your next move planned because without one, the odds are against you. UGA will respond to criticism by telling us they need more money and you need to borrow more money to do something.

    Look around, the skilled work, even in rebuilding our public infrastructure is going to Asia.
    Anyone know a good A.C. tech or plumber that can respond in 24 hrs….mine are busy ?
    Are the bars & restaurants empty ?
    Are the concerts not selling ?
    Somebody’s making money. Discretionary money.

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