We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of long ago versus yesterday

“The idea that you are successful because you are hardworking is pernicious and wrong because it means everyone who is unsuccessful is stupid and lazy.” Minouche Shafik (LSE director, quoted in The Observer / The Guardian, Saturday 22nd January 2022)

“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11, King James Version)

I prefer the Bible’s less judgemental, more qualified take to the LSE director’s woke-sounding justification of why she wants to reset capitalism, replacing the “extreme individualism of the last 40 years” with the “shared endeavour” expressed in her book ‘What We Owe Each Other’. ‘The preacher’ did not say it was ‘pernicious’ to think swiftness, strength, wisdom, understanding and skill favour success – just that you’d be wise to understand that time and chance also play a part.

And other things too, perhaps. As recipient of a “too good to miss” offer from the LSE after several years at the World Bank and two years as (youngest ever, IIRC) number 2 at the Bank of England, Minouche Shafik’s career would be very impressive indeed if one assumed that her Egyptian ethnicity or female gender had been always and everywhere only a handicap to her.

Rising to the top – to resident of the White House, for example – may indeed not denote swiftness, strength, wisdom, understanding or skill (or even the honest counting of all and only legal votes), may indeed be compatible with stupidity and laziness. Being unsuccessful – losing a university post, for example, or not gaining it – may indeed not denote stupidity and laziness, may indeed be for failure to tolerate these attributes. Many an ‘expert’ isn’t.

There’s a pernicious idea around these days – that anyone who is unsuccessful is not so because they are stupid and lazy. If Minouche heard someone say “The idea that you are unsuccessful because you are the victim of prejudice is pernicious and wrong because it means everyone who is successful gained it solely through luck and privilege”, she’d not be so slow to see the need to tone it down. And that, I think, is why she’s so slow to see the absurdity of her ‘everyone’.

29 comments to Samizdata quote of long ago versus yesterday

  • bobby b

    I think there’s a rather large difference, in a meritocracy, between finding a charitable way of leaving the non-winners feeling better about themselves – the Biblical method – and declaring that that lack of merit is merit in and of itself.

    It’s the difference in outlook between “give thanks for that charity” and “they owe you that and more.”

    It’s usually promulgated by people who think that being called “Consumer” is a compliment.

  • Duncan S

    “There, but by the grace of god, go I”

  • David Wallace

    As Damon Runyon -pbuh- pointed out, “The race does not always go to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. But that’s the way the smart money bets.”

  • staghounds

    Is there only one definition of “successful”?

    Alas among our Masters, there is.

  • Fraser Orr

    There are a lot of factors that contribute to success, and frankly swift, strong or wise are not, in my experience, particularly important. It is true that most great success is built in part on luck and in part on connections, but it is what you do with that luck and those connections that matter. Everyone is blessed with various opportunities in life, but when they have them do they run with them? With all their energy and strength? Everyone has some sort of network, but do they work to grow it, nurture it and extend it? With all their energy and strength?

    Certainly some people do have opportunities and networks and pursue them with strength and energy and are still unsuccessful. Life is a bit of a crapshoot. Lady luck can be both an angel and a bitch. But those who are successful, in whatever realm of success they care about, are always the ones who pursue both with a passion.

    The guy who digs ditches in the road is unsuccessful in many respects compared to the guy who starts and builds a company. But not because he is lazy or lacking in hard work, simply because he did not apply his energies to the opportunities that came his way. The unsuccessful are not, necessarily, either stupid or lazy, but they do, generally speaking, make poorer choices than those who are successful.

    I think my brother is an excellent example. He worked in computers all his life and he hated it. What he really wanted to do was to help people. So, on the side he started working at Childline, then he studied counselling part time, and now he has quit computers and runs his own counselling business. He isn’t the richest person in the world — though he makes a good living — be he does what he loves and feels he is contributing. Why? He grabbed the tiny sliver of light poking through to offer him an opportunity, and come hell or high water he made it happen even with a family and wife to support. He was lucky that his wonderful wife gave him all kinds of support, but he stuck it out, took the opportunity and made it work. He could still be doing computer stuff and hating it. But he is instead very successful by the measure he uses for “success”.

    Luck, they say, is where preparation meets opportunity. Those who are not prepared think that those who are get so many more opportunities than they do. But that isn’t true, the unprepared just don’t notice the ones that come their way.

  • bobby b

    Fraser Orr, I think you make a good case for why some of the people in the top mental 25% do or don’t make it into the top financial 1%.

    But the world average IQ is 100. At least half of the people in the world are not going to make it to the top no matter how hard they work. They simply cannot do the mental calculations required to make themselves worth more than the value of the physical horsepower they can supply through labor.

    It may be unpopular to be explicit about this, but it is neither pernicious nor wrong. It’s like Ms. Shafik is complaining that the trees are higher than the bushes, and calling for a height limit on all because it’s unfair.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    Quite right, Bobby b! I think it is unfair of the trees to be taller that the bushes! Instead of complaining about it let’s do something! We could call it Cosmic Justice. (The social Justice warriors are so insular, thinking only of humans.) Let’s go and correct all the injustices of the world! Should all the dinosaurs have been wiped out? Let’s bring them all back!
    And on the social side, should pretty girls and actresses be allowed to decide who they will date by themselves? Their good looks belong to society, and society will decide what is to be done with them! And by society, I mean you and me. What do you think? Are you ready for some Cosmic Justice?

  • bobby b

    “Is there only one definition of “successful”?”

    For the purpose of this OP, I think there has to be just one. Gobs of money and/or power.

    For all other purposes, no. Success implies winning, and there are vast differences in what we all have to battle.

  • “Luck is like a seed: it thrives best where the soil has been well prepared to receive it. For the rest, I am grateful for God’s mercy.”

    That saying was attributed to King Alfred the Great, explaining how he survived the second Viking invasion of Wessex – but only in a historical dramatisation (‘The Namesake’) that I read as a child. I thought the book good then and still think it good now.

    Sometimes it is strictly accurate to say, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” At other times, it is more of ‘the truth, the whole truth’ to say, “There, but for my promptness, activity, foresight, sense and skill, and the grace of God, go I.” To believe in freewill is to believe your choices affect the outcome.

    The left love philosophies that deny freewill to their proteges and their enemies – that deny they have it and deny we deserve it.

  • bobby b

    “What do you think? Are you ready for some Cosmic Justice?”

    “Cosmic Justice” always comes back somehow to the SMOD.

    So I’m gonna pass. For now.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray, (January 24, 2022 at 8:45 am), you might like the book Legal Daisy Spacing. 🙂

  • While it is true that not all hardworking people are successful, just about every successful person is hardworking. I’m sure there are a few people who have been successful at something without working hard at it, but that’s extremely rare; almost everyone who is successful at anything has spent a lot of time mastering necessary skills and putting in the effort to get whatever it is they want up and running.

    In other words hard work is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success. Luck and proper preparation certainly help, but proper preparation tends to involve hard work as well. So yes. being successful without hard work is unlikely

  • Paul Marks

    Inheritance and luck have always have always been a large part of life. Totalitarians, from Plato onwards, have objected to that – but the better attitude has always been not to try and take things from people who can not prove they “deserve” their wealth (or their health – or whatever). The ultimate expression of the totalitarian attitude is NOT in Plato – it is in George Bernard Shaw who stated that if someone could not “justify their existence” to a government board, they should be executed. To those people who say “Shaw must have been joking” – sorry, you are mistaking a smile and a Southern Irish accent for not being serious, Mr Shaw MEANT it. Like so many of the Fabians he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing – see the “Fabian Window” where the evil under the “humour” is obvious.

    However, even the richest and most lucky person still has to work hard and well if they are to build on the success of their ancestors. Indeed without work (not just hard work – but thoughtful work) even the greatest estate will decay (2nd Law of Thermodynamics). Perhaps they do not have to work as well as their poverty stricken ancestors – but they still have to use their minds effectively.

    The second Cornelius Vanderbilt was praised by people for doubling the family fortune from 100 million Dollars to 200 million Dollars – “and you are so much nicer than your father” said the flatterers.

    His reply was simple “I suspect making the first 100 million Dollars was harder” and that is often cited as evidence that the rich do not have to work hard. But doubling the family fortune is by no means easy – the 2nd Cornelius Vanderbilt may not have been the genius the first one was (but then he never claimed to be), but he was no waste-of-space either.

    If you inherit a lot of money, do not be ashamed of it – and do not recklessly try and prove you are “worthy” of it either. Just try and carefully improve your estate as much as you reasonably can.

    The primary reason that people people in the past made long term investments (spent their time building up a business that really mattered) was so their children and grandchildren would have something to inherit – something to build upon.

    Take away the inheritance of a family business or estate – and you get the short termism of modern Corporations, hired managers (“responsible” to other hired managers of “institutional investors”) who care only about plundering the business for their consumption (and the consumption of their associates), whilst they parade their “Wokeness” (Diversity, Inclusion, Equity – the DIE agenda) to hide the fact that they are undermining (rather than developing) the enterprise.

    The old system, the system of family owned enterprises and estates, was better. Indeed it was a primary source of human progress – the human progress that the ownerless Corporations (who are joined at the hip with governments) are throwing away.

  • Stonyground

    Where I used to work they took on a new guy in the warehouse. Second week in the job he came to work stoned and was fired. Whose fault is it if that guy has an unsuccessful life? He threw away a semi skilled job, the firm was a pretty good employer, paid over the average and had various benefits added on.

    I worked with a colleague who is the same age as I am to within a couple of months. I retired but he couldn’t. He blamed having been married twice but he also took his family on a foreign holiday every year, that’s all about priorities I suppose. I’m not hugely rich but I have everything that I want. I count having been able to retire at 61 a measure of success to some extent.

  • Deaf Smith

    ““The idea that you are successful because you are hardworking is pernicious and wrong because it means everyone who is unsuccessful is stupid and lazy.” Minouche Shafik (LSE director, quoted in The Observer / The Guardian, Saturday 22nd January 2022)”

    That is sort of a straw man argument… it makes it a either or situation. Sure some who are not successful are lazy and/or stupid. And some that are successful are just lucky or even crooked….

    BUT, being hardworking is more likely to make you successful while being stupid and/or lazy is more likely to make you unsuccessful.

  • Fraser Orr

    @bobby b
    But the world average IQ is 100. At least half of the people in the world are not going to make it to the top no matter how hard they work.

    But success and “make it to the top” are not at all the same thing. My brother is a huge success in my eyes, but he has not recently invited me to his private yacht in the Caribbean.

    There is no doubt that mental capacity is a limiting factor on the ceiling of success, but for those who are not blessed with higher intellectual capacity the situation is almost exactly the same. Opportunities come their way, do they take them or not? Do they work hard or not? Do they connect with the right people or not? These are not necessarily decisions that require calculus, they are simply decisions about how one applies the limited amount of self discipline and passion we have.

    For example, I know of one kid born with Down Syndrome. His congenital mental defects definitely limit him from becoming the CEO of Apple, but it is clear that he could also spend his limited lifespan sitting around feeling sorry for himself. But he pushed himself and works in food service. This might not be success to you or me, but it certainly is for him. And his success comes from the good decisions he makes.

    Of course part of that is a bit of luck too — in terms of who your parents are, what they prioritized for you and what values they gave you. But I guess when you become an adult you can’t continue to blame everything on your mamma.

  • Snorri Godhi

    The idea that you are LSE director because you are smart and hardworking is pernicious and wrong because it means that wokeness played no part in it.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Of interest in this connection is Rule 4 in Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life:
    Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.

  • bobby b

    Fraser Orr
    January 24, 2022 at 3:24 pm

    “But success and “make it to the top” are not at all the same thing.”

    Yeah, that’s why, in answer to staghound’s comment above, I said that we had to limit the definition of “successful” in the thread, otherwise the entire topic becomes meaningless. The OP quotes someone (Shafik) who is obviously using the financial measure for “success.” Certainly I know many people whom I would consider to be successes who are not rich.

  • Stonyground

    I think that the song Airport Piano by Tim Minchin is a really interesting commentary on the subject of success and failure.

    I wrote this song on an airport piano
    I was the guy disturbing your journey from security
    To gate twenty-three A
    Maybe you noticed me
    I wrote this song ’cause I had a spare hour
    I was delayed trying to get back to my babies in Sydney
    And I noticed the keys so I’m writing a song
    Women in SUV Porsches always look miserable
    I don’t know why they’re so sad (don’t know why they’re so sad)
    Maybe it’s the calories they could’ve had
    Filling them up with regret
    And men in cafes in ski resorts
    Trying to connect with their sons
    Look like they just wanna hit ’em
    I mean I’m sure that they dig ’em underneath all the gear
    A young man in Air Jordans
    Just left me five dollars on the piano
    What you know
    I always hated those airport pianos
    Should be a law saying playing the theme from Beverly Hills Cop
    Will get one of your hands chopped off
    I wrote this song on an airport piano
    I’m out of time I just need one more little rhyme
    I gotta board that plane
    They’re calling my name
    So I’m writing a song
    Women in SUV Porsches always look miserable
    Or is it only the Botox (is it only the botox?)
    They stick in their face to keep their looks from slipping
    They’re kicking the can down the road
    And men in mansions on cul-de-sacs
    Having their midlife affairs
    With the wife of a banker (with the wife of a banker)
    While the banker is banging Bianca
    But sadly they’re still gonna die
    A guy buying Subway
    Anxiously digs through his cabin bag
    Smiles when his wallet is found
    Pays for his six-inch
    Then forgets that his bag is unzipped
    So the contents of it
    Is disgorged
    And a jar of Viagra spills onto the ground
    (So it goes)
    Women in SUV Porsches always look miserable
    And I know why they’re so sad
    They thought they’d be happier than they were in their Fords
    But now they’re bored of their Porsches
    And they’re looking for more
    They’re out there shopping for more
    And their husband’s so fat in his new Lycra shorts
    Trying to pedal his way back to ninety-four
    Trying to wind back the clock to before
    To before they had this boat and this house
    And this buy-to-let mortgage
    To before they had bought all the things that they thought
    Would fill up the hole but the goal keeps receding
    And his hair is receding there’s this book he’s been reading for
    Six months but the words just swim round the pages
    And God it’s been ages since they made love
    And the kids are on drugs
    With their ADHD and their anxiety
    And their music is shit
    And the time just keeps slipping away
    But I’m sitting here playing and singing
    And they are calling my name
    ‘Cause your flight’s gotta go when your flight’s gotta go
    And I wrote this song on an airport piano.

  • Fraser Orr

    @bobby b
    But the world average IQ is 100.

    BTW when I was teaching my kids how to drive I’d tell them that the number one rule of driving is to remember that half of the drivers on the road have an IQ below 100.

    It is a good rule to remember in life. I live in a little bubble of mostly reasonably smart people, but there are a lot of REALLY stupid people out there.

  • David

    Isn’t this the same logic as “All Scottish are not English but if you’re not English it doesn’t mean you are Scottish”.

  • Nathan

    Some opportunities for success – e.g. agriculture, retail, tailoring, music performance, etc don’t need an IQ on the right side of the bell curve. Perseverance can count more than raw-IQ for much of the world’s population.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    The full Observer article can be read here: Minouche Shafik: ‘The idea that you are successful because you are hardworking is pernicious’ Perhaps a link to it could be inserted into the main post?

    I was struck by this quote:

    In the mid-1960s, her businessman father fell foul of President Nasser’s programme of land reform and nationalisations, losing his homes and property.

    And now she says that,

    “…the next phase of history should be characterised by a shared endeavour, ending the extreme individualism of the last 40 years.”

    Some people really are slow learners.

  • The Pedant-General


    “In the mid-1960s, her businessman father fell foul of President Nasser’s programme of land reform and nationalisations, losing his homes and property.”

    And that gives the lie to the original straw man. She has assumed that the condition “hard-working” is sufficient rather than merely necessary.

  • Rudolph Hucker

    Davos is full of hardworking and successful people (/sarc)


    The Biden family appears to be hardworking and successful (/sarc)

    Biden family scored $31 million from five deals in China, all with individuals who had ties to the Chinese spy apparatus. All the details are written up by Peter Schweizer in Red-Handed: How American Elites Get Rich Helping China Win.

    Nothing to see here, move along please?

    The US media spent years obsessing with Russiagate which amounted to nothing while ignoring the bulk carrier load of suspicious deals that connected the son of the then Vice President of the USA to the highest level of Chinese Intel. These businessmen were people like the former head of the Ministry of State Security and the head of foreign intelligence recruitment. Millions of dollars changed hands but no one can easily point to particular goods or services that were received.

    The burial of the Hunter Biden Laptop-from-hell in the three weeks before the US 2020 Election was the first seismographic warning that major cracks were spreading through the bedrock of Western Civilization. We expected the media to lie and cheat and be shamelessly, insufferably biased, but it was so much worse.

    Schweizer then, has done the job the Western media won’t. He calls this the “scariest investigation I’ve ever done”.


    Schweizer explains that Beijing saw a financial relationship with the Bidens as an opening for “elite capture,” which allowed Hunter Biden to secure meetings and score major deals with people in the highest levels of Chinese financial institutions and the Chinese Communist Party — and in return they would be able to leverage the Bidens’ power for their interests.

    Follow the money.

  • Sam Duncan

    I’ve seen this argument before from weasels trying to make out that success is due to “privilege”. Hard work being a prerequisite to success doesn’t preclude it also failing to result in success. It does not, in other words “mean“ that everyone who is unsuccessful is stupid and lazy. This LSE bod doesn’t understand logic.

    “The race does not always go to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. But that’s the way the smart money bets.”


    Rudolph: Hard work isn’t necessarily good work. I don’t doubt that the Bidens have worked hard. So did Al Capone.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Sam Duncan
    I’ve seen this argument before from weasels trying to make out that success is due to “privilege”.

    Although I agree with what you said Sam, it is also only fair to acknowledge that “privilege” does play a big role in success. If your position in society gives you the opportunity to get a great education, have two loving parents who spend time with you and inculcate you with decent values, don’t have to spend 95% chasing basic necessities of life, have a good starter network provided by your parents and, possibly, a university… all these things do add up to give you a huge leg up on the success scale.

    If you doubt the fact that privilege plays a part in success I’d ask you if a person is more likely to be successful if they are born in a nice part of London or born in a village in rural China. Being born in the west in modern times is, after all, the ultimate form of privilege.

    That isn’t to say those without “privilege” can’t be successful. There are a million counter examples to that. There were, for example, many emancipated slaves from the antebellum south who went on to be remarkably successful. I think they just have to try a bit harder.

  • Paul Marks

    If they were sincere about attacking “extreme unearned inequality” then they would go after fiat money and the Credit Bubble financial system – after all it has been known for three hundred years (since Richard Cantillon) that Credit Money expansion benefits a small group at the expense of everyone else.

    But they do NOT go after Credit Money expansion – in fact they love it, and endlessly want “low interest rates” and the rest of the scam.

    So their complaints about “extreme unearned inequality” are so much hot air.

    Too theoretical an argument? Then look at cities such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco (and on and on) – very high taxes, and the left have been in power in such places for years and years, but they are not very “equal societies”, indeed they have some of the most extreme inequality on the planet.

    Because they are Credit Bubble (monetary expansion) cities.