What the Right and Left Get Don’t Understand About Ambition, Hardwork, and Success
I am starting to be annoyed and very dissatisfied with how the left and right-wing spheres talk about the economy. Specifically with how they talk about income inequality, ambition, and jobs.
Again, it is a bit necessary to go into my background. I applied to law school in 2007 and entered in 2008 at the height of the financial crisis. When I was in law school, at least three major firms shut their doors and the market for lawyers and legal work went reeling. I graduated and took the bar in 2011 which was arguably one of the worst years for lawyers on the market. Since then, I’ve been doing okay as a freelance contract lawyer and have worked three major long-term jobs and a bunch of smaller side gigs.
I have slowly but surely been building up experience. My rough estimate is that this puts me in the middle of my class performance wise. I know many people who did receive jobs at small firms or as the first associate hired by a solo lawyer but I have no idea how well those jobs pay. Other people work for their parents. Many friends are in so-called “JD-advantage” jobs. This is just a fancy title for doing contract-administration, regulatory compliance, and grant administration. These jobs previously did not require a JD and could probably be done by someone with an undergrad degree or a Masters in Public Administration. Other people I know have jumped out of law and are working in business, learning coding, and even working as a chocolate maker.
I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how to get out of the gig/contract work economy. My ideal would be to get hired as an associate and to work up to being a partner but that might not be an option. The legal market is still suffering from the blows it took during the Great Recession. Lately I’ve been more seriously thinking about hanging my own shingle. This prospect is not pleasing. The rewards could theoretically be great (be my own boss, set my own hours, wear what I want to work, and potentially make a good living). There is also a lot of risk in starting my own practice because I am still a new lawyer and will be doing things solo instead of under supervision and mentorship. Or it can just bomb. A few friends started their own practices and they all found it miserable and stopped doing it as soon as they got an offer elsewhere. As far as I know, none of them decided to stick with their solo practice if they got an offer. Yet opening up my own practice might be my least bad option.
The way the left talks about people in my predicament is that the American Public were sold a false-bill of goods. Many liberal and left-wing sites in the last few years have seemingly embraced the old Steinbeck quote about America being filled with “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” Left-wing sites like Lawyers, Guns, and Money seem to to think that the American public has largely been hood-winked into a largely unwinnable con game of “you too can be a millionaire” and the only people who are a combination of being born wealthy, lucky, or relentlessly amoral come out on top (1). When I am on liberal sites discussing income inequality or the “law school scam” and mention that I think I am slowly but surely building up a career as a lawyer, the general response seems to treat me like I am a deluded fool who going to be still freelancing into my 50s and I should give up any dream of a comfortably middle class or above lifestyle.
There seems to be a large embrace that everyone should be a combination below medium chill “anti-consumerism” and Homer Simpson’s “Lisa, if you don’t like your job, you don’t strike. You just go in every day and do it really half-assed.” The left also likes to express cynicism and doubt that someone can work their way up from doing nothing cases to get experience and building it into a well-respected career. Stories from old lawyers who said that they started out arguing in traffic court or doing small-value car crash cases are to be mocked and ignored.
The left-wing seems to think that we will all be in welfare-state utopia as soon as we abandon any concept that someone can work their way to career and material success and I am not sure that this is true.
Yet at the same time, I also think the right-wing is equally wrong in how the view the economy and people’s economic decision making. It is simply impossible in a modern globalized economy for everyone to be self-sufficient yeoman farmers or business owners. If you want large businesses like Apple and Google, you are going to need employees. There is nothing wrong with someone preferring security over market chaos and anarchy and just wanting to do a good job and earn a living for themselves and their families. There are a lot of risks in running a business and it is not for everyone and people should not be looked down upon or disrespected if they dislike being a freelancer or being in business for themselves.
People can also lose jobs for reasons unrelated to themselves in a global economy and it seems callous and cruel to blame people for losing jobs because of reckless decisions made by people at the top. I often hear people in the right-wing argue against significant or extended unemployment benefits because it creates incentives to be lazy and not work. This is a very old argument and it is wrong. (2)
Sometimes there is simply no work to be had. I question why it is good to have someone do a job, any job rather than build a career. Suppose someone is an entry-level engineer and is laid off because of some bad business decisions made by people in the C-suite. I don’t see why it is better to get that engineer working as anything than having a society that allows said person to continue on their career trajectory.
The right-wing also fails to acknowledge that a lot of success can happen from really dumb luck. I would say my three major jobs happened from a combination of connections and luck with timing. I got called into one firm for a three month job and the job ended up becoming two projects and lasting for thirteen months. Then I got another job because another random connection through my mom’s synagogue is a lawyer and she knew a firm that needed help on the same kind of law that I did at my first job. It seems to entirely feasible that had any of these events not happened, I could be in a much worse place than I am now career wise.
The short version is that the left-wing could be better at seeing career building as a decades long process and sometimes people are in it for the long haul and there is nothing wrong with a little ambitious and possibly unrealistic dreaming. I wanted to go to the Yale School of Drama for graduate school when I was trying for a theatrical. Was I good enough for the Yale School of Drama? Not at all. But perhaps that dream allowed me to apply to graduate school and find one that would take me and did see me as having some artistic talent. At this point it is probably do or die for me as a lawyer and it could be that way for many other people in many careers.
The right-wing could be better at acknowledging random luck plays a big role in success and failure.
(2) See The Making of Victorian Values: Decency and Dissent in Britain: 1789-1837 by Ben Wilson. The early 19th century British had debates on charity and welfare that are remarkably similar to the ones we have today including worries about people on public assistance living more decadently than Kings and Queens and doing the 19th century equivalent of buying lobster tail and steaks with food stamps. Also see every book written by Rick Perlstein.