Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
Why I think anyone can make it
Published on July 3, 2004 By Draginol In Business

Sometimes in my writings I probably come across as unsympathetic to the "less fortunate". That is probably true to a certain extent. Mainly, I'm a crummy writer so I tend to write my opinions in ways that grate. But also it's because I grew up poor -- for an American. I lived amongst other poor people and know from first hand experience what kinds of things makes a person poor and what kinds of things can make someone wealthy.

Of course, bear in mind, in the United States, most people who say they are poor are probably not really very poor, even by American standards. Of course, even the poorest Americans are still well off by the standards of most of the world.

Let me tell you a little bit about myself.  I just turned 33. Still reasonably young. Generation X. I've got 2 little ones now. So the story I'm about to tell shouldn't come across as one of those old timers who tells about how things were in the old days.  I graduated from college in 1994. Only 10 years ago.

When I was 4 my parents got divorced and my mom and I moved to Michigan. I was a child who grew up in a single parent household whose mom worked for minimum wage while we lived in a small apartment trying to make ends meet. We lived amongst other poor people. Most of the people who I met who were poor were just losers. I realize that won't win me any compassion awards with the politically correct crowd, but the older I get, the more obvious it becomes that some people are losers. These are people who were too foolish or stupid to live responsibly.  The woman who lived next door paid me 10 cents per bag (when I was 6 years old) to take her garbage out to the dumpster.  Her money came from welfare. In the entire time we lived there, she never got a job. She had 3 kids, each from a different man. She had money for cigarettes though. Money for booze.  But couldn't get a job. I'm sure she would be the first to complain that "the rich" don't pay enough in taxes. Across the hall was a druggie. Usually jobless too.

The apartment complex was full of two types of people -- people on their way up and people who just couldn't get their act together. For the most part, the latter group were people who just didn't want to work, or decided that life was unfair and wouldn't do anything about it, or were just unbelievably irresponsible and short-sighted in their decision making. That isn't to say that all Americans who are poor are lazy or stupid or irresponsible. I also have met people who suffered from physical or mental problems that limited what they could do. But for the most part, the people who were "poor" would be poor no matter what you did for them (and by poor, I'm talking about people who are in their late 20s or older making less than $15,000 per year in 2003 dollars).

Some people aren't willing to work their way up. Those people want propserity handed to them. They say how it's not fair that other people have it so much easier. Well you know what? Life ain't fair. My mother taught me that.  When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. I was willing to take this woman's trash to the dumpster (about 100 meters away from the apartment) filled with the most disgusting stuff, in the dead of winter, so that I could make money to save for college, buy Star Wars figures, and baseball cards. At 10 cents per bag. I took the garbage out for our neighbors too so I could earn a couple dollars a week doing this.  Big money to a 6 year old in 1977.

When I was 14, I got my first hourly job. My summer job was to paint, by myself, a giant chain link fence that surrounded a 5 acre property. In the dead of summer with temperatures in the high  90s, low 100s. But I did it and I got paid minimum wage.  I could describe in detail how unpleasant this job was. The fence itself was overgrown with thorny vines which I had to first remove before I could paint. And did I mention how hot it was?

When I was 15, I worked in a garage cleaning the crap out (sometimes literally) and helping the guys fix the "shovels" and other things that came in (it was a garage for escavation equipment). I worked these crappy jobs because I didn't have a car. So I could only work at places I could either walk to or get a ride to.  These jobs weren't pleasant but you have to do what you have to do. Life ain't fair.

I took some of the money I saved in those 2 years and bought a Chevette for $1,500. Crappy car. Rich kids at school whose parents bought them cars made fun of it.  But with that car I was able to get a nicer job at the mall. Still working minimum wage, it was at least air conditioned and eventually I got raises to making a little bit more. And I learned new skills. The mall job required I wear a shirt and tie. I had to interact with customers, improve my communication skills, and learn to present myself better.

When I was 18, I was able to use my 2 summers working at the mall book store (as "experience" that showed I was responsible enough to be reliable) to get a job at the bank. My first job there was driving a van from bank to bank to pick up the deposited checks to take it to the district bank which gave the checks to the proof machine operators.  It was a highly unpleasant job and mindnumbingly boring. But it paid much better ($6 per hour in 1988 was not too bad). And it helped ensure I could afford college.  I went to Western Michigan University. I was accepted at the University of Michigan but I couldn't afford to go there. So I went to WMU.

When I was 19 and 20 I got "promoted" to being a proof machine operator.  When you get a canceled check back in the mail, you'll notice at the bottom of it is a computerized number that takes your chicken scrawl amount you wrote and makes it into something that the computer scanner can read. Back in 1990, that meant some poor schmoe (like me) had to actually look at your check, make out what you wrote, and type the number and account information onto a keypad and run your check through the proof machine.  I did that for 40 hours per week. I still have occasional flashbacks to that as it was incredibly repetitive. 

But partially because of that job, I also became incredibly fast at typing. My typing speed got up to 100 words per minute by that point (still not at the 120wpm it is today).  This acquired skill would do me well in the future.

But despite working at the bank, and working all those jobs and having saved money all my life, I couldn't get much aid for college. Why? Because my mom had lived responsiblily and hadn't piled on huge debts.  I had a scholarship thanks to my high ACT scores but it wasn't nearly enough.  So I started a company selling computers to the faculty.  I knew how to get computer parts wholesale and could then undercut the local computer store.  I called the company "Stardock Systems".

In 1992, OS/2 came out and I felt I could get a competitive advantage by pre-loading OS/2 onto the computers I sold. I became quite familiar with OS/2.  In early 1993, I thought there would be demand for an OS/2 video game.  The only problem was that I didn't know how to program.  So I bought a book called "Teach yourself C in 21 days" and a book called "OS/2 Presentation Manager Programming".  With those two books I learned how to program and wrote Galactic Civilizations.  Anyone who ever played the game and also knows programming can verify that only the techniques in OS/2 PM programming are in that game.  What that meant is that all the "graphics" were merely iconic windows, not real images because OS/2 PM programming didn't include chapters on how to do graphics programming and I couldn't afford any more books.

Even still, my plan, once I graduated, was to go work at some cool company. I sent my resume to Texas Instruments and tons of other big companies. No response.  I later learned from a friend who worked at Ratheon at the time that these big companies won't look at resumes from minor colleges like WMU.  He got in because he went to (wait for it) the University of Michigan, the school I was accepted at but couldn't afford (my friend's parents paid his way through and drove a firebird).

So while failing to get a job, the little game I made did really well. Except that I didn't get paid any royalties. Our publisher ripped us off and because I was poor and couldn't afford a lawyer, I was screwed. If you bought a copy of Galactic Civilizations for OS/2, that's cool but I never got a penny of it.  But the game was such a success that I was able to use the good publicity to build Stardock up with other products while I waited to see if I could get a job anywhere. 

Because I worked 3 jobs during college my gradepoint was only 2.6 so I was at a competitive disadavantage. But that time allowed me to keep working on Stardock stuff which led to Star Emperor (a GalCiv derivative I wrote for IBM) and Object Desktop for OS/2 which I teamed up with a fellow OS/2 fanatic Kurt Westerfeld to bring to market.

And the rest is history. By 24 I was a millionaire. And during the stock bubble, my company's valuation was ridiculously high (wish I could just stick with that number ) which fortunately coincided with my 10 year class reunion!

So what's the excuse of able bodied people who are poor? I'm not particularly intelligent. I don't enjoy working any more than anyone else (just ask my mom).  But I did what I had to do.  And now I pay 6 figures in income taxes of which a large percentage of it goes to other people.  If I can make it, why can't others? If you are able bodied, what's stopping you?

I think Americans are very generous people.  As a nation, we spend more on programs to help the poor and downtrodden than any other nation.  We provide more aid to the poor of the world than any other country. 

If you find yourself thinking that other people are "just lucky" or that you are constantly being singled out by the boss or some other authority figure or that life isn't fair, then you need toughen up and quit looking for scapegoats. Look inside. In the United States, hard work, more than intelligence, more than inherited wealth, will win the day in the long run. You may not become a millionaire. But you won't be poor. And by poor, I mean real poor, not "I can barely afford a new DVD player" poor (hint: if you have a DVD player, you're not poor but if you think you are, consider the choices you made to buy a DVD player in the first place rather than how you might have used it otherwise -- my mom and I didn't even have cable TV until I was in highschool and no VCR until college and this is the 90s we're talking!).

Our country is rich in opportunity for those willing to work for it. Often that work is mindnumbingly crappy but opportunity lurks for those who are persistent.  Don't let pride be your downfall. I got my start taking out garbage for welfare mothers and worked my way up to painting fences in the blistering heat and so on today. If I can make it, anyone can.

 


 

Epilogue: I've gotten a lot of comments pointing out that I did have the advantage of having a mother who instilled her values into me. That is true.  I had my share of advantages. My dad helped steer me into computers, for instance, by giving me a Commodore 64 for Christmas. And my mom was adament about the value of learning skills and planning for the future.  But that's really the point isn't it? That people can succeed by having these kinds of values. A parent giving me a computer instead of a game machine or a parent that taught me that there is no such thing as a job that is "beneath" you are the kinds of things parents can do for their own children that can make a big difference. Too many people who fail in life are people who think they have no control over their own destiny. How often have you heard some welfare recipient say they won't "flip burgers" because they feel those jobs are demeaning? Or the person who spends their money on frivelous things instead of things that can lead to a better future?  Becoming "successful" doesn't happen overnight. It's the result of a series of decisions and actions that lead to a better life.  Too many people want success handed to them or look to blame others for their misfortuntes. As soon as you give over your destiny to someone else in the form of blame, you're doomed. 


Comments (Page 3)
on Jul 06, 2004
1) "How do other people make life unfair?" and then you say, "You're talking to a guy whose first product, Galactic Civilizations, which I spent 2 years of my life working on, causing permanent damage to my rist [sic] (carpal tunnel) to make that I got paid ZILCH for. I got totally ripped off." Furthermore, you said "Our publisher ripped us off and because I was poor and couldn't afford a lawyer, I was screwed." "Ripped.. off" and "I was screwed" seem to indicate that you think you were treated unfairly, thus answering your own question. (If you had the money to hire a lawyer, would you have done so because you felt that you had been treated unjustly, or from some other motive?)
And, correct me if I'm wrong here, but you also seem to think that it's unfair that those who are able-bodied should be allowed to live on the dole. If so, I wholeheartedly agree. In a perfect, ideal world, people who could would be required to earn their living- and in such a world, their employers would be required to provide them with a wage that allowed them to obtain such basic necessities such as food, shelter, and medical care, in return for their hard work.
2) "In a free society, the market decides how much people make." What sort of freedom does the unskilled laborer who either cannot or does not find more lucrative work have in such a society? Is a choice between a multitude of jobs where his employer profits from his labors or not working at all, which eventually would lead to starvation really that preferably to him than that of the slave, who one could say has the choice between doing his master's bidding or risk being beaten or killed.? Sounds more like an exploitative society, than a free one.
3) "Who decides what [sic] the size of the fruits of their labors?" Who decides that an employer should be able to profit off the labors of another? Who decides that laziness is acceptable in the rich, but not in the poor? Your answer seems to be the "market", but then of what does this "market" consist, if not people? Rather than some impersonal, mythical "market" that is choosing to refuse to pay employees a living wage, it is human beings putting their wants ahead of the needs of others- and let's not mince terms, but call it by it's true name, greed (which, last time I checked, was listed next to "sloth" among the seven deadly sins). I'm not against capitalism per se, but then again, I'm not a proponent of it either. Economic systems do not have the ability to change people's hearts, which is needed for people to start treating others with dignity and justice.
on Jul 07, 2004

Emoticon Man:

1)Individuals can make life more difficult. But as a generalization, I don't think individuals make life, overall, unfair.  Though it's really a matter of thresholds.  Life being unfair (to me) would be becoming physically disabled.

2) I started out taking out people's trash and moved up to painting fences.  How do you get more unskilled than that? There's nothing particularly exceptional about me other than I am willing to work very hard.

3) "Who decides that an employer should be able to profit off the labors of another?" An employee isn't a slave. They are someone who has agreed to do labor X for fee Y. That's called a free society.  My neighbor can pay me X amount to mow his lawn and I can agree or not agree to do that.  Or my neighbor could pay me X to make a software program for him. 

You are correct about one thing, economic systems don't change ones hearts. That's because capitalism is wise enough to recognize that you can't change people's hearts through money.

Warm fuzzy terms like "living wage" are terms arbitrarily invented typically by people who have never had to pay for help from another. Wages are determined by a number of factors such as demand for a particular skill, how much that skill translates into dollars when the finished product is sold, etc.  It's a social contract between two people ultimately. It works pretty well.

on Jul 07, 2004

Are you intentionally being obtuse?


Abe- are you serious? You say that "people" in power set our wages and provide jack squat for research. Brad's position that the markets set prices and wages? Hell there are *reams* of reasearch for that! You might try *any* economics course taught on the face of the planet. Put some research where your rhetoric is.

on Jul 11, 2004

In terms of how "the government" can help, I think that the government can help our country by aiding people who are trying to help themselves.  Scholarships helps but you don't want to eliminate the need for work.

Having crappy jobs can be a powerful motivator to want to improve ones life.

on Jul 11, 2004

Having crappy jobs can be a powerful motivator to want to improve ones life.


That is exactly what Summer jobs were for me in high school.  I would complain about cleaning motel rooms or waitressing and my dad would say "See, you are learning what you don't want to do with the rest of your life."  Good incentive to get your shit together and get an education so you can have a career that you don't dread every day of your life.

on Jul 11, 2004
Even if my company hadn't made it, I would not be poor today. It's pretty rare to meet someone who is poor and is also working very hard.


I don't think it's as rare as you think, Brad. I've met plenty such people, and we ourselves are in that number. We are comfortable with where we're at, don't get me wrong, but I work very hard to support my family.

I will agree 100% that the lifestyle we live is due to choices we did/didn't make; not all of those choices are available to everyone (I know, for instance, a great number of hard working folks who don't have the intellectual aptitude for self improvement; I still respect their work greatly, though). The thing is, though, the ones who DO work for a living usually tend to eschew entitlements.
on Jul 12, 2004
How do you define, "Poor" Gideon?  People who work full time eat well and have a roof over their heads. That's not what I'd call poor?  I sometimes think that we've morphed the definition of poor into unrealistic heights.
on Jul 12, 2004

How do you define, "Poor" Gideon? People who work full time eat well and have a roof over their heads. That's not what I'd call poor? I sometimes think that we've morphed the definition of poor into unrealistic heights.

Very true.  "Poor" now means that you don't have your own house, cable TV, a nice car and a cell phone.  "Poor" really means that you barely can pay rent, you depend on cheap transportation, and you have to budget food money.  (No cable, no cell phone, no internet access....no "frills") 

on Jul 13, 2004
Individuals can make life more difficult. But as a generalization, I don't think individuals make life, overall, unfair.
It's hard to disagree with that statement, as long as one is mindful of the modifier "overall". But when you use words like "ripped off" and "screwed", it's hard to believe that you think that the episode was nothing more than "individuals... mak(ing) life more difficult".
I started out taking out people's trash and moved up to painting fences. How do you get more unskilled than that?
Since I specified "the unskilled laborer who either cannot or does not find more lucrative work", how is your example relevant?
An employee isn't a slave.
I never said he or she was. But if the only job (or jobs) that are open to a person are those that pay little, if that, above a sustenance level (and the surplus of prospective employees is great enough to make them easily expendable), then the question is how is he any freer than a slave when he must choose between such a job, making money illegally, and probable starvation.
That's called a free society.
In one sentence, you discount such terms as "living wage" as "warm (and) fuzzy", then use cold, murky ones such as "free society" and "social contract" to rationalize the practice of employers denying wages and benefits to cover basic necessities of their employees, even when doing so would mean that they would only have to forgo amenities rather than suffer any real hardship. I could just as easily say that in a "just society", employers treat their employees as human beings, rather than assets from which to drain every possible profit and then toss away afterwards (I'm not saying that every employer does this, just that it is a common enough practice that it is worth mentioning). No matter how you dress it up, it is still people- not some impersonal "market" or "free society"- who decide that their wants outweigh the needs of others.
Having crappy jobs can be a powerful motivator to want to improve ones life.
I agree, but only to the degree that one has access to means of improvement. Success isn't (or at least isn't always) wholly dependent on hard work and motivation, as you seem to be arguing. Rather, there are times when such factors as "catching the right breaks" or making the right contacts or, like Gideon mentioned, having mental aptitiude are just as important.
In terms of how "the government" can help, I think that the government can help our country by aiding people who are trying to help themselves.
Ideally (and I admit this is somewhat unrealistic), I believe that this is preferably left in the hands of society at large, since government involvement in almost anything is more likely to make it more expensive, more bureaucratic, and more prone to corruption and pork-barrelling. There are times, however, that the danger or injustice becomes so great that government intervention becomes necessary for the common welfare. I think Thomas Jefferson was only half-right when he said "The government is best which governs least" - it calls for (IMHO) the following corollary: "the society is best which needs to be governed the least".
on Jul 13, 2004

Since I specified "the unskilled laborer who either cannot or does not find more lucrative work", how is your example relevant?

Well sheesh, who's fault is it if an unskilled laborer cannot find better work? It's their own damn fault. Sure, I could have spent the rest of my life working in a garage or working my way up the chain at a book store.

I don't believe in "living wages" because I don't think any disinterested group has the right to collude on what wages should be. How much someone makes is an agreement between the person who does the paying and the person who does the labor.  If I didn't like how much I was getting paid to paint a fence or pull weeds around the company's building or whatever, then I had the option of not working there.

The people who espouse "living wages" are usually people who haven't really had to hold real jobs or certainly have never run a business. How much people get paid in the REAL WORLD is based on the individual choices of millions of people in what they buy and sell every day.

I am not out to mold society into some utopian ideal. Each person has their own utopian concept and I don't think one group has the right to impose their will on the rest. Society, as a whole, is what it is.  I would work against any movement that would seek to dominate or control it.

on Jul 14, 2004
Well sheesh, who's fault is it if an unskilled laborer cannot find better work? It's their own damn fault.


While this may be true in many cases, perhaps even in the vast majority, it is not true in every case. No matter how much hard work and motivation a person may have, these are not always enough to guarentee success (and just to check to see if we're using the term in the same way, by success, I mean access to decent food, housing, and medical care, at the very least).

How much people get paid in the REAL WORLD is based on the individual choices of millions of people in what they buy and sell every day.


To a certain extent this is true. If a company makes $12 million a year and has 100 employees, it obviously cannot pay each of the employess more than $120,000. But let's say it makes $12 million a year and has one CEO and 100 employees. It then does have a choice, among others, of paying the CEO $2 million and the other employees $100,000 or paying the CEO $10 million and the other employees $20,000 (unless I have somehow flubbed the math portion of this post). And this decision has nothing to do with "the individual choices of millions of people" and everything, should this $20,000 be inadequate to cover the basic needs of the employees, to do with whether the company believes that the employees have an intrinsic value equal to that of the CEO.

I am not out to mold society into some utopian ideal.


Neither am I. On the contrary, I don't even believe it can be done. This was the major flaw of the Inquisition- one may be able to force others to give lip service to a set of beliefs, but not even an infinite amount of coercion can force others to consent to them. But if my ideals (or at least the ideals I hold, since I claim no ownership of them) are better than those generally held by society, then society would be better if it voluntarily adopted those ideals.

Each person has their own utopian concept and I don't think one group has the right to impose their will on the rest.


I agree. If one is to get others to change their views, this should be done by pursuasion, not coercion.

Society, as a whole, is what it is.


Maybe so, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement.

I would work against any movement that would seek to dominate or control it.


As would I, whether it be governmental or not.
on Jul 14, 2004

I'm sorry but you seem to think there is some sort of objective "fairness" in the universe.  I don't agree.

It doesn't matter to me one bit if the CEO of your hypothetical company makes $2 million or $120,000. That's a decision up to the owners of the company. 

Similarly, while there are no doubt a few individuals who do work hard but still get screwed overall, they are the exception, not the norm. And it is unfortunate but perfect is the enemy of good.  The market is a heuristic thing. It has no morals unto itself.

on Aug 02, 2004
It's wonderful to hear someone " tell it like it is" for a change!!!! Too many people fear that voicing their opinion against the poor will result in reprisal, even if what's being said is true! The millions of dollars your worth, YOU EARNED! You were in the same boat as all the other " free loaders" , but you picked ypurself up and WORKED FOR WHAT YOU HAVE!!!! And it all comes down to the ethics your mother instilled in you, she should be commended.

By the way, I have a bumper sticker plastered on my PC case that reads," work harder, people on welfare are depending on you!".
How true it is......
on Oct 01, 2004
I sometimes think that we've morphed the definition of poor into unrealistic heights.

That's pretty rich (sic) coming from somebody in your financial position, Draginol. It all sounds thoroughly heartless to me.
If the corollary of this 'American dream' you espouse is a large underclass about whom the comfortable largely neither know nor care, as far as I'm concerned you're welcome to it.
And if it ISN'T, why are so many people struggling to keep their heads above water? If you're serious when you say, 'It's been my experience that most poor people didn't work very hard at all', I can only suggest you need to get out more.
on Oct 03, 2004

And how did I get to my financial position, Furry? From very hard work. 

Perhaps you should improve your reading comprehension by reading what I wrote. I grew up around poor people. I was one of them growing up. And what I've seen time and time again that people who are chronically poor don't work very much.  Perhaps you should get out more.

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