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The Self-Made Myth: And the Truth about How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed 1st Edition

17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1609945060
ISBN-10: 1609945069
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Editorial Reviews


“This book challenges a central myth that underlies today’s antigovernment rhetoric: that an individual’s success is the result of gumption and hard work alone. Miller and Lapham clearly show that personal success is closely tied to the supports society provides. Must reading for all who want to get our nation back on track.”
—Robert Reich, former US Secretary of Labor; Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley; and author of Aftershock

“Miller and Lapham debunk the self-made myth that has been bought and sold by the corporate media. I urge anyone who cares about forging a more just and fair economy to buy this book and take its smart ideas to heart.”
—Katrina vanden Heuvel, Editor and Publisher, The Nation

“After decades of disingenuous bashing of community and our common interests, this book serves as a reality check, reminding us that no one can survive without the contributions of the rest of us.”
—Carol Moseley Braun, former US Senator

About the Author

Brian Miller has served as executive director of United for a Fair Economy (UFE) since 2009, drawing on nearly 20 years of experience as a community organizer, coalition leader, media spokesperson, writer, researcher, and nonprofit director.

Mike Lapham is the project director and co-founder of UFE’s Responsible Wealth project, a network of over 700 business leaders and wealthy individuals. In addition to directing the program, Lapham is also a member, having inherited stock in his family’s paper mill in upstate New York.

United for a Fair Economy (UFE) is a national organization that works to foster a more broadly shared prosperity. In addition to UFE's key role in the recent tax debates, UFE has a range of programs that seek to shape public dialogue and support social movements for economic fairness. Responsible Wealth is a project of UFE that brings together 700 business leaders, high-wealth, and high-income individuals to speak out against their narrow financial self-interest and in favor of progressive tax policies and corporate accountability.

Foreword Author Bill Gates Sr. worked for many years as a successful attorney in Seattle, Washington, and is the father of Microsoft founder Bill Gates III. He has been an active leader in both the national and Washington State debates around progressive tax policies. Foreword Author Chuck Collins is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and is co-author, with Bill Gates Sr., of Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes. In 1995 he co-founded United for a Fair Economy.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers; 1 edition (March 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1609945069
  • ISBN-13: 978-1609945060
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 5.5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,086,149 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Brian Miller is the executive director of United for a Fair Economy, online at Over the past 20 years, Miller has worked to build cross-class alliances of citizens from all walks of life-- workers, business leaders, family farmers, seniors, students, and others--to work together for change, promoting healthy communities and an economy that works for all Americans.
 A native of south Louisiana, Miller has a unique perspective on business and market economics. As the son of a stockbroker and an accountant, Miller was educated early about the workings of the stock market in a household surrounded by statues of bulls, bears, and ticker tape awards.

Miller received his degree in political science, with a secondary focus in economics from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Throughout both his academic and professional careers, Miller has sought to deepen his understanding of the points where public policy intersects with economics.

In addition to efforts in his home state of Louisiana, Miller has helped move campaigns and organizing efforts across the South and the Midwest. Some of his earliest experiences in Louisiana centered on the abuse of corporate tax breaks that left schools without adequate resources. He also helped grassroots leaders successfully protect their community from an unwanted hazardous waste facility south of Baton Rouge, and he helped farmers in Kentucky secure cost-sharing funds to pay for water-quality buffers.

Most of Miller's experience comes from his 12 years as executive director of Tennesseans for Fair Taxation (TFT). As director of TFT, he was an integral part of a historic fight that brought the state to within five votes of enacting a state income tax as part of a broader tax reform package to fund education and other ser- vices--an effort that was supported by business groups and com- munity groups alike.

Miller took over as executive director of United for a Fair Economy in 2009. At UFE he has continued his commitment to cross-class organizing, working with grassroots groups, unions, and business leaders. He has also helped organize business leaders and other high-wealth individuals through UFE's Responsible Wealth project in support of progressive tax reform efforts, corporate accountability, and a more broadly-shared prosperity.

The author of numerous reports garnering coverage in major national publications such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, Miller has also appeared on national television programs like Fox Business. He is a frequent guest on radio pro- grams and has been quoted in major media outlets across the nation. He is a regular op-ed writer and a contributor to various online and print publications.

Miller is an avid cyclist and an active member of his community. He lives in Waltham, Massachusetts, with his wife, Daria, and their two young children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Mal Warwick on April 3, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Last week the Republican majority in the House of Representatives passed a budget that slashes taxes for corporations and high-income taxpayers while drastically cutting federal assistance for food and other safety-net programs. It's hard to imagine a more dramatic expression of contemporary "conservative" ideology. It's straight out of Atlas Shrugged, based on the tragically misguided notion that brilliant, driven individuals produce the country's wealth and are solely responsible for creating jobs for the rest of us.

Brian Miller and Mike Lapham's thoughtful and impeccably reasoned new book, The Self-Made Myth, goes straight to the heart of the conservative argument that favors limited government and coddling the rich. Rather than quibble about this program or that issue, or fasten on the transparently shoddy logic of a Republican budget that promises to reduce the federal deficit when in fact it will surely increase it, Miller and Lapham's argument strikes at the fundamental values and assumptions underlying today's conservatism.

For more than a century, the U.S. public has been in thrall to the dangerous fiction of the self-reliant hero propagated by more than 100 of Horatio Alger's novels and decades of self-promotion by 20th Century corporate leaders and self-help gurus, with their most extreme expression in the works of Ayn Rand, notably Atlas Shrugged.

Now, finally, we have in one slim, well-executed volume an answer to the claptrap that lies at the heart of the right-wing politics which has driven American democracy to the brink of extinction over the past three decades.

First, they argue, the self-made myth overlooks the accidents of geography and history.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Geoffrey Halston on April 8, 2012
Format: Paperback
The authors go straight to the heart of a very prominent and pertinent social and economic issue: Does government hinder the entrepreneurial wizards? Do the wealthy owe anything at all to the society that they evolved in, or does their wealth entitle them to the status of gods? Ayn Rand (who also accepted Social Security and Medicare under the name Ann O'Connor) would agree with the latter.
The authors go on to give several examples of wealthy businessmen and the environment they grew in. So, if Donald Trump grew up poor in Bangladesh, would he have met with his current success? Would Warren Buffet or Ross Perot?
These industrial giants shout the cry of limited government, yet the authors give pertinent examples of how they relied upon government assistance, and the society they grew in.
Taxing the wealthy is currently greeted with the bromide, "why punish success?" Essentially, this belief divides the world into two camps: The supermen and hoi polloi. Consequentially, the right has ushered in a new era of Social Darwinism. The idea is to push down the wages and rights of the working class, and grant a sort of carte blanche to wealthy businessmen and corporations. The disparity between the rich and poor is analogous to the state of affairs during 1928. The authors rightly point out the debt of gratitude that the wealthy owe to a society that substantiated their progress.
Interesting, also, that the self-made titans of Wall Street depend upon the taxpayers for bailout money.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By David Levine on April 15, 2012
Format: Paperback
The notion that people who "make it" do so in a vacuum -- purely as a consequence of their own skills and efforts -- is absurd. I can vouch for this, having had a successful career on Wall Street that could not and would not have happened without ALL of the following: (a) survivor benefits my mother received when my father died prematurely, (b) "free tuition" at the City College of New York (in the 1960s, when I attended CCNY, all I needed to pay was a student fee of about $30-$40 per semester), (c) scholarship aid from New York State throughout my college and graduate school years and (d) the great, good fortune to land a job at a firm with other talented people and a tolerance for people who did not always think conventionally.

The first three points, of course, refer to ways in which I was helped by government. To be sure, the last point had nothing to do with government or "society", but it does mean that I was, among other things, lucky. The Self-Made Myth is full of stories and statistics that bolster the conclusion rendered in the title of the book.

Successful people who believe they owe nothing to "society" and/or government are delusional. Those who don't think their taxes should be materially higher than the average family (let along the working poor) are mean spirited.

Read this book.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Gerald L. Barkdoll on March 6, 2012
Format: Paperback
The current and ever-growing inequality of wealth makes this a perfect time to expose the myths espoused by the insular wealthy. This book does a terrific job of laying out the destructive consequences of continuing the current fantasies. The measured balance of theory and anecdote should satisfy any thoughtful reader. It moves from evidence, to problem to solutions. An easy, but powerful read.

Jake Barkdoll founder of the website
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Frederick S. Goethel VINE VOICE on April 26, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
With the current political climate in this country, the question of government deficits and taxation of millionaires to help cover the deficit has been at the forefront of the news. For obvious reasons, a large number of the people that make up the 1% are violently opposed to increasing taxes on the wealthy to help lower the deficit. And yet, there are those in the 1% who believe that government has helped them and that taxes should be increased as they have utilized government services to help them create their fortunes.

The book examines the services that are used by the so-called "self made" individuals on their way up to the top, and examines some people who claim to be "self-made". The individuals highlighted as self-made are hardly that. The problem, however, is that the authors only provide three examples of "self-made" individuals who claim they did not have any help on the way up. They either inherited large sums of money or utilized government services extensively to help create their fortunes. The book would have been far greater had the authors included a larger sample of such individuals.

In addition to those who claim to be self made but are not, the book highlights a number of people who are millionaires who believe that they should be paying more taxes as they have used government services extensively. It could be said that these individuals are all liberals, however that does not appear to be the case. In each case presented, the individuals used student loans, public education, taxation laws, and numerous other government services to help build their businesses into what they became.

This book is a good read that is important for the discussion of this subject. It would have been made better had they been many more examples of individuals who were claiming to be self-made and yet were not. Overall, this book fills in yet another piece to the puzzle.
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