Fortune Favors the Bold; Markets Favor the Meek

I stole the above headline from EconLog. I’ve been thinking a lot about this headline separate from the actual contents that follow it on EconLog.

The first thing I would like to note is that it is true. This is how the meek have inherited the earth — through the free market system. The markets favor those who are easy to get along with. If you want a job, just show the potential employer that you are a “team player,” meaning, you will do anything he wants when he wants it. The more social you are this way and the more submissive, the more likely you are to get the job. Now, this can all be a facade just to get your foot in the door so you can then be bold and shoot up in the company — but it can’t be a complete facade. You still have to continue to act meek and to play all the games necessary to succeed. And there’s no getting out of the game. In every job and potential job there is a game. The most one can hope for is to be involved in the occasional rule change.

Here’s another way to word the headline: “Fortune favors the idealist; markets favor the pragmatists.” In this case I am referring to social pragmatists. One can be a social pragmatist and still ignore physical reality. Those who go along to get along, who try to fit into whatever the social milieu of the company or organization is, are social pragmatists. Those who may think there is right and wrong, and that one should always come down on the right, and those who may think there are better ways of doing things than the boss, are typically advised to keep their mouths shut — you may win, in which case you become the hero; but you may lose everything you worked for as well.

If this all sounds pessimistic, well, it is pessimistic in a sense. But it’s not necessarily bad. The vast majority of people are “the meek” and are social pragmatists — and thus the free market favors them. This is why people are generally better off in a free market system. But at the same time, I am coming to understand the objections to the market by Nietzsche on precisely this issue. Nietzsche, of course, did not favor the meek. He favored the bold — and good fortune. I can thus understand where his objection to the free market system comes from. This does not mean, of course, that I agree with Nietzsche (with whom I agree more often than not) in his opposition to free markets — but that disagreement would only occur if we are to understand Nietzsche’s objections to the free market as objections in the sense most people mean it by, and not in the way Nietzsche means it when he attacks something: as a way to strengthen it. If we understand Nietzsche’s opposition this way, we then have to ask: is this disfavoring of the bold by the markets harmful to the markets?

It certainly suggests that it is harmful to the bold, for economics tells us that if the markets do not favor something, it will soon cease being offered. And where would that place the free market system? Can it truly exist without the bold?

Of course, if fortune favors the bold, we shall perhaps never be rid of the bold, as we shall never be rid of fortune. But where’s fortune when you need it? My own boldness keeps getting in the way of my success in the market — how ironic, then, that I continue to support it. What can I say, I’m just not selfish enough to want to do away with it for my own sake, and thus harm so many millions of meek. And what does that say about myself? Am I bold or meek? Or boldly meek? Or meekly bold? Or maybe I’m just so stupid as to not know when to stop fighting for what is right. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to pay the bills.

And yet, there is no market process without the bold. More, there is no wealth without the bold. While the market best distributes inventions/creations and wealth, it’s the bold, the creators and inventors, who create all the wealth in the world. The meek maintain, and they gain from the bold through the market, but without the bold constantly inventing the future, we would all live in nothing but abject poverty at best. And there wouldn’t be many of us around to live that way.

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