Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Talent Development, Free Choice, Income Inequality and Free Markets

Jeremy Lin is a professional basketball player with a Harvard degree.

Although his basketball talent is becoming widely recognized, it wasn't always thus. Lots of "experts" missed on evaluating Mr. Lin's abilities. Still, Lin hung in there and continued to develop his game. He worked at becoming a better player. Now he's an "overnight success." Yeah, right.

You see, talent recognition by others isn't nearly as important as talent development by oneself. And talent development takes lots of sustained effort.

Lin was absolutely not, contrary to popular belief, an overnight sensation. Talent development doesn't work that way.

The development of talent (knowledge, too) takes time. Lots of time. And effort. Lots of effort. And a belief in our own capabilities.

And sometimes, it takes a little luck for that developed talent to be recognized by others.

LINmigration Service tells the story this way:

"In case you've been hibernating, Jeremy Lin has seemingly come from nowhere to lead the National Basketball Association's previously uninspired New York Knicks . . . .

But Mr. Lin didn't come from nowhere. He was born and raised in the United States after the federal government managed to allow his parents to move here from Taiwan in the 1970s. Like so many others who have enriched America and the world, the two engineers made their way to California's Silicon Valley. Few might have guessed that their son would make his living around backboards instead of circuit boards, and despite his stellar hoops career at Palo Alto High School, there was little interest in Mr. Lin among major college coaches.

But he proved the experts wrong with his play at Harvard and again when he bounced from pro basketball's Developmental League to the end of the Knicks' bench and then into the starting line-up.

It turns out he can split a double team and distribute the ball in a way that makes his teammates better, not unlike (metaphorically speaking) immigrants in other fields. The policy lesson is that America wins when it welcomes talented people, whether or not they start semiconductor companies."

From that happy picture, let's turn to As Job Market Mends, Dropouts Fall Behind:

"While the U.S. job market is showing signs of improvement, one sizable group of workers has been falling further behind: high-school dropouts.

Some 1.8 million more college graduates have found work since January 2010, when the recovery began producing jobs, but about 128,000 high-school dropouts lost work in the same period, according to the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Less than 40% of the 25 million Americans over age 25 who lack a high-school diploma are employed. And those who are working don't earn much. High-school dropouts earn about $23,400 on average, compared with $33,500 for those with a high-school diploma and $54,700 for four-year college grads, the labor bureau says.

This gap is expected to widen as jobs demand higher skills and more education. In 2020, there will be nearly six million more high-school dropouts than jobs available to such U.S. workers, according to a 2011 McKinsey Global Institute study. At the same time, there will be a shortage of about 1.5 million college-educated workers by 2020.

"High-school dropouts are being left further and further behind," said Susan Lund, head of research for the institute, part of the McKinsey & Co. consulting firm.

Jobs that traditionally employed less-educated American men—construction and low-end manufacturing among them—have dwindled. And men with limited reading or math abilities have trouble getting into job-apprenticeship programs. . . .

Of the more than 1,000 jobs listed on career site in the Pittsburgh area one day recently, only two didn't require a high-school diploma."

Now let's switch gears again in search of a larger meaning.

The fairness of income inequality, President Obama's announced intention to save the middle class and the demonization of the 1% designated as fat cats are all headline stories today. The Occupy Wall Street movement and allied groups want to narrow the gap between the fat cats and the 99%. Does this mean everybody should share equally in the wealth of the nation? Or the wealth of the world? If not, then what does it mean?

If we want to narrow the gap between different groups of earners, the easiest way is to pull down those on top. But assuming we also want to increase the pay scale of those in the middle and near the bottom, why restrict the "fairness" to U.S. citizens?

Some of us were lucky to be born here, but we didn't earn that birthright. It was given to us. What about the less fortunate in the rest of the world? Is it fair to leave them out of our equality crusade, simply because they live elsewhere?.

In much of the world, people on average earn ~$2 per day. So what's fair and what results in equality? Equality of what?

And who's to be included and who's to be excluded in our quest for fairness? Only those who vote for U.S. politicians?

And what individuals are capable of deciding all this? The elitist government officials? Let's hope not.

America has long stood for individual liberties and equality under the law. In turn, that absolutely means unequal results. Otherwise there's no meritocracy and no free marketplace.

In America, dreamers have the opportunity to become successful or failed doers. Some choose to do one thing and some choose to do another thing. And some will choose not to do much at all, if anything.

It's that simple. As Americans we're free to do or not do as we wish, as long as we don't prevent others from doing what they choose to do or not do, too.

And why did Jeremy Lin's parents come to the U.S. when given an opportunity? So that they and he would be paid the same as a high school dropout, high school graduate or even an average performing college graduate? Not likely.

And would paying them or him less cause the dropout to study more, work harder and develop his talent as the Lins did? Not likely.

And would it cause people like the Lins to want to come to America and make the same sustained efforts that they have made at developing their talents? No way.

I know that I was lucky to be born in America and that billions of other people were not so lucky.

Thus, I know that I had an advantage growing up that people in much of the world didn't enjoy. I was free to develop my talents and to choose my own road. They weren't.

When I think of our American freedom to develop our talents as we so elect, a Mexican proverb comes to mind, "There is no road. We make the road as we go." What a powerful thing is the power of experimentation, aka the scientific method.

Others born in America enjoyed similar advantages to those given to me. Some did one thing, some did another, some did a lot and some did not do much at all.

In America we all have similar opportunities to make our own road, to experiment and to learn from our failures. We all have the opportunity of "failing forward."

So how is it to be taken seriously when some Americans complain about how other Americans, and yes, immigrants as well, take better advantage of the opportunities offered to them than the complainers do? I don't get it.

Jeremy Lin tried out and made a team. Then he tried and made another team. And then another. He kept playing and kept developing his talent. He's still doing that today.

He also attended and graduated from several schools along the way, including Harvard. He kept learning and developing his knowledge. He's still doing that today.

Today he's gainfully employed and a real live fat cat. Maybe he'll even choose to start a fat cat business when his hoops days are over.

Then again, maybe he won't. But whatever he does, it will be his choice to make.

And how much he's paid isn't for me or anyone in government to decide. Let's leave that to the marketplace.

And that's what talent development, free choice, income inequality and free markets mean to me. That's a big part of what's fair and great about America.

It's long been the designated American way, and it's the best way. Just ask the Lin family.

Thanks. Bob.

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