Is There Such a Thing as Moral Failure?

Karl Smith has a post that’s relevant to a discussion we’ve been having here:

We can talk about the relative influence of genes, prenatal care, nutrition, early childhood education, lead, etc. However, I didn’t think they would dispute that your IQ is determined before what most people would think of as your moral agency. If so, can it reasonably be your fault that you are stupid?

As it happened I was also debating Bryan Caplan, who I thought and still think, would admit that one’s actual level of conscientiousness is probably genetically determined. And, further that this personality attribute underlies most of what the normal world would call “laziness.”

And so again, if one is sympathetic towards those born blind does it not follow that one should be sympathetic towards those born lazy?

The problem with this line of reasoning, of course, is that it is not possible for someone born blind to start seeing if only he or she tried hard enough but it is possible for someone born lazy to transcend it and work hard. The question is less can he or she but why would he or she?

Despite self-absorbed, uncaring parents and an environment hardly conducive to hard productive legitimate work, my dad through a combination of hard productive legitimate work and ability became the first in his family to graduate not just from law school but from college, high school, and even 8th grade. Similarly, my mom, despite improvident and, in all honesty, shiftless but loving parents, through a combination of hard work and ability became the first in her family not just to earn an advanced degree but the first to graduate from college, high school, and even 8th grade. Without any models for parenting they somehow managed become wonderful, loving parents—the best imaginable in my biased opinion. The only fault I could find with them is they gave me too much freedom. They weren’t just good parents. I think they’re heroes and such heroism isn’t innate: it requires you to transcend your limitations.

They worked hard but it was enormous good luck for me. I didn’t earn or deserve such wonderful parents.

We distinguish between physical handicaps and moral failures. Being born blind is a physical handicap. It’s a limitation. You can adjust for it, compensate for it, prevent it from holding you down, but you can’t avoid it.

Being born lazy may have physical underpinnings but we consider it a moral failure and, I think, rightly so because it can be avoided. It may take significantly more effort for someone born lazy (if such a thing exists) to be in fact industrious than it would someone without that physical limitation. Life is not fair.

43 comments… add one
  • Andy Link

    In general I agree, but with a caveat. For example, people can transcend obesity or addiction, but many do not. As time goes by and as the science gets better, I have a harder time looking down on them for moral failure and lack of will to change. I think of the woman described here. I don’t think one can call her lazy.

    I too was blessed with wonderful parents. But I don’t think your anecdote supports the thesis – the question is why could your parents overcome what they overcame? Were they able to overcome a “lazy” gene, or did they get a “hard working” gene? The problem is we really don’t know to what degree the various factors influence something as broad and subjective as laziness. And it’s also contextual – For example, I’m extremely lazy about many things, but I’m very hard working in other areas. This is one reason why I’m very lucky with my spouse – she fills in and covers for my deficiencies.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I think the genetic determinist are making claims they can’t back-up. As Andy suggests, any conscientious observor of the human condition will find personality charachteristics that act out differently in different contexts. Here, the problem is worse in that conscientous is described as being genetically determined, and then a secondary inference is made linking that trait with laziness. What, no gene has been directly linked with laziness?

    If you look at people diagnosed as sociopaths, you have many of the charachteristics of what people would call evil. They are quite manipulative of others, so it would be hard to charachterize them as entirely lacking conscientiousness; the concept used is lacking empathy since they are quite cognizant of how others think and behave. Whether or not they are lazy probably depends upon their goal, if its free-time or conquest or money or sex.

  • No she isn’t lazy, but I have to wonder about her strategy. I’d say here attitude towards food and weight is not a good one, but she isn’t lazy.

    There is another dimension to this problem that appears to be overlooked, the moral hazard problem. We can’t see who has the lazy gene. And so long as leisure time is more valuable than time spent working, then you run the risk of having the non-lazy emulating the lazy.

    And to be clear hear, work is something you do for money not for pleasure. If you are one of the lucky few where what you do for pleasure also makes you money, good for you. But don’t generalize from your highly unrepresentative sample.

    Here is an example:

    My wife and I like going into and exploring Los Angeles. We like seeing movies (usually older movies) at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. We like visiting Sunset Junction and finding interesting places there, we didn’t realize we were walking by a comic book shop on several visits until we went looking for comic book shops (for my son). Very neat store called the Secret Headquarters. There are a number of other stores I want to go to down there and who knows what else is down there that we have yet to discover. When we go, we spend most of the time walking around. We also like going to Eagle Rock, Venice Beach, and another favorite is driving around to different taco trucks. Our friends often ask if we ever spend a weekend at home, the answer is rarely. Is that being “lazy”? I wouldn’t think so. Is it going to earn me money? No. While the stuff I do at my job is interesting and better than working a factory or some other boring job, it isn’t what i want to do with my time if you removed the money component. What I want to do I’ve already described in the first part of this paragraph (well partially, if I had even more free time I’d add to the above activities). Work is what I have to do.

  • did they get a “hard working” gene

    If they did, it skipped a generation. All of my grandparents were, for practical purposes, bone idle for most of their adult lives.

    I basically follow my mom’s model in this area: I work tremendously hard on things I care about and find it virtually insuperably difficult to work on something I don’t care about. I didn’t know that my mom had that quality until I was in my 30s and she told me about her college experience.

  • Maxwell James Link

    As usual, all roads lead to the Stanford Marshmallow Test.

    There’s obviously no clear answer to this, of course. Philosophers have been debating it for thousands of years and doubtless will for thousands more. Science just seems to muddy the picture. I think the most reasonable approach is the one society has usually taken: try to believe in free will, but accept that for many it may prove elusive and even illusory.

    FYI Dave: First link does not go to Karl Smith, but rather to Scott Sumner (who links to Karl Smith).

  • steve Link

    @Steve- Tried the bacon wrapped hot dogs at the trucks yet?

    Back on topic, I also find the idea of the lazy gene a bit unlikely. Knowing a couple with an 8 year old with attachment disorder (adopted kid), I do think empathy is something that is partially genetic and partly learned. I also believe in percentages. You can overcome bad parenting. I largely did, but it takes a lot more effort, skills and, often, help from friends. Some people are born with a 30% chance of success and some with an 80%. It also continues to surprise me how much of this is based upon looks. Look at those pictures of the Bain Capital guys with money in their hands and mouths. No short, ugly guys in that group.


  • Maxwell James:

    Thanks. Fixed.

  • Drew Link

    It also continues to surprise me how much of this is based upon looks. Look at those pictures of the Bain Capital guys with money in their hands and mouths. No short, ugly guys in that group.

    Reminds me of two individuals. Early in my career I worked for a guy who, quite frankly, was fat and ugly. Sharp as could be. MIT engineer. I admired him and learned a lot. One day he was lamenting that he wasn’t getting ahead as fast as he thought he should because “I’m not pretty.”

    Fast forward. A former partner of mine. Let’s just say not looking like brad Pitt or Johnny Depp. IQ probably in the 150s. Son of a gun. One day he was confiding in me and out of his mouth, almost with a far away look in his eyes, says “boy, I could have done some damage if I was pretty.”

    Truth is. Each had what success they had and were good guys. Neither understood their personality defects and what the career implications were.

  • Icepick Link

    Typo: Similarly, my mom, despite improvident and, in all honesty, shiftless but loving parents, through a combination of hard work and ability became the first in his family not just to earn an advanced degree but the first to graduate from college, high school, and even 8th grade.

  • @Steve- Tried the bacon wrapped hot dogs at the trucks yet?

    Not yet. Still too many taco trucks to try…

    I work tremendously hard on things I care about and find it virtually insuperably difficult to work on something I don’t care about.

    If its genetics then we should look to see if we are related. Frankly I think this is true of most people. If you don’t care about it, hard to get excited about it.

  • Thanks, Icepick. Fixed.

  • Drew Link

    Alright, you people.

    Time to line up and open up your souls.

    What are three things you have absolutely worked the hardest on in your lives? I mean long and hard, nothing gonna stop you.

  • sam Link

    Boot camp in the Marines (not that I had much choice, but I chose it)

    My marriage (I’m not the easiest person to live with — it’s still a work in progress, after 32 years)

    My jobs, well, most of them never taxed me that much. I had to turn some very, very bad manuscripts into something readable. That wasn’t easy. I worked hard to become a good tech support engineer. But I’d have to say, the very hardest civilian job I ever did was work as a nurse’s assistant in a “convalescent” (read, “warehouse of the aged and dying”) hospital. That was almost indescribable. I was off one time for four days, and in that time, some virus had swept through my wing and killed eight patients. That was difficult to come back to. That really was the hardest job I ever had. Imagine if you can taking of, what were essentially, babies in adult bodies. Hard.

  • michael reynolds Link

    As I’ve written ad nauseam it’s all but impossible to separate DNA, environment, free will and random chance. You can say that each exists, you can say they interact, but to point to this or that event as being purely a choice or purely DNA is impossible.

    Whether or not moral failings make any logical sense we require that belief system, at least for now. We don’t have an alternate way to organize society. But the system is not necessarily rational and it is has been fraying for a long time — the insanity defense being the obvious example.

    Look at the flip side, at moral success. I have managed to avoid becoming an alcoholic. Yay? I don’t have the genes for alcoholism. So is it a moral triumph that I’ve managed not to fall victim to a vice which I was never inclined toward to start with? I’ve also never practiced self-mutilation. Big deal.

    So are we defining moral success solely as overcoming those things we are programmed to do? So morality demands temptation? So we have a system where those programmed with the most potential moral defects who manage to overcome those issues — non-practicing pedophiles, dry drunks, recovered addicts, parsimonious gamblers — are morally superior to those programmed for lower levels of temptation to begin with?

    It’s irrational and science will continue to eat away at it.

  • Icepick Link

    Define “work” and “thing”. For that matter, define hardest. The hardest thing I ever got paid to do was bagging groceries on 13 hours shifts – enduring the sheer boredom. Actually, doing a couple of shifts like that with an inguinal hernia was probably the hardest thing I ever got paid to do. Boredom and feeling like you just got kicked in the nads for hours on end – shudder.

    Is a career a “thing”, or the sum of many things, sometimes interrelated, sometimes discrete.

    What counts as work? I spent most of my life for about five years studying mathematics. Would you have recognized that was what I was doing? Would you know that self-induced insomnia was part of the process? I don’t mean working so hard that one couldn’t sleep, I mean depriving oneself of sleep for days, weeks, months on end, just to conveniently access that one state of mind where reality falls away and only abstraction remains? That was work for me as surely as lifting weights is for a professional athlete – it has nothing to do with the sport itself but prepares the body (in my case mind) for the stresses to come.

    My mother worker at Rand back in the late 1950s. She was secretary to a man who did very high-level war-gaming. She couldn’t tell when he was napping and when he was working – reclined, feet up, eyes closed. He was a physicist by training.

    On the other hand I’ve done things that had the appearance of work but were anything but. I got so good at some tasks that I could sit down and work on them for hours on end, producing lots of output (even valuable output, unlikely as that seems today), and it wasn’t work at all. It was mere drudgery, the execution of a system that I had put together over several years time. The actual implementation of that system took some effort and work, but the creation of it all happened in the recesses of my subconscious. I didn’t consciously think about it at all, but when the necessity of improving the system arrived, it all came together as though it were a gift from God.

    Hard work can be a meaningless signifier. I worked harder at Algebra and Number Theory than I did at Analysis – I had a talent for Analysis. OTOH I had my epiphanies with Algebra, and also did my most elegant work. Even still, I was better at Analysis, I just liked Algebra better.

    As for “lang and hard, nothing gonna stop you” – well, that’s just stupid. I’ve had my life thrown off track more than once by things outstide of my control. I don’t control who gets cancer or when. I can control my driving habits, but I can’t control those of others. I can’t really control who I meet or when. I can think of one person in particular – if I had had the fortune to meet him a couple of years earlier my schooling and life would have gone very differently.

    Also, at some point it makes sense to assess the situation objectively and change a course of action. After several years dedicated to higher mathematics, I realized the career prospects for what I wanted were bleak. It would require years of make-work, sucking up, and learning how to play departmental politics, and even then there would be no guarantee of getting a permanent position. I wasn’t brilliant enough that all those problems would fall by the wayside, so I was left casting about for another way to make ends meet.

    That led me down an entirely different career path. The jobs were merely means to an end.

    In my personal life I’ve worked at a couple of things, long-term projects. They also happen to be none of anyone else’s concern outside of those in my actual life.

  • michael reynolds Link

    As for Drew’s question, the hardest work has been around kids and marriage. And so far, so good.

    The writing career is actually the easiest work I’ve done. Nothing beats carrying a double station while pulling a double shift during Boat Show week in Annapolis, or ditto in Ocean City during half-price off-season. Eight tables up a set of stairs from the kitchen and doing tableside cooking? So much harder than writing a book. I write 250 words and chaching! it’s a thousand bucks. As I’ve often said — and I believe proven — a gift from the DNA fairy. Humping trays up twenty steps at a run for seven or eight hours, that’s work.

  • I have managed to avoid becoming an alcoholic.

    I’m glad you brought that up, Michael, since I was going to mention it. I would distinguish between being an alcoholic and being a drunk (“dry drunk”, you call it). Being an alcoholic is something, apparently, you’re born with (I think that behavior may have something to do with it, too, but that’s a subject for another time). Being an alcoholic but not being a drunk takes real moral fiber.

  • Drew Link

    Ice pick

    The art of the open ended question. My inner psychiatrist coming out.


    You turned my bones cold. My father was a doctor. I started doing hospital rounds tagging along when I was something like 13. I’ve seen the sick, the elderly frail, the dying. My father set up many a surgical procedure for me to witness in the OR. Nights at the ER. I once watched a surgeon doing exploratory surgery (no imaging tools like today) and he gets the abdomen open, takes this woman’s liver and turns it over and their are three golf ball sized rumors evident. “aw shit” was the literal utterance, and then proceeded to sew her back up. Game over.

    Witnessing first hand profound human illness will make your guts churn, or your bones go cold. I hear you.

  • Drew Link

    Um, tumors

    This iPad is starting to piss me off…..

  • Drew Link

    Being an alcoholic but not being a drunk takes real moral fiber.

    Perhaps a topic for another day…..but…

    I said there would be some soul baring. My mother was a profound drug addict for some 30 years. I’m not sure I really know what the difference between an alcoholic and a drunk is. The psychs would simply call an alcoholic who could function a “functional alcoholic,” but they are an alcoholic nevertheless. Not clear where t he moral component enters.

    My mother was not functional. Anything but. one of my earliest childhood memories is of being in a pizza joint and my snockered mothers chin is repeatedly slipping off her supporting arm and fisted hand. And she drove us home…….

  • michael reynolds Link

    Well, God damn, Drew, I’m starting to like you.

  • Drew Link

    Heh, well, it’s a start. You’d love me Michael, if you really knew me. OK, maybe thats an overstatement. I’m a softer heart than you think. I just have a steely eyed worldview based on what I consider a – and empirically based – philosophy on what are the best interests of all of society. Not just syrupy concerns for a small sub segment generically called “the poor.” We’re not in Kansas anymore. We are in New York. And they will rape you if you let them. My father was a general practitioner and I’ve heard umpteen stories of those whose sole goal in life was to get a doctor to write a piece of paper so that they could get on disability. I have a sister who had a horrific first marriage. The husbands prime directive? Get on disability and watch TV all day. He succeeded.

    The truly downtrodden? I have all the time and money in the world for. The fakes? Eff you. The only difference between you and me on this subject is that I think you fall for the three shell pea game in the old Hells Kitchen. I don’t.

  • Andy Link

    On nature vs. nurture, I pretty much agree with Michael. I just think that as time goes on we are finding that more and more stuff is genetically influenced which does, I think, raise some questions. At least it has for me and so I give a lot more thought to how I judge people than I used to and am much less likely to simply conclude that someone is a weak-willed lazy-ass.

    On Drew’s questions, I could give a lot of examples. My Dad was a contractor, so I grew up around work sites and helped him and then my brother once he took over the business. I learned that roofing is one of the hardest jobs there is – always exposed to the weather, inherently dangerous and very strenuous. I think there’s a special place in heaven for rolled tar roofers. I also did a stint as a cable TV installer and let me tell you that crawling around in tiny attics filled with rat shit in the summer in Florida so that some ungrateful asshole can watch soap operas s a thankless and difficult job.

    Those weren’t the hardest though. Professionally, several jobs in the military were extremely challenging but also rewarding. In an 18 month span in 1995 and 1996, I prepped for then went on a six-month deployment on an aircraft carrier. With the exception of port calls about every 4-6 weeks, you work 12-16 hour days, 7 days a week. And it’s not just the work that’s often difficult, but the existence of living aboard a ship where it’s almost never quiet, there is no privacy (my “rack” (ie. bed) was in a “room” with 125 others), and a combat ship is isn’t exactly an attractive place – all steel and cramped and utilitarian. There’s nothing soothing and green to look at, though occasionally you can find some solitude and look at the ocean.

    That’s the steady-state on a ship. It was made more difficult because the intelligence section, where I worked, normally has 26 assigned personnel but we only deployed with 18. It got interesting, though, when Saddam Hussein (RIP) did something stupid, or was threatening to do something stupid (I forget the details, it was a pretty regular occurrence), but the long and short of it is that the ship steamed across the Indian Ocean at top speed in just a few days while we, the crew, prepared to lay some smackdown if necessary. For me that meant updating the target folders for the air strike target list and getting my aircrews up to speed on threats Iraq. That was a week of 20+ hour days and we were willing to work that and more (not that we had a choice) since we realized the stakes – we were going to send aircrews into harms way to kill people and break things and we were the ones responsible for ensuring they were prepared for the threats they faced as well as for the targets they were going to hit. There’s little that concentrates the mind better than being responsible for life and death. Fortunately (though hindsight makes me wonder) we stood down since Saddam stopped doing whatever it was he was doing that was bad.

    About six weeks after we got back from that deployment, we had 48 hours to pack up and head to Italy to help enforce the Dayton Peace accords in the Balkans. It turned out pretty good though, because I met and shacked up with an Air Force girl who was stationed there and had her own apartment, which was a lot better than sleeping in tents with oil-fired heaters than ran out of fuel about 2am.

    The other hard work I remember was becoming a stay-at-home dad for my two oldest kids who were, at that point, both in diapers – One was just born and the other was 1 year old. That year after my son was born, we moved to Texas when he was six weeks old, then I deployed to Afghanistan for two months (I was, and am, still in the reserve) and when I got back I had to immediately transition from a combat intelligence support roll to being an at-home parent in a new state where I didn’t know anyone at a time when at-home Dads were not exactly considered an appropriate role by a lot of people, especially in Texas. (Side note: you can tell how father friendly a place is by checking public men’s restrooms for baby-changing tables – if there aren’t any, you can bet that non-trivial number of locals think at-home Dads are closeted gay or child rapists or both.). That was a lonely, very very difficult existence for about six months, especially since my wife wasn’t home much since she was working her ass off. Parenting isn’t a job you can just say “f’ it” and go to the bar, nor can you quit and get something else. But it all turned out well – I managed to adjust without killing anyone (myself included), without becoming an addict and I actually started enjoying it.

  • Andy Link

    Wow, sorry for the wall of text. TLDR version – military deployments and parenting are hard.


    I’m going to give you some business advice about an under-served market and it will be free. I’m in the market for ipad-enabled graphic novels for the elementary-school set. There basically are none – and there’s little in the way of graphic novels for tablets generally. As I recall, you and your wife are more about YA, but seriously, I know a lot of parents who are looking for this kind of stuff.

  • Drew Link

    I’d like to thank the commenters for opening up and, well, commenting.

  • Maxwell James Link

    Interesting stories. I am a lazy, shiftless sort who rarely works hard & gets away with coasting on luck, personal connections, and of course my fantastic looks. So you all have my admiration – and pity.

  • Icepick Link

    Maxwell, I have found hard work largely over-rated, at least in the workplace. The harder I’ve worked, the less I’ve been paid. (It hasn’t been a complete inverse relationship – I have had a couple of jobs that were both easy and low-paid.) And I’ve seen some truly worthless (in the workplace) human beings making significant change for doing God-only-knows-what. I’ve also known well-compensated consultants who work their asses off non-stop. I don’t think they’re making anymore than alot of the worthless junior VP types I’ve seen at my most recent employer, and many of those consultants are making less. And there was at least one such junior VP who would have brought greater benefit to the company if that person had worked a lot LESS.

  • Icepick Link

    And there was at least one such junior VP who would have brought greater benefit to the company if that person had worked a lot LESS.

    Which gets to another point. Working and being productive are not necessarily the same thing. In a corporate setting make-work and show-work often replace productivity, and sometimes a good idea ends up not being cost effective, but having been implemented no one ever bothers to end it.

    After having worked there a few years, I decided my entire little section at Disney could have been eliminated with little loss to the company, work-wise, and a gain from dropping several heads (including my own) and eliminating a lot of worthless meetings. Instead, we got a “promotion” and instead of doing what we did just for Walt Disney World, we would also do it for Disneyland, Imagineering and P&R Admin on a regular basis, and other areas on an ad hoc basis. We got a helluva lot more productive (almost entirely based on improvements I made – GRRR) with little apparent gain (in my opinion, and I was in a better position to judge this than most, including my boss and his bosses) in efficiency or accuracy. Best of all our work-load quadrupled with no increase in pay or position. GRRR. Disney is, by design, a very inefficient company on the Parks & Resorts side.

  • Drew Link

    We have a commentariat full of fatalists.

    My personal experience has been so different.

  • Icepick Link

    What’s the biggest company you have worked FOR, Drew, not with? Inside the Leviathan things look completely different.

    Understand that Dilbert is hugely popular for a reason.

  • michael reynolds Link


    Thanks, and you’re right. Unfortunately I’ve had my transmedia fun for the year and maybe the decade. I think I’m going to stick to words on aper or in pixels for the foreseeable future.

  • Drew Link

    Well, iceprick, how about the Inland Steel Company and Continental Bank. Look them up, asshole, big companies.

    I used to have a sympathetic attitude towards you. I even wondered if, in my capacity as a multiple business owner, i could be of assistance. But now I realize you are unemployable because, well, you are an unemployable asshole.

  • Icepick Link

    I never said you didn’t, I asked if you had.

    Continental Bank says its a mid-sized company. Inland Steel is harder to judge, probably about 20,000 employees and Indaina Harbor in the 1980s? That’s good, and almost all at one site. How good was the management environment at that time? I see by 2002 they (or what they had become) was down to about 7,200 employees. (I’m sure productivity is through the roof, though. American steel companies are very different than they were, and not all of it is bad news.) But through the 1980s and 1990s the company was in decline, until it got bought up by Ispat, which looks to be some form of PE company, but I don’t care enough to look it up.

    So tell me, how often did you have to go to company mandated sexual harrassment seminars? How often did you have to attend webinars on European HR practices? How often did you have to sit through “security” seminars which came down to “Don’t leave paperwork out in the open!” How often did you have to attend pre-meetings for the premeeting with the director, which was itself a premeeting for the meeting with the junior VP, and up through the SVP and EVP levels? All so you could present one board in a power point presentation that would be forgotten by everyone above the manager- (or perhaps director-) level by the time the meeting was over? All for something that ultimately had nothing to do with anything?

    How many times were you given tasks that were impossible to achieve in the time alloted all because your boss had thought he looked bad in a meeting because he didn’t know something he was (a) never expected to know, (b) never needed to know and (c) no one cared if he knew? (And I don’t mean a task with tight deadline, I mean something that would be entirely impossible, like a detailed survey of a certain kind of obscure HR practice among the Fortune 200 companies, something no one had ever bothered to research because NO ONE CARED, and you’re given four hours to do it. As opposed to being told you have to get something done in two weeks that normally takes three months, but is (a) actual important work and (b) very difficult but not impossible. Those kinds of projects were always fun. The other kind not so much.)

    These are all common occurances in the big companies these days.

    One the other hand, Inland was falling apart back then, so you probably saw all kinds of other problems. BTW, were all of the 20,000+ people who lost their jobs shiftless and lazy?

    But now I realize you are unemployable because, well, you are an unemployable asshole.

    And if I agreed with you on most things, what would you think then? You’re basing a lot on a little. I will just say this, “Nice is different than good.”*

    * I believe that is my favorite line from American musical theatre.

    ADDED: I agree with you that I am unemployable, however. After four years of UE no one is going to bother looking at my resume (or application) a secod time, much less look any further into the matter. Whether or not I am an asshole is entirely irrelevant. I’m one of the millions of workers that the BLS has disappeared.

  • Drew Link


    Just a point of clarification, it was bought by Mittal, now Mittal-Arcelor, the largest steel company in the world. Indians and Frenchies. And Ispat is not a PE firm.

    I want to apologize for calling you an asshole. You just simply frustrate me so with your attitude. I’ve told you before that you obviously have the fire in your belly. That’s a good thing. I try to get people to direct their energies to useful pursuits. Life is too short to be mad at the world, as you seem to be. And defeatist.

    One of our portfolio companies has just introduced two new product lines. We expect to hire about 26 new workers to support the effort. That’s a 12% increase in the labor force. We are not the only people hiring, and of course I know you are not a direct laborer. But my point is that it just doesn’t make sense that you are completely screwed and left out in the cold. Your Walmart citation notwithstanding. I know im getting into preaching mode and you are probably going to tell me to go to hell….but I implore you to keep a positive attitude and keep at it.

  • Icepick Link

    Just a point of clarification, it was bought by Mittal, now Mittal-Arcelor, the largest steel company in the world. Indians and Frenchies. And Ispat is not a PE firm.

    I was going off this.

    I want to apologize for calling you an asshole. You just simply frustrate me so with your attitude. I’ve told you before that you obviously have the fire in your belly. That’s a good thing. I try to get people to direct their energies to useful pursuits. Life is too short to be mad at the world, as you seem to be. And defeatist.

    Don’t apologize, there’s no need. My feeling simply do not get hurt by verbal (or written) abuse. I’ve endured masters of the form IRL, and learned that it’s all meaningless noise.

    Drew, I am defeated. It is as simple as that. I got hammered by an evil little shit of a boss, got fired at exactly the wrong time, and have paid a heavy price. I went so far as to retrain to do something else other than what I had been doing, and that went nowhere either, except that some financier somewhere is going to make a little more money off the extra student loan debt I took on.

    I met many people in the same shape I was in retraining, including people who were retraining for the second or third time. Nothing worked for them, nothing has worked for me.

    Am I bitter? Angry? You can bet the house on that. I’ve met talented people that can’t even get a job at McDonalds. I know of non-entities who keep getting promoted. (There are some truly worthless people with JVP and SVP titles working for The Walt Disney Corporation. Some talents as well, but there seems to be little correlation between ability and success.)

    Drew, fire in my belly means nothing. My education means nothing. (BS in Mathematics from the University of Florida, with a few years of graduate work.) My work history means nothing. All the good to great work reviews I earned mean nothing. My accomplishments mean nothing. You know my GRE scores would get me into the Triple Nine Society, if I wanted to join (and I don’t.) All that intelligencec means nothing.

    No, none of that means anything. You know what mattered in April of 2008, when I got axed? Three things meant something.

    First, I was being a pest at work, because I was telling my boss (in private, through unofficial channels) that the company’s forecast of GDP growth of 4.5% for 2008 was WRONG, and that their forecasts that USA GDP would grow at a 5% clip in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 were similarly WRONG. Actually I said the “wrongs” very soto voce and very respectfully.

    The second thing that mattered was that my boss, who didn’t want to hear about how wrong the forecasts were (I was telling him so we could have the analysis ready when things inevitably went south, we weren’t going to be able to change forecasts from on high), that boss finally got to roll out the initiative that he had been working on for years. He blew out his marketing budget by $100,000, which isn’t much in the scheme of things but was a BIG miss for his little section. He needed to make up the money somewhere, and as I’m sure you know the easiest way to make up money is through cutting headcount. Cutting one analyst at that time would save hime $45,000, and typically that position took six months to fill. (I’m basing that on the history of the department.) That would have gotten him into a new budget year, and covered almost half his shortfall.

    So he needs someone to fire. I had already suggested myself by the first point above, but there was something else against me.

    He decides to fire me, but needs a reason. That’s easy – check my computer usage. Everyone at Disney that has a computer uses it to surf the net, email family and friends, etc. And I mean everyone. This boss of mine had even had me do research projects for him for fantasy baseball and prop bets on college football. It’s also against company policy but when the boss tells you to do something….

    So on April 7 2008 I get a call to go to Compliance. I have no idea why I’m in trouble, but I know I’m probably done at Disney, I know that when I get the call. I go to Compliance and there’s my boss, looking morose. (It was the best acting I ever saw him do.) I had violated the company’s computer use policy, and what did I have to say for myself?

    We did the process. I didn’t rat out my boss and what HE had had me do as well as the things he did himself. They made certain I couldn’t do anything like that by the agreements they had me sign at the start of the process. I told my side. They said they’d get back to me.

    That Friday they called me back into Compliance. (I had been on paid leave.) My boss, with much evident pain and grief, informed me I was getting fired for reading at work, and emailing my wife about what we would eat for dinner. No shit, those were the offenses they cited!

    [They tried to claim they fired me with cause to deny me UE compensation. I contested, of course. They were so embarrassed by their case they didn’t even show up for the hearing. I won the arbitration in a walk.]

    I was told to come back that evening to clean out my office. Okay. So I come back at 5:30, and I start cleaning out my office under the watchfull eye of my boss and my nominal manager (who had no authority, just a title and a spot on an org chart.) As I’m taking down some of the stuff in my office, we got to the third thing that mattered. The very last thing this man said to me, for whom I had worked productively and happily for almost five years, was “I finally get this Goddamned Gator gear out of my office.” I cannont convey in mere words the contempt and hatred that he expressed. It even made my manager cringe, and he was usually pretty good at displaying no emotion.

    Yep, the thing that really cost me my job, my career and my life was that I cheered for the wrong college football team. That and the incompetence of my boss in blowing out his budget on a project that I wasn’t even involved with. Son of a bitch!

    Yes, that has made me bitter, as have a thousand other slings and arrows in the last few years. And I’m angry because I know of people that can’t compare to me on pretty much any metric that have gotten farther. That really, really lights a fire in my belly.

    And it doesn’t mean a thing, Drew. Not one thing. I’ll probably never work again, because I can’t even interest the WalMarts and McDonalds of the world in even speaking to me at this point. THAT is how long I have been out of work. Being an asshole (and believe it or not I’m not always an asshole – I gotta sleep sometime) can’t possibly have anything to do with it, because it never gets that far.

    Truly, there are several million of us in this boat, and we are righteously screwed. I know you don’t believe it, and that is one reason why I get so pissed off with you. You really have no fucking clue how bad it is for the long-term unemployed. We could not be more humped, work-wise, if we lived in the middle of Antarctica. Unless the UE rate goes below 5% I will never get another job. I’ll keep trying, but the HR people and hiring managers will keep tossing my applications and resumes in the garbage once they see how long I’ve been out of work. Nothing will overcome that.

  • Icepick Link

    TL;DR – shorter: Drew, how long am I supposed to keep a positive attitude? I did that for a long time. I gave up on that when the doctors almost killed my wife and child. Getting through that tapped my last reserves of good will towards men and happy happy joy joy. And you really have no clue how bad the economy has been the last few years for those of us that haven’t been getting rich. Really, I can’t get a job bringing shopping carts in from the parking lot at WalMart, it is THAT BAD.

    Fuck “recessionary economy”, this thing has been a Long Depression for lots of us, and the fact that the leaders of the country refuse to acknowledge that while looting the Treasury just infuriates.

  • Icepick Link

    More for the TL;DR file:

    In the early days I thought I would get a job. Within a week of losing my job at Disney I was interviewing elsewhere. It went great, the guy that was going to be my boss had a very similar background to mine (I would have been transitioning from Finance to HR -IOW I was going to sell my brain if not my soul) and we got along well. His boss nixed my hire because they didn’t think I be happy with the reduced salary (it would have been a 25% pay cut) and would bail on them. They didn’t believe that _I_ believed we were heading into a recession. (I knew it was coming because it was freaking obvious. I had no idea how bad it would be because I didn’t know about the house of cards Wall Street had built.)

    I applied for a job with a super market chain – they had a job at corporate that was two-thirds a perfect match with my resume. They wanted a perfect match, though. I know this because I kept getting calls from recruiters trying to fix me up with THAT JOB. I was easily the best match for the job that any of them had seen, and they were looking nationwide. (The last recruiter to call was from california, and he thought it was a selling point that the company wouldn’t have to relocate me.) Turns out the company wanted a perfect match, which would have required someone with five years as an accountant, five years as financial analyst and five years as an HR rep. Oh, and they didn’t want anyone with more than eigth years experience. You can do that math.

    I don’t know why I didn’t get the six month gig, as they didn’t give me any info. I presume either I didn’t pass the smell test or they found someone better suited. I don’t know why I didn’t get the job at the building construction firm, but they were pretty rude about it. I interviewed with the person who would be my direct manager and the analyst I would be working with. We all got along quite well in the interview (several hours) and I was about perfectly suited for the job. And the job would have been interesting! Holy dog shit, that doesn’t happen often for us drones! They set me up to meet the relevant VP two days hence, a Friday.

    The morning I was supposed to head back I got a call from the HR person. The Veep had to go out of town unexpectedly and had to clear his calendar. They would call me next week to reschedule for the week after. Not only did they not call back, they refused to answer any of my messages. Jerky behavior on their part. And yes, the first interview went as well as I said, otherwise the two people I was interviewing with had no reason to tell me I was the top candidate by far, they could have given me the usual interview boiler-plate.

    I interviewed with a job at a time-share conglomerate. I thought that went well but I knew there was a lot of competition. When I didn’t hear back in the time frame they had given, I called the HR rep I had dealt with. After putting me on hold for several minutes the receptionist got back on the line and said, “Uh, he doesn’t work here anymore. Let me take your name and number and I’ll have someone else call you back.” Twenty-four hours later, still no word so I called again. I got a voicemail telling me that the HR department had been closed down. A few days later that company announced (I saw it in the newspaper) that they were closing the entire division that would have employed me. Thousands more out looking for work. This was in Spetember and early October of 2008.

    There were other interviews back then, most of which went well, but I never got the call. Eventually I was only getting the occassional call from employment agencies. They would call me in interview me, give me tests, etc. (I got a kick out of some of the testing. I tested very well on difficult accounting topics, about middle of the pack on middle level accounting questions, and poorly on basic accounting stuff. Apparently this was not an uncommon occurrance for people with pure math backgrounds, and other than ruling me out of pure CPA kind of work they said it wouldn’t be a problem.)

    But nothing ever came of any of those agencies either. They were getting swamped with people as well, and perhaps I was losing my interviewing edge.

    I went into retraining and got some certs to do networking, CCNA and similar kind of certs. By the time I got them (end of 2009) no one wanted to hire anyone in IT that didn’t have several years experience. The re-training had essentially been something for the politicians to sound like they were doing something, but the jobs just weren’t there.

    These days I do think I’m unemployable for anything but grunt-work that pays minimum wage. I’m not sure I could work with Office 2010, and even if I could I’m not sure I remember how to analyze anything. My one-time SAP knowledge? Toast, although I don’t really miss working with that piece of garbage program. I know I’ve forgotten most of my IT stuff (eventually one can only do so much by oneself before going bat-shit crazy), and I’m not sure I could solve a differential equation to solve my life now. I’m forgetting everything that made me a valuable employee, but that’s okay because no one would be interested anyway. The fact that even WalMart doesn’t want my services stings, though. I haven’t forgotten how to do THAT stuff.

    You can call me a lower and an asshole all you want, that doesn’t bother me at all. The last three sentences in the preceeding paragraph? Just reading them makes me want to cry. THAT is how bad things are Drew, and I know many many people in the same boat.

  • Drew Link

    A Gator, eh? My sister in law is a Gator. Brother in law LSU. Worse. Then you are in fact a complete and total asshole….

    Seriously. I read every word you wrote. I get it. It’s been very tough for you, and it sounds like a shit sandwich. You may think it just hollow words, but you can’t give up. Never give up. The thing that bugs me the most is when you say ” never again.” That’s a long time. If I had answers or sufficient wisdom I’d give them to you. I don’t.

    All I know is that you must keep a positive attitude. You have castigated me and trivialized events in my younger life. But when it’s ten below zero, and you are on the midnight shift at a steel making shop, you aren’t exactly on top of the world. I never gave up.

  • Icepick Link

    Then you are in fact a complete and total asshole….

    Actually, I agree with that assessment regarding Gators. Seriously true and in ways you wouldn’t know if you didn’t spend a lot of time in Gainesville Florida.

    But when it’s ten below zero, and you are on the midnight shift at a steel making shop, you aren’t exactly on top of the world. I never gave up.

    Yes, but you were getting paid. That makes a huge difference from my situation. Everything you were doing was leading to something. You were using and honing skills, and gaining experience. Rotting and broke leads to nothing. Four years of rotting and broke leads to a lot more years of rotting and broke. There’s nothing but erosion of skill and ability and a growing lack of experience.

  • Drew Link

    Yes, I was getting paid. But how does running experiments to minimize aluminates and shape sulfur inclusions to maximize deep draw properties of sheet steel get one to private equity?

    I was miserable.

  • Drew Link

    Phil Mickelson just got lucky as hell today. Shot 64 at Pebble to dust the field. No hard work, no risk taking……………..just one lucky sob.

    Funny thing. The entire field was blessed with god given talent, DNA, ……….I guess this just wasn’t their lucky day.

  • Icepick Link

    Funny thing. The entire field was blessed with god given talent, DNA, ……….I guess this just wasn’t their lucky day.

    yeah, I’m sure they were just lazy. We all know Tiger just sits around on his ass these days, which explains why he loses to those talentless grinders like Mickelson.

    As for getting paid but not doing things for your dream job… Do you think if you HADN’T been working those four years that would have made your prospects for PE any better?

    Drew, hard as it may be for you to believe, I’ve had jobs I didn’t like before. I spent three miserable years in Baltimore doing one of them. And that was WORLDS better than where I’m at now. I can’t believe you are so stupid that you can’t get that concept, but apparently you are. In fact, your success is clearly an example of a moron who shouldn’t be let out of the house unattended getting lucky and making good. You’re a real Chance the gardner.

  • Drew Link

    Good god, Icepick. It was a joke. Total snark. Not to be taken seriously. I love Michelson. The best iron game and short game on the planet. You have to be a serious golfer to understand that by the way.

    You aren’t much fun at parties, are you?

    Icepick. I want you to do well. I want everyone to do well. I’ll bet anyone who has bothered to read some of our interactions wants you to do well. This is a good crew here. But I can’t control self destructive behavior and attitudes. Look in the mirror sometime and ask some honest questions.

    As god is my witness, I have charitable efforts that I fund, but I have to make qualitative decisons. Would I pick “A” or an Icepick? Resources are limited, guy. I’m not into money going into the sewer.

    I know whats coming: “go to hell, Drew, I hate you and you don’t understand.” Well, go to hell, Icepick, I understand a lot more than your self pitying attitude could imagine. Look in the mirror. Get real. Get off the floor. Life is so, so short.

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