Why Can’t Success Just Be Success?

The above video is a Foot Locker ad featuring Tom Brady.  The ad takes a humorous swipe at Deflategate, but there is a larger issue I want to discuss, specifically this quote:

“Just because something’s great year after year doesn’t mean something’s going on.”

In the context of this ad, Brady is talking about Deflategate and the other scandals that have faced the Patriots over the past 10 years.  However, in a larger context, this statement is equally relevant.  People often point to inequality and success as proof “something’s going on.”  Peter Thiel pointed to the US’ trade deficit as proof “something has gone wrong.”  Income inequality is pointed to as proof capitalism is broken.  “Windfall profits” are proclaimed evidence of unfair business practices.  In baseball, accusations of steroids follow a player’s successful as sure as night follows a sunset.

To be fair, these inequalities may be a sign of something amiss.  But they alone do not mean something is amiss.  With respect to Frued, oftentimes success is just success.  A baseball player becomes successful because of hard work and luck, just as a businessman becomes successful through hard work and luck.  Their successes (higher home runs/higher profits) are not because of nefarious dealings but the natural end result of their efforts.  The fact they outperform their colleagues/competitors is a sign what they are doing is working, and should be encouraged, not deterred.  Legislation designed to go after successful people simply because of their successes (re-distributive taxation, windfall profit tax, tariffs, and the like) can and will have the effect of driving down competition, or forcing it away from maximizing gains into more risky and less socially beneficial areas of competition (for example, see Armin Alchain and Reuben Kessel’s 1962 paper Competition, Monopoly, and the Pursuit of Pecuniary Gain.

One thought on “Why Can’t Success Just Be Success?

  1. Excellent post, Jon!

    This is what masterful persuaders do. They make inaccurate claims based on correlation because they want to advance a political agenda or attack an opposing political agenda, but simply cannot prove what they are trying to sell.

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