What’s in a word? From ‘nullification’ to ‘anti-commandeering’

Somehow, I missed Sen. Tom Davis’ announcement of how he was changing the emphasis of his nullification bill, until about three days later. So I didn’t write about it.

But now it’s been 10 days, and I think we should still at least make note of it, because it’s indicative of a shift of emphasis on the state’s rights front.

You’ll recall that Tom indicated earlier that he was backing away from “nullification,” which I saw as a positive development, since we really don’t need to revisit the discredited ideology of 1832. What Tom did 10 days ago was announce what he’s changing that wording to.

Here’s his release:

BEAUFORT, S.C. – Yesterday afternoon, State Senator Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) filed with the Clerk of the South Carolina State Senate a strike-and-insert amendment for H. 3101, a bill passed by the South Carolina House of Representatives in May 2013 that initially sought to nullify the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Davis was appointed last June by Sen. John Courson, the President Pro Tem of the South Carolina Senate, to chair an ad hoc committee to review H 3101, and the committee subsequently held public hearings in Greenville, Columbia and Charleston.  Davis’ amendment, a copy of which is attached, would slow the spread of the ACA in South Carolina by:


  • Invoking the constitutional principle of anti-commandeering
  • Requiring legislative approval for ACA grants and programs
  • Rejecting the optional Medicaid expansion authorized by the ACA
  • Prohibiting the creation of a state health-insurance exchange
  • Registering ACA navigators with the state Department of Insurance


“The heart of my amendment is the anti-commandeering section,” said Davis. “The principle is a simple one: The federal government cannot compel a state to use state resources to implement a federal law.  If the ACA is bad law – and I think it is – then South Carolina’s resources should not be used to implement it.”  The principle of anti-commandeering was expressed by the United States Supreme Court in Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (1997): “The Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States’ officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program.”


Anti-commandeering differs from nullification, in that the latter is a flat refusal by the state to allow a federal law to be enforced within its borders. “My amendment doesn’t say that,” said Davis. “It says that South Carolina will not use its resources to aid and abet in the ACA’s implementation.  It really boils down to this: Why should we spend state money to implement a bad federal law?”


Other sections of Davis’ amendment would do the following: codify last year’s decision by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to neither seek an ACA-authorized expansion of the Medicaid population nor create a state health-insurance exchange; require public entities that want to apply for ACA grants to justify the application in hearings open to the public and to obtain legislative approval prior to seeking them; and protecting South Carolinians from unscrupulous practices by navigators who are paid by the federal government to enroll people in ACA health-insurance exchanges.


“Ultimately,” Davis said, “it is up to the United States Congress to repeal the ACA.  In the meantime, though, the states have the power and the duty to push back, and this is a way of doing that.”


The South Carolina State Senate is expected to begin debate on H 3101 next Tuesday.




And here’s a link to the amendment.

This strikes me as less a move away from extreme aims than a move toward strategic pragmatism. Which sounds like it would be good — whenever pragmatism even slightly displaces ideology, it tends to sound good to me — but I suppose one could see it as a glass-half-empty thing as well, in terms of getting more practical about achieving extreme aims.

But let’s be glass-half-full as well. At least Tom is acknowledging that states can’t nullify acts of the federal government. “Anti-commandeering,” even though the term suggests something local luminaries might have come up with during the Federal occupation of SC after the Recent Unpleasantness, makes a somewhat more modest assumption — that the feds can’t set states’ agendas or priorities, or tell them how to spend their resources.

The intended effect, however, is the same — “We don’t have to do what you goddamnyankees are telling us to do.”

Although Tom himself wouldn’t put it that way.

This is not a totally improvised fallback position, by the way. If you Google it, you’ll see “anti-commandeering” used on websites like tenthamendmentcenter.com/.

57 thoughts on “What’s in a word? From ‘nullification’ to ‘anti-commandeering’

  1. Michael Rodgers

    It’s not anti-commandeering because the federal government isn’t commandeering anything. People buy health insurance from insurance companies!

    To “slow the spread” is to encumber businesses and organizations with new state requirements to get written permission from (i.e. laws passed by) the Legislature before helping people buy health insurance from insurance companies.

    For a business or organization to have to get approval from the Legislature , well, that is far more onerous than having to follow a regulation, as regulations are administered by the state executive authority.

    This amendment pits the Legislature against businesses, organizations, citizens, the state executive authority, and really everyone.

  2. bud

    Interesting how the more strident the anti-ACA crowd gets the better the ACA is working. A new Gallup poll just out indicates the percentage of Americans covered by health insurance, the main goal of the ACA, is higher than it has been since at least 2008. It would be even higher if backwards states like South Carolina would accept the Medicaid money.

    As with all these bills targeting the ACA I never hear anything about an alternative approach. Do conservatives just want to continue with the most expensive health care system in the world with some of the poorest outcomes? It would appear so.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Nah, we’ve been pretty strident the whole time. However, it doesn’t really matter what I say. People who want to believe that Obamacare is great will continue to do so despite all facts to the contrary.

      And what’s up with the serial delays on this thing? I hesitate to use the word “law” because laws aren’t subject to the whim of the Executive. Can anyone give me a reason why this is happening? I was hoping that this super-duper law would be enacted ASAP.

      Aw, heck. At this point I just feel like Cassandra.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        The delays are in response to whining from opponents. If one were POTUS, one would just say the heck with the naysayers, full steam ahead!

        1. Bryan Caskey

          “The delays are in response to whining from opponents.”

          Riiiiiiiiight. You’re telling me that the President is unilaterally delaying the implementation of Obamacare solely because the GOP wants him to?

          Come now Kathryn, let’s speak plainly. We all know why the White House is unilaterally delaying implementation of Obamacare: They’ve just picked up a fault in the AE35 unit. It’s going to go 100% failure in 72 hours.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            For some reason, when I checked my memory by looking up “AE35,” this was among the results.

            I’m sorry, Dave. I don’t know why that happened.

            That’s all right, Hal…

          2. Kathryn Fenner

            No, but I am saying that is the primary reason, appeasement.
            What do you think the primary reason is?

          3. Brad Warthen Post author

            I’ve gotten the same impression as Kathryn. The pattern is, a provision of the law is about to go into effect, and there’s a surge of pushback building with regard to that provision, so the president postpones it…

          4. Bryan Caskey

            Ok, a few questions:

            1. First, Push-back from whom? The entire GOP was united against this law from it’s inception. That hasn’t changed, so it can’t be the GOP because that’s the status quo. Also, this President hasn’t been exactly fond of appeasing the GOP on any issue on this healthcare law, so pardon me for not buying the argument that he’s caving in to the GOP’s desire to delay the law. That’s why we had the government shutdown, remember?

            So who’s pushing back? And how would any push-back be anything more than rhetoric and speeches at this point? Obamacare is law, or at least that’s what the President said a couple of times.

            2. What is the legal justification for delaying the implementation/enforcement of a law that’s on the books? Is “push-back” an acceptable legal basis for the Executive unilaterally saying the law of the land will not be enforced?

            If so, can President Caskey simply declare that I will not “enforce” the capital gains tax for the first two years of my term, after my consultation with Doug and “big business”?

          5. Brad Warthen Post author

            Well, Bryan, since you ask…

            Seems to me that the entire ACA is an appeasement of the GOP and anyone else who considers a sensible health care system to be anathema.

            A sensible health care system, of course, would be a single-payer system. But the resistance to THAT was so well dug in that Obama didn’t even try for a moment to get that done. Instead, he and his allies in Congress tried the GOP approach, paying homage to Romneycare.

            And still, the GOP has screamed bloody murder from the start…

          6. Bryan Caskey

            “Seems to me that the entire ACA is an appeasement of the GOP and anyone else…”

            It was passed with ZERO votes from the GOP. None. None at all. It was done against the entire will of the GOP, saying “No.”

            If you recall, the public option and single payer were all to left-wing for the Democratic party to support. So, if anyone was “appeased” it was the more moderate Democrats who liked the idea of healthcare for all, but didn’t want to nationalize the health insurance and healthcare industry.

            So now we just have a law that’s going to slowly destroy the health insurance industry until there’s no choice but to nationalize the entire system.

            Socialism. This time, they’ll do it right! You’ll see!

        2. Doug Ross

          That’s a good one, Kathryn. The botched website started the ball rolling… nothing the Republicans said or did had anything to do with that. Obama has consistently delayed any aspect of Obamacare that may have led to political fallout in 2014.

          Now they are going to come up way short on enrollment by the end of the month. We’re still early in the game and nothing has gone well. We have no data yet on actual results.

          What Obamacare has done is added a boatload of Medicaid recipients. More than the system can support.

          1. Doug Ross

            You would have to be extremely naive or blatantly partisan not to recognize that the Obama administration is making decisions related to Obamacare’s implementation not based on what is best for the country but is what is best (or least damaging) for the Democratic Party in 2014.

          2. Doug Ross

            You can tell how poorly the implementation is going by the lack of data that is released. There is no reason why the administration can’t release specific information on a regular basis — unless they don’t want to admit it’s going poorly.

            How many have enrolled by state? How many have paid for insurance? How many are new PAID insurance recipients? How many are getting subsidies?

          3. Harry Harris

            Actually, the fact that a federal exchange designed to serve six states and the DC was pushed into serving like 25 states because of Republican governors like ours accepting planning/feasibility money with their mind already made up not to cooperate affected the website launch quite a bit. Republicans, from DeMint’s “Waterloo” pronouncement forward have done everything imaginable to undermine the ACA. The delays in requirements for coverage or compliance have almost all been in response to business and religious groups claims that they would be harmed by the schedule as passed in the law. From the beginning, Obama stated the law would have to be revised and improved; he just has had an impossible roadblock to accomplishing anything with the House since January 2010.

          4. Doug Ross

            The website would have been broken even if there were six states. It was a poorly designed, badly implemented IT project driven by a deadline rather than the scope of the work.

            And I never heard Obama say “It won’t be ready”.. ever. He could have delayed it a year when it was obviously broken. Couldn’t do that. Never admit mistakes.

      2. bud

        Actually Bryan you have it exactly backwards. Here’s a lady who simply cannot believe she will save money under Obamacare even when presented with the facts:


        An excerpt:

        According to The Detroit News, (Julie) Boonstra said it “can’t be true” that her new coverage is cheaper than her old.

        Boonstra is, of course, a died in the wool conservative Republican. But facts are facts. While it is certainly true some people are paying more for insurance under the ACA there are many examples of folks who are benefiting. All this clarity on the part of conservatives is little more than Fox News speak.

        “I personally do not believe that,” Boonstra said.

  3. Doug Ross

    From the Washington Post today:


    “The new health insurance marketplaces appear to be making little headway in signing up Americans who lack insurance, the Affordable Care Act’s central goal, according to a pair of new surveys.

    Only one in 10 uninsured people who qualify for private plans through the new marketplaces enrolled as of last month, one of the surveys shows. The other found that about half of uninsured adults have looked for information on the online exchanges or planned to look.”

    As I said before, the primary accomplishment for Obamacare so far has been to sign up people for Medicaid and move people from one insurance plan to another. That’s nothing close to what was promised.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules, or took a few liberties with cancelling your health insurance plans when we told you otherwise – we did.

      But you can’t hold a whole party responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn’t we blame the whole legislative system? And if the whole legislative system is guilty, then isn’t this an indictment of our government institutions in general?

      I put it to you, Greg – isn’t this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we’re not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America. Gentlemen!

      [Leads the Democrats out of the hearing, all humming the Star-Spangled Banner]

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Y’all, I’ve been watching “The West Wing” the last few days on Netflix while working out (being done with “House of Cards”), a show which I somehow managed to miss entirely while it was on TV.

        Anyway, it is both weird and oddly appropriate to see Otter as Vice President of the United States…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          OK, I said “somehow managed to miss.”

          I know exactly how I managed to miss it, aside from the fact that I’m not a big watcher of prime-time broadcast TV anyway, and wasn’t even before all of the modern streaming options.

          The show began in 1999. The buzz on it, from Republicans and other detractors, was that it was a sort of fantasy show about a perfect world as Democrats envisioned it.

          Well, at about that time, I was fed up with the kinds of Democratic partisans who thought the world was a wonderful place as long as there was a Democrat in the White House, even when the Democrat was Bill Clinton and had been impeached. In fact, with Jim Hodges just having been elected on a lottery platform with video poker money, and Clinton having been impreached but not having the character to resign, and Democrats giving the paper constant hell because we had a problem with those facts, the period 1998-2000 was probably a low point in my lifelong attitude toward Democrats.

          If West Wing was a show that those people liked, I didn’t want to see it…

          1. Bryan Caskey

            If you know me, read my comments here, or read my personal blog, then you know that I’m slightly to the right of Attila the Hun – or what Milton Friedman would call a “classical liberal”.

            I love “The West Wing” immensely. I never saw it when it first came out, but I went through it on Netflix in law school. It’s quite funny, and there are some counter-arguments to the left-wing slant that permeates the show. (Ainsley Hayes, for example is a Republican who is hired as Assistant White House counsel.) There are also many memorable parts and lines.

            Mostly, Martin Sheen makes the show. Without him, I’m not sure if it would be as good as it is. He’s the glue that holds everyone together. Remember when we were talking about actors vs. movie stars a couple of threads ago? Sheen is definitely an actor. I forget he’s Martin Sheen.

            On that point, I wouldn’t mind a President like Jed Bartlett. Heck, I might vote for him.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Of course you’d vote for Bartlet. ANYBODY would vote for Bartlet. He’s more practical, sensible, approachable, fatherly, caring, strong, thoughtful, decent, funny and human than any president ever in real life, with the possible exception of Lincoln.

  4. Harry Harris

    This whole scenario reminds me of the way the wealthy elite prior to the Civil was convinced the small farmers and other free workers to lay down their futures and lives to defend the elite’s wealth (the bulk of which were enslaved people) and lifestyles by framing it as though everyone’s “freedom” was being taken away by the big bad federal government. From issues of regulating commerce to human bondage, the extreme libertarians only want the government to protect their property while allowing them to use their wealth to buy politicians, legislation, favorable tax policies, the airways, news media, and fences around their property.

    1. Doug Ross

      Hmmm… I don’t get the analogy. In the case of Obamacare, the wealthy are expected to pay for the healthcare of the poor… either in full (Medicaid) or partially (subsidized plans). Since the wealthy pay the vast majority of income taxes, it seems more like the poor have an expectation of receiving healthcare without having to work for it. That’s why they vote Democrat.

      1. bud

        Actually Doug the taxpayers/insurance premium payers have ALWAYS picked up the tab for the poor and uninsured. Unless you are willing to let folks who cannot pay die then the ONLY alternative is for others to pick up the tab. Medicaid just makes the process more efficient.

        1. Doug Ross

          And who are the taxpayers? The “rich” as you call them. The top 5% pay half the income taxes in this country. It would be nice if Democrats would admit that for once.

          And right now.. at this moment of such dire circumstances, 85% of Americans have some form of insurance. Is it worth changing the entire system for the 15% who don’t?

          1. Mark Stewart

            Yes. Because the way things have been done has become an intolerable burden on this country’s productivity.

          2. Doug Ross

            @Mark – you (and others) use such dire “woe is us” language…. an “intolerable burden”? For whom? Worse than the Depression? Worse than the Dust Bowl?

            Today, an intolerable burden appears to be having slow internet and only one car.

            There are poor people. There always have been poor people and there always will be poor people. Everything the government has done apparently hasn’t stopped the intolerable burden. Doing more won’t make a difference.

          3. bud

            If that was the only issue I’d still say yes. But since the old system was such a complete and utter failure this one is easy. Damn right change the failed system.

          4. Mark Stewart

            You miss the point, Doug. The “system” of employer based health insurance has failed everyone.

            It isn’t about rich and poor. It is about freeing innovation. I have never understood why you, in particular, have never grasped this.

      2. Harry Harris

        The comparison I made has little to do with who pays for whose healthcare coverage, but the the nullification scenario. Rich folk conning even many of the working poor into going against their own interests by putting up some false boogeyman threatening to take away what little they have is the parallel I see with the antebellum politics.

        I have nothing against being rich. I have rich friends who I admire. I’ve been well-off for years. I do see the evils brought about by the “love of money” (materialism), and rich folks aren’t the only ones who suffer from its pitfalls. What I do object to is 5% of the population controlling enough income to pay half of the income taxes despite tax policy that treats investment income much better than wages or profits from work. I even more strongly object to super-rich people being able to drive up oil and other commodity prices through speculation (not work) largely linked to concentrated wealth, leverage, and connections. I object to wealthy stealth political funders being able to give millions to Karl Rove and Dick Armey groups and deduct it from their taxes by claiming to be charitable educational organizations and then crying about IRS scrutiny. Are you and I to subsidize their political advocacy?

        1. Doug Ross

          “Are you and I to subsidize their political advocacy?”

          No. I am opposed to write offs for anything – charity or church. The tax code is a weapon of mass destruction.

          1. Silence

            I could support a flat tax or even a progressive income tax, if I thought that it would be fairly designed and implemented.

    2. bud

      Very good comments Harry. The rich to a large degree inherited their wealth or were simply lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to leverage a relatively mediocre product/service into vast wealth. Just read about Bill Gates if you really think his fortune was earned. He actually bought the product, DOS, that make him a gazillionaire. He was of course a decent enough programmer who came along at a time when microcomputers were generally in the realm of hobbiests. He recognized that profit was to be made then in a series of good decisions and extraordinary luck his ship came in. Or rather a whole fleet of them.

      1. Doug Ross

        Here we go with the “lucK theme again. Everybody is exactly the same except for luck. You could have been a millionaire if the breaks had just gone your way.

        Bill Gates would have been rich regardless. Smart people who work hard typically end up much better than dumb people who have no initiative.

        1. Doug Ross

          It does make it easier for some people to cope with their current place in the world by blaming luck. Having to accept the alternative can be depressing.

          1. Kathryn Fenner

            Except that there is a lot of randomness in the world. The best predictor of income as an adult is paternal income.

          2. Mark Stewart

            Smart people who work hard make their own luck. But sometimes it just falls onto them, too. And sometimes they just get crushed as anyone might any old day.

            The second best predictor is probably parental education then, Kathryn.

          3. Doug Ross

            Start listing the smartest, hardest working poor people you know personally. People who have completed college, have not taken on debt they can’t afford, and haven’t had children before they got married. How many can you name?

  5. bud

    Doug, why are you so obsessed with money? Is the only metric you can identify with success? How about someone who devotes their talent and energy to saving rescue dogs? I know someone like that and although she doesn’t starve she is hardly wealthy, probably has far less in the bank than I do (which isn’t much). Yet I consider her a success. She works many long and hard hours doing what she things is important. I admire her far more than I do the greedy Koch brothers who basically just live off their father’s work. Really I just don’t relate at all to this Ayn Rand worldview that wealth equals success.

    1. Doug Ross

      That’s “rich”, bud. You focus on the wealthy in nearly every post you write. You blame the rich for all the country’s problems. Your only solution to any problem is to take from one group to give to another.

      My definition of success is based on individual achievement that comes through personal effort. If that’s a person who rescues dogs, great.

      The greatest sense of accomplishment I have is that I have been able to provide for my family and to give them a better life than I had growing up. What I have, I earned. I didn’t steal it. I worked for it. And I will fight every attempt to take what I have earned to give to someone who hasn’t earned it.

  6. Bart

    SUCCESS: 1. a favorable result 2. the gaining of wealth, fame, etc. 3. a successful person or thing
    Take your pick and go with it. In the end, it is a subjective interpretation depending on which one you personally view as the correct interpretation of what “success” really is.

    For most of us, success encompasses all of the descriptions of the word. When I submit a proposal for a client and the client is rewarded with a contract, success. When the client completes the contract and makes a profit, success. When my wife and I undertake a project together and finish it without mayhem and chaos ruling the day, wildly successful.

    I understand where Doug is coming from because money is the metric that most people in America judge others in terms of success. Providing for one’s family whether through hard work is a sign of success no matter what rung of economic ladder the individual achieves.

    The evil Koch brothers you and the liberal element have focused on as the epitome of greed, corruption, and self interest is becoming rather boring and odious. The Koch brothers provide employment for over 100,000 people worldwide, 75k in this country alone. They took their father’s business and expanded it to a major industrial corporation. The accusations leveled at the brothers because of their political activism is the highest level of hypocrisy possible when one considers that out of the top 100 political contributors, they rank 59th. The extent of the liberal element contributing to politics has increased exponentially based on the vast number of new millionaires and billionaires over the past 20 years who are dedicated liberal Democrats who contribute heavily to liberal and Democrat candidates in order to swing an election their way. The wonderful Warren Buffett is a Democrat and is no different than Romney when it comes to venture capitalism. He has closed several plants across the country over the years resulting in thousands of people losing their jobs. But, he is an Obama/Democrat supporter and therefore, is forgiven for doing the same damn thing Republicans are accused of doing.

    Bill Gates is a pure capitalist and yes, he was fortunate but he saw the opportunity and he took it. Result – he is a billionaire. Now bud, please tell me you would have turned the opportunity down if you had been in his place when he purchased DOS and when IBM made a stupid decision to allow Gates and his partners to keep and own the right to DOS as the operating system. Please tell us that you wouldn’t hire a legion of tax attorneys to gain any and every tax advantage possible if you owned a major corporation.

    Not being a wealthy person and still working at my age provides a different perspective on life especially when one has been at the bottom and at the top of the so called success ladder. Again, success and wealth are all relative and every individual has his or her level for success. In his book, “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”, Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s description of how Ivan considered this one day a success is something you should read. It will provide a little perspective other than the narrow one our current socio-political atmosphere reeks of.

    1. Doug Ross

      Nice points, Bart.

      It’s funny. I was reading a copy of Forbes last night and came across article after article about different people in the business world who had achieved success and made millions. One guy cannot read due to dyslexia… CANNOT READ… his mother read his assignments to him while he was in school and he now pays someone to read and write for him. He runs an extremely successful company that assists mid-level colleges in creating online course content. Was he lucky?

      Another article was about the founder of the Sierra Nevada brewing company. This guy took $15K he had saved and convinced a number of friends and relatives to loan him $85K when the banks wouldn’t. He worked day and night with his co-founders to develop craft beers. Scrounging parts, doing the welding on the tanks himself, working 12 hour days AND working a second job to support his family. And I guess he got lucky because he only had to do that for 8 years before making a profit…. Now Sierra Nevada sells $200 million per year and he’s worth $800 million. They are creating a plant in North Carolina that will open this year – employing hundreds of workers. Now, please tell me – what does this guy OWE me or anyone else? How many people who DON”T have ambition, perseverance, or intelligence should we expect him to carry on his back?

      The greatest success comes from accomplishing something – not the money. From using your own skills to create something that is of value to others.

  7. Bart

    I remember a story about a successful man who couldn’t read or write when I took the Dale Carnegie course years ago. He had applied for a loan to expand his business. The banker asked him to sign the papers and the man told him he had to get his secretary to take care of signing, etc. The banker asked him why and the man told him he couldn’t read or write. He explained to the banker that when he was very young, he got a job sweeping streets. At the end of the day, he had to fill out a report, not being able to read or write, he lost his job.

    He took his days earnings and bought apples, sold them on the street, built a following, opened a fruit and vegetable stand, added other items over a few months, eventually moved into a store, the business grew, he expanded into several stores in the city, and eventually built a department store chain.

    The banker made the comment, “Think what you could have done if you had been able to read and write.” The man replied, “Most likely, I would have kept on sweeping streets for a living because at the time, my family needed the money and I had to earn it the best way I could.”

    Whether the story is true or not, it was told as truth by the instructor.

      1. Bart

        Rather cynical Kathryn. Apparently you know more about Dale Carnegie courses than I do, enlighten me.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          The point is that if you are a hammer, everything is a nail. Dale Carnegie courses are designed to sell you the concept that personal agency is the key to success. It may be a necessary ingredient, but so is luck.
          Dale Carnegie instructors use examples, which may not be true, to illustrate their thesis. That is what they sell. They are not going to tell the stories of the average person born without privilege or for whom the cards didn’t deal favorably.

          1. Doug Ross

            What do you think the ratio of luck to personal agency is when measuring success ?

            Luck is an event. Personal agency determines how you respond to those events – good or bad – over a lifetime. It’s why a large majority of lottery winners lose all their money eventually. They aren’t programmed to do the right thing with the money – which is why they buy lottery tickets in the first place.

            Bill Gates got “lucky” on one business decision. He turned that opportunity into a fortune despite all sorts of setbacks and failures over the years (Microsoft Zune, Bob, Windows 3.0, Bing, Windows Phone). Steve Jobs was fired from Apple in 1985 – humiliated by the CEO he brought in to run the company he and Wozniak built. In most people’s view, that would have been a bad luck event. Some people would have quit and never be heard from again.

            Success is a result of choices. X or Y. Make enough bad choices and you’re doomed to failure. Stay in school or dropout? Have a kid before age 18 or wait til you’re married? Read a book or play a video game. Drink and use drugs or stay healthy? Take on more responsibility at work or just put in your time?

          2. Bart

            Did you take a Dale Carnegie course Kathryn? I did and this was the only story the instructor told about someone achieving wealth in spite of the odds being against him. We were average people from varied backgrounds with a variety of social shortcomings or fear of speaking in public. We were told from the very beginning that the course was not a guarantee success for everyone but it would provide the tools if we chose to use them to give us a better chance to achieve whatever our goal(s) may be.

            I can tell you for certain that one individual who lost his wife and children in an auto accident was able to come out of the shell he retreated into. He was also a very successful business person but had lost his desire to live and compete. During the weeks of the course, he slowly emerged and started to open up. His friends and employees who knew some of us in the class commented about the change that was obvious. Afterwards, he increased his business and is one of the leading citizens in our community. Another young lady was so timid and frightened, she was staying in a job that she hated. After gaining confidence during the weeks of the course, before the last session, she had gained the confidence and courage to change jobs and went on to be a successful manager.

            A couple of attendees who stayed in touch didn’t fare any better afterwards because they didn’t believe it helped them and with a negative outlook, negative results.

            On a personal level, at a young age when I had to speak in front of the class, stage fright overwhelmed me and I couldn’t get any words out. The class laughed and thought it was funny to see me stumble around, voice shaking and squeaking, and finally hanging my head and walking back to my seat. For years if I had to speak in front of more than two people, I froze and the words wouldn’t come out. During the course, summoning enough courage to speak in front of 30 people became less and less of a fright and toward the end, I won one of the coveted prizes for progress in public speaking. The course changed my life and as time went on, speaking in front of an audience still gave me some discomfort but it didn’t last but a few seconds. The only luck involved was that the company I worked for at the time, the owner was a cheap #$%^#$@# and he was given 3 free certificates for the course and instead of a raise, 3 of us were given the course instead. Best non-raise ever because what was gained during the Dale Carnegie course, is still being used today.

            Dale Carnegie, like any other tool is just that, a tool. If you don’t use it, it is of no benefit. If the instructor was a hammer and I was the nail, then the repeated hits on the head with his hammer was worth it.

  8. Kathryn Fenner

    I don’t believe there is a constant. Luck is random. Being born a white male to middle class American parents, or even female, is a huge boost. Some take advantage of it, others, not so much. Being born with a given temperament or intelligence, and given opportunities (luck) and recognizing them and able to utilize them is not quantifiable. I do not believe a poor Bangladeshi girl has anywhere near the chances I have had, for example, but I cannot quantify that.

    Being born an Englishman in the late 1890s severely limited one’s chances of success because of WW I, but surviving that enhanced them.

Comments are closed.