…man never regards what he possesses as so much his own, as what he does; and the labourer who tends a garden is perhaps in a truer sense its owner, than the listless voluptuary who enjoys its fruits… - Wilhelm von Humboldt writing in The Limits of State Action
I don't watch a lot of TV, but this last weekend I watched a bit of a show called West Coast Customs and found myself annoyed.
If you don't know it's a show on Discovery about a custom auto shop that does amazing things. I'm watching an episode and supremely impressed with the work being done. It's a lot of Mexicans doing the amazing work. Maybe some are illegals. I don't know. But then there's the owner who basically walks around and complains. "Is the work done yet? Why not?" kind of thing. In one scene he says something like "Yeah, I thought I'd come in here since the guys are working through the night to get this extremely important and urgent job done. You know, sort of as motivation." So he's there whining and complaining as if he's helping while the Mexicans are doing the actual work, which is like amazing artistry.
OK, so the CEO is annoying. That's not surprising. He's there to make money, etc. Fine. So then it's a commercial break. Here's the commercial. It's a lot of images of this CEO doing this idiot finger thing. As if he is the one responsible. As if the success of the shop is largely due to the fact that he comes in occasionally and complains about the work not being done. As if he brings some sort of important attitude. I never saw him do a bit of real work on the show.
It's not that I have a problem with him being successful. But who is really the impressive one here? Is it Ryan Friedlinghause with his finger signs and tattoos? Or is it these Mexican workers who put together these amazing creations? Are we supposed to be impressed because Ryan provided the capital needed to purchase some equipment? We return to the show and it's a car for the lead singer of Korn. The Mexicans work all weekend and Ryan delivers the car. The Korn singer is falling all over himself. "Ryan you are amazing. Thank you so much. I owe you such a debt of gratitude."
Yeah, it's a good thing Ryan walks around showing off his tattoos. He's self made as you can see. Did it all by himself. He's got that three fingers up thing. Where would we be without him?
I'm sure Ryan does important things. It's not like he's irrelevant to the success of West Coast Customs. Apparently his grandfather gave him some money. He probably took risks, worked pretty hard, and now he's wealthy and that's great. But there's just an imbalance in terms of the way credit is given. He is not self made. He is indebted to many hard working and creative people that are all around him.
It's the same in the rest of corporate America. Here's the latest Ford Mustang. A beautiful car. Who did that? Who made that? If you check Wikipedia they say it's a guy named Doug Gafka. Doug Gafka was the design director. I don't know Doug Gafka, but I have serious doubts that he designed this. What he probably did was he looked at various designs that were created by others. He contributed to the selection of the final design. That's an important role of course and he deserves some credit. But who designed it? Who took the clay and shaped it? Who laid out the sheet metal in the CAD tool? In the case of the Ford Mustang maybe you could track that down. But I think in a lot of cases, more so with less prominent creations, the credit goes to the CEO or the Program Manager. It's not that they don't do important things. In many cases they do (though in many they probably don't). But it seems that the laborer, the one that actually did the creating, he's not really recognized. He should be.