The entire concept of ‘self-made’ is misrepresentative of how capitalism and society works
No doubt you’ll have seen the headlines by now. 27-year-old John Collison is the co-founder of US based software company Stripe, along with his 29-year-old brother Patrick, supposedly the world’s third youngest ‘self-made’ billionaire.
John and Patrick originally hail from rural Ireland, where they successfully applied to Harvard and MIT, respectively, after spending their early years studying computer programming amid their regular education in Ireland. Both Collison brothers eventually ended up dropping out of university to start a business.
In 2008, John and Patrick sold their first business, Auctomatic, to Canadian company Live Current Media, for $5 million, making them wealthier than 99% of people in the world overnight.
What’s missing from this picture though? John and Patrick’s parents, Lily and Denis Collison, were both successful scientists in their own right. Their mother trained as a microbiologist and their father as an electrical engineer. Not only that, but their mother started a corporate training company after her eldest son Patrick was born. That in itself shows you a few things:
- John and Patrick were born into wealth, they did not come from poverty or humble beginnings.
- Their parents were able to provide a good education for them, as well as an environment conducive to scientific learning due to their professions.
- John and Patrick would have had no capital other than their parents’ to start up their first business and eventually sell it for millions.
Time and time again we hear of ‘self-made’ stories about the rich, when in reality their family history lays bare all the privileges necessary to generate the kind of wealth they did. This is similar to when Trump said on live television that “it has not been easy for me,” when discussing his rise to wealth. “My dad gave me a small loan of a million dollars,” he went on to say.
Even if John and Patrick came from a poorer background, we still have to question what it is that allows certain people to acquire wealth. There is no single answer of course, but the idea of someone doing it on their own is not only ahistorical but it is also unscientific. No one can do anything entirely on their own, and growing up, getting a job, investing in businesses via loans or borrowed money is not something any of us do by ourselves. It’s actually a collective effort.
Not to mention that most companies generating masses of profit do so because of their hundreds/thousands of employees who get paid pittance in comparison to the company owners making millions/billions off of their collective labour, and featuring on Forbes’ top 50 ‘self-made millionaire’ list.