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August 15th, 2022
I lost some notes today. I don't know where they were. I picked them up a short time ago at the library, but now I can't find them anywhere. They are notes from a biography about James Watson Webb, a powerful businessman. This man published a newspaper in New York at the time of cholera.
The Courier was the most featured mercantile newspaper of its time. On its pages, you can find all the commercial information of the most important port in the United States.
Like other businessmen, Webb changed political positions depending on his interests. For some time, he supported Andrew Jackson. In the biography I read, the author stated that Andrew Jackson was attractive to Webb because "both were self-made men."
Self-made men. Webb was the son of a landowner who participated in the revolution. His older brother was also part of the revolutionary army. James also entered the military as an officer. His uncle was a wealthy merchant. He was a protégé of Governor DeWitt Clinton. Was James Webb a self-made man?
In the United States, the discourse around the self-made man is widespread and is well accepted by society. It is part of the so-called "American Dream."
Research shows that achieving the American Dream is easier in Spain than in the United States. This is a country with medium mobility, very similar to that of the Republic of Ireland, and below Canada or the Scandinavian countries. You might think that the resemblance to the Republic of Ireland is not alarming. Still, this country has a medium-low level of inequality. In contrast, inequality in the United States is high, like in Brazil or Mexico.
Why, then, is the myth of the American Dream maintained? Without a doubt, there are success stories of poor people who are now millionaires. The problem is that these cases are exceptional. Other people are falsely credited with economic progress, such as James Webb.
A long time ago, I read the book Kinship, Business, and Politics: The Martinez del Rio Family, by David Walker. The author recounts how some Martínez del Río found themselves in misery. Later, they or their children progressed and became part of Mexico's economic elite again. It was not only due to his personal effort but to family relationships.
Perhaps we are quick to call "self-made men" to many people who don’t deserve the epithet. On the internet, you can see that people like Elon Musk (the owner of Tesla) or the Khosrowshahi brothers (CEOs of big companies, like Uber) are "self-made men" because they did not have much money when they came to the United States. That is true, but it is also true that their personal and family relationships provided them with a platform that most people lack. They received an elite education, which very few people can obtain.
I do not doubt the importance of the personal effort to have a brilliant career, but—with exceptional cases—it is not enough. Social relations are needed in countries like the United States or Mexico. In other places, such as Denmark or Sweden, equal opportunities are guaranteed by State institutions.