In my report, “Career Dead-End or Stepping Stone,” I wrote about people’s decisions to make career changes that involve a great deal of uncertainty. Some decide wisely, others unwisely, but the outcome is usually not clear for years.
I discussed the case of Ludwig von Mises, who fled Austria and then Switzerland to stay ahead of the Nazis. If he had sat tight in Austria, hoping for the best, he probably would have wound up in a concentration camp. Had he sat tight in Switzerland, he probably would have wound up a vaguely remembered economist who had been influential early in F. A. Hayek’s career. These books would not have been published in the United States: Omnipotent Government, Bureaucracy, Human Action, The Theory of Money and Credit, Socialism, and Theory and History. There would have been editions published in England – but not Human Action – that were in a handful of personal libraries of little-known professors at obscure undergraduate colleges. They might have shown up in used book stores once in a while, when a professor died. But, until the World Wide Web, they would have influenced hardly anyone in the United States.
Mises in Switzerland would never have taught Sennholz in New York City. Sennholz would not have written for The Freeman. Ronald Reagan would never have read Sennholz’s articles. He would never have said this in a waiting line after his Presidency ended: “Nancy, this is Hans Sennholz. I read his articles for years.”
What would the Great Communicator have communicated?
And where would I be? I will never know.
One of the tasks of historians is to trace historical cause and effect. It looks easy. It isn’t. “What happened on November 22, 1963 in Dealey Plaza in Dallas?” “What happened on September 11, 2001, in the northeast United States?” How would you like being assigned the task of figuring out the answer to either of these questions? Or both? And, when you’re finished, figure out what happened in the six weeks before December 7, 1941 in the Pacific.
Let me give you my favorite example of invisible leverage. This story appears in no textbook. It is too obscure. It has left few written records. Carl Menger founded the Austrian School of economics in 1871 with the publication of “Principles of Economics.” This is well known. What is not well known is that the Emperor of Austria hired him to teach his son in 1876. Menger was a classical liberal. He looked ahead and saw world war: a war of empires. He thought this would destroy the peaceful civilization that Europe had experienced after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815. The Emperor’s son seemed to take Menger seriously. He wrote an anonymous pamphlet critical of the Austrian aristocracy in 1878. Menger’s scenario depressed him. At age 30, he and his 17-year-old mistress committed suicide in 1889. That left the Emperor’s nephew, the Archduke Franz-Ferdinand, as the heir apparent. In June 1914, he visited Sarejevo in Bosnia-Herzogovena. And the rest is history.
Never has there been a more catastrophic self-fulfilling prediction. It gave us the twentieth century. It gave us the Middle East: the peace to end all peace.
I would call that leverage.
Menger taught Böhm-Bawerk. Böhm-Bawerk taught Mises. Mises influenced Hayek. He also taught Sennholz. Rothbard audited Mises’ seminars. They all influenced Ron Paul.
Menger had leverage. But he is an obscure figure in history. He is not in the textbook accounts of modern history.
If Menger remains obscure, what about the rest of us?
EVERYONE HAS LEVERAGE
We live in a society based on the division of labor. We are interconnected. As capital accumulation increases, the division of labor increases.
Our leverage increases in terms of breadth. Think of Facebook. One item can spread rapidly: viral. The important question is: Does leverage increase in terms of depth? That is, do people change their minds? More important, do they also change their behavior?
It takes more than Facebook for someone to change someone else’s opinions. Facebook reinforces opinions. So does television. So do all media. A rule of advertising is this: “Nobody gets rich changing people’s opinions.” No advertising budget is large enough to change entrenched opinions. At best, it can shift people’s opinions who had not made up their minds. But the highest rate of return from an advertising budget is achieved by providing sufficient motivation to persuade people to do what they already want to do. You move people from agreement to action.
To change people’s opinions, a person must be uniquely equipped.
In my report on “Cigar or No Cigar,” I listed eight questions that people should ask themselves about their callings, i.e., the most important thing they can do in which they would be most difficult to replace.
Let us explore all eight.
YOUR CLEAR-CUT ADVANTAGE
Most people cannot see this. They are skilled at something, but they have grown accustomed to it. “Everyone knows this,” they think. “Anyone can do this,” they think.
The division of labor tells us that hardly anyone understands it, let alone can do it. Everyone has concentrated on his own specialty. That is what a person is paid to do. He has not had the knack, inclination, opportunity, spare time, and money to learn what you know.
A top-flight athlete knows this. So does his agent. A famous performer in any field knows this. But they are in the top 1%. The people in the top 4% may know it. But those from (say) 20% to 5% take it for granted. So, they do not ask for a raise, a promotion, or a new work schedule.
Recently, one of my subscribers posted a question on my forum for “Job, Calling, and Career.” He is a physician. He has an urban clinic and a part-time job, university-related. He can get more work in a rural area where there is little competition. I told him to concentrate on the rural opportunity. Build his practice there. He thought I was right. So, he went to his boss at the urban university program and told him he was leaving. Immediately, the boss offered him twice his salary. He must now re-think his priorities.
He was worth twice as much for months. He did not know this. His boss did. His boss was taking advantage of the physician’s ignorance of the boss’s need. The physician was not angling for a raise. He was trying to advance his career. Now the cost of a career change is higher. He will have to walk away from a better deal.
His part-time job is better. Is the calling better? Probably not. But he will get more income while he is deciding on how to make the transition.
A VISIBLE ADVANTAGE
The physician’s boss saw the advantage. The physician didn’t. So, when he walked in to announce his departure, the boss had a ready response. A good boss should.
A wiser boss would have increased the salary over time, establishing a pattern. Why? Because the physician now knows that the boss was cashing in on his ignorance. His boss made a business decision, not a decision based on the prevailing state of supply and demand. The boss may lose the man, who will now think of the work as a job. Jobs are price-competitive. They are less likely to be cause-centered. Highly talented people will sacrifice for a cause free of charge, yet they would not take money for the same service. A physician or a dentist may fly into a jungle to work for free: calling. He would not do it for a few thousand dollars: job.
If others cannot see your advantage, you had better be a commodity futures speculator. Otherwise, your skills are not being used for maximum benefit to you and those whom you might otherwise serve.
If others cannot see your advantage, they will not pay you to provide it. You cannot monetize your advantage. You cannot institutionalize it, either. You cannot get others to extend your vision at their expense.
LEVERAGE OUTSIDE YOUR PRESENT JOB
Who knows who you are? Many people? Or only a few? If you are an escaped convict, you prefer the latter. Few other people do.
In your profession, who outside your wage provider does? The fewer who know of you, the narrower your market. Your employer knows that you are not turning down offers. He should think that you are besieged with offers. He should not take you for granted. If he does, he will pay you accordingly.
The more you appear to be a person known in the profession, the less likely he is to short-change you on the assumption hat you will not find out.
Do you participate on industry forums? When you do, does your ID offer additional information, such as a signature file? A sig file automatically attaches you your email. Here is mine:
To subscribe to my free Tip of the Week, click here:
Do you have a website or blog? Is your name on it? Would anyone who might hire you recognize it?
If no one knows who you are, you have no leverage.
LEVERAGE AFTER RETIREMENT
By “retirement,” I mean salaried payments in exchange for your work. This could be in a hobby-related field. It could be in a service club. It could be your name on a book. It could be anything that is not dependent on your connection to your employer. You will not be leveraging on your connection with your present stream of income.
If people think of you as an appendage of your employer, when that connection has ended, your leverage will end. This puts you at the mercy of your employer. Do not be in this position for the bulk of your leverage. The older you are, the truer this should be.
LEVERAGE BEYOND YOUR DEATH
This was almost impossible for most people as recently as 1994. The Internet and the Web have changed this. Today, a person can post a free blog site on WordPress.com, and it will be there in 100 years. He can do the same with a YouTube video. This may be true of a PDF file on Scribd.com.
If you come up with an insight, or a special way of looking at something, or a unique way of doing something, people will be able to imitate you anywhere on earth. There is a language barrier, but even this is changing. There are programs that translate text on the fly. They will get better.
If you have something to say or something to show, people will find it if it is online. No one has to pay to keep this material available. As search engines get better, it will get easier for people to find unique pieces of information. Once discovered, they can be shared. Your needle in a haystack will become more like a key to a lock.
TECHNICAL TOOLS OF YOUR LEVERAGE
I have mentioned WordPress.com and YouTube. This means you must be able to post items on a fairly simple format. People have built-in cameras and microphones in their laptops or tablets. These tools will get better over time. If you add a lapel microphone for $25, this dramatically improves a video. Simple lighting on each side of the camera helps, too. If you add to this screencasting software, such as Screencast-O-Matic, you can become a skilled teacher. Another technical tool is the ability to write. So is the ability to speak in public. Practice is basic to both. You can get training as a speaker at Toastmasters. With practice, you will become noticeably more skilled. It does not take much to set you apart from the crowd.
The digital tools keep getting cheaper. With $100 for a $25 lapel mic and a $70 high-definition Webcam, you can begin to make adequate presentations on anything you can describe verbally. With a free presentation program such as Impress (Open Office), you can produce teaching videos with a screencasting program.
HOW SKILLED ARE YOU?
You may not have these skills. You can get some of them in a month with the investment of two hours a day. Basically, anyone who is reading this onscreen has access to most of what he needs to get started.
These are matters of determination and time, not money and innate skill. This is why leverage is open to anyone.
I think of the millions of teachers in the world whose skills will die with them. This is a waste. There is no legitimate excuse for this. The capital that these people have accumulated between their ears will be lost. There will be no inheritance.
HOW SKILLED ARE YOUR COMPETITORS?
Some of them are far more skilled than you are in your field. Very few are willing to make the investment of time to overcome the frustrations of software learning curves. They are content with whatever they have achieved.
Woody Allen’s quip about success is true: 80% of success is just showing up. The Web lets you show up in places you would not imagine possible, for longer than anyone could have dreamed of in 1994.
Murray Rothbard died in 1995. In that same year, his colleague Lew Rockwell funded the Mises.org site. Today, Rothbard has more influence than he ever had when he was alive. Ludwig von Mises has more influence than he had – again, because of a Website. The technology caught up with the ideas. The ideas are no longer limited by the decision of a publisher to keep their books in print.
For 500 years, writers were dependent on publishers and their finances. This is no longer true. A. J. Liebling said: “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” That seemed clever in 1960. Today, it is irrelevant. Anyone with access to Web owns one.
You don’t have to be a Mises or a Hayek to gain leverage.You can take any information you have about almost anything and extend it through time and across borders. Digits are basically free. This has changed everything. The economist has a law: “When the price is lowered, more is demanded.” There are over 350 million Websites today. There will be more tomorrow.
Add 100 million blogs to this number.
Then add videos. Who can count them? You should work on extending your leverage. Start a WordPress.com blog. Start a YouTube channel.
The point is, this is low-hanging digital fruit. Pick some. This will get you…(see link).