Identify Your Legacy
Tea Party Economist
by Gary North: Your
In my previous
Bucket List," I described the benefits of making a list
of those accomplishments or activities that you would like to achieve
before you die. I mentioned that this list should be consistent
with whatever legacy you want to leave to your posterity.
that you have some idea of what you would like to leave as your
legacy. I suspect that most people do not give this a great deal
of thought. By the time they do give it much thought, they have
let a decade or two slip by. They have not been working systematically
on leaving their legacy, and they may have missed a lot of opportunities
to build that legacy. So, I am devoting this report to the very
practical question of identifying your legacy and then implementing
a plan that you hope is consistent with the legacy you have selected.
that you can use to identify your legacy is to sit down and write
what you would like to be your legacy speech at the age of 70. Assume
that you have invited your children and grandchildren to your 70th
birthday party. You then give them a talk no longer than 10 minutes,
which relates whatever you regard as the highlights of your life
to your plan of action. This will serve as a kind of how-to guide
for your heirs.
write it now, it will serve as a written goal for your own life.
Having written goals is very important for success in life, for
the list makes it far easier to achieve these goals. Written goals,
reviewed annually, are more readily achieved, because you can adjust
your plan for the following year in terms of whether you are on
track to achieve your goals or not.
I would have
given such a speech, except that my 70th birthday occurred
on my sonís wedding day, and the assembled guests were uninterested
in hearing me give that talk. But maybe I will give it on my 80th
birthday. I might even make a video of it and post it on YouTube.
Thatís the advantage of YouTube. You can impart your ideas on so
many more people than just your immediate family.
There are popular
variations of this doctrine: "You can be anything you want
to be." I assume that you knew that this statement is preposterous
no later than the age of eight. We all should know by that age that
there are lots of things that we will never be, whether we want
to be them or not. We are limited creatures, and our environment
challenges us to be successful performers in more than a handful
There are few
people who have many skills, and have these skills at a very high
level, but these people are never quite clear exactly what skill
they ought to focus on in order to master it. We have in recent
years heard that it takes about 5,000 hours of concentrated effort
to be highly skilled at anything. To become a virtuoso requires
a combination of innate abilities, specialized coaching, and at
least 10,000 hours of practice.
So, even if
a person thinks he can be a virtuoso in some area, if he does not
have the innate skills, if he does not have the training provided
by a specialist, meaning a master, and if he does not have the opportunity
to master the skill over 10,000 hours, he is not going to be able
to be whatever it is he wants to be, if he wants to make a major
I have known
a handful of these highly gifted people, which we like to call Renaissance
men. Some of them became highly successful. I know very few who
will leave legacies in several areas. In all likelihood, they will
not reshape the world. They may file off a few of the worldís rough
edges, and they may gain a footnote or two in a specialized journal,
but they will not fundamentally change the world.
When we think
of the people who really have changed the world, we find little
or nothing in their background that would have indicated to them
or anybody else at the age of 20 that they were going to change
the world. You can find a highly skilled athlete at age 20 who may
change his sport marginally, because coaches decide to change the
rules in some way, but they do not change the world.
Think of the
founders of any of the great religions in history. At the age of
20, none of them would have impressed people around him with the
ability to transform the world. We are specifically told in the
New Testament that people who had known Jesus as a young man did
not take his claims seriously during his three-year ministry, precisely
because they had known him.
been many kings in history, but few of them have left a trace. Of
those who left a trace, most of the traces are known only to specialists
in obscure languages. In some cases, the very civilization in which
these kings ruled have left few in any traces. They are known only
in literature from contemporary kingdoms.
I have made
a distinction between job and calling. Your job can change several
times in your career. This is the work by which you put food on
the table. It is highly unlikely that, at the age of 20, you will
know what your most profitable work will be over the next four or
five decades. You really do not know how you will compete along
the way, nor will you have a good idea of what position you will
occupy at the time of your retirement party, even assuming that
somebody gives you a retirement party.
to your calling, you may have a glimmer of what that legacy will
be. In fact, the earlier you get that glimmer, the more likely you
will leave something of significance. Your calling is the most important
thing you can do in which you would be most difficult to replace.
Let us hope that some computer program does not replace whatever
skill you have that you identify as central to your calling.
If a new piece
of computer software helps you achieve your calling, then you are
blessed indeed. That happened to me in 1980, when I learned how
to use a $7,500 computer program called Satellite Software International,
which two years later became WordPerfect, and which was made available
for $500 on a $6,000 microcomputer called the IBM PC. (Multiply
these figures by willtwo to see what todayís prices would be.) In
one week, I doubled my output when I learned that program.
I had a glimmer
of what my calling would be at the age of 18. I wanted to examine
the relationship between what the Bible teaches about economics
and what Austrian school economists teach about economics. I have
pursued that line of thought ever since. I plan to pursue it for
at least another ten years. I can honestly say that, as of this
year, I am a lot closer to completing the first stage of the project
than I was when I had that glimmer in 1960. The last four volumes
of my 31-volume set, An Economic Commentary on the Bible will
be published over the next month. It has taken me since 1973 to
get to the final phase of the first stage of the project. There
are two stages to go, plus about 2,000 YouTube videos. I hope things
will speed up over the next five years.
a project in 1960 that I believed I had sufficient skill to complete.
I did not have the skill of someone like Murray Rothbard, but by
pursuing the project long enough and intensely enough, and by developing
my writing skills during the same period, I am closer to completing
the task than I would have been, even if I had possessed the intellectual
skills of Rothbard, but lacked the tenacity that Rothbard showed
with respect to his writing in the field of economics.
gifted, but he also had tenacity. This tenacity, coupled with the
skills, made him a unique figure. But he could not have known at
the age of 20 that he would make the contribution that he made,
because at the age of 20, he had never heard of Ludwig von Mises.
However, by age 25, he may have had some glimmer about the legacy
that he would leave behind. He had read Misesís book, Human
Action, at the age of 24.
IS YOUR PRIMARY SKILL?
You must try
to identify the key skill that you possess that will enable you
to make a significant contribution by the time you are 70 years
old. This contribution will be a combination of three factors: (1)
the extent of your skill, (2) the supply of people with similar
skills in the market you have selected, and (3) your marketing ability.
In my case,
by the time I was 18 years old, I knew that there was nobody who
had the skill and the interest to investigate and then develop the
relationship between Austrian school economics and the Bible. The
Austrian school economists were mostly atheists or agnostics, and
the Christians who were in any way familiar with Austrian economics,
or any economics, showed almost no gift at developing economic theory.
The main exception was Hans Sennholz.
There was a
tabloid titled Christian Economics, but the authors were
generally atheists or agnostics, and the Christians who wrote for
it were simply applying economic insights of the atheist or agnostic
economists. There was a gap in the market. As the Tammany Hall political
figure George Washington Plunkett so aptly put it in the late 19th
century, "I seen my opportunities, and I took Ďem."
You may already
have identified your primary skill, but you may have found that
there are a lot of other people who have the same degree of skill
that you possess, and a few who are far better than you are. If
this is the case, then you have to concentrate on a specialized
market or field in which there are few people with your level of
skill. Then your legacy will be based on your ability to develop
that skill in relationship to that specialized field, and then stick
with the project tenaciously for at least a decade and preferably
three or four. This is the strategy of becoming a big frog in a
of becoming a big frog in a small pond is a successful use of digital
media. This has completely changed the nature of competition over
the last 15 years. With the development of the Internet, then YouTube,
then social media, and other digital media, an individual can become
famous within a particular field, even though there are skilled
specialists in the field, because the competing specialists do not
have the gift of self-promotion. They are not good marketers. They
have no interest in marketing. So, they leave the position of biggest
frog in the pond for somebody else to claim.
that you begin to work on whatever your specialty is, and the sooner
you begin the process of posting your findings on the Internet,
the greater the long-term payoff for your work. Get the power of
compound growth on your side. If you start early enough, and you
build your reputation by accumulating contributions to the field,
over a period of several decades you will leave a legacy.
advantage of search engines today is this:
is interested in what you are interested in will be able to find
your contribution in a decade, a century, or a millennium. This
gives an advantage to creative people that has never been available
to anyone in history. All other creative innovators were dependent
after their deaths on the ability of their immediate disciples to
extend their insight or message to a broader audience. If the disciples
failed in the years immediately after the death of the founder,
the founder was forgotten. The compound growth phenomenon ceased
to work on his behalf.
Today, it is
conceivable that some genius somewhere will pull off what is sometimes
called a Mendel. Gregor Mendel was an obscure monk in an obscure
monastery who did experiments on peas. He discovered the laws of
genetic inheritance. He published his findings in 1865 in an obscure
academic journal not related to genetics. The discovery was not
appreciated for another generation. Because of the journal, his
idea prevailed. But, had there been no journal, he would have been
forgotten. In other words, it was Gutenbergís invention that made
possible the triumph of Mendelís discovery. Similarly, the Internet
offers a Gutenberg-like opportunity to anybody who has access to
If your skill
has little to do with writing, it probably has something to do with
a physical skill. That skill is suitable for recording by means
of an inexpensive camcorder. It is possible to get a free channel
on YouTube. It is possible, and highly recommended, that you take
your skill and apply it in front of a camcorder. I suggest that
you use an inexpensive lapel microphone, because good-quality sound
is important in persuading people that you know what youíre talking
about. You can narrate what you are doing as you do it, or else
you can produce a voice-over after you have completed the particular
of the revolutionary technology that we now possess, there is really
no excuse for anybody who has the skill of writing, or the skill
of making something, not to share his information with the world.
As a person
gets better at what he does, his videos will improve. Anybody can
take down an old video and substitute a new one, which is more representative
of his developed skills than the video was that he produced several
years previously. Or a person can leave the old videos online, and
produce a new video that shows what he can do now, and he can refer
back to the old video to show what could be done, and can be done,
by somebody with less developed skills. That may encourage a newcomer
to pursue the development of his skills, because he can see that
there may be a significant payoff as he gets better. His motivation
is tied to the comparative lack of skill demonstrated in the original
IS YOUR PRIMARY MARKET?
Once you have
identified your skill, you then must identify your market. Who are
the best performers in the market that you are interested in serving?
There are always half a dozen people who are the acknowledged masters
of the field. These are the ones who make the most money, get the
most attention, and are invited to speak at industry seminars. Find
out what they have done. Read about what they have discovered. If
you can, find out how they developed their skills.
Once you have
read everything the person has written, and you have read dozens
of articles about what they have achieved, you are in a position
to contact a person and ask for advice. Write some book reviews
on your blog site that are positive. Send links to those reviews
in the e-mail you send to him. Everybody wants to read about himself.
Everybody likes to read positive reviews of things he has written.
So, write positive reviews of things he has written. Most people
have sufficiently large egos that they will reply at least once
to a serious inquiry regarding how they developed their remarkable
Ask for recommendations
of books or other materials that he thinks are significant. Then
read those books, write reviews on those books, and then, having
demonstrated your position as somebody who actually takes other
peopleís advice, you can contact him again and ask him another serious
question. Do this with every major figure in your field.
I wrote to
Mises and Hayek by the time I was 20 years old. They replied. I
did not become a pen pal, but I at least got some preliminary guidance.
I thought about attending graduate school under their instruction,
but other things intervened. I was able to meet both of them in
later years, and I also attended seminars that they conducted, even
though I never studied under them personally. I did not need to
study under them. They had written enough so that I was able to
get the basics of their position simply by paying close attention
to their books, which I read several times in the case of their
Your goal is
to test the waters. You want to get an assessment on how much you
should do, and how well you should do it, in order to develop the
skills that you think are mandatory for achieving success in a particular
field. If you are going to do this, be sure you know what constitutes
success in the field. If you donít know, find out. If you canít
find out, pick a different field.
in 1949 that Mises was teaching economics at a graduate seminar
in New York City. He was able to persuade Mises to let him into
the seminar, even though he was not enrolled at New York University.
Rothbard read everything that Mises had written, so when he participated
in the seminar, along with several other men of almost equal ability,
he vastly improved the quality of the seminar. The students at New
York University, which is basically a second-tier university at
best, did not have the brains, the skills, or the tenacity of Rothbard.
He attended that seminar for years.
that he could restructure the economic system taught by Mises in
terms of Rothbardís political system, which was an anti-political
system. He was a philosophical anarchist, while Mises was a limited
government classical political theorist. So, Rothbard saw an opportunity.
He could take a developed system, rework it, extend it, and make
a significant contribution by adding a missing factor: the idea
of a zero-state society. From 1949 until his death in 1995, Rothbard
pursued this agenda. Had he not died, he would still be working
on completing that agenda. He was tenacious. He was also enthusiastic.
As it turned
out, because Mises had so few disciples in the United States, and
almost none in Western Europe, Rothbard was able to make significant
contributions that did not rest on his theory of a zero-state society.
He found himself in a relatively limited market. Few economists
wanted to be an intellectual heir of Mises, and none of them had
the intellectual ability, the tenacity, or the creativity to apply
Misesís insights to as many areas of economics and social theory
that Rothbard did.
never got a steady job in a college that offered an economics major
until the last decade of his life. So, with respect to his job,
he made no impression at all in the early decades. His students
had no idea who he was. They were engineers. They had no appreciation
for what he did. But, with respect to his calling, he began making
major contributions by the time he was 30 years old. His legacy
continues through several organizations, but most notably the Mises
Now is the
time to identify your calling. Try to get it to conform to your
job. But if you canít, pursue it anyway. If you must self-fund it,
thatís typical. Few people ever find a way to get someone else to
pay for their callings.
North [send him mail]
is the author of Mises
on Money. Visit http://www.garynorth.com.
He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible.
2012 Gary North
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