Even Without His IQ, Creativity, and Tenacity

Tea Party Economist

Recently by Gary North: Your Bucket List



In my previous report, “Your 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.

This assumes 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.

One exercise 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.

Because you 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 son’s 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. That’s 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 of areas.

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 impression.

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 world’s 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.

There have 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.

With respect 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 today’s 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.

I selected 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.

Rothbard was 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 Mises’s book, Human Action, at the age of 24.


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 ‘em.”

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 small pond.

Another aspect 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.

The sooner 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.

The tremendous advantage of search engines today is this:

somebody who 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 Gutenberg’s invention that made possible the triumph of Mendel’s discovery. Similarly, the Internet offers a Gutenberg-like opportunity to anybody who has access to the Internet.

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 you’re 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 task.

Today, because 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 video.


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 skills.

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 people’s 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 major books.

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 don’t know, find out. If you can’t find out, pick a different field.


Rothbard discovered 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.

Rothbard believed that he could restructure the economic system taught by Mises in terms of Rothbard’s 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 Mises’s insights to as many areas of economics and social theory that Rothbard did.

Rothbard 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 Institute.


Now is the time to identify your calling. Try to get it to conform to your job. But if you can’t, pursue it anyway. If you must self-fund it, that’s typical. Few people ever find a way to get someone else to pay for their callings.

July 9, 2012

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible.

Copyright © 2012 Gary North