I’m ½ through Malcolm Gladwell’s popular book – “Outliers.” Although I’ve criticized some of his past theories as being based on insignificant anecdotal evidence, I am quite enjoying this – his latest work. Among his empirical observations are some interesting comments on social structure and familial background, and how those things contribute to a person’s sense of entitlement. Below are two arguments and two conclusions.

Argument 1) Entitlement is an element that Gladwell states leads to such positive personal attributes as challenging authority, making our voice heard and convincing people to do what we want. Entitlement affects the way we approach almost every social situation and can be the single factor that determines whether we live to be rich and successful, or poor and unhappy.

Argument 2) Another argument that Gladwell makes involves immigrants. The argument states that successful Jewish doctors and lawyers living in New York were mostly third generation immigrants who learned invaluable skill sets (hard work, autonomy, sacrifice) from their poorer parents. Only by living through poor and challenging times were these Jewish immigrants able to succeed in life.

Conclusion 1) These two arguments highlighted above run somewhat contrary to each other. In one – wealth begets entitlement which leads to success, in the second hard work and sacrifice paves the way to success. The logical conclusion is that both paths can lead to success, however a more broad definition of success may suggest otherwise.

Conclusion 2) In the case of the Jewish immigrants, hard work led to personal success, but also success of the society. These doctors and lawyers contributed in a way that made living conditions better for everyone and bolstered the economy – they created wealth where there was no wealth before.

In the case of entitlement leading to success, wealth and societal status led to personal assets that allowed one group of people to succeed over others. Although it does lead to personal success, entitlement is a zero sum game – every opportunity that entitlement gives, it takes from someone else. Entitlement definitely helps dictate how wealth and opportunity are distributed, but it does not create opportunity where previously none had existed.