Is Success Smiled Upon More in the US Than Elsewhere?

While I’m buried in the Musk series, I thought I’d open things up on an interesting point he made. Musk is from South Africa, but he moved to the US in his early 20s and never left. Speaking about the benefits for him of living in the US, he mentions what he sees as an important distinction in the attitude toward success in the US versus other places. He says:

I think the United States is more open to new ideas than any country in the world. And I think it becomes somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy in that because the United States is open to new ideas, it attracted people from around the world who had new ideas. So now it’s filled with people who like new ideas and who aren’t bound by history. DT28 - PA lot of countries that have been around for a long time are really trapped in their own history. The United States…is a country that tends to encourage success—where you see someone that did extremely well, and generally the reaction in the United States is, ‘Good for that person.’ In most countries, that’s not the reaction. People tend to think, ‘Oh, that person did well because they screwed somebody else.’ Or that they tried to rise beyond their station, that it was really inappropriate of them to be so nouveau riche, to use a French word. Australia, for example, which is arguably similar to the United States in a lot of ways, but they tend to try to knock down people that have risen too high—they call it the Tall Poppy Syndrome, you know, tall poppies get chopped. So I think that’s really a good thing about the United States.

I’m curious what Wait But Why readers think of this. Is he correct that that’s the attitude in the United States? Is he correct that the attitude towards success is different in many other countries? How does your society or culture view individual success?

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  • Olda

    YES! I agree. I live in the Czech Republic and for a long time I have thought the same! I can’t speak for other countries of course but I recognize the difference between here and the US – from the books, internet. Also, I confirmed my view once I visited the US few years ago. Fortunately, I think the situation is slowly getting better 🙂

  • Thomas Carrier

    It all start about what is success… to me success is “something good for your entourage” – whatever the reach of “your entourage”…
    Hence, my reaction then would be “good for us” 🙂
    If success is money, then I don’t care… depends what the guy is gonna do with it really! 🙂

    Thomas, from France

  • Jakob

    I’ve never been to the US so I can’t comment on this part of the question, but what Musk describes is 100% true for Germany. People here never say “Oh good for him”, but always seem to search for things to criticise before anything else.

    Jake
    http://physicsinsider.com

  • Łukasz

    I live in Poland and I totally agree. Of course, not everybody wants to drag the people who succeed down. But it is a pretty common attitude. It’s sad

    • Zbyněk Dráb

      Czech here. It looks that we got rid of overt communism only to have the fundamental attitudes remain in the dark corners of people’s characters.

      • Łukasz

        Same here. Communism is gone, but most people still feel pain inside every time they see someone wealthier or more successful than themselves.

        However, new generation seems to have different attitude. I’m in my early 20s and most of my peers are really enthusiastic about the successes of their friends.

      • Krzysztof

        I study in Denmark now and I’m really waiting for a Danish commenter, because in Poland we had the whole generations of unfair successes after WW2 (or they were fair and I have a bad attitude towards Polish 1945-90 successes, but I really don’t think this is the case 🙂 ) and they didn’t – and still I have a feeling that it is worse here in Denmark than in Poland, but I’ve been here only about 9 months, so I don’t want to judge them, I may be mistaken.

    • Krzysztof

      I’m also from Poland, but I think that this attitude comes from our post-WW2 history and it is deeply confirmed in facts. There was no free market and only people being a part of or collaborating with the regime were permitted to achieve any success, the government had power to cut your career if you were not part of them.

      And even though I can clearly see a hostile attitude towards post-soviet era billionaires (which still make a majority), I think that it deffinitely is not a part of Polish culture – one example can be a succesful PESA Polish train company, took over by private owners in 2001, or Solaris bus producer. We are proud of their success and no wonder we are not encouraging and friendly for people whose fortune comes from national theft of 1945-90 or post-1990 privatisation crimes.

      • Łukasz

        I totally agree. I haven’t mentioned anywhere that this hatred is an immanent part of Polish nature. In media and in internet there are many success-stories of Polish companies and people really appreciate their work. But when you talk to people in person, they are all like “Why he would be more successful than me? Does he think he is better than me?”. I’m glad that this hateful attitude is becoming less and less common.

  • Zbyněk Dráb

    This is accurate.

    Egalitarian sentiments outside the US are often expressed by tearing others down. It happens in the US as well, but on balance the attitude to success is much warmer.

    Land of opportunity indeed.

  • C KARTIK

    Spot on.The Tall Poppy Syndrome exists everywhere.In India,change is frowned upon unless someone from the “powers-that-be” can make a quick buck out of it.How else do you explain the massive number of Indians outside India who’ve migrated?
    They didn’t just do it for a better life or opportunities but also to avoid the octogenarian and defeatist attitude of the natives.So the US doesn’t always go,”Give us your poor,your hungry…” but also,”We won’t mind all your super talented geniuses that you neglected on some poor silly pretexts”!!

  • Dominic D.

    I live in the USA and I think that this is true until you learn more about a person. For example, I would agree that Elon Musk did well because he is a smart and resourceful person. But Kim Kardashian? She didn’t really do anything to become famous and I don’t really admire her at all.

    • Zbyněk Dráb

      That’s different though. Sure there are people who don’t deserve what they have – but that doesn’t (or shouldn’t) translate into a general attitude to *all* successful people.

  • Rafael Monteiro

    As a Brazilian, I can absolutely agree. Here, the vast majority of people have, like… a hatred… of people who manage to succeed. It’s kinda sad, actually. Every politician starts presents themselves as “coming from a humble family”, because it’s the only way to get people to sympathize with them. People apparently feel almost insulted by the notion that some people manage to actually be successful.

  • Fixery Foex

    Umm, this comparison rings a bell to my culture a lot. I come from Vietnam, and in Vietnamese there is a term for this behaviour of envy: the crab culture. I was told by teachers that we live like a bunch of crabs in a bucket. Why? Because every time one crap tries to, or has managed to, climb higher it will be IMMEDIATELY dragged down by other crabs. I have observed this phenomenon widespread in the Internet community in my country. For example when a person made an unprecedented success in designing a simple game Flappy Bird, he was bashed ruthlessly by the media “this is nothing new I can do it” “you steal Mario’s design” (wtf, even Nintendo did support him). So yeah I’d say the US is a dream place for success to take root and grow.

  • Tim Urban

    The fact that so far, the comments here seem to corroborate Musk’s point is fascinating to me. I don’t think Americans quite understand that the way success is viewed here is not normal.

    • Zbyněk Dráb

      Moreover, you should fight tooth and nail to preserve it.

    • Mark

      You need a more accurate definition of “success”. Elon implies materialism, and if so, I think most people will be assholes about it.

      • Zbyněk Dráb

        Elon implies nothing in particular, other than in passing. But broad general statements invite projection of readers’ preoccupations, which is half the problem with the internet. People disagreeing with stuff nobody said.

        • Mark

          I think you’ve got a good point their friend. But anyhow I do not think people hold resentment for Nobel Prise winners as they for rich CEOs.

        • Mark

          And I don’t have ANY statistics, but I think US have more rich CEOs than other countries. So maybe it’s a kind of a chicken & egg thingy, like if you have more rich CEOs (and other rich people with other titles) you’ll have more support for beeing a rich CEO (from those other rich guys, believing in their way life). The egg can be that a lot of rich people appeared in the US in a brief period of time, so now the chinked supports success.

    • Dominic D.

      What you wrote about North Korea and other countries would also seem to agree with this: success in the USA is different than other countries.

    • Miguel Bartelsman

      Not quite, it’s not that people shun success (as defined in monetary terms) or are bothered by it, it’s that for most people success is measured differently, often in terms of a happy life or a positive impact in the world.

      Elon, for me, is definitely a successful person, not because he is filthy rich, but because he’s actually done a lot of good and will probably continue to do so. Which is something most people with as much money as he has are not bothered with (which, I think, is the reason why the rest of the world seem to be bothered by success as defined by americans)

  • Jonathan

    It’s almost impossible to sum up Canada in one post… it’s a very varied country. I think in Canada it’s similar to the states in a lot of ways, but I don’t find that we glorify the thinkers and shakers as much. There doesn’t seem to be any Steve Jobs or Bill Gates in Canadian culture.

    I think there is a very double edged sword for being so geared towards success. If “Oh they worked hard for their success and deserve riches” is the assumption then the reverse “Oh they didn’t work hard and deserve to be poor.” is tempting to say. Many people work damn hard and stay poor all over the world.

    I think Canada with universal health care etc. is really more geared to making sure most people are okay, rather than a small few shooting to the stratosphere of influence. A phrase you hear a lot here is the cultural “Mosaic”. Each culture remains distinct, and together they form the country’s “soul”.

    Nobody I know would look down on someone for being “successful”. But then again, nobody I know would look down on someone for not being “successful”. Most people would just start debating what “Success” is I think, truthfully.

    • Jerome

      Well said. I would and did argue for a definition of success. It means different things to different people. In Canada, success isn’t just one train going in one direction.

      • Jonathan

        Exactly. I like that expression.

  • d

    yes, agreed. However I remain unconvinced that it is possible to be successful without screwing anyone over. If anyone can show me an example, I’d appreciate it.

  • monkeys_on_a_pole

    My parents were/are the people most vociferous about dragging me down. They are paralyzed with terror at the thought of me venturing beyond their experience, and they do everything possible to level me with their own horrible upbringing and social limitations. They are not from the US. They think that if they suffered, I should suffer just as much. Even though their suffering was the result of social and political turmoil, and mine is a function of their mistreatment.

    • Vivid

      Can you tell me from which country you are?

  • Paul Starr

    In the U.S., i would agree in general this is true. There is some level of resentment for persons who come into big money through entertainment and athletics, but if the success is based on reaching a goal (a doctor comes up with a cure for cancer) it is widely applauded and really a “good for us all” attitude is prevalent. I guess I’m saying that non-monetary success is more widely appreciated.

  • tari-manga

    I’m from Italy, and I agree; our general reaction towards people who found success is suspecting they made their way through via corruption. Or that they made it, just because they had important friends who lobbied for them. While Italy has a lot of stereotypes worldwide about corruption, etc. I find extremely sad that we’re not able to celebrate genuine success of our fellows who achieved and made something good. That said, is our general reaction toward widespread success; I found in *local* communities the reaction is more similar to US people, fortunately.

    • Aureon

      Honestly, though, that’s just us Italians – and here, effectively, calling success on contacts and corruption is generally a safe bet.

      In general, we’re not dreamers. The general idea is the, pretty much statistically supported one, that hard work isn’t enough to make it – it’s just a prerequisite to success. Success is hard work plus luck.

      In the USA, at least among these i know, there’s a belief that everyone has exactly what they deserve. This both causes admiration for success and scorn for everything else.

      • tari-manga

        I like the way you summarized the general idea as “Success is hard work plus luck”.
        I feel it represents indeed the perspective most Italian people have on success.

  • Thomas James Bautista

    I’m from the Philippines, and crab mentality is very prevalent and ingrained in a lot of Philippine minds, so it’s true in this country, I guess.

    I don’t know about the U.S. part though…

  • Dan

    From the UK. Lived in China for 6 years and therefore got to know a variety of nationalities: my American friends were consistently positive and never really that snide or negative.

  • Blrp

    It seems like a lot of people and corporations get rich by just manipulating the air and making money appear out of it, without contributing anything to society at all. Just look at Wall Street.

  • I’ve only ever lived in the US, but this is correct from what I have heard.

    Regarding the attitude in the US: Just look at the outpouring of emotion from the public when Steve Jobs died a few years ago. So many people who had never met him expressed admiration or gathered at Apple stores (!) to leave notes, treating place of commerce almost as a house of worship. And it wasn’t because he was outgoing (he kept to himself), or because he was nice (he was famously short-tempered), or because he was a philanthropist (among billionaires he was noticeably lacking in public charity efforts). It was because he brought great products and beautiful experiences to hundreds of millions of people. And because of that, no one minded at all that he was fabulously successful in business, and rich.

    We’re not 100% consistent as a culture; we demonize successful business leaders if we happen to not personally enjoy their products (Bill Gates was never as popular as Jobs). But in the US a successful businessman *can* still be a beloved hero.

    • Aureon

      That’s just Jobs, though. And perhaps Musk, case in point. But not really many big businessmen are beloved.

    • WW

      US society is definitely two-faced about business leaders. But for these leaders like Bill Gates to get as big as they are, a lot of people had to support and buy their product – it had to improve life somehow… so it’s kind of hard to say why public opinion is so inconsistent.

  • Jasper Boonstra

    As a previous poster mentioned, idolizing winners can quickly have the terrible effect of discrediting and looking down upon failures. We also tend to forget that personal success is influenced by a great many different factors: the wealth of your parents, experiences in life, support of friends or family, and mentors. Although people who win an award often thank those close to them, western society tends not to put a lot of focus on that. And the sad part is, if the indididual is the sole reason for success, then the individual will also be the sole reason for failure.

  • drew mueller

    Canadian here but living in Peru, and I can attest that the tall poppy syndrome occurs here as well. In Canada I think we behave similarly to the Americans but perhaps not as pronounced. Here in Peru though you get a sense of jealously and bad attitudes towards others, there seems to be an ingrained distrust of success.

  • Jan Klusáček

    Czech republic, same here. There are a bunch of people who got rich during the wild transition from socialist to capitalist system – often in somewhat legal but immoral way. These cases are much more covered by the media than the positive ones. Suspicion, mistrust and envy are all present.

    I have one other observation. Many people in eastern europe have low self-esteem, often unnecessarily. When asked about the persons best quality, the common answer would be “that is for others to say” whilst western europeans would come up with one or two and an American with even more. And I ask you, fellow dinnertablers: “What is your view on self-esteem in other coutries?”

    But I think that both problems are getting better lately 🙂

  • Aureon

    That’s the other side of the syndrome of the Temporarily Embarassed Millionaire, yes.
    It’s dying off in the new generation, though.

  • Marthinus Bosman

    Wow! Best topic yet. I’m a South African engineering student and Musk’s story has always hit close to home. I hope to leave the country as soon as I get my degree (for numerous reasons, of which this topic is an important one).

    All I can really speak for is that in South Africa, almost everyone goes to public schools, and there really isn’t any consideration for overachieving learners, all education is standardized. Being a developing country it’s mostly concerned with getting the lowest through. So for high achievers, school consists mostly of being bored to death in class for 12 years. Some positive (and this is extremely sensitive in the country, as is probably obvious for anyone who knows our history) is that there are laws that make it far harder for white students to get into University (initiative to empower “previously disadvantaged” children) , which, although sad for those who don’t get the chance to go, is quite a motivator for others to achieve as high mark as possible.

    But on “new ideas” and thinking differently, there has always been a kind of “who do you think you are” attitude towards any student or child. So yes, Musk was the one to give me the idea of leaving the country, realizing it’s not like this all over the world. Thanks Musk.

  • Karen Edgerton

    At 50 plus years – 20 in Canada, 20 in ND (rather ignored state) and rest in MI (token ‘had-but-lost state) – I have watched material success held up above all else. I believe the ‘success-at-all-costs’ attitude in the US has been a huge contributer to crime in an instant-gratification society. I also agree with those who say the believe ‘you can do anything and be a winner’ here sets us up for being seen as failures if we don’t achieve the ‘success standard’. Why is having way more than you will ever need a sign of success? Why are atheletes considered successful but teachers aren’t? Where is the celebration of kindness-without-reward? Why is our measure of success done with dollars? Could go on but that’s the gist. Being a good person is not considered success here, you have to be a RICH person and not even good.

  • RainyShadow

    As they say here in Bulgaria: “It’s not important for me to be well, it’s important my neighbour to be miserable”.

    sad picture…

  • Chris Capon

    While I haven’t been to the US (yet), I am Australian and I yes the term Tall-poppy syndrome was coined there but I don’t think it has the one meaning that you see most common e.g. to put those who get out of place back in line.

    As I understood it, it’s more a reflection of the diversity of values within a multicultural community. As long as diversity exists, there will always be a group criticizing icons that are held up as role models. An example being Ian Thorpe, who was described as a tall-poppy because he didn’t conform to traditional conceptions of Australian masculinity.

    In general, I don’t think Australians inherently dislike individual success. We do however, dislike people thinking that they are better than anyone else others (perhaps a legacy of the conflict between convicts and ‘free-settlers’ attempting to deny ex-convicts normal rights – the British and their class systems…). I imagine, it’s in part where the mentality that everyone should get a “fair go” stems from. This is different from the concept of “putting someone back in their place”, in fact, I think perhaps, it’s more that there shouldn’t be places.

    So, I’m not entirely sure that I agree with Musk about Australia, yes Tall-poppy syndrome is a thing, but it means different things in different cultures. That’s my two cents anyway.

    Thanks for making me think about something I haven’t given much thought to ^_^.

    Chris, from Australia
    https://hillstohoists.wordpress.com/

    • Rob Armstrong

      couldnt agree more mate. in Australia ive always thought it less about trying to stop people being successful and more about not wanting to hear people blow their own trumpet. i think the video on youtube of the old bloke in the shopping centre calling Tony Abbot (before he was prime minister) a “dickhead” is a perfect example of the australian tall poppy syndrome. doesnt matter what your position in life, we are all the same and none of us are above getting called a dickhead from time to time.

      ive been in Malaysia now for 2 years and the more names and titles you have before your birth name here, the easier life is and those with the names and titles know it, flaunt it and often use it to get away with corrupt or immoral dealings. it drives me insane seeing everyone worship these people like they are royalty (they actually have multiple royal families here too, almost one for each state). it drives me insane seeing people worship others just because they have a special title that was given to them by some other person with a special title.

  • This is definitely true in Latin America – when one succeeds it’s simply assumed that one did so by way of corruption. This type of thinking is taking hold among the American Left – the assumption that the wealthy are by definition morally bankrupt.

  • jwan584

    I’ve lived in Australia and the United States. This is very true. This is also corroborated by many Australians living in the US.

    One more thought—I always thought it was curious how Marx prophesied that the proletariat uprising will happen first in the most industrialized country but it never happened in the US. Then I realized why. The poor people in the US, when they look at the rich, they don’t think “this is unfair. we should have a share of your money”, instead they think “wow, one day I want to be like you.” And so in this way, despite the gross inequality of the country, the sentiment toward the rich is one of admiration rather than hatred. This culture of celebrating success is also why the rich and poor live in relative harmony here.

    • Applejinx

      …at least for values of harmony where the poor aren’t all trying to kill the rich, but anyone can kill the poor without particular incident! It really tells you something when the conditions for ‘relative harmony’ include Ferguson and decades (centuries) of exactly the same behavior stretching on into the past, unquestioned. It is indeed surprisingly harmonious, all things considered, and I’m sure it’s for exactly that reason.

    • Steel D

      This fact just makes me sad. The so-called american dream is a scam – an illusion – deceiving the poor and cultivating the scenario that the rich and powerful can continuously exploit large parts of the population. The fact that this somewhat appears to be an accepted societal model throughout the entire nation (except for e.g. wall-street and alike) largely suggest that the population is extremely ignorant/under-educated + being cleverly deceived by raging capitalistic systems (government and puppet masters) – facilitated by hedonic reward from Hollywood production etc…

      Rich and poor and culture of celebrating success in one sentence.. Absurd and illustrates immorality at the highest level!

    • Michał Zawadzki

      >They don’t think “this is unfair. we should have a share of your money”.

      Oh, they do. They actually think that wealthier people not just should, but MUST share their money. Hence welfare state. It’s funded by taxes, which are a forced redistribution of wealth from the richer to the poorer. If the majority of the poorer people objected to stealing from the richer, there would be no welfare state.

      • 2beef

        Oh yeah, those evil poor people, stealing from the rich “job creators”. How dare they think that everyone should be able to get enough food and a roof over their heads!

        • Michał Zawadzki

          Yup. There is no such thing as a “right to food” or a “right to shelter”. If there was, you could just stop working and demand that those who work pay for your food and apartment (and be justified in using force, eg. putting them in jail if they didn’t).

          It’s always useful to ask how did the person become so poor that she can’t even survive on her own? It’s usually the case that it’s because of her poor life choices. Well, guess what, your choices have consequences that you are responsible for. If you choose to eat only Big Macs, you can’t force others to pay for your treatment claiming there is a “right to health”.
          Similarly, if by a series of poor choices you end up being homeless, you can’t force others to provide for you — but you can ask your family (where were they?), your friends, the Church or any one of thousands of charities, or even complete strangers, to help you.

          To make a reductio ad absurdum out of this: if you willingly cut your arm off, you can’t force others to save your life. It doesn’t mean that they won’t — most of them would (yeah, people are actually nice like that) — it just means that you can’t put a knife to their throat and coerce them into tending to the wound.

          • Wim K

            You say: “It’s always useful to ask how did the person become so poor that she can’t even survive on her own? It’s usually the case that it’s because of her poor life choices.”

            I think that’s a ridiculous and absurd claim. How many middle class or wealthy people do you know that ended up poor? Poverty is a cycle, not an end result. People are born poor and are unable to escape it.

            If you’re born to a mother who’s a crackhead, and a father who’s absent, you don’t go to school, your neighbourhood is run by gangs and receives pitiful service delivery, no-one in your family can afford to raise you right or provide even a basic childhood environment, then what the fuck are you going to do? The sad fact is that you’ll never make it. And it’s not your fault – it’s a product of environment.

            To claim that it’s not right to want to at least provide basic food and shelter to vulnerable people like these is just inhumane and wrong.

            • Michał Zawadzki

              “If you’re born to a mother who’s a crackhead, and a father who’s absent,
              you don’t go to school, your neighbourhood is run by gangs and receives
              pitiful service delivery, no-one in your family can afford to raise you
              right or provide even a basic childhood environment, then what the fuck
              are you going to do? And it’s not your fault – it’s a product of environment.

              To claim that it’s not right to want to at least provide basic food and
              shelter to vulnerable people like these is just inhumane and wrong.”

              That is a rare case, but of course always a true tragedy and an extreme evil on the part of the parents. If you cannot afford to raise a child, you don’t raise a child. Children are not toys.

              Still, there is no reason that anyone should be forced to pay for the consequences of actions of conscious adults. There is no justification for the parents; an adult person is responsible for their actions, and their lack of knowledge of the consequences is no excuse. If they kill someone, they can’t defend themselves by saying that they grew up in a gagnster neighborhood.

              The children, of course, are not responsible for the quality of their life. It is still immoral to force people pay for their education etc., in the same vein as it is morally wrong to coerce people into saving the poor children in Africa. People who care, people like you will always try to organize and provide help for such victims. That’s one of the great things about humans.

            • Michał Zawadzki

              “Poverty is a cycle, not an end result. People are born poor and are unable to escape it.”

              They often are, but not all of them. And in all of those cases, they are unable to because of their poor choices. I didn’t say anything about WHY they make these choices.

    • Jesse

      John Steinbeck had the same thought: “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

  • Applejinx

    Yes indeed, Americans tend to blindly worship the rich and powerful… EVEN WHEN they did indeed do well by screwing someone else, or stealing it, or nepotism/family and so on.

    In this way, some of those other countries are wiser. Though apparently it does put a damper on striving for success when people automatically assume you’re a villain. The question is, how many of the hyper-successful are indeed villains? I think you’ll find quite a few of them are, and those who are not outright villains are often amoral sharks (consider Uber: what other country could support such a strange development?)

    Yay ideas, yay striving, but this is all too often a cover for allowing the already ruthless and powerful to expect outright worship on top of everything else. The deeply embedded cultural mistrust of extreme success exists for a reason: ungoverned power is always abused. The US worships ungoverned power at the moment, and it’s not a great direction.

    • The_Crocoduck

      This:

      “Yes indeed, Americans tend to blindly worship the rich and powerful… EVEN WHEN they did indeed do well by screwing someone else, or stealing it, or nepotism/family and so on.”

      is a pretty good definition for our current politicians.

  • Zhutou

    It really depends on what the word “success” means. In this post, it seems to be one or more of these externally perceivable metrics: money/power/fame. On the other hand, I’d argue that the “inner peace”-type success metrics such as high-self-esteem/love-and-beloved are equally important, though not necessarily measurable by the society.

    My personal experience is that many western EU countries favor the internal metrics over the external ones. US and China, on the other hand, are gauged overwhelmingly towards the external metrics, or, its population generally adopts the materialism more broadly. Not sure about other countries that I never lived in.

  • Alex Mac

    I live in the US, I haven’t spent so much time visiting other countries, but if what the comments say are true, I do agree with Elon Musk. Parents tell their kids to grow up to be doctors/lawyers or the next Steve Jobs. The kids themselves want to be the next Peyton Manning. People in the USA admire those who are successful, even more when they come from backgrounds that normally prevent people from rising up.

  • Nell Fallcard

    Mexico here, also confirmed! Is quite an interesting phenomena tho, I think people in general can let success happen as long as it does not happen to someone they consider an equal, otherwise this sense of injustice will emerge. We feel compelled to complain about the Tall Poppy Syndrome when we are the ones rising, I personally almost had a car crash accident because of that, a friend of mine asked if my freelance lifestyle would match her 9 to 5 job earnings, and she was visibly upset when I said yes, to the point her driving got affected. Being on the other side of the spectrum and witnessing how a close friend, 5 years younger, who was broke a year ago is now earning twice as much as what I make, with less experience and in the same field, I do recognize a sense of unease, is not that I want for him to fail nor that I doubt he deserves it, is more this sensation of underperformance at my end. Are Americans immune to this effect or do you guys cope in a different way?

  • Treasa Ní Loinn

    We’ve got the Tall Poppy Syndrome here in Ireland and it’s much worse here than in Australia (where I lived for 6 years). In fact, my time in Australia helped me become more ambitious and less concerned about playing down my achievements thanks to their much healthier attitude towards success.

    But I’ve just spent 6 months in the U.S. and it put all those experiences into perspective, realising just how much these attitudes can hold us back. Americans were so encouraging, supportive and positive. After a couple of months, I was walking taller and felt like I could achieve anything! It has only taken a couple of months back in Ireland for that to have worn off…!

    Things might have changed now, but when I was a kid at school, we weren’t encouraged to stand up and talk about ourselves too much or to “show off” our achievements. That’s exactly what you’d be scorned as – a “show off”! I learned from Aussie or American friends that their schooling was much different. I’m now an academic researcher and have had plenty of conversations with international peers about this from the perspective of public speaking. It explained my initial terror of public speaking and problems with projecting confidence in comparison to the ease at which they seemed to carry it off.

    It’s good to be aware of it though, and that’s why travelling or living overseas helps you to learn more about yourself and to really realise your potential.

  • Lubomír Bureš

    Instead of writing things already stated here in one form or another, I will say that to be honest, I was quite surprised that such an attitude toward success as you describe actually exists :D.

  • Nadim

    As a German/South African currently living in South Africa, I would also have to add that in the SA context racism becomes a huge deadweight factor holding back potential. If you’re white and successful, you’re automatically labelled a “white capitalist” who likely made that wealth of off the broken backs of black people because Apartheid…so why not. Conversly, if you’re a successful black person, the assumption is that you are politically connected and got an overpriced government tender with which to set up shop and siphoned off enough money to live happily ever after. In both cases, real success and hard work is mired in racial polemic. Utterly useless and disempowering.

  • Krzysztof

    Someone mentioned it, but for some reason that post disappeared. In Scandinavia they have “The Law of Jante”, Janteloven, it was one of the first things I was told about when I came to Denmark to study. It is not the actual law, it comes from some novel from 1933. My Danish teacher claims, that even though it is not that important in Copenhagen area, in many places on the continental Denmark (in Jutland) this law still “holds” and it expresses their attitude towards individuals trying to grow too high. To me both the law and the fact that this is one of the first things you learn after coming here are shocking:

    From Wikipedia:
    You’re not to think you are anything special.
    You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
    You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
    You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
    You’re not to think you know more than we do.
    You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
    You’re not to think you are good at anything.
    You’re not to laugh at us.
    You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
    You’re not to think you can teach us anything.

    There is also a great study available online, it allows to compare cultures in different countries, I heard that it is really trustworthy and that they examined large groups of people from each country, it is also updated on regular basis, it gives each country a score in Power Distance, Individualism, Masculinity, Uncertainty Avoidance, Long Term Orientation and Indulgence: http://geert-hofstede.com/countries.html, the results are truly interesting.

  • Lontar

    What a fascinating topic. I’m immediately brought back to
    your post about Gen Y Yuppies being unhappy. How much of this culture is attributed
    to parenting style and generational starry eyes? It makes sense that I would
    want to have my children idolizing wildly successful people, but is that doing
    them a disservice? I sat down with my mentor (math teacher) recently and he
    surprised me by saying that one of the worst things you can tell a child is
    that they can achieve anything.

    But complete resignation isn’t the answer either
    (obviously). Some sense of reality and practicality needs to be conveyed without
    crushing a child’s aspirations.

    My suspicion is that the older generation has an oftentimes toxic
    combination of hindsight and regret that gives them an inflated view of the
    younger generations’ potential, and this gets miscommunicated through parenting
    (“what you can achieve” =/= “what I think you can achieve”). In this country we
    are trained from a young age that financial success outweighs everything else.

    On that note I think it would be helpful if we were given
    portrayals of the problems of the very rich. I think alongside all of this is
    an assumption that financially successful people are incapable of having
    significant personal struggles. Our worship of money is such that a person of
    their stature can simply buy their way back into well-being, and that would be
    the ultimate fantasy, would it not?

  • Taylor Marks

    I think you’re mistaken in that any certain attitude is more common in one place than another. I think there are a few big people in the US that you can definitely say think of some people as having risen too high:

    – The occupy movement / the 99% movement. Somehow being in the top 1% makes you inherently bad?
    – Elizabeth Warren. God forbid a senior architect gets paid more than 10x the person being trained to work a cash register does.
    – Obama. “You didn’t build that.”

    (I’m not trying to be political… but I can’t think of anyone person or group which isn’t highly political which thinks like this.)

    • Agree, but those are all considered left, even far-left positions. Occupy and Warren are not mainstream.

  • alisonlowndes

    I’m from UK and we have a pretty good ethos towards entrepreneurship here. I’ve lived in and out of the welfare system, seen both sides and also experienced places like China that give no support and places like Sweden that completely snuggle up and protect their population but I think UK is totally up for entrepreneurs and success. If you work for it. Ask Branson. Ask Hassabis!

  • Tor_

    Funny, we discussed this around dinner table today 🙂

    Here in Norway (Scandinavia) we have something called The Law of Jante http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_Jante

    The 10 “laws” pretty much defines up the crab bucket and other issues from various countries discussed in this thread.

    Maybe US is the land of oppurtunities afterall, and mostly cause of this issue 🙂

  • Michel Kangro

    I’m from Germany and I won’t speak about “how it is” here or elsewhere. I will speak about what I think only.

    I think from what I can read and see here, many of the successfull (from here on I will say powerful or rich, ok?) people indeed are very self-centered and that becoming rich usually takes self-centeredness. Mind the usual, please. People who think more of others then themselves just don’t get the position to become rich or influental because they think of others when the decisions to become rich or influental are made and they get booted out. They don’t necessarily completly fail, they just don’t rise as fast as more self-centered people.

  • Theo Valich

    As an entrepreneur living between U.S., Croatia and Singapore, the words that Elon, once Southafrican and now Canadian – could not be more true. However, not all of the U.S. generate that positive influence and positive drive. In my life, I had the opportunity of living in NYC, TN, TX and SF/LA/SD and I saw a division and aversion to success in the U.S. as well. The key thing that U.S. has, and not a lot of countries have – are ‘pockets of innovation’, and those pockets have legal and other infrastructure needed to prevent the TPS. In California, Seattle, Portland, Austin – innovation is more than welcome, while NYC was more like Singapore. Not a single place in U.S. I’ve been to is similar to traditional framework or Germany or Croatia, where TPS is very pronounced, and Talking People Down (TPD) and Talking Trash About People (TTAP) syndromes are stiffling innovation. Good example in Croatia for example, is a toilet paper distributor that started a business incubator/accelerator and while people TPD and TTAP him, truth is that over 30 companies came out for the past 7 generations/years, and some are now backed by Warren Buffet, YCombinator and the likes.

    It is hard to break free from negative thinking and attitudes, but only if you stay true to yourself – you have a shot at succeeding. And sacrificing yourself and sacrifices made by your team members can make or break the idea and turn it into business. If you have a team of people that consists with people that suffer from TPD/TTAP syndromes, you will be held back. Detect negative people and cut off early, otherwise your progress will suffer. Sadly, that was one lesson I was too slow to learn, and only now have a team capable of succeeding.

    • tweinstre

      I’m Croatian. I couldn’t agree more.

  • RF42

    I think the American Dream itself is based on the whole notion of succeeding, and also the reason that people in the US, perhaps, are more willing to give credit to those who do succeed. After all “if you work hard, you will succeed” by its definition gives credit to those who have succeeded because the assumption is that they worked hard to get there. People from around the world who had nothing came to America with the expectation that anything was possible – that no one would keep them down and if they tried hard and worked diligently, they would succeed. Anything they attained was due to their own efforts and they were worthy of admiration.

    Sadly, I think the American Dream has died and with it our generosity of spirit when it comes to being accepting of success. It seems so rare these days for people who begin with nothing to be able to surpass that handicap to ultimately succeed because our government and society put too many obstacles in the way (inferior educational systems, lack of support of poorer people, expensive medical care, low wages that make it impossible to earn a decent living). That means that those who do succeed are suspect – they clearly had advantages in life to help them get to where they are (i.e. – the best education, good healthcare, all bills paid and food on the table at every meal). I find it hard to be happy for someone who has reached a high level of success when I know that they had all of the best opportunities in life handed to them. It’s even harder to respect those who have succeeded when they become part of the 1%, those who care only for their own wealth and success to the detriment of the rest of society.

    As much as Tall Poppy Syndrome might seem like a negative, I have to wonder if America wouldn’t do better if we had some more of that. As it stands, we allow people with power and money – the hallmarks of “success” to trample on pretty much everyone else. Perhaps if our society forced fed those types a huge dose of humility, we might be better off as a nation. As it stands, those who succeed are permitted to manipulate the system so that they alone keep succeeding while others will never attain success.

  • Robben

    Quite an interesting topic! I wasn’t aware that seeing rich/succesful people as show offs is such a universal thing (except for US and maybe UK). I’m from the Netherlands and we have a saying ‘Doe maar normaal, dan doe je al gek genoeg’, which means something like: ‘Please act normal, because that is weird enough’. So if someone shows off, Dutch people say this.

    While this attitude has negative sides as stated by many people before, it also has good sides. It lets people who don’t have the capicities to do great things keep their self esteem. The effect of this is that the people who do get rich and famous in my country, are accepted/cheered upon as long as they ‘act normal’, meaning the famous football player shouldn’t behave as if he is any better (as a person) than the pizza delivery guy and the insanely rich DJ who lives in a normal sized house with wife and kids has much more fans than the insanely rich DJ with the private jet who dates Paris Hilton. Confidence to win/reach your goal is accepted, but saying ‘I’m the world’s greatest’ is definitely bad for your image.

    Though I think we are changing, every generation is getting less Calvinistic and more ‘American’ so it is getting much more common for a young person to say they want to be the best of the world. Accepted by some of their own generation, not by the older.

  • Hannah Jones

    The US is certainly at the forefront of scientific and technical innovation, and yes, this may well be down to the cultural reasons described. And JK Rowling has made similar comments – that whenever she visits the US people go out of their way to congratulate her and let her know how much she deserves her success. One woman said “I’m glad you’re rich!” Whereas in Europe, people are perhaps a little bit sneery about how much money she has.

    So while I agree to some extent, I think there are clearly pros and cons to this outlook. It may not be fair to say that ALL successful people did well because they “screwed somebody else” or were born into privilege, but those factors do contribute (at least partially) in many cases – and it’s utterly erroneous and harmful to imply that those Americans who are poor or “unsuccessful” are that way because they just didn’t help themselves enough. Social inequality is a scourge in the US – more so than anywhere else in the developed world – and is (evidence would suggest) the reason behind higher levels of crime and other social problems.

    I take even greater issue with the idea that the US is not “trapped in its own history”. Many Americans have an extraordinary attachment to their Constitution, flag etc. and (more to the point) the idea that they are “free” and that “big government” is an encumberment to freedom – which very clearly takes its roots from the spirit in which the country was originally founded. The argument about universal healthcare, for example, was won 70 years ago in Europe – try finding a European who doesn’t appreciate it and doesn’t think we should all have it. Yet the US stays resistant in the face of this.

    Love, a European social democrat 🙂

    • Jill B Conover

      “[…]utterly erroneous and harmful to imply that those Americans who are poor or “unsuccessful” are that way because they just didn’t help themselves enough. Social inequality is a scourge in the US – more so than anywhere else in the developed world – and is (evidence would suggest) the reason behind higher levels of crime and other social problems.”
      Yes, absolutely, so much yes! But that is only one side of the success coin. “Pluck” needs “luck” to be in the right place at the right time, not give up, be open to opportunity, risk taking, and willingness to do something (and that includes not making bad choices) that raises you above your current station, etc. But the question is whether that is acceptable (and encouraged) in the US as opposed to other countries. I believe that is is actively encouraged in the US and that getting “trapped in our own history” is less of an issue here. Yes, that does mean that we have other cultural and social issues/crimes, but that isn’t the central question either.

  • EmersonDameron

    You guys may enjoy this.

    http://www.pewglobal.org/interactives/global-opportunity-quiz/

    I was struck by a sense of relative uniformity, nation to nation.

  • CaPEITÃO América

    This coud not be more true, it works exactly like this here in Brazil

  • Jerome

    It’s a trick question. Absolutely depends on your definition of success. If success means money and nothing else then yes, America definitely smiles on piles of money more than any other country. But plenty of people consider that definition far to narrow. If you use a wider definition of success that includes personal satisfaction, happiness and the helping of others, then not so much.

    I would infer, just from cultural immersion, that most Americans consider Vincent Van Gogh a very successful painter because his art sells for hundreds of millions of dollars. But he’d dead. When he lived, he never sold a painting to anyone outside his own family. He lived in poverty and obscurity. His success in his own life consisted solely of his passion for painting. Few in America value that kind of success and without the money it’s all worthless.

    • Lightforge

      The U.S. tends to be different in those ways, too, albeit more slightly and less so on the coasts. Proper measurement of happiness is in its infancy, but things like helping others (hence the common perception that Americans are suspiciously friendly) and scientific output are higher per capita. Most Americans would see Van Gogh as a struggling painter, not a failure. If I’m correct on this, it explains a lot, because punishing failure does not motivate people to achieve something. In fact, it inhibits it. Only rewarding success or hard work is effective, and this works on a micro scale as well, such as in parenting. Therefore, if success comes with drawbacks or hard work is seen as likely ineffective, people will be that much less motivated to actually succeed. We know that hard work is necessary to generating new successes, so even if the correlation is very low (i.e., that hard work only occasionally causes success), the perception that hard work brings success will have massive effects on a national scale.

      • Jerome

        You’re right that people are more open to different ideas on the coasts and Americans tend to be very friendly. I like the America, I like the country and the people but as everyone knows there are problems there that somewhat unique in the developed world.

        Van Gogh may not be the best example but my point is that success everywhere includes money and the influence (power) that comes with money. However, success is many other things besides just money and power. In America, those other things don’t count very much. In America, the culture assumes that once you have money and power then you MUST BE HAPPY, YOU MUST BE well balanced and a joy to everyone because only money and power count. It also assumes that if you don’t have money and power then you are lazy and undeserving. This is the dark side of success in America, the mass neglect of the poor and less fortunate.

        This is why this question is so tricky. We are only supposed to look at the sunshine. “Oh my! See how sunny America is! How rich everyone is! It’s because they laud success, you know!”

        And are we suppose to believe that in America no one every became rich through chicanery and deceit? Are we supposed to believe that no one in America grew up with a silver spoon and did nothing at all to deserve their immense wealth and power? God forbid we become naysayers. Let’s just close our eyes tighter and plug our ears too. Then maybe we will become rich and deserving just like every other millionaire.

        Yes there are people who succeed through hard work but they were also lucky. Elon Musk was lucky, very lucky. He almost lost everything. Plenty of people work hard and never become rich. So success isn’t only hard work and being successful doesn’t mean you earned it. That is exactly what I dislike about this question. It’s far too simplistic. Nothing is ever so simple and everything has to balanced against something else.

        • Lightforge

          I agree with a lot of your points, but with some caveats. I never said individuals on the coasts were more open to ideas…I agree that perception exists, but I haven’t seen the research on openness by geographic region. I haven’t seen the “rich people must be happy” thing for a long time, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it still exists at some level.

          More importantly, I think the whole effect is less about lauding success and more about not vilifying those “better off” than it is about praising those who achieve success. The success in question is the primary goal of the achiever, and this kind of praise affects those giving it (especially at a macro level) more than it affects those receiving it. In this way, talking about a person’s success positively is a source of motivation, and talking about success negatively is a source of bitterness. That potential for bitterness or envy is source enough for chicanery of a different sort (after all, envy motivates taking, not earning).

          I don’t think anyone argues there is a level playing field in the U.S., which really isn’t the most pertinent question here. And naysaying is practically a national pastime. I think the argument is that there are fewer systemic and contrived barriers to success in the implied success game given any particular current position in terms of power.

          Elon Musk was definitely lucky. He also took enormous risks and knew it. But then again, if he failed, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. In the end, I agree the correlation is moderate in the population, but hard work for most people brings about more chances of greater success compared to not working hard. That is, hard work at low-ish levels of risk leads to success most of the time. The extreme cases require hard work, and also risk-tolerance, luck, and a great starting position (whether genetic, environmental, or both).

          • Jerome

            After reading your two posts I think we agree much more than disagree. First of all I believe your statement,

            ” I think the argument is that there are fewer systemic and contrived barriers to success” (in the U.S.)

            is the heart of the matter. Firstly, I completely agree that in America there are fewer systemic and contrived barriers to success. Americans in general are less adverse to taking risks because of this. In America risk can pay off big time. Canada is similar in that it is more like the US in this fashion than many other countries but people in the US are far better and more willing risk takers. They are simply better at it than anyone and it pays off for them. So I’m pretty sure we agree on this.

            So it may be that is how Tim meant it. However it didn’t read that way to me and the question made me bristle. Living very close to the United States gives me a chance to observe it up close. I don’t think you can separate America’s love of success from it’s disparagement of the unsuccessful. After all they are both attitudes. Whereas these two sentiments will vary greatly from person to person, the sum of it all seems to be a widespread, persistent and pernicious sentiment that the less than successful are wholly to blame for their condition.

            Now obviously not everyone feels that way but enough do to affect public policy. Time and again, the government cuts taxes in a way that the richer you are the more benefit you receive and makes up for it with cuts to social programs. It is my belief that the widespread American notion that success is extra wonderful plays a huge part in selling this agenda to the people.

            You may argue that you don’t see this belief per say in people you meet, but it is there. Sometimes you have to poke them a bit to find it. It’s one of those things people don’t like to speak too openly about because other people like me will have a word with them.

            What seems to be missing is compassion and generosity. The wealthy do not need a tax cut but they can lobby for it and get it because they have become so rich and influential they can pretty much do what they want. THIS IS PART OF THE QUESTION. You can’t laud America for it’s love of great success without also looking at the harm being done from America’s obsession with money and success. Everything has a dark side and usually the brighter the light side the darker the other.

  • girly freak

    I can not speak of other countries but here in Germany it is like Musk explains the US so he is wrong. But that is just my personal point of view. I don’t know the majority of people in germany but where I live it is exactly the same.

    Individual success is – if morally correct – nothing you should a person feel bad for. So it is nice that the US (and at least Germany) don’t have a problem with it. But if the success is the result of acting unmorally there is much reason to at least criticize that. What makes me sad is that there is almost no 100% moral company. I would put Elon Musk at about 95% because he uses real leather for the Tesla-cars. As a convinced vegan I can’t call that 100% moral. 95% still is quite good and I think he does a lot for the human future so it is still one of the most important companys. I just can not understand why the future of other sentient creatures don’t matter. Hey Tim, can’t you try to convince him to use high-quality synthetic leather instead?

    Whatever…. I divagated. Still I like the aims of Musk and I would of cause not criticize his individual success – the very reverse, I would praise that.

    • cluelesschan

      Sorry but i completely disagree about Germany. As an expat here, and having lived in Asia and the US, I have found Germany to be completely anal about traditions and culture, and a very deep inertia to new things especially in technology. Individual brilliance, while not disparaged, is hardly ever encouraged. There is very little chance, for example, that i as an expat can become a millionaire here. The systems are designed to discourage individual enterprise. The system is one of social welfare where i am encouraged to live a balanced life, and not push harder to reach for my dreams, and even if i go against this and push myself, am taxed and left with little for myself in the name of social welfare.
      Sorry but there is just no comparison, germany is nowhere compared with the US, and even places like Hong Kong and Singapore.

      • girly freak

        You don’t need to apologize for disagreeing.

        It is true that you pay high taxes in Germany earning much money. But you have a maximum percentage of tax you pay at something around 50% of your income. And you do not have to pay taxes on asset.

        What I was just referring to was my personal experience with other people when I talked to them about that.

    • Korakys

      I don’t think you know what sentient means.

      • girly freak

        I know what sentient means (leo dictionary told me to exactly use that word 😛 ).

        But may you please tell me, why you think so?

        • Korakys

          Fuck, this is where I have to say I’ve just double checked and I didn’t know what sentient meant. I possibly confused it with sapient.

          I now also know that some people pronounce it sen-shint which sounds weird to me.

  • Alain Chautard

    I come from France where successful people end up leaving the country because they’re basically considered as thieves or liars. I definitely agree with the fact that in the US, it’s not only OK to be successful, it’s also much easier to become successful, as people trust other people more easily.

    I created my business in the US one year ago and I’ve been able to work with big companies and state governments. I don’t believe any state government in Europe would ever work with a small business. The US have a different state of mind, which allows a lot of great stuff to happen here. I totally agree with Musk on that (and on many other things as well)

  • xavier117

    “”America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, “It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.” It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: “if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.

    Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five”

    To me the above quote, although a bit outdated, is always highly relevant whenever this “America/Pull yourselves up by your own bootstraps” mentality is trotted out as if its the best attitude for a society to have. From an Australians point of view, yes, we have the tall poppy syndrome and many times its not ideal. But if thats the price to pay from a society that looks after itself then so be it. I don’t think a country that has to be dragged kicking and screaming to some sort of collective healthcare policy (as abstract as it is) can be proud of itself.

    • Vivante

      I think the self-hatred of the american poor is one of the greatest tragedies of this country. People who are poor despise themselves because the great american myth is that it is a land of unlimited opportunity and if you don´t succeed, where you have all that opportunity, you are worthless. Kids growing up in an atmosphere like that have little urge to try at all, as in fact they have almost no chance for advancement (and when a young kid who´s doing fine in school gets shot in the back by a redneck white pseudo-cop, it´s just more proof of the hopelessness of even trying).The truth of it is, America is the land of opportunity for those that are 1)white 2) young 3) smart 4)healthy 5) energetic and convinced of themselves 6) educated or well-trained and 7)best of all, rich.

  • Jay Kay

    I think people in Very rich areas like Monaco and the Hamptons or the UAE would disagree. The same is probably true of a few Asian cities like Beijing, Soul, Tokyo…

  • Hex-Hit

    I’m from Canada where if you have a good idea people will say wow, great, GOOD LUCK but rarely will offer to help.

    I saw the complete contrast while on a trip to Panama. I was in a casino, chatting with a great guy and we exchange ideas and realisations.

    He was from Texas and owned a storage business. He told me one of his client had DRONES, that was in 2006. They planned on renting their services to fire fighting services in the US. I told him there was a real estate boom in Panama and many large properties could use a DRONE picture taking service.

    He thought for about five seconds and responded, if you set it up I would invest in it!!!
    THAT is the American way.

    Before I had met him I did a research on Venture Capital, in 2005 this was what I discovered,

    USA 63%
    Europe 28%
    Asia 25%
    Africa 3%
    Latin America 1%

    Self improvement and “invest in people” is as America as can be.
    One of the major problem of Latin America is that the rich do not
    think the poor are worth their investment. No LOW FARE air
    impedes business and so many more things. It surprsed me that
    Afica had a better Venture Capital % then Latin America, but after
    thinking about it it made sense.

  • Alex Dowlen

    I too believe this to be true. In the mid-nineties, my wife’s family was quite wealthy living in Korea as her father owned his own seven story building in Daejon selling air conditioner units, (which was a fairly new and catching on technology in Korea those days.) However, her father’s fast rise to success prompted other board members of this air conditioner brand distribution company to effectively push my father-in-law out of business. He had to sell his office building, quit the company, and eventually moved out of the country.

    In our culture it seems backwards to put somebody down during their time of success, especially when it brings clientele and market recognition to your brand. However, in some countries, as Mr. Musk stated, the successful man’s peers do not like to see them prosper beyond their own means.

  • ohjay

    He is not correct, at least not in todays America. the “1%” are generally regarded negatively, as if they didnt earn with they have, did shady s*it to get their etc etc.

    I will say that American idea of success, make money no matter what it takes along the way, is ultimately a bad thing. American society is not healthy at all.

  • thetropicalpenguin

    here in Southeast Asia, we call it crab mentality. “If I can’t have it, you can’t have it.” being different is frowned upon. being successful, instead of inspiring people, makes them suspicious. and looking at the other comments, it seems more prevalent than i thought.

    sometimes, i think it’s all rooted in one thing. we don’t have that sort of confidence to believe that we, too, can be successful in our own ways. years, even decades of being colonized has led us to believe that we are very limited in our capabilities. we are — that’s a fact — but our limits can be stretched, too. we can be successful, too. we can be great individuals, too. only by surpassing our previous limits can we continuously become better persons.

    remember the Louis CK quote, “The only time you should ever look in your neighbor’s bowl is to see if they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.”

    if our neighbor, or our friend, or our colleague succeeds (in a legal and morally correct way), we should be happy for them. because they stepped up in life. they didn’t trample over anybody. and they certainly didn’t succeed to rub it in your face. don’t think that way. be happy for other people’s success. let them be an inspiration to you.

  • Matt

    Australia here….I think that Tall Poppy syndrome isn’t about not wanting/liking people being successful, but more not liking them ‘blow their own trumpet’. People just don’t want to see ‘successful’ people going on about how great and successful they are.

  • ScHmo

    succe$$. not how it is spelt but how it’s defined in north america and other places. and it doesn’t matter where you live, if you are not the “right” colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation, hair colour, etc., your chances of succe$$ are diminished.

    as has been said many times over in these comments, we need to start spelling it and living it differently and emphasizing that it ain’t the $$ that counts – it’s how we can create equilibrium on this planet like the rest of the life here on planet on earth who seem to accomplish it with almost no effort (or at least until we jump in).

    sure wish we would get a whole lot smarter real quick (myself included). maybe we need help…

  • Savannah

    Hola! I’ve grown up being the minority of minorities, Indian and female in a South East Asian country. It’s like having a bum eye and one leg while trying to do a circus act. Barely anyone listens to me, it’s difficult to get jobs in this region because I am looked down upon (so I went ahead and applied to international companies, and got accepted! 😀 ) AND I get strange looks from people when I try (like I shouldn’t). I’m a college student now studying in Upstate New York and the difference is crazy. No one questions my opinion, speaks to me any different or looks down on me (also I am able to dress and talk the way I want, but I’ll save the equality rant for another time).
    I mean maybe I am living in my little college bubble of refusing to let my opinion go unheard, but coming back to SEA this summer to spend time with my family, all these barriers are suddenly apparent to me again. I feel like any time I am trying to highlight the important issues they bring up some other small, insignificant point to bring me down (like it’s futile trying to fight the government, you’re a woman, and so on). Whereas I feel like if I really wanted to bring about change in America, it wouldn’t be too hard. Maybe I haven’t found the secret occult of “South East Asians for a Better Tomorrow” and it’s just out there waiting for me, then again maybe it’s not and I should consider packing up and moving for good.

    • Savannah

      BUT just to leave this on a more positive note, something I live by:

      “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson

  • Isac

    In Sweden, there is a thing called “Jante-lagen” (the Law of Jante; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_Jante ) going on – which is not really a law in a legal sense, but more of a mentality brewing in the back of the heads of most Swedes. Very similar to the Tall Poppy Syndrome. Successful people, sometimes enhanced by social media image-crafting, makes people’s eyes itch to an unbelievable degree. Luckily, this mentality is slowly fading away generation after generation – and hopefully, the social media image-crafting braggers will not replace these people.

    Keep up the good work, Tim!

  • WW

    I’m an immigrant and I believe in the American dream. I’d like to think that because of my parents and my hard work, we’re living it. But I think that this idea is going away a bit. In this comments section, like so many others, people refer to the “rich” and “1%” as a single entity and imply that it’s a negative trait. Is that not the same thing as the Tall Poppy Syndrome?

  • Balaji

    I am from India. I think until few years ago people’s attitude used to be ‘It doesn’t matter whether I succeed or not, what matters is that the other person fails’. However, it is important to realize why such an attitude was prevalent in the first place. I think it has to do with the fact that for most part of the last few decades middle class in India saw education as the primary means of economic development. Everyone in the middle class wanted their son/daughter to study from the premier institutes in the country – however, there was one big problem, limited number of such institutes (read IITs and IIMs – at its worst 250,000 competed for 2,500 seats at IIMs). As a result, the general feeling was that for someone to succeed, other person must fail. (On a side note, the general statement made by institutes coaching for entrance exams is ‘It doesn’t matter how difficult the paper is, everything is relative. You might score only 50% but if you are in top 0.5% then you are through’).
    However, in the last few years, things are changing for good in India. People have started to realize that success is not mutually exclusive and the many people can succeed together. (Thanks to the growing number of startups and increasing the number of premier institutes in the country). It might still take us some time to start appreciating others’ success the way they do in US, however, I believe we are moving in the right direction.

  • xug

    Hard to explain but as an Australian, I feel we hold onto ours coins a lot tighter than in the USA. As a business owner I am frequently told to get out of the Australian market and into the US market. Australians take care of themselves before even considering building a mutually beneficial business with another person. In the US, I feel people see the mutually beneficial relationship as a worthwhile cause and hence there is more momentum in business. The Australians are now at a point where they have inflated their house prices so high (15% growth a year) that there is little choice but to count your coins and put them back into your bank account. Business is slowing. Our attitude sux and has become restrictive for future growth.

  • Petra

    I am from the Czech Republic, Central Europe. I agree on the statement that unlike USA – especially in post-communist countries – people don’t trust to someone who is more succesfull. To do bussiness is kind of suspitious and people sometimes don’t go far for words like “corruption” or “unprincipled”. Of course they may be right, but it’s a prejudice still. Luckily some positive attitude is coming with new generations. 🙂

    • GinpachiSensei

      I’m from Romania and we have a similar attitude here. Anyone who rises above the rest is seen with suspicion and hatred, but also envy. It’s like many people would not mind getting their hands dirty if they could get rich by doing it. Well most people don’t get the opportunity to do it anyway since they’re mostly complacent about their place in life (a very defeatist attitude to be sure). It’s a strange mix indeed.

    • Piotrek

      I’m pretty sure it is typical behaviour for people from Central Europe. I’m from Poland, so I’m your neighbour 🙂 Here people (especially elderly ones) do not like private business. They accuse businessmen for thievery. There is a popular claim: if you earn a lot of money, it means that somebody has a little less and it makes you a bad person.

      I think it is a general problem of post-communist countries. Although the communism in Europe ended in 1989, a lot of old people still believe in its ideology of “equality”. But – as you said – positive attitude is coming with new generations. 🙂

  • Sam

    Living in Switzerland and being from the states, the biggest difference I notice between here and back home is a general lack of entrepreneurial spirit. In the US, when someone has a good idea, they go for it. Whether they know what they are doing or not. We have an amazing “figure it out as you go” culture in the US that is driven by ambition. Here, there is nothing like that. People are very interested in getting all of the proper training and certifications before trying something new or risky. Americans have a great penchant for risk and a culture that rewards the successful while the Swiss prefer to keep their noses down and follow the secure paths forward.

    I would surprised to meet a Swiss person in financial straits because they went all in on their business and it failed. Similarly I would be surprised to meet a similar successful Swiss entrepreneur.

    I think the thing that separates American culture from the rest of the world is ambition that is unhindered by risk aversion.

  • Pepperice

    I’m British. I don’t think that there is tall poppy syndrome here, as in the idea that somebody who has done well ought to be cut down. But I don’t tend to feel positive towards somebody who is rich and successful. It’s unconscious, because I only realised it when I started to read about this US difference (yep, I had read theories on this before.) But I think it comes from the fact that to be rich and successful here, you’ve usually had a pretty privileged existence. You didn’t start poor. You didn’t start on the same level of the staircase as somebody else who was. And so the other rich-and-successfuls regard this as normal and their due, and the poor/disadvantaged tend to see all of them walking around on a platform which they have no hope of reaching without being exceptional, and yeah, it grates. People insist that there is no class structure any more, but there clearly is.

    I find it strange that in America success is viewed as something anybody could get and that to admire it is natural, because it’s not the impression I have of America at all. It seems to me that the rich/poor divide is still very much there, and that it IS difficult to get ahead without stepping on other people, and that I have a problem with. Perhaps my perception is wrong, but the idea that hard work (and only hard work) = success and therefore successful person = to be admired because they have worked hard, and poor person = undeserving of pity or support, because they didn’t work hard, and they can get their way out of their situation BY working hard, is a fallacy. It’s a very convenient lie which seems perfectly logical, but it doesn’t work. Because the world (especially a world under capitalism, which surprise! Also thrives upon this lie) doesn’t actually work this way. There are poor people who work incredibly hard but never catch a break, and there are rich people who were handed their opportunities on a plate and didn’t have to work nearly as hard, but assume that they worked harder than everyone else. I do *like* the idea that hard work ought to lead to success and hence success is always fairly earned, but I don’t think that it does work that way. And so, I am not blindly in awe of anybody rich and powerful, and neither do I see them as much of an inspiration. Unless I can actually relate to them in some way I tend to assume that they had some opportunity I didn’t, or that they are/were markedly exceptional. So the idea that “normal” people look up to successful people and think “One day I’ll be like that” is pretty alien to me. In my world, that doesn’t tend to happen.

    • Robben

      Excellent post. It feels indeed pretty weird seeing all those movies and TV series of normal people with 2 full time jobs who hardly make it to pay their rents and still dreaming/expecting they will be rich and famous… Definitely not something most adults in my country think about. But that is maybe because here (the Netherlands) everyone with a 36 hour job, no matter how unskilled it is, is able to have a good life, live in a nice home, is able to finance any repairs, has the best health insurance, can send his kids to college without seriously saving money for it, and can still go on at least a one week holiday abroad. Totally different from all those sitcoms about American families with two sixty hour jobs who hardly make it…

      So yeah, I’m glad I live in a country where everyone can just have a nice life with one 9-5 job. So succesful people, don’t cry about not being cheered upon, but be happy that if everything goes wrong with your company, you will probably still get a job and have a good life.

      • TheresaJZiegler
      • Tipsy

        I’m surprised a person in Europe could be satisfied with one week abroad a year, that’s 10/520 weeks in ten years!! Nothing.

        • Vivante

          My Dad had two weeks vacation a year for 40 years at a steady whitecollar job in New York…he was good at it too and eventually got promoted and at the end of his career got three weeks off. He was never abroad in his life, but he never complained! How long are people´s vacations in your country and how long does the average person there go abroad on vacation?

          • Tipsy

            Don’t know, but whatever the average I wouldn’t like to be in your dad’s position! It sounds great economically and if he enjoyed bits of his job that’s great too, but, geez, we only live once. I don’t want to spend it in a white collar job.

        • Rusty Shackleford

          Right? I need at least three broads a year.

    • Chris Capon

      Great post Pepperice. I would have to agree. I think the concepts of privilege you talk about is summed up well in this little webcomic http://digitalsynopsis.com/inspiration/privileged-kids-on-a-plate-pencilsword-toby-morris/. So I thought I’d share 🙂

      • Pepperice

        Yes. I’ve seen that before and it’s spot on 🙂

    • WW

      I wonder why so many people think the rich cheated their way or was born into the top? I think there is plenty of room to rise in the U.S. It doesn’t happen all at once, and sometimes the older generations have to make sacrifices and give extra to the next generation to send them to the best schools and provide them with the best opportunities, but I think reaching “success” pretty much by any definition is achievable in 2-3 generations here.

      • Matt

        You say you wonder why it’s the case that people think the rich are born into the top echelons/rich families, then go on to say that you can reach ‘success’ within 2-3 generations. Question asked and answered, I think!

        How many presidents of the united states were born in trailer parks? In fact one of the next likely candidates had a husband who used to hold that title, and another had both a father and a brother. Or consider the current US secretary of state John Kerry- actually a member of the fabulously wealthy and extremely old Forbes family. This isn’t new either, think of the Roosevelt family. The UK (where I’m from) isn’t much better anymore, where most politicians attended one single fee-paying school (Eton College). Though in the past it was less homogenous: Margaret Thatcher (daughter of a grocer), John Major (dad performed in music halls and had a garden ornament business), Harold Wilson (dad was a chemist), etc, etc.

        But the effect isn’t limited to politics of course. Think about a few of the biggest global/US companies: Wal-mart, Ford, Koch Industries, Mars, all run by people whose forefathers founded the companies years ago. The Wiki page on old money (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_money) is particularly enlightening with regards to the influence some families can bestow upon their offspring.

        And yet there’s a prevailing myth in the US, even in the trailer parks, that anyone can do anything if they put their minds to it. Now I’m not saying that’s not a healthy attitude to be fostered, after all it attracts the likes of Elon Musk, but it would be nice if there was a genuine meritocratic element to it as well; if truly the harder you worked the more you were rewarded. Such a place doesn’t exist anywhere in the world, though I’d settle for somewhere like where Robben lives- where everyone can have a comfortable lifestyle so long as they put the hours in.

        • WW

          But what about Bill Clinton and Obama? I don’t think I contradicted myself. Each generation can improve on the previous. If I can move up a quintile in society from where my parents were, I consider that pretty meritocratic. Unless you are exceptional and better than everyone else, there shouldn’t be an expectation to go from zero to the top.

          I agree that education is a huge problem and deters people going from trailer parks to PhDs but it’s not impossible. This is a huge problem that will hopefully become better, but if someone proves themselves, I don’t think people try to pull that person down (until they get to the 1% apparently) And in that sense, America is better than so many other countries.

          Also I don’t think pay should be correlated to how hard you work, but how much you contribute. People wouldn’t buy a car just because someone worked really really hard on it if it is not better than another car. I think this is just a misconception.

          Finally I don’t begrudge the people who have made it and try to make it easier for their children. I think most parents would try to help their children as much as they can. But we don’t have a concept that someone is born into power in the U.S. There is plenty of room at the top, and if someone mismanages the company that their grandfather built, the company would collapse. There are definitely freebies but I don’t think it’s as prevalent as people think, especially when it comes to running large corporations.

          • Matt

            It sounds like we actually broadly agree on a lot of these topics, but just a couple of points: you raised Clinton and Obama, what about them? If It was a true meritocracy we would expect 99% of everyone in politics to be made up of non-1%ers. The fact is that while people like Clinton and Obama can get into office, their socio-economic demographic is massively under-represented politically. Of course, Obama’s dad was in politics as well, but that’s splitting hairs.

            When you say there shouldn’t be any expectation to go from zero to the top, I agree! But often that’s how this conversation is framed, i.e. America is a land so filled with opportunity that you can do or be anything you dream of. Even you say that in the sense of mobility and inequality America is ‘better than so many countries’. Well, yes. But it’s worse than more of them. According to most measures of inequality, the USA performs below average in terms of the rest of the world (in those countries measured), and when you only look at ‘developed’ countries, the USA is actually pretty dismal by comparison. So I’m very interested in where this idea of the ‘American dream’ comes from, and how it got so embedded in your national imaginary.

            I also disagree with you slightly in that I think how hard you work and how much you contribute are strongly positively correlated. That is, if you work really hard on a car and it doesn’t sell any better than another car, there’s a good chance that the other car maker worked equally, or harder, on their car than you. Maybe they spent time identifying gaps in the market, understanding what the consumers wanted, or maybe they just worked hard to produce something of similar quality for a cheaper price.

            Also if people were only rewarded by how much they contribute, it does raise a few sticky questions, e.g. how about when a scientist tests a hypothesis and discovers it to be untrue. Of course there’s some value in a negative result, but not as much. And you don’t want to put people off from working for 5 years on something if it could turn out to be an incredible breakthrough, just because there’s also a sizable chance it’ll fail.

            And lastly I certainly don’t begrudge anyone with rich families. That’s not something I said, or meant to imply! I just think that so long as the rich are over-represented in positions of power, you’re selecting leaders from a very small pool; how do we know there’s not someone better for the job? That’s why I think the focus should be on raising standards of living across all sections of society, so that a larger number of people feel more confident and able to enter such jobs, with less of an emphasis on who you know rather than what you know. This isn’t a case of character-assassination of anyone born into money, simply an observation that you’re doing democracy a disservice if it’s not also meritocratic. Unfortunately it often seems the two are mutually exclusive.

    • Tipsy

      You’re totally right, working hard laying roads every day for your whole life won’t get you admired for your success in road laying.

    • Adding to the great stuff Pepperice and all have said, including that great ‘comic’ strip (the same artist has an amazing apartment analogy, for which the USA one would be even more shocking), I’d say that here in the USA there’s also a misplaced sense that if it can, and did, happen to one person, it therefore means it is equally and readily possible for everyone. And while on the one hand it is true, those few people who have started at the bottom and made it to the top of tops are just that: few. I wouldn’t call it an even playing field; it’s not so easily done by hard work and cleverness alone. Who knows how many people have bailed out along the way. And that is part of the insidious backhand of the “American Dream”, which says “anyone can make it” and therefore “if you’re not making it, it’s gotta be your fault, maybe you just suck.” Which then can have people stop trying to excel.

      I’ve never experienced the tall poppy syndrome when I was growing up in Canada (more of a “it can’t happen here” syndrome, unfortunately). I’ve also not really noticed it when I’ve been in other countries, or interacted with people from elsewhere. Perhaps why it seems there are “bigger” successes is a matter of, like many things in the USA, extremes… There are those who shoot by the moon. There are many who never even get a chance to see the launch pad.

    • Matt

      Pretty much my feeling too.
      I don’t think the US are the crucible of entrepreneurs becouse they smile on success, of course there are a thousand concauses and my opinion is as humble as any other without any degree on the matter and i hope to not generalize or stereotype too much but it came to my mind reading a WBW post on 241 trillion :

      “While the mean net income, at $301,140,1 is one of the world’s highest, the median US net income is far lower and only the 27th highest in the world”

      A tendency to working hard or a higher than the average concentration of entrepreneurs put richness in the sistem because they create something everyone would benefit and this should be translated both to an higher mean income and an higher median income wich US has not.

      As an economist I met liked to say: “It’s easier to redistribute richness than create it” so US is undoubtedly very rich: is big, very industry, much military, such silicon valley, so Obama and this produce the very good mean income but then (I SUPPOSE, economists may forgive me) has a system more on the side of capitalism than any commie european country: I’ll explain: private school system, private health care, low taxes, federal government, less bureaucracy and yes, more “freedom” (not a mock “” simply a generalization “”) are all more advantageous if i can pay my own health care, the best school or sell guns or elude taxes making my HQ in another state or other lots of pros a capitalist country offers I’ll be even more rich in comparison to a rich in my home country who still have to pay health care and school for everyone else (I’m not saying is a better system).

      This is a way to redistribute wealth focalizing on rich as opposed to a more socialist or eve communist country where the government tries to equalize the wealth (sorry again economy nerds) (and again not saying a system is better than the other) (I’m so politically correct I’m disgusting myself). I find some similarities with stock exchange and games based on blind probability like lottery: very few makes a lot of money because money loses them and this lower the median keeping the mean still.

      Or in other words if you are a smart person with a plan and make some money you are skyrocketed up a lot more easily giving you the possibility to reinvest on your buisness but if you are an average no one you’ll have less than the average

      And making a last strenuous appeal to all elements of economics that I have left is near to a TWTA (the winner takes all) market with a big King Kong effect (few statistical values so out of scale that aberrate the standard, because of this the median is used instead the mean in some cases).

      In the end I’ll try to confutate a little the view of Musk (please don’t hate me, I still love you): first in Italian there is no word to describe a tall poppy syndrome (and wikipedia suggest is a thing only in english, spanin and nederlands), second is probably the opposite, here with the 69th place in the corruption perception index mixed with a good enough wealth to be in G8 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G8#Member_facts create a fertile terrain for self realization “by any means possible” we are near to idolize rich people expecially if they are there with illecit means becouse the ability to get around law is a indicator of smart and witty people; except when those people are in our ways (different political party, competitor) then is for sure a thief enriched on orphans and widows, insults I can with good approximation say are to hide envy,

      and what is envy if not one of the fuels of amibtion wich Tim put as the mean to break the canopy?

      And still we have no silicon valley or Tesla or Microsoft and Google but only a bunch of single quite super rich individuals and the only big organization here is the Mafia, oh and Nutella wich compensate a bit.

    • C KARTIK

      Excellent comments. Would love to get your thoughts on Elon Musk.

      • Pepperice

        In what context? In all honesty I had never heard of Elon Musk before Tim started this series. I’m really interested and excited by the articles, though. He sounds like a really driven, innovative person, but the rare kind who is genuinely motivated by a desire to do things well and improve things in general rather than a desire for fame or money. That’s wonderful to me and I wish there were more people like him. I think it’s quite rare to find somebody with all three qualities; intelligence, kindness, and success. He might not be kind to his workers (in terms of expecting high standards from them) but in terms of thinking about humanity as a whole, I would say that qualifies. Perhaps kindness is the wrong word.

    • Pepperice

      Since there was a lot of interest in this, I’d like to add this article which I read today which I found very good. http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/guest_posts/2406189-Guest-post-The-poshness-test-we-cant-just-blame-employers-the-divide-starts-much-earlier

  • Vivante

    I am an American, but have lived in Germany much of my life. The Germans are a hard-working people, success is respected, admired, and generally seen as a reachable goal, the working public is generally optimistic and proud of the country´s achievements. (Not that the Tall-Poppy Syndrome is not rampant here as well–I suspect it is part of human-ape nature, everyone enjoys seeing Julius Caesar pushed off the throne–or the head chimpanzee driven off by a younger rival! ).

    But the prospects for the Germans´ creative future seem dim to me, because of their bureaucracy, conservatism and conventionality. There is a lot of difficulty in introducing innovative and unconventional ideas or methods, investment capitol for new ideas is rare, research money (in spite of the wealth of the country) is limited, and young people who want to do something innovative (actors, cooks, nerds, designers, scientists) tend to go to Berlin or leave the country, preferably for New York or California, where there is more opportunity.

    • Tipsy

      If I may criticise Germany: Why the fuck does every field in the country have a hunters box in it? And camping is basically illegal except in sanctioned areas. Talk about creepy.

      But Rügen is beautiful.

      • Vivante

        “Wild”camping is difficult in Germany (and in most of western europe) because there are no real “wild” areas –the land is very heavily populated, especially in west Germany, Holland, Belgium, southern England, western France, especially around all the big cities. Most property is private and very expensive (like around New York or Los Angeles) and people don´t like wild camping on their own land–where there are no toilets, no waste baskets, no real privacy, no fire places. They worry about beer bottles, “wild-pinklers” and garbage, and God knows there´s enough would-be campers who leave a mess behind them. There´s also a concern for the safety of the campers, which is why you can´t “camp” in your car next to the road. So camping grounds with running water, toilets and showers, campfire locations etc. are really necessary.

        The same goes for hunters–people hunt all over the place in the States, but the land is open and many “hunters” just go outside and shoot at things. Guns are VERY restricted in Germany (as in most of Europe) and only licensed hunters can own rifles or shotguns and go out and shoot game. And they can only hunt in their own, expensively leased or owned, fields and forests. And they are required to feed, care for, and keep track of all the game on their territory. And the amount of game they can shoot is rationed and controlled. And the upkeep of the forest, logging, planting new trees when the old ones are logged, keeping hiking trains cleared etc.is all the responsibility of the forest owner and the hunters. The cost and the work involved are enormous. The hunting stands are there so the hunters can keep track of the game by going out at dawn or dusk and observing them, sighting injured animals, shooting acceptable ones during the hunting season.

        i don´t think this is very creepy. It´s just the result of a lot of people living on relatively scarce land with no “wide open spaces” . And in thousands of years of occupancy, never destroying the environment and keeping things pretty well organized.

        • Tipsy

          Guns are Very restricted? Have you seen the global statistics on gun ownership my friend?

        • Tipsy

          Also, never destroying the environment? Is that a joke? The German landscape has been completely transformed over the last couple of thousand years.

  • saritika

    I think it’s an accurate statement that success in the US is celebrated more than in other countries, but on the other hand, I think some of the skepticism toward successful people often comes from a place of experience. It’s fair to say that in both Germany, Switzerland, and Argentina (the three other countries I have lived in besides my home country USA), history has proven that a lot of people found success on the backs of other peoples’ work, achievements, labor, oppression or ignorance. It’s true too in the United States, but I think our US American tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt or sometimes even outright ignore that fact makes for a culture that (a) attracts morally responsible people that can become successful, and (b) allows morally irresponsible people to become successful. People who want success know they will be free to find it in the USA, free of cultural disdain.

  • Wim K

    I want to preface this by saying that I really respect Musk (and you, Tim), and I’ve never read anything on your site that wasn’t brilliantly written and insightfully researched. That said, this time I’m a little iffy. Maybe this hits a nerve with me – I’m South African – but I can’t help but feel this is the “American arrogance” the world has come to hate.

    It’s an absurd suggestion that the US is fundamentally more prone to innovation or success. It gets annoying continuously hearing about how America is somehow fundamentally “different” or “better” than the rest of the world. America’s dominance is less than 100 years old – a drop in the ocean of history. And even in the last hundred years, other countries have been responsible for incredible innovations. Take, for example, the esteemed European scientific community of the past century. Or the incredible technological leaps occuring in Asia. Or the immense success of Middle Eastern oil-exporting nations.

    To define success in purely financial terms is part of the problem in my opinion. Sure, Musk got really damn rich, and in the US that is a mark of success. But what about Christiaan Barnard, the South African doctor who performed the world’s first heart transplant? He made medical history, but by American standards is not “successful” because he never made a Forbes listing.

    So yes, the US does have a different attitude towards success (as would any other country or culture), but to claim that Americans have a higher propensity towards success is not true to me. And to claim that the rest of the world sees financial success as a result of deceit or backhanded dealings is just as incorrect.

    You still rock, though, Tim 🙂

    • Succes is not defined purely on financial terms by Musk here. He also doesn’t claim anything. He just says what he thinks about the subject, probably mostly based on his own experiences.

    • Efraim A. Gonçalves

      They actually are more prove to innovation or success, though. A quote from How to Get Rich (by Felix Dennis):

      “One reads constantly of the financial rise of the European Union, of China, India and Russia. Fine and dandy, but facts are facts, International, Monetary Fund tables show the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the USA exceeds the GDP of the next five countries at the next five countries at the top of the league (Japan, Germany, China, Britain and France) combined. More to point, as far as ‘emerging’ markets are concerned, the USA’s GDP is worth more than the next 22 countries (after the five mentioned above) combined.”

      • Miguel Bartelsman

        That’s precisely what he was saying, the people in the US seem to think that money = success, and as such they are able to say they are better than the rest of the world, but people in the rest of the world don’t quite feel the same because for them money is not the same as success, it’s the same as money.

        Even though I believe this, I’ll also say that Musk is a person in the path to success, because he is definitely reaching his goals and changing the world for the better, which is something I’d dare to say most people with as much money as him won’t ever be bothered with.

    • Lightforge

      I agree in several ways, but note that Musk identified a mechanism. So even at worst, it’s not about a fundamental difference and it’s not necessarily an interpreter-value-dependent interpretation (though it’s not a value-neutral conclusion, either).

      Psychology, for example, cut its teeth in Germany and Europe more generally, but the political climate drove many researchers to the U.S., where it was valued more highly in a few ways (this is a simplified explanation). The effect was that psychology’s home turf moved to the U.S. and never quite left (though it has globalized significantly).

      Granted, elements of U.S. culture oppose extreme monetary success, new ideas, and even psychology…but the U.S also has a greater diversity of cultures, (not to mention socioeconomic status) than other countries, for better and worse. Understanding this diversity is important, because it’s not the average American that is more successful; it’s that the most successful group is larger per capita and perhaps more extreme in terms of scientific innovation and monetary success (the two examples I know are higher than expected). It’s positively skewed, not higher on average.

    • Tipsy

      I don’t think Tim claimed more people who have a propensity for ‘success’ are born American, I think he claimed the culture is more facilitative and celebrative of success.

      • Vivante

        I think that´s definitely true. So many countries, including the EU countries, have so many prohibitive rules and regulations on starting a business, building a plant, getting permits for this that and everything , that it´s almost impossible to start up something innovative. In addition, so many countries crush innovation with a tradition of bribery, corruption and thievery that people won´t even try to do anything. Look at Michail´s post from Moscow or Emes´s from Poland. Or try to do ANYTHING in Peru without bribing half the government!

  • tweinstre

    I agree with Musk. I’ve never actually been in the USA,but from everything I heard,saw,and read about it,that seems likely. My own country is pretty collectivist and people are often really (and openly!) envious and even angry on someone successful. I am not talking about “some” people,I am talking about majority. That’s a general attitude.

  • Chiel Wieringa

    Depends on the person your talking with. The country really doesn’t matter.

    But if you’re talking finance: well, you better stay in line or you won’t get the credit. 😉 In most countries they recognize success as long as you are no threat to the status quo. But when you are endangering the status quo, get ready for the smear campaign. People don’t like to lose power. Don’t think it’s any different in the USA.

  • SJ4

    As a citizen of the U.S., I both agree and disagree. Yes we do celebrate the success of those who have risen to acclaim for an idea or invention. However this seems to be the case of those who emigrate here. We (based on what I see in the media) are very proud of those who come here and and attain a national level of success. They were able to live out their “American Dream”. On the other hand I disagree that we celebrate success for those who have achieved it, especially those who are native to the U.S. Success in this country means you have back stabbed, lied, deceived and cheated to get where you are. It is only those with power and the connections to it that are able to “succeed”. Americans are waking up to this and are beginning to see through it all therefore applauding your success less.

    • Tipsy

      So is Elon a cheating backstabber?

      • SJ4

        He emigrated here so the second part of my comment would not apply to him

  • Mikhail

    Hi from Moscow! In Russia people think that reach=criminal and sadly in 90% of cases they are right. But it isn’t this attitude that stops people from starting any innovations or invest in any research. In fact, the wealth is respected in Russia. And the suspicion of criminal connections doesn’t really matter. There is another more practical reason. Everyone knows that whatever business you build, if it’s successful enough, you’ll have to sell it to someone with the right connections in police sooner or later. Either in the form of official transfer or ownership or paying a permanent “fee”. So, even those who run some innovative business inside, tend to transfer all the legal ownership to another jurisdictions abroad. After some time they start feeling some pressure of this kind and have to move abroad too. So, basically, whenever you decide to start a company in Russia you have to be prepared moving it abroad and eventually follow it. If the business is physically dependent on the local resources and can’t be moved somewhere, it’s doomed to go for bribery which is in fact considered as just another tax, and a very big one. So, those who are not prepared for that, don’t start anything. It’s just a general feeling of vulnerability that blocks most of the initiatives. I believe this is where one should start the thinking of the openness to the innovation, not the attitude towards reach. People like to think of what they build and grow as their heritage. Kind of mark in the history, that is important. If they know that everything will be taken sooner or later, it doesn’t add much enthusiasm.

  • emes

    If Elon Musk ever wanted to start his business in Poland, he would have been slapped with regulations, daily inspections by tax authority, social insurance office, health&safety, etc. Obtaining permissions to build factories would delay the start of production to 2020 with a bit of good luck. Had he succeeded against those obstacles, some 90% of population would have called him thief and capitalist exploiter of the poor.

    And remember that Poland is in the EU. There are many worse places to start business.

  • Pedro

    Musk’s observation holds true for Mexico, and for good reasons. Our most striking examples of successful business people tend to be viewed as villains because they are more monopolists than innovators. Clearest example: Carlos Slim, the world’s wealthiest man, who is a great business visionary, but also was cheaply granted the rights to a telecommunications monopoly 20 years ago.

    Although in the US there is that acceptance that people can “rise above their station”, it tends to apply much more to white men than to anyone else. There are still many cultural and institutional barriers that generate a very American Tall Poppy Syndrome in the case of darker skin people, people with accents and people who made the mistake of being born outside the US borders. Elon Musk is a notable exception to this by the way.

  • Attitudes toward success often say more about the person judging than the person being judged.

    I recently left my job to pursue my career as a life coach full time – it’s been surprisingly polarizing. In my (very American) experience, people who support me truly do want to see me shine. Like a little auditorium of people saying “go, Cady, go!”. Then again, I’ve felt a pull from others where I don’t sense they want to see me succeed. If anything, I get the sense they’d love to see me fail. Whatever the driving force there (insecurity, low self worth, competitiveness, envy, etc), I find someone’s attitude towards success – and how they support their peers – more directly reflects their own inner state than anything else.

  • Sabrina Sambo

    Hi from Italy. Instead of giving my opinion, I wanted to share a short story, written by Antonio Menna back in 2011. The link is here: http://antoniomenna.com/2011/10/08/se-steve-fosse-in-provincia-di-napoli/ but it’s in Italian. I have no idea if someone else already prepared a translation, so I made one myself. I just wrote it in half an hour so please be kind with my errors. Just a note by myself: this is still true for all Italy, excepted not everywhere you have mafia problems. But the rest is the same. This is one of the reasons young people leave Italy, and foreign investors do not invest in Italy. Enjoy.

    “If Steve Jobs was born in Naples”

    Let’s imagine Steve Jobs was born in Naples province. His name is Stefano Lavori (note: job = lavoro in Italian). He doesn’t go to university, he is a computer geek. He has a friend, Stefano Vozzini (Steve Wozniak). They both are passionate for technology, someone even calls them “gay” because they are always together. They have an idea, an innovative computer. But they don’t have the money to buy the pieces and assembly it. In the garage, they think of a solution. Stefano Lavori says: let’s try and sell them before having produced them. With the orders we receive we can buy the pieces.

    They put an ad, stick fliers everywhere, look for buyers. No one comes out. They go asking companies: “would you like to try a new computer?” Someone is interested: “Bring it to me, I’ll pay you after 90 days” (note: standard time for payments in Italy, especially from public administration). “Actually we don’t have it yet, we need a written order from you”. They give him an order written on plain paper without the company name on it, you never know. With that order, the two boys go to buy the pieces, they want to use them as a guarantee to ask for financing. The shops kick them out: “no money, no pieces”. What can they do? Let’s sell our moped. With that money they manage to assemble their first computer, they make one delivery, they earn something. They make one more computer. The business seems to start going.

    But to really take off, they need a bigger capital. “Let’s ask for financing”. They go to the bank. “Send here your parents, we don’t finance those who have nothing”, the director says. The two go back to the garage. What can we do? While they are thinking about it, someone knocks at the garage door. It’s the local police. “Someone told us here you are doing business. Can we see the documents?” “Documents? We are just experimenting”. “It seems you have sold some computers”.

    The police was called by a shop in front of the garage. The boys have no documents, the garage is not compliant with legal standards, there is no electric circuit breaker, there is no toilet, their business has no VAT number. The fine is very high. But if they just give some money to the policemen, then they’re ok. The two give the policemen their first profit, and they are even.

    But the day after, here comes the fiscal police. They need to bribe them too. And then the Inspectorate for Work. And the Hygiene Office. The starting money is gone. And so are the first earnings. In the meantime, the idea is still there. The first buyers call, excited, the computer is great. They need to make more of them, at any cost. But where can they find the money?

    There are the EU funds, the “incentives for start-ups”. There is a business consultant in Naples who is very good with all these procedures. “You had a great idea, for sure you can get a non-repayable fund of at least 100,000 Euros”. The boys think they made it. “But you will receive the funds only after you send the balance sheets, first you need to use your own money. Equip your laboratory, start your activities, and then you will have the reimbursements. Anyway, to open the procedure, we need to get a VAT number, record the company at the notary, open your social security position, you need the book of accounts to be endorsed, you need a bank account but no bank will give you one if it’s just you, you need to open it in the name of one of your parents. Put your parent in the company with you. Then you need to pay my fee, and then something to “oil the palm” of the Region office. We need to give them a present, otherwise you can say goodbye to the financing.” “But we don’t have this money” “Not even something for my fee? And where do you think you are going?”

    The boys decide to ask for their parents help. They sell the other moped, a comics collection. They put some money together. They prepare all the documents, they have a VAT number, social security, book of accounts, bank account. They are a company. They have fixed costs. The accountant to pay. Their company’s offices are in the garage, but it is not compliant with legal standards. If the local police, or the financial police, or the social security service, or the inspectorate for work, or the technical office of the
    municipality, comes again, it’s more money. They don’t put the company sign outside the garage, so as to be less noticeable. Inside the garage they work hard, they assembly the computers with pieces partly bought second hand, partly financed. They make 10 new computers, the business seems to start going well.

    But one day someone knocks at the door. It is the mafia. “We know you are earning something, you need to give a present to the guys who are in prison.” “What do you mean?” “Pay, it’s better for you”.

    If they pay, then the money is finished and they have to close. If they don’t pay, the mafia will blow up the garage. If they go to the police and report, they will be forced to leave because here they will be forever in danger. If they don’t report and the police finds out, they too will go to prison.

    So they pay. But they have no money left for the business. The financing from the Region has not arrived, the accounting books are expensive, they need to pay VAT and taxes on what they sold, the accountant is pushing them, the pieces for the computers are finished. It is impossible to work like this. Stefano Lavori’s father tells him: “Boy, free the garage, we will rent the parking space, it’s better”.

    The boys decide to close their dream in a drawer. They become garage boys.

    Apple in Naples would have never been born, because even if you are hungry and foolish, but you are born in the wrong place, you keep the hunger and the folly and get nothing more.

    • Tipsy

      Thankyou so much Sabrina.

    • Nitya

      This is exactly what it would be like in India. Only worse.

    • Vivante

      That is what the Germans always say when they complain about the impossibility of innovation here–“Steve Jobs wouldn´t have had a chance in Germany”. So–everyone who has an idea goes to the States!

  • PeteM

    My neighbors are Brazilian and they have actually commented on this very topic as well. They claim that Americans are a lot more receptive and praising of other people’s success and that in Brazil there tends to be more resentment around the success of others. In my own stays abroad in Germany and Italy, I never personally noticed this but after discussing with me neighbors I think there may be some truth to it depending on the country and culture.

  • Hedgielurch

    I have lived in a prosperous part of the US, worked in the Antipodes, been educated in one of the Asian Tiger Nations, lived in one of the most corrupt Asian nations and my partner is South African. I am also a parent, so definitions of success interest me.

    The Tall Poppy Syndrome is a real thing in Australia/New Zealand for sure. If you come even close to “blowing your own horn”, the effect is a chilling social snub. The disapproval (and slight riducule at being so tasteless) is palpable. South Africans who move to Australia and New Zealand I know struggle with the Tall Polly Syndrome. It is more okay to say you want to succeed in South Africa than there (and I have observed many “awkward” encounters where South Africans are far too blunt about their aspirations and achievments). But South Africa has its own problems (hence everyone who can is fleeing). South African education is actually of quite a high standard (although Elon Musk has said he didn’t get much out of it).

    In the Asian nations excelling in education is the clearly stated
    goal – there is no shame, nor excessive pride in it. It actually feels more driven by survival instinct, if you ask me. I think the Singaporeans even have a term for it: “Kiasu” which means afraid to lose; which when you think about it, is different from wanting to win, it is just the results look the same. I really enjoyed watching the Musk interview in China recently
    (where he talked off hand about education – I might add, he’s making the
    rounds currently in homeschooling circles as “Elon Musk admits he
    unschools his children”) – where I picked up the Chinese cultural
    contexts in some of the interviewer’s questions. In some ways the
    extreme control of Tiger Momism and extreme testing in education is the
    antipathy of Musk’s “don’t teach the tools” and “follow the child’s
    interest and aptitudes” philosophy. As for corrupt Asian nations, it really is all about who you know, a sad and sorry state of affairs. There, certainly, if you see someone successful there is an assumption that they “screwed someone to get there”. Again, people fleeing for a more level playing field if they can if they can’t stand that sort of environment.

    Which brings me to the US … the attitude toward success is very different. A simple example is the fact that no one in the Antipodes ever comments on “how smart” children are. In the US, if your kid shows brilliance in something, everyone gets very excited. Gifted education here is an obsession (an unhealthy one IMO, but that is another discussion). But, one thing that surprised me very much in the US is how bogged down they established systems are in protocol – some industries are really stagnant. Australia and New Zealand in contrast feels very mobile and reacts very quickly, maybe less regulated? I think it is part of the tendency to regulate and formalise, coupled with the love for litigation in the US. Also, I find that there is a strong cultural romanticism attached to the “pioneer” (unsurprising, considering the pioneering history of the US) so cutting edge entrepreneurs get a lot of societal kudos. (Compare and contrast countries with a history of colonisation without the bid for independence.) But, I actually think the established US citizen (not the wealthy families, just the normal man on the street type) struggles in this environment, which actually favors the immigrants who come with a lot of drive, hopes and ambitions to make it in America and are willing to endure short term discomfort to get there. Many Americans seem very pampered and used to their comforts in contrast (also very generous and kind I might add, which I feel comes from that sense of security as a birthright). Where I was in the US, most of the fancy houses were owned by people from other countries. I actually loved that there were people from many parts of the world because it was so interesting (and makes America more accepting), but I think if you were established, you might feel displaced. One wierd observation I had though was that America is more class conscious than the Antipodes, where truly, things are more egalitarian – your plumber or house cleaner is quite happy to speak to you as an equal. In the US, I was somewhat grieved that the gardeners would not even meet my eyes or smile or talk to me. But perhaps the Tall Poppy Syndrome is part of protecting that egalitarianism.

    Sorry, a lot of disconnected half-baked ideas here – I haven’t had time to think it through, but maybe some starting points for you to explore.

    I think, apart from Tesla and SpaceX, there is a huge interest in how Elon Musk looks at education. I mean, much as he praises the US environment, he pulled his kids out of US schools and created his own, right? There are a lot of parents who are interested in the “secret sauce” as it were …

    • Mars_Ultor

      Great observation on culture. Singapore is itself an incredibly interesting case study of success against absolutely insane obstacles like being squeezed between regional giants (China and Indonesia). Lee Kwan Yew is unfortunately less known in the West but is a monumental world figure.

  • Kingfisher12

    I’m Canadian, and have lived in the U.S., have family there, etc.

    Canada is a bit like a half-sister to the U.S. We have some shared history, but grew up in a slightly different environment and so have a slightly different culture.

    My experience is that Canadians are even more welcoming to innovation than Americans, but don’t necessarily reward or encourage that innovation enough. That is, we like having new things, but we don’t really like paying for nice things.

    For example, Canadians built cell-phone networks years before most of the world considered it a viable commercial product. But after the first enthusiastic adoption we sort of said ‘eh, good enough’, and stopped building, so now we have a mediocre system with infrastructure nearing 40 years old.

    What I see is that Canadians view innovation as an institutional process, rather than the result of individual drive. What I think this means is that Canadians are really great at innovating – we’re all about collaboration and sharing ideas – but not so great at capitalism. It’s tough to get rich as an innovator when you have 100 collaborators who disagree on how the divide the rewards.

  • Anon

    There are certainly myriad examples of the US being an individualist culture. For example, our armed services advertise themselves to potential recruits as an “army of one” – emphasizing individual achievement, even though the armed services function on lack of individualism. One can see why this would be engrained in US
    culture, as we are founded by and populated by a greater number of, as compared to other countries, people who left behind a community to come to a new country and find their own way. In many respects, emphasis on “personal success” deters recognizing the role of community in human life, both in situations of success and failure, and probably seems a little obnoxious and unrealistic to those who don’t share that proclivity. However, the emphasis on the individual removes an individual’s ability to blame others for their failures and releases
    individuals from what can at times be oppressive pressure to conform.

    On an personal level, I can compare American friends to a group of friends I had from Egypt (I have distanced myself in recent year). This doesn’t apply to everyone, of course, but I noticed that among the Egyptian friends (and these were not high school students) there was jealously on a mass scale; friends tended to convent
    other’s success and enjoy other’s failures, and not even hide these feelings…in fact do things to tip the scale against friends when possible. Maybe I was just unlucky with these particular people, but others have suggested that it is a bit cultural and explains the Middle Eastern reference to the “evil eye.” I rarely see that behavior amongst American friends…maybe occasionally, but it seems much more one-off, and because it’s so anti-social and rare, it is written off as isolated immaturity, insecurity or a perhaps even depression or a similar struggle.

  • HeManiacal

    There are many reasons why his comments are both true and not necessarily a good thing. I’ll start off by saying that I am an American living in Texas. The ‘American Dream’ is possible because America does try very hard to stimulate innovation. The legal hurdles and protections for innovation have been put into place as a way to encourage speed to market for new ideas. We are first and foremost a capitalist society. The best way to rev the capitalist engine is to continuously pump it full of new and desirable products. So many of the innovators operating in the US are foreign born. Statistically, the percentage of US nationals filling the high tech positions here are dropping steadily. Smarter, better educated foreigners are coming here for post-graduate degrees and staying because it is easier and more profitable to germinate long standing ideas here than in the places they are coming from. From that regard, he is absolutely correct.
    Do we idolize those who make it big? Sure we do. But we do the same to actors, singers, reality TV stars & anyone else who can figure out a way to capitalize on their 15 minutes. The idolizing is usually followed by a brutal backlash. Most likely because jealousy and envy are tied up in the reasons we began the idolatry in the first place.
    Another point I’d like to make: all too often profits are cherished above all else in our modern society. Musk is one of those rare individuals who are trying to tackle the biggest crises facing our current socioeconomic survival. The unsustainable nature of the work we’ve built can be corrected. But it will take us all moving together in concert. Considering that too many are still in denial, this is one person that I don’t mind giving a giant pat on the back to.
    Go ahead Elon. Build expensive cars. Throw reusable rockets into the ocean on occasion. Redefine solar technology. I hope you make millions, or even billions doing it. It’s about time we had a visionary figuring out a way to dig the old dog out of the cave of pulled pork. Whether it’s profitable or not, it is a worthy endeavor.

  • Mars_Ultor

    Musk is correct in some ways, but this rosy view of America is getting slowly suffocated by liberal economic mantra of ‘fair share’, that everyone is entitled to the same benefits regardless of their achievements. Also government regulation and corporate interests and lobby groups can quickly team up to destroy potential ideas and markets. Heres an example,

    I recently took my first Uber taxi ride, and it was an eye opening experience. The driver was a middle aged black woman who told me that prior to Uber she had a low paying security guard job (she has low level of education). Uber gave her a much higher salary and a flexible work schedule and shes grateful for the opportunity that this technology gives her and her family. Uber is currently fighting for its life in courts, where states want to ban it since the govt doesnt get a cut of medallion sales the same way the do with taxis. I think Uber wont last or will get changed so drastically by legal rulings that they will cease to be the same business model.

    • Vivante

      What is the liberal economic mantra of “fair share”? I`ve never heard that expressed in the media I have access to. Just the opposite–“he who has money needn´t pay taxes” has always seemed to the norm. I hope you don´t mean that it is somehow evil that the US (as last civilized country in the World) is trying to give poor people medical care!! But what do you mean?

      • Mars_Ultor

        Not to get into a long winded tax debate, but you are spouting another non-factual mantra of “he who has money need not pay taxes”.

        Top 20% of highest US earners pay roughly 80% of all US taxes. The bottom 60% pay roughly 5%. My comment was alluding to the various Democratic and ‘progressive’ campaigners and leaders who decry that the rich arent paying their ‘fair share’. I lived in a Communist-run state, I know full well what ‘fair share’ means when used in this context.

        http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/BF-AJ529A_11txr_16U_20150409185406.jpg

  • penguin

    Awesome Topic, and yes, I agree with Musk. Here’s my theory. Success is more popular in the US (and historically has been) because you had a stronger separation of private enterprise and public groups. if you had a business that wasn’t entrenched with government benefits it was respectable to become rich from it.. Why? Because people gave you money voluntarily for something you provided. Now, because government is so involved in business via crony-capitalism, sentiment towards success (even in the US) is changing. Occupy Wall Street is a good example. Look at the rhetoric from politicians like Bernie Sanders – who seems to think most of our problems are due to ‘millionaires and billionaires’ – perhaps he’s not wrong. so, to me, it seems that people who are successful by means of political ties, are becoming resented – and in economies where its difficult to become successful without political ties, the resentment builds. Look at Europe. Running a business in a rigid regulatory environment like Europe is nearly impossible without having a politician in your pocket. So success is popular in america, because for the most part it was not seen as negatively impacting your fellow citizens. When you use government to ensure your success you do so at the expense of your fellow citizens (its about who you know not what you know) which is where resentment truly starts to build.

    • Sijia

      I’m from China. It is true that running a business there is also nearly impossible without having friends in high places (at least regionally). And as most immigrants like myself have noted, business in many places as compared to America is like night and day. However, it took me years to realize that separation of private enterprise and public groups, as you put it, has begun to blur. As articulated in this NY Times article (http://elections.nytimes.com/2012/campaign-finance), the 2012 presidential campaign raised a total of $2.07 billion dollars. This is for only TWO candidates from a single political campaign. http://xkcd.com/980/ has a great chart to show you visually what that number means in everyday life. By comparison, $2.07 billion dollars is larger than the annual GDP of Liberia (or 1/8th the annual GDP of Iceland, for those who don’t know where Liberia is or has never been there). And the trend is moving upwards. These two candidates raised more money in 2012 than the sum of all candidates from the 2008 presidential election, and more than twice the sum of all candidates from the 2004 presidential election. It is anticipated that the 2016 presidential election will be even larger than the 2012 election. Is America as corrupt as some of the countries listed in this thread? Most certainly not. But it doesn’t look like it’s trending away from that direction either.

    • Mark Gasb

      Funny to read your theory, because in Brazil it’s just the opposite! Here if you succeed by your own talents people are jealous of you.
      But they are OK with it if you succeed because of your contacts with rich people or corrupt government. Then they think: “It’s OK, he succeeded because of his friends, not because he is smarter than me. Maybe one day I will
      have the right contacts with the right corrupt powerful politicians, and then I will be able to succeed as well, even though I am stupid and worthless”.

      • Diego Beyer

        I am not so sure Mark. I think that even in those cases brazilian people are also jealous of the person who has the right corrupt politian in their pockets. Except that they wished it was them that had that “benefit”. So it is never OK for you to be successfull. See the case for Eike Batista for instance. Everyone hated him when he was a big hit!, now that he is down, everyone is saying “oh, see, he did bad things that´s why he´s down, he never deserved what he had .. and bla bla bla”. The thing is, no success goes unpunished here in Brazil, wherever it comes from.

      • Hi folks,

        Well, I’d say that this attitude is seemingly due to a certain skepticism about the means of how such success has been obtained – once everybody “knows” how hard it is to thrive honestly in Brazil without relying on, you know, certain “little-ways”. lol.

        I’m not supporting this attitude, though, I’m just trying to figure it out.

        Thus, my question is: is this attitude the actual nature of Brazilian people or its nurture partly due to, let’s say, the country’s the context?

        Simply put, saying that Brazil were a more egalitarian country, such as Australia, Denmark and the like (meaning lesser social inequality, higher levels of education and a pretty decent upward mobility), would Brazilian people display the same behavior or would it be different?

        Be well.

  • Tipsy

    My close friend, a businessman in Australia confirmed Elon’s statement, said that a lot of entrepreneurs etc go straight for the United States.

  • What Musk describes is also true in Greece and the greater Balkans.

    The words “entrepreneur” and “businessman” have negative connotations in the Greek language for various reasons. Most recently, the demonization of “free-market capitalism” and the “plight of the people” were popularized by socialist governments in the 1980’s and are still very prevalent in Greek society.

    I was surprised by how different the attitudes towards wealth were when I moved to the USA.

    I think this would be a fascinating topic for a WBW post. Similar to the recent post on Tesla, it would require wading through many foggy spots to eventually hit the floor. In particular, one would have to dive deeply into an analysis of the parallel paths of Europe and the USA from the Americas’ early settlers in the 1600s through the present.

  • Lucasgrijanderrr

    Where I’m from (Spain), if you are good at what you do and you work hard, people start looking at you as a THREAT. “This guy is making me look bad. He may end up getting my job, my place”. There is a general distrust towards people who excel at what they do. Envy is our national sport.

    One of the first things I noticed when I lived in the US was how much more open they are towards new ideas, new ways of working out things. Most importantly, I noticed that if you are good at what you do and work hard people don’t envy, buy ADMIRE you.

    It took me a week to get a promotion in the US. In Spain that would have never happened in less than 3-5 years.

    Don’t get me wrong: Spain is a wonderful place to enjoy life (about 10 million times better than the US in that regard). But if you want to do something with your life, besides enjoying it, the US is the place (…or it used to be until recently).

  • wobster109

    There’s something very troubling that I’m seeing in the US, and it’s the other side of the smiling-upon-success coin. It is a horrible, stubborn worship of the illusion of an orderly world, and it comes out as scorn for the unsuccessful. We think to ourselves, this is a land of opportunity. . . and therefore it’s your own fault you are poor. You are lazy, unmotivated, a taker, a parasite. You deserve to be hungry. We blithely forget the support, opportunity (both economic and social), and genetic lottery that brace our own success.

    We blame the hungry, impoverished student with the hand-me-down books for failing to achieve as much as the wealthy student with the private tutors and the $1000/hour college essay editor.

    And I’m not saying every American does this, or Elon Musk does this, or anything about any person. Just that it’s not “punishing success” or “stifling innovation” to ask the wealthy and successful to pay higher taxes. It’s not “Tall Poppy Syndrome” to remember what clenching, nauseating hunger feels like. And it won’t knock you down to remember the dignity and worth of every other person, even those who are poor.

    • Evie

      I think you are spot on with that observation. It seems people like to think that all their success is due to their own effort/skills and there is no luck or privilege involved. By that thinking, anyone else’s lack of success must be due to their lack of effort/skills.
      For instance, watching from outside, I find it hard to get my head around the level of resistance to universal health care in the US and people talking like it was some great evil being imposed on them. The idea that it’s ok to let people die of curable diseases because you can afford health care and it doesn’t affect you is incomprehensible to me.

    • Philistine

      Well said. The “successful” are often the lucky. Usually by accident of birth.
      I am not deterministic and the disadvantaged can achieve great things. But most don’t.
      Sure, a few individuals will rise above their circumstances but there is no statistical way that all of them can.

  • Ebs

    He’s right about Australia. Not sure why that’s so. We’re increasingly drifting away from our British colonial roots (where I suppose that idea comes from?) to an American way of doing things (to our detriment in many ways – no offence to the us, but our welfare state did a pretty good job ensuring social divides didn’t get enormous and so entrenched) but the attitude seems to persist.

    • Evie

      I think as someone else said, it’s not disapproval of the success itself, it’s disapproval of people who appear to think of themselves as better than everyone else due to their success. As an example, Pat Rafter got no public backlash as a successful tennis player due to being perceived as humble and acting like an ‘average Aussie bloke’, whereas both Phillipousis and Hewitt got lots of backlash because they were perceived having gotten ‘up themselves’.
      I think it originally arose as a reaction against the British idea of some people being inherently ‘better’ than others due to their social class. Now we still react against anyone who acts like they are ‘better’.

  • Mark Gasb

    Tom Jobim, maybe the greatest Brazilian musician, used to say that “in Brazil, success is a personal offence.”

  • Andaco

    So true, I’m from Mexico and that’s the attitude we have towards successful people. If someone makes something successful instead of more people getting together with that person and helping him achieve bigger things, people try to screw over that person. Like I hate what Musk says here but, it’s true. The thing is collaboration I think, in the US people work together, they are tight, their communities are strong and support each other, and people outside the community get jealous, same with Jews, that’s why they tend to be so successful. People need to learn to collaborate with each other not work against each other so that all can succeed. I lived in South Korea and people also help each other there, I think that’s why they have became a successful.

  • Mark Gasb

    In Brazil, our extremely corrupt leftist government is all
    against meritocracy. Even the concept of meritocracy itself gets attacked by government funded blogs. As an example, see the following text. The original is in Portuguese, but Google did a reasonable translation, in case someone is interested in learning why Brazil will never amount to much: https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fjornalggn.com.br%2Ffora-pauta%2Fdesvendando-a-espuma-o-enigma-da-classe-m%C3%A9dia-brasileira&edit-text=

    • NumCracker

      *Never* is in fact too long … don’t you think so? I think we have just to better learn how to vote, after all, it is a young democracy which emerged after long (and hard) dictatorial period (implemented by North American support).

  • Yiorko Chaz

    The US has a very specific and encouraging attitude towards personal success and that is because it is the most success-hungry and success-driven society of the modern era. Such attitude towards success is mainly culture related and thus Americans appear to be some of the most success oriented people in the world. I am wondering if any other language has such a commonplace and central use of the world “looser” as a deeply offending and derogatory term. Few cultures are as ast inolerant of the looser and the “lazy” as US. This is easily reflected to the resistance of American society to give “free” rides to the “losers” (some of the arguments arising from your goverments recent attempts to reform your medical healthcare system comes to mind). Such resistance sounds very strange in European cultures formed around the ideals of the French revolution . In the US, you have to win everything with your value. If you can, you are glorified and rewarded. If not, you are in trouble. To me it appears an ultimately just but also quite ruthless system. A bit like natural selection…It works for sure…

    So, yes I think fondness of the successful individuals is a cultural thing and one of USA’s founding stones and a key to its world domination. The problem in my opinion is the perception of USAs of what is successful. The measuring unit for success in the US is mainly the amount of acquired wealth, a very short-sighted and western notion of what equals personal happiness and conducting a meaningful existence.

    Just think what success would mean for a culture where individuality is much less important or even frowned upon when compared to the common good. Think of an ancient peasant’s of the Ming dynasty perception of success. Or for that matter a member of a hunter gatherer society. Think of the notion of success in the Olympic games of the classic antiquity where valiant effort and strive towards personal perfection were regarded way more important that the actual victory

  • cotpoe

    The trend towards individual Success in the US has been a result of two contradictory phenomenon which while contradicting each other together fueled the primacy of the Individual.

    a) The US Republic was founded on the principles of limited government chained by the consitution with individual rights to freedom, democracy and property. This coupled with free markets and vast untapped resources of the “New World” provided an attractive potential atmosphere. This led to the waves of migration from Europe, Latin America and Asia with many people trying to escape disadvantages of social/economic position in their old countries to make a fresh ambitious beginning in the US. With prosperity came new waves looking for their own “success” in the fresh start.

    In the Old World for example, land was largely owned by the Nobility. The US being a new country was free from the Land-Nobility shackles – biggest attractor for first epoch of migration ( 1700 – 1850)

    The 1860s – WW1 period benefited hugely from the first great push towards technology. Electricity, Telegraph,telephone, Oil,Steel, Vehicles. US was perfectly suited for fueling individual “success” as these new industries came up and new routes to wealth opened up.

    b) The Prosperity of an Empire ( 1930s – 2000)
    – Throughout history – the dominant empires of the time with the pillars of a) Military Superiority and b) Reserve Currency status have prospered greatly. The US Age was dominated by the greatest military power – extremely effective enabler in ensuring good access to markets. This together with a Reserve Currency with little linkage to underlying physical asset allowed for an unprecedented consumption and industry binge. Together with great advantage that the other industrial nations were in ruins after WW2, perfect Great Power environment was available for prosperity and riches. The Technology push (esp on back of unprecendent military-industrial complex funding)

    Thus a perfect environment for focus on Individual Material “Success” was provided:
    a) Vast untapped land with no Historical culture (example Asian culture focused on Harmony etc)
    b) This epoch in human politics focused on the individual – democracy,individual liberty and property rights
    c) This 150 year epoch in human history of Science and Technology leading to new industries and possibilities of making it big coupled with the fuel of individual Consumerism as the dominant culture
    d) Great Power status of Military Might and Economics ( Reserve Currency, lynchpin of international economic/financial system)

    The Cycle of civilization however does not stop with prosperity. Prosperity is followed by Selfishness then Apathy then Dependence and finally back to bondage.
    The US is unfortunately entering this phase. The two contradictory forces a)Small government and free markets with Liberty and Rights and b) Empire can only co-exist for so long.
    Unfortunately the last couple of decades has largely been about Erosion of Personal liberties, capture of free markets by Big Corporations – bailouts and historic economic inequalities coupled with External unnecessary wars and great wiping out of the middle classes.

    Hopefully the American public can regain the original narrative that made it such an attractive destination of freedom and prosperity and vehemently oppose the Empire narrative, otherwise the historical cycle of civilization is inevitable.

    This ironically will require a return to the original greater values – of sacrifice, community, of emphasis on character rather than material wealth and selfish “success”.

  • nav

    I do not think the attitude toward success in the US is healthy. It is optimized for capitalism. We do not know if capitalism is sustainable. I am impressed by a person who is contributing to the world in a way that is reducing the overall pain and suffering in the world. Someone who works for Doctors without Borders is more successful than Donald Trump. A turnip inspires me more than Donald Trump.

    • Lua Cooper

      And yet…now you mention it, Donald Trump does look like a giant turnip…

  • Bird-Dude

    This is probably my favorite thing about US society. Where I come from, success and individuality is frowned upon, and anyone not conforming to mediocrity is ridiculed. Sure, everyone wants to be successful, but no one likes successful people. Is it envy or fear, I don’t know. In US, people are happy for you and try to push you to be even better. Back home (Eastern Europe), they try to pull you back where everyone else is.

  • Peter Bull

    Australia’s ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ isn’t a result of contempt for, or envy of, the success of other people. It is a function of the unusually egalitarian nature of Australian society. This is not a forelock tugging nation that has any inherent respect for authority or fame or money or status. There is a basic understanding here that we are all equal as people, respect must be earned, and that no-one is ‘better’ than anyone else. For instance, whenever an Australian is introduced to the Prime Minister of the country, it is almost certain that they would expect to shake their hand and address them by their first name: “G’day, Julia, pleased to meet you”, or G’day Tony” (depending on who the PM of the day is). The Tall Poppy Syndrome is there to cut down to size those fellow citizens who have got ‘too big for their boots’, who behave as if they really were superior people, not just successful in a particular field. We applaud success. We have many heroes and heroines whose achievements make us proud to call them Australian. No-one resents their success or their rewards, unless they are ‘jumped up’ and ‘cocky’ about it. Then they’ll get a general ‘rubbishing’ from the rest of us, and pulled back to the pack.

    • Evie

      Agree Peter. It’s not the success itself that gets you disapproval in Australia, it is being perceived as ‘up yourself’ about it or having forgotten where you came from.

    • Philistine

      Same in New Zealand mate. Well said.

    • James Coasters

      As another Australian (from Melbourne), I agree with what you say about Australia being unusually egalitarian (compared to most other places) but disagree with your statement about it not being “a result of contempt for, or envy of, the success of other people”. I know a great many people from a wide range of backgrounds. A few of them are quite wealthy and drive luxury cars. They report that, every now and then, they have to submit their car to the panel-beaters because someone has scratched the panels with a key while it was parked.
      Is merely driving a particular type of car worthy of being “cut down to size?” Who decides what constitutes being “too big for their boots”? Therein lies the problem. If you want to get something important done (like start a innovative new company), you cannot rely on the employees doing their job only if they think you satisfy their particular criteria for modesty. Australia is hard on managers and owners and I suspect many would go elsewhere, if they could.

    • Woodii

      I have to disagree with the idea that it is only those who are acting “too big for their boots” that get cut down. The disappointing thing is that cut down comes from the perspective of the lowest common denominator. Someone who lives on welfare will have a go at someone with a job, a wage earner will have a dig at a business owner and a business owner will have a go at an innovator. Australia’s biggest problem is that It doesn’t matter who you are there is always someone willing to “take you down a peg”. I have seen several who have left for the opportunity the US provides and watched their careers grow astronomically when they continually struggled in Australia.
      Australia’s biggest hero’s are those on the sporting field and even those are swiftly taken down should they grow too tall. One only has to look at last years ‘Australian of the year’ being jeered every time he runs on to the paddock.

  • Sarah Bay

    I’m Danish, currently living in San Francisco, and have previously lived for approx. 3 years in Barcelona. I feel that “encouragement of success” is a confluence of many social and economic factors and not surprisingly these 3 places vary greatly.

    Denmark (Copenhagen): A few Scandinavians have already mentioned the “Law of Jante” and while it’s widely known, I’ve never witnessed anything but optimism when people accomplish some sort of success (be it education, work, material related). I used to live in Copenhagen, so I won’t reject that this may be experienced differently in other parts of the country.
    But, rather that discouraging success I think the issue is that taking risks is not as applauded in Denmark as in the U.S. (such as starting your own company). In addition to this, my experience is that many Danes are more modest in terms of ambitions compared to here in the U.S. This may not be surprising as there is an immense difference between the two markets (even more people live in Philadelphia than in Denmark). Also, Danes are in general very privileged (social mobility is high),
    and the majority don’t grow up with the same sense of urgency that I
    think many Americans do.
    I do feel that this is is slowly changing.. Little by little it’s becoming just as attractive to start your own company (and aiming for “world domination” from the get go), as for instance working at an established company.

    Barcelona: I moved from Barcelona in 2012, so I can’t say how it is now, but back then the financial crisis had really taken its toll on Spain (50% youth unemployment for instance) and so naturally, even though Barcelona/Catalonia was one of the few regions that appeared to do OK economically, it still suffered.
    A term that I learned quite quickly when working there was “enchufado”, i.e. a person that got his/her job due to their connections/family rather than actual skills. This pisses people off but at the same time it continues to happen and it appears as if it’s kind of just how it’s always been/will be. It should be added though, that the majority of the people I met there are very hard workers. A thing that I experienced as a big cultural shock was a general skepticism or lack of trust which I think can be extremely detrimental for new ideas/entrepreneurship. It makes completely sense though considering the history of Catalonia and the general level of corruption in Spain. Back when I lived in BCN, more and more people went abroad, but my impression (and hope) is that the people who are still there are finding more opportunities than before.

    San Francisco: I’ve felt welcome here since the very first day I arrived.
    Here it feels like everybody is new, open to ideas and very helpful in supporting you on your way (and if they can’t help you, they’ll introduce you to someone who might). I do feel that people here are VERY driven,
    ambitious and hungry to build/create/make something (ranging within
    everything from ephemeral apps, the “cure” of aging to solving water
    scarcity). The constant flow of ideas is one of the things that make it a very inspiring place to live. I do however also feel that the overall system here is broken
    and that the “American dream” is not a dream that all are in a
    position to pursue.

  • Garth Peterson

    I’ve lived in New Zealand for the last year and I can tell you that not only is tall poppy syndrome here, it’s imbedded deep into the identity of what makes someone a true Kiwi. Whereas the US has conspicuous consumption to show off your wealth, here there is what I call conspicuous non-consumption (someone come up with a better term for me). People intentionally drive clunker cars, wear an old jacket that is so worn that it doesn’t function properly anymore, don’t provide adequate heating for their houses, and eat cheap food, not because they can’t afford better, but because they don’t want to be seen as trying to behave like they are better than anyone else. “My neighbor doesn’t live in a damp-free house, so why do I deserve to live in a damp-free house?” That’s the attitude here. That said, the overall quality of live I enjoy here is better than in the US. I make 1/2 of the money, but it’s worth it for the lifestyle (“rush hour” is being stuck 4 cars back at the stoplight).

    • Philistine

      Some truth in your observations but a bit of a caricature. Plenty of people here trying to better themselves but, in the Kiwi way, they don’t want to be ostentatious about it.
      Casual dress is the norm, even for business (especially in the South Island) and the old “clunkers” we drive are often the best we can afford given our low wage, high property debt economy.
      Overt display of wealth is not respected much with a suspicion that showing off is compensating for something. Which, in truth, it often is.
      Community is seen as quite important here, maybe the influence of the Maori culture of whanau (family) and individualism although strong, is tempered with the need to belong and to be considered a “good sort”.
      So, quite different from the American emphasis on individual success but with some overlap.
      It can seem to a Kiwi that Americans give too much credit to wealth and “success”. How else can you explain Donald Trump? Here he would be considered a laughing stock and a buffoon. He certainly wouldn’t be taken seriously as a political candidate.
      Tomas Picketty has pointed out that capital grows faster than wages so how much respect should inherited wealth deserve? It just tends to accumulate by “gravity”, much easier than working for it.
      A lot of wealth is in fact down to luck. I don’t think that would be a very popular view in the US.

      I’m personally doing my damnedest to elevate my family fortunes by wit and hard work so I’m no fatalist. But I’m realistic enough to know that I’m swimming against a current that works to a minority’s advantage.

      • Garth Peterson

        Thanks for your perspective. And I can assure you, Americans think Donald Trump is a laughing stock and a buffoon as well.

        • Philistine

          So how come he gets so much air-time? Is it the hair? Hair-time? 😉

          • Garth Peterson

            We like buffoons. I’m going to vastly generalize yet again, but I think most Americans are deeply insecure at heart. Probably due in part to the “keeping up with the Jonses” culture we’re talking about here. Having a buffoon to look at makes you feel a little bit better. You can always say, “at least I’m not as dumb as that guy”.

            I do admire the politics here. So much less nonsense. It’s nice that I can turn on the radio and the Prime Minister is doing an interview with the reporter. Not an aide, or staff member, but the Prime Minister himself. And I also like how frank he is. So many times I’ve been shocked that a politician would actually say something with substance. I don’t know if this is a John Key thing, or a NZ politics thing, but I like it.

            • Philistine

              Thanks for your perspective. We do expect full disclosure. Which is why so many are deeply suspicious of the TPPA currently under wraps.

              Please tell me that Trump is in the race purely for the entertainment value and that the American people would NEVER elect such a clown to represent them?

            • Garth Peterson

              He has (somehow) gathered some level of support, but the election cycle in the US is like a circus: lots of clowns before the ringmaster comes out. Trump doesn’t want to be president, he wants attention.

            • Philistine

              And I’m probably giving him too much. Thanks for sharing.

  • J

    I think that in the UK people do think ‘good for that person’ if it looks like they really worked for it and a good idea paid off. But I don’t think the current state of the country makes it easy for people to act on their ideas unless they have significant capital of their own to start with, so successful people are often put down because people think they had it easy/had opportunities others don’t – class-ism is well and truly still alive in the UK. People that have started right from the bottom and made it big are viewed much more positively I think.

  • Nitya

    Hi. Love from India.
    I have never been out of my country, so I can hardly comment on the notion of success in the USA or South Africa.
    Success in India does not equal money. To covet money (or fame or success) is rather frowned upon. We Indians are a mostly religious lot and religion tells us that money is only good (like knowledge) when it is given away for the welfare of others. Hence, society considers those who give back to society as the truly successful.
    The wealthy in India are mostly politicians who have amassed their wealth through unscrupulous means; actors, and cricket players. Needless to say, the politicians are hardly looked at with respect. Nor are the actors. Cricket players, however, are idolized.
    The truly successful businessmen are hardly popular. The ones that are popular, are the ones that have been around a while – like the Tatas and the Birlas. Even the Tatas and the Birlas are famous and stand out from the rest because they gave back to society – the Birlas built temples and the Tatas built research and educational institutions (or as my father says, ‘temples of learning’ – so the Tatas are looked at with much more respect).
    Education is considered far more important than success and that is the reason behind the fame of the IITs.
    I hope I answered at least some aspect of your question here. If not, I’d be happy to take questions.

    • piyush

      Hi Nitya,
      Piyush from India.
      I partially disagree with your answer here as it is very big generalization for a country of 1.2 billion people ! I can see that Indians are fast and widely changing mindsets at home and abroad and being one of the youngest countries in the world and also the youngest population percentange ,we are o more bound by the old orthodox thinking.The youth of India is educated and is hungry to realise his dreams.Money is no longer frowned upon but there is still that attitude of pulling people down sometimes. There are still big issues like education and it’s quality, opportunities, corruption but we are getting there. India has a thriving start-up culture in and these start-ups are making their mark worldwide.We have the benefit of huge demand and a very big working population.Tatas are more known for acquiring Jaguar and Corus (off shore companies) than the institutes they built and Birlas are known for their businesses across a variety of spectrum.
      They also have given back to the society a lot and that is commendable too.We young Indians are no longer very religious but more rational.The are not bound by the shackles of history and are working towards a better future for themselves and the society.Though we don’t have a big Indian dream like that of an American dream, thing are fast changing and we can hope for a dream India.Thanks.

      @Tim : Your blogs are incredible! Keep up the good work.

  • David

    I think, in general, the United States prides itself on being a meritocracy, as opposed to a caste system — which is only partially true. There is this sort of illusion about the American Dream that is embedded into the nation’s consciousness that is hard to escape. So, it makes perfect sense that its people would be open to new ideas and champion the success of others. But with so much resistance to an estate tax, it is inevitable that upward mobility will only become increasingly more difficult over time. Personally? My reaction tends to be, “Good for that person. I wonder who they screwed over to get there.”

  • Tall poppy syndrome is definitely a thing here in Australia – it’s quite frustrating. It’s as if success basically confronts people with their own laziness or fear or ever really trying anything or taking risks so people try to cut successful people down. Or (and) maybe it’s just jealousy. So many up and coming creative minds in Australia leave to go overseas, in part because of the tall poppy thing, but also because there just isn’t enough capital to invest in new ideas or creativity. The times I’ve spent in the US definitely showed me the difference between our two cultures (they seem so alike on the surface). There’s a lot more positivity and encouragement in America, at least as a generalization..

  • Unruly Helga

    Being born and raised in America I can say that success is not usually seen as a bad thing – even when it is! Financial, commercial, innovative success… it’s the reason we wake up in the morning. Capitalism is alive and well in the USA!
    Unless you’re talking about food. For some reason, I think Americans are threatened by the evolution of their preciously unhealthy “food.” We are not very open-minded or comfortable with the ideas that pesticides are bad for you, organic food is not a creation of evil drugged out hippies, and that factory farms are even in existence. In THIS way – I think other countries are much more progressive and open-minded. Maybe that’s why we are know as the obese country. But hey – at least we are all hopped up on pharmaceuticals to make up for it!!

    • Vivante

      As a cook, a nutritionist, a “whole foodist” and a former evil drugged out hippie, I can only agree. What the american food industry is doing to the health of the soil, the health of the market and the health of the people is truly horrifying.

  • Ken

    Excellent article. I believe you discribed the liberal agenda as the Tall Poppy Syndrome. Otherwise, the article is right on.

  • Shourya Y

    As an Indian raised in an urban setting here in India, steeped extensively in American culture, what appeals to me most about America is its emphasis on the individual over the community. Very few countries in the world do that. As Musk pretty succinctly sums it up – America is not trapped by its history. It is probably the only country in the world NOT founded on a common religion or ethnicity or language (ie., a shallow shared mythology) but on an IDEA. The idea that any person, by following his heart and working his ass of, will achieve personal success – the AMERICAN DREAM.
    I would love to shift to America in the future. I mean, I can dream right? I’m just 18!

    • Rusty Shackleford

      I’m assuming you mean American pop culture.

      • Shourya Y

        Sure it includes pop culture. But in a broader sense of the word, I’m talking of the Western (mostly American) ideology of what the individual’s role in society should be, permeating our lives. I mean in India, (be warned though, this is a generalisation) it used to be “be quiet, don’t ever talk back to your parents, don’t rebel, don’t try to stand out, don’t take risks, etc.” Now, you can see the attitudes shifting. People are willing to take the less travelled path, to follow their hearts (pardon the repeat of a cheesy cliche), instead of just taking the path with the most guaranteed chance of what is a limited view of ‘success’.

        • Vysakh S

          As a fellow Indian, I concur with your statement.

    • Matthias

      Actually, a lot of other countries are founded like that: Switzerland and Finland to name a few.
      Also, to say that the founding of the US had nothing to do with ethnicity is rather strange: Didn’t the US horribly mistreat anyone of a different ethnicity?: i.e. the Native Americans and the whole slavery business…?

      I, an Englishman, find your way of thinking quite America-centric, an increasingly common phenomenon. America, in my opinion, really is trapped by its history, maybe not compared to countries with a more shady past (for example North Korea), but certainly compared to such countries as Switzerland, the Fennoscandian countries, Iceland or even Nepal.
      In short, I believe that to say that the USA is the only country founded on an “IDEA” is fundamentally wrong, and just shows how ignorant some people can be.
      I am just 13, by the way.

      • Y Shourya

        I don’t quite think any country is founded on the same basis as America. I’m talking about the whole “Give me your poor, your tired, your huddles mass

  • DeeDee Massey

    Despite having a culture that promotes innovation and individuality, the US has plenty of haters. I can deal with people not sharing or supporting my aspirations. What I don’t like is when people hate their shitty life so much that they intentionally try to bring others down with them. I can do without that kind of bad juju in my life, so I seek out like-minded people who are positive and uplifting.

    I’d rather be picked for a bouquet of Tall Poppies than left in the dirt to get choked out by weeds.

  • qwertyuiopp[

    Remember that failure is frowning more in USA too :p

  • D

    unfortunately it is very common in Balkan countries and from what I have been reading it is common in southern Europe in general. A lot of individuals in eastern Europe acquired their wealth through privatization of public assets during the the shift from socialism to capitalism so the notion of “stealing from the government” is still embedded in many minds.

  • Jared Poch

    There are those in the US who are trying as hard as they can to counter this optimistic attitude. Every time somebody does something above average, everybody on the internet screams, “Privilege!!!!!!” Makes me want to punch a baby.

  • Klicrai Stalder

    Honestly, I encountered the “tall poppy” attitude in the U.S. quite often growing up poor here. It seems to me that people in less affluent social strata don’t mind those above them growing even taller – but they sure do seem to resent the hell out of it when one of their own stretches his/her neck toward sunlight.

    • Cankrist

      Part of the reason for this is that it forces people to come to terms with the fact that while their circumstances might make it harder for them to rise up, they certainly don’t make it impossible.

  • Gabriel De Andrade Ribeiro

    Also in Brazil it is commom to hear this kind of comments. Not generally as i imagine for the rest of the world, but a big slice of the population when hears about someone who “got there” tends to think that he/she got helped, screwed someone else or did something illegal.

  • Cankrist

    I think success is smiled upon more in countries with a faith in the system.

    A culture without a backbone of honesty, meritocracy, fair trade, mutual respect for freedoms, and a legitimate government (or, at least, a culture that does a damn good job of APPEARING that the system is built on such things) is going to be a lot less resentful of people that succeed in that system than in a culture where those things seem to be lacking.

    Basically, how successful people are viewed is usually a good reflection on how much the culture respects itself.

  • Philistine

    It seems to me, from New Zealand, that the United States has not escaped being “trapped in their own history.” How can you explain away the racial violence and mass shootings that horrify the world almost every week? It would seem from the outside that these tragic events are deeply rooted in the history of the US.
    The gun worship in the context of school shootings beggars belief. But the “right” to own all sorts of guns (designed to kill only humans) is historical and because of that, it would seem, inviolable. No matter how that is panning out.
    On success and the Kiwi attitude to it I have written below. I just couldn’t let the “trapped ” comment pass without a challenge.

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