Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The "Genius Flaw" of America's Labor Market

Let me tell you about my buddy Khanh

Khanh's father was the second largest ship building magnate back in the 1960's.  Only problem was he was the second largest ship building magnate in Vietnam.  Sure enough the commies came, took his empire away from him, and he and his family escaped back in the 70's landing my buddy Khanh in Minneapolis.

I met Khanh at the U of MN Police Department's "Security Services Division" (campus/rent-a-cop) where he trained me in.  Out of the roughly 100 people that worked there during my tenure he was the most colorful and unique of all of us and that is saying a lot because that program was full of obscure and eccentric characters.  However, his personality was so unique is belied that he was a true genius even though he was making $6.90 and studying architecture.

What was he a genius at?


Now you all know me and my opinion of "art" and "artists."  For the most part art and artists today are crap.  It's minimalism, it's not art, it takes no talent, and so I was predisposed to think Khanh's art was nothing more than the regular crap being churned out on the U of MN's West Bank's Art Department.

Until you visited his apartment (which coincidentally was the "penthouse" suite of Riverside Plaza - the place where that "aspiring rap artist" and myself also lived).

Immediately upon entering his place you knew he was a genius if for any other reason how he had the place laid out and the art pieces he chose to display.  His genius was only confirmed when you came to find out all of the works of art were his AND the majority of those pieces of art were done when he was in high school.

Additionally, he could do any "type" of art.

and sculpture

And all of them were undeniably top notch pieces of art.

The man literally had a gift like no other I've ever met, and if you don't believe me, below is a sculpture he did when he was 17 (I believe) by hand:

So what happened to Khanh?

Well, you would think with such a rare and natural talent he would have naturally became some sort of an artist.  And true enough he did pursue a career in an artistic field - architecture.  He earned his bachelors in architecture and went to work in Phoenix (on account Arizona is the only place you can be a practicing architect without a doctorate - and that's not my sarcasm, that's true.  You don't be an architect in most states unless you have a doctorate - how's that for progressive credentialism?)

But there was one problem - the housing bubble.

The only reason Khanh was able to find employment in Phoenix was because of a confluence of events that made it a rarity and unsustainable.  Arizona was the ONLY place he could work with just a bachelors AND the red hot Phoenix housing bubble made architects temporarily in demand.  So once the housing bubble burst, what ended up happening?

His architecture firm goes belly up.

Khanh tries to find employment, but can't.

Forcing him to work as a....

gas station attendant.

And not just work as a gas station attendant, but he lives in a Quonset hut in Phoenix where he can not just live on the cheap, but store all his art works.  No airconditioning, no heat, no car.

Now what angers me is not that the housing bubble burst and my buddy Khanh lost his job.  It isn't that he's working at a gas station when he is immensely more talented and capable of so much more.  And, truth be known, he is a big time liberal (which is ironic because of what the communists did to his father and family, not to mention what socialism has done to this economy as well).

What angers me is how the labor market has become so corrupt that America's best, America's TRUE geniuses cannot rise to the top.  That the talent, merit, creativity and innovation of America's top 1% of 1% does not automatically get them into the positions they deserve, and those positions instead are staffed by lesser qualified individuals for any number of reasons - nepotism, corruption, affirmative action, clueless HR staff, incompetent middle management, etc.

By every right Khanh (despite being a communist bastard) should be making a THOUSAND times more than me.  His art should be world-renowned.  His skill is literally off the charts and should command a commensurate salary.  Surely somebody older and more-established in the art community should have picked Khanh up on his radar a LOOOONG time ago, but nobody did.  And it is that where the source of my ire is.

I remember Khanh approaching many art galleries in the Twin Cities to see if he could show his wares.  I can't remember them precisely, but the people he was in contact with were all older or middle aged, all had a ton of money, and none of them would give him the time of day.  His art "wasn't what they were looking for" because they were presumably peddling their retarded son's art in their art galleries that could only induce vomiting (see below and see this link)

It is because of the craptastic art I was seeing put up and being heralded as "art"at the likes of the Walker "Art" Museum and the Weismann "Art" Museum (heavy emphasis on quotes) that I realized that there is nothing wrong with Khanh's art, but that indeed nepotism, cronyism, politics and corruption had infected the art industry.  If anything the sheer genius of Khanh's work and the fact it was nearly impossible to get the recognition it deserved was a reverse proof the industry no longer cared about art, but was hijacked by (probably) elitist, trust fund baby snobs who turned it into their own little fiefdom so they and their trust fund offspring could all become "artists" and avoid real jobs.  The only problem is none of them have any talent and so they had to redefine what "art" was.  Certainly not the brilliant, detailed and painstaking works Khanh created.  No, now it's "minimalism" which is artistese for "crap that doesn't take any skill to create" (see picture above again).

Now I use Khanh as an example in part because he is my best friend and in part because I have seen with my own eyes what this man is capable of.  But ask the question:

"How many other geniuses in other fields are there are ignored, pass-over, shunned or just plan railroaded by somebody else who just happens to have connections?"


"what are the economic opportunity costs for these geniuses never making it to the top?"

Not out of arrogance or cockiness do I mention this example, but because you can see (and even today, probably feel) the economic costs - what would have happened if your loveable Captain was actually put into a position of power in the banking industry before the collapse of the housing bubble?

Now am I a genius? (well yes, actually, my IQ was tested at 140)  But bravado aside, if I was promoted to some position where I had the power to do something the $1 trillion economic costs and this horrible recession would have been avoided.

Do you know how close the Ford Mustang was to never being? Lee Iaccoca was thankfully listened to.

You like Dr. Seuss?  Look up and see how close he was to throwing his transcripts away after getting shot down.

Family Guy anyone?  You know about Seth MacFarlane, right?

And Wal-Mart, regardless of whether you like them or not, was only possible because the founders decided to do it themselves after getting shot down by other chain stores.

And these guys were "just barely" successes.  People on the verge of quitting or having their ideas squashed.  Not to mention, this was back in the 50's and 60's when the economy and labor market was arguably much less corrupt than it is today.  If these guys "just barely made it" how many other geniuses didn't?

Which leads me to my final point.

What do we lose out on because some rich guy's spoiled brat, moronic, untalented kid got the book deal, got the contract or got the funding the "unknown Bill Gates" didn't get?

The economic opportunity costs we lose out on I contend are unfathomable.  I believe the top 1% of true, creative geniuses such as my buddy Khanh are the innovators and creators that don't make "horse buggies go faster," but build the automobile and advance society by leaps and bounds.  They are responsible for the majority of the economic growth this country and the world has experienced.  They are the ones who improve our lives more than us merely "working harder and longer."  Furthermore, it isn't all about economics and production, but art and some of the more social and enjoyable things.

You ever see the new "Guthrie Theater?"  Have you see what Riverside Plaza looks like?

Eye sores that force their visual oppression on the entire population unfortunate enough to be within eyesight of those hideous buildings.

But imagine ancient Rome.  Or imagine a city designed by Khanh.  Or imagine the television shows if more Seth MacFarlanes were allowed into Hollywood and not talentless nepotistic slobs.

Your lives would not just be materially richer, but much more enjoyable, and much more entertaining.

Alas,  I estimate 95% of the true geniuses in this country will go undiscovered. But while those geniuses will suffer for it, society will unknowingly suffer more.

Enjoy the reality TV shows!


Anonymous said...

Quit bitching about not having connections and make some:

sth_txs said...

I understand your point, but I'm not too sympathetic when liberal commie bastards lose their jobs.

Amy said...

But, Cap, he didn't really get to be an artist or an architect on his own. He had great art teachers along the way who gave him the knowledge to use his talent. He had professors and mentors and student loans to get him through college. And the government was there to subsidize the housing boom that allowed him to work in Phoenix.

He didn't do it by himself. President No-bama told me so.

dienw said...

Intelligence and success do not correlate: that is just the way it is; in a female dominated-female network art world a male is at a disadvantage; and in an art world dominated by the mediocre and the con artist, the talented - most, not all - are shunted aside.

Your friend may need to start with the local non-profit artists' league and work up: won't guarantee anything, but I have seen some rise up the ladder that way. His liberalism will help make and keep connections.

ParatrooperJJ said...

I am unaware of any state that requires a doctorate to be a licensed architect. The currrent standard is a bachelors or a masters degree.

Mutnodjmet said...

Captain: Perhaps eBay or a website, with a focus on new media marketing, could help. New technologies have shaken-up the music industry. A few digital images, and the ability to network on websites like your (and I would also be happy to promote) could be a start.

Demetrius the Silver Smith said...

I have to agree...unfortunately intelligence doesn't guarantee success. How many hyper-brilliant individuals are slaving away in the cities and suburbs of this great nation but either don't want to or cannot bring themselves to make small talk, to do all the garbage that one has to do in order to "network". I hate that term so much because to me it means being smarmy, getting to know someone for no other reason than what they can do for you and everything else I can't stand. Intelligent people can see right through it and don't waste their time, they no most human interaction is vapid garbage. Unfortunately our society puts emphasis on extraverts at the expense of the quiet reflector.

Anonymous said...

If you are reading this send this to your friend IMMEDIATELY,

These are notes from a class I took in California Institute of the Arts called "Getting Your Shit Together"

It is a class and program created by LA-based contemporary artist Karen Atkinson.

Here is a Ted Talk with her.

This is the program and book the case is based on:

I myself have been privy to the nepotism and cronyism of the art world but there are alternatives. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE make sure he gets this stuff, it is a damn shame an artist like Khan is left unsung.

Cheers From a Recent Fan

It is absolutely INVALUABLE that your fr

Enrique GP said...

If you are reading this send this to your friend IMMEDIATELY,

These are notes from a class I took in California Institute of the Arts called "Getting Your Shit Together"

It is a class and program created by LA-based contemporary artist Karen Atkinson.

Here is a Ted Talk with her.

This is the program and book the case is based on:

I myself have been privy to the nepotism and cronyism of the art world but there are alternatives. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE make sure he gets this stuff, it is a damn shame an artist like Khan is left unsung.

Cheers From a Recent Fan

CBMTTek said...


Sorry to hear about Kahn. I think that his work ethic will allow him to get back on his feet, and potentially get the recognition he deserves.

Do have to disagree with your praise for Lee Iacocca though. The Mustang, not exactly something... Well, let's just say the Mustang is the female version of a real muscle car. (Cue the vicous personal attacks from your readers in 3...2...1...) OK, got that out of my system. Now we can move on.

Anyway, times they are a changing. The Internet has provided a non-traditional way for true genius to get recognized.
Newspapers will not pay you to write a column, or report news? Start a blog.
Start up a web store to sell your art prints.
Self publish on Kindle.

Granted, the open nature of the netz means that you have to wade through a TON of crap before you find a nugget of genius, but it is out there, and accessible to millions that would otherwise not ever hear about it.

ScottH said...

Does he know 3D computer design? He should be using Shapeways:

Startup costs are very low and it hasn't been taken over by nepotism and cronyism yet.

Anonymous said...

Try googling "Her Secret Is Patience." Big $2.5 million installation in downtown Phoenix that I end up seeing every time I visit the family.

Or don't. Save yourself an aneurysm.

Dave said...

True genius is seldom acknowledged in its own time. Look how many famous artists and authors lived in obscurity and died broke: Vincent van Gogh, Philip K. Dick, Stephen Foster, Edgar Allen Poe, to name a few.

Ping Jockey said...

Unfortunately, this blindness of the country's labor market isn't anything new.

In the 1970's a young aspiring film-maker (who had already made a science-fiction movie which hadn't done well) had another idea for a another film which he wanted to create.
He started initially at MGM, but they cut his funding and told him that they weren't interested because "science fiction movies don't make any money".
He was able to get another studio (Twentieth Century-Fox) to 'take a gamble' on it when the studio was facing financial troubles (partly because he made the then-unheard-of offer of not being paid a huge salary, but instead being paid a modest salary along with a percentage of the future box-office profits); although the studio planned to sell off their financial interest in the film, positive audience feedback from inital private screenings persuaded the studio to maintained their financial interest instead.
The film ended up being a smash hit, set box office records for 20 years, and saved the studio from bankruptcy.

If you haven't guessed by now, that young filmmaker was George Lucas, and the film was STAR WARS (1977). (The film he made which didn't do so well was THX-1138.)

Which only shows that the industry big shots aren't REALLY as smart or have creative 'vision' as much as they like to think.

(I still wonder what happened to the MGM studio executives who recommended cutting the funding to his film...)

FSK said...

I've had the same problem looking for computer programmer jobs. I know I'm in the top 1% or even 0.01%, and the top programmers are 10x-100x more productive than average.

I'm having trouble finding *ANY* job, let alone something decent.

Most middle managers don't want brilliant subordinates. They're too insecure about their own jobs. They want someone slightly dumber than themselves.

The top leaders are criminally insane. Every manager wants a subordinate dumber than himself. That's why the economy is collapsing.

We live in a society of inverted values.

Lib Arts Major Making 27k/yr At An Office Job said...

I don't think this is really anything new. Even without studying the Lib Arts, most people understand that many authors were ignored during their lifetimes and only extolled after their deaths as the geniuses they actually were.

Contemporaries and peers in Lib Arts usually lack the perspective to see genius because they're blinded by their ego and sense of competition. Those who "succeed" (read: subsist) in the world of Art during their lifetimes are those who view it as producing a commodity, not a statement.

The whole "making a statement" thing is wholly secondary to getting bills paid. Ask any comic artist who does panels. You think he gives a damn about most of what he draws? Absolutely not, it simply puts bread on the table. If he has a few spare hours to draw "for fun" then perhaps he indulges that, but the successful ones put pen to paper for money first and foremost.

Mark Brooks will tell you just as much if you ask him.

MarkyMark said...


Gene Roddenberry, creator of the iconic Star Trek, only got a shot because he was a cop. Yeah, before he created Star Trek, he was a B-17 bomber pilot during WWII, and he was a cop with the LAPD before becoming famous. Anyway, because he was a cop, he knew where agents, producers, and other powers that be in Hollywood hung out. He went to a bar or restaurant that was a hot spot of theirs, walked up to one of them, and gave 'em a script. Had he not had that avenue available to him, we'd have never heard of Gene Roddenberry, nor would we have ever Star Trek.

Anonymous said...

Frig I will buy some of his art. Cap make it happen and email your Canadian geologist friend with the 411.

James said...

Good article, however Seth McFarlane (family guy creator) is not talent or art, that is just garbage. He's an example of how garbage rises to the top.