Pearidge, Trauma ; 99 to 1; and The Self-Made Myth

The evening before Easter, well wined and dined at a fine Italian restaurant, we have returned to my mother’s house in DC. My brother and I are extracting our 92-year-old mother from his giant Chevy Tahoe. We turn, and there is my husband Tom, crumpled in the gutter, a pool of blood spreading under his head. Call 911! In five minutes, there are – count them – three police cars, two fire engines, and a passing Good Samaritan doctor. In another five minutes, a battered ambulance. In a flash, the medics have put a collar on Tom, strapped him to a board and scooted him into the ambulance. We’re off, siren screaming! Tom groans each time we jolt over a pothole. As I thank the cheerful medic, I can’t resist adding, “This is why we pay taxes.”

At George Washington University Hospital, Tom disappears beneath a trauma team scrimmage. They slice off his best (and only) tailored Brooks Brothers suit, and wheel him off for CAT scans and x-rays. Meanwhile, he’s registered as “Pearidge, Trauma.” Pearidge? The trauma department gives a unique computer-generated last name to each patient.

I just finished reading two books by old friends: 99 to 1 by Chuck Collins, and The Self-Made Myth by Brian Miller and Mike Lapham.

Collins’ 99 to 1, How Wealth Inequality Is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do about It, starts by refuting the conventional proposition that growing inequality in the US results from factors beyond our control, such as the failure of education to keep up with the demands of technology or the migration of jobs overseas. Rather, growing inequality results directly from intentional policies implemented over the last 40 years: the end of regulatory control including antitrust enforcement, large tax cuts for the wealthy together with an overall shift to much more regressive taxes, poorer public schools, more expensive colleges, and the now unchecked flood of corporate money into campaigns. These policy shifts have not only enriched the 1%, and even more, the .01%, – they have reduced wages and employment opportunities for the rest of us. They also generated the giant fraudulent real estate bubble that crashed the economy in 2008, and perversely, the rescue that further entrenched the too-big-to-fail banks. Fortunately, a mobilized 99% – and their sympathizers within the 1% – is organizing to fight back. Collins offers them a long and helpful menu of strategies for the fight.

Miller and Lapham tackle The Self-Made Myth and the Truth about How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed. In a recent speech, George W Bush claimed that “If you raise taxes on the so-called rich, you really raising taxes on the job creators.” That’s the self-made mantra: A small elite creates wealth and jobs by their brilliance and heroic efforts, unaided by government. Taxing them kills the goose that lays the golden eggs. To the contrary, write Miller and Lapham, successful entrepreneurs in the US and elsewhere depend heavily on high quality public services: good transportation, good laws honestly enforced, excellent public education for themselves and their employees. Beyond that, great success arises from hard work and extraordinary luck, especially the luck of being in the right place at the right time. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success, that’s the story of Bill Gates and the other early computer billionaires. Miller and Lapham present a number of case studies of successful entrepreneurs who openly credit their success to the public services they enjoyed. A sad note, however. Most of Miller and Lapham’s success stories eventually sold out to giant multinationals. That suggests there’s less and less room in this economy for the productive midsize corporations that provide so much of the innovation and employment.

Two hours after we arrive at the hospital, the docs reassure me and my sister-in-law that Tom will be OK. A nasty bump on the head from tripping over the curb in the dark. The next day, Tom has a blue and purple eye to freeze Medusa. I bring him home from the hospital in donated clothes, pant cuffs safety-pinned up 6 inches. We’re too late for the family Easter dinner, but deeply grateful for a vital public service that still works, that provides equally good care for Pearidge in his Brooks Brothers suit and the homeless drunk snoring on the next gurney.

15 comments to Pearidge, Trauma ; 99 to 1; and The Self-Made Myth

  • Good reviews; America suffers from the cult of the self-made man, which is just slightly crazier than some of the cargo cults. Actually, it is a kind of cargo cult.

    best of luck to Tom.

  • Debbie DuSault

    Thank heaven he’s ok (more or less). I am always glad to hear good stories about our emergency services – it makes me feel better about living here.


  • Your sense of drama and suspension is unsurpassable, but Good Grief, don’t scare me like that, this is not a TV show!

    Best to you and Tom, and henceforth BE MORE CAREFUL!

  • Adele Wick

    Brava, Polly! I’ve always admired your brain. Now, I’m aware of your emotional fortitude, too. So glad Tom is okay. So awed that you could write and think so well while he appeared imperiled.

  • Good story well told, Polly. And the moral of it all is appreciated. Suggest one more book that can be read with Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success. It’s Gar Alperovitz and Lew Daly’s book Unjust Deserts. I wrote a review of it when it first came out — see and

    And, oh yes, googling pearidge shows up only as Pea Ridge, a Civil War battle site in northwest Arkansas. Never would have known. B.

  • Alice T M

    We are deeply thankful that Tom is OK. Brava for your on target analysis and conclusions Polly!

  • Richard N. Gottfried

    Polly — Beautifully written. Well put. And I’m especially glad that Tom is OK. Give him my best.

  • Al Hartheimer


    So happy to get to the last paragraph and find out Tom is OK.

    I’ll read the books!

    Al & Doris

  • Cathy Orloff

    Hi Polly – Glad your husband is ok, but that was quite a dramatic event!! And written up with more humor than I think I could have mustered!

    I hope the authors you cite are promoting higher taxes on land values….??

    My son Eddie just sent me his new bookcase-building website. (He’s also a literary agent in NYC, but sometimes business is slow..) The pointy angled ones with couch in the middle, toward the bottom of the pictures, are from his LR in Brooklyn. Best wishes, Cathy

  • Neva

    Im so glad Tom is ok! I also have those books, and am happy to see your good summaries. Though I may be in the 1% my heart is in the right place (a little to the left of center, according to Ken Galbraith) and I also hope that the resurgence is building.

  • Polly – You kept us in suspense about Tom while you put in the double dose of book reviews. Sometime I would like to hear what the authors think are solutions. Meanwhile, I am relieved that Tom is okay.

  • John David Kromkowski

    All points well taken. (And I’m glad there was a good medical outcome.) But I think there is one more missed point: the continued erroneous idea that labor is paid from capital.

    That seems to be the heart of this “don’t tax the so-called ‘job-creators’ (the re-branded wealthy)”.

    Capital can certain make labor more efficient. But it is the consumers (whereever and whoever they might be) buying the things and services made by workers that are the job-creators.

  • Gregg Erickson

    A wonderful essay. I indend to save this phrase, “a blue and purple eye to freeze Medusa,” and us it shamelessly when the time comes.
    Gregg (& Judy)

  • Ben Howells

    I feel so bad for Tom!

    I fell a year ago and drove the nose-pad mounts into my skull – ouch. The only long-term consequence of same is a very bad shoulder since, connected somehow to thew required tetanis shot!

    I assume you guys are settled into your new digs – am I right? Kind of lost track of you!

    I’ve nothing to feel good about in these times. Each time I feel we’ve hit intellectual bottom, the news cheerily informs me I “ain’t seen nothin yet”!

    How’s your optimism these days?