Free Markets 101: My Story Shows You Can Get Ahead by Adding New Skills

Free Markets 101: My Story Shows You Can Get Ahead by Adding New Skills

This essay is meant to be a simple and straight forward look at how adding specific skill sets allowed me to have socioeconomic mobility and earn wages that allow me to send my daughter to private school, own a home, and enjoy a better present and future for my family.

I grew up in a tough environment.  My mom was only 16 years old, and my father was killed when I was just three years old.  My grandparents took me in, and I was raised on a small farm in Mansfield, TX.  Nobody in our household had gone to college.  My grandparents didn’t finish grade school and did not have corporate jobs.  Yet, we all dreamed of a better future for ourselves and our children.  My only option to create a better life was to excel in academics/sports and try to leverage those two things to get a college scholarship.  I did just that.  I leveraged a 4.0 GPA and being an All-State wide receiver for my high school football team into a full ride scholarship to Stanford University.  My network and access to people with capital, ideas, entrepreneurship and ambition caused my expectations to grow.  In short order after graduation, I joined my college roommate and we learned the skill set required to be real estate developers from his father.  From there, I went on to learn the skill set to be a Private Equity investor.  Adding those skill sets dramatically changed my life.

Currently, I’m Managing Member of Lagunita Industries, LLC.  Lagunita Industries is a company that acquires and grows privately-held businesses with annual cash flows between $2 million and $5 million.  The Company has been capitalized by a Los Angeles-based family office with a significant base of permanent capital and a very long-term investment horizon.  Prior to its founding, I was President and a principal owner of The Tricor Companies, a real estate investment firm that invested and developed retail projects nationwide.  The Tricor Companies completed 28 retail projects in excess of $160 million of aggregate value.

As you can see, the difference between living in abject poverty and with means was simply adding a college education, real estate developer skill set, and the skill set to become a Private Equity investor.  So, how can my personal story impact other working-class and middle-class American families?

In the prior column I introduced a new paradigm for addressing the economic issues our country faces and will face in the coming century.  It is important to consider the substantial push toward so-called “democratic socialism” at least at the national level. As recently as the 1990’s, the Democratic Party was dominated by their center-left wing, with President Clinton famously going so far as to claim that the “era of big government was over.”  Of course, the Democratic Party has consistently advocated for a larger role for government in managing the economy, and the lives of ordinary citizens. But it wasn’t until recently that basic American institutions and norms have come under attack as democratic socialism has become more mainstream.

Perhaps no more obvious example can be found than the fact that a self-declared socialist came in runner-up in the most recent Democratic Presidential primary, and so many other socialist candidates are running in strong positions this year.  This is not a mere shift in talking points but is a real shift in the beliefs and of the Democratic base. In the last year, we have seen mainstream Democratic politicians embrace a single-payer national health care scheme, propose nationalizing every major corporation in America, a Federal Jobs “Guarantee” program, a universal income program that promises to pay every American for simply existing, and the abolishment of our nation’s primary immigration enforcement agency. These policies represent not a simple progressive shift in America’s policy preferences, but a complete refutation of the basic rules and norms governing the relationship between American citizens and their government.

To fix these problems, free market advocates must offer a more compelling vision.  We can bridge the income gap between the working class and the top 1% if we invest in the skills of our labor base.  In the next article, I will begin to flesh out this new framework, making the economic arguments that have underpinned the conservative economic vision for generations. It is this unifying framework around which we can appeal to all American workers while advancing core free market principles.

Damon Dunn is a fellow in business and economics at the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.