On legitimacy and financial stability

Financial Stability

In response to my Inside Higher Ed piece, “Models for Post-University Life,” one sharp poster named Minal wrote,

This is a great article, but I have 2 follow-up questions:
1. Can you give us some non-academic examples? Perhaps intellectuals (writers/medical professionals, etc.) who fit in the 3rd category?
2. How does the Person of Integrity establish financial stability? Especially without a PhD that justifies high consulting rates and without becoming a hustler?

I think these are excellent questions. I would like to address the second one here. My aim is to address the first one in a future column.

Reformulating the Question

The question of financial stability is first and foremost a question of legitimacy. For this reason, we need to examine how one gains intellectual legitimacy in the modern age. What kinds of things confer legitimacy? Consider the following list:

  1. A degree or set of degrees awarded from a reputable institution (BA or BS, Master’s, Ph.D.)
  2. The prestige of a university
  3. A particular skill set
  4. Relevant experience (it is assumed that past performance is indicative of future performance)
  5. Reputation or word-of-mouth
  6. Charisma
  7. A coherent, compelling life story
  8. Viable models or designs

3 Models: A Brief Overview

1. The University Professional. Simplifying quite a bit, I would say that this figure combines 1-3 from the list above. An institution–be it a university, think tank, or philanthropic organization–provides financial support to the University Professional on the grounds that he or she has talent that needs to be realized or because the organization believes that the Professional fits its overall mission.

2. The Business Professional. This figure combines 3-5 from the above list. The Business Professional gets paid well, if he does, because he makes a compelling case that he can, or will, be productive.

3. The Social Entrepreneur. This figure combines 5-8 from the above list. The entrepreneur establishes financial stability by convincing others that she has a compelling vision of a life well-lived or by describing a future world that is more desirable than the present one. For the successful entrepreneur, financial stability can be reduced to a question of ethos and promise.

Expertise vs. Vision

In the modern world, one gains legitimacy, by and large, through becoming an expert. The University Professional and the Business Professional embody 2 different kinds of expertise: technical or theoretical expertise in the first case, profit-making expertise in the second.

But I am not an expert nor do I claim to be. So, why would anyone pay me? Why trust me? What exactly am I providing? I submit that the Social Entrepreneur promises self-improvement, world improvement, or both. In my case, philosophical counseling promises self-improvement while educational consulting promises world improvement. If my vision is compelling enough, then people will see themselves in it. And if I am honest enough, then I can give them some signs that the vision is fulfillable but not in a slapdash, self-help, or follow-a-recipe fashion.