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It’s always a good thing to be reminded of how little our world changes, contrary to the rhetoric of innovation. Anyone who has glanced at a self help book or success manual will find Benjamin’s observations familiar, though deeper than those of the career coach:

‘Let’s hear what you can do!’ – is what they say in America to everyone applying for a job. But they are less interested in hearing what he says than in seeing how he behaves. Here we touch on the secret of examinations…in every examination the greatest chance of success lies not with the person who is well prepared, but with the one who is best at improvising. And for the same reason, it is almost always the incidental questions and events which prove decisive.

And so the American election will play out. But who can read this without a twinge of recognition? The irony is that understanding comes from failure, from missed chances and failed tests. The critic is the genius of hindsight, but the practice of art is to change the definition of success.

“There is no great success without authentic achievements. But it would be a fallacy to imagine that these achievements are its foundation. The achievements are themselves a consequence—a consequence of the increased self-confidence and working pleasure of the person who finds himself recognized. This why a great challenge, a shrewd repartee, an advantageous transaction are the genuine achievements on which great successes are built.”

The unchanging element is the market economy itself, and as long as we have that even technological innovation is an illusion—what exactly is it that we think we can do better?

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