Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy Reprint Edition
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"An important book, which takes a plausible approach to a difficult problem of genuine significance. It deserves to be widely read and publicly discussed."---James Case, SIAM News
"Though hard work, effort, and schooling are important factors, Frank demonstrates convincingly that pure, random luck also matters (a lot). . . . This book is well reasoned, coherent, and compelling--Frank is one of the great writers of economics.", Choice
"Frank points out that for every big winner, there are scores of people who are as skilled, hard-working and intelligent, but came in just behind. The lack of a lucky break can be the difference between wild success and a near miss or worse."---Barry Ritholtz, Bloomberg View
"A deep and stimulating book."---Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution
"A very courageous book. . . . Luck, and lucky encounters are realistically important and a great part of our life."---Anna Maria Polidori, Al Femminile
"Frank makes a strong case for his account of the many ways that chance contributes to social outcomes. In a rational, fact-based world, policy makers would pay attention."---David A. Kirsch, Administrative Science Quarterly
"The reminder about the important role of luck is welcome.", Enlightened Economist
"Well reasoned, coherent, and compelling--Frank is one of the great writers of economics.", Fortune
"The book is diverting and easy to read. . . . He makes a compelling case for the role of luck in much of the wealth held by people in developed societies."---Ouida Taaffe, Financial World
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“Hard work, determination, education and experience count for a great deal as regards success. But the data available suggests that luck is almost entirely responsible for which hard working, determined, educated and experienced people make it in life.”
Most accounts of this issue, such as Outliers: The Story of Success rely on stories. This book also has plenty of stories in which chance events led to success that seems unlikely without those events. But it is the first nontechnical book I've read that actually accompanies its stories with some account of “the data available". Part of this involves the “winner take all" parts of the current economy, where rewards accrue to only a few individuals. Part involves laboratory psychological experiments involving game-like settings where individuals are asked to make choices. And there are a few "toy model" mathematical simulations.
I can confidently recommend this book as the best single treatment of its topic. Having said that, I do have a few quibbles.
(a) The lab experiments involve short-term decision with negligible real-world consequences to the participants, so it’s mot clear how they apply outside the lab,
(b) He notes that, after a point, acquisition of more wealth does not lead to more happiness. So it’s odd to use the word “success” to mean acquisition of wealth.
(c) He proposes a progressive consumption tax, to reduce spending by the wealthy on positional goods (illustrated by expensive weddings and McMansions). But he makes no attempt to quantify the amount this would raise as taxes or reduce extravagance.
(d) His mathematical models, combining “ability and effort” on one side with “pure luck” on the other side, miss a key point, which is the choice to undertake risky activity. When we look at the most successful people in a field, what we see is not just “ability plus luck”, but it’s “ability plus choice to take risks plus luck”.
World War II was followed by thirty years of strong economic growth with no increase in economic inequality. This has been followed by forty years of slower growth with rapidly increasing inequality. Compelling evidence suggests that this sequence is counterproductive, not just for the poor and middle class, but for the wealthy themselves. Nevertheless, economic elites advance whatever arguments they can to justify their privileged status. One of these arguments is meritocracy, which is the claim that some combination of innate superiority, ability, and hard work justifies the enormous differences between their wealth and incomes and everyone else’s. In Success and Luck, Cornell economics professor Robert H. Frank examines this claim.
Conservatives correctly observe that people who amass great fortunes are almost always extremely talented and hardworking. Liberals also correctly note that countless others have those same qualities yet never earn much. In recent years, social scientists have discovered that chance events play a much larger role in this difference than once imagined. Nevertheless, it is human nature to underestimate and rationalize fortune’s role in one’s own success, while embracing bad luck as an explanation for failure. The dark side of this delusion is that those who are oblivious to their own advantages are often similarly oblivious to other people’s disadvantages and reluctant to pay the taxes required to support the investments for a good environment for everybody and to help the less fortunate.
Obviously, large numbers of elites who inherited their wealth and opportunity have no claim to meritocracy. In addition, all children of high income parents have greatly enhanced prospects for success, regardless of actual inherited wealth. Children with low test scores and high income parents are more likely to achieve college bachelor’s degrees (30%) than children with high test scores and low income parents (29%) (see fig. 8.2). Nevertheless, elites who made their own fortunes generally are extremely talented and hard-working. Still, it’s one thing to say that 1% more talent or hard work merits 1% more income, but it’s quite another to say that magnification of these small personal performance differences by chance to thousands-fold differences in earnings is merited.
In today’s winner-take-all markets technology enormously extends the reach of one or a few winners from a large pool of similarly talented, hard-working competitors, where luck often plays a pivotal role, so they can take all the gains. For instance, in the recording industry, 15% of sales are accounted for by the top one-thousandth of 1% of titles, and sales are less than 100 each for 94% of titles. Luck plays an important role in this process when critics with highly variable tastes eventually decide which titles will get air-time and the chance for success.
Professor Frank illustrates this situation with a numerical simulation showing that when luck counts for only a tiny fraction of total performance, the winner of a large contest will seldom be the most skillful contestant, but will usually be one of the luckiest. Two factors are involved: 1) The inherent randomness of luck means the most skilled contestant is no more likely to be lucky than anyone else. 2) With a large number of contestants, there are bound to be many with close to the maximum skill level, and among those at least some will also happen to be very lucky. For instance, with 100,000 contestants where luck counts for only 2% and ability and effort count for 98%, 78% of winners do not have the highest score for ability and effort. The math and results of various combinations of luck with hard work and ability are shown in an appendix (see Fig A1.2).
Examples are provided for small differences related to luck that influence outcomes. In professional hockey, 40% of players were born in the first three months and 10% were born in the last three months of the year, presumably because the traditional January 1 cut-off date for youth hockey gave the older players a better chance to be chosen for elite squads. Children born in summer months are the youngest in their classes and less likely to hold the high school leadership positions that are associated with higher wages later in life and better chances to become large company CEOs. Assistant professors of economics in top schools are more likely to be awarded tenure the earlier the first letter of their names appears in the alphabet, possibly because co-authors in economics publications are listed alphabetically. For eight representative track and field world records, seven were set with a tail wind (less than 2 m/ sec), one with no wind, and none with a head wind. Examples are also provided for the importance of chance in individual success of very talented and hard-working people like Bill Gates.
The remainder of this small book (149 pages) discusses reasons for persistence of false beliefs about luck and talent and the consequences of those false beliefs, particularly with respect to increasing inequality and the lack of support for government programs and infrastructure. In the last part of the book, the author presents his case for replacing the progressive income tax with a progressive consumption tax that he thinks would better address these problems, although relevance to the rest of the book is weak.
It is however an essay on a different tax system which is not what one gets at first glance when buying this book. A disappointment in that sense.
He seems oblivious that middle-class service providers (and manufacturers) will end up living on less income, up to 64% less income using the wedding numbers above.
Top international reviews
Giving example after example, Frank shows why luck has a crucial role to play in our failures and successes. Al Pacino was an unknown actor who might not have made it had the director not insisted on his lack of fame over that of Michael Caan (reduced to a supporting role). Bill Gates has a string of good luck all documented in Frank’s account.
Frank goes on to explain why it is that we do not give luck its due. We are more inclined to the slightest flattery that we overlook the role of luck. In choices we make and judgments we pass about others, we rarely evaluate objective evidence. Thus increasing the incidents of luck.
We should give more weight to events of uncertainty. In that way, we learn to have a clearer insight into our own fortunes (or misfortunes) and temper our ego with humility. The shortcoming of this book is that it may come a little short on scientific proof of his thesis although intuitively we tend to agree with him.
Luck always plays a part in whatever we do, in successes and failures. This is the reality he is portraying and supporting through a very successful selection of examples, personal stories and quotes from other authors. Yet, when focusing on our efforts to succeed, we would rather put aside the implications of the existence of luck, as this can make us more passive.
On the other hand: Disgusting political ideas.
Leitura muito agradável e bem humorada,