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From New York Times bestselling author and economics columnist Robert Frank, a compelling book that explains why the rich underestimate the importance of luck in their success, why that hurts everyone, and what we can do about it How important is luck in economic success? No question more reliably divides conservatives from liberals. As conservatives correctly observe, peop From New York Times bestselling author and economics columnist Robert Frank, a compelling book that explains why the rich underestimate the importance of luck in their success, why that hurts everyone, and what we can do about it How important is luck in economic success? No question more reliably divides conservatives from liberals. As conservatives correctly observe, people who amass great fortunes are almost always talented and hardworking. But liberals are also correct to note that countless others have those same qualities yet never earn much. In recent years, social scientists have discovered that chance plays a much larger role in important life outcomes than most people imagine. In Success and Luck, bestselling author and New York Times economics columnist Robert Frank explores the surprising implications of those findings to show why the rich underestimate the importance of luck in success--and why that hurts everyone, even the wealthy. Frank describes how, in a world increasingly dominated by winner-take-all markets, chance opportunities and trivial initial advantages often translate into much larger ones--and enormous income differences--over time; how false beliefs about luck persist, despite compelling evidence against them; and how myths about personal success and luck shape individual and political choices in harmful ways. But, Frank argues, we could decrease the inequality driven by sheer luck by adopting simple, unintrusive policies that would free up trillions of dollars each year--more than enough to fix our crumbling infrastructure, expand healthcare coverage, fight global warming, and reduce poverty, all without requiring painful sacrifices from anyone. If this sounds implausible, you'll be surprised to discover that the solution requires only a few, noncontroversial steps. Compellingly readable, Success and Luck shows how a more accurate understanding of the role of chance in life could lead to better, richer, and fairer economies and societies.


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From New York Times bestselling author and economics columnist Robert Frank, a compelling book that explains why the rich underestimate the importance of luck in their success, why that hurts everyone, and what we can do about it How important is luck in economic success? No question more reliably divides conservatives from liberals. As conservatives correctly observe, peop From New York Times bestselling author and economics columnist Robert Frank, a compelling book that explains why the rich underestimate the importance of luck in their success, why that hurts everyone, and what we can do about it How important is luck in economic success? No question more reliably divides conservatives from liberals. As conservatives correctly observe, people who amass great fortunes are almost always talented and hardworking. But liberals are also correct to note that countless others have those same qualities yet never earn much. In recent years, social scientists have discovered that chance plays a much larger role in important life outcomes than most people imagine. In Success and Luck, bestselling author and New York Times economics columnist Robert Frank explores the surprising implications of those findings to show why the rich underestimate the importance of luck in success--and why that hurts everyone, even the wealthy. Frank describes how, in a world increasingly dominated by winner-take-all markets, chance opportunities and trivial initial advantages often translate into much larger ones--and enormous income differences--over time; how false beliefs about luck persist, despite compelling evidence against them; and how myths about personal success and luck shape individual and political choices in harmful ways. But, Frank argues, we could decrease the inequality driven by sheer luck by adopting simple, unintrusive policies that would free up trillions of dollars each year--more than enough to fix our crumbling infrastructure, expand healthcare coverage, fight global warming, and reduce poverty, all without requiring painful sacrifices from anyone. If this sounds implausible, you'll be surprised to discover that the solution requires only a few, noncontroversial steps. Compellingly readable, Success and Luck shows how a more accurate understanding of the role of chance in life could lead to better, richer, and fairer economies and societies.

30 review for Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy

  1. 5 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Antãology: "Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy" by Robert H. Frank I practice “Antãology”. Followers of Antãology believe luck determines most of our lives. If we fast forward 13.8 billion years simple probability gets us to this point. Since the universe is everything, it's every possibility and that it includes the possibility of me being right here, right now, posting this very review. But certainly there's a bit If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Antãology: "Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy" by Robert H. Frank I practice “Antãology”. Followers of Antãology believe luck determines most of our lives. If we fast forward 13.8 billion years simple probability gets us to this point. Since the universe is everything, it's every possibility and that it includes the possibility of me being right here, right now, posting this very review. But certainly there's a bit of luck involved that I and the other 7B on the planet happen to exist right now, in this place. Now jumping forward, when, where and to whom we're born is entirely out of our hands. Plus we should try and avoid disabilities, mental illnesses, terminal illnesses, being killed in a car accident or any of the other variables that determine how difficult life can be if we even get a life.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    You've got to ask yourself one question - Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk? That’s a question we should all ask ourselves, and the answer (generally) is in the affirmative. Because we are. Just the fact that you’re alive and reading this is evidence of that – plenty of people haven’t made it as far as you have, and plenty can’t afford, or access, the internet. If you have a good job, good health, a happy childhood behind you, and live in a nation where your education and healthcare are free or sub You've got to ask yourself one question - Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk? That’s a question we should all ask ourselves, and the answer (generally) is in the affirmative. Because we are. Just the fact that you’re alive and reading this is evidence of that – plenty of people haven’t made it as far as you have, and plenty can’t afford, or access, the internet. If you have a good job, good health, a happy childhood behind you, and live in a nation where your education and healthcare are free or subsidised (thanks, Australia!) then you’ve basically won the lottery. Any success you’ve had, while obviously influenced by your hard work, can’t help but be partly due to all the things on life that have gone your way, things that not everyone in our society has had the benefit of. This seems elementary to me, but as Robert Frank points out in Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy the countervailing view – that success is completely down to individual hard work (and obviously that failure is due to corresponding negative qualities) is a common one. This is particularly so in the richest, most powerful parts of Western society, the parts that ironically, have benefited the most from good fortune yet play down the benefits of such hard-luck beginnings as inheriting a New York real estate empire. This of course seems part and parcel of the sociopathic neoliberal ideology so in vogue in our era, but Frank goes deeper, linking the downplaying of luck’s role to psychological coping mechanisms that motivate us to compete in fields where success is very unlikely (such as music, acting, etc.) without the reality of chance crushing our spirits before we even begin. This has however, the unfortunate effect of allowing us to take too much credit for our own success, something that can render us unsympathetic to the misfortunes of others who haven’t had our luck. Correspondingly, people have a tendency to overplay luck’s role in their failures (even though it is often a factor) to explain their lack of success in a way that isn’t as corrosive to their motivation and sense of self. Frank uses his own life to great effect in his exploration of luck’s influence. His lucky break in getting a job at Cornell. His luckily befriending an academic who led to his first big journal article getting published. His fortunate survival of a heart attack that should have killed him. Like all our lives, a series of luck-related events paved the way for him to be as he is now - a successful academic and writer. There’s some real gold in here, and some fascinating information on studies where a greater appreciation for luck’s role in success, and a higher level of gratitude for the help one has received, correlates closely with more charitable attitudes to supporting others and maintaining social support systems. As you can probably guess, there’s a political leanings issue in all this – those of us who ascribe more to personal agency and less to luck tend to lean toward the political right wing, while people who see the (seemingly accurate) role that luck plays generally trend left. Anyway, it’s all pretty damn interesting, and well backed up with stats and graphs. Frank does wander off into the tax-policy weeds a bit toward the end though. Were Frank to be acting out the role of Dirty Harry as referenced in the opening lines of this review the beginning of his punk-question would be “I know what you’re thinking. Did he go off on a consumption tax tangent, six times, or only five?” Honestly, I just finished the book and I couldn’t answer that question. I lost count after the first pages-long diversion into Frank’s advocacy for a consumption tax. His argument is convincing, but it’s little dull, and my attention really started to wander every time the taxation talk started up again. It feels as though he shoe-horned a favorite hobby horse into the narrative and the book would have been stronger if he hadn’t. Overall though, this is an illuminating read, even if it does lose some steam towards the end. Three self-made billionaires with massive inheritances out of five.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Brandon

    This book is a mixed bag of goodness, thought provocation, and then a seemingly random diversion into tax policy. There are some great dinner party conversation starter ideas contained herein, and if you have ever given this topic any thought, this is worth the time. In my own personal self-evaluation of the last couple of years, I have been reflecting deeply on the role of seemingly inconsequential acts from unintended benefactors have shaped my future success. There is no doubt, then, that luck This book is a mixed bag of goodness, thought provocation, and then a seemingly random diversion into tax policy. There are some great dinner party conversation starter ideas contained herein, and if you have ever given this topic any thought, this is worth the time. In my own personal self-evaluation of the last couple of years, I have been reflecting deeply on the role of seemingly inconsequential acts from unintended benefactors have shaped my future success. There is no doubt, then, that luck has played a very significant role in my own life. It's very easy, as a product of an elite education system, to come to the conclusion that all success has been earned through hard work. However, as Frank writes in this book, the resultant success of any one individual is undoubtedly the product of collective effort and luck. The sojourn into tax policy felt strange and out of place in this book. That has more to do with my own expectations which I brought to reading it. I can see, however, how Frank would use the notion of luck as a foil for projecting the need for a very progressive tax policy change. I will admit, I had to this point never considered how a progressive consumption tax implementation would impact society; at least not as he has postulated. Frame of reference and comparisons drive action in a competitive society, into which (like it or not) homo sapiens have evolved. By reducing the overall levels of comparisons, such that no one individual feels worse off relative to the masses, Frank argues that wasteful spending could be curtailed and tax dollars (or otherwise) could be put to more effective uses. I will think on this in the coming months. The other core pillar of this book is the notion that as borders and spheres of influence have been rendered effectively meaningless, the notion of winner take all (or, as my preferred model - winner take most) in a competitive environment is more likely to occur, where the economic benefits accrue to fewer and fewer players. Thus, the notion of luck is all the more important, since the series of seemingly random interactions which ultimately result in success are, by definition, highly improbable. Unfortunately, this notion denudes that hard work and effort matter. Perhaps Frank truly believes that these are prerequisites for success, and his model of winner take all due to the ability to accrue more winnings from ever farther reaches in a resource constrained environment means that we must all work harder than ever, though it will matter less and less, as fewer and fewer winners take more and more. This is a quick read with some interesting ideas. The referenced experiment at the end of the book does not produce (by his own admission) statistically significant results, and yet he uses them to drive home his conclusions and close out the book. This seemed like a strange editorial decision to me. The detour into a tax policy discussion, ostensibly supported by the premise argument of the book, is an odd one, though makes sense if his plan was to in fact use this book as a platform for driving a discussion of progressive consumption tax. Make people feel bad about what they have, tell them that no one will be worse off if the collective frame of reference remains unchanged, and drive non-productive spending back into infrastructure.

  4. 4 out of 5

    D. St. Germain

    Whether or not you want to acknowledge the role of luck in your life, it is there, argues Frank in Success and Luck. 7 of 8 world record holders in track had tailwinds at their back the day they broke their record. 7 of the 8 previous world record holders also had a tailwind pushing them along. And if you are wealthy in America, you won the lottery of birth that situated you in a society in which hundreds of years of investment in infrastructure, education, institutions and social capital set th Whether or not you want to acknowledge the role of luck in your life, it is there, argues Frank in Success and Luck. 7 of 8 world record holders in track had tailwinds at their back the day they broke their record. 7 of the 8 previous world record holders also had a tailwind pushing them along. And if you are wealthy in America, you won the lottery of birth that situated you in a society in which hundreds of years of investment in infrastructure, education, institutions and social capital set the preconditions that made your wealth possible. There are psychological reasons perhaps why people downplay the role of luck in their success. Frank posits that people tend to downplay luck because, if luck the reason some people succeed over others, that belief could discourage people from doing the hard work to overcome the obstacles to their goals. He also notes that people tend to overestimate the role of bad luck when failure occurs. This bias lets us off the hook when we haven't met our goals. This book is an interesting meditation on luck written for a particular audience - the well-to-dos who'd rather not pay their taxes. See my longer review here.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Scott Johnson

    I should mail a hard copy of this to my father and ever other Republican family member I possess. It's a fantastic and inoffensive approach to introducing a way of thinking that, frankly, goes counter to the exact "reasoning" that led to our current president being in office and the continued myth of Reaganomics. I don't really have any criticism to discuss other than a tendency to repeat himself, sometimes verbatim, at the end of chapters. At best I have minor critiques of writing like that, none I should mail a hard copy of this to my father and ever other Republican family member I possess. It's a fantastic and inoffensive approach to introducing a way of thinking that, frankly, goes counter to the exact "reasoning" that led to our current president being in office and the continued myth of Reaganomics. I don't really have any criticism to discuss other than a tendency to repeat himself, sometimes verbatim, at the end of chapters. At best I have minor critiques of writing like that, none of the material. Instead, I'll share how this affected me personally and why this message resonates. I think I was fortunate. I grew up as lucky as any of these people described in this book, and had every privilege afforded by being born to the right parents. Then from about 17 to 23, the Universe decided "fuck that guy in particular". There were some self-inflicted wounds, like my bitterness that the sacrifices I had made in high school to get into MIT or Caltech got me no farther than Florida Tech, and that school's handling of my 36 AP credits (I had to retake all but 6 of those credits anyway, they only counted as generic "transfer credit" for electives, so what was the point), but I ran into some bad luck, plain and simple. Just not getting into those schools was caused in no small part by where we had moved when I was in third grade. Though NY schools are the best in the country, we moved to the smallest district on Long Island; my graduating class was around 150, compared to the 1500+ in districts like Sachem. There simply weren't enough people to justify offering more AP courses, more clubs, more sports. I did literally everything that was offered. I had a 3.9 GPA (4.4 weighted). I took all but one AP course (European History), even getting a special waiver (that was not easy to get) to allow me to take on a schedule in my senior year without a lunch period so I could take both Marine Biology (the only science elective the school offered) and still fit in AP American History, AP English, and AP Physics, as both Physics and Marine Bio were 2-period classes (we had 9 period days). This is a year most seniors with my GPA were afforded "senior privilege", wherein you could elect to skip 1st period and come in late (I was in orchestra from 2nd grade onward, which is always 1st period, so not an option), skip 9th period and go home early (the double-period AP sciences were always 8th and 9th period, and as I was planning to MAJOR in physics, that was not an option to forego AP Physics), or have a second lunch period.....I didn't even have ONE! I was in every academic club: Science Olympiad (made states or 1st alternate every year despite not having any resources other schools have, like massive dedicated budgets or multiple teams), Academic Decathlon (not quite as successful, this club struggled from lack of interest and a good advisor), National Honor Society, Pit Orchestra for the theater, Chamber Orchestra (an extra after-school group who gave up 3 evenings a week to rehearse), and I was on the varsity Bowling team (the only sport I could really do after my injuries in middle school). I volunteered at the local Salvation Army processing donated computer equipment and setting it up for use by their eventual recipients. From 15 onward I had a job. I started as a magician/general performer for a neighbor's party entertainment company...how lucky to have those neighbors and have my magic act randomly come up in a conversation they had with my dad? This meant I didn't have weekends, both Saturday and Sunday began at 5am loading equipment into a van, driving all over the state and performing for 14+ hours, then unloading the van at 10pm. But I made more in two days than any of my friends did in a month! When they moved 30 miles away (how unlucky!), I couldn't drive yet (my father made me wait to get my permit and license, for some reason), so I got a job at a photo lab. I was supposed to be just another cashier, but someone quit unexpectedly (more luck for me!), so the manager thought since I was smart I'd be able to pick it up faster than they could find a suitable new hire (again, I was extremely fortunate here, they should have hired someone with experience). Unfortunately, that luck turned around and they severely screwed up some time off issues surrounding the legally required visitation periods with my mom, so I jumped ship to the Blockbuster that also happened to be hiring that same time right next door (another stroke of luck for many reasons). I got a pay raise (it wasn't as much as I'd been making doing parties, which was $10/hr plus maybe $300 in tips per weekend, but $8/hr was way beyond what any of my peers made), the job was much easier, and I got both free movie rentals and a new friend (my one male manager latched onto me as the only other guy working there) who introduced me to the world of cinema and kindled a love of movies that led me to eventually make my own. Throughout all of this, I had my responsibilities at home: taking care of a dozen animals (we basically had a zoo), cleaning, chopping wood. I listened to physics lectures while I chopped, though my family bullied me incessantly for habits like that. I was doing everything that I could to prepare for a career in physics. I was raised to expect that hard work and skill were the only factors that mattered. My father would disagree violently with every idea in this book, and so would young 17 year old me awaiting response letters from colleges. Then I got rejection, after rejection, after rejection. I got into Florida Tech and Worcester Polytech (and SUNY Albany, despite the fact that I didn't even bother finishing the application after I got my first acceptance in the mail and knew I didn't need a safety school anymore). Only the former gave me any scholarship award, and it was conveniently as far away from my family as possible. My hard-earned AP credits didn't allow me to basically skip my first two semesters of boring prerequisites, as was the plan, they were only accepted as generic transfer credit. Being shoved into repeating Calculus, Physics 1, Composition & Rhetoric (writing course AP English should have covered), Chemistry, Biology.....it left me bitter and led to laziness. I didn't have to try when it was a class I'd already excelled at, and it set me up for a struggle later when things actually got hard. In short, it broke my spirit, as it was completely beyond my control despite all of my previous hard work and sacrificing any high school social life I could have had. This was my first taste of the idea that the world owes me nothing. I could try as hard as I wanted and be better than everyone I saw, but still just a bit of bad luck one day could undo it all. Had I simply moved into a school district 15 miles north, I may have had a slightly different spread of AP classes (more science, fewer humanities), maybe an extra club or two, or an extra sport, and suddenly I'm at MIT with a full scholarship instead of drowning in debt at FIT. Maybe a reviewer of applications one day was a hardcore Star Trek fan and I referenced Star Wars in my essay on that one. Who knows.... All I do know is I did everything that was within my powers as a teenager, and I failed. In college, this trend continued..... Our class was kind of a lost generation, in my department. We came in during a seismic shift in departmental power, and as such we didn't get a lot of guidance. No one told us what an REU program was, but just two classes after us there was a daily bombardment of departmental emails advertising opportunities. We were told not to seek research experience with faculty until our junior year, but the class after us was told to start right away....so by the time we were juniors, all of the labs were already full of students a year behind us and there was no room. We simply got lost in the shuffle of administrative changeover, and today, only two of my graduating class is employed in our field; only one that I know of got a PhD, out of a class of 25 (a more typical ratio for this field is about 1 in 3 or 4). Similarly, we graduated at the tail end of the Bush administration and the Great Recession. There were no jobs for physicists without doctorates and 10 years of prior experience. A quirk of the timing of our birth meant that 90% of us had to scramble to find marketable skills in other fields quickly. I ended up as a wedding photographer, veterinary technician, high school math teacher, and eventually software engineer. Others in my class are teachers, some are even working in retail to this day. But here's the big twist: I should never have gotten my first programming job! I was forced to reluctantly learn Python during my Master's degree program. My advisor (Hakeem Oluseyi, who some of you may recognize if you ever watch the Discovery or Science channels) didn't know my primary language, C++, and had the power to make me adapt rather than having to work a little harder to understand my code. I was annoyed at the time, but little did I know how much that would change the entire course of my life. An advertisement came up when I was searching for math-related jobs here in Melbourne, looking for someone who knew Python and statistics. Perfect! Except it also wanted MySQL, Javascript, experience with the Django framework, etc. That was iffy, I hadn't even heard of half of those things! But I bulshitted a cover letter and sent in a resume and landed an interview. It turns out the owner, a man named Colin Delia, had an incredibly similar history to mine. He was wealthy and had attended Princeton....for physics! We shared our hero-worship of Richard Feynman and Freeman Dyson. He had also dabbled in teaching briefly. In the end, I was hired despite my complete lack of qualification for the position because he wanted another friend, and he believed my assertions that physicists were trained to learn quickly and adapt. That's not to say he was wrong or I was completely talking out of my ass. I learned in a year what many go to school for four years to learn in a computer science degree. Near the end, I accidentally stumbled upon the idea of genetic algorithms in designing a way to automatically generate new symbol sequences for the virtual slot machine reels such that the payout distribution fit a desired pattern. I was thrown to the lions (or rather did everything I could to sneak into the cage myself) and survived. But the point is that's how I got to where I am now, about to cross the threshold of a six-figure income, from seemingly-hopeless poverty and relying on a charity organization to not become homeless at one point. Luck robbed me of advancement on my own merit and broke my spirit. But luck also brought me back and gave me a job that I should never have gotten on my own. What are the odds that there is a programming job available within ten miles of where I was living (in an area, as I learned, where the predominant programming languages are C++, Java, and ASP/.NET)? Then what are the odds that the owner of the company advertising it also went to school for physics, and very near to NYC so we had so much in common culturally? Then what are the odds that we've read the exact same books and had been initially interested in the same sub-field? Then what are the odds that this business owner decides to take a chance and make an objectively bad decision to hire someone with no qualifications simply because we got along personally? Don't get me wrong. As this author stresses repeatedly, hard work and uncommon skill are prerequisites to even be in the position to take advantage of such a lucky break. I worked harder in that year with Colin than I ever had in my life, and if I hadn't I would have been right back where I started. But never can I pretend that I got where I am today simply by my own hand. If that had happened, I would have taken an incredibly different career trajectory. Or, what would have happened if I had never been able to find that programming job? Where would I have ended up, since surely no other manager would have looked twice at my resume without that personal connection? Similarly, luck continues to mess with me. I mentioned "a year" with Colin? Turns out he was just using me as a stop-gap; in the agreement to acquire the company from his partners, he had to sign a non-compete to not poach his former lead developer from them. The day that expired, I was fired and that guy came back. Then, 8 months later, the very week I ran out of money and unemployment compensation, I got a local job at GFS....once again despite having zero experience with any of the technology they used. The next day, my girlfriend gets into the PhD program here at FIT and has to move back to Melbourne....after I just got a job that locks me into Grand Rapids. Then, weeks later, the DAY I dropped a deposit check to take over the shared lease by myself, I finally got an offer for a remote programming position that allowed me to move as well. I think because I started with everything, lost it all, and then got it all back, all through amazing twists of fate, it makes me appreciate the message of this book all the more. I'm happy to pay a larger sum in taxes today than my entire pre-tax salary as a teacher, because I was once the recipient of benefits and assistance that allowed me to claw my way back to solvency. I don't take for granted how fragile my career has been; it makes me grateful to have such a nice job, but at the same time it makes me fight harder for what I (and my coworkers) deserve. It makes me take even greater offense when "job creators" complain when asked to pay their fair share, and try to short us workers so they can have just a little bit more. I wholeheartedly support this author's proposal for a progressive consumption tax! And I respect the rational way he laid out that premise. I think this book should be mandatory reading for everyone who loves to wax nostalgic about how hard work got them where they are today. Hard work DID get me where I am today...but so did incredible luck, both good and bad, and my reliance on others' investment in government programs that kept my afloat through those turbulent years. I will never forget that. To quote my favorite comedian's late wife: "It's chaos. Be kind."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tristan

    The subtitle of this book might be a bit misleading. In the intro, Frank stresses that he is not saying that meritocracy is a myth (he often concedes that markets are as competitive as they've ever been) - rather, he's saying that successful people who live in meritocracies often falsely assume that their success is due wholly to their own merit. That is, they ignore the role that luck plays in their success. Because many successful people ignore the full range of causes behind their success (man The subtitle of this book might be a bit misleading. In the intro, Frank stresses that he is not saying that meritocracy is a myth (he often concedes that markets are as competitive as they've ever been) - rather, he's saying that successful people who live in meritocracies often falsely assume that their success is due wholly to their own merit. That is, they ignore the role that luck plays in their success. Because many successful people ignore the full range of causes behind their success (many of which are outside of their control), they often feel entitled to keep 100% of their earnings. Frank thinks that if we could acknowledge the link between success and luck (like the fact that we're lucky to live in societies that offer education and public infrastructure), we would have less people spouting idiotic catchphrases like "Taxation is theft." Frank unapologetically advocates for a progressive consumption tax (as opposed to the current progressive income tax). I am not sufficiently versed in economics to know whether this idea is the silver bullet that Frank believes it to be. However, pretty much everything he says in this book makes perfect sense, and I'm inclined to believe that if we were to adopt Frank's suggestions, we could indeed eliminate much economic waste (ie. we could "rearrange things so that some people could better achieve their goals without requiring anyone else to settle for less."). As he points out, people who are staunchly opposed to taxation are fundamentally misguided: because we live in a world in which relative income matters (ie. your ability to buy a nice home on the beach depends purely on what other people can pay), taxing the rich does not actually reduce their ability to buy the things they want (because it's still the rich competing for that same home on the beach). Plus, what we want depends on what those around us have (so even if taxes meant that the rich could only afford Porsches rather than Ferraris, Porsches would become the new Ferraris). Anyone who is frustrated by the rise of radical libertarianism should read Frank's books. They provide ample knowledge (and rhetorical style) with which to forcefully knock down most libertarians' claims.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Joyce

    Delightful little polemic, refreshingly free of tedious moralizing. If anything the author seems so genuinely humble and grateful for the luck he's experienced in his own life that he somewhat undercuts his own argument -- because many of his confessed strokes of luck would be considered unlucky by a less mature mind! For instance, it turns out that he was given up for adoption at birth by a member of a wealthy family... and he ends up concluding that this was very lucky for him because he consi Delightful little polemic, refreshingly free of tedious moralizing. If anything the author seems so genuinely humble and grateful for the luck he's experienced in his own life that he somewhat undercuts his own argument -- because many of his confessed strokes of luck would be considered unlucky by a less mature mind! For instance, it turns out that he was given up for adoption at birth by a member of a wealthy family... and he ends up concluding that this was very lucky for him because he considers himself naturally lazy and thinks a trust fund would have sapped him of the work ethic he needed to succeed in life. Much later he credits his survival after a medical emergency to the happenstance of close ambulance location -- but most people would be forgiven for not thinking of TOTAL HEART FAILURE as any kind of good luck! He even slyly manages to turn a savage cable TV interview into an argument for his own position. An inordinate amount of the book is spent trying to convince skeptical readers that success tracks more closely with luck than skill/hard work... or rather probably something more like, within a given tier of skill/hard work the outcomes correlate more strongly to luck than to additional skill or work. I had no idea that this view was so controversial on the political right until I read a book recently about the Koch brothers, who revere the myth of the lone entrepreneur despite the fact that they inherited vast fortunes. I personally do not find the critical importance of luck controversial, partly because I decided to read this book only after already being convinced by the 2018 Pluchino et al paper on "Talent vs Luck" which tackles the question more directly (via computer simulation) than Frank does. I believe this author is one of the originators of the theory of "winner take all markets" so he is no rookie at this topic. A feature of the book that I specifically enjoyed was the author's attempt to speak directly to the people most affected by the luck/talent argument, the affluent (basically defined as those who have plenty for needs but still have to prioritize for wants). The practical correlate of luck is to encourage the affluent to pay more tax to fund social equalizers, especially public education. Frank's cute twist is to point out in various ways that a lot of what the upper classes want money for is conspicuous or comparative consumption... so if ALL OF US in a certain income tier took the same tax haircut for wants, we would still be good because we'd only be competing with each other. Makes perfect sense to me and I hope the idea of consumption tax gets some traction.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    This is a compact book by Cornell economist Robert Frank that continues his push to get people to consider his major tax reform idea, but also clothes it in the broader issue of how much talent matters in people's success vs. luck. Frank's main thesis, backed up by convincing studies, is that because there are so many talented, hard working people striving to succeed, the ones who do reach the rarefied air of the top 1 percent also have to have benefited from a great deal of luck, whether it is t This is a compact book by Cornell economist Robert Frank that continues his push to get people to consider his major tax reform idea, but also clothes it in the broader issue of how much talent matters in people's success vs. luck. Frank's main thesis, backed up by convincing studies, is that because there are so many talented, hard working people striving to succeed, the ones who do reach the rarefied air of the top 1 percent also have to have benefited from a great deal of luck, whether it is the country they were born in, their parents' education levels or random encounters they had on their way up the ladder. He illustrates with several examples from his own life, including his near death from a sudden heart attack and the fortunate breaks he got when he was starting out as a young professor. (This is an attitude, I must say, that you will never see Donald Trump adopt). Frank then goes on to show that a disproportionate number of wealthy people believe their good fortune is entirely their own doing and owes little to chance. The problem with this view, he said, is that it makes them loath to support the kind of tax investments in modern infrastructure, from highways to research to job creation, that undergird so much of their success, and that in and of itself has contributed mightily to our current economic inequality. Frank's solution is one he has espoused for decades: replacing the progressive income tax with a progressive consumption tax. All earners would get to subtract their savings in any year from their incomes and be taxed only on their net income. But the tax rates would soar sharply above a certain high income level, which he said would have the effect of slowing down wasteful spending by the rich on luxuries, and making more money available to infrastructure investment. Frank is a good writer, and this is his most personal elucidation of his theories. If you want a well reasoned approach on why we should be more grateful about our good fortune and how we can use that to our advantage as a nation, read this book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    JG

    This book has three main arguments: (i) "chance events play a much larger role in important life outcomes than most people once imagined". (ii)people who recognize this are more grateful and prone to accept taxes that will pay for the needed infrastructure (like education, highways, R&D) that helped them to be where they are now. This infrastructure is not for them, it is for the next generation, so they can have the same basic opportunities or tools they had. This is being grateful. This two firs This book has three main arguments: (i) "chance events play a much larger role in important life outcomes than most people once imagined". (ii)people who recognize this are more grateful and prone to accept taxes that will pay for the needed infrastructure (like education, highways, R&D) that helped them to be where they are now. This infrastructure is not for them, it is for the next generation, so they can have the same basic opportunities or tools they had. This is being grateful. This two first point can be summarized with this quotation from the book: “Tax resistance spawned by failure to appreciate luck’s pivotal role in success has made it harder to sustain the public investment needed to support the stock of luck available to future generations.” (iii)The last main point the author makes is to abandon the current progressive income tax in favor of a much more steeply progressive consumption tax. The book makes a compelling case about the important role of luck in our lives and successes/misfortunes and gives evidence that the consumption tax has already been discussed and accepted by some conservative think tanks.

  10. 4 out of 5

    William

    This was a quick and easy read. I'm not sure how much weight anyone should put on my review as I have been drinking this Kool Aid for a few years now. The amount of evidence regarding the connection between success and luck is overwhelming. The author does a good job of walking the reader through the connections and the empirical data along with sprinkling anecdotes from his own and other's lives as well. I think my favorite part is his metaphor using headwinds and tailwinds on a bicycle. You nev This was a quick and easy read. I'm not sure how much weight anyone should put on my review as I have been drinking this Kool Aid for a few years now. The amount of evidence regarding the connection between success and luck is overwhelming. The author does a good job of walking the reader through the connections and the empirical data along with sprinkling anecdotes from his own and other's lives as well. I think my favorite part is his metaphor using headwinds and tailwinds on a bicycle. You never notice the tailwind pushing you along (e.g., born in the USA, parents who read to you and fill your house with books, white male, etc.). But when the headwind is there, it occupies all your thoughts and efforts.

  11. 5 out of 5

    William Boyle

    This book CLEARLY and DIRECTLY addresses the greatest problems of our time, the rapidly increasing political and economic inequities even in our most advanced societies. FIVE stars! -- Certainly RECOMMENDED! "Historically, two of the most worrisome practical consequences of increased inequality of wealth have been the creation of family dynasties and increased concentration of political power among the wealthy." --Robert H. Frank, 2016. "Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy," This book CLEARLY and DIRECTLY addresses the greatest problems of our time, the rapidly increasing political and economic inequities even in our most advanced societies. FIVE stars! -- Certainly RECOMMENDED! "Historically, two of the most worrisome practical consequences of increased inequality of wealth have been the creation of family dynasties and increased concentration of political power among the wealthy." --Robert H. Frank, 2016. "Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy," p.166.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Ray

    Sprinting records happen when there's a tailwind. Luck plays a huge role in wealth or poverty. Advocates a consumption tax. Bad plan. Tax wealth. Luxury tax on private jets and yachts cripples the industries, knocking out some of the few ways misers part with money. Tax wealth. Problem isn't somebody driving too nice a car, it's hoarding wealth, bidding up asset-market bubbles that bust us all. And using wealth to influence policy. Tax wealth. Sprinting records happen when there's a tailwind. Luck plays a huge role in wealth or poverty. Advocates a consumption tax. Bad plan. Tax wealth. Luxury tax on private jets and yachts cripples the industries, knocking out some of the few ways misers part with money. Tax wealth. Problem isn't somebody driving too nice a car, it's hoarding wealth, bidding up asset-market bubbles that bust us all. And using wealth to influence policy. Tax wealth.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dino

    I bought this book because I am interested by the fact that people feel deserving of the rewards of their work; yet in a deep way, we don't influence our talents or even our propensity for hard work. That is, we are have certain natural endowments (say genes) that are cultivated, or not, by our parents and early childhood experiences. I was disappointed that Frank's book only addresses the philosophical underpinnings of success and luck in a tangential way. He doesn't get into the really deep st I bought this book because I am interested by the fact that people feel deserving of the rewards of their work; yet in a deep way, we don't influence our talents or even our propensity for hard work. That is, we are have certain natural endowments (say genes) that are cultivated, or not, by our parents and early childhood experiences. I was disappointed that Frank's book only addresses the philosophical underpinnings of success and luck in a tangential way. He doesn't get into the really deep stuff. It's a very short book, and he says early on that he resisted his publishers attempts to cover more ground. The publishers had a point, I think, because Frank only conveys one basic idea throughout his book and that could have been distilled into a short article. Basically, Frank's point is that just as bull elk have massive, unwieldy antlers that are wasteful for all in their evolutionary efforts to 'keep up'; we humans splurge on mansions, automobiles and weddings in a similar effort to keep up with the norms of our social circles. All this waste would stop (or be reduced) if only we would adopt a progressive consumption tax (basically a tax on spending that takes a bigger bite the more that you spend). This, says Frank, would discourage spending among the wealthy, increase savings, and thereby lower interest rates, motivate investment by firms, and therefore increase productivity and our standard of living. Even the short description above I had to mostly glean from Frank's Appendix II, as for some unknown reason, he chooses not to get into any details of his tax solution within the actual body of the book. Instead, Frank devotes his pages to describing the results of silly (sorry - just my opinion) behavioral experiments whose results are obvious or at least not insightful. He finds, for example, that people are more interested in befriending and attributing kindness to a CEO who acknowledges the role of luck compared one who takes personal credit for his success. There are a few good nuggets/lessons within the book that I enjoyed: - Even if luck is a small factor in our lives, it if often the decisive factor in competitive arenas where the skill level of many participants is going to be very close - We are more attractive as a team member and leader if we cultivate an attitude of humility; indeed, we will be more effective if we attribute ideas and success widely (i.e. higher levels of engagement and ownership of the team) - The 'terms of reference' that you apply to your lives really matter in terms of making you an unwitting participant in the sort of wasteful, positional spending that many of us get caught up in

  14. 5 out of 5

    John Stein

    A vitally important observation, that leaders need to understand, but should have been a much better book. Let's face it, our society is built on the myth of Meritocracy - that the winners got there because they are the "best" and through their own industry and hard work "deserve" their success. The reality is that while in success and work and talent are somewhat correlated in the aggregate - the relationship is looser in the specific. e.g. Two talented lab assistants in the same research lab ar A vitally important observation, that leaders need to understand, but should have been a much better book. Let's face it, our society is built on the myth of Meritocracy - that the winners got there because they are the "best" and through their own industry and hard work "deserve" their success. The reality is that while in success and work and talent are somewhat correlated in the aggregate - the relationship is looser in the specific. e.g. Two talented lab assistants in the same research lab are assigned to projects. One ends up on the team that discovers something spectacular and is projected on a path to wealth and influence. The other is on a project that goes nowhere, and ends up a struggling adjunct. It is important that talented people work on research, but we delude ourselves to think that the "best" always or even often win. In a society where the rewards are skewed to the winners this has big implications. For more .... Read the book Couple of criticism. First, Mr. Frank spends too much time on his personal story - which is a good example of how we are all impacted by chance. Second, I would have liked to see him focus more on why we refuse to recognize the importance of luck. He ignores the whole Weberian/"Protestant Work Ethic"/Divine Election aspect of the topic - and that is a real loss. I found the omission odd, from an economist. But anyway, still a worthwhile read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    Stuart Varney and many others insist that people who amass great fortunes are invariably talented, hardworking, and socially productive. That’s a bit of an overstatement—think of lip-synching boy bands, or derivatives traders who got spectacularly rich who got spectacularly rich before bringing the world economy to its knees. Yet it’s clear that most of the biggest winners in the marketplace are both extremely talented and hardworking. On this point, Varney is largely correct. But what about the Stuart Varney and many others insist that people who amass great fortunes are invariably talented, hardworking, and socially productive. That’s a bit of an overstatement—think of lip-synching boy bands, or derivatives traders who got spectacularly rich who got spectacularly rich before bringing the world economy to its knees. Yet it’s clear that most of the biggest winners in the marketplace are both extremely talented and hardworking. On this point, Varney is largely correct. But what about the many talented and hardworking people who never achieve much material success? (7) The point of Frank’s book is not that successful people are simply lucky, but that luck is often the deciding factor amongst a group of talented and hardworking people. To argue this hypothesis, Frank uses a mixture of psychological studies and anecdotal evidence from his own life, much of it dealing with athletics and music, clearly Frank’s two most hobbies, having wanted to be a professional baseball player and having professional gigs as a hotel pianist. Frank says that their may be a “perversely adaptive” advantage to believing that talent and hard work are the only deciding factors, because more realistic beliefs might discourage effort, while unrealistic beliefs may make the necessary effort easier (7). When these false notions are applied on a grand scale, it gets worse. He likens it to the superwealthy driving Ferraris on potholes rather than driving less expensive Porsches on smooth asphalt, even though the latter is clearly the less expensive option. This distortion occurs because what happens when any one person spends less on a car is very different from what happens when everyone spends less. In the former case, the buyer feels deprived. But when everyone spends less, the relevant frame of reference shifts, leaving drivers just as satisfied as before. (16) This is why it is important to raise taxes on the rich, because they would all be curbing their luxuries relative to one another, and would not notice significant lifestyle differences of the sort that affect those at the low end of the pay scale. “If you alone experience an income decline, you are less able to buy what you want. But when everyone’s income declines simultaneously, relative purchasing power is unaffected. And it’s relative purchasing power that determines who gets the things that are in short supply” (92). Frank, an author of widely adopted economics textbooks and professor at Cornell University, totally rejects the libertarian view that taxation is theft. “A country without taxes couldn’t field an army, after all, and would soon be overrun by a country that had one. Its residents would then have to pay taxes to that country. A country without mandatory taxation is the political analog of a highly unstable isotope in chemistry” (97). I for one would love to see the 1% move to their own little island with no taxes and get overrun and have all their money taken away and redistributed. It would be a good lesson for them. Bruce Bartlett, senior economic advisor to Reagan and H.W. Bush says that the W. Bush tax cuts created an incredibly large budget shortfall, one that could eliminate the backlog of U.S. infrastructure, but people’s failure to appreciate that being born into the right environment is so lucky that they become reluctant to pay the taxes to support the investments necessary to maintain a good environment (90). His conclusion is that income tax should be replaced with a progressive consumption tax, an idea so modest that even a far-right think tank, Americans for Prosperity, has proposed it, as did Milton Friedman during World War II, who personally sent Frank a copy of his 1943 article on the subject calling for it as the best way to pay war expenses (126). This tax would encourage people to save their money, because it would be based on income minus savings minus a set number deemed adequate to a family’s expenses, say the first $30,000, would go untaxed. Frank cites Donald Boudreaux as claiming that such a tax would encourage envy, believing the reality to be that “many important rewards in life depend on relative position” (122). Frank cautions that the country would need to be at full employment to implement the tax (125), but never mentions that business interests lobby to prevent full employment as a strategy to keep themselves in power. He does believe, however, that announcing its gradual phase-in would accelerate consumption in the upper classes trying to avoid such a tax and stimulate the economy, but that accelerating infrastructure spending would work even better (162). Hindsight bias is a major factor that makes successful people often think that they got far without luck, or created their own—the retelling of the narrative from a sense of the inevitable. Paul Lazarfield showed scientifically the insidiousness of hindsight bias. In a study, he told people that a study showed that rural soldiers adapted better to the privations of World War II than did their urban counterparts. The test subjects came up with all sorts of reasons why this was “obviously” true, then Lazarfield revealed that the study was a fabrication and that the actual study showed that soldiers of urban origins had adapted better. The point being that once you know what happened, it is easy to come up with explanations why (21). Duncan Watts, who recommends the book on the back cover, notes the example of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa achieving its fame over other paintings by Leonardo da Vinci of similar quality is lderived from it having been stolen by Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian who tried to repatriate it to his own country by hiding it under his coat, which led to its global reproduction in newspapers after a long period of obscurity (22). I have never seen the painting in person, but I’ve been told that it’s very small. If it’s as small as Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory, it’s very easy to imagine why Peruggia stole it over other Da Vincis. After all, Da Vinci’s next most famous painting, The Last Supper, is a mural, and thus very implausible for theft. It’s not hard for me to imagine someone hiding The Persistence of Memory under their clothes and getting past security of 1911 quality with it. Further examples include the unlikeliness of success of Al Pacino and Bryan Cranston, both of which occurred because a creative director got his way in unlikely circumstances and with studio opposition (Frank erroneously says that The Godfather was Francis Ford Coppola’s first film to emphasize his point, but that ignores Finian’s Rainbow, The Rain People, and others.) Both are extremely talented, but Cranston was mid-career before he got a break, and had John Cusack or Matthew Broderick accepted the role of Walter White, Cranston would still be a relatively unknown working actor (24). Citing findings by MusicLab (31), Frank says that while works of unambiguously high quality can sometimes succeed even in the face of early negative commentary, but that most successes come because the earliest reviewers happen to like them. “Many artistic endeavors owe their success, at least in part, to pure dumb luck” (31). I think Rocky is an excellent example of this. It got its share of negative reviews that I consider more astute, as I attempted to put on Wikipedia but got truncated, but many of the highest profile reviewers gave it at least mildly positive reviews, and it now has seven sequels. I have had cyberbullies insist that film industry professionals have read my scripts and found them wanting, but this is a completely false statement, since no one has gotten more than a query letter from me, to which they responded with form query letters. The fact that my work has never been given an opportunity means neither that it is of poor quality nor that I am lazy, but strangers continue to assume so based personal biases. He cites a similar issue in classical music, a market bigger than ever but with fewer performers than ever thanks to high definition recording technology. “Once the master recording of a tenor’s performance has been made, it’s essentially costless to make additional copies of it. That’s also why only a small handful of artists land seven-figure recording contracts, even as thousands of others—many of them nearly as talented—struggle to get by as elementary school music teachers” (47). Having performed in amateur and semiprofessional opera, I know how true this is. Nicholas Tamagna is easily the best countertenor I have ever heard, easily surpassing any I have heard on a commercial recording. Others who have heard him also say so, and he’s getting a steady stream of work in smaller opera companies across the country, but he appears to still be a long way from stardom, even if he appears to be closer to it than many of the rest of us. In both college and graduate school, studying film, I was assigned to read Walter Benjamin’s essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” but Benjamin was writing about the intrinsic value of the unique art work, such as a painting, whereas few would want to watch a film negative in its entirely, nor would destroying a print result in the same level of punishment (or loss to the art world) as that of destroying a painting. The tone of the essay suggests Benjamin would find an argument about jobs banal, in spite of dealing with similar ideas. Frank wants to believe the hypothesis of Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail , but the evidence appears to be going in the opposite direction. The proportion of titles selling fewer than 100 copies a year, was 91% in 2007 and 94% in 2011 during a period in which overall sales nearly doubled (48). Anderson believes that sales for such materials will increase when the hype for larger-selling titles dissipates, but the evidence does not show this. Frank wants to believe that the hypothesis is true, his sons having a band ironically called The Nepotist. Technology has made this even worse, as shown by Barry Schwartz in The Paradox of Choice , with most people disliking searching through a wide variety of options (hence the success of Blockbuster in the 1980s and 1990s, which I despised for its poor selection), and digging online takes a lot more patience than a browse through a store. Based on these studies, being a “Johnny-come-lately” in reviewing isn’t much help, even on a grander scale. I recall a published film guide that gave the maximum rating to Moron Movies and More Moron Movies, video collections that spoof how-to videos by having a guy use common household products in unusual ways, but it was not in consensus with other film guides, which gave them average reviews, and in terms of distribution, I rarely saw them on video store shelves let alone watched them for their contents. James Rolfe’s The Angry Video Game Nerd became a success reviewing old products, but except for a few specials, his reviews are all comedically negative. A fan of Rolfe created a fictional cousin called The Happy Video Game Nerd, who reviews underrated gems, but he doesn’t have anywhere near Rolfe’s hit count. Conversely, the explosive growth in CEO pay was unheard of until recently, and has little to do with talent or ability—think of all the golden parachutes that have been given out to CEOs that have made their companies worse off than when they started. In decades past, a new CEO was groomed from within a company—someone who knew the specific business was desired, thus CEO pay was a negation between board and successor and not comparable to the pay of a CEO in a completely different field the way it has become, to the detriment of most (50). I have a master’s degree and live in a homeless shelter. They tell us with those with college degrees make more than those without, but Frank shows this is a manipulation of misleading data: Yes, the earnings differential between college graduates and others is now wider than it was thirty years ago. Yet if we look only at the distribution of earnings among college graduates, we see the same pattern for society. For most college graduates, wage increases have been either small or nonexistent in recent decades. The premium for college graduates exists because a relatively small number of the most successful graduates have enjoyed spectacular earnings growth during the same period. (53-54) Chance events are more likely to be decisive in any competition as the number of contestants increases. That’s because winning a competition with a large number of contestants requires that almost everything go right. And that, in turn, means that even when luck counts for only a trivial part of overall performance, there’s rarely a winner who wasn’t also very lucky. He illustrates this with the record holders of four track events (63-64), all of whom set their records with measurable tailwinds with the exception of Florence Griffith Joyner, while none set records with headwinds. Frank takes the analogy further with his friend, Tom Gilovich, with whom he was playing tennis when he would have died had it not been for an ambulance being closer than it normally would have been, tailwinds feel great, but they are easy to forget, while headwinds are arduous and require struggle. People are more inclined to remember their struggles than things that went easily for them, and hence, to discount the importance of luck (80-81). If luck has only a very small effect on performance, why is it so hard to win a large contest unless you’re very lucky? Two factors are involved. One is that the inherent randomness of luck means that the most skilled contestant is no more likely to be lucky than anyone else. The second factor is that with a large number of contents, there are bound to be many with those close to the maximum skill level, and among those at least some will also happen to be very lucky. With very large contestant pools, then, there will almost always be someone who is almost as skillful as the most talented contestant, but is also significantly luckier. So even 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. [The expected performance level of the most skillful of 1,000 contestants in any contest is P=0.95 x 99.99 + 0.05 x 50 = 97.4, which is only 2.6 points below the maximum value. But with 999 other contestants, that score usually won’t be good enough to win. (155)] The situations described in appendix 1 also help us understand both the strengths and weaknesses of the human capital approach discussed earlier. People who achieve material success on a grand scale will almost always be both highly talented and extremely hardworking, just as the human capital approach suggests. But the simulations also make clear, in a way the human capital approach does not, why so many extremely talented and hardworking people fail to achieve any significant measure of material success. Many of them are simply less lucky than the winners. If the simulations challenge our intuitions about the importance of chance events, it’s at least in part because we sense, correctly, that performance depends far more strongly on ability and effort than on small random occurrences. Our intuitions often fail because even things that are highly improbable in any specific instance become likely if there are enough opportunities for them to occur. (66) To me, this feels like a vindication. So many people who have never met me, plus my conservative family, believe that I am lazy or untalented. My mother had a tendency to yell, “Gifted and talented—ha!” because I was in the gifted and talented program in school, but my gifts and talents were not manifesting in the ways she would have liked—obedience, doing routine chores, and doing better in math (I was good in everything else except for physical education and industrial arts). I can show people job postings to which I have applied, with absolutely nothing posted on them that I do not have, but either never heard back or was turned down without an interview. This cannot correctly be described as lack of ability or effort on my part, but can be described as bad luck (although the will of others would be more accurate), particularly when CareerBuilder shows over 1,500 applicants for a single opening. It is likely that no human being actually saw my resume, which cannot reasonably be considered my fault. If the computer is rejecting people whose resumes do not mention an associate’s degree, it could be because I worked too hard and got into a baccalaureate program immediately on entering college and never earned an associate’s degree per se and thus don’t falsely put one on my resume. A human reading my resume would know that I exceed that requirement, while a computer would not unless it were programmed with all the right variables. As Bryan Cranston says, “without luck you will not have a successful career (68)”. Our understanding of human cognition suggests additional reasons for the tendency to underestimate luck’s role in success. One of the rules of thumb people often use when making judgments is the so-called availability heuristic. Suppose you’re asked, “Which are more frequent: English words that start with the letter ‘R,’ or those that have ‘R’ as their third letter?” Using the availability heuristic, most people would react by trying to think of examples in each category. That approach usually works well, since examples of things that occur more frequently are generally easier to summon from memory. And since most people find it easier to think of examples of words starting with “R,” the availability heuristic leads them to the answer that such words occur more frequently. Yet English words with “R” in the third slot are actually far more numerous. The availability heuristic fails here because frequency isn’t the only thing that governs ease of recall. We store words in our memories in multiple ways—by their meanings, by the sounds they make and the images they evoke, by their first letters, and by numerous other features. But virtually no one stores words in memory by the identity of their third letter. The availability heuristic suggests that when we construct narratives about how the world works, we rely more heavily on information that happens to be more accessible from memory. But that almost guarantees that our accounts will be biased, since some types of information are far more readily accessible than others. Information about things we’ve experienced repeatedly for example, is far more salient than information about things we’ve only heard or read about infrequently. Information in the latter category has a much harder time breaking through. (79) [continued in comments]

  16. 4 out of 5

    Manzoor Elahi

    In India, according to Sachar Committee Report, Muslims constitute 14% of the Indian population, but they only comprise 2.5% of the Indian bureaucracy. This point is often quoted by some Muslims as a proof that Muslims are being suppressed. But they conveniently miss another important statistic found by the committee: "Only 4.5% of 20-30 year old Muslims are graduates. (2.8% for 40-50 year olds.) The reason that Muslims are lagging behind comes mainly from within their society - aversion to educ In India, according to Sachar Committee Report, Muslims constitute 14% of the Indian population, but they only comprise 2.5% of the Indian bureaucracy. This point is often quoted by some Muslims as a proof that Muslims are being suppressed. But they conveniently miss another important statistic found by the committee: "Only 4.5% of 20-30 year old Muslims are graduates. (2.8% for 40-50 year olds.) The reason that Muslims are lagging behind comes mainly from within their society - aversion to education. https://scroll.in/article/812272/musl... https://theconversation.com/what-are-... https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/c... Some of the parents send their kids to madrasas. (4% Muslim students attend Madrasas full-time.) And most of the madrasas teach outdated syllabus(17th/18th century syllabus). "The Quran, Urdu and Persian remain main subjects, limiting the job prospects. They are churning out vast numbers of maulvis, only some of whom can be absorbed into the system. Others turn into a burden on Muslim society because they have not been trained in such a way as to be an asset to the community." And "religious leaders who could approve changes are 'set against the modern education.'” And very few Muslim parents send girls to school. When my grandfather enrolled my mother in a public school (even her brothers are enrolled in the public school), members from the masjid he attends to, opposed it. And in India, there is a trade-off between spending money on educating a girl or spending it on a dowry; education often means a smaller dowry or none at all. https://www.economist.com/leaders/201... According to a University of Michigan study, "A mother knows best—and the amount of education she attains can predict her children’s success in reading and math. In fact, that success is greater if she had her child later in life." https://news.umich.edu/mothers-educat... I got my graduation and post graduation from elite Universities in India. I certainly take credit for it. There are very few students from Muslim background in elite Universities. Some don't even have 1% students from Muslim community. How did I make into that 1% - hard work, and because I'm lucky too. I'm born to an educated mother, not that my father had no role in it. Having an educated mother boosted my luck. Having an awesome school in our town. Having good public schools which are very affordable , where my parents got educated. And because leaders during early independent India established very modern Universities. What does it take to succeed? What are the secrets of the most successful people? Talent, skill, hard work, optimism, growth mindset etc. But is this assumption correct? In recent years, a number of studies and books have suggested that luck and opportunity may play a far greater role than we ever realized. This book is one of them. The argument is not that luck is everything; of course talent matters. Instead, that we miss out on a really importance piece of the success if we only focus on personal traits. Michael Lewis at Princeton's Baccalaureate described an experiment conducted by psychologists at the University of California at Berkeley. The researchers sent volunteer subjects into small rooms in same-sex groups of three and gave them a complex moral problem to resolve, such as what to do about an episode of cheating on an exam. Arbitrarily, they assigned one member of each group as its leader. Thirty minutes into each team’s deliberations, a researcher entered the room with a plate bearing four cookies for the three volunteers. Who ate the extra cookie? In each case, it was the leader of the group, even though, as Lewis notes, “He had no special virtue. He’d been chosen at random, 30 minutes earlier. His status was nothing but luck. But it still left him with the sense that the cookie should be his.” https://www.businessinsider.com/micha... Warren Buffett once said, “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” Echoing Buffett’s thought, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren reminded audiences during her 2012 campaign that "there is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. You built a factory out there, good for you…. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police and firefighters that the rest of us paid for…. You built a factory and it turned into a great idea, God bless—keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is that you take part of that and pay it forward for the next kid who comes along." The YouTube video of her remarks that day quickly went viral, with many commentators bitterly denouncing her failure to recognize that most successful entrepreneurs had made it essentially on their own. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=htX2u... On reflection, however, it’s difficult to dispute Senator Warren’s claim that being born in a good environment is an enormous stroke of good fortune. More important, it is the one form of good luck over which societies have any significant degree of control. But that control requires high levels of investment, which many societies have lately been reluctant to support. Everyone agrees that cars would be of little use without roads and that roads would be of little use without cars. Consider this thought experiment: Which experience would a wealthy car enthusiast prefer: driving a Porsche 911 Turbo (purchase price, $150,000) on smooth, well-maintained highways, or driving a Ferrari F12 Berlinetta (purchase price, $333,000) on roads riddled with foot-deep potholes? It’s an easy question. How, then, could anyone argue with a straight face that it would be more pleasing to drive the Ferrari on pothole-ridden roads than to drive the Porsche on well-maintained ones? Raghuram Rajan, India's former RBI governor coined a new term to describe corruption in India: the “Resource Raj,” rather than the License Raj, meaning a Russian-style system in which politicians, bureaucrats and industrialists colluded to carve up access to valuable natural resources and shared the proceeds among themselves. According to one of Samuel Huntington theories, corruption and growth could go hand in hand. “In the south India, you can say that politicians learned to steal, but to do it while expanding the cake at the same time,” as Devesh Kapur, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, once put. “In north India they just went about taking as much of the cake for themselves as they could, and soon there wasn’t any cake left for anyone else.” One civil servant who worked with various governments in southern India explained, rather than going for the very lowest bidder, or the one who was likely to extort the most money, wise politicians like Jayalalithaa and YSR (South Indian politicians) tended to avoid outright cowboy contractors. Instead, they favored those companies who were both willing to play the game and competent in delivering projects, meaning that they would make a decent fist of building the irrigation schemes and airport terminals in question, while also being generous with their profits. “They [the better contractors] will charge you 140 rupees for work which should have cost 100 rupees, but they will actually spend 100 rupees and do a good job,” the civil servant said. “You have others who will quote 105, and will spend 80 of it, and do a substandard job, which will fall apart three years from now, so them you want to avoid.” The point is not that corruption can go hand in hand with development but that there needs to be a pie in the first place, in order to take bite out of it. Even if morality is kept aside, there are some good reasons, even if we are thinking selfishly, that will benefit us if we invest back in the community. How can the pie grow without the rich paying the taxes? From where can the religious leaders get their donations from if they stop educating the kids? How can the next generation of kids have a successful life without the education of girls? This book doesn't touch all aspects of society, but it did drive one's point home: there is some significant aspect of luck in our success. It shows how a more accurate understanding of the role of chance in life could lead to better, richer, and fairer economies and societies. Michael Lewis concluded his Princeton address by saying, "there are of course many people who are quick to acknowledge good fortune’s contribution to their success. Those people, it turns out, are much more likely than others to support the kinds of public investments that created and maintained the environments that made their own success possible. They’re also substantially happier than others. And the very fact of their gratitude itself appears to steer additional material prosperity their way."

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Clement

    I am rating this book primarily on how I think I would feel about it, had I read the description properly and not read so many other books with the same sort of information. It's a good book - well written, logical, straight to the point, pragmatic, short and to the point. The author's main messages are clear, simple, and easy to implement. All that said, within this genre, it's not particularly original, and it's really only tangentially related to the notion of meritocracy. It really is a book I am rating this book primarily on how I think I would feel about it, had I read the description properly and not read so many other books with the same sort of information. It's a good book - well written, logical, straight to the point, pragmatic, short and to the point. The author's main messages are clear, simple, and easy to implement. All that said, within this genre, it's not particularly original, and it's really only tangentially related to the notion of meritocracy. It really is a book much like all the others written by economists and behavioural economists, that points out how we overestimate our own abilities and underplay the role of luck, how heuristics work most of the time but sometimes fail us, how our biases affect the narratives we tell ourselves about our own lives, others, and society, etc. I pre-ordered this book when I first saw it was going to be published because I haven't read a book specifically dedicated to the ludicrous notion of meritocracy, and I was interested in learning more about why people hold on to this idea despite it being such an obvious myth. This book is not about that, really; or rather perhaps it is more accurate to say that it focuses on mainly one aspect of the possible "why", relating mainly to some of the aforementioned cognitive errors that humans tend to make. I would still like to read a book that discusses meritocracy from a more macro-scale perspective, however, as the book doesn't really explain why the notion of meritocracy is so much more pervasive in societies like the United States but not so in countries that aren't really all that culturally different. What might the X factor be? That would be an interesting book for sure. That said, if you haven't read books such as Invisible Gorilla, The Drunkards Walk, Predictably Irrational, Thinking, Fast and Slow or other pop psychology and behavioural economics books, you will get a lot out of this book, I think, and it's a quick and entertaining read. It would be thought provoking if you haven't been exposed to some of these concepts before, and it is more economically-oriented than the others I mentioned. It also has a very simple policy proposal that makes quite a lot of sense to restructure society in a way that might make it more equal, but I will leave that to readers to discover themselves.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Roo Phillips

    This is a concise book on the role luck plays throughout life, particularly with regards to career success. This concept is really important to understand in an era of diverging economic classes, the wealth gap, calls for social reform, divisive political tension, and so on. Ask yourself, do you think you deserve the success you have achieved because you have worked hard in life, got a good education, and worked your way up through the ranks? No doubt that explains at least a part of your succes This is a concise book on the role luck plays throughout life, particularly with regards to career success. This concept is really important to understand in an era of diverging economic classes, the wealth gap, calls for social reform, divisive political tension, and so on. Ask yourself, do you think you deserve the success you have achieved because you have worked hard in life, got a good education, and worked your way up through the ranks? No doubt that explains at least a part of your success. However, in all likelihood you are fooling yourself if you don't also consider pure dumb luck to have played a significant role. With luck contributing to your success, does that affect how you view others that have not achieved the success you have achieved? Does that affect your feelings on how much you "merit" what you have or where you have gotten to in life? It is probable that there are others more qualified than you that did not get the same breaks you did somewhere along the way, and are in much worse positions in life than you are because of it. Should they merit less just because luck was on your side? These are the kinds of questions this book seeks to ask and address, and many others. Well worth the short read for those that have strong meritocracy opinions, or think that hard work and education levels the playing field for everyone. It's also just pleasantly thought provoking. Frank goes on to add some political implications if everyone were to shift away from a more meritocracy paradigm to a more true to life view. In particular, he discusses how one might view the tax code differently in such a world. I rather liked that he went into this, but I know some reviewers did not. It helped round out the ideas he was trying to present, but the majority of the book was just good reading to help me think about life a little more realistically. It was a bit humbling, which I need.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Corrado

    Once I came across the comments section of an Italian online newspaper, under an article discussing Italy’s system of taxation and criteria of fiscal progression. One comment struck me, one in which the author argued that he feels that a high rate of income tax is profoundly unjust. As evidence, he mentioned his own experience: the previous year he spent 20 weeks travelling abroad for his company and worked hard, and at the end of the year he received a substantial (though unexpected) bonus. He e Once I came across the comments section of an Italian online newspaper, under an article discussing Italy’s system of taxation and criteria of fiscal progression. One comment struck me, one in which the author argued that he feels that a high rate of income tax is profoundly unjust. As evidence, he mentioned his own experience: the previous year he spent 20 weeks travelling abroad for his company and worked hard, and at the end of the year he received a substantial (though unexpected) bonus. He ended up in a higher tax bracket and almost half of his bonus went to the tax office, despite his hard work and, allegedly, his good professional results. I suspect his disappointment is not unique. At least in my circle of friends and acquaintances, complaints concerning taxation and the net income they could earn if this or that tax were not that high or if it were removed at all are not uncommon. However, nobody or very few of them actually follow a consistent and comprehensive libertarian argument in favour of a small, very small government. They just maintain that government should be more efficient, taxes are too high, and even if they are not, they should be a burden for someone else. They genuinely think, and with good reasons, they deserve that money because they strive hard every day, they have gone through years of academic studies or professional training, and then, at the end of the day, some of that money goes into the pockets of people whose merits are not as praiseworthy as theirs. The appeal of the idea of meritocracy has been very high for decades, and it still is in many areas of our societies: I work hard, I succeed, I am rewarded for my success, I keep working hard and so on. We may argue whether compensation (financial or not) or retribution must come because of the intrinsic value of the actions that precede them and show the merit of a person (I behave well, therefore I deserve to be rewarded), or if optimal behaviour in society is fostered by potential future awards, which work as an incentive (look, there is an attractive prize, be it money, social status, some form of happiness etc., therefore I am inclined to act in a deserving way). Robert H. Frank, an economist at Cornell University, points out in his Success and Luck. Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy, that our idea of merit is an evolutionary tool leading humans to achieve excellence, despite evidence showing that our achievements are actually brought about by a number of circumstances uninfluenced by us. For instance, our economic, social, cultural and family background matters. Being raised in a wealthy family in some opulent Western city or in worse financial conditions in a rural village makes a huge difference, when it comes to what one can achieve in life, say, professionally speaking. Access to good schools, highly qualified teachers, top universities give some a substantial push in their careers and in their intellectual development. You might be incredibly smart, but your parents may unexpectedly die, then you should start taking care of your brothers and sisters, reducing your free time because you have to go to that student job that makes both ends meet – et voilà, you accumulate an educational disadvantage. Many other factors bear influence on one’s personal, educational and intellectual growth: a youth spent travelling abroad, or in a house with a well-equipped library, that extra class teaching you a foreign language, etc., constitute a much more favourable environment than a tiny house in some poor suburbs, with the TV always on and no one able to provide you with proper guidance or support. In my view, nobody is a priori guilty of being rich and well-educated. On the other side, there is no much merit either. Despite this, you make it, and one day you get a job interview: one big company has an open position, you are the perfect candidate and that is your dream job. You have planned to reach the station, read again some notes on the train, and brilliantly answer all the questions – you cannot fail. However, that morning, a car accident happens, you are trapped in a traffic jam and miss your train, go to the interview by car without time for your personal notes. You arrive late and out of breath, one of the interviewers is a bit annoyed, and the job goes to the guy who is a bit slightly less qualified than you, but lives close and has been able to impress his or her future managers. Well-maintained roads may have avoided that traffic jam. Many things may affect your career: health, geography, family, weather, etc. Interestingly, however – and, in my opinion, this is the most relevant part of Frank’s book – our mind does not intuitively acknowledge the existence of several sets of circumstances affecting our success. We tend to focus on our actions – good or deserving actions – while dismissing other people’s merits, or external, objective factors. In a competition where many candidates are almost at the same level, the one just below many others might prevail for a number of different and only slightly relevant reasons, just because he is luckier (it is a bit like football: think about the 2004 Champions League final, Porto-Monaco). Nevertheless, the idea that we deserve what we get is a strong evolutionary tool that pushes humanity towards improvement. I suppose I can say that idleness and laziness would be the dominant characters of our societies if we all thought that our actions bear no weight on our personal achievements. So, there is a contrast: the powerful incentive given by our strong, perhaps innate and almost unilateral idea of merit on one side, and the fact that many other things have, in fact, an influence on our success. Moreover, it must be noted, in winner-take-all markets, tiny luck can translate into a huge advantage. Robert H. Frank, as I said above, is an economist, and he concludes his book by maintaining that the change of attitude towards one’s own luck and the willingness to acknowledge the contribution of others would foster a collaborative culture without harming one’s self-interest (in my naive words: what is the point of building a giant skyscraper made of gold and diamonds in the middle of a city composed of ruins and hovels?). He argues in favour of a tax reform taking into account the fact that people start their life at a different level and that their success depends on other fellow citizens: a progressive consumption tax would reduce the demand for items that people do not actually need – in other words, symbols of socioeconomic status such as huge mansions, expensive cars etc. The case for such type of tax is, in Frank’s word, that «it provides powerful incentives to shift the composition of what we produce in ways that provide greater value than the current mix. The current mix falls short not because consumers don’t know what’s best, but rather because individual incentives are at odds with what’s best collectively» (p. 169). It would affect the concept of luxury and our myth of personal success, and reallocate government and society’s resources more efficiently, solving thus the conflict between morality and self-interest (or the interest of our children). More generally, I think, the distribution of luck and merit is extremely variegated and, perhaps, these two factors cannot be easily separated. I am not a fan of taxes. I must say, however, that Frank’s argument is strong and that it should lead to reconsider the relevance of cooperation and competition, and to acknowledge that, more often than we think, we do not build our success just by ourselves.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Susan Oleksiw

    No one wants to believe that all the good things we achieve are the result of chance, or luck, but each one of us knows that finding a good parking space so we were on time for a meeting was plain dumb luck. But we don't continue with that thought, and include the chance meeting with the CEO before the meeting that led to a promotion. And yet, as the author Robert Frank points out, luck plays a role throughout life, and one lucky break becomes magnified over the years. As part of the discussion, No one wants to believe that all the good things we achieve are the result of chance, or luck, but each one of us knows that finding a good parking space so we were on time for a meeting was plain dumb luck. But we don't continue with that thought, and include the chance meeting with the CEO before the meeting that led to a promotion. And yet, as the author Robert Frank points out, luck plays a role throughout life, and one lucky break becomes magnified over the years. As part of the discussion, Frank presents results from studies on how believing or not believing in luck affects other behaviors. If people believe they achieved something partly because of chance, or luck, they are more likely to be generous toward others. The discussion if full of interesting studies on human behavior in relation to luck and success. The final section of the book contains one of Frank's most interesting proposals, a new tax that would supplant all the others we now have, a consumption tax. A person's income would be taxed after deductions for total savings and basic cost of living expenses. If I earn $100K a year (not likely, but this is hypothetical), save $20K and spend $50K on basic living costs (rent, food, insurance, auto, etc.), the remainder is $30K to be spent as I choose. That would be the amount I had left to spend on optional consumers goods, and that is the amount on which I would be taxed. The value of this approach is the reduction in wasteful spending (who really needs a house with 100 room?), the encouragement of saving, and the guarantee that basic needs aren't crushed by taxes. The tax income would cover the needs of the country to support education, infrastructure, military, etc. This is a short book, written in simple and clear English, offering a different way of looking at our world and how we achieved our place in it. There is much to think about here, and all of it intriguing and interesting.

  21. 4 out of 5

    John Mihelic

    In this book, Robert Frank is doing to things in my opinion. The first is that success in life is due in large part to luck. Your economic outcomes are dependent on lots of things that can be assigned to random chance outside of the old canard of hard working men pulling themselves up by the bootstraps. I think the case is made in the book for that hypothesis to viewed as mostly true. The second part is that there should be a progressive consumption tax. This is dropped in the last third of the b In this book, Robert Frank is doing to things in my opinion. The first is that success in life is due in large part to luck. Your economic outcomes are dependent on lots of things that can be assigned to random chance outside of the old canard of hard working men pulling themselves up by the bootstraps. I think the case is made in the book for that hypothesis to viewed as mostly true. The second part is that there should be a progressive consumption tax. This is dropped in the last third of the book, and I had all sorts of questions about how it would be applied. Most of them were answered in an appendix but I’m still not sure how businesses are taxed (if at all in his paradigm). The problem for me was that these two separate ideas felt very loosely connected. The idea is that since success is random, then we need to prevent the thing where people strive to keep up with the Joneses and spend beyond their means or at the top limit of their means. It seems weird to me because it is designed to discourage spending and growing consumer spending is one of the things that makes capitalism grow – and degrowth in a capitalist economy is recession and people thrown out of jobs and deflation. There seem to be a lot of knock-on effects that are unaddressed here. For me, though, this seems to be one of those things where it is a solution looking for a problem, and as a reader I wasn’t sold on the solution as much as I was sold on the problem and still wonder about the link between the two.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Clark Hays

    Ignoring luck imperils society Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy, by Robert Frank, is a quick and illuminating read about the fundamental role of luck in success, how ignoring that simple truth contributes to wealth inequality, and a straightforward tax-based solution to help mitigate it. The problem is simple: people who succeed, at anything really, attribute their success solely to hard work and perseverance, negating the ever-present role of luck. And those who don’t s Ignoring luck imperils society Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy, by Robert Frank, is a quick and illuminating read about the fundamental role of luck in success, how ignoring that simple truth contributes to wealth inequality, and a straightforward tax-based solution to help mitigate it. The problem is simple: people who succeed, at anything really, attribute their success solely to hard work and perseverance, negating the ever-present role of luck. And those who don’t succeed are often seen as simply not trying hard enough, or lacking the skill and expertise to succeed, as if somehow deserving of their poor fortune, rather than considering their lack of good fortune. As Frank points out, there’s a good reason for this — it helps us make our way through an uncaring, often hostile world: “So if believing that talent and effort are all that matter makes it easier to tackle difficult tasks, then denying luck’s importance may be adaptive.” We lie to ourselves that we’re masters of our own destiny to avoid sitting around paralyzed with fear and doubt: “As with beliefs about luck, then, beliefs about free will might be adaptive even if they are objectively false.” This is belief is inaccurate of course. Luck — from the country you are born into, the color of your skin, the wealth of your parents, the food your mother ate before you were born, the circle of influence wealth gives you — is completely outside our control, but each element contributes to a cumulative propelling effect that, in addition to effort and tenacity, lead to more opportunities and better potential outcomes. The problem of course is, without the myriad forms of luck that lead to enrollment in an ivy league school or a job on Wall Street, all the hard work and tenacity in the world still can’t overcome bad or even neutral luck. Admitting to this, which seems pretty straightforward to me, drives some people to distraction, as if it’s an attack on the American dream itself. And NOT owning up to this has dramatic effects on society. “If being born in a good environment is one of the luckiest things that can happen to anyone, it is failure to appreciate luck’s importance that has done the most to undermine our collective stock of good fortune. That’s because failure to appreciate luck’s importance has made successful people more reluctant to pay the taxes required to support the investments necessary to maintain a good environment.” Being born lucky (and that can take any number of forms — say, white, straight, into a wealthy family in an affluent neighborhood), and you get to swim with the economic currents. If you’re born unlucky, and start taking away any of those attributes, you have to swim against the currents. Effort, tenacity and personal responsibility still count, it just takes two, three or four times as much to make it half the distance. The author uses some basic studies from cognitive science — all the biases we carry around with us to justify being the heroes of our own stories — to bring this to light. He points out that “…those who are oblivious to their own advantages are often similarly oblivious to other people’s disadvantages…” And he offers a simple tax change to start mitigating against the inequality and lack of opportunity that keep so many swimming against the current: a progressive consumption tax rather than an individual income tax to generate enough revenue to fund a society that can help offset bad luck and create more opportunity. “…individuals can’t choose the environments into which they’re born. But society as a whole can mold those environments in significant ways. Doing so, however, requires intensive levels of investment. We who were born into highly developed countries are thus the lucky beneficiaries of centuries of intensive investment by those who came before us. In recent decades, however, those investments have been depreciating.” His proposed tax plan works something like this: people pay taxes on the difference between what they earn and what they save, the money spent on consumption. It’s progressive, so money spent on the basics, say, food and rent, is taxed at a lower rate than money spent on a condo on Park Avenue or a high-end sports car. The tax, in essence, helps re-direct money spent on lavish items into the federal coffers to spend on infrastructure and social investments and, since we’re all in the same boat, it doesn’t feel like the wealthy are being singled out to pay a greater share. “…being born in a good environment is an enormous stroke of good fortune. More important, it is the one form of good luck over which societies have any significant degree of control. But that control requires high levels of investment, which many societies have lately been reluctant to support.” It seems like a pretty elegant solution — and one that will progress exactly zero inches under the current administration and in a society that seems determined to redirect the fruits of the economy to the lucky few at the top — deserving of it’s own book. Still, it’s great to see an author providing an actual, well-thought out solution to wealth inequality and shining a light on the dark side of a society in which so many struggle to get by while a lucky few, with wealth and influence passed from generation to generation, shape policies that prevent others from having the opportunity, with a little luck, to climb the ladder as well. “People succeed on a spectacular scale, then use some of their gains to win more favorable tax and regulatory treatment, which increases their wealth still further, enabling them to buy even more favorable treatment…” Positive change, it seems, starts with an appreciation of the role of luck in individual success: “In the normal course of events, few of us give much thought to how seemingly minor random events often profoundly alter our lives. Failure to give luck its due is of course not the only reason we’ve failed to maintain the environments that so many of us have been fortunate enough to enjoy.” The book ends on a well-deserved note of caution: “We could wait for the inevitable financial crisis to occur. Or we could start talking now about why it would make sense to take action more quickly.”

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jason Furman

    Nicely written, thought provoking, thoughtful, an argument for the importance of luck and the reasons (some good and adaptive and others problematic) that the more successful we are the more we undervalue its importance. Robert Frank does not argue that the successful are not talented or hard working, just that these are not enough. In the course of this argument he extensively reprises some of his major previous themes, including the winner take all economy (which magnifies the importance of an Nicely written, thought provoking, thoughtful, an argument for the importance of luck and the reasons (some good and adaptive and others problematic) that the more successful we are the more we undervalue its importance. Robert Frank does not argue that the successful are not talented or hard working, just that these are not enough. In the course of this argument he extensively reprises some of his major previous themes, including the winner take all economy (which magnifies the importance of and consequences of luck) and the Darwin economy (in which people want to consumer positional goods). Frank does not treat his policy recommendation to the same degree of critical scrutiny or analysis of tradeoffs that he does other aspects of his argument.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Arup

    Acknowledge you are lucky -> Don't claim more credit than you deserve -> Realize that you have surplus earnings -> Pay more taxes -> Taxes will ensure continuity of the social/economic order which is the source of luck. Argues for progressive consumption taxes to curtail (wasteful) positional expenditures of the super-rich. Acknowledge you are lucky -> Don't claim more credit than you deserve -> Realize that you have surplus earnings -> Pay more taxes -> Taxes will ensure continuity of the social/economic order which is the source of luck. Argues for progressive consumption taxes to curtail (wasteful) positional expenditures of the super-rich.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dennis

    http://pro-libertate.net/20160726/304... http://pro-libertate.net/20160726/304...

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sean Cunningham

    Glad I read this. Interesting meditation on the role of luck In success. Progressive consumption tax chapter seemed misplaced.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Maggie Boyd

    So much about this book is absolutely outstanding as it gives a clear explanation of why people who believe they've earned what they have are seeing only a small fraction of the picture. One delusion common among America's successful people is that they triumphed just because of hard work and intelligence. In fact, their big break came when they were conceived in middle-class American families who loved them, read them stories, and nurtured them with Little League spots, library cards and music So much about this book is absolutely outstanding as it gives a clear explanation of why people who believe they've earned what they have are seeing only a small fraction of the picture. One delusion common among America's successful people is that they triumphed just because of hard work and intelligence. In fact, their big break came when they were conceived in middle-class American families who loved them, read them stories, and nurtured them with Little League spots, library cards and music lessons. They were programmed for success by the time they were zygotes. the author begins his book by quoting. The importance of this factor is that the delusion of meriting their success has consequences. "The result is a meanspiritedness in the political world, or at best a lack of empathy toward those struggling - partly explaining the hostility to state expansion of Medicaid, to long term unemployment benefits or to raising the minimum wage to keep up with inflation." Rich kids make a lot of bad choices," Stanford sociologist Sean Reardon notes. "They just don't come with the same sort of consequences." Another wonderful quote in the book is that of Napoleon who famously said, "Ability is of little account without opportunity." I can remember a news special that showed a man who could draw his gun faster than anyone else in the world. He'd won numerous competitions, wining thousands of dollars. But he still had to have a day job to support himself - we don't have gunfights or duels anymore and an average sniper had a more valuable skill than this above average gunslinger. Many skilled positions have been lost lately due to the expansion of winners take all markets, which has in turn resulted in a great deal of lost opportunity for lots of folks. Such markets put all the eggs in one basket, leaving little room for competitors. Think Amazon versus every bookstore ever. This has resulted in an employment atmosphere where luck matters more than ever since numerous contenders for the same job will have similar backgrounds and only chance will determine the winner. The author also notes that the supposed benefits of the best man winning actually don't exist. There is little innovative difference, luxury difference or material difference between a $150,000 dollar car and $330,000 car but there is a tremendous difference between driving both those cars through pot hole laden streets and driving them on smooth, well maintained roads. Wouldn't we all - including the luxury car owner - be better off with the driver of the $330,00 dollar car owning the less expensive vehicle and being taxed for the remaining $150,000 for the roads? or so his analogy goes. The author hammers home the point that the owner of the car owns it only through lucky happenstance. "Minor random events can easily tip the balance in competitions and and in the process spell the difference between great wealth and economic failure. " This results in rewards being "highly concentrated in the hands of a few top performers." Reading about how the change in hiring for CEOs came about (from in-house only candidates to a limited field of professional CEOs) explained, for me at least, the loss of American ingenuity and workmanship. "Unsuccessful CEOs receive the same huge compensation packages as their more successful counterparts." they don't need to do a good job, just an adequate one. The author emphasizes that winners don't win only by luck - they must have some skill to be in the competition at all - but that luck plays a serious role in success. He speaks of the Lake Wobegon affect and how that is amplified by people believing they've earned their luck. An example he gives of this is bike riding with and against the wind. We rarely notice the boost we receive from working with the wind but notice any amount of effort we expand to work against it. The same is true in life where we rarely acknowledge the lucky events that gave us an advantage but are agitated by the challenges we had to overcome. The author points out that being born into middle class or upper class wealth in a highly developed country is an almost immeasurable piece of good fortune and adds that "If being born in a good environment is one of the luckiest things that can happen to anyone, it is failure to appreciate luck's importance that has done the most to undermine our collective stock of good fortune." In other words, our belief we earned what we have is what makes us unwilling to share it. This has drastic consequences in terms of infrastructure because "Failure to recognize luck's role in success may also increase reluctance to pay taxes by reinforcing the natural sense of entitlement to income produced by the fruits of one's own labor." I think the best chapter, impossible to really synopsize, is how he describes relative wealth. The idea of how this works and how damaging unlimited excess can be as a whole was insightful and informative for me. It explained a lot of what I see in the America of today. I can't recommend this book enough.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mike Morgenstein

    This book aims directly at a common misconception, that is, unequivocally equating success with hard work. This assumption can ultimately be deleterious for us as individuals, and society as a whole. The truth is rather different, and that is that to achieve the highest levels of success there has to have been something in your life that has happened that can fall under the domain of "lucky". Now, just imagine the misconceptions this truth causes. If you dare not to explain yourself, you will be This book aims directly at a common misconception, that is, unequivocally equating success with hard work. This assumption can ultimately be deleterious for us as individuals, and society as a whole. The truth is rather different, and that is that to achieve the highest levels of success there has to have been something in your life that has happened that can fall under the domain of "lucky". Now, just imagine the misconceptions this truth causes. If you dare not to explain yourself, you will be met with embittered successful people severely reproaching you. Presumptively they will group you into a cohort of people who also being embittered themselves remark that the rich are completely lucky and had everything given to them. This is not true as well. The truth once again is in the middle, but it should be stated like this: People who have achieved the highest success have made it there through mostly, say 99%, of hard work. But there is no doubt, that in the pursuit of success there's an ineffable element of luck that should be acknowledged. Once it is recognized then society will be better off as a whole. The reason why acknowledging the impact of luck is so important is because then many of the wealthy would have a better idea for why they pay taxes, and why it's beneficial for society. Taxes aren't meant to "take away their money and hard work" but are rather for public goods that help foster the kind of environments that engender successful outcomes. The kind of luck I'm referring to may be for many people, if nothing else, the fact that they were born in a country like the United States where you are not repressed from birth to fit under a certain mold. Luck may be the parents you were born to, or the school system you were in. Luck might even be the fact your parents were born in a repressive country, and they were the ones lucky enough to escape and come to a free one where they worked their asses of to support you. And it was seeing their hard work and struggle that inspired the same thing out of you. Many people don't get this kind of life lesson. Much of luck is out of your control and it does not speak to your level of hard work. The author has claimed that once this fact is explained to the upper class, they tend to understand and agree. And typically, the most charitable of the members of the upper class are the ones who acknowledge their level of luck and fortune to have achieved the success they have. Take a look and others, such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet whom have on many occasions acknowledged their level of luck to be as success as they have been. The author is frank (pun intended), well spoken, and ultimately wrote a very good book that is easily digestible by just about anyone.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Adam Ford

    This is an odd little book. It appears to be about the phenomenon of society's winners taking too much credit for their success; of their wrongly discounting the role luck played in their wealth/fame/power. And it is about that sometimes. But mostly Frank's book is about his crusade to convince the US to drop income taxes and adopt a progressive consumption tax. The progressive income tax is calculated as taxable income minus annual additions to savings minus a large standard deduction. So if a This is an odd little book. It appears to be about the phenomenon of society's winners taking too much credit for their success; of their wrongly discounting the role luck played in their wealth/fame/power. And it is about that sometimes. But mostly Frank's book is about his crusade to convince the US to drop income taxes and adopt a progressive consumption tax. The progressive income tax is calculated as taxable income minus annual additions to savings minus a large standard deduction. So if a family had taxable income of $60,000 and added $10,000 to savings for the year and the standard deduction for their size family in their county was $30,000, they would have a taxable consumption of $20,000. That taxable consumption would be taxed on a progressive scale as it went up. Frank, a very well respected economist at Cornell University, died on a tennis court and survived out of sheer luck for a number of reasons. He is using his new lease on life to push this policy agenda because he feels it would be the most positive impactful and transformative single policy change that the government could make. Yes, consumption would go down. Weddings would be smaller (he is obsessed with large expensive weddings which he views as a total waste), but they all would be smaller so brides wouldn't feel less-than. Sure, testosterone-bros would drive Porsche and Mercedes instead of Bugatti and Lamborghini--but the roads would have fewer potholes so they would enjoy themselves more anyway. That is the theory. Sounds like a decent plan to me. He doesn't talk about how it would supercharge the markets and contributions to retirement plans and investment accounts looked for places to put the money that would flow in. Frank seems like a great guy who would be very nice to have a lunch with. And his policy argument seems sound. I wish him a long and healthy life.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ron Brown

    Robert Frank is an economist at Cornell University. He is a columnist with the New York Times and has authored a number of economic books. Success and Luck should be required reading for all those interested in how the economy and society operates. The book has two themes. Firstly, it looks at how the concept or idea of luck plays an important role in people's lives. Too often those who are “successful” (especially in obtaining wealth) attribute their success purely to their hard work and dedicat Robert Frank is an economist at Cornell University. He is a columnist with the New York Times and has authored a number of economic books. Success and Luck should be required reading for all those interested in how the economy and society operates. The book has two themes. Firstly, it looks at how the concept or idea of luck plays an important role in people's lives. Too often those who are “successful” (especially in obtaining wealth) attribute their success purely to their hard work and dedication and do not consider the role of luck. Frank demonstrates this through anecdote and experimental experiences otherwise. Frank goes on to say that many successful people believe that their success and wealth has been achieved through individual work and therefore they deserve to keep all this wealth. They see taxation as theft and do their best to avoid or minimize paying tax. This belief is supported by many politicians and economists who fight against any increase in taxes and try to reduce tax, especially for the rich. The book then morphed into an argument for a progressive consumption tax. Although I am not an expert I do accept Frank’s arguments. Along with climate change the issue of the role of government and the payment for government services is the major issue western governments are faced with. Basically it gets down to people still wanting to provide the services, pensions, defense, police, judicial system, hospitals, schools etc. But no one, especially the rich, want to pay for these services. Frank’s book is short, succinct, factual and well written. If you want a better understanding of the problems our society is facing then you should read this book.

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