Success and Luck


Success and Luck – Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy
By Robert H. Frank
Princeton University Press – £19.95

”Ability is of little account without opportunity” (Napoleon Bonaparte).

In the third chapter (‘How Winner-Take-All Markets Magnify Luck’s Role’) of this occasionally humorous yet most insightful book, Robert H Frank (who has been an Economic View columnist for The New York Times for over a decade and whose books include The Winner Take-All Society and Principles of Economics) asks: ”Why do hard-working people with similar talents and training often earn such dramatically different incomes? And why, too, have these earning gaps grown so much larger in recent decades? Almost no other questions have proved more enduringly fascinating to economists.”

Or to the average working man and woman; although I shouldn’t imagine the former BHS boss, Sir Philip Green, is losing any sleep as to why ”hard-working people with similar talents and training often earn dramatically different incomes.”

To be sure, countless pennies begin to drop throughout Success and Luck – Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy.

So much so, that by the time the reader reaches chapter seven (‘We’re In Luck: A Golden Opportunity’), one cannot help but ponder upon the obvious, which, lest it be said, does need to be pointed out from time to time: ”People spend more when their friends and neighbours spend more. This isn’t some fantastic new discovery. It’s a dynamic we’ve known about since the dawn of time. Many have called it ”keeping up with the Joneses.” But I’ve never liked that expression, because it summons images of insecure people trying to appear wealthier than they are”

That’s right; and these very same, insecure people, are relentless in their pursuit of bullshit contentment or happiness or whatever else you might feel cajoled into calling it. Yet Frank continues: […] Here’s how it works. People at the top begin building bigger houses simply because they have more money. Perhaps it’s become custom for them to have their daughters’ wedding receptions at home, so a ballroom is now part of what defines an adequate living space. Those houses shift the frame of reference for the near-wealthy – who travel in the same social circles – so they, too, build bigger. But as the near-wealthy begin adding Sub-Zero refrigerators and valued ceilings, they shift the frames of reference that define adequate for upper-middle class families. And so those families start saving less and borrowing more to keep pace. And so it goes, all the way down the income ladder. More spending by people at the top ultimately creates pressure for more spending by the people at the bottom, for whom the additional outlays are often a difficult stretch.”

Hasn’t such economic philandering always been the same? Always been the way? Especially for uneducated people who can’t, or simply refuse to see beyond the bling of sublime bollocks?

Katie Price is the Goddess of such ideology.

A gobshite, whose own ”good fortune” and overtly risible, translucent economic tat-wank, she will infinitely and annoyingly, continue to flaunt amid the myopic, crass induced media – forever and a fucking day. While the daughters of the aforementioned Joneses will no doubt lap it up.

Indeed, so it goes on…and on…and on…and all the more reason to embark upon reading this compellingly readable book.

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. After all, as the economist Branko Milanovic has estimated: ”roughly half of the variance in incomes across persons worldwide is explained by only two factors: country of residence and the income distribution within that country.”

David Marx


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