Luck: The Loser’s Excuse

If you can’t think of a good reason why someone is more successful than you, blame it on luck. That’s the moral of this story:

Don’t you look at rich people and find too many of them, well, dull?

Don’t you listen to rich people and think: “What have they got that I haven’t? Other than money?”

In fact, doesn’t it astonish you a little that you know so much, see so much, and can do so much, yet you really don’t have much money at all?

A new study offers you a reason for your lack of wealth.

It’s one that’s going to hurt.

The study, entitled “Talent vs Luck: The Role of Randomness in Success and Failure,” looked at people over a 40-year period.

Alessandro Pluchino of the University of Catania in Italy and his colleagues created a computer model of talent.

I can’t imagine that was easy or, to every mind, entirely satisfying.

After all, one person’s idea of talent is another person’s idea of Simon Cowell.

Still, Pluchino and friends mapped such apparent basics as intelligence, skill, and ability in various fields.

They then looked at people over a 40-year period, discerned what sort of things had happened to them, and compared that with how wealthy they had become.

They discovered that the conventional distribution of wealth — 20 percent of humanity enjoys 80 percent of the wealth — held true.

But then they offered painful words.

They still hurt, even though we know they’re true: “The maximum success never coincides with the maximum talent, and vice-versa.”


It’s galling, isn’t it, to look at some of the relatively talentless quarterwits who bathe in untold piles of lucre?

“So what is it that makes the difference?” I hear you pant, with an agonious grimace.

Are you ready for this?

“Our simulation clearly shows that such a factor is just pure luck,” say the researchers.

That kind of crap-thinking underlies Barack Hussein Obama’s infamous statement, “You didn’t build that”, which I dissected here. It’s just another justification for income redistribution, also known as the punishment of success.

Sure, success involves some degree of luck. But it’s not blind luck. One doesn’t succeed by being near the bottom of the talent heap in a given field. Nor does one succeed by sitting on the sidelines, that is, by hiding one’s talent under a bushel.

It is inconceivable that the authors of the study in question found a way to summarize intelligence, knowledge, skill, and effort in a single field of endeavor, let alone a large number of fields. In fact, they didn’t do that. (BHO would be right in this instance.) The authors simulated “reality” without the benefit of data. That’s a good thing; otherwise, they would have been guilty of manufacturing a lot of data about things that are difficult or impossible to quantify. The “empirical” justification of the results consists of anecdotal evidence.

The bottom line: The results of the simulations reflect the assumptions underlying the authors’ model — not reality. A key assumption is that the model of success accounts for all relevant variables. When outcomes favor the less-intelligent, less-talented, etc., over the more-intelligent, more-talented, etc., this is attributed to luck. But that is just another assumption. In fact, “unexpected” outcomes simply reflect the vagaries of sampling from ersatz probability distributions. This is the kind of study that should be hidden under a bushel, and forgotten.

The authors’ obvious agenda is to push for rewards based on something other than actual accomplishment: theoretical rather than actual merit. What institution has the power to make that happen? It goes without saying in the article, but you can be sure that there will be plenty of support for the idea of using government to detect and eliminate “luck”. (Shades of affirmative action, “diversity” programs, etc.)

As I have said, “luck” is mainly an excuse and rarely an explanation. Attributing outcomes to “luck” is an easy way of belittling success when it accrues to a rival. “White privilege” and “patriarchy” are in the same category as “luck”.

Related posts:
Moral Luck
Fooled by Non-Randomness
Randomness Is Over-Rated
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
Luck and Baseball, One More Time
More about Luck and Baseball
Obama’s Big Lie
Pseudoscience, “Moneyball,” and Luck
Diminishing Marginal Utility and the Redistributive Urge
Taleb’s Ruinous Rhetoric
Babe Ruth and the Hot-Hand Hypothesis

2 thoughts on “Luck: The Loser’s Excuse

  1. Whenever anyone whines about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, my usual response is: What else would you expect, since the rich continue to do the things that made them rich, while the poor continue to do the things that made them poor?

    Liked by 2 people

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