Goal of the day

Awesome.  Chile vs. Peru.

The lucky post

I was having a great conversation with my 9-year old the other day about the role of luck in success.  You know my take– sure I work reasonably hard and I’m smart, but it is little more than luck that I was born to highly-educated upper-middle class parents in an educated, stable community and that I have a brain that is good at processing information and deferring gratification.  I think we all know that luck (and context– which is closely related) matter, but I think in most things, people tend to under-estimate the impact of luck and random factors and I think this is especially so among political conservatives.  Anyway, it reminded me of this article from back in February that I meant to blog about back at the time.

This is great– it’s about a CEO, who for the purposes of the upper-hand in a divorce case, argues that his success is about luck, not his own skill.  It may be largely a cynical legal ploy (or not).  Regardless, I think he’s right:

The divorce of the oil billionaire Harold G. Hamm from Sue Ann Arnall has gained attention largely for its outsize dollar amounts. Mr. Hamm, the chief executive and founder of Continental Resources, who was worth more than $18 billion at one point, wrote his ex-wife a check last month for $974,790,317.77 to settle their split. She’s appealing to get more; he’s appealing to pay less.

Yet beyond the staggering sums, the Hamm divorce raises a fundamental question about the wealth of executives and entrepreneurs: How much do they owe their fortunes to skill and hard work, and how much comes from happenstance and luck?

Mr. Hamm, seeking to exploit a wrinkle in divorce law, made the unusual argument that his wealth came largely from forces outside his control, like global oil prices, the expertise of his deputies and other people’s technology. During the nine-week divorce trial, his lawyers claimed that although Mr. Hamm had founded Continental Resources and led the company to become a multibillion-dollar energy giant, he was responsible for less than 10 percent of his personal and corporate success…

In a filing last month supporting his appeal, Mr. Hamm cites the recent drop in oil prices and subsequent 50 percent drop in Continental’s share price and his fortune as further proof that forces outside his control direct his company’s fortunes.

Lawyers for Ms. Arnall argue that Mr. Hamm is responsible for more than 90 percent of his fortune.

While rooted in a messy divorce, the dispute frames a philosophical and ethical debate over inequality and the obligations of the wealthy. If wealth comes mainly from luck or circumstance, many say the wealthy owe a greater debt to society in the form of taxes or charity. [emphases mine] If wealth comes from skill and hard work, perhaps higher taxes would discourage that effort.

Sorting out what value is created by luck or skill is a tricky proposition in itself. The limited amount of academic research on the topic, which mainly looks at how executives can influence a company’s value, has often found that broader market forces often have a bigger impact on a company’s success than an executive’s actions.

Of course, skill, hard-work, etc., matter.  Just not as much as most political conservatives think they do.  Furthermore, I would argue that brains and a good work ethic are themselves substantially determined by luck.  Not to argue that these things should not be rewarded in the marketplace, but things look different when you realize how much luck is involved.

Photo of the day

Wow.  Amazing gallery of photo contest of Earth and Sky photo contest at the Telegraph.  And this one is only a second-place winner:

The contest began in 2007, running annually. In 2009, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the International Astronomical Union designated TWAN as a Special Project of the International Year of Astronomy.

The second place winner in the Beauty category is Brad Goldpaint of the United States, for his photo “Moonlit Darklings” taken in July 2014. The moonlight strikes Mt Rainier in Washington, northwestern USA, as the Milky Way drifts across the night sky.

Picture: Goldpaint Photograph



Race, region, and partisanship

So the Political Scientists FB group (yes, there is one, and it’s pretty useful) had a recent discussion about PS perspectives on the confederate flag issue.  Somebody linked to this excellent article (in a top journal) from 10 years ago.  Its findings are still quite relevant.  And I’m pretty damn sure they data is not faked :-).  Here’s the abstract:

Our focus is the regional political realignment that has occurred among whites over the past four decades. We hypothesize that the South’s shift to the Republican party has been driven to a significant degree by racial conservatism in addition to a harmonizing of partisanship with general ideological conservatism. General Social Survey and National Election Studies data from the 1970s to the present indicate that whites residing in the old Confederacy continue to display more racial antagonism and ideological conservatism than non-Southern whites. Racial conservatism has become linked more closely to presidential voting and party identification over time in the white South, while its impact has remained constant elsewhere. This stronger association between racial antagonism and partisanship in the South compared to other regions cannot be explained by regional differences in nonracial ideology or nonracial policy preferences, or by the effects of those variables on partisanship. [emphasis mine]

No, it’s not all about race.  But don’t let anybody tell you it’s not important in the transformation of Southern politics.

The gun conversation we’re not having

Really liked this Jessica Winter piece on how it’s a lot easier for us to take on the Confederate Flag than the real problem in the recent murders– guns:

Almost literally overnight, the chimera of consensus around the Confederate flag as a divisive but misunderstood symbol of “heritage” or “Southern pride” fell away, revealing the banner for what it is. The obscenity of the flag and the murderous racism it represents have dominated a national conversation about the American way of hate and violence for all the right reasons.

The flag has also dominated the conversation for a single wrong reason, which is that most Americans have given up on achieving meaningful gun control in their lifetimes or in their grandchildren’s lifetimes…

When 20 dead first-graders cannot result in new and meaningful national measures on gun control or even in weak and largely symbolic national measures on gun control, then perhaps—if you are of a certain cast of mind—that is the moment to retreat on gun control.

And we have. People will still talk about it…

Mostly, though, we find other things to talk about.

Adam Gopnik has not, though, and few (if any) write better on the topic:

The reason that we have gun massacres in numbers wildly out of proportion to any other rich country is because we have too many guns. When gun massacres have happened elsewhere—as they sometimes have, in Canada and Scotland and Australia and elsewhere—the common-sense response has been to change the laws, and, almost always, after the laws are changed the massacres end. In the United States, they continue. It seems like a good bet that changing the law here would change that.

In the areas of gun crime where there has been extended study, we know for certain that serious gun control works to end, or at least limit, gun violence. It is as robust a correlation as any in the social sciences, as sure a thing, as I’ve written before, as knowing that antibiotics act to limit and end infections. You go looking for sane counterarguments in favor of overarmed America and find that none exist. Guns don’t protect anyone from anything. Their presence simply increases the odds of domestic tragedy, of a domestic altercation turning into a homicide (or a suicide). The data confirms what common sense suggests: not even the most desperately paranoid among us could possibly be perpetually prepared for an actual home invasion—as very rare as such incidents actually are. The fantasy of the armed homeowner bravely repelling the evil armed intruder is just that. The number of justified homicides is overwhelmed by the number of gun tragedies. In 2012, thirteen states, including New Jersey and New York, reported no justifiable homicides at all. Not one. The notion that gun possession could stop, rather than increase, the number of casualties in the home is another fantasy created by violent movies and television programs, and is only possible in them. (Violent crime is dropping under the gun-control regimes in Europe and Canada as well, just as it has in the States. We’re still the only country that has gun massacres so routinely that our leader has to figure out what new thing he can say each time out.) …

Mental health, the enduring structures of racism—these are issues that we have to deal with, too. But they are not at the heart of the tragedy. Gun massacres happen for no reason at all, as well as for crazy reasons. Every country has people who come into the grip of delusions. Even peaceful Norway produced its lunatic. Most countries keep lethal weapons out of their hands. After a mass killing, grief is supported by wisdom; laws change, and killings stop…

All the facts are in; all the social science is long settled; the constitutional positions are clear, if contested, and the wiser way known and shared by mankind. On one side are facts, truth, and common sense. On the other, an obsession with dark fantasies of individual autonomy and power—the sheer fetishistic thrill of owning lethal weapons. On one side is the sanity and common sense shared by the entire world; on the other, murder and madness and a strange ongoing American mania. If we don’t change, then, well—it will happen again, again. And then again.

Powerful stuff.  That said, I’m a little more skeptical of the power of policy change in the US context giving how deeply gun-owning (and totally irrational fears on the part of gun-owners) is embedded in our culture.  I don’t know that we could ever get to Western European levels of gun violence, but we could sure do a lot better.

Here’s the problem in infographic form via Vox:


And lastly, loved this Washington Post Op-Ed from a hunter who (quite properly) hates the NRA:

Some time after I bought my first gun, I got a robocall from the National Rifle Association, asking me to join. After the customary “Please stay on the line…” from a pleasant but earnest voice, I recoiled from the barkings of an angry-sounding man.

Did I know that Barack Hussein Obama and European leaders are meeting on American soil right now, at this very moment, to plot the confiscation of my guns?

The caller continued with his insinuations of an imminent United Nations plot against America, but before I could be handed off to a live operator, I hung up the phone.

I was amused, and then insulted, that someone would think I was dumb enough to fall for such a pitch. But the sad truth is that there are enough people willing to open their checkbooks to make such a noxious fundraising appeal worthwhile. [emphasis mine]…

The NRA and its adherents want us to bristle with alertness to danger, keeping a loaded gun within reach at all times. But where is the concern for people who want to live without fear of guns entering their lives? …

I agree with the NRA on one point: Tightening controls on gun ownership will not eliminate gun violence. And it may not do much to address the psychopathology of young men who commit mass murder…

But by filtering out at least some people who are poor candidates for responsible ownership, gun control will reduce the steady bloodletting of everyday life in our cities, a pervasive environment of danger that police departments around the country have decried, calling for greater handgun controls…

The Charleston massacre probably won’t result in gun reform, but its survivors have challenged the NRA’s bleak, seething worldview by suggesting that kindness can be the dominant mood of our public life. By offering perhaps premature forgiveness to the young man who killed their loved ones with a legally purchased Glock semiautomatic, they have shown us the possibility of living a more open, less timid existence. They imagine a world of joy, community and shelter, not fear, hatred and violence.


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