Luck and taxes

Building off a post about luck and willingness to pay taxes from Robert Frank’s new Success and Luck book (which I really need to read) in Vox, Drum describes his own luck:

I’ve long wondered how it is that so many people are completely clueless about how lucky they are. Off the top of my head, here’s the story of my life:

I was born in the richest state in the richest country in the richest era of human history. I was born white, male, straight, and healthy. I was born with a high IQ and an even temper. My parents loved me and took care of me. We weren’t rich, but I never wanted for anything important. I attended good quality state schools free of charge for 17 years. I never had any catastrophic money problems after I left home. By a rather unlikely chance, I ended up marrying the most wonderful person in the world. I had a great mentor at one job who helped me make an improbable move into high-tech marketing. Later I found myself working for a guy I happened to click with, and ended up vice president of marketing. Our company eventually got acquired and I made a bunch of money. After I left, I just happened to start blogging as a hobby right at the time blogging became big. A couple of years later I got a call out of the blue asking if I wanted to blog for pay. A few years after that I got another call out of the blue and ended up at MoJo…

Does any of this mean I didn’t work hard and diligently? Of course not. But lots of people work hard and diligently. In fact, most people do. If I had worked hard and diligently but been born in a small village in Pakistan, I’d be…living in a small village in Pakistan right now. All the hard work and diligence in the world wouldn’t have done much of anything for me.

I can easily believe that most people give short shrift to all this stuff. Hell, I’ve known people who were smug about their real estate acumen because they happened to buy a house in 2002, and then cried about their terrible luck when they failed to sell it in 2007. We all like to fool ourselves into believing that good things are due to our smarts while bad things are all down to bad luck. But for most of us, there’s an awful lot of good luck involved in our lives too.

A thousand times, yes.  Now, I’m not a professional blogger, but my course in life is not all that different.  Sure, I work reasonably hard, but how far does that get you in Honduras or Haiti?  Not very.  Luck damnit.  Not to mention, I did nothing to deserve a brain that quickly assimilates new information, a very even temperament, or loving parents who did a great job raising me in a wealthy, upper-middle class, American suburb.

No, this does not mean one should be liberal.  But damn a lot of people, especially conservatives, really downplay the role of flat-out luck in their success.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to Luck and taxes

  1. itchy says:

    Yes, yes, yes. A thousand more times yes.

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