Sunday, April 24, 2016

SUCCESS AND LUCK by Robert Frank

SUCCESS AND LUCK by Robert Frank is a scientific examination of chance in business and personal success, with the subtitle: “Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy.” In it, Frank debunks the idea that hard work alone or “picking oneself up by one’s bootstraps” results in the vast fortunes acquired by many icons we often worship as role models. More likely, it is a combination of work and chance: a small advantage magnified over time, or a “nip slip” viral event, or (in the case of running races) a tailwind. Everything has to go right. Without her sex tape, Kim Kardashian would be unknown today. Without his dad, so would Trump. Even many music icons got a break without which they would now be unknown. Does this mean we should count on everything going right for us in multiple “lightning strike” chance incidents? Many in line at talent shows do hope for this, and some of those gave up traditional careers in medicine or education to do so. What is wrong with finding middle ground, a much more likely niche in which to do one's best? Not accepting this intensifies the inequity that is our winner-take-all economy. Robert Frank argues for a progressive consumption tax, which is actually beneficial to both rich and poor, since it negates the “arms race” that is building bigger and bigger houses (just like actual weapons races which have nearly bankrupted both the U.S. and Russia.) Since relative wealth is the goal, if one lowers the insanity by creating incentives (such as what the high tax rate in NY real estate does for billionaires there, making it acceptable to own more modest dwellings than they would in, say, Dallas) the progressive tax would save our economy trillions by freeing up money for investment and infrastructure.  Frank is economics professor at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, and a columnist for the NY Times. He narrates his own book.

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