This seems obvious to me: that luck plays a great part in success. Well, serendipity, perhaps which can always be given a helping hand by elite networks and pushy parents…
The conventional answer is that we live in a meritocracy in which people are rewarded for their talent, intelligence, effort, and so on. Over time, many people think, this translates into the wealth distribution that we observe, although a healthy dose of luck can play a role.
But there is a problem with this idea: while wealth distribution follows a power law, the distribution of human skills generally follows a normal distribution that is symmetric about an average value. For example, intelligence, as measured by IQ tests, follows this pattern. Average IQ is 100, but nobody has an IQ of 1,000 or 10,000.
The same is true of effort, as measured by hours worked. Some people work more hours than average and some work less, but nobody works a billion times more hours than anybody else.
And yet when it comes to the rewards for this work, some people do have billions of times more wealth than other people. What’s more, numerous studies have shown that the wealthiest people are generally not the most talented by other measures.
What factors, then, determine how individuals become wealthy? Could it be that chance plays a bigger role than anybody expected? And how can these factors, whatever they are, be exploited to make the world a better and fairer place?
Image: CC BY-ND fearthekumquat