How Much Luck Do You Have?

How does luck play into one’s success? When thinking about successful men and women, the fact that luck could have played a role in the road to success isn’t always brought up. This isn’t to say that successful people haven’t worked hard to get to where they are. But there are some people who possess hard-working qualities and superior knowledge, who do not catch a break. It possible that people “underestimate” the amount of luck that plays into their success and the success of people around them.

If we take a look at the success of an athlete like, say Tom Brady, we can see that there are many factors that play into how successful one becomes. All the football fans out there know that Brady was drafted into the National Football League as a very low draft pick and wasn’t seen as an outstanding player at first. Today, Brady is known for his work ethic and many sports analysts will say that it has made him the player he is today.

But you also could look at the team he was drafted to and the coach he was lucky enough to have. Sports fans could debate all day about the success of Tom Brady, but the fact is that there was some uncontrollable series of events that led to Brady’s success. You could call it luck, divine intervention, or even aliens from outer space.

What is important to us as economists is that we can look at this idea of luck from many different angles such as poverty and the struggle of escaping it. Is the recipe of success truly just hard work, skill, and intelligence? Or could luck be a variable that is swept under the rug? Professor of Economics at Cornell University, Robert Frank digs deep into these questions in his new book entitled, “Success and Luck.”

Frank points out that the perception of luck, good and bad, is psychological and that we tend to notice more of the bad luck when looking at our own success. Most people look at the amount of success they have had and attribute it to how hard they worked to obtain it, not to how much luck they have had. Frank makes the observation in his book that this type of mentality can lead to people becoming less sympathetic toward others who haven’t succeeded because they think these people simply haven’t worked hard enough. This thought can lead to less investment in welfare for the poor and programs that help mitigate poverty. But how do we calculate the amount of luck somebody has had or will have? Luck can’t really be calculated, but I think it is still important that the idea of luck and success isn’t forgotten completely.



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