Why the myth of a perfect meritocracy is so pernicious 

“Things we’re not entitled to claim moral credit for are the driving forces behind success.” —Robert H. Frank

“If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get that on your own,” President Obama declared four years ago at a campaign rally in Virginia. “If you’re successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.”

Obama was pilloried for this statement. For conservatives, it was sacrilege, an offense against the individualist ethic. It’s a treasured mythology in America, this belief that hard work and a touch of grit is all one needs to succeed.

Reality is more complicated than that, however. Talent and drive can take you a long way, but it’s often not enough. Luck, as it happens, is every bit as important. Being born to the right parents helps too.

Robert H. Frank is a professor of economics at Cornell University and the author of a new book, Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy. The thesis of Success and Luck is quite simple: Luck is far more important to success in this life than we imagine.

How we think about this fact hinges in large part on our political ideology. Conservatives and libertarians have a narrative about success, which prioritizes hard work and skill. Liberals have an alternative narrative about success, which prioritizes structural constraints and privilege.

Neither one is entirely right, but it does seem that liberals are closer to the truth. Or at least that’s the case Frank makes in Success and Luck.

I spoke with Frank about his book and about the role of luck in human life. Our conversation, edited for clarity and concision, follows.

Sean Illing

The idea of a meritocracy is a pleasant abstraction, but does it actually square with the reality of human life?

Robert H. Frank

I was reluctant to use the subtitle that the …read more

Source:: Vox – All

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