Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy

Princeton University Press
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From New York Times bestselling author and economics columnist Robert Frank, a compelling book that explains why the rich underestimate the importance of luck in their success, why that hurts everyone, and what we can do about it

How important is luck in economic success? No question more reliably divides conservatives from liberals. As conservatives correctly observe, people who amass great fortunes are almost always talented and hardworking. But liberals are also correct to note that countless others have those same qualities yet never earn much. In recent years, social scientists have discovered that chance plays a much larger role in important life outcomes than most people imagine. In Success and Luck, bestselling author and New York Times economics columnist Robert Frank explores the surprising implications of those findings to show why the rich underestimate the importance of luck in success—and why that hurts everyone, even the wealthy.

Frank describes how, in a world increasingly dominated by winner-take-all markets, chance opportunities and trivial initial advantages often translate into much larger ones—and enormous income differences—over time; how false beliefs about luck persist, despite compelling evidence against them; and how myths about personal success and luck shape individual and political choices in harmful ways.

But, Frank argues, we could decrease the inequality driven by sheer luck by adopting simple, unintrusive policies that would free up trillions of dollars each year—more than enough to fix our crumbling infrastructure, expand healthcare coverage, fight global warming, and reduce poverty, all without requiring painful sacrifices from anyone. If this sounds implausible, you'll be surprised to discover that the solution requires only a few, noncontroversial steps.

Compellingly readable, Success and Luck shows how a more accurate understanding of the role of chance in life could lead to better, richer, and fairer economies and societies.

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About the author

Robert H. Frank is the H. J. Louis Professor of Management and Professor of Economics at Cornell University's Johnson School of Management. He has been an Economic View columnist for the New York Times for more than a decade and his books include The Winner-Take-All Society (with Philip J. Cook), The Economic Naturalist, The Darwin Economy (Princeton), and Principles of Economics (with Ben S. Bernanke). He lives in Ithaca, New York.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Apr 19, 2016
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Pages
208
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ISBN
9781400880270
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Economics / General
Business & Economics / General
Political Science / General
Political Science / History & Theory
Political Science / Public Policy / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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The famed political advisor to Uber, FanDuel, Lemonade, Tesla and other startups reveals what really happens at the intersection of politics, tech and business

Most new startups today are in highly regulated industries with strong incumbents - transportation, hotels, drones, energy, gaming, education, health care, cannabis, finance, liquor, insurance. The more startups try to snatch a piece of the establishment's pie, the more they risk running into a political wall. That's where Bradley Tusk comes in.

Described as "Silicon Valley's Political Savior" (Fast Company) "Uber's Political Genius" (Vanity Fair) and "Silicon Valley's Favorite Fixer" (TechCrunch) Tusk deploys the skills and knowledge he developed working with Chuck Schumer, Michael Bloomberg, Rod Blagojevich, and other political and business legends to help startups fight back. This book goes behind the scenes on how he helped stop the taxi industry from killing Uber in its infancy, how he held insurance companies at bay while startup Lemonade launched in each state, and how he helped online sports betting sites FanDuel and Draft Kings escape the regulatory death grip casinos tried to put on them.

As Tusk writes, "Every new company is essentially a tech startup. And when you disrupt someone in any industry, they don't say thank you. They punch you in the nose. These are the lessons startups need to learn to punch back and survive the clutches of politics." Combining a firsthand glimpse behind the curtain with tangible advice for how any new venture can play the political game, THE FIXER is a must-read for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Who was the greater economist--Adam Smith or Charles Darwin? The question seems absurd. Darwin, after all, was a naturalist, not an economist. But Robert Frank, New York Times economics columnist and best-selling author of The Economic Naturalist, predicts that within the next century Darwin will unseat Smith as the intellectual founder of economics. The reason, Frank argues, is that Darwin's understanding of competition describes economic reality far more accurately than Smith's. And the consequences of this fact are profound. Indeed, the failure to recognize that we live in Darwin's world rather than Smith's is putting us all at risk by preventing us from seeing that competition alone will not solve our problems.

Smith's theory of the invisible hand, which says that competition channels self-interest for the common good, is probably the most widely cited argument today in favor of unbridled competition--and against regulation, taxation, and even government itself. But what if Smith's idea was almost an exception to the general rule of competition? That's what Frank argues, resting his case on Darwin's insight that individual and group interests often diverge sharply. Far from creating a perfect world, economic competition often leads to "arms races," encouraging behaviors that not only cause enormous harm to the group but also provide no lasting advantages for individuals, since any gains tend to be relative and mutually offsetting.

The good news is that we have the ability to tame the Darwin economy. The best solution is not to prohibit harmful behaviors but to tax them. By doing so, we could make the economic pie larger, eliminate government debt, and provide better public services, all without requiring painful sacrifices from anyone. That's a bold claim, Frank concedes, but it follows directly from logic and evidence that most people already accept.

A new luxury fever has America in its grip. Independent of stock prices, recessions, and inflation rates, the past two decades have witnessed a spectacular and uninterrupted rise in luxury consumption. Ordinary, functional goods are no longer acceptable. Our cars have gotten larger, heavier, and far more expensive. Mansions larger than 30,000 square feet no longer seem extravagant. Wristwatches for the super-rich cost tens of thousands of dollars. We are living in an era of excess.
Consider:
The average house built in the United States today is nearly twice as large as its counterpart from the 1950s.
Even as houses have gotten more expensive and farther from the workplace, there has been a sharp increase in second-home ownership.
The average price of an automobile sold in the United States now exceeds $22,000, up more than 75 percent from a decade ago.
Total U.S. spending on luxury goods increased 21 percent between 1995 and 1996 (typical of recent years), while overall merchandise sales increased only 5 percent.
Robert Frank caused a national debate in 1995 when he and co-author Philip Cook described the poisonous spread of "winner-take-all" markets. Now he takes a thought-provoking look at the flip side of spreading inequality: as the super-rich set the pace, everyone else spends furiously in a competitive echo of wastefulness. The costs are enormous: We spend more time at work, leaving less time for family and friends, less time for exercise. Most of us have been forced to save less and spend and borrow much more. The annual rate at which American families file for personal bankruptcy has grown to one in seventy. Budgetary pressures have reduced our willingness to fund even essential public services: Our food and water are increasingly contaminated. Potholes proliferate, and traffic delays double every ten years.
Frank offers the first comprehensive and accessible summary of scientific evidence that our spending choices are not making us as happy and healthy as they could. Furthermore, he argues that human frailty is not at fault. The good news is that we can do something about it. We can make it harder for the super-rich to overspend, and capture our own competitive energy for the public good. Luxury Fever boldly offers a way to curb the excess and restore the true value of money.
"[A] magnificent history of money and finance."--New York Times Book Review

“Convincingly makes the case that finance is a change-maker of change-makers.”--Financial Times

In the aftermath of recent financial crises, it's easy to see finance as a wrecking ball: something that destroys fortunes and jobs, and undermines governments and banks. In Money Changes Everything, leading financial historian William Goetzmann argues the exact opposite—that the development of finance has made the growth of civilizations possible. Goetzmann explains that finance is a time machine, a technology that allows us to move value forward and backward through time; and that this innovation has changed the very way we think about and plan for the future. He shows how finance was present at key moments in history: driving the invention of writing in ancient Mesopotamia, spurring the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome to become great empires, determining the rise and fall of dynasties in imperial China, and underwriting the trade expeditions that led Europeans to the New World. He also demonstrates how the apparatus we associate with a modern economy—stock markets, lines of credit, complex financial products, and international trade—were repeatedly developed, forgotten, and reinvented over the course of human history.

Exploring the critical role of finance over the millennia, and around the world, Goetzmann details how wondrous financial technologies and institutions—money, bonds, banks, corporations, and more—have helped urban centers to expand and cultures to flourish. And it's not done reshaping our lives, as Goetzmann considers the challenges we face in the future, such as how to use the power of finance to care for an aging and expanding population.

Money Changes Everything presents a fascinating look into the way that finance has steered the course of history.

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