How to survive in a world where luck and randomness play a pivotal role.
Topics covered include:
- What are power laws
- What are the narrative fallacy and hindsight bias
- What are examples of domains where randomness has contributed to success
- What are ways to distinguish investing skill from luck
- How sixth-century philosopher Boethius had an accurate view of chance
- What are ways we can benefit from good luck while protecting ourselves from bad luck
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Welcome to Money for the Rest of Us. This is a personal finance show on money, how it works, how to invest it, and how to live without worrying about it. I’m your host, David Stein. Today’s episode, 408. It’s titled “Is Success Due to Hard Work, Talent, or Luck?”
I recently had my iPhone fixed. I replaced the back of the phone, and they actually gave me a new phone for the back, and then we used the old screen. I backed up the phone to iCloud but didn’t realize that the two-factor authentication app I used wouldn’t back up automatically to iCloud without giving it specific permission.
That meant I was locked out of a number of websites, including our payroll company. It was a real pain because you had to upload a photo of yourself, as well as a photo ID. There are still some accounts that I haven’t restored, yet just because of the headache of getting access again.
Last week, Elon Musk closed on his purchase of Twitter after a legal battle to try to exit the purchase. As part of the discovery process, the Delaware’s Court of Chancery released hundreds of text messages and emails sent to and from Musk. Charlie Warzel in The Atlantic wrote, “The 151-page redacted document is a rare, unvarnished glimpse into the overlapping worlds of Silicon Valley, media, and politics”.
I didn’t spend much time on the document, but I did look at it, and was amused that this stream of messages that began last January has Musk working with one of his associates to get two-factor authentication turned off on Twitter, so he can access it. Apparently, he couldn’t access it, he was having difficulty with the new phone, didn’t have the passcode to turn off two-factor authentication. Basically, he had the same issue I did.
Now, I’m clearly not as talented as Elon Musk. But I admit, I’ve found it ironic that here’s the world’s wealthiest man, with a net worth of over $200 billion, and yet, the details of his day-to-day life, trying to get two-factor authentication turned off; he even offered to do a FaceTime with Twitter, so they could see that it was really him, so they could give him access.
I recently read an academic paper where that quoted a report that the eight wealthiest men in the world own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of the global population. Wealth follows a power law distribution, also known as a Pareto distribution, based on the economist that developed it.
It’s known as the 80/20 rule, where for example 20% of a business’s clients generate 80% of the profits. With a Pareto distribution, the average isn’t very meaningful, because a small percentage has the bulk of whatever we’re measuring. In the case of wealth, the average wealth across the world is brought up significantly higher because of the wealth of Musk and other billionaires. The median, the middle then ends up being much less than the average.
In a recent academic paper that I’ll refer to several times in this show—it was written by Alessandro Pluchino, Alessio Emanuel Biondo, and Andrea Rapisarda, three Italian academics, is titled “Talent versus luck: The role of randomness in success and failure.” They write “If one considers the individual wealth as a proxy of success, one could argue that it’s deeply asymmetric and unequal distribution among people.
In other words, the top eight billionaires have more wealth than half the world’s population. That’s either consequence of their natural differences in talent, skill, competence, intelligence, ability, or a measure of their willfulness, hard work, or determination.” Is that what it is? Are some people so much more successful because they’re just incredibly more talented, or intelligent, or hardworking?
In the paper, they point out that human qualities though are normally distributed. The average IQ is 100. Nobody has an IQ of 1,000 or 10,000. We all have the same 24 hours per day. Nobody works a billion times more hours than anybody else. And yet, some individuals are much more successful; incredibly more successful.
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