A study: success is mostly luck

Finally someone did a formal study and verified that success has no basis in person’s quality but relates purely to luck.

The largely dominant meritocratic paradigm of highly competitive Western cultures is rooted on the belief that success is due mainly, if not exclusively, to personal qualities such as talent, intelligence, skills, efforts or risk taking. Sometimes, we are willing to admit that a certain degree of luck could also play a role in achieving significant material success. But, as a matter of fact, it is rather common to underestimate the importance of external forces in individual successful stories. It is very well known that intelligence or talent exhibit a Gaussian distribution among the population, whereas the distribution of wealth – considered a proxy of success – follows typically a power law (Pareto law). Such a discrepancy between a Normal distribution of inputs, with a typical scale, and the scale invariant distribution of outputs, suggests that some hidden ingredient is at work behind the scenes. In this paper, with the help of a very simple agent-based model, we suggest that such an ingredient is just randomness. In particular, we show that, if it is true that some degree of talent is necessary to be successful in life, almost never the most talented people reach the highest peaks of success, being overtaken by mediocre but sensibly luckier individuals. As to our knowledge, this counterintuitive result – although implicitly suggested between the lines in a vast literature – is quantified here for the first time. It sheds new light on the effectiveness of assessing merit on the basis of the reached level of success and underlines the risks of distributing excessive honors or resources to people who, at the end of the day, could have been simply luckier than others.

The publication is available locally or in arxiv.

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Catalonia votes for independence

Spain’s north-eastern region of Catalonia finally cast their vote despite all of the resistance from the Spain’s authorities. The non-binding vote went ahead after Spain’s constitutional court ruled out a formal referendum. Almost 2 million people out of the population of 7.5 million could vote and the preliminary result is an overwhelming 80% in favor of vote of independence for Catalonia.

Catalan leader Artur Mas hailed the non-binding poll “a great success” that should pave the way for a formal referendum. Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catala dismissed the poll as “fruitless and useless”, however. “The government considers this to be a day of political propaganda organized by pro-independence forces and devoid of any kind of democratic validity,” he said in a statement.

Judging from the recent events the region will not be allowed to gain independence in any democratic sort of way. Unfortunately, it is completely unclear whether Catalan are prepared to stand up and fight for their rights with weapon in hand. With the non-equivocal resistance from Spain that may eventually remain the only way though, just like the fight of the Eastern Ukraine for independence showed. It may be hard to imagine a bloody military battle in Spain but a year ago it was impossible to imagine a bloody battle in Ukraine either.

One thing that Spanish government made very clear is that they are not letting the region go. That stands to reason, no country is keen on breaking itself up, so why should they? If Catalonia wishes independence, they will have to fight for it. The economics of politics is such that it must become more expensive for Spain to keep them than to let them go. Is there a peaceful and non-destructive way to do that?


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