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Success and Luck:
Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy
Robert H. Frank

One of Bloomberg View’s “Five Books to Change Conservatives’ Minds,” chosen by Cass Sunstein
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2016
Honorable Mention for the 2017 PROSE Award in Economics, Association of American Publishers
Longlisted for the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year 2016

Paperback | 2017 | $17.95 | £14.95 | ISBN: 9780691178301
208 pp. | 5 x 8 | 16 b/w illus., 2 tables
Hardcover | 2016 | $26.95 | £21.95 | ISBN: 9780691167404
208 pp. | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2
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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.

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.


"The reminder about the important role of luck is welcome."--Enlightened Economist

"Frank is not just arguing that luck plays an important role in the lives of successful people such as Al Pacino. If that were all he was doing, his book would be engaging but trivial. But it is much more interesting than that."--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

"Frank's book gives a compelling argument for why we should consider our collective needs more when we look to change society for the better."--Jill Suttie, Psy.D., Greater Good

"Well reasoned, coherent, and compelling--Frank is one of the great writers of economics."--Fortune

"The most striking of Frank's arguments is a computer-simulated proof of luck's importance, even in very nearly meritocratic situations."--Tim Smith-Laing, Daily Telegraph

"Reading Success and Luck is almost like having a robust conversation over dinner--a simple premise, some explanation, a few examples. . . . It is commendable that he is addressing the problem with an actual solution in mind."--Kris Rothstein, Bookslut

"Frank makes his points persuasively."--Australian Financial Review

"This is a bold vision and, although controversial, has a good deal more realism than the dangerous siren calls from the left for wage caps or punitive income tax rates for high earners."--Matthew Syed, The Times

"Like any good economist, Frank backs up his argument with studies and statistics; and like any good behavioral economist, he investigates why this obvious fact is so hard for so many Americans to accept, and offers some strategies for overcoming that resistance."--Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing

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Table of Contents:

Preface xi
Acknowledgments xix
1 Write What You Know 1
2 Why Seemingly Trivial Random Events Matter 21
3 How Winner-Take-All Markets Magnify Luck’s Role 40
4 Why the Biggest Winners Are Almost Always Lucky 56
5 Why False Beliefs about Luck and Talent Persist 69
6 The Burden of False Beliefs 86
7 We’re in Luck: A Golden Opportunity 109
8 Being Grateful 128
Appendix 1: Detailed Simulation Results for Chapter 4 151
Appendix 2: Frequently Asked Questions about the Progressive Consumption Tax 158
Notes 173
Index 183

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