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April 04, 2013



Interesting, but I have a question. Were the high and low paid groups were told how much the difference was, and why there was a difference?


Sorry, I have a question too. The confident are more likely to enter "winner takes all" games. OK. But assuming such games in real life have a cost (in paying cash or taking a riskier job/career path), doesn't that mean that (say) half the confident will get rich, but the other half will end up poorer?

Not that this detracts from the rest.


Interesting. I think we see something similar in university entrance, where the 'pathfinding' first-in-family to attend university tends to study a more traditional subject at a less prestigious institution than the siblings and children who follow them.

As someone who entered an industry where neither I nor my parents had a network, and as the child of working class parents, my approach to my career has been far more risk-averse than that of my colleagues, most of whom are middle-class children of middle-class parents. They take more risks with their careers than me because, I suspect, they feel more confident in their entitlement to be there. A misstep for them is to go back a rung - for me it's a drop all the way down the ladder!

Of course, in a true meritocracy everyone might feel that way. But this is precisely why human beings try to accumulate wealth, status and influence - to inoculate themselves and their families from the risk of backsliding.

And therein lies the fundamental problem: do we really want to prevent people giving their children every advantage possible? Can we realistically stop people with resources from doing so? Do we want a society where, irrespective of how hard your parents worked, how brilliant their ideas, how frugal they were and how lucky they were, every child starts from scratch?

Isn't this to deny human nature? Yet isn't an acceptance of privilege the antithesis of meritocracy and the biggest barrier to equality?


@Stuart - yes, they were told, and told it was random.
@ Luke - that would be right if there is a cost of entering tournament-type payoffs. But I'm not sure there is in financial terms. Going for the job of CEO, or being on partner career paths in law and accountancy firms are free hits, financially speaking. But they do have non-pecuniary costs, such as having to do longer and arguably less pleasant work.

Bobby Goren

"Maybe successful people work hard because prior good luck has led them to think that work pays, whilst others are lazy because bad luck has reduced their confidence."

I believe this is already recognized, at least at the top of the income ladder, in top executive compensation. "If you want good people, you've got to pay them" seems to be in fashion only at the top of the pyramid.

For the rest of us a quote from Caddyshack's Judge Smails aka Ted Knight comes to mind: "You'll get nothing, and like it!"


Chris, thanks for that. On reflection, that may reinforce the rest of the post. To get to be a partner at, say Goldmans or one of the professional firms where you earn serious wedge, you have to signal that you won't just lounge about or retire after a couple of years like any rational person would. You do that be working stupidly hard, harder than is necessary. Who would do that but someone who was (overly?) confident of winning?

john malpas

Dont you need luck always?
Still in the military brains and risk taking are often profitable if you dont lose.
Eg General Patton, The desert fox etc.

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