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November 16, 2013



So the best thing is to do well at school and then get lucky.


Rick, I'd argue that you need to get lucky before you even start school.

Chris is right to say that '(observable) personal characteristics account for only a fraction of the variation in earnings' but he doesn't mention that this fraction gets much smaller if we don't take country of origin or time of birth into account. If Gove truly believes that hard work (and perhaps natural ability) are the only determinants of financial success he should think that everyone who was born in the third world is bone-idle, as were most of our ancestors (who were poor by modern standards).

Mike Killingworth

Obviously Gove doesn't think that: what he wants is a society in which the lucky few have as much opportunity as possible, no matter what they need to make best use of it. And in the pursuit of this, he is prepared to sacrifice truth to utility.


Do you think that Gove is aware of the truth (that luck matter, a lot) and says different because it is in his best interests to do so? Or do you think that he is subject to an implicit bias: the fact about his best interest prevents him from recognizing the truth (even if he wants to be honest)?


According to all the analysis of social mobility its the luck of being born to rich parents that is most decisive.

Is it any wonder that a large number of people think that the way to get rich is to win the lottery, win a big insurance accident claim, have your kid become a sports or pop star, or just become a TV celebrity with no talent? That is what people see all around them.

There was a survey in the US a few years ago that showed a majority thought that one of these types of ways was the way to get rich.

But a recent survey also showed that its people who do well at University, more than which University you go to that is important. The US survey showed that those in the top 10% of performers at any University went on to do well, whilst those in the bottom half of any University did not, and the bottom 10% usually dropped out.

It was the fact of being a big fish in a small pool, and the confidence that gave that seemed to be important. Coming from a rich family and being in the top 10% of a top University of course, scored best of all.


It is simple, in this country, for the poor the returns on hard work are not guaranteed, look at youth unemployment.

Doing well at school does not guarantee a job and a job doesn't guarantee a decent standard of living.

If you are poor a lottery ticket (or working in the media or football) are the only routes to fame and fortune, or even a good job.

Perhaps changing the reality rather than just encouraging people who understand reality, that luck is the only game in town for the poor.


Both Cowell and Gove are right - and wrong. As Gove and Cowell well know 'scum and cream rise', school results are no guarantee of future profits, results may vary and terms and conditions apply, life is very variable.

So it all depends a bit on where an individual starts from. An average child in Surrey might have a feasible career range from Assistant Accountant up to Finance Director say. For them Gove's advice may be beneficial and Cowell's advice misleading. But an average child in a far flung rustbelt town might have a feasible career range from unemployed up to Assistant Hairdresser, a bit of extra work at school may not make much difference. So Cowell's advice may serve them better, it is not likely to do much harm and may yield spectacular results - for a few.

If Gove or Cowell want to offer a carrot may I suggest a 'ticket to ride' - a one-way train ticket to London/other non-dump city and one year's free board and lodging. Oh, and a fairy godmother.

Nick Name

You make your own luck. The luck Cowell is referring to is not the completely random lottery-win style luck, but the "being in the right place at the right time with the right idea" kind of luck that many succesful business people will have experienced. You generally don't even get yourself in the right place without a lot of hard work or skill, but just being there doesn't guarantee you're there at the right time.

Sitting on the couch watching x-factor is never the right place.

It does also help massively if you go to Eton.


Recent paper of relevance here (focusing on medical doctors): "The Academic Backbone: longitudinal continuities in educational achievement from secondary school and medical school to MRCP(UK) and the specialist register in UK medical students and doctors" http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/11/242


I think "luck" was not the right word. But the longer education goes on for the more reluctant the most educated are to take opportunities as they arise (by luck). Those with less education have little to lose and may readily take the opportunity as it arises.
By definition the opportunity has newness so was not thought of at the time of formal education - so there are very few rivals to keep the rewards low.
Gove does not really seem to capture what education is for. To me it is realisation of full potential rather than fact learning and tests.
Alan Sugar, Branson, Beckham, Cowell, Coward, Dickens, Shakespeare etc etc do not do activities that are taught at school / university. They have the drive and courage just to get on with things and make them the best they can. They don't wait for rewards to be given as of right - they grab them.

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