Federal judge Richard Posner discusses the role luck plays in success:
I think that ultimately everything is attributable to luck, good or bad. Not just the obvious things, like IQ, genes that predipose to health or sickliness, the historical era and the country in which one is born, the wealth of one’s parents, whom one happens to meet at critical stages of one’s life and career, one’s height and looks and temperament, to the extent genetic, and one’s innate propensity to risk or caution (that is an exceptionally important factor); but also the characteristics that cause a person to make critical decisions that may turn out well or badly, characteristics that really are derivative from some of the previously noted “luck” characteristics. The decision-determining characteristics include intelligence, imagination, attitude toward risk, and personality characteristics such as aggressiveness, maladjustment, indolence, and having a low or high personal discount rate (how future-regarding one is or is not). Talent is luck but so is the propensity for working hard (often the consequence of a compulsive personality) or not working hard.
First, I agree with this sentiment. In fact, it reminds me of my response to the “one dangerous idea” Edge question from 2006. My idea is that everyone reaches their potential. My bottom line:
I think that the concept of squandered potential is more useful as a motivational tool than as a description of reality.
The rest of the piece is interesting, but I don’t really agree with Posner on the importance of lowering the national debt (or even the deficit) as a near-term goal. I’m fully in the camp that the our number one economic goal should be the pursuit of full employment. (I liked Matthew Yglesias’ follow-up as well.)