1.6.16

LUCK IS THE RESIDUE OF DESIGN.

Cornell's Robert H. Frank has a deserved reputation as an advocate for teaching economics creatively and for encouraging students to identify and understand economic anomalies.  In his work as a public intellectual, he has researched, extensively, winner-take-all markets and positional arms races.  His Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy revisits those themes.  I'll keep Book Review No. 11 brief: if you're familiar with his earlier Luxury Fever and The Winner-Take-All Society, you're well along the way to grasping the policy recommendations of Success and Luck.  Because sumptuary laws are somehow illiberal, while taxing income doesn't yield the government enough revenues, perhaps taxing consumption will yield more revenues as well as moderate those positional arms races.  Complete with the obligatory Utopian Wonkery(TM).  Here a sample from page 121.  "A progressive consumption tax would, however, reduce the share of national income consumed while increasing the share invested.  The growth sparked by that greater investment would increase future incomes."  Don't get lost in the woulds.  Perhaps, also, complete with misplaced confidence in a theory.  A study Professor Frank describes in chapter 8, "Being Grateful," suggests that the person who concludes an autobiography with "I appreciate the help of others" is more likely to be thought of as kind, or as a potential friend, than one who concludes an otherwise identical statement with "I worked my butt off to get here."  (I paraphrase, but you get the idea.)  Perhaps it's not so much about attitudes as it is about evolutionary stability: the former concluding statement is modest and mannerly, the latter not, and those bourgeois conventions might have more force than you'd expect after fifty years of deconstruction.

That noted, the book does confirm a conjecture of mine: the likelihood of a marriage failing varies in proportion to the lavishness of the ceremony.  That's luxury fever to Professor Frank.  Business as usual with June upon us.

(Cross-posted to Fifty Book Challenge.)

No comments: