Economist Robert Frank has been ruffling some feathers recently with his new book Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy. A founding principle for many people, and particularly Americans, is that they worked hard to get to where they are - and that's the only thing that got them there.
Frank suggests luck had a lot to do with it as well. He doesn't discount hard work and merit, but simply states luck plays a large role in people who rise to the top or sink (or stay) at the bottom. A number of situations that are out of someone's control can help or hurt his or her chances of, say, getting a college degree or making a living wage.
Realistically, even if everyone worked very hard and were very smart, there's still only a few 'slots' for the best jobs, so luck must play a role.
Frank, who was turned onto the topic of luck when he survived a severe medical scare simply because of, well, very good luck, thinks that this is a very important blind spot that can explain a great deal about how America is organized — specifically, the country’s somewhat lackadaisical approach to tackling inequality and to offering residents the sorts of government-sponsored social supports so common in the rest of the wealthy world. Because people have such an unbalanced view of the luck-versus-skill equation, they fail to understand that there is good reason to have programs that can help redress some of the imbalances that arise in such a luck-oriented world.