Two Italian scientists have just won a prize for proving with “vigorous statistical study” that luck is more important than hard work or talent in how successful a person is. To me this seems a lot like proving that people who urinate when they have a full bladder are more comfortable afterwards than those that don’t. We all know it – but has it been rigorously studied?

It would come as no surprise to classic Greeks who saw protagonists driven by fate, or to Calvinists who thought all was predestined by God, or to aristocrats and kings who believed the Mandate of Heaven let them justify anything they might do.

The real problem, of course, is that the modern world has swallowed the mythology of meritocracy hook line and sinker. Cream rises, the best rule, the most deserving become rich. And the less discussed other side of the coin, which is that any poverty or failures are entirely your own fault.

This has a corrosive effect on social relations. Those who have done well feel they have worked harder or smarter than everyone else and smugly congratulate themselves while insulating their lives from the rest of society. Those who have not succeeded in spite of hard work and talent feel that someone somewhere has cheated them of their legitimate triumph.

Can a study change this? Of course not. But one should always be willing to consider that “there but for the grace of God go I.”

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