How Much of Our Success Should We Claim Credit For?

Our most recent podcast was called "Would a Big Bucket of Cash Really Change Your Life?" It showed that the winners of a 19th-century land lottery did not appear to convert their windfall into intergenerational wealth. This challenges the modern argument that cash transfers are one of the most effective ways of helping a poor family escape poverty -- and, therefore, as we said in the podcast, might be seen as a depressing conclusion.

Judd Campbell from Odessa, Texas, wrote in to dispute the depressing part, and offer some worthwhile commentary:

I just finished listening to the latest podcast about the Georgia land lottery in the 19th century. I actually found it not to be depressing at all.

Here’s why:

1. It would be depressing to me to know that poverty has existed into modernity, and the solution would be a simple one-time transfer of wealth. Surely, we could have figured that out by now and eliminated poverty. Clearly, the issue is more complex than that, and thus we have an excuse for not developing a solution. Yet.

2. While I don’t consider myself wealthy, I do make a healthy salary and live in a comfortable home with 4 kids. There are a couple of things that I believe about my life, that may or may not be logical or factual, but provides me comfort:

a. My financial success is not due to my parents. I did it on my own. I did grow up in a comfortable home with loving and supportive parents, my father has a master’s degree, and I appreciate what they have provided me. But in my gut I feel like I achieved my own success. This podcast was uplifting, because it seems to confirm that I am responsible for my own success.

b. On the other hand, I feel like my financial success will help my children be financially successful. Even though I don’t give my parents credit for my success, I believe that I can influence my children to be successful.

Question of the Day: Does a Lack of Exposure to the Arts Lead to Disaster?

A reader named Matt Radcliffe writes:

I've been working on a project concerning musical theater performance. I have a hypothesis which seems intuitive enough to me -- that a lack of exposure to creative arts can lead to disastrous results for individuals (lack of education, poverty, etc).

I can find a plethora of research that proves the opposite (exposure to creative arts can lead to success), but I can't find anything towards my hypothesis.

Dan Hamermesh Answers Your Questions About Beauty Pays

This week we solicited your questions for Dan Hamermesh, a regular Freakonomics contributor, and author of the new book Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful.

A lot of you chimed in with thoughtful questions about the relationship between success and beauty. Hamermesh has obliged by answering a great many of them, which you'll find below. As always, thanks to everyone for participating.

Nine Ways to Guarantee Success (And Failure)

I really blew it and everyone knows it. I was even asked to speak at some conference about failure on I think June 13. I might’ve deluded myself into thinking I’m the keynote speaker. But I might just be on a panel. Hopefullly I won’t fail at it. But if I do, I hope you can all come and watch it happen in slow motion. By the way, my favorite technique in public speaking is to slightly slur my words, but that’s another post.

I’m like Dr. Failure. I know exactly what you need to do if you want your wife to hate you, if you want to get thrown out of school, if you want to lose your investors $100 million. If you want to lose your home.

One-sixteenth of the time people are happy. The rest of the time they’re not. So if you start to avoid all the things that cause unhappiness then maybe there’s a small chance you can improve the ratio in your favor.

Claudia says, “Why are you writing about failure? Think positive!” What? Avoiding every possible way to fail is the most positive thing you can do to be happy and successful.