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What decides who is successful and who is not? Proponents of meritocracy argue that hard work and talent are the definitive elements in defining human successes or failures. In contrast, pro-green victimhood attributes success to conditions of privilege and failure to systemic racism (or sexism, cisgenderism and any other “ism”) that supposedly absolutely benefits one group of people to the inescapable detriment of many others.
Both approaches are wrong
Meritocracy is an obvious lie. It is true that the most successful people are often distinguished by high levels of talent and merit, but it is also true that for every super-athlete, movie superstar or super-millionaire there are literally thousands more who put in similar levels of effort and yet failed; or achieved relative success, but far short of that of the global superstars.
For every Taylor Swift, Lionel Messi and Bruce Willis, there are many more people working as showgirls, wedding singers, plain footballers, amateur theater actors or TV extras, even though they may even be more talented or hardworking than the global benchmarks.
However, the victimhood approach, obsessed with a supposed scheme of systematic and absolute privilege is not only a lie, but also foolish. The fact is that, at least in the West, the systems of racial or gender legal privilege that once existed or that can still be found in parts of the Muslim or developing world do not exist.
This does not mean that there are no racist or prejudiced people, but it does mean that such biases are not supported by the legal framework and social consensus with sufficient force to determine the destiny of human beings in a systematic way. Of course, whoever is born into a wealthy family with extensive high-level social connections will have an advantage over whoever is born at the bottom of the economic ladder, but this is not due to laws, but to human nature.
Moreover, this bias is not absolute. Those who are born in privileged conditions can lose the advantage of their position, in the same way that those who are born in conditions of poverty can also, with the right conditions, reach the middle class or even the highest rungs of the economy. It can, and does, happen.
So, if neither merit nor privilege is the great engine of human success, what is it?
Luck, plain and simple, luck
As the Spaniard Augusto Algueró rightly wrote in that song made famous by Marisol, La vida es una tómbola, the great mechanism that defines the success or failure of people is luck, but not a “dumb” and absolutely random luck, but one influenced both by the effort emphasized by the defenders of meritocracy and by the advantages and disadvantages focused on by those who speak of privilege.
How does it work then? Life is effectively a tombola, a lottery, and our circumstances equal the number of tickets we have purchased. Hard work, innate talents, social connections, skin color, introverted or extroverted quality of our character, sexual orientation, religion, kindness or arrogance in our dealings, and a thousand and one other factors add or subtract tickets for specific raffles in our personal, work, economic and social lives.
In other words, if you work harder than average, have a good level of intelligence and reflect the physical or cultural conditions appreciated in a specific society, you are more likely to make the connections that will allow you to transform your effort into success, but they do not guarantee it. You can do everything right and end up average.
Conversely, there will be some extremely “lucky” people who, despite having no talent, job or valued conditions, achieve relative success because they simply met the right person and were in the right place at the right time.
Neither meritocracy nor privileges are the key. So, what to do?
Once understanding that luck is the great factor to boost prosperity, societies have three possible ways: equalize the number of “tickets” that each person has, increase the number of draws or increase the number of prizes in the raffle.
Equalizing by decree the number of tickets per person is the “solution” pushed by leftist collectivisms and it simply does not work.
Focusing on doing “justice” by focusing on physiological conditions resulted in the appalling eugenic theory of the past and the destructive critical race theory of today. Meanwhile, focusing on equalizing economic conditions resulted in regimes of privilege for only a few and absolute poverty for everyone else, as we observe in the cases of North Korea, Cuba or Venezuela, where under the pretext of equality a small elite built a system of absolute privilege for itself.
This leaves us with two other paths:
Increasing the number of draws means generating more opportunities for prosperity, and that is exactly what happens in free market economies. By generating conditions for exchange and innovation to flourish, economic freedom multiplies those opportunities for a “lucky break.”
When it is easier to set up and run a business it becomes more likely that people will eventually find themselves the winning ticket to becoming successful entrepreneurs or employees, simply because there is more to choose from and more to try.
The last path also has to do directly with economic freedom: increase the number of prizes, through social and economic conditions so that more people have access to successful living conditions. This is exactly what nations like the United States have achieved.
The United States became the beacon of hope and the example of the world not only for the multiplication of its great multimillionaires, but also of its middle classes. Maybe you didn’t get the jackpot, but even the “reintegro” means a house with two cars, a bank account, a TV per room and a nice vacation in Puerto Vallarta. Much more than what players in other countries could expect.
Let’s help our luck
The path is not that of radical, pseudo-Darwinian, arrogant and isolated meritocracy. Much less that of rancorous, failed collectivism, which eventually ends in privilege for the elite and enslavement (or genocide) for everyone else.
The right path lies in recognizing that our successes and victories are due in part to the work we have done and the talent we were born with, among many other factors mentioned above, but it is also the result of our good fortune, for which we should be grateful.
Let us opt neither for the arrogance of those who believe that they deserve everything, nor for the resentful defeatism of those who believe that everything is the fault of the system. Let us bet on empathy and gratitude; gratitude for our successes and empathy towards those who are still looking for that lucky break that will take them to a better place, aware that the best way to help them is with economic freedom and legal certainty that multiply the opportunities for success and allow more and more people to be luckier.
The rest will be a matter of chance.
Gerardo Garibay Camarena, is a doctor of law, writer and political analyst with experience in the public and private sectors. His new book is "How to Play Chess Without Craps: A Guide to Reading Politics and Understanding Politicians" // Gerardo Garibay Camarena es doctor en derecho, escritor y analista político con experiencia en el sector público y privado. Su nuevo libro es “Cómo jugar al ajedrez Sin dados: Una guía para leer la política y entender a los políticos”