The radical moral implications of luck in human life
Acknowledging the role of luck is the secular equivalent of religious awakening
In July 2018 (when we first published this piece), there was a minor uproar when Kardashian scion Kylie Jenner, who is all of 21, appeared on the cover of Forbes’s 60 richest self-made women issue. As many people pointed out, Jenner’s success would have been impossible if she hadn’t been born white, healthy, rich, and famous. She built a successful cosmetics company—now valued at $900 million, according to Forbes—not just with hard work but on a towering foundation of good luck.
Around the same time, there was another minor uproar when Refinery29 published “A Week in New York City on $25/Hour,” an online diary by someone whose rent and bills are paid for by her parents. It turns out $25 an hour goes a lot further if you have no expenses!
These episodes illustrate what seems to be one of the enduring themes of our age: socially dominant groups, recipients of myriad unearned advantages, willfully refusing to acknowledge them, despite persistent efforts from socially disadvantaged groups. This is not a new theme, of course — it waxes and wanes with circumstance — but after a multi-decade rise in inequality, it has come roaring back to the fore.