The Limitations of Wealth and Fame at Guaranteeing Success

Great article by Freddie We Need to Talk About Nepo Babies Because We Live in a “Just Deserts” Culture…he ends with:

The simple reality is that we aren’t in complete control, or even mostly in control, of our own destinies. Thanks to chance, genetics, the whims of others, the vagaries of fate. And I do believe there’s utility in pointing this out when it comes to Hollywood, as celebrity culture has outsized influence in our social understanding of the world. We need to take this opportunity to remind people that the myth of the self-made man is, indeed, a myth. Here’s an impressive new study that shows that socioeconomic class is the single greatest barrier to career success in one’s given profession. There are many other studies like it. You can take this conversation in any direction you’d like, whether the problem is that the meritocratic ideal hasn’t been realized or that the meritocratic ideal itself. But we don’t do ourselves any favors, as leftists or simply as people, by pretending that some of the most privileged people on earth earned all of it.

Favoritism/nepotism and IQ/genes are both opposite sides of the same coin, that being luck. It’s just that one is innate and the other is external. But does this contradict the stuff he has written earlier about how parents’ socioeconomic status does not influence SAT scores much? So by Freddie’s logic, parenting is really effective for making it in Hollywood, but much less effective for getting good SAT scores. I generally agree with the second (unless there is cheating involved), and obviously having well-connected parents helps in Hollywood too: many of today’s top actors, such as Michael Douglas (the son of film legend Kirk Douglas and British actress Diana Dill), have famous parents too.

However, the apple can fall far from the tree, and there does seem to be considerable regression to the mean. Will Smith’s kids are nowhere close to being as famous as their dad. Lebron James’ son, Bronny James, at 18, is a full six inches shorter than his dad, at only 6’3″, and despite his dad arguably being among the best basketball players alive, is still many years away from being competitive at an NBA level, whereas LeBron was drafted right out of high school. It’s not like Lebron can use his fame or connections to expedite this process or to create an exception for his son. Fame and wealth are not the surefire tickets to multigenerational success as commonly assumed.

He cites a study by kpmg that “Social class is the biggest barrier to career progression,” but I sense some Gell-Mann amnesia here (how is the kpmg study accurate and methodologically correct, but studies of education intervention are not?), although probably everyone is guilty of this. I think though IQ is a better predictor of success than parents’ wealth, except for extreme wealth (top .1%), not just having merely upper-middle class parents. So if your parents are in the top .1%, such as Fred Trump, then IQ is not as important, but most studies do not look at extreme wealth (top 20% is often the cutoff for ‘rich’ according to economists and sociologists, which isn’t really that rich).

Rich people are uncommon, but not as uncommon as top spots or elite positions in society. The fact that wealthy parents have to donate millions of dollars to try to get their dull or untalented kids admitted to Harvard or other top schools, shows the limits of money and also just how much money is required to move the needle. We’re talking tens of millions of dollars, not just top 1% wealth. As the Varsity Blues scandal showed, merely spending hundreds of thousands of dollars is only good enough to get a foot in the door to sub-elite colleges, and is easily detected and carries significant risk. Same for Hollywood: to get the nepotism boost, you need A-list parents, not extras. This again excludes almost everyone in Hollywood.

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