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October 05, 2006

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This is just an variant on the Fundamental attribution error, whereby one credits personal success to one's talents, efforts, etc., but personal failure to circumstances beyond one's control.

In this respect, both groups are wrong, but the poor are closer to being correct. As The Bell Curve popularized, and as Linda Gottfredson's work continues to emphasize, general intelligence (measured by IQ tets) is the most important factor in success in modern societies. Because scoring high or low on this trait has little to do with willful efforts, and instead with getting the right (or wrong) genes, combined with chance factors in development, the successful don't get where they are mostly by effort.

All the effort in the world won't make a successful lawyer out of someone with an IQ of 85 (Gottfredson pegs the threshold for practicing law at ~120), and a lazy person with an IQ of 140 can still eke out a cozy, if not powerful or glamorous, existence doing middle-to-lower management stuff that's far below their capabilities (e.g., being CEO if they applied themselves).

Whether this set-up is desirable or not is a separate matter. I'm just commenting on who's vision is more correct on this GSS question.

Conversely, here's this from Wikipedia under "Illusion of Control:"

"In a study of the illusion of control in a population of traders working in investment banks, Fenton-O'Creevy et al (2003, 2004) found that traders who were prone to high illusion of control had significantly worse performance on analysis, risk management and contribution to desk profits. They also earned significantly less."

I'm curious as to why the cut was made at $25,000, which doesn't sound very high even for 1984. I wonder if people with the highest incomes would show an even greater bias for control, or less. As I remember you recently theorized that the reason successful Hollywood people were often very liberal was because they knew being successful in that industry was a crapshoot. Plus we've had a couple recessions since 1984; that may have changed people's thinking somewhat.

But it does teach us a basic concept of human nature. People attribute successes to themselves, but failures to bad luck and forces beyond one's control.

Generally true, but there are exceptions. Athletes frequently thank Jesus Christ and/or God when they win a championship, but almost never blame their deity when they lose.

"All the effort in the world won't make a successful lawyer out of someone with an IQ of 85 (Gottfredson pegs the threshold for practicing law at ~120), and a lazy person with an IQ of 140 can still eke out a cozy, if not powerful or glamorous, existence doing middle-to-lower management stuff that's far below their capabilities (e.g., being CEO if they applied themselves)."

Once you get past 130 or so, returns diminish and probably become negative past 140. I doubt most people with IQs of 140 could become CEOs. It is probably true that smart but lazy people can find comfortable niches for themselves, though.

Allow me to throw a wrench into the hypothesis.

To what do high-income earners attribute the past periods of their life when they were poor: their own efforts, or forces beyond their control?

Perhaps what really distinguishes the high income earners is the ability to circumvent forces beyond their control with individual effort anyway.

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