Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login

I grew up in a small town in the Midwest and one thing I've noticed is income stratification has had an impact. It used to be more prevalent for your police officer, postman, waitress, or hairdresser to be able to afford to live in your town. Their kids would go to school with your kids, or you might go to the same church. But a lot more families struggle while others have done very well. I see a huge disparity in incomes (even within my extended family). This is amplified by the perception that many achieved this by luck or without hard work. Unfortunately, I think that makes people much less likely to empathize with each other.

Oddly enough, I'm the first to admit that I've achieved my level of income by luck, and without hard work. I was lucky to have two educated parents, their wealth to fall back on, and an affluent, healthy environment to grow up in. My parents paid for my undergraduate education, and the government paid for my graduate degree.

I "work" in a nice office, by playing with equations and gadgets, and talking to people. Meanwhile I see people doing actual physical work, and even emotionally hard work such as teachers, police, etc. And it is virtually assured by our society that they will be less affluent than me, despite working a lot harder.

Being born to two educated parents is not luck on your part, but well deserved reward for a long, concerted effort on theirs. You're not a random happening on a clean slate; you're just the latest offshoot of a family.

Maybe there is a philosophical divide between us, but this argument sounds really weird to me.

From his/her point of view, of course being born to educated parents is luck, if not what else is it? We don't have any choice or any influence on the matter of who we are born to, and we cannot change it with our effort or lack of it.

The fact that from their parents' point of view it's not luck, because they worked for it, strikes me as irrelevant in this context. It can be relevant in a societal context but the post you reply to was talking about the success of an individual and how it can come just by luck, without that individual working especially hard for it.

What isn't luck? I only am who I am today because of a combination of nature and nurture. My genes and my environment defined who I am. I had no control over either of those things.

I mean, if I was born on Steve Job's birthday, with Steve Job's genes, to Steve Job's parents, presumably I would be Steve Jobs. From that perspective, it's pure luck I'm not a billionaire. And, similarly, pure luck that I'm not literally Hitler.

Do we make our own destiny, or does our destiny make us?

Both, with some effort i could get good a poker. Some games I will lose no matter what because you can only play the hand you are dealt

And you can only buy in with the money you have to start with.

Everyone should experience losing to a worse player who won by starting with more chips and therefore had more hands and more opportunities to recover from error.

Then they should experience a fixed buy in, no rebuy tournament where each player starts with equal opportunity.

> What isn't luck?


This is fatalism and societies that adopt this attitude fall into some nasty traps. For example, there's no point to solving problems because it's the will of God.

It's not fatalism. It's about recognizing that a more economically even society is warranted because people shouldn't get outsized credit (or be disproportionately punished) for things outside their control.

Society gains incredible wealth from the desire to gain outsized credit for those we care about.

Economic evening can quickly become a poison.

Real life is complicated. Who decides what is in their control? What if it's a combination?

It seems like more of a philosophy of humility than fatalism.

Who says his parents were not lucky too? No offense intended to OP, but they could have been two rich dropouts who lived their lives in a squat, lapsed into drug addiction and then found one of their estranged parents had died and left them $10m. The myth that rich people are rich because they worked hard is just that, a myth. The myth that a family is rich because generations worked hard is just ignorant.

Please reference the British aristocracy whose wealth is generally attributable to an ancestor being friends with William the Conqueror, as famously said by the Duke of Westminster (Richest man in Britain, recently dies and passed his estate to his son tax free)

"The Duke of Westminster was acutely aware that his own vast wealth was entirely due to luck. When once asked for the secret of financial success, he replied it was to have an ancestor who had been a close friend of William the Conqueror. It may have been that his inability to know how to make amends for this fluke lay behind his discontent."


"A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."

You might be right, but we need to honor people for taking care of the next generation by working hard, being clever, and making good decisions.

And aristocracy aside, people who were "privileged" are generally children of people who make good decisions, take care of their kids, and typically love them. To act like that is all just the roll of the dice is to diminish the hard work and sacrifice it takes to be a good parent and a productive member of society.

What happens when the old men who plant trees are greeted with nihilism and apathy?

How is being born to those parents not luck? I had to learn self-control, personal finance, investment, entrepreneurship, and so on by myself because no one taught me. I learned it very, very late and it's likely set me back decades.

I had to be exposed to people who knew these things, and who were willing to teach me despite my upbringing. The fact that I'm where I am with growing savings, a small but growing music business, and confidence in my gender identity and sexuality is pure luck.

This all depended on my parents, despite their failings, seeing that computers were going to be a big deal. No matter how bad things got, I always had a computer and an internet connection. If not for meeting the right people at the right times (all online), I'd have ended up in a loveless marriage, an ongoing slide toward abject poverty, and confusion about who I am like everyone else around here.

Now I know luck is mostly about preparation, but no one teaches you preparation around here. We're all about learned helplessness in these parts.

> I had to learn self-control, personal finance, investment, entrepreneurship, and so on...

Other people have to do this and other similar things. When they have kids and raise them successfully, is that luck? Or is it payoff for that effort carried into the next generation?

Some people are just lucky. Some are just privileged. But it's reductionist and just not good advice to say the whole world is random and decisions don't matter. Things, at a minimum, are a lot more complicated than that. And I think people and communities who do support their offspring deserve more credit than that. They're not just a gust of wind in the right direction one day.

Yes, because having healthy kids who will be able to make use of the good decisions is luck.

People aren't saying decisions don't matter. They're saying trying to equalize opportunity does matter by mitigating the effects of luck. People are also saying we're best able to mitigate bad luck when we work as a larger society.

I think the problem here is that the do it for their kids.

Family businesses are generally know for planning more for the future than non-family businesses.

But they don't do it because they think it's good for society to build something sustainable for the future. They do it for their kids, which sounds nice first, but is a rather selfish reason.

Yes they go one step further, they don't just want to enrich themselves in person, but also other people who happen to be their kids, but in the end it's just individualism on a higher abstraction level.

Behaviour that is really honourable doesn't just benefit you and your family, it benefits as much non-related people as possible.

I mean, on another level this this the same as with white men only hiring other white men. Sure they grow big companies, are successful and help other people, but people who aren't white or aren't men won't get as much out of it.

That just moves the chain of causation one link earlier.

He's not saying his parents are lucky, he's saying that he is lucky.

Was it luck that both of the parents were able to put in long, concerted effort?

(I'm not trying to say that hard work has nothing to do with anything, quite the opposite, but that "luck", as the word is commonly used, also plays a huge part in any ones life)

It's both.

Physical effort has no (and should not have) a bearing on how much you are paid. Work smarter, not harder. A society doesn't advance if everyone spends all day digging ditches with spoons.

You'd be surprised how fast a society can collapse if it's left to wannabe Einsteins and Feynmans and Elon Musks and nobody is there to dig ditches, clean the garbage and work the assembly line.

Or how better a society would be without tons of well paid white collar jobs (advertisers for one).

> nobody is there to dig ditches

Nobody shovels horse feces or lights lamps anymore.

Also, these problems (not enough ditch diggers) are solved by just paying people more for that kind of work. Culturally we think that managers up the chain deserve to get paid more and more, but if there's a shortage of people scrubbing toilets, maybe the person with clean fingernails merely cutting paychecks doesn't necessarily warrant a higher market rate.

But how am I supposed to know what to buy!

It's sarcasm I know, but:

1) Detailed specs by the manufacturer (that have to be valid or get large fines -- e.g. regarding speaker frequency response, or drug side effects, or cosmetics effectiveness, etc.).

2) Reviews by the media

3) Reviews by laymen

4) Word of mouth

Eh, maybe. Marx's idea of the socially necessary labour time fits into this quite well, as he wrote in Capital vol. 1:

Some people might think that if the value of a commodity is determined by the quantity of labour spent on it, the more idle and unskilful the labourer, the more valuable would his commodity be, because more time would be required in its production. The labour, however, that forms the substance of value, is homogeneous human labour, expenditure of one uniform labour power. The total labour power of society, which is embodied in the sum total of the values of all commodities produced by that society, counts here as one homogeneous mass of human labour power, composed though it be of innumerable individual units. Each of these units is the same as any other, so far as it has the character of the average labour power of society, and takes effect as such; that is, so far as it requires for producing a commodity, no more time than is needed on an average, no more than is socially necessary. The labour time socially necessary is that required to produce an article under the normal conditions of production, and with the average degree of skill and intensity prevalent at the time. The introduction of power-looms into England probably reduced by one-half the labour required to weave a given quantity of yarn into cloth. The hand-loom weavers, as a matter of fact, continued to require the same time as before; but for all that, the product of one hour of their labour represented after the change only half an hour’s social labour, and consequently fell to one-half its former value.

However it's worth noting that Marxian economics does not propose that people are paid according to the value they produce, but rather the amount required for the worker to reproduce his labour-power commodity (this is what he actually sells), so the question of payment at least from the Marxian perspective becomes moot.

Indeed, work is not measured in Joules, but in dollars. A dollar's worth of work is worth a dollar. In those terms, I perform more work than a ditch digger, with fewer Joules.

In my view, what needs to happen is, get rid of the promise that if you work hard, you'll get ahead. Instead, adopt a more realistic ethic in which success depends on a combination of wealth, education, and effort, with those factors listed in descending order of value. Also note that wealth is accompanied by political power.

I guess my history is almost opposite while achieving similar results. However, I get bunched in the same group and expected to feel privileged and guilty.

I grew up in another country and went to end of junior + high school in a US school in the inner city where nobody studied in my class except for me. 65% of the class never graduated. My parents, although very educated in our home country never paid for school and worked very bad jobs initially here such as postal service worker and person who poses census questions.

Although I never did particularly well in school in my home country, I did extremely well in the US because everyone else wasn't doing anything. I was ranked 10th in a graduating class of 900 students and did well on the SATs except for the English section. However, I got into many fights to protect my image in school or things would have gotten worse for me there. This resulted in not being able to get into decent colleges since for whatever reason that is reflected on your "record".

Finally, this apathetic behavior of my classmates and friends transformed me a little and i did poorly first couple of years of college. However, impending struggles with job market made me get back to studying. I took more loans to pay for my undergrad + masters and graduated with a decent GPA + research. Then got a job in software and now almost finished paying off loans.

Let me describe what high school life is like in inner city public high schools:

People growing up in inner cities are treated like animals in the cafeteria and elsewhere. There are police officers with guns. There are literal metal bars on the windows and only plastic utensils are allowed in cafeteria. Fights happen where everyone jumps on the tables and cheers on. There are metal chains on doors for students not to escape midway during school day. There are metal detectors at the entrance in case students bring guns. You can go to the bathroom during class only 5 times in 6 months. You are taught how to add fractions in grade 10 math class. Guidance counselors never help you and always try to do the least amount of work possible. I had to talk to the principal to make them let me take a math test to test out of elementary school math. Had to switch math classes to get a math teacher to let me go to a math olympiad.

The experience for me closely matched what American movies would show prisons are like. The students themselves think "nerds" are incredibly uncool and the coolest people are rappers + sports stars. I think median amount of time people spent doing homework there is about 0 seconds. Almost everyone constantly talks during class and you can barely hear the teacher.

After escaping this circus, I'm expected to feel sympathy for some of the people who were my classmates.

So while I still think I got lucky in terms of intelligence, the solution to this problem is to change the culture. For example, in my old country, there is literally no commonly used word for "nerds" and people who get good grades are considered cool.

Additionally, going to college for vast majority of students especially those who come from high schools like mine is a waste of time. There should be trade schools. There should be a major high school reform. People who act like prisoners should be put in some sort of boarding school so they stop poisoning the well for others. People who participate in a fight by the virtue of being attacked by others shouldn't get detentions. It should be explained to their parents that this behavior is completely not OK. Media should stop idolizing singers + sports players. In fact, MTV programming should be completely remade into a subtle pro-education propaganda channel. Cancer like Jerry Springer et al should be canceled.

It is totally possible to graduate from these high schools and do well.

The problem is not money, but culture. Privilege has _nothing_ to do with it since tons of people in much much poorer countries with schools that have a lot fewer funds do a lot better.

I feel like most people don't understand what American education/school culture is really like in inner cities and what students are really like who go there. Here are a couple of movies that somewhat match my experience:

The Class (2008) - French film but similar (milder) situation.

Kids (1995) - Very accurate but little to do with education.

> I guess my history is almost opposite while achieving similar results. However, I get bunched in the same group and expected to feel privileged and guilty.

My history was also the opposite, and I do not like getting bunched in with privileged.

I've had a job since I could push a lawn mower up and down the street at the age of 12 or 13. In HS, I worked overnights in a grocery store during the summers. My family only had 1 car, so during the school year I had to get up at 5am and take my mom to work so I could go to work right after school. Then I would pick her up on my break and go back to work. I didn't have a computer at my house until I was a freshman in college, and it just happened to be during that time when they gave everyone credit cards (I guess that was lucky?).

The point is that people get to where they are in life all sorts of ways. Some win the lottery, some work their ass off, but most get there through some combination of both.

> I was ranked 10th in a graduating class of 900 students and did well on the SATs except for the English section.

Being born one or two standard deviations away from median on the intelligence scale is a whole lot of luck and privilege.

> The problem is not money, but culture. Privilege has _nothing_ to do with it since tons of people in much much poorer countries with schools that have a lot fewer funds do a lot better.

My dad was born in a village in Bangladesh, but raised my brother and I in an upper middle class household in the US. He's the first to admit that he got lucky. Had he been born as someone of average intelligence, or not had parents who made education a priority, or he hadn't had extremely fortuitous timing in his career, he'd still be in Bangladesh. I'm pretty successful myself and I'd count myself doubly lucky. Had I been born in a village in Bangladesh, I'd have failed out of the rigid unforgiving school system. (I skated by in US K-12 based purely on test-taking ability.) Hell I'd probably be doing manual labor there instead of being a white collar professional in the US.

> ...is a whole lot of luck and privilege.

I really dislike the language of privilege in this context. I'm not sure what point it serves other to diminish someone else. Some people are smart. That's as much a part of them as their skin color or sexual identity. Should they feel apologetic about that?

Also, as a counterpoint, I know brilliant people who wasted that talent on drugs and other things.

Not apologetic, but gracious and humble. It's like how you act about physical attractiveness if you're Chris Pine.

I agree with this attitude. My point was that 'privilege' is a loaded word these days. It doesn't convey this attitude. At least not to me.

I agree totally. I have a friend who has a daughter special needs that includes both cognitive and complex physical challenges. During her divorce proceeding her ex's attorney asked her, "isn't it true that your daughter attends XYZ School for Exceptional Children?" She said yes. The attorney followed up the question with, "so then it is your privilege to have a gifted child, correct?" Her response, "well I guess it depends on how you look at the gift but it is certainly a privilege to have her as my daughter."

It appears that a physician who put himself through school because his family was without means to help is lucky because he had the brains and drive to make good grades. After getting his MD he chooses to focus on finding a cure for cancer and discovers protocols that inhibit cancer cell growth. When asked what drives him he says he lost his sister to cancer when he was a child and since that day he has wanted to be a doctor? So was he lucky to have had a sister w cancer?

Sometimes privilege and luck are not mutually exclusive. He certainly was privileged to find his calling at a young age and I would guess there was a fair amount of luck in there as well (getting into the school that nurtured his passion etc) but you cannot discount the power of personal drive either.

The misconception is that privilege is something people have to answer for, rather than something they simply need to be aware of.

I'm very sorry to hear the trying circumstances in your youth... but I'm very glad that you did manage to break out of it and be successful. The solutions you suggest to changing culture will unfortunately definitely not work. If its one thing I've noticed, its that if you try to ban something it drives it underground and makes it even "cooler". I don't know what the solution is, but changing the culture like that just isn't valuable.

There is also this fact that a lot of people who grew up in better circumstances (including myself and most of my friends) just never get to meet, interact with and understand people who grew up in tough cultures like you did.

I think you touched upon my original sentiment and that intimated by several others, which is that parents look out for their children and try to put them in the best situation. This is why we see competition to move into the best school districts, pricing many hard working and worthy families out. Unfortunately, we see this played out in irrational and societally negative ways like white flight. As a society, we lack role models which do not derive from a promotional/capitalistic agenda (ie. sports stars, musicians). Clustering people by socioeconomic status probably only serves to further deprive lesser privileged children of role models. There is no easy answer. Some solutions are known, but NIMBY is a powerful force.

I'll point out that the poorest parts of the country are actually in small towns with few opportunities. The schools do not tend to be as dangerous or toxic, but home lives for students can be just as bad or worse (statistically speaking).

That's not to have a rural/urban competition, but to say that poverty is not localized and the culture of poverty has many expressions. It has been plugged a lot lately, but urban people who want to be multicultural, intelligent, and informed should really read books like Hillbilly Elegy.

you're experiance sounds horrible. your solutions seem to create a narrow path through but only for people like you. and from what you describe, the problems are far beyond education reform and reflect back on social structures, as you already suggested. Growing weath gaps and shrinking saftey nets -- these and other areas, outside of hign school, should be higher on the list of needed reforms. it's not going to be fixed with better schools

I definitely see this in Palo Alto! Even 15 years ago PA had a lower median income than most surrounding towns; cops and firefighters etc could grow up attending Paly (high school) and live in town. There was an aggressive effort to maintain Section 8 housing and a more mixed population.

But since the real estate interests took over the city counsel that has all collapsed. The SRO housing has been converted to expensive boutique hotels, and a greater "I've got mine jack" attitude has taken hold. There are few blue collar folks who can afford to live in town any more.

Class divergence is the topic of 'Coming Apart' by Charles Murray.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact