Loser Alert! Rich People Are Rich for Good Reason: Lewis Lapham

The cover jacket of "The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality" by Branko Milanovic. Source: Perseus Books via Bloomberg

The Horatio Alger myth that poor boys with determination, courage and hard work can make it big is still part of conventional wisdom. In fact, your lifetime income largely depends on factors over which you have no control.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

Where you are born determines more than 60 percent of variability in global incomes, since you get a location premium if your native country happens to be rich.

It also helps to have parents who are rich -- an additional 20 percent depends on your birth family’s income class.

So, the remaining 20 percent is hard work? Not so fast. There are other factors over which you have no control, for example gender, race and luck. Your own effort turns out to be a surprisingly small component of your lifetime income.

I spoke with Branko Milanovic, author of “The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality,” on the following topics:

1. Rich Romans

2. Good and Bad Inequality

3. The Have-Mores

4. Birth Premium

5. Where Marx Went Wrong

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)


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