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The Great Chain of Earning


Data and Methodology


About the Author


I work hard for what I have. I will share it with who I want to. Government cannot force me to be charitable. -- Glenn Beck: Seventh Principle to Live By

I'd rather be lucky than good. -- Lefty Gomez

Fortuna, noun, Latin: luck, fate, prosperity, possessions

What do Ayn Rand, Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, Ron Paul and L. Ron Hubbard have in common? They believe that self-reliance and self-actualization--Glenn Beck's “hard work”-determine the path we travel in life. There is no place in their theology for, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

I disagree. In my experience, self-reliance and hard work account for less than half of how well we do and what we have. The rest is accidental. So when I read Beck's “Seventh Principle to Live By,” my first thought was that his parents must have read him Aesop's Fable of the Grasshopper and the Ant once too often. My second thought was, “Does this mean that if have what I have by accident, then government can force me to be charitable?”

I believe the answer is “yes,” and I believe this provides a strong argument for the fairness of sharply progressive income taxation. Since we don't “deserve” what we have by accident, what we have by accident is fair game for taxation to fund whatever safety net we decide we want. So our question is, how much of what we have comes our way by accident?

Part One is a discussion of six “lotteries,” whose outcomes play an important role in determining our lifetime earnings. At the moment of conception, we draw tickets in four “birth lotteries”: calendar, gender, genes and parents. Later, we draw tickets in the education and job lotteries that screen, sort, and select us for whatever earnings path we follow to retirement.

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