Phil and me

Phil Collins. I neither like nor dislike his music. I have never bought any of his recordings, been to any of his concerts, and if more people were like me, he would be unknown. If he had been born before there was broadcasting, microphones or electric guitars, he would be unknown.

I don’t know what Phil thinks about his career and success, but my guess is he, like his fans, see it as well deserved recognition for his talent. I doubt if he attributes it to randomness or serendipity or technology, but Phil is a good example of how success is derived from community resources, combined with the aggregation of a number of individually unimportant preferences into the fantasy that something new and great is made.

Does anyone really own their success? Don’t technology and other externalities determine it? What if Shakespeare had been a woman? Or Fred Astaire born in 1980? (Fred who?) Imagine Elvis before amplification and recordings. What use would we have for Lord Nelson in 2009?

And in my life, how much of my success do I owe to absent competition for property, space, opportunities and women, due to circumstances outside of my control?

When I was 12 years old, after a two-year stay, I left hospital, leaving behind a much more able and clever close friend. He would certainly have added to the competition for available resources

But he had muscular dystrophy whereas I only had tuberculosis, and at sixteen he was dead.

Even tuberculosis can be a success if Streptomycin is already in the world.