Remembering What the Red Queen Said: The Luck of the Draw

In related news:

1. Luck vs. Skill in Texas Hold ‘Em. Earlier this week, in U.S. vs. DiCristina, a federal judge in New York ruled that “skill, when sufficiently honed, makes the difference between winning and losing in poker.” at p. 118. The judge, apparently persuaded by all sorts of graphs and probability analyses from the defense’s experts, ruled, in essence, that running a Texas Hold ‘Em house was just not a federal offense because being good at Texas Hold ‘Em takes a good amount of skill, and therefore Texas Hold ‘Em is not a verboten game of chance.

Card sharps and online gambling interests everywhere let out a collective WooHoo when they heard this.


2. Luck vs. Skill in Real Estate Hold ‘Em. According to Zillow Real Estate Research, real estate pain in the U.S. is relatively rare among the elderly and pretty much a 50/50 proposition among those under 40:

Looking at our sample of borrowers, we see that negative equity [i.e., owing more on the mortgage than the house is worth] is most common in younger age brackets with 39% of borrowers age 20 to 24, 48% of borrowers age 25 to 29, and 51% of borrowers age 30 to 34, underwater on their mortgages. All told, 48% of borrowers under the age of 40 are underwater on their mortgages. However, while the rate of negative equity is higher in younger age brackets, the delinquency rate is noticeably lower.


So the young folks are more underwater, but they’re hanging in there.

Now I have some questions I’d like to ask the Zillow folks (primary among them: how do these numbs look on a per capita basis?), but, still, it takes one’s breath away — yes? — to think that there’s a coin’s-toss of a chance that someone under 40 with a mortgage has had a terrible time of it, doesn’t it?

Maybe they also invested in an IPO for the first time back in May, when Facebook came out?

Why, it reminds me of how the numbs apparently show that professional hockey players are just about always born in the first three months of the year.

*  *  *

The common thread here is that we are all of a time and space. Much of what is true about us pivots on the particulars of the time and space in which our us  first came into being and from which it thence evolved.

Or, as my favorite Red Queen quote puts it: 

Progress and success are always relative. When the land was unoccupied by animals, the first amphibian to emerge from the sea could get away with being slow, lumbering, and fishlike, for it had no enemies and no competitors. But if a fish were to take to the land today, it would be gobbled up by a passing fox as surely as a Mongol horde would be wiped out by machine guns. 

In history and in evolution, progress is always a futile, Sisyphean struggle to stay in the same relative place by getting ever better at things. Cars move through the congested streets of London no faster than horse-drawn carriages did a century ago. Computers have no effect on productivity because people learn to complicate and repeat tasks that have been made easier.

This concept, that all progress is relative, has come to be known in biology by the name of The Red Queen, after a chess piece that Alice meets in Through the Looking Glass, who perpetually runs without getting very far because the landscape moves with her. 

Matt Ridley, in The Red Queen


Yes, folks, that is the primary source of the RQ in the now nearly-fully-departed JFRQ Consulting.

 *  *  *

P.S. If the title makes you think of Grace Slick and then scrunch up your nose, it’s because the title *is* Grace Slick, but it also contains the lyrical/textual equivalent of a spoonerism — kind of like a tripped-out Archie Bunkerism.


565 words



Leave a Comment