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Talent is Equally Distributed

"TALENT is equally distributed, but opportunity is not."
- Darren Walker, Internships Are Not a Privilege, NYT, July 5, 2016 [Darren Walker is president of the Ford Foundation.]


So the Zika victim with an undersized brain is equally talented? I think not. The child whose brain developed abnormally due to fetal alcohol syndrome, or due to lead in the water supply, is equally talented? Of course not. Just as there is not only a difference in athletic ability between the disabled and the normal, but also within the normal population, there is a range of talent between these abnormal children and normal ones, presumably there is a range of talent within the normal population, just as there is a range athletic ability, or of height, or of almost any characteristic. Why should talent be the exception to the usual reality of variation within the normal range?

Apparently the belief that talent is equally distributed derives from the belief in equality, at least in equality of opportunity, combined with the awkward fact that there is less opportunity for the less talented.

- There is equality of opportunity.
- Those who have less talent have less opportunity.
- Therefore, talent must be equally distributed.



In an essay on childhood poverty in America, Nicholas Kristof wrote:

Sure, Bethany made poor choices, but almost any of us born in that environment might have done the same. ...
And anybody who blames Bethany for her troubles doesn’t understand the axiom of America today: Talent is universal, but opportunity is not.
- Nicholas Kristof, 3 TVs and No Food: Growing Up Poor in America, NYT, Oct 28, 2016


It is hard to see why it should be accepted as an axiom that talent is universal. The Free Dictionary defines talent as "Natural endowment or ability of a superior quality." The Business Dictionary defines talent as "A natural ability to excel." The Collins English Dictionary defines talent as "above average ability." On the face of it, talent in the sense of above average ability is not universal. It might be proposed that although mathematical talent is not universal, and musical talent is not universal, and no particular talent is universal, each person has his or her own special talent. Though this idea may be sentimentally appealing, it is not supported by evidence. A more plausible assumption is that however regrettable it may be, talent is no more universal than opportunity.


Peter Steinberger on talent:

We are born with a lot of natural talent or without a lot of natural talent. ... Some are smart, some are not.
- Steinberger v. Horowitz: The Great Debacle?, audio at Steinberger-Horowitz debate (after 59:20).


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