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On the lighter side: Fascism and Tennis

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Here’s a statistical exercise that can be fun for the whole family:

At the moment, five American women are ranked among the top 30 women tennis players in the world, per the current WTA rankings. How many of those women DON’T have a billionaire parent? The answer is: three.

For you MSU alums, that means that two of the five women do have a billionaire parent. Now the fun exercise is to figure out how much of an advantage, statistically speaking, is it to have a billionaire parent if you would like to be among the top 30 ranked women tennis players in the world?

Here’s one way of thinking about it: The top 30 women tennis players in the world currently range in age from 17 to 34. Using that — unrealistically but we can’t make this too complicated too early in the morning — as a hard cutoff for the possible age range of top 30 in the world women tennis players, that means you have 18 relevant birth years: 1990-2007 (more or less). How many girls were born in America, collectively, in those 18 years? The answer is about 37 million.

So if you were a girl born in America between 1990 and 2007 your odds of being one of the top 30 women tennis players in the world in July 2024 are about 7.4 million to one, which doesn’t sound that great as a career aspiration. But let’s toss just one little confounder into this equation: What if your parent happens to be a billionaire? There are currently 756 billionaires in the USA, 99% of whom are over the median age of the population, which is 38.5 years, so . . . let’s see here, what does that get us?

One way of calculating this is that, if you’re a billionaire, your odds of having a daughter currently ranked in the world tennis top 30 are 378 to one, while if you’re not, your odds of having a daughter currently ranked in the world tennis top 30 are 56 million to one. (Assuming you have to be at least the median age of the population to have a daughter between the ages of 17 and 34, that means we’re talking about 168 million people, roughly). This means that if you’re a billionaire, your odds of having such a daughter are 150,000 times better than the odds of someone who isn’t.

You could do this in a number of other ways, but the point here is that, if you’re a progressive, this apparently trivial stat illustrates quite beautifully just how absurd the idea of “the meritocracy” really is.

Which in a roundabout way is related to a point a friend of mine made about the elections in France, when he noted that the fascist National Front’s total of legislative seats won went from averaging less than two a year between 1988 and 2012, to eight in 2017, 89 in 2022, and 125 in this past week’s election. He suggests the following lesson:

This isn’t a great trend.

The center needs to start giving voters more benefits; more reason to keep the far right out of power. I don’t give that admonition to the far left, since they have been running on more social spending, higher taxes on the rich for many years.

Look at MORENA in Mexico. Unbelievably popular not just in polls but retaining the presidency and legislature in a landslide election despite very high levels of crime and inflation. Why? AMLO spent a stunning amount on more benefits for the poor and middle classes. FDR won 4 damn elections by making life a little easier for the middle class and poor. That’s what good governments do!

I wouldn’t put AMLO in the good government bin myself, but the overall point, I think, is valid: taking money from the rich and giving it to everybody else is both the right thing to do — see statistics on women tennis players above, which illustrate just how preposterous the idea is that people “earn” their social privilege — and good politics.

Note: This exercise isn’t meant to be taken that seriously — obviously we’re dealing with a freakish statistical fact in re the current status of women’s tennis — but the serious point is that this is just an extreme example of the way SES has an enormous inertial bias: you are who you are because of who your parents were, to an extent that’s difficult to overestimate.

Of course the whole US political system is set up to make this as difficult as possible to happen, since it’s currently loaded completely in favor of plutocrats who can use white wing populism to purchase the government, but Rome wasn’t either built or sacked in a day.

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