Frank’s Passions with Reason and Success and Luck


Frank Robert is a progressive writer in criticizes the economic status quo. One of his books is “Passions within Reason,” written in 2010, which emphasizes the importance of emotions to overcome problems caused by self-interest because emotions function as a commitment device. The other book, “Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy,” written in 2017, explains the importance of luck in wealth. The book argues that wealthy people are reluctant to acknowledge luck as their source of wealth and hesitant to finance public investments and structures through taxes without knowing that it is through these public structures that they are lucky. This study will evaluate the two books and connect their thesis to show how arguments proposed in Passions with Reason lead to or inform better the ideas presented in his later book Success and Luck.

The Impact of Emotions on Society

Robert’s earlier book, “Passions With Reason,” shows how people who act with emotions are more reluctant to cheat than those who follow their self-interests. This is because they feel that cheating is more beneficial; their emotional constraints of guilt will hold them back from cheating because it is the rational cause of action (Frank 34). In another instance, people who follow emotions will consider it rational to punish someone who has cheated them, although it is more costly because of anger that will push them to punish the individual. This action makes the people not cheat again on the person because they know that he will not hesitate to punish them. According to the author, following emotions have significant benefits to present costs compared to those in the future (Frank 128). This implies that people who apply emotions in their actions are more likely to solve current problems than long-term ones. For instance, if a boss punishes his employee for coming late on one day, this method may be effective on that day, but the employee may seek another workplace because he may consider the punishment irrational.

The use of emotions in this reading can be used as a background in his second book about funding public infrastructure that benefits everyone. If all wealthy people understand that they are wealthy due to luck, it would be rational to pay taxes and fund public infrastructure and investments. They should know that they are wealthy because they used these infrastructures, such as schools to get quality education and good governance to have their wealth’s lawful accumulation and protection. Therefore, if they followed their emotions instead of self-interests, they would acknowledge that it is rational to provide public funding to improve the infrastructures because it will not diminish their wealth but help create opportunities for other people to thrive like them (Frank 44-50). Having good infrastructure will benefit everyone and, most likely, them because they will utilize them to be more wealthy. The author states that it is better to drive a $150,000 Porsche on a good road than a $300,000 Ferrari on a spoilt road with potholes. This shows the importance of emotions in improving the welfare of society and increasing the chances of luck for more people.

Although I agree with Frank on the first aspect of following emotions than self-interest, In making decisions, sometimes it is advisable to follow look at the end goal. For instance, in the example where he has to punish a person because they have cheated on him, even though it is more costly to punish, I beg to disagree. It is always realistic to look at the root cause of something or action before concluding. For instance, if cheating on Frank would have more beneficial outcomes than telling him the truth, it is better to cheat. Therefore, sometimes cheating may be effective if its outcomes will better than telling the truth.

The first book emphasizes that emotions control the behavior of people. When people have emotions, they are likely to behave contrary to their interests. For instance, emotions of love, envy, guilt, and anger direct what people do and sometimes may be against their personal wishes, which is an advantage. In relationships, people can sense the people they can trust and those they cannot. Therefore, people can feel when they are being taken advantage of by others, which is helpful in life. People can fake their behaviors when they expect repeated interactions. It is more important to observe how they behave when encountered in one-time interactions where they do not hope to have continued relationships and how they behave in their private space when they accept that no one is watching or will be aware of their actions. This will define their honest actions, and therefore to follow emotions rather than self-interest requires significant sacrifice, which many people cannot afford to have. People can be trustworthy when they know a relationship will be repeated and change to untrustworthy when they know it is a one-time relationship.

In his second book, the importance of emotions is seen in various incidences and relates to his luck. When people’s behavior is controlled by their emotions rather than their self-interests, they are likely to act rationally. For example, Frank accounts for an incident in November 2007 when he felt nauseated and had a cardiac arrest. His Friend Tom Gilovich flipped him backward and started pounding on his chest when he noticed Frank was not breathing. He yelled for someone to call 911, and Frank coughed after hitting on Frank’s chest for a period that seemed forever. Out of luck, before Frank collapsed, two ambulances had been dispatched to different incidences a few miles from the tennis court (Frank 3-4). Since one of the incidents was not serious, the ambulance diverted and picked Frank up on time and took him to a local hospital, then airlifted him to a Pennsylvania hospital. He was found to have a cardiac death. 98% of the patients brought to the hospital with such a disease passed on (Frank 5).

This shows how emotions and luck play a role in helping Frank survive. In the first place, his friend had a genuine love for Frank, and that is why he tried his best to wake him up to the extent of pounding his chest, something he sees in movies. Were it not for the love that he had for Frank, he would have called an ambulance and waited for it to come without performing any first aid activities. In addition, two ambulances had been dispatched in the direction of the tennis court, a few hundred meters away. One of the incidents did not have serious casualties, so the ambulance diverted to pick up Frank; a sign of luck was that the ambulances were closed and the incident was not serious, so they responded to his emergency quickly. Despite 98% of the patients with cardiac death passing on, he was lucky to survive and walk out of the hospital without cognitive impairments (Frank 6). Therefore, the combination of emotions and luck was able to save Frank from death which is why he considers them essential factors in a person’s life.

This scenario can be viewed from another perspective, whereby Frank is privileged and not lucky. He is advantaged to be born in a first-world country with good healthcare services, responsive ambulances, and good roads. What Frank considers luck is attributed to those factors because having a good healthcare system made him receive responsive and evidence-based care. Additionally, the ambulance responded so quickly due to the effective systemic structures of his country and not because of his luck. If he was in a third-world country, maybe the ambulance would not have responded, and he would have passed. Therefore, what Frank perceives to be luck, maybe privileged good governance and working systems.

The first book emphasizes the evolving complex society, which has changed the perspectives of individuals. In the past, individuals were more focused on the high discount rates because those who cheated did not face any long-term consequences. Society was not complex; therefore, there were mutually repeated beneficial trades that those who cheated could choose. Since they could not be held accountable for their actions, they found it easy to cheat and breach their trust and still would get more opportunities. However, with the evolving society, cheating has become more complex as people seek to achieve high discount rates and develop fairness and a good reputation. Instead of ruining their high discount rates, they have resorted to using emotions to help them in different situations where they are compelled to act in self-interest. Additionally, emotions cannot be faked easily; therefore, they can be used as signals in identifying if a person is trustworthy or not. They would not be adopted as signals if they were easy to fake.

However, there are critics of how Frank defines luck in his book. He states that a person must take a risk to become lucky. Therefore, if a person takes a risk and is successful, they are fortunate; if they fail, they are not. Almost all human activities include taking risks, and the outcome is unknown; if winning means one is fortunate, then luck losses its meaning in a broad perspective. Several factors have to be in place for a person to be considered lucky. For instance, when a person opens a new shop and picks up quickly, it may be considered luck; however, this is based on different variables such as lack of competition, government protection of the property, wealth gained, availability of customers, good timing. This shows that luck is not based on a single factor: the outcome.


This study has evaluated the impact of emotions and luck in society. The first book emphasizes the positive impacts of following emotions rather than self-interest in making decisions and business. Emotions are more likely to lead to a high discount rate than personal interests. In the second and most recent book, the author adds the significance of luck in the wealthiness of an individual. He states that wealthy people are not rich because they are more hardworking or knowledgeable than others; however, they are lucky. However, some authors disagree with Frank’s definition of luck, which is only based on the outcome and instead state that luck is due to many interrelated factors. When emotions and luck are integrated, equality in society will increase, making it a better place for everyone.

Works Cited

Frank, Robert H. Passions within Reason: The Strategic Role of the Emotions. Norton, Ca, 2010, pp. 1–304.

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