Absolutely. I think the critical distinction is between absolute and relative performance. In field after field, we have seen absolute performance improve. For example, in sports that measure performance using a clock—including swimming, running, and crew—athletes today are much faster than they were in the past and will continue to improve up to the point of human physiological limits....
But where there’s competition, it’s not absolute performance we care about but relative performance. This point can be confusing. For example, the analysis shows that baseball has a lot of randomness, which doesn’t seem to square with the fact that hitting a 95-mile-an-hour fastball is one of the hardest things to do in any sport. Naturally, there is tremendous skill in hitting a fastball, just as there is tremendous skill in throwing a fastball. The key is that as pitchers and hitters improve, they improve in rough lockstep, offsetting one another. The absolute improvement is obscured by the relative parity.
This leads to one of the points that I think is most counter to intuition. As skill increases, it tends to become more uniform across the population. Provided that the contribution of luck remains stable, you get a case where increases in skill lead to luck being a bigger contributor to outcomes. That’s the paradox of skill. So it’s closely related to the Red Queen effect.
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