Mark Thomas Miller

The ovarian lottery

Twenty four hours before you’re born, a genie comes to you and grants you a godlike power: you get to create the world. You get to choose each country’s culture, its government, its laws, its religious beliefs and practices… You can make humanity into anything you want it to be.

There’s only one catch.

Just before you emerge from the womb, you have to reach your hand into a barrel of seven billion tickets – one ticket for each person on the face of the Earth. The ticket you draw determines which person you’ll be.

You don’t get to choose your gender. You don’t get to choose your race, or your sexual preference, or your appearance, or your educational levels, or your family’s financial standing, or your medical conditions. Or your parents, your religion, or even the country you’re born in.

Let’s do some thinking. What if you drew the ticket for

How would your world treat you if you were in those situations?


Let’s say you got lucky and drew the ticket for yourself – for the person who is reading this sentence right now.

As you draw yourself, the genie appears again and offers you a second chance: you can put your ticket back into the bucket and choose again from one hundred other tickets.

Would you take the chance? Would you try to get an even better position? Would you try to be someone smarter, or wealthier, or more attractive, or healthier?

Of those one hundred possible tickets, around five will be American, and of those, one half will have above-average intelligence, and one half below-average.

Would you risk it? If not, what you’re saying is, “Me – the person reading this sentence – is in the luckiest 1% of the world right now.”


This is a story from Warren Buffett. Knowing that you’re in the top 1% of seven billion humans is a great way to see the sheer luck that you and I had to be born where we were. It also gives us sympathy for those who don’t have what we take for granted.