Saturday, December 13, 2008

The curse of height

You may have heard of the curse of oil, also called the resource curse more generally. It is the idea that for many countries access to oil is more of a hindrance than a blessing, due to the corruption, conflict, and volatility that often follow from its discovery. A cursory glance at many of the major regions where there is civil unrest (Sudan, Iraq, etc.) lends credence to the hypothesis.

But what I'm interested in is more of a local level. Can individuals fall victim to a resource curse?

I think that in most cases it is probable. Take for instance extremely tall young men and women, who are pressured beyond belief into playing competitive basketball. Once they take the court, they are often ridiculed for being clumsy or not being able to dunk the ball in traffic, which of course every 5'10" person would be able to if they extrapolated their height while miraculously maintaining the same athleticism and coordination.

Excelling at sports is potentially commendable in its own right, and exuberantly tall individuals will have at least a leg up. But many teams will take on otherwise unqualified tall players as "projects" or simply to intimidate the opposing team in warm-ups, and they often wither away on the bench. This certainly does not do wonders for self-esteem, especially when fans have high expectations.

Bottom Line: Much like the curse of oil, being four standard deviations above the average range of height can end up as more of a curse than a blessing. We should adjust our expectations of these individuals accordingly.