What We Deserve

Success

Meritocracy is a political philosophy holding that power and wealth should be vested in people based on their ability and talent. There’s been a flurry of books and articles attacking the morality of meritocracy.  Here are 2 articles that cite and refute those ‘anti-meritocrats’:

http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/07/24/targeting-meritocracy/

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/450101/american-meritocracy-needs-reform-not-replacement

It’s clear that 1) the U.S. economic system is a meritocracy (albeit an imperfect one); and 2) this is a morally just and highly efficient way to allocate power and resources.

The philosophical attacks on meritocracy stem from concerns about what people deserve.  Power and wealth generally flow to people who deserve them in a meritocracy.  You can object to the mechanism of how this is accomplished or what defines merit, but it’s hard to argue that those with greater merit (superior skill, ability, talent, work ethic, etc.) do not deserve more of society’s good things.  But some writers do.  Here’s an articulation of the idea by Freddie de Boer from a book review cited in Scott Alexander’s article:

I reject meritocracy because I reject the idea of human deserts. I don’t believe that an individual’s material conditions should be determined by what he or she “deserves,” no matter the criteria and regardless of the accuracy of the system contrived to measure it. I believe an equal best should be done for all people at all times.

More practically, I believe that anything resembling an accurate assessment of what someone deserves is impossible, inevitably drowned in a sea of confounding variables, entrenched advantage, genetic and physiological tendencies, parental influence, peer effects, random chance, and the conditions under which a person labors….. Reality is indifferent to meritocracy’s perceived need to “give people what they deserve.”

That’s a rational argument but it misses the point and doesn’t stand up to the practical necessity of having the best people in the hardest, most important jobs, making the difficult most critical decisions. Numbskull egalitarians would destroy incentive, motivation and natural economic processes in order to somehow make the world fairer by forcing a social justice based regime.  Just because it can be difficult to assess merit or that such assessments can be abused (or that the system doesn’t appear equitable because the “rich get richer”) does not mean we should abandon meritocracy.  Your Estate Planning War Chest is built upon a foundation of merit.  And that’s a good thing.  Next week, we’ll examine the natural phenomenon of exactly why the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor across generations.

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