One of the advantages of writing a blog about the same thing (why it’s moral and rational for my clients to own the wealth they do) every week for 6 years is that you come across the same authors/books/articles/ideas again and again. Ideas about truth, justice and moral philosophy are all interconnected. Knowledge on these matters (despite being controversial) continues to be articulated, reinforced and shared by writers who are paying attention.
We’re beginning a new project on meritocracy, a topic getting a lot of press lately.
The Hedgehog Review is a journal out of the University of Virginia. It gets its name from an ancient Greek aphorism: “The fox knows many things, but a hedgehog knows one big thing”. I discovered this most excellent publication after studying the book Science and the Good: The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality (2018), which I blogged through 4/9/19 – 5/28/19 [that book stemmed from an article in The Hedgehog Review].
This Hedgehog piece on meritocracy:
caught my attention and that of blogger Matthew Yglesias
Helen Andrews’ article is still on the front page of The Hedgehog Review web site – and it’s from 2016. It’s noteworthy. Yglesias is a smart guy but he misunderstands wealth morality as it relates to the idea of marginal utility [wealth redistributionists think that the marginal dollar taken out of a wealthy person’s pocket and given to someone in need will increase overall human flourishing].
To the contrary, as we’ve learned from Game Theory and Scott Alexander’s Mistake Theory vs. Conflict Theory dichotomy, the notion of overall marginal utility is wrong. Von Neumann and Morgenstein pointed this out in the 1940’s: “the popular misunderstanding about this pseudo-maximum problem is the famous statement according to which the purpose of social effort is the ‘greatest possible good for the greatest possible number’. A guiding principle cannot be formulated by the requirement of maximizing two (or more) functions at once. Such a principle… is self-contradictory. One function will have no maximum where the other function has one.” It’s like saying that a business should pursue maximum revenue and minimum expense. Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (1944).
The best articulation on why meritocracy is rational, moral and, in fact, the way things are – is from Scott Alexander:
A new book from Harvard philosopher Michael J. Sandel sets its cross hairs on meritocracy and is worthy of our attention here: The Tyranny of Merit – What’s Become of the Common Good? (2020). Sandel is the flute justice guy (remember Aristotle’s flutes?). He and other academics see justice as utilitarian but underestimate the inefficiency of the corrupt, bloated monstrosity that is our Federal Government. Government is not a force for good. It is an insurable hazard (read my 10/13/15 post). We are each independent moral and rational agents. The common good cannot be coerced by a collectivist State. We’ll begin our journey through Sandel’s book next week.