Arguments against Meritocracy are usually made in order to lay the groundwork to further argue for massive Government redistribution of wealth. That’s why it’s important to address them here (on a blog that relentlessly argues against the irrational, immoral coercive confiscation of private wealth in order to redistribute it to those deemed worthy by statist bureaucrats).
Chapter 1 of The Tyranny of Merit – What’s Become of the Common Good? (2020) by Harvard philosopher Michael J. Sandel is “Winners and Losers”. It lays the foundation for the rest of the book. His overarching thesis is that meritocracy results in a brutal psychological malady. Meritocracy’s winners exude striking arrogance and hubris while the losers are humiliated, depressed and deprived of social esteem. And that’s pretty much it. Sandel repeats and then builds on this thesis over and over again throughout the book. It is nonetheless worthy of our War Chest time to hedgehog down into the details because the moral, cultural and economic ramifications are astonishing. Meritocracy is an important, civilization quaking idea not just because of ballooning wealth inequality, but also more importantly because it breeds morally repugnant and psychologically unhealthy attitudes.
Today’s meritocracy has hardened into a hereditary aristocracy. The wealthy consolidate their advantages and pass them down to their children; because they can. Wouldn’t you? Sandel explains that the “morally unattractive” new attitudes that a meritocratic ethic promotes is not the result of inexorable forces (globalization, etc.). It is the result of how our technocratic elite have run things. They have produced a populist backlash, stagnant wages and undermined the dignity of honest work. The loss of social esteem and respect for those on the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder is a sad cause for concern.
Next week, we move on to chapter 2 – a brief moral history of exactly what ‘merit’ is.