Meritocracy has been on everyone’s minds lately, it seems. Reading Daniel Markovits’ “The Meritocracy Trap,” I was fully ready to condemn the concept completely. I may be still; but I need to take a moment to think about it more fully.
Here’s the problem with condemning meritocracy outright: if we look at ability on a case-by-case basis, would you rather a well-trained, accomplished pilot or a mediocre one? Would you rather go to a concert performed by a scratchy third-rate violinist or someone whose pedigree includes Juilliard, Curtis, or the like? Maybe the problem with meritocracy is simply that it doesn’t scale well in capitalist markets. (Don’t hold me to that idea; I’m not quite ready to embrace it fully.) In the process of scaling to the level of a large society, does any inherent rightness of merit confer a right to so distort the economic life of a country that only narrower and narrower slices of it garner larger and larger portions of the economic output?
In the meanwhile, I’m just cataloguing what references I can find on meritocracy while I formulate a more informed opinion.
- Targeting meritocracy - Scott Alexander’s piece on meritocracy at Slate Star Codex. Some highlights from the comments he received. Scott’s later opinion that conflict-vs-mistake theory was unaccounted-for in his analysis.
- The problem with meritocracy - Tom Streithorst’s piece in Prospect, a review of Chris Hayes’ book.
- The Tyranny of Merit - an cute, animated version of Michael Sandel’s talk.