Meritocracy isn’t fair

Loved this post from Yglesias a few days ago:

I often hear the word “meritocracy” kicked around rather thoughtlessly on the Internet in a context where the suggestion is that an “unfair” system is somehow the opposite of a meritocratic one. The reality is just the reverse. Meritocracy itself is often grossly unfair. A great example came yesterday from Kevin Drum, who, as you may know, is obsessed with the link between lead in children’s bloodstreams and crime. A key point for my purposes, though, is that toxic lead exposure during childhood doesn’t just lead to increased likelihood of committing violent crime. It’s generally associated with a range of cognitive impairments. Drum’s point yesterday was to draw our attention to the fact that while black youths still commit crimes at a higher rate than white ones, the black offending rate has fallen much faster than the white one, and this is because the racial gap in lead exposure has also fallen a great deal…

The point, however, is that the unfairness that who your parents were and where they lived 30 or 40 years ago has a major impact on your income and opportunities today isn’t a contrast to the idea that the American economic system in some sense rewards merit—this happens preciselybecause the system rewards merit and possession of “merit” is largely driven by factors that are themselves totally beyond a person’s individual control.

Exactly.  Which is why successful people should be a lot more humble and willing to redistribute income to those who have not achieved the same in our meritocracy.  It’s totally not fair that I’ve succeeded, in very large part, due to having two great upper-middle class parents, who raised in me in a great community with great schools, and provided the DNA for high cognitive skills and impulse control.   I didn’t deserve that any more than somebody deserves to have been born to a 15-year old crack addict.  That’s why I’m liberal.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

13 Responses to Meritocracy isn’t fair

  1. Henrietta Jenrette says:

    That’s why I’m a Liberal (with a capital “L”) too.
    But try explaining this concept to someone who thinks every issue is simple, solvable by “common sense”. There is not much gray in that world.

  2. pino says:

    Which is why successful people should be a lot more humble and willing to redistribute income to those who have not achieved the same in our meritocracy.

    In general, conservatives give more willingly than do liberals.

    However, you aren’t interested in the “willingly” part of it – you want to mandate it by government fiat and force me to distribute my income. And not even in ways I see fit, but in ways YOU see fit.

    You want me to spend my money on your programs while you keep your money to spend on your choices.

    and provided the DNA for high cognitive skills and impulse control.

    Interesting take on cognitive skills and DNA. You must understand that much of our success is IQ dependent. More so, in fact, than our socio-economic status.

    That’s why I’m liberal.

    I’m fine with YOU being liberal. I have massive problems with you trying to make ME liberal.

  3. Pingback: Why The Liberal Is Liberal | Tarheel Red

  4. jonolan says:

    It’s not equal but it is fair. Demanding that those of merit give their wealth to those of no or lesser merit is what is unfair…though it does create greater equality of result until those with merit rebel.

    Also the original, cited article does, you realize, essentially describe the Blacks as defectives. If this is accurate, then they can’t be improved and either must be coddled or contained. Either sounds pretty old-school racist to me.

    • pino says:

      It’s not equal but it is fair.

      Good point.

      Demanding that those of merit give their wealth to those of no or lesser merit is what is unfair

      Even children recognize this fact.

      • Henrietta Jenrette says:

        Yes, children. Precisely. And then when they grow up and realize how some people manage to gets laws passed that siphon money to them and when they realize that a country isn’t great that tolerates masses of people living in powerty and poor health, they understand that they have to give something back.

      • pino says:

        when they grow up and realize how some people manage to gets laws passed that siphon money

        You’re talking about a teeny tiny number of people. But for the sake of compromise, I’ll agree with you. There are people so powerful that they can do that. And that isn’t good.

        But we are talking about normal people that just work hard and have succeeded. For some reason these people are expected to “give back.”

  5. John F. says:

    When we recognize that inherent in the DNA of nearly all human beings are the genes for “high cognitive skills and impulse control” we’ll make far better use of our resources and craft a far more fair society. There have been as many geniuses that have died slaving on plantation fields as there have been of old age.

    The selling point for redistribution is in convincing the majority of society just how arbitrary the notion of a meritocracy is; it’s pointless to waste your time with people deemed worthy of merit as the biology that primatological position creates blinds them to the reality. Michael Jordan’s “merit” in playing basketball in the 1860s would be as useful as someone born today with Charles Lindbergh’s piloting skills, as is the utility of someone born in the 1970s with an exacting eye for honest societal analysis in a world full of self-interested and self-reinforcing nationalistic Faux News Philistines.

    • pino says:

      When we recognize that inherent in the DNA of nearly all human beings are the genes for “high cognitive skills and impulse control”

      We do recognize this me thinks. For example, consider two populations:

      1. 1000 Harvard law graduates.
      2. 1000 Road construction Stop Sign holders.

      There is no one I know that would dispute two facts:

      1. There are some individuals in Group 2 that have a higher IQ than at least one individual in Group 2.
      2. Group 1 has a higher mean and median IQ than Group 2

      No one thinks that there is something in the DNA of one group or the other than precludes one or the other from having low or high IQ, only that they do.

      Now, with random mate selection in terms of IQ, we can be sure that the children of each group will be more similar than their parents. And if that random selection continues to the second generation — why, they may be near identical.

  6. Mike from Canada says:

    It’s an interesting couple of articles that put forward a number of different suppositions some of which are bluntly said, some of which are hinted at. One alluded is people believe what they want to believe and for some no amount of data will change it.

    Another is socioeconomic status ties in with IQ, as other studies have found. Being poor itself, never mind living in an area with high levels of lead can be a serious detriment to children IQ and behavior. It directly contradicts the statement: “You must understand that much of our success is IQ dependent. More so, in fact, than our socio-economic status.”
    Ad does these studies:

    Click to access Turkheimer_et_al___2003_.pdf


    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v340/n6234/abs/340552a0.html
    http://www.ascd.org/publications/researchbrief/v2n21/toc.aspx
    A statement is made that directly contradicts the two articles both of which point to data, yet the contradicting statement does not have any links or supporting evidence. You might as well just say “no way man”.

    I find it interesting that someone can come along in the comments and say something like “In general, conservatives give more willingly than do liberals.” but then not give any data at all to back up this assertion. It may be par for the course for this individual I’m sure he’s a saint and gives until his spleen hurts, but still, even if one tried to put this idea to the test, how would you do it?

    If you look at Bill and Linda Gates and Warren Buffett, you might compare them to such bastions of giving such as the Koch brothers, who give to institutions that may be, by legal definition a charity or non profit, but in fact is nothing but another arm of the Republican party. I speak of political groups, global warming denier institutions and the like. Giving with his left hand to his right hand. Or from one Koch brother to the other. A good deal of this “charitable giving” by the Koch brothers is of this type. This is not charity, it is what we label self serving and is not for the betterment of mankind, but for the betterment of the Koch brothers.
    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Koch_Family_Foundations

    Or perhaps Conservatives are such soft hearted giving human beings, like the coal mine owner who forces his employees to “donate” money to his favourite political charity, the Republican party. His company tracks which employees give and how much. He’s the same compassionate conservative who forced his employees to take a day off, unpaid, to smile for the cameras when Mitt Romney came to the coal mine to photo op. And they had to show up for the photo up. They didn’t do much smiling. Rally attendance “was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend,” Said Rob Moore, the company’s chief financial officer. Is that what we call “more willing to give”?
    I wonder who got the tax credit for those donations.
    http://go.bloomberg.com/political-capital/2012-08-28/romney-rally-at-ohio-coal-mine-cost-workers-a-day%E2%80%99s-pay/
    http://www.cleveland.com/open/index.ssf/2012/08/coal_miners_lost_pay_when_mitt.html
    http://www.desmogblog.com/2012/10/09/are-coal-employees-forced-support-romney

    But if you bother to do a search for “do conservatives give more charity” it’s not hard to find out the statement is wrong, and itself seems more then a little self serving.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-peron/conservatives-charitable-giving_b_1835201.html
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/10/21/study-conservatives-and-liberals-are-equally-charitable-but-they-give-to-different-charities/

    I’m sure someone might point to the book by Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute funded by the above mentioned Koch brothers. The book is called “Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism”.
    That’s the thing about freedom of speech. You can write any book to support anything. It doesn’t have to be true. A new study using Brooks own data finds he made a serious error in the questions. His study did not account for economic, social, and all the various kinds of liberals and conservatives.
    http://themonkeycage.org/2012/10/18/who-really-gives-partisanship-and-charitable-giving-in-the-united-states/

    It seems that Brooks has a history of, well, ‘smudging’ his data.
    http://andrewgelman.com/2012/08/14/1-5-million-people-were-told-that-extreme-conservatives-are-happier-than-political-moderates-approximately-0001-million-americans-learned-that-the-opposite-is-true/

    Jonolan:
    I read both articles, twice. I could find no part that suggests blacks are “defective”. I did read that poor people, often black, were being poisoned by their environment due to lead exposure.
    These are two very different things. If I missed the section, please elucidate and tell me which article, and where.

    • pino says:

      A statement is made that directly contradicts the two articles both of which point to data, yet the contradicting statement does not have any links or supporting evidence.

      I’m not sure you are talking about the same thing that I’m talking about.

      I’m think that IQ AND SES impact attainment in life, or what we call “success”. I’m saying that IQ plays a larger role in that success.

      I make no claim as to what might increase IQ in children.

  7. jonolan says:

    You all are going to have to define – and agree upon a definition for – IQ before any IQ-based argument can be meaningful. There’s more than one way to measure cognitive power. Just saying…

    As for the influence of social levels and groupings – Of course they have an impact. If one is surrounded by the less able and those less able people have compensated for their lack by becoming proud of their failings, negative behavior patterns can be reinforced and set deep into the psyche. The converse it true of those surrounded by higher achievers.

    • pino says:

      You all are going to have to define – and agree upon a definition for – IQ before any IQ-based argument can be meaningful. There’s more than one way to measure cognitive power.

      Agreed. And I’m guilty of interchanging the two.

      When I say IQ I am meaning to say intelligence, which can be better defined as cognitive ability.

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