Ban Meritocracy! It's the Only Way!

War has been declared on meritocracy. Just in case you didn't know, meritocracy is using talent, skill and competition as the means to determine achievement, success, leadership and opportunity.

In contrast, socialism, communism and progressive thought tends to build from an idea called "equity."

The NACE, or National Association of Colleges and Employers states, "The term "equity" refers to fairness and justice and is distinguished from equality: Whereas equality means providing the same to all, equity means recognizing that we do not all start from the same place and must acknowledge and make adjustments to imbalances. The process is ongoing, requiring us to identify and overcome intentional and unintentional barriers arising from bias or systemic structures."

In other words, let's all determine what is unfair, and fix it.

So what?

To establish a new idea, you must first weaken and tear down the old.  This comes through delegitimizing a concept, and offering your new idea as the solution.  Once you've mocked and ridiculed the old idea, you establish the superiority of your new one.

Clifton Mark, a political theory and psychology writer has taken on the task of tearing down meritocracy.  He writes, "Meritocracy is not only wrong; it’s bad."

He also suggests, "In addition to being false, a growing body of research in psychology and neuroscience suggests that believing in meritocracy makes people more selfish, less self-critical and even more prone to acting in discriminatory ways."

But how did he get there? He asserts, "Although widely held, the belief that merit rather than luck determines success or failure in the world is demonstrably false. This is not least because merit itself is, in large part, the result of luck. Talent and the capacity for determined effort, sometimes called ‘grit’, depend a great deal on one’s genetic endowments and upbringing."

His example? Bill Gates.  After all, a lot of luck and coincidences raised him to the top of the financial mountain.  Mr. Mark further states that other programmers are just as good, but failed to become the richest person in the world.

His argument fails in two major ways.  First: he determines that luck is the major determining factor in success.  Without quantifying the effect of luck on success, you're left to believe that luck must obviously be the most major factor. However, no deeper evidence is presented that skill, ambition, hard-work, training and talent all take a backseat to luck.  Without the evidence, the conclusion is weak.

What Mr. Marks is mistaking for luck, is actually opportunity.  Every person is given opportunity in some way, shape or form.  Each person must determine what to do with their opportunities.  Most of us squander our opportunities, or we fail to take full advantage.  This often shows through our lack of hard work, ambition and drive.  Without these three things, new opportunities will never present themselves, and we are left to determine that everybody else got where they are with luck.

While opportunities may never arise to become the richest man on earth, that does not mean that no opportunity will ever avail itself, which will help you rise out of your current position.  Each person holds responsibility to do with what they're given, and make the most of it.

Mr. Mark's other major argument flaw is his definition of success.  The word is used in a woefully vague and extreme way.  A person's success cannot be determined merely by whether they've become the top of their competitive field or not.  Many immigrants over the generations find themselves with greater upward mobility than their us-born counterparts.  The Brookings Institute reports, "Using millions of father-son pairs spanning more than 100 years of U.S. history, Abramitzky et al. show that children of immigrants from nearly every country have higher rates of upward mobility than children with parents born in the United States. The mobility gap has remained relatively constant over time, despite dramatic shifts in sending countries and U.S. immigration policy."

Couldn't this be considered successful?  Those millions of father-son pairs would believe so.  In past decades and centuries, the sign of achievement was based on whether a father could give his son a better opportunity than he had.  When we reached the pinnacle of a luxurious culture, we left behind those old views.  Our concept of success became quite skewed.  We no longer label improvement, stability or sufficiency as success.  Only the most flagrant, extreme examples are now considered "successful."  Mr. Mark falls into this trap, and warps his next arguments to fit his foundation.

Later in the column, meritocracy is determined to be dangerous for those within the system.

Using a common psychological study, he presents the results as the evidence needed to finally tear down meritocracy, and replace it with equity.  The study uses an ultimatum game in which one player is given some money.  They're instructed to propose a division of the money between him and another subject.  The other may accept or reject.  However, if it is rejected, neither gets the money.

Mr. Mark points out that it has been replicated over time, and when $100 is presented, most offers fall between $40-$50 dollars.  He continues, "One variation on this game shows that believing one is more skilled leads to more selfish behaviour. In research at Beijing Normal University, participants played a fake game of skill before making offers in the ultimatum game. Players who were (falsely) led to believe they had ‘won’ claimed more for themselves than those who did not play the skill game. Other studies confirm this finding. The economists Aldo Rustichini at the University of Minnesota and Alexander Vostroknutov at Maastricht University in the Netherlands found that subjects who first engaged in a game of skill were much less likely to support the redistribution of prizes than those who engaged in games of chance. Just having the idea of skill in mind makes people more tolerant of unequal outcomes. While this was found to be true of all participants, the effect was much more pronounced among the ‘winners’."

He concludes his use of experiments with stating, "By contrast, research on gratitude indicates that remembering the role of luck increases generosity. Frank cites a study in which simply asking subjects to recall the external factors (luck, help from others) that had contributed to their successes in life made them much more likely to give to charity than those who were asked to remember the internal factors (effort, skill)."

Here's the issue.  Despite his assertion that it is, "False, and believing in it encourages selfishness, discrimination and indifference to the plight of the unfortunate," the evidence does not show that there is inherent selfishness in the difference between the games.  What they show is the concept of ownership.  One game presents no ownership, work and effort in obtaining the money, which means it holds less value to the person.  Therefore, the players are more willing to give away what was considered a bonus in the first place.

When a person puts in perceived effort, work and skill for something, they are building ownership.  What's more, the premise Mr. Mark is using is based on games.  A game is considered a competition, and therefore two or more participants are agreeing that the results of the games will award the winner more.  They are all agreeing that the winner earns the right to keep the reward.  The winner does not expect to turn around and give away generously what they feel they have earned through talent, work or skill.

But isn't that the problem? Winners are greedy when they could be generous?  We're not told how sustained the person's success is, how long after, how far above their needs compared to the success is, or what avenues they're asked to give generously to.  Why is it that the richest men in the world so often become such major philanthropists?  Is it their belief in luck in it all, or perhaps is it a realization that they have so much excess, they might as well do some good in the world?

The argument is a strawman.  Mr. Marks, and those who decide the winner is greedy, have weighed the winner's decisions on their own standards.  The only acceptable standard is equity, even after skill is used.  He doesn't allow for any standard of an extra reward going to the winner.

The bluff of the scientists in the study doesn't matter.  Convincing a person they earned it changes the nature of the game for all of the participants.  And what is conspicuously missing is the greed that DOES show up in people, even when they are given something through sheer randomness.

I'm reminded of a famous experiment with two monkeys, in which one is given a single grape, while the other is given two.  The monkey with only one grape becomes irate, obviously angry at the unfair treatment by the caretakers.  If neither monkey did anything to earn it, it only proves the danger of jealousy and envy.  If both did something, but one did more or was better in their ability, then jealousy still remains.

I'm not arguing that meritocracy is the ultimate system.  However, it produces a societal ethic of hard work and effort as the pillars to advancement.  A system of equity builds on the pillars of comparison and selfishness.  In order for equity to be enforced, there must be a person who determines what is equal, and both parties must consent to the measurement of equity.  This isn't how it happens in real-life however.  An arbiter determines what is "equal," and one party receives extra while another party is restricted in order to create "justice and fairness."  Meritocracy encourages self-improvement.  Equity forces comparison with others.  Which do you believe is more likely to foster jealousy, envy, and strife?

We cannot live in a truly fair, equal and just world.  The greatest way to compensate for the natural inequality in life is to uphold a way in which each participant has a chance to earn advancement.  It is the societies that remove open meritocracy that create the greatest stalements and destructive cultures.  While many charge that a meritocratic society creates classism, sexism, racism, and all the -isms, it is in fact the opposite.  A truly meritocratic society concerns itself ONLY with production.  A system built on comparisons of identity traits or markers will always yield frustration, bitterness and envy.  This places the decision making of "who gets what" in the hands of benevolent arbiters, who will invariably judge "who deserves what" based on innate identifiers.  The danger is in putting the responsibility in the hands of someone else, not taking on responsibilities for yourself.

True capitalism, meritocracy and private property will always nourish those in need most by giving them the freedom to earn what they need.  A productive participant will always be a beneficial participant.

  • merit is also under assault
  • psychopaths practice nepotism, not just selfishness
  • not having meritocracy does not equal a utopia, but it ushers in nepotism, political infighting and politiking
  • this produces the worst people in control
Self-Evident Ministries