Believing in "meritocracy" makes you act like a dick

So what’s the better system for determining who gets power, authority, wealth, promotions, etc… than trying our human best to get good things to the people who seem to merit them?

If you’re a manager deciding on who gets a raise and you take the idea off the table of giving it to the most deserving employee (because after all they’re only a good employee by virtue of an accident of birth) then how do you decide? Roll a dice? Give the raise to the worst employee because they’ve probably suffered the most bad luck?


Tragic but apt point.

Suckers tend to believe in it, wholeheartedly…


How about a society with far less hierarchy based on any metric, and instead one that acknowledges that we all have needs and wants that can and should be met.


How about a society with far less hierarchy based on any metric, and instead one that acknowledges that we all have needs and wants that can and should be met.

Maybe something like, from each according to his ability and to each according to his needs?


The CEO-to-worker compensation ratio has been growing for decades. That clearly doesn’t make sense in a “meritocracy” unless you think that the people at the top are working many times harder than their counterparts a generation ago or that working-class people are an order of magnitude more lazy than they were a generation ago.


Right. I’m sure the title is going to start some arguments here, so let’s just say “IF the US and other countries were indeed meritocracies where one actually did advance based on hard work and talent, that would be a good thing.”

In other words, believing in the ideal of a true meritocracy is OK, like believing in the basic goodness of humanity, but that doesn’t mean it’s real.

What was once said about George W. Bush applies to the Trump family in spades: “Born on third base but thinks he hit a triple” (though in Trump’s case it might be “born on third base and thinks he hit a home run a game winning home run.”)


Another thing - even if there were true meritocracies it kinda wouldn’t account for a large number of life experiences that are completely subjective… Art, music, food, culture in general. There’s no sense in putting those things against each other. I don’t think.


I would choose that over “law of the jungle”, if that’s the only other choice.

But there are multiple choices here, so perhaps we shouldn’t simplify to where the extremes of either side count as the only outcomes.


You are right. A meritocracy would not be a good thing because gross inequities in wealth and power are just wrong. The point is NOT to try and come up with a better justification for gross inequities in wealth and power.


The article clearly lays out how humans and their biases are a huge part of the problem in such a setting. I would say let an algorithm decide how to distribute promotions, but that’s prone to human biases as well. Perhaps the process for determining promotions should be similar to a blind hiring process, where one is looking solely at job performance without knowing things about the person’s identity that could cloud their judgement. In general, it occurs to me that the myth of a functioning meritocracy goes hand-in-hand with the myth of market capitalism being self-regulating and self-correcting. Both are based on the poor assumption that human systems can approach some sort of rationality beyond an individual human’s lack of rationality. The sum of the parts is not greater than the whole, but worse in many cases.


A true meritocracy would require that all of humanity utterly and completely extricate itself from all forms of bias; self-confirming, preconceived, and indoctrinated.

That’s not only highly unrealistic, it might not even be possible.


(I was actually going to compare it to believing in Santa Claus, but thought that sounded trite.)


That’s a naughty-or-nicecracy.


Well, just like Santa, it is a lovely idea…


Well, come on now! Put the pitchforks down.

The inherent problem is that we all want just a little more (like Carnegie sad when asked how much money was enough) and if we work hard we deserve it, right?

Does anyone ask for a ‘lower’ (as opposed to a raise)?

It isn’t so much ‘meriting more because of your effort’ that we take exception to. It’s when THE OTHER GUY OR GAL gets more. That just really rankles.

For all the complaints about meritocracy, why not equal time given to discussing charity? And, of course, it’s only out of our ‘excess’ we give.

Do you think I’m not aware that’s a Marx quote?

We have more wealth circulating around the world right now than in any other time in human history, and we have far more inequality than in any other point in human history. We also have more information and more people with access to that information… We CAN figure something out to make life more equitable and more free for all of us.


Right… so what is the name of the system, an alternative to meritocracy, that solves that inequality you highlighted while also ensuring that jobs generally go to people who are qualified to do them?

Is there something better than attempting to perfect meritocracy, or is it one of those “worst possible system except for all the other systems” situations?

The first step is to admit that the system we have is not even close to one based on “merit.” Any use of the term “meritocracy” needs to be in scare quotes. Even the person who coined the term was using it satirically.

The second step is to strive for a system that meets everyone’s basic needs without all the pearl-clutching over the idea that someone might get food, medicine, shelter etc. that they didn’t “deserve.”


Some people don’t want to watch their kids go hungry or be cold or they would like them to have access to a decent and safe education; or some people would like a place to live that’s relatively safe; or some people would very much like to not go bankrupt when they get cancer; or some people would like to get through a day without being demeaned in some big or small way due to their gender, race, or sexual orientation; etc.

We have abundant charity. that’s not the problem. Charity has done nothing to alleviate these problems that have gotten worse over the past few decades. Oscar Wilde noted the problem with charity, that it lets society as a whole off the hook and it does nothing to fix the underlying problem.

If you want people “to put the pitchforks down” we need addresses these problems head on.

Right? I mean, we just had an unfolding scandal about elites not only getting their kids in through ethically challenged but legal means like legacy admissions, but THEY ALSO LITERALLY CHEATED to get their kids into the best schools.

I know, right? Should we only get food if some rich asshole decides we deserve it?


The problem is often that far too many people are loathe to admit that, because the perpetual inequality benefits them in some way, either directly or indirectly.

‘Comfort and complacency’ are hell of a drug combo…