September 23, 2020

"The more you provide 'equal opportunity' for those at the bottom, the more you perfect a system in which those at the top can believe they are smarter and better (i.e. more meritorious)..."

"... than those who can't or don't climb up the pyramid. After all, they had equal opportunity. What's their excuse? Now we’re facing the end game: What to do when we no longer have enough jobs that practically anyone can do, but that pay enough to allow, if not a 'middle class' life, a life as a full participant in society. There seem to be at least seven approaches...."

From "Two Paths for Meritocracy/Are we free at last from Michael Young's doomsday machine?" by Mickey Kaus (substack)(Michael Young is the author of "The Rise of the Meritocracy" (1958)).

You can go to the link to read the 7 approaches. #7 is Kaus's own. He also finds the entire list "quite dispiriting." An alternative is to reject meritocracy.

93 comments:

Gahrie said...

Get back to me when we start talking about quotas for short, balding, Jewish men in the NBA.

Mr Wibble said...

We don't have a meritocracy. We have the illusion of a meritocracy. Credentialism replaces talent, and everyone figures out how to game the system.

I was reading Kaus' writing and saw this line: "Even a future aristocrat like Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. might not get into Harvard if he had insufficient "merit." (He went to Tufts.) Today, an academic mediocrity like Jared Kushner simply gets his father to write a check."

Jared Kushner was responsible for what may be the biggest political upheaval in the Middle East in 40 years. I'll take that kind of academic mediocrity any day over all of the State Department bureaucrats and DC consultant class. Which is exactly why the establishment freaked out over Trump: he demonstrates just how little merit the meritocracy actually has.

James K said...

I actually read Young's book in college, and it took me a while to realize that it was dystopian satire, because it didn't seem so bad to me. In any case, this terrible "meritocracy," i.e. free markets, has led to the greatest rise in the standard of living of the least well off in the history of mankind. Why does inequality matter if the poorest are doing better and better? What's hindered the poor the most is the rise of dependency on the welfare state, which UBI will only make worse.

MikeR said...

Dispiriting indeed. And no obvious solution at all; Mickey's suggestions are the kind of thing that won't happen on their own, so they won't happen.
"Colonize space". That one would work, if we could do it. We need frontiers to be healthy.

Darkisland said...

The other problem with AA (not Ann Althouse) is the effect it has on how people view minorities and other beneficiaries like women.

Did that black, hispanic, woman, gay, pretend woman etc get their job because they are good? or because they got special dispensation. No matter how good they actually are, there will always be doubt.

Even more corrosive is the self-doubt. "Did I get this job, promotion, admission etc, because I am good? And if so, how will I ever know I am good or not?"

John Henry

tim maguire said...

People at the top always believe they got there by being better. System don't change easily in part because the people in the best position to make changes to the system succeeded under the current system.

Lucid-Ideas said...

Speaking from a military perspective...and I'm sure that there are others that have seen this in action.

One of the hardest things about meritocracy is the establishment of what 'merits' in the first place. NCO and commissioned officer promotions are quite literally the best case study for this because A) military institutions are incredibly old, B) have significant motivation to apply and use only those things that work or have very high efficacy, C) have unusually high degrees of merit-based specifications, standards, evaluations, and expertise.

My point is that specifically even with "C", there are still personality factors, relationships (the 'who you know' factor), and who observes you doing what at what time. Even in a system with library-sized reference collections for 'what merits' those things that get you 'upped' are still, sadly and often enough, a black box, and anyone who's ever made it past O-4 will tell you that.

It is made even harder by the fact that, for the most part, the military is an organization where people are generally good at their jobs and have the educational foundation to ensure that, in many ways far more so in my opinion than the private sector (which is strange, because the private sector is more profit driven). So in a situation, for instance Full-bird Colonels trying to clinch their star, where you're trying to decide among tens or low hundreds of candidates who are all 99% effective for the most part, how do you make your decision? As we've seen recently in the last 8-10 years (especially with the Obama administration), adherence to some political dogma or policy position is more often the deciding factor instead of ability to fight and win wars.

Ultimately, merit-based systems are incredibly difficult to implement and generally when they have existed throughout history (which is rare) they generally don't last very long before corruption of the original standard sets in.

You can have as much equal opportunity as you want, but you will never have equality of outcomes.

doctrev said...

Kaus must be more sarcastic than usual. Anyone who looks at modern society before concluding that Ben Shapiro and Jeff Epstein have the "most ability" may have suffered fetal brain damage, or be a truly shameless catamite. Thankfully, dunking on these disgusting cretins is commonplace on both the left and the right. Despite what Youtube would have you believe, making fun of Shapiro is practically the national sport. And is admittedly better than the SJW-NFL.

I don't particularly love Jared Kushner, for obvious reasons. But among the People of Merit, he's negotiated peace deals that will be the core of a major regional alliance. That's quite a bit of accomplishment compared to Thomas Friedman, Ghislaine Maxwell, or Sarah Silverman.

Bruce Hayden said...

Kaus kills his argument with this: “ Today, an academic mediocrity like Jared Kushner simply gets his father to write a check.“. Kushner, sometimes called Trump’s Brain” who was instrumental in getting his father-in-law elected President, through his use of micro targeting using social media backdoors, as well as at least one of his Nobel Peace Prize nominations. There has been a seismic shift in the Middle East over the last 3 1/2 years, with a new Sunni centric peace, and its primary architect, Jared Kushner is denigrated by Kay’s as being too stupid to be admitted to an elite school absent his father’s money. Kaus, and many of Kushner’s other detractors, just wish that they were able to have even 10% as much effect on the world as Kushner has had.

He would have done far better to have used Fredo Cuomo, who got into Harvard based on his father being the governor of NY, and demonstrates his shortage of intelligence nightly on cable TV. Or Teddy Kennedy, who got into UVA LS by his father having bought the school a new building, after having been thrown out of Harvard for cheating (where his entrance was similarly purchased by his father). Indeed, it has been pointed out that the easiest way to get into Harvard is to have a prominent Dem politician as a parent: Pelosi, Schumer, etc. all had kids go there. AlGore had 4 of his go there (not surprising, since that was how he got in Harvard - his father was a prominent Dem Senator, and was admitted with SATs significantly below those of many here).

Ice Nine said...

>>"The downside of all this, most obviously, is a decrease in GDP. That's a problem if you think the #1 job of the U.S. is to stand toe to toe with China and maintain our "number one spot on the global stage.""<<

Yeah, that's a big problem - and an untenable one since the #1 job of China is to get its toe, followed by its foot, on our throat.

Well, Mick, it's back to meritocracy I guess, if we want to survive.

Dan in Philly said...

As Tyler Cowen said, average is over. More and more excellence is rewarded for the oversized value they give to the world, and marginal workers get less of a growing pie. While better off overall this can cause resentment and envy. How to solve this problem without killing the goose that lays the golden eggs (capitalize and meritocracy combined with technology)?

Fernandinande said...

How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in it!

J. Farmer said...

The Rise of the Meritocracy had a big impact on me, along with Charles Murray's The Bell Curve. The former was the prediction, and the latter was the description. Reconciling the message of these two books is the social project of our generation and why "free market" or "small government" solutions will not work. Nor can we expect traditional welfare liberalism to fix the problem. Kaus' preferred solution (#7) is exactly what he was advocating in his early 90's book The End of Equality.

Leland said...

I have a problem with Kaus "large public sector". I've worked in such and seen it up close. You put poorly qualified candidates in positions, and then, to give them agency, you make their roles critical to some function. The result is that function is performed poorly resulting in increasing costs and some times disastrous results.

Can we get away from the idea of "intellectual" as being a good thing? Industrious used to be a well accepted term.

Roger Sweeny said...

Those who want to know a little more about where Kaus is coming from might read his 1992 (new preface 1995) The End of Equality. A lot of the facts and figures are three decades old but I'm pretty sure he'd stand by the analysis.

(There's a lot of research in the book and I can't help wondering if he hoped it would have the impact of Charles Murray's Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980 (1984). It didn't, and afterward it seems like he dropped off the public intellectual fast track.)

Balfegor said...

I think a lot of inequality can be papered over by a shared sense of national identity and purpose. Japan has, if anything, a sharper distinction between academic winners and losers, given how much harder it is to switch tracks mid-career there, but hasn't experienced a conservative/populist revolt the way the US, UK, France, and most of the Western powers have. Partly that's probably because Japan's ruling class is, along a number of axes, probably the most conservative in the entire world.

But I think that's also because the academically elite bureaucracy at least pretends to respect the wishes and desires of the people they serve, rather than acting like missionaries bringing Christianity to darkest Africa. The disdain with which the professional classes in the US treat the peoples they govern can't help but provoke resentment in return.

I think economic inequality is only a small part of this picture. E.g. the Gini coefficient in Korea is actually lower than Japan (slightly) or the US (by a lot), but you feel the "impudence of wealth" a lot more in Korea, simply because of highly publicised incidents where rich people flaunt their wealth and power openly by flagrantly disrespecting their employees or service sector workers, or cheat to evade military service or get their children into prestigious universities. Obviously we have that last category here too (e.g. both the recent admissions scandals, and the regular practice of rewarding donations with admissions slots) as does Japan (e.g. the recent scandal where a Ministry of Health and Welfare bureaucrat pulled strings to get his son into a medical school), but not so much of the former. It's the attitude of those with wealth and power that makes the biggest difference. Even if it's just hypocritical pretense, you need to make the effort to pretend to respect the people you're bossing around.

madAsHell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Oso Negro said...

This entire line of thinking is rooted in a particular cultural and temporal frame that neither Kaus nor Young acknowledge, namely that of a late-20th, early 21st century Ivy-League-educated American. I think we are actually on approach 8, which I will term "Nature's Way". This view, rooted in population biology (OMG! E.O. Wilson!) postulates that the advantage of higher educational attainment and selective breeding exists only within a particular set of ecological and social conditions at a particular time in a particular region of the planet and these are subject to change at any time, planned or unexpected. So Ivy-League lawyer types (hello Althouse!) have generally prospered in the conditions in the USA in the past 50 years. BUT! Change the ecological and social framework, and their success could not be achieved in the same way. For example, what chance did the Buddhist monks in 1295 have against Ghazan Khan? What would Althouse have done as a woman in such circumstances? Countries and cultures don't last forever and human nature doesn't change too much. I fully expect our "elites" to continue to attempt to preserve every advantage for themselves and their offspring. But if the power-grid goes down, to pick a contemporary possibility, it's better to be among the workers of a single American oil refinery than among the collected law faculty of the entire USA. It's easy to envision a possible future in which practical skills have a better chance of biological success than book-learning. The future may be easier, or far more brutal.

jc somewhere said...

So many of these solutions have an implicit requirement that some people will just happily pay to support other people who make no contribution to "society". I don't think people are that generous, and I expect the haves will be happy to rid themselves of the have-nots as soon as they can. It's just a matter of wrapping palatable policy language around the ugly deed.

Jupiter said...

"What to do when we no longer have enough jobs that practically anyone can do, but that pay enough to allow, if not a "middle class" life, a life as a full participant in society."

Around the end of the 19th century, we began the fairly rapid transition from an economy in which over 90% of workers were involved with food production, to one in which fewer than 5% are. That's a lot of "jobs that practically anyone can do". My grandfather had a pretty good job, following a mule up and down a huge field all day. That job is long gone, and I have to feed my family by slaving over a hot keyboard. It's rough. Rough!

Achilles said...

You can go to the link to read the 7 approaches. #7 is Kaus's own. He also finds the entire list "quite dispiriting." An alternative is to reject meritocracy.


Kaus does not address the primary issue which is how capital is applied and who decides how it is applied.

The US is the best place in the world to live because most of the capital is directed by the 1%.

The alternative is to have capitol controlled by the .00001% or to have it applied by a combination of .00001% and bureaucrats like the rest of the world.

Kaus lives in a dream world. Our system is really really awful... It is just better than all of the others amrite?

Gabriel said...

There's merit, and meritocracy, and the two ought not to be confused.

If society throws its business to the best plumbers--who on average will tend to be the smartest plumbers, all else being equal--that's merit.

If we suck all the smart people out of plumbing and send them to Harvard so they can become Federal satraps--that's meritocracy.

Balfegor said...

Re: Mr. Wibble:

Jared Kushner was responsible for what may be the biggest political upheaval in the Middle East in 40 years. I'll take that kind of academic mediocrity any day over all of the State Department bureaucrats and DC consultant class. Which is exactly why the establishment freaked out over Trump: he demonstrates just how little merit the meritocracy actually has.

I think what Kushner's (and Trump's!) success demonstrates is that there's dimensions of human interaction where raw intelligence doesn't really matter all that much. I would guess I'm probably smarter than Trump on straight reasoning and fact retention. But Trump is lightyears beyond me in terms of his ability to read people, and is an intuitive, "lateral" thinker to boot. That and he has a much, much higher appetite for risk. And a lot of the time, that's what you need, not the kind of deliberate, rationalised, process-oriented approach favoured by bureaucrats and people like me.

J. Farmer said...

@James K:

Why does inequality matter if the poorest are doing better and better? What's hindered the poor the most is the rise of dependency on the welfare state, which UBI will only make worse.

That depends on what you mean by "doing better." If life is about access to cheap consumer goods, then they are doing better.

For the upper class, outsourcing manufacturing and importing cheap migrants is a wonderful thing. They get to reduce their costs. But for the working class that relied on those jobs, they've been devastated. Many of them end up dropping out of the work force, going on SSI, and developing a pill addiction.

John Marzan said...

Get rid of meritocracy, and china will eat your lunch within 10 years.

J. Farmer said...

@Mr. Wibble:

Jared Kushner was responsible for what may be the biggest political upheaval in the Middle East in 40 years. I'll take that kind of academic mediocrity any day over all of the State Department bureaucrats and DC consultant class. Which is exactly why the establishment freaked out over Trump: he demonstrates just how little merit the meritocracy actually has.

There are two unexamined assumptions in this statement: that Kushner was the one primarily responsible and that this "political upheaval" is a good thing.

Joe Smith said...

My father (a blue collar guy) always emphasized education and 'working with your brain, not your hands.'

All of his four kids are relatively successful in different fields as a result of following his advice.

My father didn't go to college, he had to help the family pay the rent, but is one of the smartest people I will ever know.

Because of my upbringing, I have a great deal of respect for people who work tough jobs. Sometimes there is a lot of money in it but more often not. Either way, people who work, no matter what their job, should be valued...

daskol said...

Micky Kaus has been pointing this stuff out for a long time: I read his thoughtful book The End of Equality in a government class in early 90s. It's basically an elaboration of his suggestion 7 above. I found it upsetting then, as it challenged my assumptions about the value and benefits and fairness of meritocratic systems, but it has made more and more sense to me as I've gain personal and professional experience in the world. Even in other classes, I remember tying together how assortative mating, for example, was creating rampant inequality, but how could people choosing who they want to marry be bad? And what could be done about it? Probably the most challenging ideas to my implicit worldview were raised by Kaus' book, which I at first disliked. He was red-pilled before that was even a thing.

wild chicken said...

I love Mickey but I think he *and other elites* sadly misunderestimate the deplorables. Or, conflate skilled or industrious non-college workers with an idle, unskilled underclass.

I suspect they don't know any of either.


daskol said...

Balfegor, if intelligence or intelligence factor as measured by IQ is anything, its speed. And while I often enjoy your commentary and find it insightful, I haven't seen any reason to think that even in a "straight reasoning" contest you (or too many others I've seen) have an edge over Trump. He may not be intellectual in habit or manner, but he's got a lightning fast mind, and seems to retain a tremendous amount of information. I think it's no longer fashionable to classify any kind of IQ category as genius, but I imagine if we were using the old classifications, there's no question Trump would fall in that range.

Political Junkie said...

I am a fan of Mickey. Gotten hooked on his Bloggingheads with Bob Wright.Have been a long time lurker for 3 blogs: AA,Kaus,Intsy since around 2003, I think.

Jupiter said...

I note that Kaus believes there is a problem, and the way to deal with it is for smart people to think hard until they find a solution which they will then impose upon the rest of us. So, what was the problem again?

Jupiter said...

"I would guess I'm probably smarter than Trump on straight reasoning and fact retention."

A lot of people guess that. Looking at your writing, I would guess that you have spent a fair amount of time in situations where demonstrating verbal ability confers status. You probably work pretty hard at it. Trump seems to have other priorities.

gilbar said...

we no longer have enough jobs that practically anyone can do

actually; we have PLENTY of jobs that practically anyone can do...
That's why all these immigrants and illegal aliens keep coming here.

if you are an american citizen, or have a green card....
a) get a job at the Casey's gas station down the street
b) work full time (with benefits)
c) don't steal, or do drugs, or sexually harass people (on the job, anyway)
d) next year, you'll be a shift manager
e) year after that; you'll be running the store
f) get married, and have kids

easy peasy

tim in vermont said...

"What to do when we no longer have enough jobs that practically anyone can do, but that pay enough to allow, if not a 'middle class' life, a life as a full participant in society. There seem to be at least seven approaches....”

We shipped ‘em all to fucking China. With the complicity of the owning class Democrats and Republicans, then brought in millions of illegals to compete for the jobs that were left. Automation only covers part of the answer, there would still be a lot of jobs that weren’t automated, they just went where the wages were low enough to undercut what little bargaining power people at the bottom had here.

Fernandinande said...

An alternative is to reject meritocracy.

Not possible, short of a "Brave New World" or subsistence level hunter-gatherer society. Not using tests or other indirect measures of "real world" ability would make very little difference because the real world would still be there.

gilbar said...

https://www.caseys.com/careers

Kate said...

An unfair system in which success is determined randomly is basically Hollywood actors. Beauty, talent -- you won the DNA lottery. You aren't smarter, more educated, harder working (mostly). You just got lucky.

These people, probably because of their guilt that they are rich and famous due to random outcomes, are the most entitled, bossy jerks in America. Kaus needs to nix this idea.

Temujin said...

There will always be a need for plumbers and electricians. There will always be a need for people to build homes, buildings. Actual carpenters. Sure a robot could do it, but we'll be developing robots to do other things, such as fight in wars, or build other robots to do big things, such as surgery. We won't build robots to do great wood work.

What I'm saying is that Kaus may not be correctly naming meritocracy. We are early on in the tech era, and as such we have seen that everyone with some tech ability makes a good living. We have placed a great deal of value on anyone or anything that has to do with tech. Which is why so many have been working so hard for years do develop stupid little ideas that could turn into a major IPO and then they can walk away with billions at age 23. But I would not call that meritocracy.

Currently in tech many make a great living. A fabulous living. And, like the overpriced real estate in Seattle and Silicon Valley, the wages for some of these people are way beyond their actual market worth, especially as the schools crank out more and more tech degree holding people. Even though the number of tech workers will continue to rise, those offering a unique productivity will become fewer. Wages will need to reset. Like the real estate market in Seattle and eventually Silicon Valley, the wages for these tech people will start to come down. As more and more of them leave the universities with their degrees in hand, those earning at the higher levels will be phased out for younger, less pricey help. The market adjusts. Sometimes slowly, but it adjusts.

What Kaus is calling meritocracy is, to me, timing. It's the age we live in, racing into a fully technologically driven life. And with Covid, much has been revealed. Like- who is actually useful to the marketplace? What schools are producing what we need? What companies are nimble enough to adjust and survive?

You can hire all the Harvard grads you want, but they're not going to fix your pipes when they get clogged, or run new electric wiring to code in the house you're renovating in Connecticut, or fix your Lexus when it stops working correctly. And many of them are not going to know what to do when things don't go as planned.

I dunno. I'm not worried about a meritocracy. I don't see that we have one now. I think we have a classocracy. I'm not a Marxist and am not calling for tearing the whole thing down. And I don't see any argument for equal outcomes. We're simply not the same, so there will never be equal outcomes. But I do believe in the marketplace. I do think it will sort things out. Eventually. As it always does. There is nothing closer to nature at work than the marketplace left unencumbered.

tim in vermont said...

The thing that Trump questions is the assumption that jobs have to disappear through “technology and trade.” Technology, sure, that’s hard to argue with, but “trade” covers a lot issues from forced labor in China, also known as slave labor, to tolerance for working conditions in other countries that undercut our labor which in the United States would be viewed as inhuman, let alone inhumane.

It’s like we are on a large ship that is on a course to inflict economic ruin on a large number of the passengers, and there is an iron consensus among those benefitting from this course, and insulated from the damage, and not just incidentally, view it as their natural right to rule, that we cannot change course.

Globalism is not inevitable, it’s just extremely profitable to the people at the top, who view the populace as an engineering problem, and view immigration as a way to get a more pliable electorate.

tim in vermont said...

Mickey’s the best, just sayin.

Political Junkie said...

I am a fan of Mickey. Gotten hooked on his Bloggingheads with Bob Wright.Have been a long time lurker for 3 blogs: AA,Kaus,Intsy since around 2003, I think.

Gabriel said...

@Balfegor:there's dimensions of human interaction where raw intelligence doesn't really matter all that much.

Got it in one.

All else being equal, intelligence is going to be the deciding factor more often than any other trait. But all else is rarely equal. Experience, training, opportunity, luck, charisma, can offset intelligence.

The caveat being that intelligence will make the best use of these things. For example, someone not very bright with a lot of experience might best the bright, until circumstances change and he isn't able to adapt because his experience no longer applies, he doesn't recognize it, and cannot figure out how to see or do things differently.

Sebastian said...

"By hiring and firing as they saw fit, through connections or tests"

This compounds the problem: it still favors cognitive skills through tests, and adds status-privileging.

"because the system would not be fair. It would be blatantly, transparently random

And everyone would be fine with an unfair, blatantly random system. Sure. (And everyone would just accept that hiring through connections and tests is "random" allocation.)

And everyone would accept lower GDP. Sure.

No. Any system will allocate positions unequally, and in any system the people at the bottom are worse off. Capitalist meritocracy happens to produce a much higher, nicer bottom than any other system. Fiddling with it will not get rid of sorting, but it may lower everyone's quality of life to close to the bottom.

Greg The Class Traitor said...

John Marzan said...
Get rid of meritocracy, and china will eat your lunch within 10 years.

"Meritocracy" as defined in the West, has been self-absorbed narcissists waning off together, getting personally richer while burins down the society they live in, and calling it "good."

China HAS been "eating our lunch", BECAUSE of the current Western "meritocracy."

We need to end the credentialitis of the current "meritocracy", and replace it with an actual meritocracy that rewards based on what YOU can do, not on who gave you a credential.

Of course, doing that destroyed "affirmative action", which is why it will be a hard fight to do it

tim in vermont said...

"I would guess I'm probably smarter than Trump on straight reasoning and fact retention.”

I don’t know about your case, but I have never had the first hint that I was smarter than Trump, unlike Obama, who seems like he has an IQ of about 115 combined with poor work habits, a dreadful combination. Or Hillery, for that matter, who allowed Sydney Blumenthal to be her Svengali, for cripes sakes. George W Bush was so captive to the same infra-government pushing this globalist agenda that it’s hard to judge how smart he was since he was just an errand boy.

I made up a joke about W on that subject, it goes like this:

How did W know when Laura was having her period?
Because Cheney’s dick tasted funny.

Ok, it’s an adaptation of an old joke I once heard in Australia.

You can say that Trump’s cunning comes from instinct, but that’s just another way of saying you are unable to follow his reasoning.

Greg The Class Traitor said...

J. Farmer said...
@Mr. Wibble:

Jared Kushner was responsible for what may be the biggest political upheaval in the Middle East in 40 years. I'll take that kind of academic mediocrity any day over all of the State Department bureaucrats and DC consultant class. Which is exactly why the establishment freaked out over Trump: he demonstrates just how little merit the meritocracy actually has.

There are two unexamined assumptions in this statement: that Kushner was the one primarily responsible and that this "political upheaval" is a good thing.


Well, if you're not eager to see every Jew in Israel murdered, and you're not a fan of terrorism, then the "political upheaval" of peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors, and the sidelining of the Palestinians is a good thing.

And it's pretty clearly established that "the political experts" were all on one side saying "you're doing it all wrong" while the Trump Admin was accomplishing all this.

Because the West's "meritocracy" isn't.

Yancey Ward said...

Status is a zero sum game. Wealth is not, nor are outcomes. Outcomes just aren't equal and never will be- smarter and better looking people will always come out on top regardless of the rules you enact.

MarkW said...

The solution is work in the non-tradeable sector (jobs that have to be done right here rather than overseas):

- Construction and other trades
- Maintenance (trucks, cars, industrial equipment, etc)
- Lawn care / landscaping
- K12 teaching
- Various kinds of medical care (there are a LOT more clerks and techs than brain-surgeons)

Rich Silicon Valley dudes still need roofers, plumbers, therapists, etc.

What about people who lack the skills or discipline (can't pass a drug test) to do even these jobs? Well, I guess that's what the safety net is for.

Mr Wibble said...

Ultimately, merit-based systems are incredibly difficult to implement and generally when they have existed throughout history (which is rare) they generally don't last very long before corruption of the original standard sets in.

As a military officer I concluded that any system of evaluation lasts at most three iterations. After that everyone figures out how to game it. There's value in destruction of the existing order for the sake of destruction. Create an environment where new ideas can take hold.

Boca Condo King said...

You know, if you stop allowing illegal and unskilled legal immigrants in to take jobs "that practically anyone can do" wages for unskilled labor would go way up.

IE, here in Florida in the 90s roofers made around $18.00 an hour or 36 to 40 (with overtime) grand per year. A small house cost back then about 50k so a roofer (not the roofing company owner) could afford a small home and support a family.

Today my last roofer customer (I sell payroll and workers compensation coverage as a package) pays his top employees under $14.00 per hour and the only requirement he had of any of the companies I represent is "no everify"

Jobs that would provide a reasonable chance to support a family in exchange for hard physical labor, have been filled by illegals driving down wages.

In South Florida, you can make more money (along with having social security, woker's compensation coverage etc.) at a WalMart or McDonalds than you can working in construction.

Let me REPEAT, you can make more money in McDonalds than you can in Construction.. Of Course you have to be legal to work in the USA to work at McDonalds etc.

Sebastian said...

"the military is an organization where people are generally good at their jobs and have the educational foundation to ensure that"

Yes, political considerations come into play, and determining merit s fuzzier for high, multidimensional positions. But matching aptitude to position is the essence of meritocracy, so that "people are generally good at their jobs." You want such a system. Meritocratic allocation plus market competition = greatest good for the greatest number. It stinks, but less than all the alternatives.

Gabriel: "The caveat being that intelligence will make the best use of these things."

And that will always be the case. There's no way back. Kill the tech jobs, and the techies will become better carpenters, on average. Etc. Intelligence rules, not by itself of course, sometimes offset by personality issues, and so on--but on average, overall, it drives performance and outcomes. As a society, you want to make the best possible use of intelligence. Moving to a system where the best possible use of intelligence is systematically discouraged will produce a new sense of injustice. Smart people will want to game or change that system.

Mr Wibble said...

I think what Kushner's (and Trump's!) success demonstrates is that there's dimensions of human interaction where raw intelligence doesn't really matter all that much. I would guess I'm probably smarter than Trump on straight reasoning and fact retention. But Trump is lightyears beyond me in terms of his ability to read people, and is an intuitive, "lateral" thinker to boot. That and he has a much, much higher appetite for risk. And a lot of the time, that's what you need, not the kind of deliberate, rationalised, process-oriented approach favoured by bureaucrats and people like me.

I agree that there is more to success than raw intelligence. Anyone who's dealt with MENSA members can probably vouch for that. And Trump's ability to "read the room" is amazing. It's why Twitter worked so well for him: he could throw off dozens or hundreds of tweets, and pick up on the themes that actually resonated with people. It's also why he does so well with the big rallies, where he can feed off the energy of the crowd.

My point was merely to address Kaus' assertion that Kushner was somehow mediocre. If he is, then he's doing a hell of a lot better than the supposedly smart kids at the State Department and CFR.

hstad said...


Blogger Mr Wibble said..."...We don't have a meritocracy. We have the illusion of a meritocracy. Credentialism replaces talent, and everyone figures out how to game the system...." 9/23/20, 9:10 AM

My friend that's a sweeping of a statement[opinion] not backed by the facts. My experience is just the opposite. "Meritocracy" does work! I've seen it most often is in the 'Small Businesses' marketplace which accounts for over 75% of all jobs in the USA. "Meritocracy' is the only thing that successfully works in the 'Small Business' arena. The economy is ever changing and if your business strategy is gaming the system you will not survive. It is more frequently noticed in the 'Small Business' marketplace. My experience of over 50 years as a Banker financing all business, small and large, has shown me that. The marketplace is littered with failed businesses both large and small who game the system. Look at any list of Dow Jones [NASDAQ - Russell 2000] from the 1960s vs. today and you'll notice the addition of new names and the absence of old names. A merit system increases your survival over the long run.

Michael K said...

It’s like we are on a large ship that is on a course to inflict economic ruin on a large number of the passengers, and there is an iron consensus among those benefitting from this course, and insulated from the damage, and not just incidentally, view it as their natural right to rule, that we cannot change course.


I agree with this and I also believe there are many jobs that require skill and training but not college. I posted the question, "How many black plumbers have you seen?" Still have not seen a reply. I do know a master plumber from Germany who, with his midwife wife, waited years to win the immigration visa lottery. He settled in Tucson and is busy.

Sebastian said...

Blogger J. Farmer said...
The Rise of the Meritocracy had a big impact on me, along with Charles Murray's The Bell Curve. The former was the prediction, and the latter was the description. Reconciling the message of these two books is the social project of our generation and why "free market" or "small government" solutions will not work. Nor can we expect traditional welfare liberalism to fix the problem.

Agreed: that is the fundamental social project.

Nitpicking (imagine that): freer markets do work for the kinds of things they can do, one of which is to sustain a system that, for all its built-in contradictions, nonetheless works a lot better than anything else human beings have tried, even when it cannot fully reconcile meritocratic allocation, persistent differences in aptitude, and expectations of equality.

cubanbob said...

Given the trends in science it isn't implausible that genetic engineering could lead to the base intelligence being brought up to an IQ of 140. Try to imagine a world where the bottom IQ is 140. Then what?

Thistlerose said...

There are plenty of jobs that anyone can do but they require you to show up to work everyday and some weeks you may need to work 50 or 60 hours if your boss needs to get a job finished. Also to many people feel that because they spent 5 years in college they deserve to have a house and car as nice as the one their parents spent 30 years working to earn.

I think that one of the reasons that Trump is so hated by the elites is that he respects the people who build his hotels as much as the people who finance it. And in to many peoples minds that is just plain evil to think someone that works with their hands has as much value as someone who works with their mind.

DW Hepner said...

Rejection of meritocracy is inevitably endorsement of aristocracy.

Balfegor said...

Re: Jupiter:

A lot of people guess that. Looking at your writing, I would guess that you have spent a fair amount of time in situations where demonstrating verbal ability confers status

I'm a lawyer so that's true in a sense. But I actually think of verbal facility as a kind of imitation of intelligence, bearing only a weak connection to actual reasoning ability (lawyers rely at least as much on rhetoric as on logical reasoning). My degree is in mathematics. I was absolutely average in my class on mathematics (I think I was 12 out of 25), but my classmates there were, on average, a lot smarter than either my classmates in law school or the lawyers I work with/against in practice even if the lawyers could talk circles around them. And in turn, while lawyers aren't nearly as smart as they think they are, I feel comfortable that they're still smarter than the average.

But the whole point of my comment to which you're responding is "so what?" I don't think Trump is a genius (I know people who worked with him directly before he became a reality TV star, and their assessment was that he was "dumb as a stump," which, uh, seems like an exaggeration given his subsequent success: he's no Chauncey Gardiner). But regardless, he has extraordinary strengths in other areas, particularly his ability to understand what other people really want, his ability to intuit potential solutions, and his willingness to ignore conventional wisdom from time to time. And for people in a leadership position, those are probably far more important mental qualities than IQ. We don't recruit brilliant mathematicians to serve as our political leaders and there's no reason we should (although see the PM of Singapore, who was Senior Wrangler at Cambridge -- but he's PM for dynastic reasons, not his IQ).

n.n said...

So, who gets the beachfront estate in Hawaii, in Martha's Vineyard?

Gabriel said...

What I'm seeing in the comments is people read "reject meritocracy" and confuse it with "reject merit".

There is almost no one who would reject merit. There is very little plausible case for rejecting merit. Meritocracy is a different thing from merit.

It's the difference between technology and technocracy, the difference between theology and theocracy, between science and scientism.

Meritocracy is an abuse of the principle of merit.

Bruce Hayden said...

“ There are two unexamined assumptions in this statement: that Kushner was the one primarily responsible and that this "political upheaval" is a good thing.”

Maybe not examined here. But I think that the Trump Administration has done a significant job at reorienting Middle East diplomacy and power from Iran to esp the Gulf states. I don’t know what Obama and Kerry thought they were doing, giving Iran pallets of cash, that Iran immediately shoveled to their terrorist surrogates, and entered into a toothless agreement with them that really didn’t do much to prevent them from getting nuclear weapons. In any case, Trump withdrew from the agreement, reimposed sanctions, tightened them, wiped out some Iranian military leaders, etc, and instead of the bloodshed expected by all of the foreign policy experts, ended up with peace breaking out throughout the region.

Kushner appears to have been involved in several aspects. One was in relationships. Not surprisingly, as a fairly conservative Jew, he had close relationships with Israeli leaders. But he also got close to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, and their relationship also got Israel and Saudi Arabia to come together. One of the key things that MBS has done with his power is to crack down on the support that other Saudi princes, plus some of their other rich elites, were providing Muslim terrorist around the world. It should be remembered that OBL was Saudi, as were most of the 9/11 hijackers. We have spent much of the last two decades fighting terrorists funded by Saudi money. These Saudis were jailed (many in an opulent prison) and some were executed - including Jamal Khashoggi, for the offense of working closely With, and funding, enemies of the Saudi state, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Khashoggi was their middle man to the MB, and that is why he was executed. He was close to the bin Laden family, and OBL in particular. Saudi (and Gulf) funded terrorism has mostly disappeared as a result, leaving Iran, under serious economic pressure by the US, as almost the only party still funding ME terrorism.

Gabriel said...

@cubanbob:Try to imagine a world where the bottom IQ is 140. Then what?

Erm, IQ is normed to the mean, so you're saying "everyone is above average". But I know what you MEAN, what would happen in the future if everyone alive had what is today an IQ of 140.

First there'd be a lot of corpses. Then a lot of robots. Isaac Asimov wrote about them, he called them "Spacers". In his fiction they eventually became a cultural dead end, but I don't know what the real world would show.

Because you can have the same conversation about a world where the bottom IQ is 80 rather 60 or 40, i. e. the world we are in now.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Given that my husband's online handle is The DumbPlumber 😁 ...I agree with the sentiment that we will always need skilled trades people. Jobs that cannot be outsourced or done by robots.

However, the Meritocracy whereby people by the virtue of ONLY having a college degree are put into positions where they make decisions based on academic and NOT real life experience is a dangerous position.

Deciding intellectually, academically, theoretically...... without having experience is one of the biggest reasons our government is a failure.

The reason that Trump is a success, despite not being an accepted member of The Meritocracy is that he HAS the real life experience of running, succeeding and YES!! failing too. In addition to having gone through business training, Wharton....he has gone through the hard knock training of New York real estate and construction.

You learn not only by the book, you learn from your success and you learn from your mistakes.

The Elite Class that we have now are not only useless...they are dangerous.

Michael K said...

I think that one of the reasons that Trump is so hated by the elites is that he respects the people who build his hotels as much as the people who finance it.

I agree completely and he has shown this repeatedly even before the President thing.

Michael K said...

Jobs that would provide a reasonable chance to support a family in exchange for hard physical labor, have been filled by illegals driving down wages.

It isn't limited to wages. I used to review workers comp claims in CA. more than a third were illegals. I knew a guy who was an investigator for the state workers comp fund (SCIF). He said roofers employing illegals had no safety gear. Maybe a rope was it.

tim in vermont said...

Here is another example that bears out my ship metaphor:

Like the president he served, John Kerry, who was still the secretary of state, knew better. “Let me tell you a few things that I’ve learned for sure in the last few years,” Kerry said at a public event. “There will be no separate peace between Israel and the Arab world. I want to make that very clear to all of you.” Kerry, it’s worth remembering, had made an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement his top priority during the first two years of his tenure. After many intensive rounds of diplomacy, he failed entirely; yet he remained convinced that the strategic priority of the United States was to continue failing, in the service of what he saw as immutable diplomatic principles.

“By taking a different approach, we achieved different outcomes—far superior outcomes,” Trump said in his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday morning. “We took an approach and the approach worked.” Trump, who had much less experience in the Middle East than Obama or Kerry, was able to chart a different path because the path was very clearly lit, and because he wants to win.


https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/israel-middle-east/articles/abraham-accords-trump

Skeptical Voter said...

Why an academic mediocrity like Obama (we still haven't seen those transcripts and we never will--just as we won't see the "publishable" piece of law review work that's normally a preqrequite for being named an editor, much less President of the Harvard Law Review) can get elected President of the United States and even get a Nobel Peace Prize.

And a fellow who is much less than an acdemic mediocritiy (76th out of a class of 85 in a second or third tier law school) can become very wealthy on a government salary and be Vice President--and maybe even President of the United States.

I'm personally "credentialled" and have worked among the credentialled for my professional career. I've also met a lot of highly credentialled fools.

Sebastian said...

Blogger Balfegor said...
But I actually think of verbal facility as a kind of imitation of intelligence

No. Different aspects of intelligence, as measured by tests of verbal and spatial reasoning, tend to be petty strongly correlated.

Birkel said...

Harrison Bergeron, please call your office.

daskol said...

We don't have a meritocracy. We have the illusion of a meritocracy. Credentialism replaces talent, and everyone figures out how to game the system.

I see several comments in this vein, criticizing Kaus' argument on the premise that it presumes we have something like a perfect meritocracy. That's a mistake. The meritocratic aspects need not be anywhere close to perfect: the fact that some people rise to the top not on what you'd consider their merit, but rather through gaming the system/nepotism/etc. does not undermine his argument at all. Anyway, in the aggregate it's certainly true that access to education, from primary to tertiary, and other changes to our society have indeed resulted in an increasingly meritocratic trend. You can see this in the fact that IQ has become an ever better predictor of success, to the extent that it has predictive power: higher IQ people, to a limit, have seen their opportunities to capitalize off their "merit" increase over time. In fact, some of the most vociferous critics of IQ say the reason for this increased correlation is because we've increasingly selected for IQ, rather than using a broader and more accurate measure of merit.

The trend Kaus describes is real and measurable, and does not depend on having "perfect" meritocracy. The problems arising with improved equality of opportunity are real, and Kaus' analysis of nearly 30 years ago looks very prescient. I don't know if that means his suggestion for how to deal with it would work or is practicable. His suggestion does align with things other very smart people say, such as prioritizing character over IQ, as well as some core tenets of nationalistic "citizenism" as advocated by Steve Sailer and other less provocative commentators.

Francisco D said...

Dust Bunny Queen said...
Given that my husband's online handle is The DumbPlumber 😁 ...I agree with the sentiment that we will always need skilled trades people. Jobs that cannot be outsourced or done by robots.

30 years ago, I hired father and son plumbers put a toilet in our basement. The son and I talked and he commented that our jobs were similar (me = psychologist) in that we both had to deal with other people's shit.

I asked him about the plumbing business and was not really surprised when it was clear that he had substantially greater income than I did. My guess is that his work provided greater tangible value than mine and (thanks to free market capitalism) was rewarded appropriately.

Fernandinande said...

smarter and better looking people will always come out on top regardless of the rules you enact.

Ruthlessness, risk taking and manipulative dishonesty are important factors with some rules, perhaps more important than looks and smarts.

Greg The Class Traitor said...

Yancey Ward said...
Status is a zero sum game. Wealth is not, nor are outcomes.

True, but not completely relevant.

Let's take skiing, for an example. Compare the cost of a Lift Ticket now, to the cost of one 40 years ago. The price has skyrocketed, making something that the middle class used to be able to do into something that only the upper middle class / upper class can do.

"America's cognitive elite" have been making a bunch of money off of the rest of the world, bringing that money here, and then outspending other Americans for goods, especially goods for which there's limited availability.

When "nice family trip to X" goes from "something the middle class can do occasionally" to "once in a lifetime", that's a decrease in wealth.

And that's a problem

Fernandinande said...

Try to imagine a world where the bottom IQ is 140.

HG Wells (?) had a story about such a place and time, they were doing a physics experiment that caused a guy and his car to travel into the future from "present day" England. IIRC, it started out with the guy getting dentures...

? Can't find it here

RichardJohnson said...

Michael K
I posted the question, "How many black plumbers have you seen?"

My HOA has had hot water problems for years, with varying degrees of success in dealing with them. As a board member, I have seen a lot of plumbers try to solve our hot water problems. From this I have learned that plumbers have a wide range of competence, from those who are limited to changing washers or installing toilets to those who have an engineer-level of skill in analyzing boiler room configurations. Of all the plumbers I have seen take a look at our boiler room, the best plumber at figuring out where the boiler room pipes went was black.

Birkel said...

The biggest problem with any system that would replace free markets and free people is the destruction of feedback loops provided in the free market system.

Lots has been written on this topic.
People seem not to want my first sentence to be true.
But that won't ever make it less true.

Rusty said...

Blogger J. Farmer said...
@Mr. Wibble:

"Jared Kushner was responsible for what may be the biggest political upheaval in the Middle East in 40 years. I'll take that kind of academic mediocrity any day over all of the State Department bureaucrats and DC consultant class. Which is exactly why the establishment freaked out over Trump: he demonstrates just how little merit the meritocracy actually has.

There are two unexamined assumptions in this statement: that Kushner was the one primarily responsible and that this "political upheaval" is a good thing."

Oh shut up J. You're the last person that should be calling out anyone about 'assumptions'.

Yancey Ward said...

Kind of relevant to this post and one below about Google Adsense.

Michael K said...

Of all the plumbers I have seen take a look at our boiler room, the best plumber at figuring out where the boiler room pipes went was black.

Glad to hear it. I just have never seen one, Maybe racism in apprenticeships? I dunno. My plumber is a retired SeaBee and has a guy he is training, plus his son who came out and fixed a water heater problem for us. Many stay in families, which is great. I just want to see more blacks in trades. The black inner city culture dooms too many of these kids.

Gahrie said...

As a military officer I concluded that any system of evaluation lasts at most three iterations. After that everyone figures out how to game it

If you design your evaluation correctly, this is exactly the outcome you should desire. After all, the best way to "game" the evaluation is to behave and do things exactly the way you want them to. You just reward the ones who are best at doing what you want them to be doing.

What fucks it up, is most evaluations aren't measuring the right things. Then in order to "game" the evaluation, they have to waste time and resources, which makes things worse.

Roger Sweeny said...

Even minor league football pretends to be about brains. "Scholar athletes" my Aunt Annie's fanny.

cubanbob said...

Gabriel said...
@cubanbob:Try to imagine a world where the bottom IQ is 140. Then what?

Erm, IQ is normed to the mean, so you're saying "everyone is above average". But I know what you MEAN, what would happen in the future if everyone alive had what is today an IQ of 140.

First there'd be a lot of corpses. Then a lot of robots. Isaac Asimov wrote about them, he called them "Spacers". In his fiction they eventually became a cultural dead end, but I don't know what the real world would show.

Because you can have the same conversation about a world where the bottom IQ is 80 rather 60 or 40, i. e. the world we are in now."

My question was predicated on the thread question of what to do with people who aren't employable due to lower IQ than needed for the jobs available. If going under my hypothetical nearly everyone possess a more than sufficient IQ to do just about any job what happens with the excess workers? As it is, NASA is basically a welfare project for a number of geniuses. Which is fine by me. I'd rather subsidize geniuses who are advancing civilization versus the general able bodied people on welfare. However how much can society subsidize smart people who can't get jobs simply because there aren't enough jobs for them? Then what?

Unknown said...

These people want to reject meritocracy, but expect their doctor and mechanic and plumber to be top-notch. I've had a self-taught plumber back in college and the water heater exploded. Really. Big mess. Lucky no one was killed.

Unknown said...

Progressives keep adding restrictions that keep people from having opportunities. Like min wage that keep young black men especially from getting experience. Like occupational licensing the makes it hard to do many jobs. Why do you need a cosmetology degree to do nails or braid hair? So many restrictions on a store or restaurant that a guy starting out can't open one.

wildswan said...

The meritocracy was good in that it established the principle that society would benefit from finding and using talent from all levels of society in important positions. But the centralized, scientific society ruled by experts chosen by merit has shown its limitations. That society allowed most of our manufacturing to slip into the hands of China. That society has led to such bizarre dislocations that white rioters are burning down black areas while shouting "Black Lives Matter." That society is unable to analyze the 1619 Project as what it is: The assertion that the Constitutional and social theories of the Confederacy were the foundational theories of the USA which is what the Confederates always claimed. The media in that society are unable to present both sides of an issue. In other words, society is presented with a need for renewal. And that renewal will never come from those who believe that society as it exists is being run being run by a meritocracy and hence by definition is being run the best way. Giuliani in NYC, Walker in Wisconsin and Trump in the White House have all shown that social organizations in the US can be changed for the better but these demonstrations that change at every level can happen are explicitly rejected by those at the top of our "meritocratic" society. At a time of crisis, the media, the Ivy League, the arts - the meritocracy - propose an aged man and an aged program and cheating in place of voting. And that's the best Harvard and Co. can think of to do. I say, through some strange process of social evolution, we're looking at gerontocracy, not meritocracy.

stlcdr said...

Based on comments, here, before one can argue whether meritocracy works (or not) one must define what meritocracy is.

elkh1 said...

Reject meritocracy, only the politically connected should be allowed to make a buck. Just like China.

J. Farmer said...

@Rusty:

Oh shut up J.

King of snappy comebacks strikes again!

Rusty said...

J. Farmer said...
"@Rusty:

Oh shut up J.

King of snappy comebacks strikes again!"
Yup.

Bunkypotatohead said...

" However how much can society subsidize smart people who can't get jobs simply because there aren't enough jobs for them? Then what? "
Then you get the total fertility rates of modern white people in the USA. Many "problems" are self correcting but the timeline is too long to appreciate it.

J. Farmer said...

In case anyone checks back in and is interested in the subject, I’d recommend two books. Why Liberalism Failed by Patrick Deneen and Conservatives Against Capitalism by Peter Kolozi.