Greedy Goblin

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Meritocracy

I've been holding an article for some time. It's against meritocracy, the only fair and non-evil idea. It says "In a meritocracy, all that counts for your success or failure is your biological merits. If you are beautiful. clever, healthy, good-tempered and naturally hard-working, you will (and you ought to) succeed, and if you are ugly, stupid, unhealthy, bad-tempered and naturally lazy you will fail, and no one is allowed to help you. In a world of equal opportunity, all the usual systems and social bonds that help the less biologically advantaged to get ahead – family connections, church, charitable patronage, pity, brute good fortune – are stripped away and called wicked."

I held it for long, because it's not easy to argue against something absurd. Trying to un-absurd it isn't really a compelling argument. I mean it's absurd to count behavior and laziness as genetic traits. If they were, parenting would be a total waste of time. But such counter-argument would lead to the swamp of nature/nurture and arguing over what percentage of "temper" is the responsibility of the person.

The other absurd is that helping others would be stripped away. No one, ever, claimed that people shouldn't help others from their own wallet. However this would lead to the other nasty area of giving successful people the right to not help someone and then argue over if it is a right or they should be forcibly taxed to make sure that everyone helped and so on.

What took so long is to formulate an answer that accept the bizarro world of the socialist who wrote it (and many socialists who agree it). So let's assume that success is totally out of the control of the person and depend on genetics and family background.

Funnily, if we assume this nonsense, meritocracy becomes even more necessary. Why? Because both genetics and family background are inherited. So the kids of a successful person will unavoidably be successful, while the kids of the unsuccessful will be unsuccessful and no one can help it. Being unsuccessful, poor, ugly, unlikeable and ill is suffering. So all the kids of the unsuccessful people are condemned to eternal suffering. With external help their suffering can be decreased - at the cost of making someone else bear part of their burden. The obvious question is what wicked person would condemn children to suffering?! Wouldn't it be much better if we'd prevent the unsuccessful from having them? Of course it would be.

So we must be meritocratic to quarantine the suffering. Those who hold the "genes of suffering" must be identified by their lack of success and stopped from spreading these "genes" and creating suffering children.

Or, we can leave the bizarro world, realize that people are in control of their lives and their suffering is a well-earned, self-inflicted punishment for being lazy and dumb, which should motivate them to ... stop being lazy and dumb.

25 comments:

Azuriel said...

So we must be meritocratic to quarantine the suffering. Those who hold the "genes of suffering" must be identified by their lack of success and stopped from spreading these "genes" and creating suffering children.

So... eugenics.

Or, we can leave the bizarro world, realize that people are in control of their lives and their suffering is a well-earned, self-inflicted punishment for being lazy and dumb, which should motivate them to ... stop being lazy and dumb.

Just-world fallacy and/or eugenics again.

The problem with strict meritocracy is A) it cements an already huge individual advantage (i.e. you are already smart/able/etc under the current system), and B) the fall from grace via car accident, cancer diagnosis, or whatever is far indeed. Your years of experience are irrelevant if the next best worker doesn't need a wheelchair to do your job. I would prefer not living one hospital visit away from permanent disaster, or the general stress of knowing I would be instantly fired if my 98.6% efficiency was surpassed by someone else's 98.8%.

Gevlon said...

@Azuriel:
The risk of accident (if you are otherwise productive) can be removed by paying insurance.

If you are fired because your efficiency is 98.6 and someone else has 98.8, you don't need to be stressed. You just have to ask for 0.2% less salary.

Arrendis said...

If you are fired because your efficiency is 98.6 and someone else has 98.8, you don't need to be stressed. You just have to ask for 0.2% less salary.

Except it doesn't work that way, and it never will. Employers need X people to produce/provide the goods or services they can successfully sell at market. They don't need X+1. So if everyone else is doing the job better than you, as soon as you become the (X+1)th best person doing the job, you get booted.

It's the exact same fallacy that leads people to think 'well, if we lower taxes on the rich/employers, they'll hire more people'. They won't. Not because they can't afford it, but because they don't need it. They don't need those extra people, and producing more than they can sell just means spending money on supplies that they won't profit on.

So asking to 0.2% less salary is lovely, but the boss would rather pay the other guy, and not need you at all, than pay you and someone else to pick up your slack.

Gevlon said...

@Arrendis: and this is the only workplace on the planet. You can't work in a "lesser" company or even in a "lesser" position?

The 99.9% lawyer represents a huge corporation.
The 99% lawyer represents a smaller one.
The 90% lawyer represents rich guy during divorce.
The 50% lawyer represents Joe Nobody on his armed robbery case.
The 10% "lawyer" is the lawyer's secretary.

Anonymous said...

who determines what is meritorious?

Anonymous said...

So the kids of a successful person will unavoidably be successful, while the kids of the unsuccessful will be unsuccessful and no one can help it

this is not entirely correct. There are plenty of cases where the children of unsuccessful have made something of themselves through hard work. Likewise there are children of successful people who have squandered their gifts.

Sure, it's advantageous to have wealthy successful parents but it does not guarantee success in your own right.

Anonymous said...

Without losers, there are no winners.

Gevlon said...

The "winners" are those who produce the most GDP. And I'd love to live in a World where no one are winners because everyone is a highly trained professional and creates great things.

Anonymous said...

"The risk of accident (if you are otherwise productive) can be removed by paying insurance."
Insurance pays you out a small sum of money. It doesn't magically fix you. Imagine you're on your way to your second day of work, and you are one of the most useful people in the world. Your car tire explodes, you go off the road and shatter your spine. You're now paralysed from the neck down. Do we just conk you in the head with a brick or just wait for you to die out because you can't do anything to help yourself and can't pay us enough to care with your tiny insurance payout?

"And I'd love to live in a World where no one are winners because everyone is a highly trained professional and creates great things."
Never going to happen, and if it did, the world would be insanely boring. Whole countries (your own included) would need to be purged from the earth, and things like arts (and even things like this blog) would have to stop existing so we could robotically focus on productivity.

"and this is the only workplace on the planet. You can't work in a "lesser" company or even in a "lesser" position?"
There would always be someone getting fired. In your case it would just mean a 99.9% becomes a 99%, a 99% becomes a 90%, a 90% becomes a 50%, a 50% becomes a 10% and a 10% gets fired. So 4 forceful job changes and a sacking later...

It's easy to sit back and say "this is the way he world should work and it would be perfect!", but reality is a wonderful thing, and there's no way a fully meritocratic system would work.

99smite said...

Scientists have wondered for a very long time, why altruism, self-scrifice and such exist in huge amounts in mankind.
Rationally, it would seem counter-productive to the idea of self preservation...
The solution was finally found:
Altruism and self-sacrifice have positive effects no the survival and the progress of whole tribes/civilizations...

I have a very nice counter-argument for your meritocratic utopia.
A 99.9% lawyer who has achieved everything he wished for, drives home from a business meeting worth another 50k USD. He is in a good mood and because he can afford it and because he likes the feeling of invincibility (which he totally is as he is the best lawyer he knows of...), he sniffs a dose of that funny white powder....
Moments later his Mercedes crashes into an other car he had completely overseen while feeling so meritocratic....
The other driver is a hard working family father of two children, his wife works in a day nursery, he is an engineer and makes about 350k USD a year, so the family is sort of care free on the material side...
The accident leavs this man paralyzed, furthermore with a brain damage, so that he is hardly able to sort nails by length, let alone pursuing his engineering career.
Now, following genetics, this man was still entitled to his 350k job.
Lights back on the lawyer: he runs after the accident, but forensical evidence....
So, he gets busted, DUI, hit and run, excluded from BAR...
So, no more invincibility, although his genetic code would still permit a promising career in court...

Who pays?
p.s.: the invincible meritocratic lawyer is broke. His wife filed for divorce when she found out that he was celebrating his business deals with hookers, Chris Roberts style, regularly fucked his secretary (10% typing, 90% tits)...

Who pays? Who pays?
The laywer's insurance will not cover the damages because of DUI, the laywer hasn'T got any money left.
The engineer's insurance refuses to pay as clearly an identifiable 3rd person is responsable for the accident and they do not cover the risk of bankrupcy of 3rd persons...

Where is the meritocracy in that?

Anonymous said...

The "unfairness" critics of meritocracy lament boils down to the concept of equal opportunity. Is everyone competing on merit with the same opportunities, or are some competitors disadvantaged? Is the disadvantage their fault?

The goal of a meritocratic society should be to guarantee equal opportunities to everyone. In practice people are not always in control of their lives and it might very well be that you end up severely disadvantaged for reasons outside of your control.

Rasmus Forlorn said...

Anyone interested in this subject, there is a lot of success literature out there. Interestingly enough, the character ethics of the 17th to 19th century (inner strength, commitments to values, diligence and perseverance) have been replaced by personality ethics (how to win someone over) in the 20th century and only slowly come back...

Long story short, if you want to be successful, you have to do actual work for it. This gives you the chance to become successful, but not the guarantee. M&Sing removes that chance from your life.

"The 7 habits of highly effective people" (book) is a great start on the topic.

dobablo said...

A pure meritocracy is unachievable. People will use their advantages to leverage an advantage for friends and family and mutual groups will form exclusively to protect their self-interest.
Opportunities for training and advancement are not given to those that would benefit the most from them but to friends of those that hold power. It is at this point that social intervention is required to to break the link between opportunity and power/privilege. A real-world meritocracy is only possible with high levels of social spending to ensure that able but disenfranchised get the opportunities to fill the position that their abilities demand.

Anonymous said...

Meritocracy, if pure, is all fine and well. Two more important considerations come into the equation, though:
1.) All societies have a certain degreee of power-cracy: not a person's merits, but how much money, how much influence he/she has, or how many influential people he/she knows and can influence to help their interests often decide "success". That is bad, because merits do not count insofar.
2.) Because of 1.) and because of humanism and the veil of uncertainty: people who are less meritorious because of bodily or mental impairment should receive "welfare", as you would say.
3.) Many very meritorious activities are, for some strange reason, not very well rewarded: raising and educating children well, or caring for the ill and old come readily to mind.

Karl said...

And I'd love to live in a World where no one are winners because everyone is a highly trained professional and creates great things.

Unless this world also comes with advanced robots, someone (i.e. a human being) will still have to clean the toilets. Now what highly trained professional would like to do that?

This is the main problem with your constant rant against "socialism" or whatever you want to call it. The "capitalist" approach is inherently dependent on exploitation, because someone will have to take out the trash, or clean the toilet, or perform any number of other rather unpleasant or unhealthy jobs. Even if every single human on the planet were an engineer, lawyer, or whatever highly trained professional you’d like them to be, those dirty jobs that need to be done don’t just disappear. They are essential to the human condition.

I’d very much like to hear your solution to this problem. Would there be a rotation where at some point of the week the CEO also has to clean the office toilets? Or maybe those jobs will now be the highest paying ones because they have to be done and nobody wants to do them? What about construction workers or miners and so on? Who would do these jobs?

Anonymous said...

We (humanity) have tried communism where everyone was equal. It lead to concentration of power in government, its utter corruption, and a sense of impotence in society: one person going above and beyond their duties was not rewarded and a person slacking off was not penalized. So most population chose to slack off and GDP plummeted. Government became repressive and the whole thing collapsed.

We are currently experiencing the effect of the reverse extreme: Savage capitalism. It has lead concentration of power into corporations, their deregulation lead to government bribes that in countries like USA are actually legal (called lobbying), and again we have government corruption. Concentration of money leads to investment opportunities also being concentrated into a few people that progressively gets richer by exploring those opportunities and also becomes a more exclusive group. The bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world. This system is headed for collapse in the next 20 years. Its an unsustainable pyramid scheme that ignores global costs like health, happiness and environment.

Yes we need a meritocracy, but one that does not discard its social responsibilities. Where insurance from external misfortunes is a human right that all of society helps to recover from. Where production at the cost of others misery is criminalized. Where knowledge instead of wealth equals respect. Where the profits obtained from the exploration of ideas as progress are shared in a fair way with the workers that help the entrepreneur pursuing them. Where banks serve the noble purpose of allocating money for viable businesses and public works and not hoard the money supply to inflate spread rates and create a world where we are in debt up to our chirdrens lives.

Gevlon said...

@Karl: who cleans your toilet at home? I guess you do (or a family member).

This is how the Utopia would work where everyone would be intelligent: everyone would have to do the dirty stuff after himself.

And most of them would be done by robots of course.

maxim said...

I agree that the original statement easily devolves in eugenics with minimal amount of logic applied. And yeah, the weakest part is definitely the "no help from others" bit. Meritocracy doesn't require this strict of a limitation.

Regarding "sufferring well-earned"...
Let's just say that there are people out there who are not lazy and dumb by choice - or fault of their own - and that these people both need and deserve help.

Ultimately, you seem to have a very binary outlook on how much control a person has over his or her life - either no control or total control. In reality, there is at least a feedback loop - a person influences life, life influences a person right back

maxim said...

@Anon
Only that had nothing to do with communism. Regine in USSR was only called that for PR :D

Read Marx. Not marxists, but actual Marx himself.

JackTheManiac said...

The article you refer is actually well written and reasonable.

A pure meritocracy wouldn't work, plain and simple. Human nature didn't evolve for it.

Also eugenics, cruelty, no respect for human dignity for some, etc... Another thing is that you can be sure that the guy at the top isn't gonna give his place nor his fortune if he ever gets unable to work. You can't be usre everyone will play by the rules, those who don't will abuse the system to no end. It's also a problem now, but it will also be one under meritocracy.

Sweden, I believe, has a pretty damned good system, which is not meritocratic yet encourages hard word.

Now meritocracy has a place but as something else. Not some meta min-maxing 98.6 vs 98.8 production potential, but rather as an equal opportunity tool.

Employers needs to stop considering the sex, race, or age, in the hiring process. Both ways. Only credentials and capabilities. Those who work hard and can do the job will be hired, those who don't will get told, and no one will lose his job to gender or race quotas. That is pretty much the best a meritocracy can do. It cannot work elsewhere, and shouldn't have to.

A good employee is not always about how much immediate money he brings in, though. Social communication is an important asset as well in order to bring in more business. It's not always calculated in time to money ratio.

Anonymous said...

Whether it fits with a utopic idea or not, the dice is loaded at present.

The nations with the lowest social mobility do not have the highest amount of lazy people.

It is cute to think that you can be born in a tenement, go to a sink school, and still have the same chance in life as someone born at the top end of the socio-economic scale, and yes, there are always those who escape the system, but 1-2% of people achieving something does not make it within the realms of everyone else.

I am where I am today because of a string of events which led to me being in another country, getting extremely sick for 4 years, then deciding to do something I could not afford to do in my home country, go to university. None of these are the result of hard work, or any other "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality.

I worked harder in my home country, for longer hours, at a higher managerial level, and was still on the bottom rung of society.

So said...

The argument they are using is mechanistic materialism. It is erroneous view of the nature of causality by claiming that every event is initiated by a antecedent event. It is history is from the ancient Greek Atomists.

The answer to their claim is that only entities have identity and can only act or be acted upon in accordance with that identity.

With regard to man his identity is such that he possesses free will and is able to focus his consciousness on some aspect of reality or to unfocus his mind. It is because of his identity that he is able to set off any chain of events on any other particular things.

Your whole solution and his argument against meritocracy is one massive stolen concept fallacy. The very idea that you can gain knowledge and choose a course of action is predicated on the idea that man is not deterministic and can choose to focus on reality or not.

Anonymous said...

where do we come from? how did we live? how did we even live before we became sedentary?

a glimpse of our true old heritage can be found in untouched nomadic tribes research. granted there isn't much. Still the insights suggest that we come from: about 3-5 hours "work" a day. The rest of the day filled with "leisure" that often combined with drug use (whatever dope nature provided). That in a nutshell is how we lived. "civilisation" isn't that old, barley scratches the 10000 years mark.

All invented systems will fail in a dominant system called "nature". it's simple logic.

One of the oldest inventions we came up with is: Money. Whatever we build on it is doomed to fail. Monarchy, Democracy, Meritocracy, Communism, Socialism, whatever else will fail no matter what.
And don't think that technology will save the day. Star Trek as perfect as it sometimes sounds .. isn't going to happen.

Don't get me wrong. I would rather love to work for real if that would be possible in our lifetime.

Anonymous said...

As I know, meritocracy as term is used to describe a mainly political idea evolved from the obvious failure of all other ppolitical systems and as a substitute for democracy.
That involves a system in which people with best qualities come in key positions of the society depending on their abilities.
Therefore, everything your article says is wrong, meritocracy being mainly based on IQ and other abilities (this is accurate only if you think intelligence is something that comes in your genes), as opposed to a system of voting based on liking/disliking someone that is only telling you what real intelligent people know you want to hear.

Arrendis said...

@Arrendis: and this is the only workplace on the planet. You can't work in a "lesser" company or even in a "lesser" position?

Welcome to a persistently weak economy with relatively high unemployment. There aren't enough jobs for all the people who want them. When you don't have full employment, then yes, you inevitably wind up in a situation where at some point down the chain, you can't work in a 'lesser' position, because the job doesn't exist.

Europe's even worse than the US right now. Austerity's an inherently contractionary measure, but somehow, politicians in the EU have been shocked at how it's been having a contractionary effect.