Meritocracy Update

Ok, so I should have been more clear yesterday in responding to Yglesias’ article. Yglesias makes the case that a true meritocracy would lead to both large amounts of inequality and entrenched inequality. I think that a meritocracy does not necessarily lead to his first point (large amounts if inequality) and is, by definition, incompatible with entrenched inequality (inter-generational equality).

I think I was fairly clear in my argument that income in a meritocracy¬†does not have to be proportional to ability, so long as relative income corresponds to relative ability–therefore, I believe a truly meritocratic society with a skewed distribution of ability could exist without large amounts of income inequality.

I was less clear in my argument that a meritocracy would not lead to entrenched inequality. In making that statement I made the (implausible) assumption that in a true meritocracy, children of wealthy parents have no inherent advantage. That is, in a true meritocracy (by definition) there would be no advantage bestowed upon children with the access and privilege that comes from wealthy parents. So, the wealth distribution of each successive generation ends up being a function of the talent and effort of each individual in that generation (rather than a function of the individual’s parental wealth).

Now, obviously this is an implausible situation–I can’t think of any set of policies that would entirely mitigate the advantage that children gain from parental wealth, which means that a true meritocracy might be unattainable. In reality, meritocracy in the US is a spectrum, and if American’s believe in equality of opportunity, we have an interest in pushing for policies that drive America closer to the meritocratic end of the spectrum. In general, these policies would probably tend to expand access to quality education programs, reduce the inter-generational transfer of wealth, and reduce income inequality.


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