Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Problem with Meritocracy

Readers of this blog know that I believe strongly in meritocracy, but all ideologies have weaknesses.

The weakness of meritocracy is that a significant percentage of people lose in a meritocracy, largely due to factors beyond their control: their genes, which parents and what community they were born into, etc.

I believe that citizens, the government, and nonprofits have a moral obligation to attempt to mitigate some of that random unfairness.

The controversy comes in how much to distribute from those with the greatest potential to contribute to society to those with the least.

Controversy also comes from the dishonest Leftists who play the race, class, and gender cards to arm-twist for support for social programs. Nearly all those programs have shown little benefit, even the vaunted Head Start, and certainly not enough benefit to justify taking tax dollars from the ever-more strapped middle and working class to pay for them.

As someone with a social science Ph.D. from Berkeley, specializing in the evaluation of such programs, I am convinced that almost no education or other such programs yet exist that yield sufficient benefit to force taxpayers to pay for it. One possible exception would be top-quality, one-on-one mentoring/tutoring programs.

What I would fund are bold research initiatives aimed at finding truly new and more promising sorts of interventions.


Anonymous said...

Your argument against meritocracy makes it almost effortless to make a case for big government programs. Flawed as they are, that is exactly why they were supposedly created: to take from those that are far more successful than average, and to give to those who, by no fault of their own, are unable to succeed (and for some reason, it is NEVER their fault, not even if they played an active role in their failure).

Some people are victims. But wasn't there a time when victims were the exceptions? They were extraordinary cases, and that was why they deserved extraordinary help. Most people are able-bodied citizens who can do just fine for themselves if they are willing or required to do so.

But nowadays, everybody is claiming to be a victim. And the more we ask for help when we don't really need it, the more we will lose our freedom to live as we choose, and the way things are going, government will be happy to take this away from us altogether. Pretty soon, there may be no turning back.

The citizens and the political elite who want big government had better be damn careful what they wish for. We all just might get it.

Marty Nemko said...

Anonymous brings up an important point: how do you separate the truly needy from the ever-growing number who play victim, thanks to the media and colleges, which fan the flames of victimhood.

Indeed, government is terrible at setting limits on who will be deemed needy. And they're even worse at policing their rules: hence such unfairnesses to taxpayers as welfare fraud, lawsuits based on false claims of discrimination, and special interest groups citing bogus research justifying government handouts.

It's a tough dilemma: How do you serve the truly needy without taking huge tax dollars from citizens to pay for the not-truly needy?

Then there's the ancillary issue that giving handouts even to the truly needy can make them even less self-efficacious.



blogger templates | Make Money Online