Tag: meritocracy

Adrian Wooldridge joins Brian Anderson to discuss the history of meritocracy, modern obstacles to a truly merit-based society, and the geopolitical implications of the West’s growing anti-meritocratic streak. His new book, The Aristocracy of Talent, is out now.

Find the transcript of this conversation and more at City Journal.

Meritocracy Is Not the Problem


George Packer’s recent jeremiad in The Atlantic offers an object lesson on the disarray of modern progressive thought. Packer’s essay, about K-12 education in New York City, rails against two enemies: “a brutal meritocracy and a radical new progressivism,” which, he argues, are ripping apart the social fabric of New York City. His exhaustive lament, detailing his and his wife’s desperate effort to navigate a broken system for their two children, lacks any systematic analysis of the institutional forces driving the problems he identifies. He also never questions his deep faith in an enlightened social welfare state.

He begins the essay pointing to the painful experience of parents who spent a cold February night in sleeping bags outside the schoolhouse door in order to obtain places for their children in a desirable public preschool whose slots are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Packer attributes this extreme behavior to the “organized pathologies of adults” who have surrendered to the brutal meritocracy.

But he does not ask why similar instances do not occur in school districts outside New York City. A good place to start is with the law of supply and demand. New York constrains supply of seats in charter schools by an iron set of political forces. Old private schools are hard to expand and new ones are even harder to create.  The shortage of good schools is well understood by parents who think a night in the cold is a good investment in their children’s future. There is no bidding system for existing seats. Nor is the City able to expand the supply of desirable school seats in the short run.

Cloudburst — only a paper cloud?


“Tell me, burnt earth: Is there no water? Is there only dust? Is there only the blood of bare-footed footsteps on the thorns?” “The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them, And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.”

Eric Whitacre is a conductor and composer with matinee-idol good looks, personal magnetism, a slick marketing strategy, and arguably common sense, too: he recommends young composers not waste time acquiring training in academic theory beyond what they need to write music that sounds good. Whitacre is beloved in the choral world, but also, sometimes, disdained — for being overrated (he is, although overrated can still be good), for being gimmicky (also true, though his gimmicks often land), and for writing music “suffused with a sense of easy spiritual uplift… Everything [is] maximally radiant and beautiful, and beautifully sung. And that [is] the problem.”

If that’s the problem, it’s a problem many composers would like to have. Or at least it’s a problem many performing musicians wish the composers whose music they have to perform had. Our disdainer continues, “Whitacre is so sincere I suspect he would glow in the dark.”

Quote of the Day – Meritocracy


“The SAT 50 years ago pulled a lot of smart people out of every little town in America and funneled them into a small number of elite institutions, where they married each other, had kids, and moved to an even smaller number of elite neighborhoods. We created the most effective meritocracy ever.”

“The problem with the meritocracy, is that it leeches all the empathy out of your society … The second you think that all your good fortune is a product of your virtue, you become highly judgmental, lacking empathy, totally without self-awareness, arrogant, stupid—I mean all the stuff that our ruling class is.”

Meritocracy and Its Discontents


shutterstock_228878062Toby Young — British education reformer, food critic, self-described “anarcho-cynicalist,” man-about-town, and frequent denizen of Radio Free Delingpole – has an interesting and timely article in the current issue of the Australian journal Quadrant, titled The Fall of the Meritocracy. The title is misleading: it would be more aptly titled “The Total and Complete Triumph of the Meritocracy.” Regardless, it is a worthwhile read.

The article makes plain that, far from being an unalloyed public good, meritocracy is seriously flawed as an organizing principle for society. Young’s basic argument is straightforward: because the traits associated with success are highly heritable, and because successful people increasingly marry and breed with each other, an efficiently meritocratic society like ours will have less and less social mobility and, over time, result in an entrenched class system far more rigid and permanent than anything that existed before the mid-20th century. This process is already well advanced in Britain and the United States. Not to worry though: Young has a highly original solution to this problem and ends on a somewhat upbeat note.

Tobes is certainly right about the trends. After WWII, Americans created a highly efficient engine for sorting people according to IQ and channeling them, by means of the university admission system, into different social strata. The civil rights revolution opened up this system to women and minorities. Seventy years later, the result is hyperactive social sorting by IQ, and the consequent emergence of a distinctive meritocratic elite, separated from the rest by ever-greater social, economic, and cultural distance.

The Two Problems with Meritocracy


Meritocracy has two major problems. The “merit” part and the “-ocracy” part.

Most people unwittingly use “merit” to conflate two different ideas. While “merit” can be used to denote any admirable quality, “merit” is also typically opposed to “luck” — that is, “merit” is what you “deserve” after luck is factored out of the equation.

Conservatism, Meritocracy, and the New Elite


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…

I would argue that this self-evident truth is actually only half true. Certainly, all men are entitled to equal human dignity and equal standing before the law, but it is also self-evidently untrue that all men are created equal in ability.