The ‘Meritocracy’ Was Created by and for the Progressive Ruling Class
The American Left has decided that the so-called meritocracy is a bad thing. In a typical example from the Los Angeles Times this week, Nicholas Goldberg points to a number of issues exploring how merit is not actually the key to power and riches in America:
The United States is supposed to be a meritocracy. The story goes that if you work hard and play by the rules, especially with regard to education, you can compete, rise and succeed here. . . . But Americans are realizing that’s not always the case. The playing field just isn’t level.
Goldberg claims that the much-lauded meritocracy is less about merit and more about controlling access to elite institutions. It’s hard to argue with some of this. It’s easy to see the lie behind the claims of meritocracy when we look to the very top of the artificial hierarchy. It’s likely not a mere coincidence people like George W. Bush and Al Gore—a son of a US president and a son of a US senator, respectively—went to elite Ivy League schools. All of Al Gore’s four children, and one of Bush’s, went to Harvard. To think that these seven people got into these schools because they had more “merit” than all the rejected applicants requires gargantuan levels of credulousness.
Much of the Left’s rhetoric against the meritocracy has been in the service of justifying racial preferences and standardized testing in university admissions. Defenders of the status quo have subsequently fallen all over themselves to support the supposed meritocracy of the government-university complex. For example, Victor Davis Hansen, in a meandering and unconvincing article, recently attempted to blame the United States’ repeated foreign policy failures on an alleged decline of meritocracy. Meanwhile, Alan Dershowitz insists that today’s law schools are full of mediocrities—unlike when he and his friends filled elite universities with untrammeled brilliance.
Note that these examples from Hansen, Goldberg, and Dershowitz have nothing to do with the true meritocracy of the marketplace that made America a prosperous place where ordinary people could make comfortable lives for themselves. Rather, the pundits tend to focus on the fake meritocracy, which is all about government and quasi-government institutions: standardized tests, elite universities controlled by the ruling class, and what amounts to government-controlled professional licensing. In these cases, what constitutes merit is defined by technocrats. Most of what we now consider to be the official meritocracy was developed and popularized by the regime’s social reformers of the Progressive Era in the early twentieth century.
The Only Real Meritocracy Is the Market Meritocracy
The real meritocracy is something else entirely. The real meritocracy exists only in the marketplace, where there is no objective ideal of merit at all. Rather, in the marketplace, merit is determined by the extent to which a person provides value according to the subjective values of market actors. The value—i.e., “merit”—of a worker, an entrepreneur, or a business enterprise is determined by the client. Did an entrepreneur deliver a valued good or service? If so, he will be rewarded with both revenue and a good reputation. Did an attorney provide valued services to clients and defendants? If so, he or she will be richly rewarded in the marketplace. If markets were actually allowed to function in the areas of medicine, we’d find a similar relationship there between “merit” and value delivered to others. Those with the most merit are the most successful in the marketplace. But it’s the consuming public that determines what constitutes merit. In other words, true “merit”—which should be regarded as just another word for “market value”—is not at all determined by the ideals of government t
Article from LewRockwell