Friday, November 12, 2021

Ben Shapiro: The So-Called Meritocracy Isn't The Problem

 In 1958, British sociologist Michael Young coined the term "meritocracy" in his satirical novel, called "The Rise of the Meritocracy." Its point was simple: When intelligence and effort are selected by any society as the basis for success or failure, those with such merit begin to comprise their own class. That class hardens into an elite that brooks no dissent and stratifies society. As Young would say in 2001, "It is good sense to appoint individual people to jobs on their merit. It is the opposite when those who are judged to have merit of a particular kind harden into a new social class without room in it for others."

    This general point has become the basis for illiberal thinkers, both on the Left and on the Right. Philosopher Michael Sandel, in his latest book, "The Tyranny of Merit: What's Become of the Common Good?" argues that the very notion of a meritocracy carries with it an unescapable and unsustainably selfish moral judgment. According to Sandel, "The ideal itself is flawed. Meritocracy has a dark side. And the dark side is that meritocracy is corrosive of the common good. It encourages the successful to believe that their success is their own doing and that they therefore deserve the bounty that the market heaps upon them ... it generates hubris among the winners. They believe that their success is their own doing and they also believe, implicitly at least, that those who struggle must deserve their fate as well."

    This argument can be marshalled on behalf of both Right-wing and Left-wing critiques of the current capitalist order. On the Right, the argument is that capitalism -- rewarding, as it generally does, intelligence and hard work -- undermines important social institutions. David Brooks argues in The New York Times that meritocracy destroys "civic consciousness, a sense that we live life embedded in community and nation, that we owe a debt to community and nation and that the essence of the admirable life is community before self." On the Left, the argument is that meritocracy justifies existing imbalances of economic and social power. 


    The debate over meritocracy, however, depends on a crucial failure to distinguish between economic merit and moral merit. The term meritocracy itself does a great disservice in smudging this distinction -- that is, in fact, why Young coined the term that way. Instead of linking "merit," with all of its moral implications, with intelligence and hard work, we ought to instead use the term "skillsocracy." Any economic system that rewards skills produces positive externalities. A person who works hard, who innovates -- who creates better products and services and trades those products and services with someone else -- enriches not only those involved in the voluntary trade, but also the society at large by raising the bar on the products and services that will eventually become available to everyone. Every innovation is quickly followed by competition, by the spread of that innovation to a broader and broader market -- which is why peasants today in Western societies live better than kings did centuries ago.

    By contrast, any economic system that prizes an alternative set of values has (SET ITAL) negative externalities. (END ITAL) Should we adjudicate economic distribution by race? Creed? Religion? Simple ethical preference? Disincentivize risk-taking, guarantee incomes by "moral occupation," and watch as misallocation of labor destroys economic progress entirely; watch as society breaks down as those who produce less for their fellow man are rewarded more.

    This does not mean that those who are most dexterous should "run society." To create such a system would, in fact, undermine the skillsocracy itself, since it would allow the centralized will of some to undermine the innovative efforts of all. Economic mobility must remain predicated on skill, or the skillsocracy is undermined.

    This also does not mean that the skillsocracy actually acts as a measure of moral good. Intelligence is largely inborn, and thus not a moral attribute per se; propensity for hard work may be partially genetic but can be cultivated. But in a moral society, we find noneconomic ways of treasuring virtue. We cultivate friendships; we provide honor and respect; we build communities on virtue and exclude those people who do not abide by such moral standards.

    This means that a skillsocracy ought not be at odds with a virtuous society. Far from it. The so-called "meritocracy" need not devolve into a (SET ITAL) moral (END ITAL) measure of intelligence and hard work; indeed, in a healthy society, it must not. But by the same token, we must never destroy the skillsocracy as a supposedly expedient way to revive moral living. That effort would be both unsuccessful and wildly counterproductive.

    Ben Shapiro, 37, is a graduate of UCLA and Harvard Law School, host of "The Ben Shapiro Show," and editor-in-chief of He is the author of the New York Times bestsellers "How To Destroy America In Three Easy Steps," "The Right Side Of History," and "Bullies." To find out more about Ben Shapiro and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



Anonymous said...

The problem, Ben, is that the only skill that most of the 1% have exhibited is sliding down the birth canal of a rich woman in order to inherit wealth and connections.

Did a Barksdale who inherited money from bankers and lawyers and planters have some magical "skill" that allowed him to get rich off a buyout from a Gates, who was the son of a rich lawyer and a grandson of another rich banker? Did that guy's son develop some magical skill to use Daddy's money to buy high speed trading equipment to simply shave off a nanosecond on trades to garner millions? Which skills were those?

Did Bill Luckett, so widely lauded, the son of a rich Delta lawyer gain some magical skill like Haley Barbour, the son of a rich Delta lawyer?

Oh, Yeah!!! A solid liver for drinking and a big fat swollen arm for backslapping and backroom deals.

Them Ole Miss frat boys shore is smart! And hard workin'! Yep.

The best picture of this myth of meritocracy is Haley Barbour riding around in a golf cart with Terry McAuliffe, with Communist Chinese guys in the background that got special immigration papers from them grinning ear to ear. Green Good Deal. Yeah. Where did we hear that from?

Some meritocracy we have.

Next you'll tell me that the skill (actually a demonstrable one) of putting a ball in a hoop means you can lecture me about how China is so wonderful and the US so awful like Le Dumb Brains. He loves him some China money, too, though!!!

Anonymous said...

And Shapiro’s skills are what?

Dork. Race hustler, but with a better education.

Anonymous said...

As displayed above, jealousy and envy undermine any merit system, be it moral or skills-based.

On another note, for a long time I though being intelligent made me better than other people. I would never have acknowledged it out loud. It was more of an unexamined prejudice, way down deep.

Eventually, it was gently pointed out to me that intelligence is largely a function of genetics. Intelligence, while it can be developed though effort, is mostly a talent, rather than a virtue.

Anonymous said...

Memo to 4:15 PM:

Quit whining. Get a job, save your money, invest wisely, and you too can father meritocrats. Alternatively, learn to place basketball, real good.

It is to me so unseemly to complain about other people's success in this wonderful, wealthy country, rich with opportunity. Do you not have any sense of pride?

When I was at Ole Miss, working my way through, with a wife and children, the first in my family to attend college, a knowledgeable upper classman set me straight on class rank. "Only you and 200 [Asian ethnic slur] care about such things."

It worked out just fine for me and, more importantly, for my kids. My academic performance served me well in professional school. Everybody's doing just fine and without a farthing of inherited wealth.

As for the 200 Asians? Can't say. I did befriend one such fellow. He left Oxford for Silicon Valley. He told me that he loved Sundays b/c he could cook noodles and put them in little bags so he did not have to quit work to eat lunch during the week. Later he and his family moved to Texas, where they have become real estate tycoons. His wife related an incident not long ago where a pickup slowed as she was pulling out of her ridiculously upscale neighborhood. "Go back to Korea!" the driver shouted.

Poor woman didn't know enough to be insulted, "but we're not Korean."

"He was just telling you that he is one of life's also-rans, poorly suited to compete and envious of success."

Not unlike yourself, perhaps.

Anonymous said...

If you don’ like the meritocracy in America you will love the book that was just published “9.9 Percent.” I started reading it, not because that I agree with its premise, but because I wanted to be informed about what the progressives in the Democratic Party believe. Being a retired banker I have seen a lot of people slide up and down the wealth ladder. Wake up folks. The key to success in life is the person you see in the mirror every morning. Get an education. Get a job and stay employed. Get married and then have kids. Have some grit. Practice delayed gratification. And you too can become a member of the 9.9% class.

Anonymous said...

Well, how quickly commenters proved the obvious point...every philosophy, system, religion etc. can develop " a dark side".
What we really want is " fairness" and our systems of law and government to continue to find rational ways to work towards a goal that is hard if not impossible. The difficulty should NOT erase the effort.
In this piece is everything I hate about partisan politics, be it from either party's crazies or intellectuals.
To make any philosophy or system come close to the ideals touted, requires the safeguards and incentives to prevention corruption.
That we have politicized literally everything now, we are fueling corruption and allowing the mentally weak ( for any reason) and the ethically bereft, irrational and the insanely greedy narcissists legitimacy.
And, without question, those who seem unable to see " a bigger picture" than the confines of their abodes or the city limits are empowered to believe " everyone and every place is the same and my experiences are common."
That's BS, of course.
And, frankly, if you are limiting your peer group, you will find every culture , every religion, every skin color, every political group has good people who share your ethics or lack thereof.
The Golden Ages of civilization have common factors:
1) The government and or its supreme leader is benevolent
2) The middle class and arts flourish and are rewarded ...yoohoo...trying for meritocracy a little
3)There is commitment to improving the infrastructure and opportunity and competition for progress.
God help us! If "better mousetraps " were invented, the monopolies would steal the invention legally and " kill" figuratively the inventor by " papering" him to death in a prolonged lawsuit ( way to go politicizing the judiciary by allowing buzzwords to let you ...not).
I'm bit worried by those who don't know Marjorie Green is not operating with a full deck ! And if you believe she is,
or that Carlson Tucker was successful at anything before FOX, PLEASE get a psychiatric evaluation
. Or, as your Momma warned, "pretty is as pretty does".

The Rubicon is probably already crossed . But, those of you who imagine the crazy hordes will not take " your stuff" because you were a " loyalist" ( whichever side wins), will have a rude awakening.

Your new leader will have to eliminate any
potential competition and reward his sociopaths and psychopaths and idiots who supported him.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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