Meritocracy


I am a Thomas Sowell groupie and fanatic. I have read every one of his books, several more than once like “ECONOMICS“. In “DISCRIMINATION AND DISPARITIES,” he points out that many times differences in performance and achievement that are attributed to discrimination and racism are the results of disparities in education or talent, but most importantly, difference in outcomes has to do with having been raised in a family where education and work is valued. The popular socio-political-media narrative today states that disparities in socioeconomic outcomes is either based on the biased treatment of the less fortunate class or genetic deficiencies. This is an irrefutable fallacy. Genetics, merit, work, talent and natural ability all play a role in individual achievement and success, but if success is not due to these inputs then there is a justification for politicians to reset the table and redistribute the benefits. This is a primary predicate for the social justice argument.

Many on the left place too much value on innate intelligence. Aren’t most experts described as being “the smartest person in the room”? Like Barak Obama most of these people may be smart but not smart enough to know how much they don’t know. Any successful person must hit certain way points and talent is only the 1st of many. A supporting family, a work ethic, a place to work and practice, a coach or teacher or mentor, competition—the list grows longer with each new achievement. The most important form of intelligence when moving through these waypoints is not necessarily cognitive intelligence, but rather “emotional intelligence”

Two examples from the world of sports may suffice. Jack Nicklaus the greatest golfer of all time was born with great golfing talent and ability. Probably thousands of people his age were born with similar talent—many have probably never touched a golf club—if Jack had been born in Iceland or Sub Saharan Africa would he have won 18 major championships? He had a family that supported him and ingrained in him a great work ethic. He had a great teacher and great golf courses to play on and at an early age great competition and in later life a great wife and supportive family. Michael Jordan has a similar story. I used to tell my kids that there were 7 people walking around with Michael’s talent, but never achieved what he did. It was family and work ethic and making the right choices (not abusing one’s body with drugs or alcohol is such a waypoint) that separated Mike from the others. People succeed in life because they make right decisions when they hit these “way points”.

Hitting each individual mark may be easy. Hitting them all becomes statistically difficult. A hypothetical example may demonstrate my point. If the chance of hitting each waypoint in life is 2/3—66%, but you need to hit 5 way points with the same degree of difficulty then you have 2/3rds to the 5th power chance of hitting your goal=32/342=9.3% chance of success. Part of the reason for disparities at the top is purely statistical—but that doesn’t mean it is not the result of individual choices. This doesn’t take away from talent or genetics, but it does show that making right choices and having the correct environment may be more important.

A famous ongoing study from Stanford University by Professor Lewis Terman and his successor Dr. Robert Sears has followed 1470 students with IQ’s greater than 140 for 75 years—the students who call themselves “Termites” are now 90 years old. When comparing the lifelong achievements of the students, there were discrepancies of outcome identified at the top and lower margins. Of the 150 men with the lower level of achievement, many came from families with broken homes—interestingly a death of a parent didn’t have a similar impact, had lives impacted by drugs or alcohol, but most importantly had been identified very early on as having deficiencies in personality traits like “persistence” and the ability to deal with failure and rejection. Those at the upper margins made positive decisions and had positive personality traits. All those in the group tested over 75 years had similar IQs.

Meritocracy is a word that came into common parlance within the last 70 years. It suggests that leaders in business, the professions and education, should be chosen on the bases of talent and work ethic rather than social status, wealth or a powerful connected family. The key to succeeding in a meritocracy is learning to embrace competition. By competing against others for grades, or trophies, or business deals, or for a professional reputation of “being the best”, one must learn the price of winning and not be afraid of the cost of losing. Only one man struck out more than Babe Ruth in the history of baseball. During his era The Babe hit more home runs and had more strike outs than anyone. He failed and succeeded often. He embraced the challenge of each. Are we as parents teaching our children to compete in a world of meritocracy or are we protecting them by giving them participation trophies? Are we teaching them to work or are we training them to be entitled?

There will always be a predictable backlash against not only success, but also successful people and meritocracy. At the individual level and within in large social groups and across countries and demographics there are always people who are jealous of success, and will push back against meritocracy. This I believe is why so many elites on the political left are on the side of progressive socialism vs capitalism/meritocracy. They either want to stop competing themselves, or they don’t want their children to have to compete. Concerns regarding social justice and equality and inequality are nothing more than “covertness”. Competition is what energizes upward mobility and economic productivity. By competing we not only make ourselves better—but the whole world better. Collecting an additional $300 unemployment check and staying at home lounging on the couch makes nobody better and it is the antithesis of competition.

It would be worthwhile to review Plato’s 5 Regimes—I won’t do that here, but it is interesting to note that meritocracy in education and talents becomes less and less important as one goes through Aristocracy to Timocracy to Oligarchy Democracy and finally Tyranny.

The ancient Mandarin Culture placed a similar priority on competition in identifying the most capable subjects and bringing them to emperor’s court.

In today’s Wall Street Journal book review of THE ARISTOCRACY OF TALENT by Adrian Woodbridge it is pointed out that in an 1813 letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, Jefferson distinguished between two types of aristocracies: an artificial one founded on wealth and birth, and a natural one rooted in “virtue and talents”. Jefferson later opined that our Constitution separated the two and thus established “a republic of merit”—a meritocracy.

This is precisely what separates the political elite, the experts and the ruling class, from conservatives and everyday working people. We want to compete as we move forward. We see competition and upward mobility as a way of making life better for our children. Those on the left don’t believe in their own ability to compete, and will do everything in their power to hold onto to their entitled status. This is the bases of social justice, and BLM, and any other form of virtue signaling smugness. The social justice movement has been hijacked by those who want nothing to do with justice, or equity, or fighting inequality. We should ensure everyone’s ability to compete by strengthening families, emphasizing education and a work ethic and, choosing for ourselves and our children not to use drugs or abuse alcohol.

Competition will bring out the best from us. And the left will be jealous and fight back any way they can so long as they don’t have to compete.

MAGA “Fight Like Hell”



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