The Unattainable Illusion of Meritocracy

Published on naked capitalism, by Yves Smith, Oct 26, 2014.

… Repeat after me: in complex societies and organizations, merit is a complete illusion … //

… So what exactly is talent? Educated people like to think of it as intelligence, and that intelligence will be reflected in better educational attainment. But education in America has a lot of credentialing and is mixed in terms of substance (there’s a very strong argument to be made for the educational system that Bonaparte implemented in France, which has sadly decayed beyond recognition, where it made a systematic effort to find smart kids, no matter how poor their background, and track them so that they had as much opportunity to get into the Grandes Ecoles as children who grew up with highly educated parents.

Bonaparte is arguably the father of meritocracy as a paramount organizational principle, and that meant uniform delivery of educational “product” throughout French schools. The same lesson would be taught to all fourth graders at 3:00 PM on a particular day all across the country). And “intelligence” is not all of a muchness; it has numerous components that are not well understood or analyzed (testing makes a stab at that on assessing verbal versus mathematical skills). And that’s before you get to the importance of social skills and emotional intelligence. James Heckman stresses the importance of socialization, that students who get GEDs (they pass a test that demonstrates they have mastered the material needed to get a high school degree) do markedly less well than students who complete high school.

So we have a huge range of things that people who have some ability and a reasonable self-discipline might aspire to (and that assumes young people know themselves well enough to gravitate to roles in society that they actually can perform well at). So how can you think about “merit” for jobs as different as computer programming versus writing ad copy versus selling heavy machinery versus being an office manager in corporate cube land? … //

One of the revealing things about this now-seven-year-old article how the big concern then about unfairness in hiring and promotion related to race and gender discrimination. It’s astonishing how the top income strata have so visibly pulled away in the wake of the crisis that economic mobility is now seen as at least as big a barrier to opportunity.

So while it makes sense for all sorts of reasons to aspire to meritocracy, the fact that it can’t even remotely be achieved even when people of good will make genuine efforts means that what Bookstaber called ex post solutions are critical. In other words, tax the rich. They don’t deserve it.

(full text).

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Fotostrecke: Ringbahn rund um Rangun – Mitten in den Alltag Burmas, im Spiegel online, 26.10.2014

Bürgerkrieg gegen den IS: PKK rekrutiert immer mehr Syrien-Kämpfer in Deutschland, im Spiegel online, von Jörg Diehl und Fidelius Schmid, Düsseldorf, 26. Oktober 2014: Der Konflikt zwischen der Terrormiliz “Islamischer Staat” und kurdischen Rebellen erreicht Deutschland: Nach SPIEGEL-Informationen ziehen immer mehr PKK-Kämpfer aus der Bundesrepublik nach Syrien. Die Behörden sind alarmiert …;

Sleepout highlights Canberra homelessness, on ACTnews, by Mark Sawa, Oct 25, 2014;

Fotostrecke: Die Geldquellen der Dschihadisten, im Spiegel online, 25.10.2014;

Offensive gegen Dschihadisten: Kurden drängen IS-Kämpfer zurück, im Spiegel online vom 25. Oktober 2014: Kurdischen Peschmerga-Kämpfern ist es gelungen, die Stadt Sumar im Nordirak zurückzuerobern. Zugleich melden Regierungstruppen weitere Erfolge – unterstützt durch Luftschläge der US-geführten Militärallianz …;

DeDenis Mukwege wins the SakharovPrize, on Prague Post, Oct 24, 2014: (He) … is the laureate of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought 2014, following the decision Oct. 21 by European Parliament President Martin Schulz and political group leaders. Mukwege will be invited to come to Strasbourg Nov. 26 to receive the award during the plenary session …;
(Denis Mukwege on en wikipedia … is a Congolese gynecologist. He founded and works in Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, where he specializes in the treatment of women who have been gang-raped by rebel forces. Mukwege has become the world’s leading expert on how to repair the internal physical damage caused by gang rape …);

Fighting effects of tear gas: Amnesty says Ferguson cops violate basic human rights, on Russia Today RT, Oct 24, 2014;

Biggest military exercise, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Amirah Ibrahim, Oct 23, 2014: on the ongoing naval manoeuvre, a component of the biggest military exercise Egypt has ever staged …;

Politicking with terror, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Ahmed Eleiba, Oct 23, 2014: The Egyptian strategy towards extremism is daily vindicated … //
… Mubarak Ahmed, a researcher in the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, lists five principles that should govern Egypt’s participation in the coalition. The first is that cooperation in anti-terrorist efforts with Western nations be linked to the extent they cooperate in furthering Egypt’s national interests with regard to terrorism. This implies a halt to any moral support offered to the Muslim Brotherhood …;

Charge, and counter charge, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Khaled Dawoud, Oct 23, 2014: The statement by the Carter Centre explaining the reasons it was closing its Cairo office took the government by surprise and has revived allegations that its work in Egypt was biased towards the Muslim Brotherhood …;
(see also: The Jimmy Carter Library and Museum);

Intelligence Center Tracks Missile Launches Worldwide 24/7, on The National Security Archive, of the George Washingten University, by Jeffrey T. Richelson, Oct 21, 2014: “Little known” DEFSMAC Created to Cover Soviet Launches, Now Alerts and Reports Globally from China to South Africa;

John Tory and the dangerous logic of strategic voting, on, by MICHAEL LAXER, Oct 11, 2014;

… and this:

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