The Case for Real Meritocracy, 12/11
sharp words from Adrian Wooldridge
Fashionable “anti-racist” thinkers argue that meritocracy is often a disguise for white privilege, or even a weapon to push minorities into penury. Right-wing populists argue that it is the ideology of the smug global elite who have made such a hash of running the world recently.
Loosening meritocratic standards will reduce economic efficiency as we see more square pegs put into round holes. It will also be self-reinforcing: one of the most reliable rules in life is that second-rate people will always appoint third-rate people in order to protect themselves from being shown up.
I think that this last point is very important. I have long favored abolishing the college admissions office. Instead, just set criteria for SAT scores and high school grades. If you get more applicants that meet the criteria than you have room in the freshman class, conduct a lottery. Admissions officers only perform the function of degrading your standards. It used to be that their damage was limited to lowering standards for athletes and legacies. Now it is much more than that.
It is not the most gifted scholars who join the office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at a university. In a corporation, it is not the most productive employees who get put in charge of DEI. These mediocrities end up trying to drag the rest of the organization down to their level.
The current war on merit is thus a double threat to the modern world. It will rob the West of its economic dynamism while simultaneously encouraging interest groups to compete for resources on the basis of collective rights and group resentments. And it will shift the balance of power relentlessly towards a post-communist regime in the East that has no time for individual rights and liberal values. We still have a chance to prevent this process — just — but only if we are willing to nurture and repair the meritocratic idea that made the West successful in the first place.
The traditional meritocratic function of the admissions office is to obscure what weights are assigned to grades from different high schools. A 4.0 at a crappy school doesn't mean as much as a 3.0 at a good one, and while we could be transparent about that with a published model people tend to be happier having it obscured.
"Right-wing populists argue that [meritocracy] is the ideology of the smug global elite."
To cite leading populist thinker Angelo Codevilla:
In France, with which you tell me you are acquainted, you have meritocracy in government and institutions. Meritocracy ensured by competitive exams. I, and a bunch of nonliberal democrats as myself, would be absolutely delighted if institutions like The New York Times, The Atlantic, were to open their pages to people who bested others in competitive exams. But of course, they’re not thinking at all of doing that. As a matter of fact, the institutions of liberal America have been moving away from competitive exams as fast as they know how.
In living memory, and I’m an example of that, it was for a time possible for nonliberal Democrats to get into the American foreign service, and if they did as I did, and scored number one in their class, they would have their choice of assignments. But now, you have all sorts of new criteria for admission into the foreign service, which have supposedly ensured greater diversity. In fact, what they had done was to eliminate the possibility that the joint might be invaded by lesser beings of superior intelligence.</blockquote>