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« Racing through the Louvre (Sujatha) | Main | Cicero Is Dead (Joe) »

August 25, 2009


"In 1969, the top quintile of American wage-earners made 43 per cent of all the money earned in the US; the bottom quintile made 4.1 per cent. In 2007, the top quintile made 49.7 per cent; the bottom quintile 3.4."

I agree with the broad thrust of that article - of course American style liberalism has dropped the ball on class. Still, it's far from clear that the relevant metric here is gini coefficient, rather than growth rate of inflation-adjusted bottom quintile / average wages, or economic mobility between quintiles.

"More generally, even if we succeeded completely in eliminating the effects of racism and sexism, we would not thereby have made any progress towards economic equality."

The review simply ignores the fundamental question here: is economic equality - as distinct from satisficed economic welfare, for example - a value on a par with sexual/racial equality? I don't see how such a claim could be reconciled with any story that allowed people to deserve monetary rewards at all. Is Michaels' left to be implacably opposed to a meritocracy?

I have no critical sensibility whatsoever when it comes to preferring one quantitative measure to another. Numbers are innocuous, really. If we know the factors of GINI, we ought to know its limitations.

Do people deserve monetary rewards? What's so lovely about meritocracy, particularly a defective one, easily gamed?

- Seems like "defective one, easily gamed" works very hard here, no? Of course such systems can only be reluctantly acquiesced in. That still doesn't show Bill Gates shouldn't as point of principle be allowed to make more than his former Harvard classmates...
- Can anyone deserve more than the mean - of anything - in a fair and just world? I say yes.
- And you think Obama's having trouble now :)

Numerical measures: I think I threw you off by naming some numerical measures explicitly. Point's more generic - what *does* concern class-injustice enjoin us to remedy? Poverty? Lack of equal/equitable opportunity? Income inequality? Discomforts of the average man? The sufferings of the worst off? 'Yes' isn't an answer, first coz there are obvious tradeoffs, but more because the reviewer claims to see 'economic equality' as direct analog of say gender equality. Surely he must give some theoretical account here! The story about why men and women shouldn't be afforded different privileges is well rehearsed; I don't *know* the story for why wages should be occupation independent.

Allowing Bill Gates to make more or less than anybody else has nothing to do with the "merit" in meritocracy, if merit is to serve as an independent variable. This is the defect in a cynical system. We can imagine a system of objective distribution of deserts, just as we can imagine a world of perfect equality, measured in a number of ways. (Opportunity? There's a malleable concept.) Each in practice requires reluctant acquiescence. So, push come to shove, I guess I'm just not adverse to mere free riding, where I find obsessive acquisitiveness gauche.

I agree that Benn Michaels too craftily assumes the commensurability of economics, gender, and race, perhaps by assuming also their neat complementarity. But this isn't because accepting it spoils meritocracy. In the sentence you quote, D, I can't see how completely eliminating the "effects" of racism and sexism wouldn't have economic consequences, since slavery and unpaid housework--concrete manifestations of systemic racism and sexism (i.e., they're not just incidental occasions of free riding)--are amenable to accounting.

Here's the meritocracy, operating exactly as designed.

Wait. That's an interesting article, but I thought you were arguing for looking beyond meritocracy, not bemoaning its absence. It seems like the two positions are closer to being opposed than consonant.

Well, there are at least two ways to read the article, one assuming that an absent meritocracy, or something approaching it, can be recovered, the other mocking the very notion of one. Andrew Sullivan's charge of rottenness in America implies America could be purged of the condition. Glenn Greenwald's "Great Meritocracy" is less optimistic, although he does ironically suggest Sotomayor's ascent was merited. But as at least one comment hints, judging the merits of a meritocracy according to who lands at SCOTUS is unreasonable.

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