Sunday, 17 January 2016

The merits of meritocracy

Most supporters of the desert approach to economic justice are attracted to it because it is entirely meritocratic. People get a share of social goods to the extent that they merit them (according to the relevant, though inevitably controversial, desert base chosen from those described in my previous blog).

Meritocracy appears to lend itself to the free market in some ways but not others. In common with pro-free-market entitlement theories of justice such as libertarianism, workers should get the product of their efforts. Taxes on labour are to be avoided and the free market in the field of production should be encouraged (or replicated if the economy is a command rather than market-based one).

However, in other areas desert theory is diametrically opposed to free-market entitlement theories. According to libertarianism people should be able to give away their resources to others without interference. However, recipients of gifts and inheritances have not done anything *and should not therefore receive this. Any resources not used by the deserving recipient should be returned to the social pot for distribution to the deserving.

Meritocracy is preferable to libertarianism because it links income to what the individual does rather than the vagaries of their family fortune. However, I would still question whether meritocracy is really that meritocratic. Family background could still play a role in a desert-based economy as some parents will be more nurturing than others. People also have different natural talents which they can utilise in the labour market to earn more than others, with the further issue that all sorts of pieces of good fortune can make a huge difference to people’s lifetime earnings. The person who gets a particular experience or opportunity might make the most of it, but the people who missed out on it would have made the most of it as well if they had the chance.

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