Beware Of Wolff: Addressing Criticisms Of Meritocracy

  • Published on:  Thursday, October 24, 2019
  • Response to:

    The apple = Meritocracy proper.

    The orange = Mechanistic conceptions of education.

    The grape = Economic policy.

    Wolff’s approach: The apple is the orange is the grape. Meritocracy bad!

    My approach: These are different things. Please stop.

    Stellar example of how to rebuke mechanistic conceptions of education without dragging meritocracy or economic policy into it:

    Easy peasy. At least for non-charlatans.

    Charlatans on the other hand love to rely on:

    Quit supporting charlatans.


    One of my Community posts on aspirational meritocracy:

    There I’m fleshing out the stance I take here, and additionally questioning the supposed intersection of cultural attitudes and attitudes towards work, which were hastily assumed to march in lockstep by the guest of the podcast. I’m not convinced, as explained in that review. Since then, I’ve discovered more evidence for doubting this intersection:

    Materialism and high-status show-offs are social repellent:

    “A recent study by Stephen Garcia at the University of Michigan explores that second myth. He and his co-authors set up a variety of hypothetical scenarios and asked subjects what they’d choose to do in one of two roles—either as someone trying to make friends or as someone evaluating potential friends. They found that there’s an imbalance in how the people in the latter position perceive those in the former. “People think … that status is going to attract new friends,” he told me. “However, it actually has the opposite effect—that is, people would rather befriend, in a conversation or in an interaction, someone who doesn’t display [high-]status, but rather more neutral markers,” like a Timex instead of a Rolex.”

    “Abstract: Making friends is critical to well-being. We also live in a society where the display of status is ubiquitous and billions of dollars are spent on high-status consumer goods. In the present analysis, we introduce the Status Signals Paradox: When making new friends, people tend to think that displaying high-status markers of themselves (e.g., a BMW, a Tag Heuer watch) will make them more attractive to others than neutral markers (e.g., a Honda, a generic brand watch); however, from the perspective of would-be friends, individuals who display high-status markers are found to be less attractive as new friends than those with neutral status markers. Six studies provide converging evidence of the status signals paradox.”

    Had we been in the midst of a “cultural meritocracy” epidemic, these studies would uncover drastically different findings. It's groundless, in 2019, to dismiss Occupational Meritocracy over its downstream negative effects on the culture. The data here doesn’t support those dot connections.

    And once that's out of the way, what do critics of meritocracy have left?


    Federal training/retraining programs facilitating employment for displaced workers are ineffective, and have failed historically:

    “Experts who have studied job-training programs in the United States and abroad say Reagan’s JPTA epitomizes various job-training programs that have been spun up over the years in America; indeed, its track record echoes what has happened in training programs before and since. As Americans prepare for the next wave of innovation, history shows that new technologies have affected white- and blue-collar workers differently. In turn, although policymakers often talk about a single workforce, when recessions and automation strike, the fortunes of white- and blue-collar workers are likely to diverge, and training is largely an ineffective approach to the needs of the latter. History also shows that any successful response to automation's impact will have to recognize that training can never be enough to shepherd Americans into a new economy.”

    Article drew from findings in:

    The study looks at employment outcomes from programs in 16 regions across the country involving ~20,000 Americans. It’s not pretty.

    I’m bringing these failures to light because I mentioned towards the end of the video how I don’t believe the Political System owes anyone a job; it merely owes a basic income to the jobless, the underemployed, and arguably everyone else. These figures speak to those reservations. Conceive of the polity as a provider/supplier/trainer of jobs and you're asking for more-of-the-same.


    Yang’s policy-set: