Dr. Forbush Thinks

Look at the world through the eyes of Dr. Forbush. He leads you through politics, religion and science asking questions and attempting to answer them....

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Monday, August 23, 2010

The Myth of American Meritocracy

I will admit that I am a glutton for punishment. Whenever I have a radio nearby and I remember that Rush Limbaugh is on the air I have an uncontrollable urge to check in for 10 to 20 minutes and find out what he is ranting about. It almost always kicks up the ire in me and reminds me why I can’t get too complacent. It reminds me that there are people out there that believe this garbage and they will continue to believe it until they have an alternative point of view to put it against.

Today was another one of those days. I flipped on the radio and began to listen.

After all the commercials for the “fear” products. (Gold to hedge your bets on the economy, Privacy software, etc…) I heard Rush tell his audience how in America we live in a meritocracy. The definition of a meritocracy is given to be how one rises to the top based on ones merit. This idea fits into the capitalist myth that the best products survive, the best ideas survive and the weaker things fail. The problem with this assertion is that counterexamples abound. Just look at Unix, Microsoft Windows and Apple OS to name a one. Windows trudges on in this capitalist system regardless of the fact that it is by far the worst of these three operating systems. The real truth is that the product with the most aggressive marketing wins, regardless of whether the marketing is true or false. And, products that have a market presence are more likely to maintain it than an equal newly introduced product. The bottom line is that products do not excel merely on their merit and neither do people.

In the case of people, marketing and prior standing are more important than merit. Now, I am not saying that merit does not mean anything. Of course merit is part of the equation. But it is certainly not the only nor the most important parameter in the equation. We can envision society having positions to fill in the shape of a pyramid. As one rises there are fewer and positions with higher and higher value. If we imagine that those at the top award the vacancies as they appear then they award them to there family and friends before they fill them with those who truly merit the positions. Therefore some of the positions will be awarded by merit, but for the most part family and friends will be rewarded first.

Imagine a simple example. I don’t believe that I need to specify names and companies, but the general family business is founded, grown and eventually passed on to an heir. In general, do you believe that the heir has earned the company through merit? It may be the case that some heirs may have made daddy proud, but to the point of being better than the average MBA? If a classmate to an heir had applied for the same position do you think that daddy would have used merit to determine who would get the job?

The point is, America is not a meritocracy. America has some aspects of a meritocracy, to the point that for positions in the upper reaches of society there are some open spaces for some new people to rise into that society. But by all means America’s upper reaches of society is not occupied exclusively by people who have earned the right to be there. This is a myth, and we all know this. The heirs to the “old” money in this country more than likely do not deserve their positions in the upper class. They were born into their positions. And, we all know this, because we know that Paris Hilton did not merit her money or her fame. And, neither do many other lesser known rich folk.

Every single one of us knows that people get hired because they know someone. Every single one of us knows people who are employed that do not deserve the position that they are in. Every single one of us knows that money talks and if you already have the money then you are more likely to be able to persuade people to do what you want regardless of the merit of an idea. The old boys network is a prime example of this in action. The old men in society are connected because of their interactions with each other. These networks are powerful enough to influence city councils, mayors and other politicians regardless of the merit of a project or proposal. Merit is secondary to the will of the few people who pull the strings. Perhaps when a couple of the old boys can’t come to an agreement, then they may give it to the people to decide. Then each side pours in the money in order to persuade the people to their side of the argument.

The conservative right knows this too. Rush Limbaugh knows this. Because, if they really believed that people in America rose in society because of merit, and they supported this idea, then they would certainly be advocating the inheritance tax as a means to force those freeloaders to earn the rewards of upper class positions in society by the merits of their actions and accomplishments rather than the wealth of their daddy. You just can’t rationally support the idea of a meritocracy and be for any form of passing wealth on to the next generation through anything but merit. And, the next generation should be given equal rewards for equal merit. Students who excel should earn free education. Jobs should be awarded based on merit, not who you know. The old boys network should be seen as the Mafia network that it really is. Our society should not perpetuate the myth of a meritocracy until there is evidence that supports this as fact.

Anyway, thanks Rush for inspiring me to write another blog after being quiet for so many days.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit