Author Topic: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?  (Read 3099 times)

Herbert Derp

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Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« on: September 24, 2017, 12:35:22 AM »
These days, inequality has become a frequent topic of discussion, and I often hear meritocracy being posed as a solution of sorts. But I can't help but have mixed feelings about it, and wonder if a world with more meritocracy would truly be more enjoyable than what we have.

A little about myself: I grew up in a very poor neighborhood and went to one of the worst public school systems in my state. My parents always lived below their means and were able to pay for my degree at an unremarkable public university.

Aside from my college degree, I never received any help from my family which would benefit me in terms of social mobility. I never had a family network of connections. I was never pressured to perform well academically or participate in extracurricular activities. Growing up, my parents just let me do whatever I wanted, which mostly involved playing videogames. I've never been academically minded, and for the most part find lectures and coursework to be boring and tedious.

Yet somehow, I've succeeded beyond anyone's wildest expectations. After graduating college, I began a lucrative career and am on track to become a millionaire in my late 20s and retire in my early 30s. But despite all of this success, nobody was all that surprised--and the reason lies in the aforementioned subject of meritocracy.

You see, I've always known that I was significantly more intelligent than average. Growing up, everyone always told me that I was very smart, but it wasn't until after I became an adult that I truly understood what that meant.

Looking back on my life, I realize just how privileged I was--not in money or social connections, but in raw intellect. As I mentioned earlier, I never cared much for academics, so I just kind of coasted along for all of grade school. Which for me, apparently, resulted in an A average. I would get academic awards on a regular basis, despite neither trying or caring to perform well academically. One of the most common comments on my report cards was "does not meet potential," which I used to think was weird because the numbers said that I was doing quite well.

There were a few times growing up where I really realized my privilege. One time around 5th grade, I was walking to the school parking lot with my parents after an honor ceremony. I had only gotten "Honor Roll" instead of the usual "High Honor Roll," and was complaining and whining to my parents about how only "stupid" kids get the regular Honor Roll. My mom got angry with me, and told me that for most students it was an honor to get Honor Roll, and I was being disrespectful.

Another time, my algebra teacher was quizzing the class and called on one girl who was really struggling to understand the course material. After she struggled for a few minutes and was unable to correctly solve the problem, the teacher moved on to me, and I was able to effortlessly solve the problem. But the first student had an interesting reaction which I will always remember: she actually broke down into tears, right in the middle of class, and started lamenting about how unfair it was. I quickly realized why she had become so upset. I knew how much she was struggling with the coursework. I saw her taking extra time with the teacher on a regular basis to go over problems. I knew that she was genuinely trying to do well in that class, but was still failing despite her best effort. Meanwhile, here I was maintaining a 100% average like it was nothing. The sad part was that she was absolutely correct about how unfair it was, and there was nothing that she could do about it.

More recently, over the course of my career, I've seen two of my coworkers neglect their families to spend countless late hours in the office, yet still get fired for underperforming. Meanwhile, I was able to accomplish the same work with relative ease and earn a promotion. The reason why I got promoted and they got fired had nothing to do with how much hard work and dedication we all put in, and everything to do with the simple reality that I was more talented than they were.

What I've taken out of all of this is that merits such as superior intellect, talent, and "resilience" are just more unfair privileges that people happen to be born with--not unlike familial wealth or social standing. I didn't earn my intelligence or my talents, I was just born with them. Furthermore, I've used these privileges to succeed in life where those without them would have failed.

In our current system, success is determined in part by all sorts of privileges outside of our control. As far as I can see, meritocracy is all about picking and choosing a subset of these privileges that we are more comfortable with. Proponents of meritocracy seem to think that it is all about equality and fairness, but in my mind it seems to be an endorsement of unfairness--a system where merit is seen as some sort of virtue, instead of the privilege that it really is.

So how great is meritocracy, really? What are your thoughts?
« Last Edit: October 02, 2017, 12:33:49 PM by Herbert Derp »

madgeylou

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2017, 01:35:35 AM »
I think this is a very thoughtful post. I have the same advantages and similar disadvantages as you -- always knew I was smarter than most others, and never blamed the chaos of my childhood on myself, I always knew it was something random that wasn't my fault.

So I get where you're coming from with the critique of meritocracy.

I think part of the issue with meritocracy is the fact that we keep score with money and proxies for money. What if we kept score on other criteria, too? What if we valued the ability to care for old people and babies and the disabled (which I struggle mightily with) as much as we value the ability to solve a complex software/business process problem (which comes easily to me)? What if we valued effective community advocacy as much as marketing or technological prowess?

There's also the fact that there are so many inequalities built right into the fabric of our culture -- so that many people who potentially could move up in society based on their abilities often never get a chance to. Any true meritocracy would have to solve this problem as well, because otherwise it's a tilted playing field and not a true meritocracy at all. This would include dismantling institutional racism and sexism, making the physical world more navigable by folks with disabilities, ensuring all children have access to proper nutrition, resolving environmental issues that disproportionately harm vulnerable populations ... and on and on.

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2017, 04:39:48 AM »
Agree with OP and madgeylou.  I am firmly of the belief that every single human on the planet has something they are good at.  A true meritocracy would value each person's "good at" equally.

There's another problem with the so-called meritocratic society which is that it isn't meritocratic in the least because there are heavily entrenched privileges and disadvantages.  But by calling a society meritocratic, and paying lip-service to it by allowing the occasional exceptional person to succeed in readily understood terms, the people with the entrenched privileges are allowed to think that they themselves have come out on top by virtue of their merits not their privilege.  Which then leads to them both being unjustifiably self-satisfied about their own merits and unjustifiably blaming of anyone who hasn't "come out on top".
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Herbert Derp

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #3 on: September 24, 2017, 05:32:36 AM »
Agree with OP and madgeylou.  I am firmly of the belief that every single human on the planet has something they are good at.  A true meritocracy would value each person's "good at" equally.

That's an interesting take on meritocracy, and I'm not sure that I agree. In my opinion, a true meritocracy is a society where success is based solely on innate traits and personal accomplishments rather than environmental factors. In other words, a society where talent and achievement mean everything, and money and connections mean nothing. For example, a society where only the most talented players make it into the NFL, or where skill at law rather than familial connections gets you into a top law firm.

The notion that everyone should be rewarded equally for what they are good at is inherently absurd, and ignores the reality of supply and demand. If your talent is not in demand by anyone, then why should it be valued? Suppose that I was in the top 1% of people in terms of my talent at stacking plastic bottles on top of each other without them falling over. Why should I expect the same level of success as someone who is in the top 1% at something which is actually useful?

Also, who's to say that everyone has to be good at something--and even if they are, what if it still isn't good enough? Take my two coworkers who got fired for underperforming. They obviously had to possess considerable skill or else they wouldn't have been hired in the first place. But that level of ability simply wasn't enough in the cutthroat meritocracy of my corporate environment. What about all the college football players who aren't good enough to make it into the NFL? You have to be quite skilled at football just to make it into the college level, and the fact that most of these players fail to make it to the NFL is because the NFL is more or less a meritocracy.

In my eyes, a true meritocracy is not some kind of care bear world where everyone gets a trophy--it's a harsh reality where only the best get the trophy. A survival of the fittest world where only the qualified candidates get the job and the unqualified have no choice but to look elsewhere. It has more in common with Social Darwinism than Egalitarianism.

But my point isn't that meritocracy is a bad thing because it is harsh and unfair. It's that meritocracy is deeply flawed at a philosophical level because of the cognitive dissonance involved with separating merit from privilege. Intellect, talent, and the like are the underpinnings of merit, and it is pretty obvious that these traits are privileges. If you are anti-privilege and pro-fairness, then you should be opposed to meritocracy because it reclassifies certain privileges as virtues which it then uses to justify unfairness.

Perhaps meritocracy could escape this cognitive dissonance if all people were actually created equal, but the reality is that all people are not created equal. We are all born with or without certain innate privileges.
« Last Edit: September 24, 2017, 06:26:45 AM by Herbert Derp »

scottish

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2017, 03:08:42 PM »
In terms of achievement, how would you distinguish between someone like yourself and Travis Kalanick (the former CEO of Uber)?   

I'm suggesting that M. Kalanick is a bit of a dick, while you are not.   He headed up a company that had the great idea of displacing the taxi business.   But he also did his best to run roughshod over his employees, city bylaws, and anything else that stood in his way.


JustGettingStarted1980

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2017, 03:40:32 PM »
My question to the OP. Why do so many talented individuals with raw intellectual horsepower AND plenty of social/financial support still manage to screw their lives up?

IMHO, it's not just brains that get you there, soft skills matter too. Give yourself some credit in that regard (for example,you are capable of empathy,as shown above)

Hotstreak

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #6 on: September 24, 2017, 04:23:40 PM »
  A true meritocracy would value each person's "good at" equally.



You're confusing Meritocracy with Communism.

Herbert Derp

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #7 on: September 24, 2017, 04:42:57 PM »
In terms of achievement, how would you distinguish between someone like yourself and Travis Kalanick (the former CEO of Uber)?   

I'm suggesting that M. Kalanick is a bit of a dick, while you are not.   He headed up a company that had the great idea of displacing the taxi business.   But he also did his best to run roughshod over his employees, city bylaws, and anything else that stood in his way.

I think Mr. Kalanick had to be highly intelligent in order to achieve the things he did, and if you put a person of below-average intellect in his place, there's no chance that they could have built a company like Uber.

As for his tendency to run roughshod over the interests of other people, I think this is a trait shared by many highly successful individuals. Once your influence grows to a certain point, you are bound to start stepping on other people's toes. People who can't stomach that would tend to be held back, in my opinion. Travis Kalanick is a particularly callous example, but Steve Jobs also had the same trait. Would Napoleon or Alexander the Great have accomplished the things they did if they were concerned about stepping on other people's toes in order to achieve their goals?

My question to the OP. Why do so many talented individuals with raw intellectual horsepower AND plenty of social/financial support still manage to screw their lives up?

IMHO, it's not just brains that get you there, soft skills matter too. Give yourself some credit in that regard (for example,you are capable of empathy,as shown above)

There's definitely an element of random chance involved. Even the smartest people make bad decisions, and a single bad decision could ruin someone's career. I know of people who are way smarter than me who chose much lower paying careers. I don't think that either they nor I could have predicted exactly how things were going to turn out at the time we chose our careers. There are other personality factors at work, too. Smart people may also possess awful personalities that prevent them from succeeding, such as being incredibly lazy.
« Last Edit: September 24, 2017, 04:49:15 PM by Herbert Derp »

kamille

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #8 on: September 25, 2017, 03:27:46 AM »
Hi OP, I enjoyed reading your post. The difference between the privileges of meritocracy (intellect and talent) and aristocracy (family wealth and social status) is the former is natural and the latter is one of artificial construct. Meritocracy is the fairer alternative in my opinion because it is more congruent with the American Dream that all citizens have the opportunity to succeed and prosper through hard-work, determination, and initiative. It is a system to help lessen unfairness in an unfair world.

Meritocracy is a competition, but it doesn’t have to be harsh and cutthroat. Individuals can use their talents for the greater good to help make society a better place rather than solely for their own individual goals.  Sometimes there is confusion in discussions like these between equal opportunities and equal outcomes. The problem is not that people have different degrees of privileges; the problem is the disadvantages preventing individuals from reaching their potential.

Maybe your former coworkers found another job that they were better suited for? Maybe you could have offered to tutor your former classmates? People have different views of their own success and having a high paying career may not be one of them. If you succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations, why was nobody surprised? Your economic privileges were maybe scarce, but you made up for it through your own merit. You may claim you were just born with your talents, but everyone still has to practice to make their talents useful. Privilege doesn't guarantee success, it just helps to varying extents. I would have been more insulted if people were surprised by my success than lack of it. :-)

sokoloff

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #9 on: September 25, 2017, 06:36:02 AM »
Hi OP, I enjoyed reading your post. The difference between the privileges of meritocracy (intellect and talent) and aristocracy (family wealth and social status) is the former is natural and the latter is one of artificial construct. Meritocracy is the fairer alternative in my opinion because it is more congruent with the American Dream that all citizens have the opportunity to succeed and prosper through hard-work, determination, and initiative. It is a system to help lessen unfairness in an unfair world.
There needs to be some amount of inter-generational transfer (not zero), but perhaps much less than today's extreme amounts. Should my children be able to inherit their family home [provided I own it free-and-clear] or the family lake house [that I don't actually have] where they built memories with four generations of their family? I think so. Should I be allowed to pass along such great wealth to my kids that neither they nor their children or grandchildren would have a need to ever work? I think not. Where's the right balance in-between those extremes? I don't know.

Even without direct transfers of assets, the fact that my wife and I spend large amounts of time (and non-trivial amounts of money) on our kids to allow them to most fully develop confers an advantage to them that is not strictly meritocratic on their own. We have computers, science kits, craft supplies, go to museums, cook dinner at home, play Minecraft and Yahtzee together, flew to see the solar eclipse, etc. My wife freelances and is home with the kids when they get out at 2:15. Families of generation zero who have a need to work two [or three] jobs, whose kids are in daycare or afterschool babysitting programs, who are too exhausted to meaningfully engage with their kids, who might get to take one driving vacation every three years instead of three flying vacations every year, etc. The privilege that upper-middle class families are able to confer on the next generation even if they die flat broke is much greater than what the working poor are able to confer on their offspring, to say nothing of the people worse off than the working poor.

I don't have any great answer, and I sure don't intend to starve my kids in order to keep the game fair for others, but I struggle with competing ideas of "I should absolutely enable my kids to reach their full potential, including educational and at least a small financial support" and "in the limit, that is aristocratic, and for every Prince Harry, there seem to be a great many Hilton sisters..."

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #10 on: September 25, 2017, 07:46:03 AM »
In my opinion, a true meritocracy is a society where success is based solely on innate traits and personal accomplishments rather than environmental factors. In other words, a society where talent and achievement mean everything, and money and connections mean nothing.

It's difficult to imagine how this could ever be a reality.  There are always going to be differences in how someone is raised and taught that could put even two identical twins separated at birth on different paths in life.  Money and connections will always mean something because they'll (at minimum) influence this very early education.

dcheesi

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #11 on: September 25, 2017, 12:12:29 PM »
In my opinion, a true meritocracy is a society where success is based solely on innate traits and personal accomplishments rather than environmental factors. In other words, a society where talent and achievement mean everything, and money and connections mean nothing.

It's difficult to imagine how this could ever be a reality.  There are always going to be differences in how someone is raised and taught that could put even two identical twins separated at birth on different paths in life.  Money and connections will always mean something because they'll (at minimum) influence this very early education.
Yep, parents with the means will always find some way to give their children an advantage; it's basic human nature. The only way to be truly "fair" in terms of individual merit would be to remove parents from the picture completely, raising every child in a uniform environment from birth conception (prenatal environment being an external influence as well) a la Brave New World. Which is not very likely to happen.

Breck

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #12 on: September 25, 2017, 12:52:14 PM »
I agree that meritocracy has significant flaws if a concurrent goal is fairness.

I've been struggling with this recently. It seems meritocracy is a side-effect of capitalism, which is also inherently unfair. But the amount of good this system (capitalism / meritocracy) creates is kind of crazy to think about. All of these people working for each other in a surprisingly efficient manner achieving all kinds of progress. Compare to any time in history and it's kind of insane.

But there are significant vices. Technological trends (reduced value of simple labor) combined with the continual consolidation of wealth at the top are leaving a lot of people out to dry. Here's a good article on class stratification:
https://www.joshuakennon.com/sum-small-things-theory-aspirational-class/

I think what's clear to me (and I would love to be wrong) is that any re-structuring to equalize things (i.e. more value on taking care of the old/sick/homeless, living wage for people capable of only menial tasks, etc.) would come at a cost. Maybe the cost is worth it. Maybe we only get a new iPhone every other year or autonomous cars take another 20 years to become a reality. Or maybe trash piles up at curbs and people die at the emergency room because no doctor is working today.

We generally ignore all the things we take for granted and focus on the things we don't like in any system. But I have hope that the discussions happening today lead to more consideration of what we value as people and how we can influence society to reflect that.



Edit to add:
I forgot to mention that I really enjoyed the OP - felt like it was kind of my story being told by someone else. Just comparing our stories actually lead me to a thought about meritocracy. It sounds like you're in a cut throat kind of corporate job where people are being fired for not achieving and you're able to achieve millionaire status in your 20s. I'm in a more laid back engineering corporate company that is known for not firing people, just shuffling them around. Again, this is ignoring a bunch of other factors, but I'll reach a million around 32. What's interesting is that I know I could make more money with my talents elsewhere, but I'm making the trade for better job security, less stress, and more flexibility in work hours. I don't know if we as a society could make that trade in such a way that there is more equality and still motivate talented people like the OP to achieve very difficult tasks.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2017, 01:09:12 PM by Breck »

simonsez

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #13 on: September 25, 2017, 01:51:49 PM »
In my opinion, a true meritocracy is a society where success is based solely on innate traits and personal accomplishments rather than environmental factors. In other words, a society where talent and achievement mean everything, and money and connections mean nothing.

It's difficult to imagine how this could ever be a reality.  There are always going to be differences in how someone is raised and taught that could put even two identical twins separated at birth on different paths in life.  Money and connections will always mean something because they'll (at minimum) influence this very early education.
Yep, parents with the means will always find some way to give their children an advantage; it's basic human nature. The only way to be truly "fair" in terms of individual merit would be to remove parents from the picture completely, raising every child in a uniform environment from birth conception (prenatal environment being an external influence as well) a la Brave New World. Which is not very likely to happen.
Agree with this.  Even if you don't go so far as the Huxley human harvesting route, wealthy parents would just illegally gift their kids money/assets before it was all taken away in death (if you had a system that allowed no inter-generational transfers in the name of meritocracy).

As for every human having something they are good at, I disagree.  Humans became too good at surviving about 10,000 years ago and WAY too good within the last 150 years or so.  It's a net positive for society (the specialization of tasks, technological advances, etc.) but we definitely have humans that are so severely disabled that I honestly don't know what they can contribute, let alone be good at anything.  I'm fine with this arrangement.  I'm okay with being taxed a little to subsidize those that would otherwise be unable.  I also think becoming really good at surviving on a species level has allowed our value of life to change, even from the beginning of the 20th Century to this point.  It would be hard for this mentality to be shaken, because it goes hand in hand with parents and even prospective parents having the innate desire to set up their future generations to succeed, and that starts with surviving birth.

Lyssa

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #14 on: September 25, 2017, 01:55:36 PM »
I agree that a true meritocracy would not necessarily be "fair". Honestly, by now I don't think a society can ever be really or even largely "fair".

However, meritocracy is not only better for gifted/resilient individuals but for everyone in total because elites picked based on merit will by and large produce superior results compared based on elites e.g. based on being born in the right family. Case in point: that is one of the major reason why western capitalism together with the rule of law managed to unleash forces that allowed the nations that practiced a variation of those ideas to progress beyond even their own imagination in just a few generations.

But yes: distribution of intelligence, resilience etc is deeply unfair. And it is important to keep that in mind and to set up society in a way that allows less gifted individuals to still be and feel useful and valued. With technological progress accelerating this is getting more and more difficult and imho by now a serious problem.

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #15 on: September 25, 2017, 02:02:28 PM »
Meritocracy : a political philosophy stating that power should be vested in individuals based on ability and talent.

We have that already. The individuals in power are those with the best ability and most talent.... at accumulating power.
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scottish

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #16 on: September 25, 2017, 03:51:58 PM »
In terms of achievement, how would you distinguish between someone like yourself and Travis Kalanick (the former CEO of Uber)?   

I'm suggesting that M. Kalanick is a bit of a dick, while you are not.   He headed up a company that had the great idea of displacing the taxi business.   But he also did his best to run roughshod over his employees, city bylaws, and anything else that stood in his way.

I think Mr. Kalanick had to be highly intelligent in order to achieve the things he did, and if you put a person of below-average intellect in his place, there's no chance that they could have built a company like Uber.

As for his tendency to run roughshod over the interests of other people, I think this is a trait shared by many highly successful individuals. Once your influence grows to a certain point, you are bound to start stepping on other people's toes. People who can't stomach that would tend to be held back, in my opinion. Travis Kalanick is a particularly callous example, but Steve Jobs also had the same trait. Would Napoleon or Alexander the Great have accomplished the things they did if they were concerned about stepping on other people's toes in order to achieve their goals?

Are these the sort of people we want running a country then?   A little bit like the idea of Donald Trump with all his negative baggage, only imagine the Trumpster with the brains of Kalanick or Jobs?    No thanks!     The only time I'd want someone like that in charge is in a time of great crisis, when the survival of the country is at stake.    We can generally bumble along just fine with our mediocre politicians and bureaucrats.

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #17 on: September 26, 2017, 12:12:47 AM »
It appears you are concern trolling and doing an excellent job, bravo!

I wholeheartedly agree what we need is WAY more meritocracy and much less whining from people. Raw intellect and hard work needs to be valued above almost everything else, with obvious concern for not being a complete psychopath being part of the deal. I have lived in China for 10+ years and its sink or swim here. The result are kids that are much better than what I see in the USA. China is still at best a poorer, middle income country. Wait until they are Japan but instead of 100 million people on a rocky, island, they are 1.4 billion people with plenty of natural resources and all of Central Asia on lockdown.

Meritocracy somehow became, your child is too smart, lets make everyone stupid so that my snowflake can compete. That wont work for an extended period of time, especially not if the USA wants to continue to be a pleasant place to live.

Herbert Derp

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #18 on: September 26, 2017, 02:10:57 AM »
Hi OP, I enjoyed reading your post. The difference between the privileges of meritocracy (intellect and talent) and aristocracy (family wealth and social status) is the former is natural and the latter is one of artificial construct. Meritocracy is the fairer alternative in my opinion because it is more congruent with the American Dream that all citizens have the opportunity to succeed and prosper through hard-work, determination, and initiative. It is a system to help lessen unfairness in an unfair world.

The "American dream" outlook still fails if you lack the talent to succeed. Not everyone can make it into the NFL, even if they work hard. Not everyone is talented enough to become an investment banker working for one of the top companies. Sure, people can redefine success to fit within their limited capabilities. But true fairness ought to imply that everyone can achieve anything if they put their mind to it. Obviously, this is false, and meritocracy acts as a filter to decide who gets to succeed and who gets to fail.

So does replacing aristocracy with meritocracy actually increase fairness? Or does it just replace one type of unfairness with another? Think about it this way: there are X amount of people in the NFL. Now imagine that the NFL was an aristocracy. If you wanted to be in the NFL, you must be one of X people selected from aristocratic families. If the NFL was changed from aristocracy to meritocracy, there would still only be X people in the NFL. Therefore, now if you want to join the NFL, you must be one of the X most talented football players in the entire world. That seems just as unfair, because your chance of belonging to either group of X individuals is vanishingly small.

On a side note, the actual definition of the American Dream reads "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. ... It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable." In other words, the American Dream does specifically state that less talented people get less opportunity.

I agree that a true meritocracy would not necessarily be "fair". Honestly, by now I don't think a society can ever be really or even largely "fair".

However, meritocracy is not only better for gifted/resilient individuals but for everyone in total because elites picked based on merit will by and large produce superior results compared based on elites e.g. based on being born in the right family. Case in point: that is one of the major reason why western capitalism together with the rule of law managed to unleash forces that allowed the nations that practiced a variation of those ideas to progress beyond even their own imagination in just a few generations.

But yes: distribution of intelligence, resilience etc is deeply unfair. And it is important to keep that in mind and to set up society in a way that allows less gifted individuals to still be and feel useful and valued. With technological progress accelerating this is getting more and more difficult and imho by now a serious problem.

Agreed that meritocracy is a more efficient system because it puts the best people in every job. I would expect a meritocratic society to outcompete an aristocratic society. In theory, a meritocracy could be better for everyone--but this is because of efficiency, not fairness. This kind of argument is kin to Trickle-down economics or Objectivism--it's definitely not about fairness at all! But yet, I see so many advocates of meritocracy preaching fairness.

This has been my argument all along--that meritocracy is a fundamentally unfair system based on privilege. If someone is advocating for meritocracy out of a desire for equality and fairness, they had better take a step back and rethink things. If you're advocating for meritocracy out of a desire to increase efficiency and build a more advanced society, then I don't disagree.

Are these the sort of people we want running a country then?   A little bit like the idea of Donald Trump with all his negative baggage, only imagine the Trumpster with the brains of Kalanick or Jobs?    No thanks!     The only time I'd want someone like that in charge is in a time of great crisis, when the survival of the country is at stake.    We can generally bumble along just fine with our mediocre politicians and bureaucrats.

I think it's just natural that leaders tend to be of the type that can make hard decisions that hurt a lot of people. It's impossible to make any major decision as a leader without screwing over someone. Even Obama made plenty of decisions that destroyed communities and ruined lives.
« Last Edit: September 26, 2017, 02:52:41 AM by Herbert Derp »

kamille

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #19 on: September 26, 2017, 04:49:15 AM »
I still think the American Dream sounds more in line with meritocracy than aristocracy. It wasn't supposed to mean you can be anything you want, just that what station in life you were born and raised in shouldn't hinder your opportunity to achieve it. This is Thomas Jefferson's views on the matter:

"For I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents. Formerly bodily powers gave place among the aristoi. But since the invention of gunpowder has armed the weak as well as the strong with missile death, bodily strength, like beauty, good humor, politeness and other accomplishments, has become but an auxiliary ground of distinction. There is also an artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents; for with these it would belong to the first class. The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society. And indeed it would have been inconsistent in creation to have formed man for the social state, and not to have provided virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns of the society. May we not even say that that form of government is the best which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government? The artificial aristocracy is a mischievous ingredient in government, and provision should be made to prevent it’s ascendancy."

I thought one of the goals of the Founding Fathers was to move away from the aristocracy system that had been implemented in Europe for centuries. Isn't a democracy in direct contrast to an aristocracy? I'm not saying a meritocracy is perfect equality and fairness, but I'm definitely arguing it is more fair than aristocracy. Maybe it is the hope part that people cling to even though the outcomes are the same in that only a small percentage make it to the very top.

kamille

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #20 on: September 26, 2017, 04:54:58 AM »
Meritocracy : a political philosophy stating that power should be vested in individuals based on ability and talent.

We have that already. The individuals in power are those with the best ability and most talent.... at accumulating power.

I wonder though if the current president would be where he is now if not for the small million dollar loan and his father's real-estate connections?

ooeei

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #21 on: September 26, 2017, 06:04:53 AM »
The problem is in order to have this sort of system, you have to have some centralized entity decide what traits are good and what are bad. That's a notoriously hard thing to pin down, and I think capitalism already does it as well as any centralized system would.

Everyone gets really fixated on intelligence in these discussions, but being good at math and school doesn't make you more qualified than everyone else for all of the jobs in the world. Leadership is about much more than being "book smart" and is very hard to quantify with any sort of test. Charisma, ability to relate to people, willingness to take risk, being an exceptional public speaker, these are all things that are hard to test. There are plenty of leaders and visionaries out there who did worse in school than the people working for them, but are great at leading. Here's an interesting article on a group of valedictorians tracked after high school.

http://time.com/money/4779223/valedictorian-success-research-barking-up-wrong/

Quote
“Even though most are strong occupational achievers, the great majority of former high school valedictorians do not appear headed for the very top of adult achievement arenas.” In another interview Arnold said, “Valedictorians aren’t likely to be the future’s visionaries . . . they typically settle into the system instead of shaking it up.”

These sorts of topics also usually seem to gravitate toward the stereotypical lazy rich kid whose parents buy their success in some big business firm. While this does happen sometimes, these people also usually end up doing pretty well at their jobs, if they didn't the businesses wouldn't survive. Just because someone is a spoiled kid doesn't mean they won't be able to perform well as an adult in the real world.

Here's an article that says the average millionaire's GPA is 2.9. 
http://www.businessinsider.com/eric-barker-millionaires-bad-grades-gpa-2017-6

The theory is this happens because kids like OP (and admittedly myself) who are able to just coast through school and aren't challenged as much as the kid who struggles to get that B.  They have to manage their studies with the rest of their life, and find efficient ways to get things done. I'm not sure how well backed that theory is, it's also possible that GPA just doesn't matter that much so it just ends up being an average GPA and has nothing to do with GPA at all. Basically, if the GPA of millionaires is in the same range as the typical college grad, it seems likely that GPA isn't correlated with being a millionaire.

Quote
And so what we see is that the average GPA, college GPA of American millionaires is actually 2.9. And while valedictorians generally score high in the personality trait of conscientiousness. What you see among the millionaires with their 2.9 GPAs is they’re known for grit.

Maybe they don't comply with rules that well but they stick with goals over the long term. And that how they do really well. And sometimes they don’t play by the rules, sometimes they do things differently. Because in school rules are very clear in life rules are not so clear.

So a certain amount of not playing by the rules is advantageous once you get out of a closed system like education.

Meritocracy : a political philosophy stating that power should be vested in individuals based on ability and talent.

We have that already. The individuals in power are those with the best ability and most talent.... at accumulating power.

I wonder though if the current president would be where he is now if not for the small million dollar loan and his father's real-estate connections?

I wonder how many other people got million dollar loans and had family connections, and never became president.

« Last Edit: September 26, 2017, 06:06:44 AM by ooeei »

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #22 on: September 26, 2017, 07:08:35 AM »
Here's an article that says the average millionaire's GPA is 2.9. 
http://www.businessinsider.com/eric-barker-millionaires-bad-grades-gpa-2017-6

Fairly common knowledge, the A students end up working for the C students.
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simonsez

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #23 on: September 26, 2017, 07:15:11 AM »
The valedictorian compared to millionaire GPA isn't really apples to apples. 

Compare valedictorian salary/net worth compared to 2.9 GPA salary/net worth.  I suspect the former comes out ahead.  In fact, I'd wager that valedictorians have higher odds to become millionaires than those with a 2.9 GPA do.

And if these gritty millionaires really did average a 2.9 GPA, I'd argue they left financial aid/scholarship money on the table (by not having better grades) which is keeping them from being even wealthier ceteris paribus.

I've heard similar arguments in the NFL where people say that there are more 3 stars (a subjective system to rank high schoolers on their way to college, 1 to 5 stars) in the NFL than 5 stars, thus somehow lending credence to the idea that either 3 stars have more grit or some intangible or that the ranking system is all wrong.  When in reality, a 5 star recruit has a 3 in 5 chance of being drafted and a 3 star has a 1 in 18 chance.  The glut of 3 stars is what skews this - there are about 30 5 star recruits each year and 1600 3 stars.

Valedictorians are your 5 star recruit.  They don't have a 100% success rate but they've setup the next phase of life favorably.  Can you succeed if you aren't a valedictorian?  Of course!  The vast majority of successes/millionaires/whatever are not valedictorians but I don't think that has much to do with valedictorians lacking grit or some trait - there just aren't that many of them.

GuitarStv

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #24 on: September 26, 2017, 08:06:41 AM »
Meritocracy : a political philosophy stating that power should be vested in individuals based on ability and talent.

We have that already. The individuals in power are those with the best ability and most talent.... at accumulating power.

We need to set and be able to measure metrics accurately to ever implement a meritocracy.  This is extremely difficult, and I suspect is the reason that we so often end up awarding people positions of leadership based on abilities that have little to nothing to do with their qualities as leaders.

scantee

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #25 on: September 26, 2017, 08:11:56 AM »
Quote
More recently, over the course of my career, I've seen two of my coworkers neglect their families to spend countless late hours in the office, yet still get fired for underperforming. Meanwhile, I was able to accomplish the same work with relative ease and earn a promotion. The reason why I got promoted and they got fired had nothing to do with how much hard work and dedication we all put in, and everything to do with the simple reality that I was more talented than they were.

While you were more talented  than these coworkers, you are almost certainly less talented or not as smart as someone out there. That's not a slight against you, just a means to point out that intelligence exists on a spectrum. It is not as if we can easily draw a line between the naturally smart and talented and those who are not.

To keep progressing, a mature capitalist society relies on millions of people doing different kinds of work. Pure meritocracy doesn't work in this situation because our advanced economy requires different skills sets for different types of jobs and simply being "book smart" isn't enough for many of these jobs. As someone else pointed out, having a high IQ or doing awesome in school doesn't mean you'll be a good leader or even be able to work in a team environment (::cough:: google memo guy ::cough::), which is essential for most professional work these days.

Rather than focusing on meritocracy, I think it makes more sense to focus on differentiation and specialization: matching people up with careers that best fit their innate skills and interests. Right now, we do a pretty poor job of this. Basically people just self sort into careers that interest them or are the default careers for their social groups. It's amazingly inefficient way of get people into the types of jobs they'd be best at.

Finally, I'm glad that someone brought up Travis Kalanick because I think he a great example of the limits of meritocracy. Is he smart? You bet. However, he is not smart enough to know when to get out of his own way.  Part of what brought him down was his absolute certainty that because he is smarter than almost everyone else, that all of his decisions are better than everyone else's too. Not true. He would have benefited greatly if he could have acknowledged his areas of weakness and allowed others to step in and support him in those areas.

ooeei

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #26 on: September 26, 2017, 10:07:14 AM »
The valedictorian compared to millionaire GPA isn't really apples to apples. 

Compare valedictorian salary/net worth compared to 2.9 GPA salary/net worth.  I suspect the former comes out ahead.  In fact, I'd wager that valedictorians have higher odds to become millionaires than those with a 2.9 GPA do.

And if these gritty millionaires really did average a 2.9 GPA, I'd argue they left financial aid/scholarship money on the table (by not having better grades) which is keeping them from being even wealthier ceteris paribus.

I've heard similar arguments in the NFL where people say that there are more 3 stars (a subjective system to rank high schoolers on their way to college, 1 to 5 stars) in the NFL than 5 stars, thus somehow lending credence to the idea that either 3 stars have more grit or some intangible or that the ranking system is all wrong.  When in reality, a 5 star recruit has a 3 in 5 chance of being drafted and a 3 star has a 1 in 18 chance.  The glut of 3 stars is what skews this - there are about 30 5 star recruits each year and 1600 3 stars.

Valedictorians are your 5 star recruit.  They don't have a 100% success rate but they've setup the next phase of life favorably.  Can you succeed if you aren't a valedictorian?  Of course!  The vast majority of successes/millionaires/whatever are not valedictorians but I don't think that has much to do with valedictorians lacking grit or some trait - there just aren't that many of them.

I don't doubt that valedictorians on average do better than those lower than them in GPA. The question we have to answer is, does high performance in school reliably correlate to suitability for whatever jobs this meritocracy is dealing out. Would the world be a better place if every CEO and president was a 4.0 student? Would our society be stronger for it?

I don't think it would. I think it's good we have some lower performing students in high level roles. School is a good indicator that you're willing to work within a strict set of guidelines in a controlled environment to get a known result. The real world is not like school (as most of us know), and many of the secondary skills like how you interact with people or deal with problems you've never been taught about are absolutely crucial to success. Everyone here has met the brainiac who can barely hold a conversation with someone or can only do things in their own specialist bubble. We've also met the higher level bosses who struggle with the technical details, but are inspiring and motivate other people to be their best selves and are flexible when dealing with new problems. The kind of guy that makes me think of the scene in one of the Transformers movies where they're all pissed off and arguing until Optimus gives an inspiring speech, and the Samurai guy defeatedly says "man, you just wanna die for the guy." and they all go on their merry way as a team again.

If this meritocracy proposes something besides school grades and test scores to get your "societal rank" then I'd have to hear what that specific solution is before judging it, because right now that's the only thing I can think of that comes close. This is one of those problems like timing the stock market. Buy low and sell high, duh. It sounds really simple, and it is. The devil is in the details, and actually being able to know when the market is low and when it's high. In this case it's determining who deserves those higher levels of responsibility/society through some centralized means.

I'm glad you brought up scholarships and financial aid, because that is an element of a meritocracy we currently have that I think most of us agree is a good thing. How much farther do we need to go?
« Last Edit: September 26, 2017, 10:10:56 AM by ooeei »

simonsez

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #27 on: September 26, 2017, 01:17:52 PM »
I don't doubt that valedictorians on average do better than those lower than them in GPA. The question we have to answer is, does high performance in school reliably correlate to suitability for whatever jobs this meritocracy is dealing out. Would the world be a better place if every CEO and president was a 4.0 student? Would our society be stronger for it?

I don't think it would.
I'd go with "Yes, high school performance correlates with financial performance ($$).  No, the world would not be a better place if every CEO/prez was a 4.0 student.  No, our society would not be stronger."

You changed the focus from a pool of millionaires to career suitability for the most meritorious hypothetical careers.  That's moving the goal posts a bit.  The comparison was made between millionaires and valedictorians.  All I was saying is that valedictorians will do better on average financially than someone with a 2.9 GPA and that statements like "Avg millionaire GPA is 2.9, avg valedictorian is not a millionaire, lack of grit cited!" are attention-grabbing and misleading. 

Valedictorians, or those with an average 2.9 GPA are not homogeneous groups.  Assigning jobs based on one metric without taking into account individual skill sets would be absurd.  I would never argue for that practice or that it would make society stronger.  Quite the opposite, actually.  It's fun to read about job-assigning systems from a safe distance in dystopian novels but by definition of a dystopian, they're a nightmare*.

Some valedictorians might be badass CEOs, same with some lower high school performers - there are a near infinite number of variables at play that determine the career(s) you enter and how much money you make (which I think is the point you are making).  I doubt anyone became a CEO because the others in power at the company thought "Hmm, this person didn't do the greatest in high school, let's give them a high level role."  It just works out that way naturally.

*-If anyone has any utopian book recommendations that are actually realistic, I'd love to hear about them

madgeylou

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #28 on: September 26, 2017, 01:44:39 PM »
*-If anyone has any utopian book recommendations that are actually realistic, I'd love to hear about them

"Island" by Aldous Huxley. The thing about Pala, his utopian society, is that the goal of the society is not technological progress or the acquisition of money. The society is oriented around increasing the happiness and health of the human beings who live there.

To me, any step toward utopia has to involve changing the method by which we keep score on what's good and what's not.

ooeei

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #29 on: September 26, 2017, 02:04:13 PM »
I don't doubt that valedictorians on average do better than those lower than them in GPA. The question we have to answer is, does high performance in school reliably correlate to suitability for whatever jobs this meritocracy is dealing out. Would the world be a better place if every CEO and president was a 4.0 student? Would our society be stronger for it?

I don't think it would.
I'd go with "Yes, high school performance correlates with financial performance ($$).  No, the world would not be a better place if every CEO/prez was a 4.0 student.  No, our society would not be stronger."

You changed the focus from a pool of millionaires to career suitability for the most meritorious hypothetical careers.  That's moving the goal posts a bit.  The comparison was made between millionaires and valedictorians.  All I was saying is that valedictorians will do better on average financially than someone with a 2.9 GPA and that statements like "Avg millionaire GPA is 2.9, avg valedictorian is not a millionaire, lack of grit cited!" are attention-grabbing and misleading. 

Valedictorians, or those with an average 2.9 GPA are not homogeneous groups.  Assigning jobs based on one metric without taking into account individual skill sets would be absurd.  I would never argue for that practice or that it would make society stronger.  Quite the opposite, actually.  It's fun to read about job-assigning systems from a safe distance in dystopian novels but by definition of a dystopian, they're a nightmare*.

Some valedictorians might be badass CEOs, same with some lower high school performers - there are a near infinite number of variables at play that determine the career(s) you enter and how much money you make (which I think is the point you are making).  I doubt anyone became a CEO because the others in power at the company thought "Hmm, this person didn't do the greatest in high school, let's give them a high level role."  It just works out that way naturally.

*-If anyone has any utopian book recommendations that are actually realistic, I'd love to hear about them

Ah okay, that all makes sense. From re-reading I see I misunderstood your post, and wasn't clear in my original post. I wasn't trying to compare the GPA of the millionaires with the valedictorians and say that you have a better chance at being rich if your GPA is 2.9. I was trying to point out that much more than GPA goes into who is successful and who isn't, which we seem to agree on. If the average millionaire has a GPA of 2.9, clearly a high GPA is not required to be a millionaire (although whether millionaires are high performers I suppose is up for debate). That doesn't mean a high GPA hurts you by any means.

The other separate point was that valedictorians don't tend to be the highest performers in the work world, although I'm pretty confident in saying they're higher than average. They also likely have a relatively lower career ceiling, as they work really well within a controlled system. Granted, there are probably exceptions, but to be valedictorian you have to put a LOT of effort into school for no reason other than to be valedictorian. The kid who is working a job, has a possibly profitable hobby, or starting some small business is probably sacrificing the occasional A or B for their other pursuits which may eventually work out really well for them.


As far as I can see the current education system sets a minimum criteria for a certain amount of knowledge, and rewards people who are good test takers and can memorize things quickly in the short term. It's a reasonable way to weed out people from certain jobs, so in that way we're already in a meritocracy. I guess it's tough to have this discussion without knowing what OP means by the term.

scottish

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #30 on: September 26, 2017, 08:00:18 PM »

Rather than focusing on meritocracy, I think it makes more sense to focus on differentiation and specialization: matching people up with careers that best fit their innate skills and interests. Right now, we do a pretty poor job of this. Basically people just self sort into careers that interest them or are the default careers for their social groups. It's amazingly inefficient way of get people into the types of jobs they'd be best at.


Wait - are you suggesting central planning would do a better job than the distributed, self organizing system we have today?

And of course the central planners would be selected on the basis of ...

Big Boots Buddha

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #31 on: September 26, 2017, 08:44:20 PM »
^^^^

Yeah, somehow people think their version of Communism is always going to be the one that doesn't end up with millions of dead people. Sorry, we've tried that enough times, thanks!

Leisured

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #32 on: September 27, 2017, 02:16:11 AM »
I agree, the OP wrote a thoughtful post. I liked his idea of native ability, regardless of social class, as a privilege, similar to upper class privilege. I also liked his later post, where he thought of famous sports stars as an aristocracy based on native physical ability, and hard work.

Thank you, Kamille, for the quote from Thomas Jefferson; “For I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds are virtue and talents”. Thank you, Breck, for the link to Joshua Kennon.

America started as a New World for the British middle class, as observed by Toqueville about 1830, but moved towards an unequal society with a patrician class, ‘old money’, which took the place of a traditional aristocracy. The term ‘patrician’ echoes patricians of Ancient Rome. I see nothing wrong with a patrician class, so long as inequality does not become absurd.  Spendthrift sons of newly rich parents drop back to a lower class by their own spendthrift habits, thus purging incompetents from the patrician class.

The American Dream included proprietors of small business, which were much more numerous before large corporations squeezed them out.

Professor Lee Silver wrote an influential book, Remaking Eden, where he considered the long term possibilities of genetic engineering. I can see the possibility of the lower class refusing the benefits of genetic enhancement, just as they refuse the benefits of education. Genetic enhancements could reinforce class differences, so much so that I can see a future where Enhanced people live in their own society, supported by machines, and ‘Naturals’, to use Silver’s term, live in separate, and probably dystopian societies.

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=lee+silver

I post again a link from Aeon magazine, which suggests that inequality will grow inexorably, unless disrupted by plague or war.

https://aeon.co/essays/are-plagues-and-wars-the-only-ways-to-reduce-inequality





sokoloff

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #33 on: September 27, 2017, 08:04:23 AM »
I can see the possibility of the lower class refusing the benefits of genetic enhancement, just as they refuse the benefits of education.
I live in Cambridge, MA and our kids attend public schools there. The city has "selective choice" which results in moderate integration of neighborhoods across schools (meaning there are not fully "rich" and "poor" schools).

From what I see firsthand there, it's much less that people are "refusing the benefits of education" so much as "unable to practically extract the same value of education" as other families in different circumstances. Kids who are chronically hungry can't focus on learning as much. Kids who don't have strong adult connection and hear thousands of words per week of adult conversation don't have the same language and critical thinking skills. Kids who are babysat by TV instead of more social methods lack patience and cooperation. These deficits are evident by 1st grade.

scantee

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #34 on: September 27, 2017, 08:09:56 AM »
Quote
Wait - are you suggesting central planning would do a better job than the distributed, self organizing system we have today?

And of course the central planners would be selected on the basis of ...

Dear lord. You think the only two options are completely unguided self-selection or ... central planning? Really?

There are a whole slew of other low-level approaches in between those two extremes that we could implement that would help people better assess their skills and interests and get them into jobs that are good fits for them.
« Last Edit: September 27, 2017, 08:14:27 AM by scantee »

A Definite Beta Guy

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #35 on: September 27, 2017, 09:30:30 AM »
Quote
Wait - are you suggesting central planning would do a better job than the distributed, self organizing system we have today?

And of course the central planners would be selected on the basis of ...

Dear lord. You think the only two options are completely unguided self-selection or ... central planning? Really?

There are a whole slew of other low-level approaches in between those two extremes that we could implement that would help people better assess their skills and interests and get them into jobs that are good fits for them.

Can you elaborate on your alternative? I'm not sure what exactly what you're getting at, but it sounds like....uhhh....other people picking careers for people.

shenlong55

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #36 on: September 27, 2017, 10:01:06 AM »
Quote
Wait - are you suggesting central planning would do a better job than the distributed, self organizing system we have today?

And of course the central planners would be selected on the basis of ...

Dear lord. You think the only two options are completely unguided self-selection or ... central planning? Really?

There are a whole slew of other low-level approaches in between those two extremes that we could implement that would help people better assess their skills and interests and get them into jobs that are good fits for them.

Can you elaborate on your alternative? I'm not sure what exactly what you're getting at, but it sounds like....uhhh....other people picking careers for people.

I continue to be amazed at peoples ability to read the exact same words and interpret their meanings in completely different ways.  When I read that post I envisioned a career counselor sitting down with someone helping them analyze their skills and interests and suggesting a job that would fit said skills and interests.  Now I'm curious what you envisioned?

GuitarStv

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #37 on: September 27, 2017, 10:03:10 AM »
Quote
Wait - are you suggesting central planning would do a better job than the distributed, self organizing system we have today?

And of course the central planners would be selected on the basis of ...

Dear lord. You think the only two options are completely unguided self-selection or ... central planning? Really?

There are a whole slew of other low-level approaches in between those two extremes that we could implement that would help people better assess their skills and interests and get them into jobs that are good fits for them.

Can you elaborate on your alternative? I'm not sure what exactly what you're getting at, but it sounds like....uhhh....other people picking careers for people.



Quote
Rather than focusing on meritocracy, I think it makes more sense to focus on differentiation and specialization: matching people up with careers that best fit their innate skills and interests. Right now, we do a pretty poor job of this. Basically people just self sort into careers that interest them or are the default careers for their social groups. It's amazingly inefficient way of get people into the types of jobs they'd be best at.

I read this as an attempt to develop some sort of standardized interest/behaviour testing that would help people better match up with things they would both enjoy and be successful at.  But I don't often see communists in the shadows waiting to pounce at every turn.  :P

scantee

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #38 on: September 27, 2017, 10:07:45 AM »
Quote
Wait - are you suggesting central planning would do a better job than the distributed, self organizing system we have today?

And of course the central planners would be selected on the basis of ...

Dear lord. You think the only two options are completely unguided self-selection or ... central planning? Really?

There are a whole slew of other low-level approaches in between those two extremes that we could implement that would help people better assess their skills and interests and get them into jobs that are good fits for them.

Can you elaborate on your alternative? I'm not sure what exactly what you're getting at, but it sounds like....uhhh....other people picking careers for people.

Right now, teenagers leave high school with very little or no guidance about the career paths that are available to them and the education it takes to get there. They usually either 1) go to college or 2) take whatever job in their community they can get, often times defaulting to whatever field their family works in. Group number one comes into college with only the vaguest ideas of what they want to do and how to get there. Most universities only provide the most minimal amount of guidance to help them figure this out.

This opacity is how we end up with an excess of young people with degrees in art history, no marketable skills, and loads of student loan debt. It's also how we end up with employers that desperately need educated people, but can't find skilled workers with the right training. Would it not behoove us to make the pathways to these careers much clearer and more accessible to young people who are in the process of deciding on what they want to do? It seems like a system like this would be much more efficient than the one we currently have, where young people kind of stumble through and pick a major because their brother did it, or it's comfortable for them, or kinda interesting, or maybe makes a lot of money.

A good example of this is nursing. I think the vast majority of people think that if you get a nursing degree the only job opportunity available to you is to be a nurse. That is absolutely not true. There are a ton of well-paying, not patient-facing jobs out there that require a nursing degree. Many of the jobs clinical research management (a huge field) require a nursing degree. There are also tons of program management type jobs for hospitals and insurance companies that require nursing degrees. I think many young people have no idea that a nursing degree is a direct pathway to these fields of work. This is part of the reason we've ended up with the situation we have now: lots of good jobs that don't require working with patients but do require a nursing degree and not nearly enough people to fill those jobs.

So yeah, I think we could do a much better job of developing programs for college and high school students that make these kinds of connections much clearer. I don't know what these programs would look like, exactly, but at the college level I can imagine a require 1-credit class during freshman year that goes deeper into exploring and thinking through their skills/interests and (very importantly) whether there are actually any jobs that align with those interests. It would probably save them, as students, time and money, and would benefit employers by developing a workforce that is trained to do the kind of work that is actually needed.

Herbert Derp

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #39 on: September 27, 2017, 01:42:23 PM »
I still think the American Dream sounds more in line with meritocracy than aristocracy. It wasn't supposed to mean you can be anything you want, just that what station in life you were born and raised in shouldn't hinder your opportunity to achieve it. This is Thomas Jefferson's views on the matter:

"For I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents. ..."

Yes, I agree that the American Dream is meritocracy. My point is that meritocracy is fundamentally unfair, and therefore anyone who advocates for meritocracy out of a desire for fairness is actually advocating for an unfair system. Doesn't that seem kind of absurd?

Thanks for the quote from Thomas Jefferson, BTW. I think it makes a good point about how meritocracy is unfair, and how we should base the value of meritocracy on efficiency rather than fairness.

I thought one of the goals of the Founding Fathers was to move away from the aristocracy system that had been implemented in Europe for centuries. Isn't a democracy in direct contrast to an aristocracy? I'm not saying a meritocracy is perfect equality and fairness, but I'm definitely arguing it is more fair than aristocracy. Maybe it is the hope part that people cling to even though the outcomes are the same in that only a small percentage make it to the very top.

Is it really more fair? I don't think giving people false hope makes things more fair. What matters is that in both cases, only a small percentage make it to the very top. So if only a small percentage of people get to reach the top, how is meritocracy more fair?

It's as Thomas Jefferson implies--either you're born into the "natural aristocracy" or you're not. It's not fair at all.

While you were more talented  than these coworkers, you are almost certainly less talented or not as smart as someone out there. That's not a slight against you, just a means to point out that intelligence exists on a spectrum. It is not as if we can easily draw a line between the naturally smart and talented and those who are not.

To keep progressing, a mature capitalist society relies on millions of people doing different kinds of work. Pure meritocracy doesn't work in this situation because our advanced economy requires different skills sets for different types of jobs and simply being "book smart" isn't enough for many of these jobs. As someone else pointed out, having a high IQ or doing awesome in school doesn't mean you'll be a good leader or even be able to work in a team environment (::cough:: google memo guy ::cough::), which is essential for most professional work these days.

Clearly, "book smarts" is not a full measure of talent. Raw intellect is only one out of a great many dimensions of talent, and different types of talent matter in different vocations. Book smarts alone may allow for success in academia, but it won't get you very far in the NFL. This whole side discussion about the disconnect between success and book smarts falls flat on its face because it pointlessly fixates on such a narrow measure of talent. Pure meritocracy values whatever types of talent happen to matter in the given context. In the NFL, athletic ability is important. For politicians, charisma is important. For theoretical physicists, intellect is important. Meritocracy is not one-dimensional!

As far as I can see the current education system sets a minimum criteria for a certain amount of knowledge, and rewards people who are good test takers and can memorize things quickly in the short term. It's a reasonable way to weed out people from certain jobs, so in that way we're already in a meritocracy. I guess it's tough to have this discussion without knowing what OP means by the term.

I think I did explain what I meant by the term in my second post:

In my opinion, a true meritocracy is a society where success is based solely on innate traits and personal accomplishments rather than environmental factors. In other words, a society where talent and achievement mean everything, and money and connections mean nothing. For example, a society where only the most talented players make it into the NFL, or where skill at law rather than familial connections gets you into a top law firm.

...

In my eyes, a true meritocracy is not some kind of care bear world where everyone gets a trophy--it's a harsh reality where only the best get the trophy. A survival of the fittest world where only the qualified candidates get the job and the unqualified have no choice but to look elsewhere. It has more in common with Social Darwinism than Egalitarianism.

Which falls in line with what Merriam-Webster says:

Quote
Definition of MERITOCRACY

1 : a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement
  • only the elite, in that new meritocracy, would enjoy the opportunity for self-fulfillment —R. P. Warren
« Last Edit: September 27, 2017, 01:53:47 PM by Herbert Derp »

hoping2retire35

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #40 on: September 27, 2017, 01:55:45 PM »
I think we are thinking about the goal disjointed from the process.

Op starts off by stating the level of inequality(i.e. the difference in the poorest and richest measured by money) and those at the top end are considered more successful.

Success is determined by the acquisition of money; therefore those who wish to be successful, at least on the most basic terms, seek money. This is logical

Others recognize the value of other things, helping others for example, and pursue that. They measure their successfulness by how well they do that.

What needs to change is we measure success, achievements, by something else.

In any case you can't say in the beginning of your post inequality is wrong and by the end of it, granted in a round about way, say that we should measure success by something other than people's ability to acquire wealth. People are created equally in a legal and humanitarian sense but not by physical characteristics and mental abilities. Sure, being born smart does give you privilege, but at least it is not absolute guaranteed privilege from the state like aristocracy. Maybe meritocracy is some type of blend between being born with privilege/ or not and everyone being born completely equal(communism); a happy medium.

There are some things to tweak but it is the best thing that we have that works.

Herbert Derp

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #41 on: September 27, 2017, 02:54:00 PM »
I think we are thinking about the goal disjointed from the process.

Op starts off by stating the level of inequality(i.e. the difference in the poorest and richest measured by money) and those at the top end are considered more successful.

Success is determined by the acquisition of money; therefore those who wish to be successful, at least on the most basic terms, seek money. This is logical

Others recognize the value of other things, helping others for example, and pursue that. They measure their successfulness by how well they do that.

What needs to change is we measure success, achievements, by something else.

I agree that people can define success however they wish. However, I don't see how this makes things any less fair. You can't tell people how to define success, they have to do that themselves. If success for one person means making a billion dollars, then so be it. If another person wants to save the lives of puppies, that's fine too.

In any case you can't say in the beginning of your post inequality is wrong and by the end of it, granted in a round about way, say that we should measure success by something other than people's ability to acquire wealth.

That's not what I'm saying at all. I don't believe that inequality is wrong. I think it's perfect fine to measure success by the ability to acquire wealth, or by whatever other measure that you choose. I'm not advocating that anyone should redefine how they measure success.

Let me give some additional context by explaining my personal perspective. Personally, what I believe is that reality is fundamentally unfair and we must accept this. I accept that I may never be "successful" according to my own arbitrary standards. Nevertheless, I will persist. I will do what I can do and achieve whatever I can achieve, because what else is there to do?

I'm not advocating for my worldview, I'm just pointing out how unfair meritocracy is and that it is contradictory to advocate for meritocracy as a solution for unfairness.

There are many worldviews that you could take which could address this problem. You could accept the unfairness of the world and move on. You could value fairness above all else, reject meritocracy, and embrace Communism. You could value meritocracy by championing efficiency and societal advancement. You could believe that somehow, meritocracy is "more fair" than the alternative, and that more fair is better than less fair.

Growing up, my peers and I were raised to believe that in the United States, we had a meritocracy where we could achieve anything we desired. That the sky was the limit. That anyone could become president, or join the NFL, or be a movie star. Now that I realize how truly unfair the world is, I can see that all of those things I was told back then were heartbreaking falsehoods. Advocating for meritocracy as a solution for unfairness or as a system where anyone can achieve anything serves to perpetuate these same falsehoods that I was taught growing up, and I want this to end.
« Last Edit: September 27, 2017, 04:23:17 PM by Herbert Derp »

scottish

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #42 on: September 27, 2017, 05:35:26 PM »
Quote
Wait - are you suggesting central planning would do a better job than the distributed, self organizing system we have today?

And of course the central planners would be selected on the basis of ...

Dear lord. You think the only two options are completely unguided self-selection or ... central planning? Really?

There are a whole slew of other low-level approaches in between those two extremes that we could implement that would help people better assess their skills and interests and get them into jobs that are good fits for them.

Can you elaborate on your alternative? I'm not sure what exactly what you're getting at, but it sounds like....uhhh....other people picking careers for people.

Right now, teenagers leave high school with very little or no guidance about the career paths that are available to them and the education it takes to get there. They usually either 1) go to college or 2) take whatever job in their community they can get, often times defaulting to whatever field their family works in. Group number one comes into college with only the vaguest ideas of what they want to do and how to get there. Most universities only provide the most minimal amount of guidance to help them figure this out.

This opacity is how we end up with an excess of young people with degrees in art history, no marketable skills, and loads of student loan debt. It's also how we end up with employers that desperately need educated people, but can't find skilled workers with the right training. Would it not behoove us to make the pathways to these careers much clearer and more accessible to young people who are in the process of deciding on what they want to do? It seems like a system like this would be much more efficient than the one we currently have, where young people kind of stumble through and pick a major because their brother did it, or it's comfortable for them, or kinda interesting, or maybe makes a lot of money.

A good example of this is nursing. I think the vast majority of people think that if you get a nursing degree the only job opportunity available to you is to be a nurse. That is absolutely not true. There are a ton of well-paying, not patient-facing jobs out there that require a nursing degree. Many of the jobs clinical research management (a huge field) require a nursing degree. There are also tons of program management type jobs for hospitals and insurance companies that require nursing degrees. I think many young people have no idea that a nursing degree is a direct pathway to these fields of work. This is part of the reason we've ended up with the situation we have now: lots of good jobs that don't require working with patients but do require a nursing degree and not nearly enough people to fill those jobs.

So yeah, I think we could do a much better job of developing programs for college and high school students that make these kinds of connections much clearer. I don't know what these programs would look like, exactly, but at the college level I can imagine a require 1-credit class during freshman year that goes deeper into exploring and thinking through their skills/interests and (very importantly) whether there are actually any jobs that align with those interests. It would probably save them, as students, time and money, and would benefit employers by developing a workforce that is trained to do the kind of work that is actually needed.

Would kids interested in art history listen to a career planner who tells them how good it would be to work in plumbing or nursing?

Art history, man.   Hipster professor.   International conferences every year.   Analyzing and critiquing ancient art works.   I dig it!

Versus changing bedpans or snaking drains?

But seriously, your point about a 'professional' degree opening doors to lots of fields is very good.     My kids are both doing STEM degrees.   I told them I would help them with a professional degree at university.   Or a trade if that's what they wanted.     Art history?   You can do that as a hobby once you're self sufficient.

My point is that if your family believes an Art History degree is a good thing, they aren't going to give much credence to a career counselor.   Nor would they pay attention to a career guidance course which is only stifling their dreams.   If they even consider taking it in the first place.

The great thing about our system is that we are all free to do what we want.     Kids in high school can research career options.   Their parents can support and influence them in the right direction.    There's nobody saying:  'You should consider nursing.'    It's all up to you!

Besides, what happens when the career counselor gets it wrong?

hoping2retire35

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #43 on: September 28, 2017, 06:08:30 AM »
You could value meritocracy by championing efficiency and societal advancement. You could believe that somehow, meritocracy is "more fair" than the alternative, and that more fair is better than less fair.

Growing up, my peers and I were raised to believe that in the United States, we had a meritocracy where we could achieve anything we desired. That the sky was the limit. That anyone could become president, or join the NFL, or be a movie star. Now that I realize how truly unfair the world is, I can see that all of those things I was told back then were heartbreaking falsehoods. Advocating for meritocracy as a solution for unfairness or as a system where anyone can achieve anything serves to perpetuate these same falsehoods that I was taught growing up, and I want this to end.

Ah, here we go. Well, technically anyone can be president or senator or a rich CEO but there is competition. The reason our mentors say we can be anything we want is to push us to our limits. I think the answer goes back to what was discussed earlier about needing better informed school counselors and just demonstrating to teenagers the different jobs they can do. There has also been an over focus on education instead of job skills with teenagers.

Another weird and bad idea is how people get jobs, especially out of college. "Son, you just graduated and landed that job 3,000 miles away. You can marry your girlfriend and we will see you at Christmas." What?!? That is horrible. Why does everyone accept this? Do you know how hard it is to raise kids without family help. Or what if just as an adult you have to move? When considering long term economic outcomes and inequality I would imagine this is one of stupidest things people just accept(barring of course those individuals who are making 6 figures or more).

I am not as wealthy as you, we are a one FT income HH with 3 kids, and I think I probably one of the poorest members on this forum(we are eligible for a lot of the ACA subsidy if we needed it). I think I could have benefited tremendously for decent career counseling. My parents were not helpful worth jack. I still do not know exactly what I would have done but I know what I will tell my kids.


Gondolin

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #44 on: September 28, 2017, 07:45:18 AM »
OP, you've successfully set up an arguments and knocked down an argument that no one here has made namely, that meritocracy is "fair".

When people say "meritocracy" all they mean is that the only constraints are the limits of mind and body - there are no (or at least as few as possible) artificial constraints imposed by other people.

I'm sorry you apparently believed that literally anyone could achieve "anything" for so long. Frankly, if this is a huge revelation that's breaking your worldview at 27.... You're way behind the curve. Most people have this figured out after their freshmen year.
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GuitarStv

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #45 on: September 28, 2017, 07:49:26 AM »
Would kids interested in art history listen to a career planner who tells them how good it would be to work in plumbing or nursing?

Art history, man.   Hipster professor.   International conferences every year.   Analyzing and critiquing ancient art works.   I dig it!

Versus changing bedpans or snaking drains?


I dunno about the experience of others, but I didn't really get jack shit for counselling or job planning when I was in high school.

I was interested in English, Music, Social Studies, Biology, Programming, Physics, Religion, and Philosophy.  My plan was originally to go to university for English . . . but in my last year of high school I had an English teacher who hated me and gave me the lowest grades I'd ever received on all of my papers (due to what she described as 'bad style' - she couldn't explain what it was that she didn't like about what I wrote, just that it was bad).  Because of that teacher I decided instead to sign up to do Computer Engineering (because marking would be based on verifiable results rather than amorphous opinions.

I had no idea what a Computer Engineer does.  My parents were both teachers at the time, and I hate kids so knew I didn't want to do that.
 I had no idea what you would do with an English degree.  My limited work experience included telemarketing, working in a steel mill on an assembly line, and working at a lumber yard.  I still have no idea if I'd be happier in another career.

A Definite Beta Guy

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #46 on: September 28, 2017, 03:51:16 PM »
Quote
Wait - are you suggesting central planning would do a better job than the distributed, self organizing system we have today?

And of course the central planners would be selected on the basis of ...

Dear lord. You think the only two options are completely unguided self-selection or ... central planning? Really?

There are a whole slew of other low-level approaches in between those two extremes that we could implement that would help people better assess their skills and interests and get them into jobs that are good fits for them.

Can you elaborate on your alternative? I'm not sure what exactly what you're getting at, but it sounds like....uhhh....other people picking careers for people.

I continue to be amazed at peoples ability to read the exact same words and interpret their meanings in completely different ways.  When I read that post I envisioned a career counselor sitting down with someone helping them analyze their skills and interests and suggesting a job that would fit said skills and interests.  Now I'm curious what you envisioned?
Ha, well, look at the original text here, slightly edited for brevity and to emphasize what looks like the apparent idea at first blush (not intended to reflect poorly on Scantee, just highlighting what a Road-to-Serfdom Libertarian is going to see):

Quote
Rather than focusing on meritocracy, I think it makes more sense to focus on...matching people up with careers that best fit their innate skills and interests...(now) Basically people just self sort into careers...It's amazingly inefficient...
What's the alternative to people self-selecting? At a first read, this looks like a statement stating that people picking their own careers is bad, because it's inefficient.

There's not many communists anymore, so I figured there'd be some other thought going on than seizing the means of production and telling everyone where to work :P

It's tangential to thread, but I definitely think putting people into better fitting careers and not wasting their time/money is a better use of our time than worrying about meritocracy or inequality directly. It's win-win and I think the fruit is lower-hanging. Like, I have no idea how to make sure Bill Gates' kids don't have an unfair leg-up(or what "unfair" even means in this case), but I have a much better idea of how to make sure kids don't piss away 6 years of their lives earning a useless degree and racking up $80k in pointless debt.

Career counselors might help, but I think they run into the same problem as peer effects and parents: they operate based on out-dated information and it takes time for them to update. I see a lot of people here like Ask A Manager, and the general consensus is that many resume writers at universities have absolutely no idea how to write a resume. Or look for a job. Or...

So you're still stuck with a slow-to-update institution that gives kids some outdated advice.

I do know that my schools at least made attempts to steer us into certain directions. We all took personality tests, that provided us with suggested careers (it told me to be an accountant, which, hey, I am). The schools also put on Career Days with people from the community so we would get to learn a bit more about different jobs. I honestly cannot remember any of them besides the engineer, though. And I still don't know a damn thing about what engineers do on a day to day basis.

A lot of good information probably doesn't get to high school and college kids because they aren't in communication with the actual business world much. Like, there's a million different jobs in finance (either corporate or PE or IB), but we never learned ANY of it in our finance classes, and even less than nothing in high school. You wouldn't know unless you were talking to people actually in the field...and on a regular basis, because even the speakers who the school roped in did not really explain what "a day in the life" was like, nor the skill requirements, nor the career path, nor the education pedigrees expected, nor how to get your foot in the door, nor...

I mean, I can tell you what my job is, what it does, and what the challenges are. I am an A/R Accountant:
-What we do: yell at people to pay their bills
-How we do it: lots of computer work, emails, and time on the phone
-Biggest challenges: people arguing about their bills and messed up accounts
-What you need to be able to do: read a contract, know when to escalate something to your manager, know when to settle an account with an acceptable loss, basic MS Office skills, basic "how to write an email" skills, how to balance a checkbook (so you can reconcile a screwed up account).
-What education you need: A Bachelor's degree, from a low-tier to mid-tier university
-What it pays: 35k-60k depending on seniority, company, and location
-Basic style of work: solitary, sitting at a computer. Occasional phone calls with delinquent customers, which will usually involve lots of yelling (at you, you can't yell at them). Even more occasional internal calls with other departments. Mostly consists of monitoring reports to identify big balances and then following up on said balances.
-Career advancement: none, besides Manager and Director within A/R. Can laterally transition to other corporate departments, as you can prove competence and basic analytical skills here.

I can also tell you a bit about the other accounting fields at this point, too (in less detail). Would not have been able to give you this amount of detail if I were still in school. Had absolutely no idea. There was no attempt to feed this information to us at all. Couldn't tell you a damn thing about what nurses can do, even after working in healthcare and knowing that many firms employed a bunch of nurses in various support office roles (including accounting roles).

Probably this is best fixed by people just talking about their jobs more, especially with young people, and not zoning out when other people talk about their jobs.

scottish

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #47 on: September 28, 2017, 06:28:25 PM »
Would kids interested in art history listen to a career planner who tells them how good it would be to work in plumbing or nursing?

Art history, man.   Hipster professor.   International conferences every year.   Analyzing and critiquing ancient art works.   I dig it!

Versus changing bedpans or snaking drains?


I dunno about the experience of others, but I didn't really get jack shit for counselling or job planning when I was in high school.

I was interested in English, Music, Social Studies, Biology, Programming, Physics, Religion, and Philosophy.  My plan was originally to go to university for English . . . but in my last year of high school I had an English teacher who hated me and gave me the lowest grades I'd ever received on all of my papers (due to what she described as 'bad style' - she couldn't explain what it was that she didn't like about what I wrote, just that it was bad).  Because of that teacher I decided instead to sign up to do Computer Engineering (because marking would be based on verifiable results rather than amorphous opinions.

I had no idea what a Computer Engineer does.  My parents were both teachers at the time, and I hate kids so knew I didn't want to do that.
 I had no idea what you would do with an English degree.  My limited work experience included telemarketing, working in a steel mill on an assembly line, and working at a lumber yard.  I still have no idea if I'd be happier in another career.

It's interesting.   My family has a heavy STEM bias - graduate degrees in physics, engineering, microbiology, math, one university professor, 2 engineers, one physicist and so on.    I'm been wondering if my kids are doing their STEM degrees just because that's what we do.

And there isn't really time to explore more than a couple of career options given the training requirements.    If you want to work on computers, that requires what, at least a 3 year diploma?    And then you don't like it, so you want to try pharmaceutical research, which requires at least a MSc to be a lab tech.

Lots of people do have problems picking a career, so there's probably room for improvement.   What kind of career counselling would have helped you make a decision?


sokoloff

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #48 on: September 28, 2017, 07:57:33 PM »
And there isn't really time to explore more than a couple of career options given the training requirements.    If you want to work on computers, that requires what, at least a 3 year diploma?    And then you don't like it, so you want to try pharmaceutical research, which requires at least a MSc to be a lab tech.
I realize the plural of "anecdote" is not "data", but a 3 year degree is definitely not required for computing. I've hired plenty of developers who were college dropouts, high school graduates only, and a couple who were high school dropouts. It's one of those fields where "what you can do" is valued more highly than "where you came from", IME.

(I agree with your general point about the time required to prep for various careers being a hurdle to random walk exploration, just disagree that it applies directly that way specifically to computer programming.)

GuitarStv

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #49 on: September 29, 2017, 06:25:47 AM »
Hiring of software developers without degrees is not common at all around here.  If you can get 5-10 years of experience it might be possible to get one in ten jobs advertised, but virtually any employer looking for someone just starting out will demand a degree.  It is a very competitive field around the Toronto area.