The news that Nadine Dorries has got a lucrative book deal casts more light upon the economy and society than generally realized.
What Ms Dorries is doing here is just what Chris Huhne is doing writing for the Guardian and Rylan Clarke did in presenting Celebrity Big Brother. All - like many former MPs - are using the celebrity or notoriety obtained in one sphere to make money in another. Many people, such as Katie Price or Pippa Middleton, make a life of this. Celebrity is a general purpose technology.
One big reason for this is that celebrity saves on marketing costs. If a publisher discovers a brilliant but unknown writer, it must spend a fortune promoting her. Ms Dorries advertises herself.
In this context, asking whether Ms Dorries is a good writer is a category error, as daft as asking whether Vanessa Feltz can dance. The point of hiring Dorries, Feltz or Huhne is not to bring quality, but attract attention. When Huhne wrote an epically unself-aware piece for the Guardian, a complaisant Twitterati made him trend - which is precisely what the Graun hoped.
Herein, though, lies an important social change. Everyone loves to gossip. A few decades ago, they did so like Cissie and Ada, about neighbours and acquaintances. In our more atomized society, though, this is less possible. So we gossip about celebrities instead.
But which ones? Say we want to talk about a singer. If I want to talk about Jolie Holland and you about Natalie Williams, we get nowhere. So we talk instead about Miley Cyrus. Ms Cyrus is in this sense a Schelling point - the solution to a coordination problem. It does not follow that Ms Cyrus is a better artist than Ms Williams or Ms Holland, any more than that its "better" for us all to drive on the left than on the right. She's just what we coordinate upon. It's the same for Ms Dorries. She is profiting from the breakdown of community that causes us to gossip about people like her rather than neighbours.
This gossipability, though, can be leveraged to sell songs or books or TV appearances, which in turn generates more gossip and more marketability. In this way, as Moshe Adler has described (pdf), someone of no more ability than others can become a superstar.
In Adler's model, people can become stars even though they have equal talent to other, more obscure people. I would add that ability and integrity might even be a handicap. If we prefer to talk about people whom we believe to be our inferiors, then second-raters and crooks will have an advantage in acquiring gossipability, celebrity and the wealth that follows.
Now, I don't think we should complain too much about this; the same process that gives Dorries her book deal also puts Rachel Riley on Strictly Come Dancing. But it does reinforce Hayek's point, that in a free market, "the return to people’s efforts do not correspond to recognizable merit." A market economy is not, and cannot be, a meritocracy.