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May 29, 2014



The correlation between talent and economic success will only be strong if *all* talented people are allowed to be apparatchiks, and not just a chosen few.

If, as is the case in some more totalitarian regimes past and present, it's a small (albeit talented) elite running things, I don't think you can talk about a meritocracy.

Dave Timoney

I take it the return of "gratuitous eye-candy" means you are fully recovered.


A marathon race is fair, we generally think, if innate talent (usually involving NE African genes) not inherited privilege is the main source of marathoning success.

A 100 metre sprint is fair, likewise, if innate talent (usually involving W African genes) not inherited privilege is the main source of sprinting success.

Why is this reasoning "plain wrong"?


@ breviosity - because
1. people aren't forced to enter races if they don't want to, whereas they are compelled to enter the economy
2. people who lack racing talent often have talents in other spheres, whereas some people lack the general abilities to earn a living
3. Prizes for winning races are usually limited - they include only moderate wealth and no political power - whereas prizes for winning in our economies are greater
4. Losers of races don't have their whole life-chances seriously blighted, in the way that losers in our economiy do.
I suspect there are other relevant differences.


Consider this version of Clark:

The world economy is a much fairer place than we intuit. Innate talent, not inherited privilege, is the main source of economic success among nations.

Eg. S. Korea's success, due to innate talent, seems reasonably fair.

(There are exceptions of course: Saudi Arabia's wealth, due to inherited privilege, seems eminently unfair.)


What do you mean by unfair? Do you mean intuitively unfair? Or unfair according to the difference principle (or similar principle)?

If you change the example slightly so that the "dictator" *created* the resources s/he is distributing, and s/he needed to be dictator of those resources in order to be incentivized into creating those resources, and the worst off are better in this apparatchik world than they would be in a world in which these resources were not created... then I think this situation satisfies Rawls's criteria for justice.

I think this result would hold if the dictator chose any distribution rule that satisfied the difference principle.


Searching for universal rules of justice is a tricky job; many try but it is not clear any have been totally successful at this job.

Society should be organised so as to maximise human happiness. Inequality seems to reduce the total of happiness, as do constraints on private choice which are based on bigotry.
It is better to ask how to reduce these constraints on happiness. Some of the methods may annoy those who lose out but that is unavoidable. Meritocracy is often just a code word for wanting to keep the advantages you enjoy compared to others even when this reduces human happiness in total.

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