A Biased Semi-Meritocracy

A while ago I read a conservative commentator talking about the income inequality issue. He said that liberals don’t believe in meritocracy. Instead, they believe that inequality at a certain level becomes inherently unfair regardless of merit.

I don’t think that correctly describes what liberals believe. Ok, there may be some who believe that, but I think the majority of liberals actually do believe in meritocracy and their problem with the current level of inequality is a little more nuanced.

The root of the issue is that conservatives believe that capitalism is always fair, and liberals don’t. The conservative would say, “If a company pays someone that much they must deserve it.” But liberals see capitalism as more of a biased semi-meritocracy. There are meritocracy tendencies. Working harder, more often than not, will get you more money. But a lot of money gets spread around for reasons other than merit, and this problem is worst for very high earners.

There is some incredulity on the left about this issue. How could a CEO deserve a thousand times as much as an average worker? Yes, CEOs should get more than the average worker, but a thousand times more? Are they walking on water? Laying golden eggs?

I can see how the right could mis-interpret that as, “That much inequality is inherently wrong regardless of merit.” But really, that’s a different position from, “Yes, I believe in meritocracy, and I can’t imagine a situation where that much inequality would be merited.”

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