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Question about Applications of Objectivism - Meritocracy

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I recently read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and greatly enjoyed both. However, I had several questions about how Objectivism applies to real life. I summarized my questions in this video (

), using the book The Meritocracy Myth, by Stephen J. McNamee and Robert K. Miller Jr. as a counterexample. Could anyone give me feedback on how Objectivism addresses these issues?

Thanks,

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I listened to the first one and a half minutes, where you state that Rand was for "meritocracy", and say you're going to show how factors other than merit play a role in success. I stopped there because this would be a straw-man. Where does Rand argue for a meritocracy? Can you cite a reference, so that people can understand what you're referring to, and can base their response on that? In politics, Rand's starting point is individual rights, not "meritocracy".

To repeat: Rand was not for "meritocracy". I challenge you to show a single place anywhere in Rand's writing where she uses the term "meritocracy" and argues for it, let alone imply that it is at the base of her politics.

I say this because I just did an electronic search of her writing, and found reference to "meritocracy" in a single (2-part) article, published in "The Ayn Rand Letter" in 1973. Here's a quote, that shows what she thinks of the idea:

"Meritocracy" is an old anti-concept and one of the most contemptible package deals.
Edited by softwareNerd

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With regards to meritocracy, responding to some of sNerd's quote, I think Rand was primarily considering rule by those with merit. The suffix -cracy usually implies rule, like autocracy would mean rule by one person.

In the video, it seems to be mostly addressing merit in the general sense of getting what one deserves. Rand certainly advocates that. Luck is something worth more discussion later probably, but a lot of the time luck isn't a big deal, because one has the ability and even need to maintain anything acquired. In cases of unfortunate occurrences that are totally unforeseen that an individual cannot reasonably account for is something that likely would need charitable giving. Even if things can be accounted for, if an individual honestly will try to improve, forgiveness and help is probably warranted. Good people deserve help, and not acting to help good people is immoral, to the extent helping is in one's selfish interest (i.e., a person makes art that is highly valuable to you as an individual). Self-sufficiency isn't in terms of being able to provide for oneself alone. "Independence" would be a better word here, independence in terms of one's mind.

About start-up capital, it isn't really about certainty if a venture will work - it's about the person with money judging if a certain venture is valuable. Hopefully, the judgment is based on fact. If that's the case, good ideas largely succeed. When the basis is a knee-jerk reaction, the opposite may true. The way to deal with that is encouraging rational thought, but if rational thought is a rarity in Atlas Shrugged, bad things happen.

Discrimination is similar. It's just fortunate that people noticed that Dagny was good at what she did, dependent upon people being at least rational enough to see that. If a population is overwhelmingly racist, just being good at a job is probably not enough. Such discrimination is immoral, given that good people are denied what they deserve. In terms of ethics, combating such immorality is proper, but implications of individual rights suggest not to do that through government force.

I watched your whole video, I'll see any comments you have here before I say more.

Edited by Eiuol

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In the video, it seems to be mostly addressing merit in the general sense of getting what one deserves. Rand certainly advocates that.
Does the video address morality or politics? Rand does not advocate getting what one deserves as a political system. As a personal moral code, one ought to respond to people justly, to their values vis-a-vis you.

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Does the video address morality or politics?

Politics and morality were addressed, and I was responding to the moral aspect. My comments on discrimination there get at the distinction between morality and politics in terms of what should be done about unjust discrimination.

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I think that is because enjoying the merit earned by your labor is an individual right.
The point is that Rand never said that we should have a free society or have individual rights because that is what would let merit win. Neither did she make any claim to be coming up with a system where the influence of luck was kept to a minimum, and merit got as a free reign. She even made it clear that she was not trying to come up with a political system that would create the most wealth etc. In politics, she had a single starting point: what type of system would allow individual men freedom from other men to pursue what they considered their good (even if they were lacking in merit and mistaken in their pursuit), while allowing them to live and trade together.

Of course free-market economists have been arguing for over a century, that allowing freedom creates the most wealth and allows merit to have a large role. That's an important argument. However, it is also important to remember that that is not the primary starting point: freedom is.

Edited by softwareNerd

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Of course free-market economists have been arguing for over a century, that allowing freedom creates the most wealth and allows merit to have a large role. That's an important argument. However, it is also important to remember that that is not the primary starting point: freedom is.

This is an important point to remember when arguing for capitalism. Not only is it true, but I find when starting the argument at which system has the best outcome, you get trapped in a numbers game and - worst of all - it accepts the premise that we are just bodies that can be used in the best interest of the country. It puts each system on the same level.

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Of course free-market economists have been arguing for over a century, that allowing freedom creates the most wealth and allows merit to have a large role. That's an important argument. However, it is also important to remember that that is not the primary starting point: freedom is.
...and the majority of people living in America have exercised that primary starting point of freedom to choose the present system of unearned entitlement.

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...and the majority of people living in America have exercised that primary starting point of freedom to choose the present system of unearned entitlement.
No, they are not exercising freedom in the sense that Rand meant to be primary: i.e., the freedom to exercise their individual rights. They are exercising force. Not sure what point you're trying to make here.

Back on the topic of "meritocracy", even if it is not *rule* by merit, but just getting what merit brings, it can be used as a basis for arguments for wealth-redistribution. Consider this example: consider a small frontier town and focus on

* Two of them are capable prospectors and miners, who have had some small past successes

* One is a prospector and miner who is not very good at what he does, but he is willing to work hard

* A fourth is a lazy fellow who's always trying to bum drinks off the other three

The first three (the miners) set out to find gold, in an un-mapped, unexplored area, going in different directions because nothing is really known about the area anyway. Unknown to them, there is only one good deposit. Now, before they left, they could have formed a partnership, agreeing to share any find, but they didn't. After a few years, one of the good miners finds that deposit.

If we grant that two of the miners had similar merit, and if we want a system that gives reward to merit, we will start to argue that the other good miner deserves some too. Rand makes no claim that luck does not play a role. Nor does she use a comparative approach like this -- comparing merit of one person with another -- as a basis to say what each "deserves". That's why the OP is addressing a straw-man.

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I really appreciate all the thought and time you all have been putting into responding to and discussing my video.

When I referred to meritocracy I was referring to people getting what they deserve, not political rule by the meritorious. I apologize for any confusion I may have caused regarding that.

I am arguing that discussing the results when applied in real life is vital to a discussion of economic systems (or any kind of societal structure). An idea that sounds good in theory but doesn't work in reality isn't particularly useful. In other words, a discussion about philosophy needs to involve how it would work in real life. And when considering how an idea applies to real life, the tag "if someone is moral," isn't particularly useful; wishing that people were moral doesn't make them moral.

As almost everyone has pointed out, Rand's philosophy is about individual freedom. Rand defines this as the freedom to trade and produce-- to live your life as you'd like-- not the freedom to use force. Freedom is having control over your own destiny. If you have no control over your own destiny you don't have freedom. So, I am arguing that Rand's philosophy is about having control over your own fate.

I think everyone here can also agree that capitalism is at the heart of Rand's philosophy. Capitalism uses a very specific measure of merit-- productive ability. In Francisco's money speech, he describes this: "When men live by trade-- with reason, not force, as their final arbiter-- it is the best product that wins, the best performance, the man of best judgment and highest ability-- and the degree of a man's productiveness is the degree of his reward." In the ideal form of capitalism, if you are able, work hard, and have good judgment you will rise in society. As you have control, at least, over how hard you work, in a capitalist society, you have at least certain amount of control over your destiny.

My video's critique is that certain factors, such as discrimination, can cause a meritorious individual to fail through no fault of his or her own. This takes away an individual's control of their own destiny-- taking away their freedom. This happens even though no one is using force against them. My critique of objectivism is that it does not come up with a practical solution to problems such as discrimination, which deprive individuals of their ability to control their own fate, and therefore deprive them of their freedom.

If a population is overwhelmingly racist, just being good at a job is probably not enough. Such discrimination is immoral, given that good people are denied what they deserve. In terms of ethics, combating such immorality is proper, but implications of individual rights suggest not to do that through government force.

If being good at a job is not enough to succeed, then what can that individual do? They can't force others to recognize their ability. They can try to reason with society, however discrimination against a meritorious individual is not rational. In other words, reasoning probably isn't going to be enough. So what should happen? How does objectivism address that issue?

My point is along the lines that factors other than force can take away an individual's freedom (i.e. ability to control his or her fate). If everyone in a society decides, perhaps because of the individual's race, not to trade with a meritorious individual, what should happen? Objectivism is centered around individual freedom. The government/society can't force people to recognize value or to think rationally. I'm not trying to argue for redistribution or anything like that, I would just like to hear a solution.

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But that's the thing. What Rand takes as her concept of freedom is the classical liberal definition of freedom from aggressive force by other people, not freedom from others' value judgments. Since do not live in the Garden of Eden, every choice by someone is made between scarce alternatives, there will always be conflicting valuations. A conception of freedom that makes freedom impossible to achieve is not helpful.

As far as practical solutions to things like discrimination, a robust individualist ethic like objectivism provides a great defense against things like pushing other people around unjustly. This may even be taken as a radical "leftist" view in the history of thought, and may even provide a foundation for a radical antiracism and multiculturalism. We can agree on these moral values, but our contention is that the free market actually provides a better institutional framework, given its incentive structure, to be more practical and effective against things like discrimination, than does governmental coercion.

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When I referred to meritocracy I was referring to people getting what they deserve,... ...
Yes. SO, to clarify once more, Rand did not base her philosophy on the idea that people should get what they deserve. The main problem here is the term "deserve": using a term like that actually begs the question and assumes a moral code.

Essentially you are *starting* with the proposition that a moral political system brings about a world where each person's ability to deal with reality and to trade with others is closely correlated to their merit. This is not a valid goal. A Robinson Crusoe has to deal with luck, but you seem to want a political system that will correct this.

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Rand is not for meritocracy. Not the word, and not anything the word suggests. Not in Politics, and not in Ethics.

In Politics, Rand argues for freedom, in Ethics, for self-interest.

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My video's critique is that certain factors, such as discrimination, can cause a meritorious individual to fail through no fault of his or her own. This takes away an individual's control of their own destiny-- taking away their freedom. This happens even though no one is using force against them. My critique of objectivism is that it does not come up with a practical solution to problems such as discrimination, which deprive individuals of their ability to control their own fate, and therefore deprive them of their freedom.

If being good at a job is not enough to succeed, then what can that individual do? They can't force others to recognize their ability. They can try to reason with society, however discrimination against a meritorious individual is not rational. In other words, reasoning probably isn't going to be enough. So what should happen? How does objectivism address that issue?

My point is along the lines that factors other than force can take away an individual's freedom (i.e. ability to control his or her fate). If everyone in a society decides, perhaps because of the individual's race, not to trade with a meritorious individual, what should happen? Objectivism is centered around individual freedom. The government/society can't force people to recognize value or to think rationally. I'm not trying to argue for redistribution or anything like that, I would just like to hear a solution.

I think you answered your question - government can't force people to think rationally. Nor can (should) it force people to trade with others.

I reject your hypothetical situation because it is not based in reality. If people were rational enough to come up with an Objectivist government that protected every individual's rights (even the guy that everyone in society is discriminating against), then why wouldn't they trade with him? The discrimination (against the race) would be shown in the laws.

Edited by thenelli01

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