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How is meritocracy irrational?

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I am a relatively new admirer of Ayn Rand, so forgive me if what confuses me is actually something very obvious.

I read this website http://armageddonconspiracy.co.uk/ and it talks about "Meritocracy" where everyone is stripped of any inheritance from one's forefathers and start at the same "line". It seems to make sense, as in that people should rise solely on their hard work and not what was given to them before they put in the hard work. This also leads me to wonder about how people being born with different levels of intelligence seem to be an unfair metaphysical fact. I think Ms Rand mentioned something about intelligence not being something a fairy godmother imparts to empty vessels or something (If need be I will try to relocate the passage and reproduce it here) - could someone explain this fairy godmother thing as I don't quite get it. I did ask a similar question about whether the intelligence and economic background a person is born with is an unfair thing, but I did not follow it and I can't remember where I posted it, so if you have already answered my question please redirect me to that post.

Here is the relevant passage from the aforementioned website:

If capitalism and democracy have failed – as they evidently have – it stands to reason that they must be replaced. Anyone who doesn’t understand failure will keep repeating failure. There’s no point in calling for worthless reforms of the existing failed system. The system itself has proved rotten to the core. The system must be wholly changed. There can be no half measures.

Meritocracy is the answer. Meritocracy is about taking all logical, rational, enlightened steps necessary to end privilege and create equal opportunities for everyone. Meritocracy is not however an ideology of equality. Meritocracy says that everyone should line up at the same starting line and be given an equal opportunity to win, but then the race will be run and some – the most talented – will prove victorious. They will be the people who govern the world, but they will govern it in the interests of everyone, not in their own interests. They will be all about public service and nothing to do with self-service (unlike the current capitalist leaders of the world whose primary objective is to line their own pockets).

100% inheritance tax will ensure that the leaders of society cannot establish family dynasties or create systems of privilege for themselves and their relatives and cronies. There will never again be a super rich elite class. That will be enshrined in law and enacted via 100% taxation on all private estates: all assets at death are thereby inherited by the Commonwealth – the "Bank of the People" – and redistributed amongst the people (the money will mostly be invested in education.) Since there’s no point in hoarding wealth, the richest members of society will no doubt spend their wealth i.e. it will be continually recirculating in the economy. The money will therefore always be available to the people and the economy rather than being removed from circulation and used to create vast, permanent assets for the elite.

100% inheritance tax is the measure most feared by the elite. Oddly, it is also feared by ordinary people even though most have few assets to pass on anyway. Why do people with no assets fear inheritance tax? – because the elite have brainwashed them to fear it! It’s labelled as a communist policy; as the “evil” State interfering in people’s lives. Who says so? – the elite do. Why? Because 100% inheritance tax destroys them once and for all. It brings to an end the age of the Old World Order of elite dynastic families. It brings to an end the super rich class. It brings to an end the two-tier Society of Privilege.

Inheritance tax isn’t even something that the living experience – because you have to be dead before it applies. What decent, moral person would object to having their excess wealth at death surrendered to the Commonwealth for the education and good of the people? Only sick and selfish people would oppose 100% inheritance tax. This tax is the one that will define the New Society. At one stroke, it changes EVERYTHING.

Isn’t it time to put your weight behind a brand new political vision – Meritocracy. Of course, it isn’t actually new at all. It's just a modern update of Plato's Republic, Plato's Laws and Rousseau’s Social Contract.

It's amazing how many people still think the current system can be salvaged. It can't. It's over. Anyone who wants a new society must turn to a new system – Meritocracy and social capitalism, specifically designed to curb excessive wealth and the power of dynastic families. What’s not to like?

Does Ms Rand defend "excessive wealth" and "dynastic families"? If this "excessive wealth" came from anti-life activities like looting or selling mind-altering drugs (e.g. heroin, cocaine) am I right to say something should be done with this kind of wealth?

If this post is too lengthy may I have some suggestions on how to refine it?

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It makes no sense to destroy wealth that was created by forefathers and set future generations back to times before any wealth was created at all. If this principle was applied consistently across all generations, no wealth would ever be created beyond a single generation, which would be on average 20-odd years (without the building library of medical knowledge).

Who deserves past wealth? Those who the wealth-creators designated, or those who acquired it by any other legitimate means (meaning, nobody else held a real claim to the same wealth). Who else could hold any claim to it at all? Those with no association whatever, who were not even born when the wealth was created?

As to intelligence differences, the standard argument is: so what? People are different, life isn't "fair," because fairness is a standard that must be applied to actual people. All things and all people are not, and never will be, equal, so trying to make them so is foolish. Morally speaking, nobody holds a claim to anyone else or anything else other than their own person, their own productive achievements, and any inherited wealth.

Another point: wealth and intelligence differences are greatly over-played. Wealth can easily be lost in less than a generation (Paris Hiltons of the world), and intelligence as it relates to success is measured in so many ways that you have to be very specific and then particular when applying judgement. The generic example: a super-genius who decides to sit around all day won't be anywhere near as successful as a usual Joe who works hard, all the time, for his entire life.

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Rand differentiates between the metaphysical and the man-made (Philosophy: Who Needs It, chapter 3.) Metaphysical facts are not expressible by the concept of justice (fair, unfair, right, wrong, etc.), they just are. Justice comes from appraising the chosen aspects of other people in relation to you.

Excessive wealth can't come from anti-life activities, because, at the root, wealth can only come from virtuous action (production.) If you mean having a person with wealth that did not earn it, i.e. that acquired it by looting, in short, that did not merit it, then the law should do something about that, but then that would rule out the inheritance tax. Rand (PWNI, pp. 140-141) criticizes meritocracy on the grounds that it is a self-contradictory concept. To "merit" something is a matter of justice, and "-ocracy" refers to rulers, then "meritocracy" seeks to create a "tyranny of justice," thus collapsing into conceptual incoherency, and blanking out the different between might and right that justice seeks to create.

As far as this author's idea of a meritocracy, it is problematic to say the least. From an economic standpoint, "what alone can improve [material] conditions is more and better production. And this can only be brought about by increased saving and capital accumulation" (Mises, Planning for Freedom, pp. 92-93.) The inheritance tax is particularly damaging to capital accumulation. The prospect of an inheritance tax destroys the incentive and the power to save and build up accumulations of capital. Rothbard calls inheritance taxes "perhaps the most devastating example of a pure tax on capital" (Rothbard, Power and Market, p.1185.) It's impact will be devastating because of the far-reaching nature of the argument. The argument conceives "that everyone should line up at the same starting line," but regardless of where we start off, within a few generations every piece of property must pass to heirs, and continue in such a manner indefinitely.

Thus we can see that the difficulty with this argument is that it proves far too much than perhaps it wanted to. For which one of us would earn anything like our present real income or enjoy anything near our present standard of living were it not for inherited benefits that we derive from the actions of our predecessors (in accumulation capital stock)? Specifically, the modern standard of living resulting from the accumulation of capital goods is an inheritance from all the net savings of our ancestors. If the argument wants to be consistent, then we will have to remove all these "unfair advantages." Without them, we would, regardless of the quality of our own moral character, be living in a primitive jungle. If everyone were prevented from passing on accumulated wealth to the next generation, the result would be drastic impoverishment and mass starvation of the majority of the human race, a decidedly anti-life conclusion, would result. So if the grounds are pro-life, then this argument fails. Simply stating "but this is the logical, rational, enlightened thing to do" is of no avail.

The author states that the living do not experience the inheritance tax because the person who is being taxed is dead. But the dead are not the ones that own the property, the heir is the living owner who is taxed. Such a tax necessarily violates property rights, which contradicts the stated desire of not taking the unearned from anyone.

The meritocrat might reply that the heir didn't earn it because he didn't produce it himself, but technological production is not the only way to earn wealth. Exchange also is one way to earn wealth, and the heir acquired the property in question through the objective link of contractual exchange. Whatever he did, even if just being in the right place at the right time, caused him to earn the property in the eyes of the previous owner passing it on to the later owner. The socialist government (or society at large, or whoever is claiming the right to tax it) has established no link whatsoever with the property, has done nothing to it, so it's difficult to see why a contractually designated owner, the heir, who has an objective link to the property (earned it via contractual exchange from a previous to a later owner) should be denied ownership in favor of a non-producer, non-contractor who has no link whatsoever with the property, if the grounds specified is "he who earned it." Thus the meritocracy argument for inheritance taxation fails on its own grounds.

Branden (in Rand, ed., Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, pp.96-99) recognizes that there is a contradiction in the contention that only those who produce wealth should control it, and the inheritance tax. For if we recognized the right of those who originally produce the wealth as the legitimate right, then this also implies the right to give it away to an heir through gift. Therefore, the alleged worthiness or unworthiness of the heir is logically irrelevant.

That section is particularly instructive, because Branden also explains how inheritance does not contribute to economic instability, that one's place on the unhampered market has to continually be earned, and how the inheritance tax tends to aid the second and third generation welfare statists by keeping out rivals, thus hampering the natural market "circulation of elites."

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How is it evident that capitalism or democracy has "failed"?

Why is it that every time there is a small economic hic up or a crummy war people think the world is going to end? It is completely hysterical. Even our heavily regulated economy has still been producing new technology and innovations all the while impoving the quality of life of the vast majority of our nation (and the world).

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  • 2 weeks later...

The passage that Ayn Rand wrote that I was referring to is from "Philosophy: Who Needs it" page 111, 1st paragraph:

Observe that Mr. Cohen's (and the egalitarians') view of man is literally the view of a children's fairy tale - the notion that man, before birth, is some sort of indeterminate thing, an entity without identity, something like a shapeless chunk of human clay, and that fairy godmothers proceed to grant or deny him various attributes ("favors"): intelligence, talent, beauty, rich parents, etc. These attributes are handed out "arbitrarily" (this is a "lottery" among pre-embryonic non-entities, and - the supposedly adult mentalities conclude - since a winner could not possibly have "deserved" his good fortune," a man does not deserve or earn anything after birth, as a human being, because he acts by means of "undeserved," "unmerited," "unearned" attributes. Implication: to earn something means to choose and earn your personal attributes before you exist.

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"http://armageddonconspiracy.co.uk/" <-- armageddon conspiracy? Yup, sounds totally legit and in no way paranoid or nefarious. *nods*

I've always found the meritocracy comments by Rand just a little confusing because I have never heard of meritocracy anywhere defined as a tyranny. Actually, every time I've ever seen it used in my life it was used in contexts that were not about a government's interactions and rulings with its citizenry. I've only ever seen it used to describe the workings within some kind organization (things like a company promoting and hiring people solely on the basis of the abilities of the people without regard for things like who somebody is friends or relatives of, if somebody is needy, et cetera). In this manner, I have never seen any problem with it. This is aiming for the good/efficacy of the organization.

This is the first time I have ever heard the word used outside of an organizational context and thus the first time I've ever heard of somebody wanting to use it to hold growth back rather than encourage it. This is like some form of egalitarianism I haven't heard of before where they try to keep some appearance of bad people not getting the same kinds of treatment as good people. What strikes me as particularly odd here is it seems like this version of so-called meritocracy wants to maintain regard for actions while having no recognition or even denial for entities that do the acting. They want to try to act like all people are the same. Sure, morally we're all blank slates when we start, but that does not mean EVERYTHING about us is totally blank. Some kids will be born with disabilities, others will be healthy. Some kids are the offspring of wealthy people, others of poor people, and some will be given up for adoption to potential parents of unknown financial status. Some kids will have very kind, attentive parents, others will have negligent jerks who may eventually lose custody of them. That you were born into some condition doesn't mean it doesn't count, it isn't part of who you are (though certainly what matters far more about who you are will be what you do with the resources and options you have). Making everybody start from scratch in the name of a non-existent sameness starts off looking like it wants to reward earning and let good people get better off. However, wiping the slate and making people start from scratch puts everybody starting much farther back - the same place, yes, but it is pretty much forcing the same handicap onto everybody. The end result of this is that there won't be enough time in anybody's life to create as much value as could have otherwise been achieved and so everybody's standard of living suffers. It's better to be the poorest kid in the neighborhood and have indoor plumbing, heating, and electricity than be the richest kid in the neighborhood and still using candles and fireplaces and outhouses.

Also, as was pointed out earlier, we have not had capitalism or democracy. Objectivism supports capitalism, but not democracy (as in, whatever the most people want goes, no matter what it is, even if it meant burning down somebody's house just because they didn't like said person.) We have a mixed economic and government structure as it is. There is some amount of economic freedoms, and some lots of laws about what we have to and cannot do or have or sell and such along with some rights that the government must protect, but plenty of ways they try to skirt around that and figure that anything not expressly forbidden must be a-okay for them to do.

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it talks about "Meritocracy" where everyone is stripped of any inheritance from one's forefathers and start at the same "line". It seems to make sense, as in that people should rise solely on their hard work and not what was given to them before they put in the hard work.

By this logic, shouldn't one not be allowed to receive gifts of any kind? After all, one didn't "word hard" for the gift in the same way that the recipient of inheritance didn't "work hard" for his inheritance.

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To get true equality, you would need to take children from their homes and put them into communal living spaces where all would be treated equally. Since some of society's roles are more favored by all, it would be unfair to allow those more talented to compete for - and inevitably win - the coveted jobs. Therefore the enlightened rulers would wisely choose roles for each young adult, based on the premise of equality of outcome - an intelligent, ambitious man might be given a job sweeping streets so that his outcome would be comparable to a dullard given a job as an engineer. To prevent the most ambitious from unfairly finding their own way to success, deviations from directed activity would have to be curtailed, with some sort of egalitarian punishment for those who strayed. In order to maintain control over the equality of life experiences, the enlightened ones would have to severely limit the range of technologies; even a small advantage of one man could be greatly, and unfairly amplified if he had access to technology that others didn't. In social situations, it would be unfair and socially dangerous for men and women to choose their mates - intelligence would seek intelligence, physically advanced would seek its own, etc., and unfair genetic advantages would propagate. The leaders would have to work diligently to regulate the genetic makeup of offspring to avoid inadvertent creation of unfairly advantaged children. Men and women would have mates chosen for them, and would likely have to be forced, in some cases, to mate, to make sure that all pairings were taken to fruition.

Is that kind of what you had in mind?

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Capitalism has not failed.

Democracy is wholly unsuitable to the governance of anything larger than a smallish city-state. We in the USA live in a (supposedly) constitional republic, not a democracy.... democracy is just another nake for mob rule, and minorities of all sorts tend to fare poorly in any democracy.

This idea of an all powerful state enforced meritocracy is immoral as well as being impractical, the state simply has no valid right to confiscate my money after death, I have the right so sell, give away, or bequeath my property at any time, and if I should choose to leave my fortune to my family, then after my passing my family should recieve my goods.

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where everyone is stripped of any inheritance from one's forefathers and start at the same "line"

That's how. You can't be supportive of reason, but at the same time use force to negate a father's decision to leave his fortune to his son. Or his neighbor's son. Or to anyone he wants to.

Reason serves to make choices about our lives and our property. If the right to make those choices, and to dispose of our property in any way we see fit, is denied to us, how does our rationality still manifest itself? Isn't that the total negation of a person's rational capacity: making his choices for him?

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