That is killing us, writes Livia Gershon at The Week in what they call an "essential commentary."
I was intrigued because they call it "essential commentary" and asked me to pay them money because they are better at writing than other groups, which reads as awfully elitist when the whole point of the article is that meritocracy is bad. If the writer of the essential commentary is not paid as poorly as the worst writer out there the whole thing is hypocritical.
But they also have an essential commentary on how California, the state where I live, should just nationalize PG&E. Well, PG&E is already the most regulated utility in the United States.(1) Just across the border, Mexico's state-run oil company Petróleos Mexicanos has losses of 25 percent despite gas being $4 a gallon in California. Oh wait, our high gas prices are due to taxes, not oil costs. California already has America's highest utility costs, thanks to California government charging poor people so that they can force PG&E to pay as much for solar power from consumers as they charge - but without keeping anything for employees, maintenance, or to pay for transmission lines they can't own.
I am not an urban progressive so maybe I just can't understand how a state with $500 billion in unfunded liabilities, whose policies have led to high gas prices, high utility costs, and the departure of the middle class, will be able to run a utility better. Maybe it's why I think merit exists too.
As evidence for how meritocracy is ruining America the author invokes the recent college bribery scandal. I am clearly no great thinker because I believed that paying people to give your kid more time on a test, or paying someone else to take the test, or paying for your kid to pretend to be on a rowing team, was the opposite of meritocracy. It was instead proof your child was failing in a meritocracy so you cheated - and got caught by people doing their jobs better than someone else in a meritocracy. Until I read in The Week that meritocracy is just elites helping elites, I believed that as a poor kid in rural PA who always wandering in and out of poverty but who got a scholarship, I was benefited by a meritocracy. I guess not.
Yet if you don't believe that you just had things handed to you, if you believe in meritocracy, you are what the author terms an "existential threat" to all of us. One of the degrees I got with my scholarship is in existential-phenomenological psychology so while I may not be an elite progressive who ironically espouses an end to meritocracy, one thing I have learned in the decades since it is that people who casually throw around terms like "existential" (or "zeitgeist" or "schadenfreude") absolutely do not know what they are talking about. And if they invoke Marx or someone at The Atlantic, their credibility goes even lower.
But what if I'm wrong, the same way I might be stupid if I believe that some people are better than others and a meritocracy lets that show? What if cooing about Marx is actually better than invoking Kanye West lyrics? Did meritocracy fail me while convincing me I was being helped? That's so deep. If only a 19th century sociologist had the answer!
Wait, was Marx or Max Weber or any of those great German communists actually smarter than peasants toiling away in obscurity? Not if meritocracy is an invalid construct. What if they were just like any amateur sophist saying rich people are the problem but our collective consciousness gave them power they didn't deserve? What if we created a meritocracy construct and they exploited it to show us what fools we were for believing in it? In the article, that is why we're stupid enough to allow CEOs to run companies. Or perhaps why we allow pilots to fly planes, under the naïve belief that plane pilots might be better at it than any one of us 200 random people in the cabin.
If meritocracy is bad, why should an airplane pilot be allowed to fly the plane at the expense of the rest of us? I admit it's a deep question, and because there is no meritocracy I now can't convince myself I am smart enough to answer it, so I suppose all of us will stay where The Week wants us. On the ground, poorly but equally paid, yet all comforted that we finally accepted the Wisdom of the Ancients like Marx and Weber, that no one is better at anything than anyone else. Somehow still with enough money to pay The Week to be better at essential commentary. I am not sure how the economics of that can work, but my meritocracy is probably getting in the way.
I do feel bad for writers at The Week, though. Since they are against meritocracy, it is clear that authors were just picked randomly from a hat. That doesn't sound all that great for their self-esteem.
(1) When energy was deregulated in the 1990s, California lobbied to keep transmission separate so PG&E couldn't control transmission lines and energy generation. Then they forced sales to independent companies. They also they couldn't sign long-term contracts. They couldn't do anything that would make them successful. Now The Week is lobbying for a state takeover because PG&E was told by California government to create a shut-off plan if fire conditions were high. Which is every year.
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