The Tyranny of Meritocracy

I thought this Megan McArdle essay was well worth a read. As a bonus, her post attracted a range of stimulating comments — see example below. The over-credentialing that has developed in the US due to the surplus of over-educated but under-skilled graduates has produced personal tragedies. Such as the student loans that are going into default because the “graduate” cannot earn enough to repay the loan. A few of this cohort (who seem to have given up job hunting) are among the OWS crowd (occupy wall street).

I don’t care about income inequality. I care about the absolute condition of the poor–whether they are hungry, cold, and sick. But I do not care about the gap between their incomes, and those of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Nor the ratio of Gates and Buffett’s incomes to mine. And I’m not sure why anyone should. Other than pure envy, it’s hard to see how I could somehow be made worse off if Bill Gates’ income suddenly doubled, but everything else remained the same.

But while I do not care about gaps and ratios, I do care about opportunity.


There are a number of informed comments on company recruiting pipelines based upon intensive testing (think Google). On credentialing, I liked this comment by “johnson85emphasis mine.

That’s still better assuming they are being tested for actual skills. Much better to be forced to learn actual skills or knowledge to satisfy some credentialing function than to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on schools.

The other advantage is resetting the arms race. Right now, with a few exceptions, even smart people are stuck with at least three years of college, even if they have the capacity to learn all of it in one year, because the classes only advance so quickly. With test based credentialism, there’s no reason to increase the number of years you spend in school, just increase the number of tests you take, which hopefully will involve learning some skills, or if not, gaining some useful knowledge.  

Much better than what we have now, and to some extent reduces the problem that our current credentialism selects in part for the ability to waste four or more years in school without an real job (which is largely correlated to socioeconomic status).