The Tyranny of Meritocracy

I just read this article over at The Atlantic.  Basically, the premise is that being born middle class means you are likely to be middle class yourself and if you’re born poor, you are likely to stay poor regardless of how hard you work or how smart you are.

Having read and loved “Shop Class as Soulcraft,” I really want to argue with the basic premise of the discussion, which is that it is better to be rich than it is to be poor.  Which brings me to something that I’ve been contemplating anyway.  Do we (collectively) want to be rich because we love money or do we want to be rich because money = freedom?  (see also Tim Ferris) If it is the former, than carry on in peace with your conviction that it is better to earn $100,000 for an 80-hour work week and estrangement from your family and/or community than to earn $50,000 for a 40 hour work week.

Understand, I have little skin in this game.  I make a generous salary that I’d tie back to a much earlier economic theory which I wrote about here.  But I also recognize that I would probably have a higher quality of life were I to halve my salary (I’d still be doing ok) and increase my contact with a community.

Let’s also not forget that not everyone wants to pay for Joseph A. Banks suits and wrap a noose around their necks for the majority of their waking hours.  Not everyone is interested in graduate school.  Lots of us get intrinsic satisfaction out of working with our hands.  Happy should be part of the measure too.

So again, is it money for the sake of money that we want?  I’m not sure that it is.  I think it is freedom that we are after.  How many of those 6+ figure executives would love to give up the stress and the long hours?  I know one who makes a boatload of money and must continue to do so to maintain a lifestyle decorated in what looks like freedom: the ability to buy whatever whenever.  It’s the known devil vs. the unfamiliar one.  The accumulated artifacts of all that purchasing power, in the end, don’t make anyone happy.  They just strengthen the ties that bind.  They end up equaling less freedom, not more.

Again, I’m not in a position to throw stones.  I’ve gotten fond of walking into The Body Shop and buying whatever potions seem likely to make me pretty or smell good or whatever.  My pleasures are reasonably small thus far.  Shoes bought on sale, for example.  Which reminds me…  I have a grandmother who was infamous for her conviction that the secret to good health was walking barefoot in the grass a little every day.  Which would add to my freedom?  Another pair of shoes that promises to break my poor little foot bones?  Or an extra hour to walk in the grass?

We’re asking the wrong questions.  And it seems to me that, as the media works itself into a bigger and bigger frenzy about what is wrong with Government, what’s wrong with America, and occasionally, what’s wrong with the media itself, the questions just push further down a path justifying the very things that are counterproductive to fostering a grounded society.  It’s an ongoing masturbatory panic attack that serves no one.

The Tyranny of Meritocracy

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