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Culture War Roundup for the week of July 31, 2023

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The Virtue Theory of Money

Recently, Freddie deBoer published an essay called "What Would a Functioning System of Equal Opportunity Look Like for the Losers" complaining about how unfair "equality of opportunity" is. The main point is that since talent is partially heritable, if we reward people based on their abilities then people who have been unlucky in the genetic lottery will be left worse off. It's a little hard to tell exactly what way of distributing resources Freddie would prefer instead, but he seems to have the opinion that it is unjust for luck to play a significant role. In Freddie's words: "it’s hard to see how rewarding talent falls under a rubric of distributing resources to people based on that which they can control."

I think Freddie's essay is a good example of a misunderstanding about the benefits of equality of opportunity—a misunderstanding I've come to think of as the Virtue Theory of Money. Basically, this is my name for the belief that the main purpose of money is to reward people for being good.

In my experience, many people seem to have some sort of implicit belief that people should be rewarded by society according to how virtuous they are. This takes different forms: some people emphasize hard-work, conscientiousness and so on. Others emphasize the difficulty or social value of the job that someone is doing. For example, some people argue that affirmitive action is bad because it prevents talented, hardworking people from getting the jobs/university spots that they deserve. As another example, some people argue that teachers should be paid more because of how important their jobs are. The labor theory of value also seems to be partially motivated by this idea.

Read in this light, Freddie is basically complaining that talent is not a virtue and so we should not reward people for being talented. (He also seems to believe that the reason talent is not a virtue is because it is influenced by genetics, which is outside our control. I find that idea somewhat incoherent—all sorts of other apparent virtues like generosity or open-mindedness are also influenced by genetics, but that's irrelevant to my main point.)

However, I think this idea is almost totally wrong. In my view, the main reason to reward some people more than others is if doing so leads to better social outcomes. The point is not to provide personal benefit to the people rewarded but to incentivize behavior that benefits the entire society.

As an example, I believe that the best argument against affirmitive action is not that it personally hurts the individual people denied positions because of it (though I do feel sympathy for them) but because it deprives society of having the most capable people in the most important jobs. The reason that we want to select the most talented people to become doctors is because it's good to have good doctors not because being a doctor is a nice reward for being a top student. Likewise, the best argument for paying teachers more is if doing so would lead to better educational outcomes of enough magnitude to be worth the extra cost. I agree that plenty of teachers (though far from all) are nice, hard-working people who do a demanding job. But again, a job is not supposed to be a reward for being a good person, it's supposed to be a way to get something useful done.

I also think this is a serious issue. Basing hiring decisions and salaries on how virtuous people seem can cause resources to be poorly allocated in a way that hurts everybody. If we followed the Virtue Theory of Money then too many people would want to be teachers (it's already a popular job even without a major salary boost) and not enough would want to be middle managers or accountants. We would have worse doctors, engineers and scientists.

So my main response to Freddie complaining about "equality of opportunity" leading to talented people being rewarded more is: that's exactly the point! We want talented people to be incentivized to apply their talents instead of doing some routine job that almost anyone else can do. Stop trying to use the virtue theory of money and think about the long-term conseuqences of policy decisions.

Now, I do want to add a couple caveats to this. First, I think it's bad to let people suffer a lot when society has sufficient resources to help them. So I think it's reasonable for the government to give some help to people who don't have the ability to get high quality jobs. But I think we should be aware that the government is only able to do this because of how rich our society is and that this wealth depends on incentivizing talented people to use their talents. Second, I do think that there is some value in rewarding people purely for their virtue. I want to live in a society of virtuous people and so I would like virtue to be incentivized even if the economic benefits are not always easy to measure. However, I think this should usually be a secondary concern.

David Brooks tangentially touched on this today in his column. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/02/opinion/trump-meritocracy-educated.html

The ideal that we’re all in this together was replaced with the reality that the educated class lives in a world up here and everybody else is forced into a world down there. Members of our class are always publicly speaking out for the marginalized, but somehow we always end up building systems that serve ourselves.

Good column, arguably worthy of a top-level comment.

To be fair, meritocracy as we know it is very recent, and absolutely deserves to be called an "ocracy". Or perhaps an "ism"?

Until very recently in the US and UK, pretty much all lucrative and/or important jobs were distributed through a system of patronage. If you read about the late 1800s it's clear that the move from "this person supports me and should be rewarded" to "important jobs should be obtained by passing a set of exams (or proving your worth in other ways) regardless of the recipient's allegiance" was an explicitly political movement. In the UK you had civil service reform after the Trevelyan report; in the US you had the Civil Service Reform Act.

In the US at least, this movement was strongly opposed by supports of the spoils system, partly for the obvious reason, partly because it removed the ability of governments to ensure that lower levels of the bureaucracy were in line with their leaders. Given the fact that it has become totally impossible for right-wing movements to govern because of an entrenched and hostile bureaucratic class, I think they had a point.

You also have complementary movements in the 1900s campaigning against choosing people to do jobs based on family ties (nepotism), ethnic group (racism), class, religion, etc.

In short, what we now think of as meritocracy is not the natural state of affairs but the result of a strong government forcing people to hire in ways that lawmakers think is optimal. Which is what you’re saying I suppose but I don’t think Freddie is misunderstanding anything. He believes that the long-term benefit argument is mostly made by self-serving high-iq people and wants to see money allocated in a different way.

Which I oppose, though I’d be a happy man if more right wingers could get it drummed through their head that personnel is policy.

Given that you cite the Northcote-Trevelyan report, how would your analysis of meritocracy take shape if we stretched it to China? China's had some sort of meritocracy (for a particular sort of merit) for at least a thousand years at this point, at least for official posts.

I have a giant hole in my understanding of the world where an understanding of Chinese history ought to be. Any recommendations?

I have the vague impression that it led to a stable but fairly stagnant society. It also seems potentially relevant that bureaucrats were a mid-level class and usually ruled over by warlords, who presumably had little patience with excuses.

I can’t read Dutch, but I‘m sure @Nantafiria’s recommendation is superb.

For my own…sorry, I’ve been meaning to type a response out for a couple days now, but I‘ve had long shifts recently. I can quote a previous post of mine on the same matter.

I’ve just learned that the Cambridge Illustrated History of China came out with a new edition in September so I had a scan of a preview of the book; I think that might be actually a better introduction. Or A Brief History of Chinese Civilization.

History of Imperial China is probably a more interesting text overall, but it tends towards being a bit less narrative in focus, and it is some 2000 pages long in six books…

(Also note that it’s the Cambridge Illustrated History of China, not the Cambridge History of China, which is a 18-volume-and-counting behemoth)

Are there any particular questions you‘d like to ask? I’m happy to answer to the best of my ability.


Onto the topics on discussion.

Regarding stagnancy — I would caution against the idea that China was a stagnant and stable society, as @Nantafiria does as well. The history of China is punctuated by periods of terrible internecine and interstate warfare as well as many, many rebellions e.g. the Taiping Rebellion that is contemporaneous with the American Civil War. China is also home to many social revolutions; the first print culture in the world started in the Tang dynasty (618-907), for example; while the Song dynasty (960-1279) embarked in an economic revolution that is often eeriely similar to early modern European growth (and produced a massive quantity of e.g. steel that wouldn’t be exceeded until centuries later in Europe), and which resulted in a large, rich mercantile class. (This would unfortunately be undone by the following Yuan (Mongol) and Ming dynasties.)

I would however not try to oversell the instability of China. Although it is undeniable that the Chinese heartland is astonishingly fertile ground, along with great natural barriers acting as physical borders (and comparatively weaker states and less numerous peoples in Southeast Asia coming by sea, especially after the colonization and consolidation of southern China under imperial control), China is probably the closest thing the world has to a civilisation-state, whatever that means, and I think this at least is partly due to an enduring social and political culture.


Regarding the status of mandarins.

Confucian bureaucrats in China, especially towards from mid-Imperial times onwards, had great power and prestige, would fill the most important and most powerful roles in the empire’s bureaucracy, and certainly were not a mid-level class in comparison to military men. In fact, towards the end of Imperial China, it would often be bureaucrats who were spearheading military operations (e.g. Li Hongzhang/Hung-Chang lead troops against the Taiping, and the Huai army and Beiyang fleet that lost the first Sino-Japanese war were under his command), and bureaucrats were often well-read and educated on military matters.

There were also military versions of the imperial examinations, but the civil service exams were unquestionably more prestigious.


Regarding the civil service examinations.

There are early traditions of evaluation-based examination systems and tests of skill in China’s predynastic and early dynastic history, including small-scale bureaucratic exams in the Han dynasty; but the first systematic establishment of a large-scale, recurring examination system that was de jure open to all (well, not quite, but significantly more than purely aristocracy) occurs during the Tang dynasty (perhaps more accurately during the Southern Zhou dynasty, in Wu Zetian’s reign).

Initially there were different examinations for different specialities (e.g. legal scholars and mathematicians would take different exams), but over time this homogenized into one route. Also, while there is something of a meme about how the imperial examinations had an overwhelming emphasis on the Confucian classics and thus did not prepare the mandarins properly, there were in fact sections of the exam requiring analysis or critical responses regarding current affairs or governmental policy.

Given the fact that it has become totally impossible for right-wing movements to govern because of an entrenched and hostile bureaucratic class, I think they had a point.

Would a spoils system have really worked better? With the increased centralization and polarization it would have resulted in a collective whiplash every four or eight years. Right now the deep state/civil service functions as a dampener, same would say a biased one, but a dampener none the less.

I take your point but a biased damper isn’t a damper, it’s a valve. Or a filter, if you want to put it that way. Cthulhu swims left, he doesn’t bob back and forth.

Right now the deep state/civil service functions as a dampener, same would say a biased one, but a dampener none the less.

Massive, sustained, nation-wide riots, incited by a deliberate misinformation campaign. A pandemic that has killed seven million people and was quite possibly man-made, used to gut civil liberties and abruptly modify the electoral process by the tribe that likely created it. Unprecedented speech restrictions being coordinated by the government to suppress dissent. Direct, repeated interference in the mechanisms of democracy by the security services, uniformly benefiting one party. Cratering trust in all civil institutions. The progressive collapse of every conflict resolution mechanism our society posesses. Visceral civil hatred on a level not seen in a hundred years.

Gasoline is not a "damper".

The spoils system has the advantage of preventing a class of professional rulers from becoming completely entrenched. As it stands, the deep state has become powerful enough that not even an election can meaningfully change the direction simply because it only changes the publicly known (and increasingly ineffective) parts of the government. If we had a spoils system, at least there’d be a bit of accountability for those in agencies who make terrible decisions that hold back progress, or behave in tyrannical ways. This is something that I think Moldbug is absolutely right about — the people making decisions real decisions — are never held to account for their failures. And as such, they don’t care how bad their decisions are.

The existence of said whiplash likely would have prevented the centralization. Less reason to invest in growing the power of the central authority of your opponent actually gets to use the power once in awhile.

There's a lot of equivocation between words like "Talent", "Merit", "Virtue", but those are all vague terms that are not operationalized. And we're talking about a circular set of definitions when it is. As I've said before, because we use academics as our social sorting mechanism, the ability to do well in school is generally what we're talking about when we say things like "talent" or "merit". And the ability to do well in school is pretty well measured by IQ tests.

But is IQ really "merit"?

Wild aggression and physical violence used to be "merit". Religious devoutness used to be "merit". Having an illustrious bloodline used to be "merit". IQ is no better or worse.

All systems think of themselves as "meritocratic", it's just a matter of what they're optimizing for. To the degree that meritocracy gets at something real, it will by necessity fill the lower ranks of society with those who are low in whatever that characteristic is. And this will be in some cases unjust and counterproductive.

To structure society such that intelligence is privileged over every other human trait is to create a very dumb underclass, and to reduce the average intelligence of the working class as many of the smart kids are siphoned off to the middle classes. It also naturally creates a social division between those who meet the arbitrary and changing benchmarks for "education", and those who do not.

I think universities should be required to choose their student body by setting a SAT cutoff, and having a lottery among applicants who meet the minimum score. Completely blind, random selection. I also think that the university system should be radically smaller than it is, and no more than ten percent of HS graduates should attend. It should also be illegal to use academic information in hiring.

Two things are true:

1: IQ really does measure academic potential and should be used to cull the group trying to get into academia.

2: We overemphasize academics and could do a lot better socially in promoting definitions of merit that are not so limited.

I think meritocracy is a bad name for the concept, as it implies a particular system of organization. When really it's a metric you can apply to any system. And all systems are very much not the same in how meritocratic they are.

To structure society such that intelligence is privileged over every other human trait is to create a very dumb underclass, and to reduce the average intelligence of the working class as many of the smart kids are siphoned off to the middle classes. It also naturally creates a social division between those who meet the arbitrary and changing benchmarks for "education", and those who do not.

And this incongruous with the rest of your post, essentially "meritocracy isn't real, and it's bad that it's real". But yes, depriving lower classes of highly capable representatives is an inevitable consequence of meritocratic systems. I think that's a vastly preferable outcome to forcing these capable people into roles below their potential.

I think this is where the class/income distinction is important. We need highly intelligent lower-class people, because we need highly intelligent people running industries like resource extraction which will never be high class. A role being difficult doesn't make it classy, and a society that siphons off its best production plant operators and logging magnates to become ad-revenue optimizers and theoretical history researchers isn't on a good path long-term.

"Merit" is a term which has different meanings in different places. When "meritocracy" is used seriously, it means something like "the people who are the best in their domain are put at the top of that domain"; it does not mean we choose the President with an IQ test. Both conscientiousness and intelligence contribute to merit in a very large set of circumstances, but they are not in and of themselves "merit". Aggression and physical violence may indeed be meretricious in the right circumstances.

All systems think of themselves as "meritocratic", it's just a matter of what they're optimizing for.

You can frame it that way, but I don't think that's really true. A system which optimized for "being related to the right people" or "best at kissing ass" or "most willing to provide bribes and kickbacks" usually isn't really "meritocratic" though you could come up with criteria by which would could say it was true. This is getting into the non-central fallacy.

Fair as far as it goes, but no system describes itself as based on bribes, kickbacks and ass-kissing.

There is an internal logic to systems, perhaps wrong, perhaps counterproductive, but consistent internally. Any conception of "merit" will be gamed, corrupted and traduced. The proxy for merit will be farmed. In our own system, we see bribes, kickbacks and ass kissing, even though we use IQ as a proxy. I think this process is very central, and not a fringe effect.

If all systems attempt meritocracy, we can still judge them by how well they actually achieve meritocracy.

I think universities should be required to choose their student body by setting a SAT cutoff, and having a lottery among applicants who meet the minimum score.

Depending on the cutoff, this might let this centuries' Einstein slip through the cracks.

Fair as far as it goes, but no system describes itself as based on bribes, kickbacks and ass-kissing.

You forgot "being related to the right people", which affirmative action often explicitly does. Sure, they will bring forth blank slate arguments and explain average differences in ability through intergroup oppression, but seeing how they blockade the scientific subfields that would settle this and their general trouble around distinguishing what would be aesthetically/ morally pleasing to them and what is true makes me doubt their sincerity.

OK, so more systems think of themselves as meritocratic than actually are. I would agree with you that any conception of merit will be corrupted; corruption is a fact of life and human nature. But there are certainly explicitly non-meritocratic systems such as inherited aristocracies, racial spoils systems, or seniority systems.

Those systems tend to be framed as meritocratic internally though.

"Of course the aristocrats should run things, they are literally better than everyone else due to superior breeding (blood)"

"Of course we need to distribute things between the races, they are equal in their merits and so need equal rewards."

"Of course the most experienced people are in charge, they're the best at their job because they know it better than anyone."

Or for the credentialists: "Of course those with the highest credentials should run things, the credentials show that they're the best in their field."

Or for the IQists:

"Of course the smartest should be on top, smarter people are better than everyone else due to their superior inherent abilities."

I can't think of a system which a typical adherent doesn't frame as meritocratic. The question is always how to determine merit, which if you ever hired for a job you know isn't particularly easy.

The Catholic Church does not claim to be meritocratic, it claims divine right.

That is still meritocratic with one extra step; they're meritorious because they've been appointed to the job by God, who's the supreme judge of merit.

And that is not how the Catholic Church conceives of itself either; the leadership being directly chosen by God is foreign to actual members of the church hierarchy.

I think it's a dumb point because 'meritocracy' pretty much always refers to a form of IQ meritocracy (even in a modified way) in regular life. There are a handful of exceptions (modelling, professional sports, performing arts) but in 99% of cases "meritocracy" means "meritocracy of intellectual ability". The term as generally used precludes a focus on non-IQ-based hierarchies for the most part.

"From each according to his ability, to each according to his ability"

I think it does currently in some circles, but generally uses a more all-encompassing definition of merit. The 120 IQ guy who can stay focused and always be on time has more merit than the 130 IQ guy who never shows up or gets anything done. The 100 IQ guy with masterful social charisma has more merit than the 105 IQ guy with anger issues. IQ is a big factor, but not the only one.

In this way, I think merit usually just means "tendency to produce value" in whatever way the institution produces value. Attractiveness for the porn stars, charisma for the salesmen etc. High IQ correlates with all other forms of merit yes, but not extremely strongly so, especially within the range 90% of people fall into. The average used car salesman is a whole lot more charismatic than the average programmer, while the programmer is much smarter.

Hard disagree. The SAT is as close to a perfect blind measure of intelligence as we've got. Why is there such widespread opposition to its use in university admissions? Because a) SAT results are not evenly distributed across ethnic groups, which makes progressives uncomfortable and/or b) SAT results cannot be gamed. So on the one hand you have a system which uses IQ as a proxy for merit, and on the other hand you have people opposing that system specifically because it can't be gamed via affirmative action, legacy admissions etc.

IQ is no better or worse.

I would argue IQ is better as it substantially correlates to job performance in high, medium, and low complexity jobs. All else being equal, companies want a higher IQ programmers, mechanics, and window washers). Perhaps IQ is bet thought of as latent merit.

Your argument is purely economic, and for economics it is largely true. A smart con man can con you better than a dumb one. A smart murderer can kill lots more people than a dumb one.

It's still a con. It's still murder. IQ as merit is amoral.

There exist some evidence that IQ is correlated with good moral character.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16297-intelligent-soldiers-most-likely-to-die-in-battle/

There are also somewhat weak anti-correlation with crime, though I find it easier to argue for confounders there. Nonetheless, low IQ people being more impulsive should alone suffice to show that with equally bad internal character, they're more likely to actually try to do harm. I also have hope that high IQ people are easier to incentivize to do good if you manage to set up the right system.

arbitrary and changing benchmarks for "education"

Are the benchmarks for education really that arbitrary? Mathematical ability is widely prized in every nation which values education, and this has been true for as long as standardised education has been a thing.

Ok, and how well is a random four year college degree correlated to mathematical ability?

What is the case against meritocracy?

One has to separate ‘primordial’ meritocracy from the structured, deliberate, extreme meritocracy that exists in the modern west.

It has always been true, under every socioeconomic system man has ever devised, that smart young people have worked their way up the ladder. Historic royal courts (say those of the Tudors in England) often had a surprising number of people of low birth (at least in the second generation) who had worked their way to some kind of power. It was possible and even common for fortunes to radically shift for a family in a single generation. In a few decades families of no historical presence (who had maybe been peasants, then small time landholders, then gotten involved in regional politics) made it to court, to the king or queen’s ear. The current American system of deliberate meritocracy, open job applications, slander against ‘legacy’ applicants, criticism of “nepo babies”, the surging of second generation immigrants into the establishment at rates unseen even in the early 20th century is what is comparatively new. The worship of meritocracy, in other words.


Modern American meritocracy is bad because I see no reason why the child of two Brahmins deserves vastly more wealth and power than the child of two average Mayflower descendants just because the former is “more intelligent”. Though I have a reputation as something of a Jewish chauvinist on this board, I actually sympathize with the Ivy League admissions committees of the 1920s that capped us at 10% or 20% of a student population. Simple IQ is not enough to justify your rule. Tell a Hausa or Fulani or Yoruba that the Igbo deserve to rule Nigeria because they’re smarter and richer and they have every right to laugh you out of the room. Mere intelligence does not by default grant you the right to power over other men.

Meritocracy breeds the most extreme, most perverse form of entitlement. The entitlement that having a big boy IQ means you are owed a significantly greater money-making capacity (and thus comfort, power and prestige) by society than someone of more modest intelligence. I reject this notion. Perhaps it is particularly intelligent people who themselves owe a duty to society. I recall a comment by a regular user on a previous account (possibly @Esperanza) about how, growing up in Ireland in the 1980s, almost the entire graduating class (in engineering at the country’s most prestigious university) left for the United States, for fortune. What could Ireland have become had they decided to stay, to force change, to build things at home even if it was hard, to serve instead of to seek to merely enrich themselves, again and again?

I am relatively intelligent. But I despise the vanity of IQ meritocracy, the narcissism of it, the dweeb superman, the programmer ubermensch who believes not only that the arbitrariness of fate entitles him to rule (this is true, obviously, of any system), but that he owes nobody for it. Silicon Valley, America’s IQ meritocracy headquarters, is so devoid of duty, of nobility, that it has allowed San Francisco to collapse into shithole status. All the tech men can do is either defend it, whine without doing anything or flee to Texas, which is arguably even more pathetic. Bill Gates’ only noblesse oblige is funding third world mosquito nets and attempting to design a better toilet for India, his philanthropic service to his own people is limited or nonexistent.

I have found in my life that ‘strivers’ of humble birth often have pathological character flaws that make them extremely dangerous. These include mild sociopathy, lack of gratitude, poor etiquette and manners, rudeness, a belief that their success is entirely their own doing, deep-seated jealousy of those they perceive as doing better, and immense, insatiable greed. Often, they do not even particularly enjoy life, they just try to min-max it, like a video game theory-crafter. They seek power and so ought, quite rationally, to be denied it or at least to be handed it very, very slowly.

Obviously baseline intelligence in positions of power is necessary for the successful functioning of society. But how much? Must they be the most intelligent people from all the land, or can they merely be quite intelligent people who also have other things about them that should be valued in a ruling class?

Ok so where the case against meritocracy?

Those kids of brahmins dont deserve more wealth.. they earned more wealth!

Smart people duty... Do you seriously think all the ways in which your life is better than your grand parents was brought to you by.. dumb people? If anything its not that they do too little, but that they did and continue to do so much that we so greatly benefit from such as not dying of polio or being able to talk over the internet that we should be thankful a system that made those things exist exists at all and we get to live in it.

Honestly, you should pick up an econonics textbook. I really dont understand why you become a total leftist when it comes to this topic. Its not like wealth just exists and is redistributed.. it needs to be generated.

Like have you ever not met a truly competent person, someone who is really good at what they do?

Assuming you don't mean room temperature IQ nonfunctional people - dumb people (and a good amount of smart people who couldn't find a cushy job) flip my burgers, serve my coffee, clean my environment, make my clothes, grow my food, deliver my food, drive me to work... the list can go on. They do all that shit I wouldn't want to do, especially not for the money they get for it. None of the "vast economic benefits" of smart people would be worth a spit if there wasn't someone doing the work.

Conversely, those doing the work would be cannon fodder or slaves if someone smart didn't create the conditions for them to be able to "do work" and not be made to do work, vastly different things.

deleted

Elaborate.

Modern American meritocracy is bad because I see no reason why the child of two Brahmins deserves vastly more wealth and power than the child of two average Mayflower descendants just because the former is “more intelligent”.

You are making the same error that leftists do when they complain that not enough minorities are doctors or CEOs, qualifications be damned. It's not a question of "deserving power." It's a question of, "who is best for the job?" because whether important jobs are done well matters. As Scott once wrote:

The intuition behind meritocracy is this: if your life depends on a difficult surgery, would you prefer the hospital hire a surgeon who aced medical school, or a surgeon who had to complete remedial training to barely scrape by with a C-? If you prefer the former, you’re a meritocrat with respect to surgeons. Generalize a little, and you have the argument for being a meritocrat everywhere else.

The Federal Reserve making good versus bad decisions can be the difference between an economic boom or a recession, and ten million workers getting raises or getting laid off. When you’ve got that much riding on a decision, you want the best decision-maker possible – that is, you want to choose the head of the Federal Reserve based on merit.

This has nothing to do with fairness, deserts, or anything else. If some rich parents pay for their unborn kid to have experimental gene therapy that makes him a superhumanly-brilliant economist, and it works, and through no credit of his own he becomes a superhumanly-brilliant economist – then I want that kid in charge of the Federal Reserve. And if you care about saving ten million people’s jobs, you do too.

Now, obviously, IQ is not the only factor that determines if someone is going to be good at such a job. And I would greatly like to separate/reduce power over other people from as many positions as possible, even if what they do is important, because the existence of the "ruling class" is the problem, not the details of who is in it. This is relatively easy for surgeons; less so for the chairman of the Fed. But the only way for the Fed not to have power is not to have a centralized monetary system, and similarly the only way for a politician not to have power is to have as small and weak a government as possible. And favoring "Mayflower descendants" over 1st generation immigrants accomplishes, in my view, pretty much nothing on either front. What if we flip your example; do Mayflower descendants deserve more wealth and power just because their ancestors from 400 years ago fled England?

do Mayflower descendants deserve more wealth and power just because their ancestors from 400 years ago fled England?

This isn't what 2rafa is proposing in her post at all, she is proposing that the Mayflower descendants deserve more wealth and power because they have more sense of duty and respect for the people around them and the institutions that their ancestors built than the descendants of people who flew over 30 years ago do.

Neither that argument nor any supporting evidence for it are in their post. It's mostly just complaining about the outgroup.

You're right, I was conflating the comment you replied to with this comment she made below.

To me the central problem of IQ meritocracy is that intelligence is one value among many. If you were in charge of staffing a business or a school or a government ministry, it's understandable why you would want to prioritize intelligence; but if you prioritize intelligence alone you might start to run into problems. There are plenty of intelligent people who are conniving schemers, who are sociopathic, who are selfish and vain, who hate themselves or their country, who value their own advancement much greater than others, or who even simply prefer others failing to themselves succeeding. In these cases selecting individuals solely for their intelligence makes their destructive flaws worse. An inveterate gambler is a bad person to hire in accounting. An inveterate gambler who is also intelligent is a million times worse, because not only will they do much more damage they also are much more likely to be able to conceal their faults (and subsequently, the wake of destruction).

Western academia seems to be filled with plenty of smart people who hate themselves and their country. I don't think it would be an unpopular observation here to point out that them being intelligent makes it worse and not better. Maybe if we weren't so hellbent on selecting for IQ we would not have found ourselves in this position for IQ to be so roundly dismissed.

What could Ireland have become had they decided to stay, to force change, to build things at home even if it was hard, to serve instead of to seek to merely enrich themselves, again and again?

Having been a school leaver (no college) in Ireland in the 80s, I can tell you what would have happened: nothing. You honestly, unless you lived through it, have no idea how terrible things were; people weren't leaving to enrich themselves, they were leaving to get an actual job, any kind of a job.

There has long been a cynical saying "We breed our children like our cattle: for export". The reason that engineering class left for England and Canada and the USA and Australia was because there was nothing in Ireland. You have no idea how bad the 80s economy was; we're always about ten years behind the rest of the world, and while the 80s started being the era of opportunity in England (for some, at least), in Ireland we had a crash and a long recession.

Even in my last year of school, we were being warned about it. When I was looking for work, and being put on various government training schemes (for jobs that just were not there), we were also being heavily encouraged about "have you any relatives in England/USA? would you not think of going over to them?" Our Tanáiste (second behind the premier in the goverment) Brian Lenihan said in an interview with "Newsweek" in 1987 about the emigrating generation that "We can't all live on a small island" (for the record, the population of the Republic back then was 3.5 million; today it is 5 million). Places that would advertise vacancies would have hundreds of applicants applying for even low wage and menial work, even people with degrees and qualifications. Employers were able to turn applicants away on the grounds of being over qualified (this happened me when I applied to the local pharma plant; 'you have a qualification, as soon as you find a better job you'll leave' was the blunt refusal the HR guy gave me, and never mind that there was no 'better job' out there). You can bet your life no employer wanted those engineering graduates because 'they'll leave if they get a better offer'. Hence why the USA or England or Australia or Canada was the only option.

**That ** is what was so remarkable about the Celtic Tiger era, and why the politicians in general did not want to rock the boat. For the first time, in a long time, or ever as far as some could remember, there was work. There were jobs, and good paying jobs at that. People were not going abroad unless they wanted to, instead of being forced to leave. People were coming back home! We had our own immigrants now, the Poles!

The good times were always going to roll and this time it was different, the new economy would never end. Yeah, right.

We are still way too dependent on foreign investment by multinationals. If Apple, Google et al. decide to up and leave for cheaper pastures elsewhere, we are screwed in six different ways.

To be clear, I don’t think I’m necessarily in a position to judge. People do what they feel is in their own interest.

But I struggle to imagine that the loss of Ireland’s top engineering classes of 1980-1995 isn’t a great loss to the country. And I struggle to imagine that - had emigration not been a possibility - this group of people would just have accepted their minimum wage jobs and not worked to improve things in the country. They would have set things up, built things, started businesses, even as capital was very scarce. It’s laughable in the same way that arguing half of Nigeria’s doctors leaving for the West isn’t a tragedy for that country is laughable. It’s especially sad in Ireland’s case because independence was arguably hard-won. Becoming a generic American isn’t really honoring the generational struggle to liberate one’s ancestral homeland, although I suppose you have the Brits to thank for exterminating or assimilating your native aristocracy. In Israel, emigration (certainly permanent emigration) is looked down upon at least somewhat.

Prosperity is only rarely the result of a bounty in natural resources (which guarantees nothing), it’s most often the result of people. I think people of great ability do have a duty to work to the benefit of their society. Silicon Valley abstracts this, turns it into a generic mission to ‘save the world’, vastly grander and more epic than ‘improve Ireland for my children and their children’ and yet also - somehow - less meaningful.

Its a tragedy for Nigeria in the short term. In the long term they will crash and burn. Which is a good thing, because ultimately something that can retain its people will take its place. Let the unfit die.

Oh, it was a great loss. And the irony of it was that the IDA at the time was selling our young, educated (and cheaper to pay than the equivalent in your company, American multinationals) workforce as the reason to invest in Ireland - the Young Europeans campaign.

The irony, I say, is because people have stories of "As I was leaving for the airport to get on the plane to emigrate, I saw the Young Europeans billboards and I was one of the people in that photo":

UCD engineering graduates were to the fore in the 'Young Europeans' campaign by the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) in the mid-1980s. Designed to showcase Ireland's highly-educated cohort of engineering and science graduates, the campaign was very influential in the development of Ireland's profile within the technology sector internationally. Professor Liam Murphy, one of the Merrion Street graduates featured in the campaign, recalls 'I'm not sure we realised at the time how widespread the picture would become. But it was great to be a part of something which helped to raise awareness of the quality of Ireland's high-tech workforce!'

The economic reality of Ireland in the mid-1980s saw many of the most highly-skilled graduates leave the country in search of opportunity. This famously included many of the graduates from the iconic IDA advertisement. However, subsequent years saw many emigrants of the 1980s return to Ireland, bringing the skills and experience they had acquired abroad and contributing to the transformation of Ireland's industrial base.

Since the Famine (and before, but not as badly), we've been bleeding our young and our talented. The eldest son got the farm, the eldest daughter got the dowry, the rest of you look for work and that usually means emigration. Goes double if there is no farm or money to be inherited. My parents were the youngest of their respective families and the ones to stay at home; most of my father's siblings emigrated (three stayed behind besides him) and the same for my mother. My mother actually planned to go to America but her parents were elderly and she was left to look after them.

We can argue history, the Church, the economic climate, all the rest of it as to why this is so - but the brute force reality of Irish life was that you were likely to have to leave if you wanted work, any kind of work. And if you wanted to make anything of yourself, the opportunities are abroad. People are still contemplating that - the cost of living is too high, the salaries too low, no chance of buying a house. In the USA, that mostly means "move across the country". In Ireland, that means "emigrate".

And I struggle to imagine that - had emigration not been a possibility - this group of people would just have accepted their minimum wage jobs and not worked to improve things in the country. They would have set things up, built things, started businesses, even as capital was very scarce.

"Starting a business" was another programme pushed by the government, with limited success. Capital was non-existent, as opposed to very scarce, unless you had some kind of influence or assets or pull to get loans. Ireland is not the US. There was (is) a cerrtain amount of political corruption which favoured certain people in their business dealings and enabled them to profit.

And when Irish entrepreneurs get successful, they leave the country - look at the Collisons. Part of that is if you want to grow, you have to go to the US, to Silicon Valley and the venture capitalists there. But also part of that is wanting to make money and advance in your field, and Ireland is just too small:

In 2007, he set up software company 'Shuppa' (a play on the Irish word siopa, meaning 'shop') in Limerick with his brother John Collison. Enterprise Ireland did not allocate funding to the company, prompting a move to California after Silicon Valley's Y Combinator showed interest, where they merged with two Oxford graduates, Harjeet and Kulveer Taggar, and the company became Auctomatic.

On Good Friday of March 2008, Collison, aged nineteen, and his brother, aged seventeen, sold Auctomatic to Canadian company Live Current Media, becoming millionaires. In May 2008 he became director of engineering at the company's new Vancouver base. Collison attributes the success of his company to his win in the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.

Obviously baseline intelligence in positions of power is necessary for the successful functioning of society. But how much? Must they be the most intelligent people from all the land, or can they merely be quite intelligent people who also have other things about them that should be valued in a ruling class?

Why would we grant an exception and compromise the efficiency of the system at all ? I don’t recognize the supposed higher value or altruism of your class. Even if some individuals in that group had those traits, we wouldn’t reward entire bloodlines. In theory, you’re making an argument about ‘personality’ versus ‘IQ’, but what you actually propose is blood versus everything else, because hereditary classes are not subject to any assessment of their worth to society, whether personality or IQ.

I can understand why most people would want their (high) status to be unalterable, but this being a zero-sum game, their interest diverges heavily from everyone else’s. This is little more than pining for the sweet life of the aristocrat who never has to justify himself.

They seek power and so ought, quite rationally, to be denied it or at least to be handed it very, very slowly.

I don’t think you can be absolved of this sin either.

These include mild sociopathy, lack of gratitude,

What gratitude? I thought you were here to serve the common folk. Hereditary ruling classes do not feel any obligation towards their lessers – like you, they expect adulation.

In theory, you’re making an argument about ‘personality’ versus ‘IQ’, but what you actually propose is blood versus everything else

I don't agree completely with @2rafa but this absolutely isn't what she's saying. It's not even a strawman.

Sure, hereditably personality and bloodline will work into it, but the central idea of @2rafa 's scenario is the stability of the institution, which can then be (overtime) refined toward a direction.

Meritocracy, through both speed of turnover and by it's nature, offers 'seats' which are themselves insubstantial, and entirely shaped by the person in them. Whereas a system where the seat makes the person, they defects of the individual are swallowed up by the nature of the seat, and when they are hereditary, they evolve symbiotically.

I don't personally agree with even @2rafa 's focus on class and heredity, so much as I agree with the concept of strong instututions, which offer a rigid and slow moving hegemony that doesn't fold like a lawn chair to whoever has the most raw "meritocratic" capacity to obtain it.

Essentially, is the legitimacy of the throne defined by the will to power of the person in it or is the legitimacy of the person's power defined by the institution embedded in the throne? Meritocracy is the former on steroids.

Imagine two neighboring island nations Meritocita and Institunia. Both have a similar native population. One day they are both met by several boatloads of foreigners fleeing a famine who wish to rehome and integrate into these societies. Generally speaking they come under no kind of colonialist or conquering mindset. Overall however, they are of greater intelligence than the natives. They are warmly welcomed into the respective nations

In Meritocrita, very quickly, due to their high IQ, the aliens work their way into centers of power and leadership. Not only that, it is disproportionately the most power-hunger and greed-thirsty. While most of the Aliens are nice and integrate into the middle of the society, the percentage with sociopathic, greedy, selfish, etc tendencies disproportionately take over the ruling class. In a generation, the natives of Meritocrita are ruled by a class including the worst of the Aliens. Because IQ is hereditable, this also serves as a de facto class system. Only the people most able to climb into it are those from the population most disproportionately thirsty for power.

Meanwhile on Institunia, the Aliens have the integrate themselves into existing, and much more rigid centers of hegemonic power. Again, the most intelligent and power-hungry are going to find paths into the system, but there willbe much more obstacles, their total ability to amass / concentrate power will be limited to the confines of the instituions, and they generally have to integrate further toward the institutional values to get there. For a power hungry Alien to work their way into a role of religious influence, he is forced to adopt the pieties and reenforce the religious values of the system. Another sociopath becomes a community leader, but excercises his power, furthering the goals and community fo the social club he has infiltrated, because that is necessary to retaining the power.

All the while, High IQ aliens who actually expemplify the existing native values have a leg up on joing and re-enforcing these institutions.

A few generations later the Aliens have conquered Meritocrita and integrated into Institunia, even as their 'bloodlines' have similarly dispersed into the native population. In fact, Institunia over time becomes less genetically sustained than Meritocrita despite having a more heredity and legacy oriented society on the margins.

Why isn’t institutionia without aliens ruled by greedy, selfish, sociopathic, and also aggressively incompetent stupid people? Like @2rafa ’s model Nigeria.

Why would it be?

Because greedy selfish sociopaths rise to the top even quicker without meritocracy. Shouldn’t the developing world, Africa, India, South america, be counted as institutiona? You seem to think hereditary positions and nepotism protects societies against intelligent sociopaths, but I don’t see the real world reflecting that. Also the analogy ignores the gains from giving more qualified aliens important jobs, the main justification for meritocracy.

You seem to think hereditary positions and nepotism protects societies against intelligent sociopaths

No I don't seem to think that. My post was an argument against that narrow interpretation. I think strong, and robust institutions that are somewhat protected from the whims of personalities currently occupying them limits the fallout. Hereditarianism in and of itself doesn't make this, and to any extent @2rafa thinks so, I disagree with her

By what mechanism then, are aliens prevented from taking over institutiona?

Well in part because as @johnfabian writes above, greedy and selfish people who are also very intelligent can do much more damage. But also because a more holistic, slower, more frustrated transition of power provides time for assimilation, for acculturation and so for a greater degree of continuity and thus social stability.

I don’t recognize the supposed higher value or altruism of your class.

My class (at least as far as the American half of my family go) is ‘new money’, if anything. Or maybe, if I had to be granular, a yo-yo between rich and poor dating back to our arrival in the country. I’m certainly not a Mayflower descendant. But I like what they did. The Harvard Club is nice. I enjoy the architecture out on Cape Cod. The true, true WASPs I’ve known have exactly the nice-but-middling intellectual energy I like to see in political leaders, who tend to get dangerous if they get too smart, rare exceptions like LKY notwithstanding.

I don’t think there’s any magic in bloodlines. But I think there’s great value in an elite raised with a certain sense of duty and a great sense of luck - that is, with the knowledge that what they have is not the result of their own hard work. This is the critical element, the worst part of the ‘self made man’, that he attributes to ability and skill what should usually be attributed to good fortune. It’s this that Freddie is writing about, because of course ability is luck too.

Strivers who believe that the universe owes them something for their intelligence are often at the heart of culture war debates, they’re the angry journalists at Vice (most of whom aren’t of particularly high birth, contrary to some claims) upset that being a journalist pays so poorly even though they’re smart and graduated from Brown. Compare to me, then, if you want and are interested as you seem to be. I believe that nothing I have is the result of my hard work (though I am in fact in my own right somewhat professionally successful), I have a healthy respect for luck, and I believe it is the duty of people with valuable things (money and talent) to support prosocial causes. To that end I advocate more redistribution from rich to poor, higher taxes on people like me, an end to mass immigration (which pressures working class pay), more police on the streets (disproportionately benefiting the poor), the locking up of the mentally ill homeless (see previous), more discipline in schools (see previous) and the overall beautification of society (benefiting everyone).

Are you trying to butter up your audience, dude? Is it campaigning season for nobility seats already? Your motte-approved opinions, appreciation for wholesome americana, and humble family beginnings are besides the point. No configuration of these parameters would justify that privilege.

You say you want to recognize luck and ‘a sense of duty’(applause), but your method is to recognize blood instead of merit, both subject to luck. Luck is tangential to your argument. If luck was our primary concern, we should forget blood and merit, and draw lots for membership in the ruling class.

The angry journalist at vice also believes he is helping society by supporting opposite causes to your own. In his defense, his self-interest is hidden, he doesn’t nakedly request aristocratic status for his prosocial efforts.

Way too antagonistic, dude. You've been warned about this before. Banned for a week.

Inexorably, the bans get longer and longer. Shouldn’t I get a reset somewhere, I’ve paid my debts to mottiety.

The gradual automatic escalation is stupid, site's getting unusable for me now. Will the garden improve after I leave, weed-puller?

Inexorably, the bans get longer and longer. Shouldn’t I get a reset somewhere, I’ve paid my debts to mottiety.

You've drawn three warnings and two bans in the last nine months, uninterrupted by any AAQCs. The easiest "reset" would be for you to stop being unnecessarily antagonistic. We're warning and banning you in hopes of bringing your posts in line with the rules. If you don't want to follow the rules, then yes, your absence would be an improvement.

It is not our goal to chase people away. Quite the contrary. But this is not a clickbait site and no one is running "engagement" metrics and asking how we can get more clicks. We're fully prepared to accept the possibility that the rules suppress engagement; the rules are more important to us than keeping participation high.

If - big if - I write a AAQC, will you stop increasing the bans and go back to warnings?

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I don't really see a better proxy for judging a sense of duty to others than blood/nobility. Anecdotally, the people in my family who have inherited their wealth generationally have significantly more sense of responsibility to the community and those around them than the ones on the other side of my family who believe they've earned their wealth and refuse to take care of their homes and barely invest their resources to help themselves, let alone the people in their families or the broader community. I suspect this stems from the sense of fear that those born into no money feel toward money, whereas the family members who always had money were much less fearful about it and happier to spread the wealth around. Frankly I want to be ruled by people who are secure in their wealth and are willing to spend it to improve their lives and the lives of those around them rather than by people who want to hoard their resources out of learned apprehension and fear. Family history of wealth tracks the former better than any other metric I can imagine.

I don't really see a better proxy for judging a sense of duty to others than blood/nobility.

I have a hard time thinking of a worse one. The history of "nobility" is largely one of forcefully looting as much wealth as possible from what are effectively slaves, held in place with military force. What was the nobility's reaction to the peasantry being able to demand higher wages after the Black Death, or move to cities for the same end? Was it to encourage this natural economic development which improved productivity even at their own cost? Of course not, they passed laws prohibiting peasants from leaving so that they could not get those higher wages.

The feeling of societal obligation you're talking about--and in particular, a feeling of societal obligation that actually helps other people and does not consider the rigid maintenance of the existing order for the sake of "stability" to be the primary obligation--is extremely rare.

I have a hard time thinking of a worse one.

Communism. Like, it's not even close.

The history of "nobility" is largely one of forcefully looting as much wealth as possible from what are effectively slaves, held in place with military force.

For most of that history, wealth as we understand the term effectively didn't exist, because there wasn't a workable way to create it. Most people were subsistence farmers, and the military force was necessary to prevent the next guy over from rolling through and looting all the portable goods. Anything better than that required a level of structure and coordination that no one involved could maintain.

Of course not, they passed laws prohibiting peasants from leaving so that they could not get those higher wages.

You understand that food has to be made, a process that takes a lot of work with a lag-time of several months to a year? If everyone abandons the fields to go chase better wages in the cities, where does the next harvest come from? What happens to the people in those newly crowded cities?

Communism. Like, it's not even close.

Communism is a system; blood/nobility is a personal characteristic. This feels like a category error. I agree that "need" (as in, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need") manages to be worse than blood, but this is quite a low bar and they're both so bad it feels pointless to ask which is worse.

For most of that history, wealth as we understand the term effectively didn't exist, because there wasn't a workable way to create it.

Indeed, wealth creation jumped massively right as inherited power and nobility-based political systems were starting to be replaced! I wonder if there could be a connection between these events? Maybe such a confiscatory tax regime discouraged higher production? Perhaps nobles are effectively of random competence and random (or worse) moral character? Possibly such a rigid hierarchy discouraged innovation?

If everyone abandons the fields to go chase better wages in the cities,

I think it was quite far from "everyone" who wanted/tried to move, and some of those still planned to farm, just under someone who would pay them more. In any event, if nobles can foresee this happening, there's an obvious solution: Pay the peasants more! In this situation, their work is clearly valuable, so that shouldn't be an issue. It's not like no one except nobility is capable of understanding that food will need to be harvested 6 months out! This is exactly the kind of problem that markets are wonderful at solving and central planning is terrible at. Obviously if too many people start to move to the cities, wages drop because of supply effects, because there's limited capital, and because the productivity of the marginal migrant goes down, which discourages more migration.

Speaking of central planning, I find it rather bizarre that you pointed out how terrible communism was, then immediately suggested that some of the things the Soviets did, such as preventing peasants from moving to the city and engaging in confiscatory levels of taxation, all enforced by military strength, which demonstrably destroyed the economic productivity of huge swaths of land (most notably Ukraine) and lead to mass famine, were somehow good when implemented under feudalism?

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I think you and Freddie are in agreement on that point: that believing you did it all yourself by hard work and native ability, without factoring in luck (being in the right place at the right time) or other elements that helped you along means that there is an attitude of "I deserve all this" and concurrently "If you don't have anything, that's your own fault for being stupid/lazy and I certainly have no duty to help you; I got all this by my own merits".

A lack of charity, if you will. It's not that those who achieve shouldn't get high rewards, it's that those who are left behind should also be considered, and a 'pure meritocracy' then puts the blame for failure on 'not being good enough'. I think Freddie is arguing, and maybe you as well, that there are people who will never be 'good enough' through no fault of their own; they didn't choose their genetics which make them 'just ordinary people' in an economy that increasingly has no place for 'just ordinary people', or their circumstances, or "a drunk driver smashed into my car and gave me traumatic brain injury". What do we do for them or about them, then?

Silicon Valley, America’s IQ meritocracy headquarters, is so devoid of duty, of nobility, that it has allowed San Francisco to collapse into shithole status.

  1. San Francisco is not in Silicon Valley. It has a smaller population than San Jose, and Santa Clara County has a larger population than SF and San Mateo counties combined. SF and San Jose are further apart than DC and Baltimore.

  2. The idea that super woke SF is somehow driven by IQ meritocracy seems very odd.

Bill Gates’ only noblesse oblige is funding third world mosquito nets and attempting to design a better toilet for India, his philanthropic service to his own people is limited or nonexistent.

Leaving aside the fact that taking Gates to task for spending on inexpensive but highly effective interventions does not seem to be very trenchant criticism, the Gates Foundation is rather famous for its efforts to reform US K-12 education, esp re small schools, and programs like the Gates Millennium Scholarships.

Moreover, why should we assume that Gates is representative of "programmer ubermenches"? The Chan Zuckerberg Foundation seems to spend most of its money in the US, and though it is hard to tell geographically where much of the Google Foundation's spending goes, much clearly goes to US recipients.

Silicon Valley is a suburb of San Francisco. The ‘Bay Area’ is the San Francisco Metropolitan Area. This is what city means everywhere, including the US, regardless of the name of the local municipality (eg. Beverly Hills and Santa Monica are obviously part of Los Angeles). That San Jose

San Francisco is the oldest and most important major city on the West Coast. If you live in San Jose and are not a 10th generation native or Mexican-American, you are there because of an agglomeration of wealth that San Francisco begat. San Francisco is also the cultural center of Silicon Valley, the financial center of Silicon Valley, the tourism and visitor center of Silicon Valley etc etc etc. And of course many ‘Silicon Valley’ companies do indeed have their headquarters or significant office space downtown, or at least did until recently.

So yes, Silicon Valley does have responsibility for San Francisco. When some game developer or software engineer or whatever attends a conference at the Moscone Center, in the center of the capital of Silicon Valley/the ‘Bay Area’, and they find it a shithole surrounded by disgusting psychotic homeless people shitting and taking drugs on the street, that is their impression of Silicon Valley. That Palo Alto suburban streets where a 3 bedroom picket fence house costs $5m are ‘fine’ isn’t really relevant.

As for the laughable assertion made by some tech people that they have no power over San Francisco because it’s under the thumb of wokes, San Francisco is and has long been one of the most corrupt cities in America. Silicon Valley tech people have (collectively) trillions upon trillions of dollars of capital, more than any other upper class anywhere else in the world. They could grease the palms needed to save the city if they wanted to, progressive city councilors are hardly incorruptible.

San Francisco is the oldest and most important major city on the West Coast

It is not the oldest major city on the West Coast, or even in California. San Diego is older. And it obviously is not the most important city, because Los Angeles is.

Beverly Hills and Santa Monica are obviously part of Los Angeles

Beverly Hills and Santa Monica are both surrounded by the City of Los Angeles (well, technically West Hollywood is a separate city) and have populations vastly smaller than Los Angeles (1/100th of the size of Los Angeles in the case of BH, and 1/30 in the case of SM). In contrast, SJ is larger than SF, is 40+ miles away, and is the center of its own metro area

When some game developer or software engineer or whatever attends a conference at the Moscone Center, ... that is their impression of Silicon Valley

So, if someone believes something stupid, that makes it true?

I'm certainly aware that, in the present day, Los Angeles is larger than San Francisco (whether it is more important is debatable, according to AI twitter San Francisco is the most important city in the world).

It is not the oldest major city on the West Coast, or even in California.

To see the outsized importance of San Francisco to American perceptions of the West, it's important to have some historical context. The Wikipedia page on the 1880 census includes a list of the largest cities in the United States in that year. San Francisco is in 9th place with a population of 250,000, by far the largest city on the West Coast. The next largest city on the West Coast is Oakland, in 51st place, with a population of 30,000 or so. There are no other West Coast cities in the top 100 cities in the US in that year. "The last [] before San Francisco" entered the popular lexicon of the Wild West (even Red Dead Redemption pays homage to it at times). San Francisco was for many years the only substantial American settlement West of the Rockies. It played a central role in the US' relationship with Asia, and with the Pacific (and Western South America) in general. It is probably the only West Coast city to be in the top 10 in terms of their importance to American history (depending on how you feel about Hollywood).

San Diego is older.

According to the 'San Diego History Center', the population of San Diego in 1880 was...2,637 people. Major city indeed.

according to AI twitter San Francisco is the most important city in the world).

Again, just because someone believes something stupid, does not make it true.

To see the outsized importance of San Francisco to American perceptions of the West,

No one disputes that. But it irrelevant to your absurd claim that SF is in Silicon Valley, and that it is a product of Silicon Valley. In fact, it tends to refute that fact -- SF's role in the world long predates the development of Silicon Valley. The population of SF in 1950 was 775,000; its population is now is only about 13% more, at 873,000. In that same time period, San Jose's population rose from 95,000 to 1,000,000.

The population of SF in 1950 was 775,000; its population is now is only about 13% more, at 873,000.

Huh. As an outside I always had the impression SF had at least a couple mil running about. That's a surprisingly low number in my eyes.

In American cities the nature of local government (and the fact that wholesale reorganization from above is very rare) means that many cities are not in fact cities. Los Angeles is a famous example - important districts of the city (like Santa Monica, Long Beach, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood) are not technically part of the city of Los Angeles. The county has 88 cities and unincorporated area (another largely American invention) which together make up the city. That city, in turn, is part of the wider 'metropolitan area' that includes a large number of other towns and cities in neighboring counties. So in LA, only 4 million of the 10 million people who live in Los Angeles actually live in Los Angeles (city).

The San Francisco Bay Area has about 8 million people. Travel distances within the Bay Area are similar to those within other recognized highly sprawled cities. In many other countries, Oakland and SF would be one city, for example, as they are an unbroken (except by water) urban area. The Houston metropolitan area, for example, is larger than the entire Bay Area.

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Silicon Valley is a suburb of San Francisco. The ‘Bay Area’ is the San Francisco Metropolitan Area.

This is geographically false. Silicon Valley is in South Bay. If Silicon Valley is a suburb of anything, it's a suburb of San Jose. Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Cupertino are all in the San Jose - Sunnyvale - Santa Clara MSA. Sand Hill Road runs right near the MSA border.

San Francisco gets more press because San Jose isn't an interesting city. But it's much more connected to Silicon Valley than SF.

San Francisco gets more press because San Jose isn't an interesting city.

But this is kind of the point. San Jose is in many ways a bedroom community for Silicon Valley and the wider surrounding suburbs. It has a downtown in the way that, say, Indianapolis has a downtown, a few towers surrounded by parking lots. San Francisco, even today, is (much) more important to state politics, even though San Jose was once the state capital, many of the state's most significant political figures, incuding the current governor, came through San Francisco. San Francisco is the cultural home of the tech elite who live in the Bay Area, it's home to more michelin starred restaurants, sports arenas, better hotels, international conferences, the most expensive urban real estate in the region (I don't even think San Jose has an affluent downtown neighborhood of detached houses like Pac Heights in SF), more good private schools, more in the way of galleries, theaters, orchestras, opera and cultural venues and so on. Nobody outside America has even heard of San Jose, such that people who live there would generally say they live in San Francisco or the [San Francisco] Bay Area. Minus the largely white and east asian bedroom community (much of which is in tech) who technically live within the city's boundaries, San Jose is a largely Hispanic and Vietnamese city with almost zero cultural or social significance to the wider state or even country. Wikipedia even makes clear that the 'Bay Area' is officially short for the San Francisco Bay Area, because every substantial settlement in it was built (or largely expanded) around San Francisco's role as the capital of 'The West' since the early/mid-19th century.

So I think it's relatively fair to describe Silicon Valley as part of San Francisco's wider metropolitan area, in colloquial terms.

San Francisco is not, fundamentally, important because of its Michelin stars, ballets, operas, media, literary artifacts, or galleries. It's certainly the best you'll get within 300 miles, but if those things are what you're looking for, you certainly know cities that crush it on all counts. (In state and federal politics it indeed plays a massively outsize role.) No one flies out to San Francisco to see Lohengrin.

What makes the Bay Area Important is tech and capital; without it, San Francisco would be Portland-level in terms of influence. And for tech, until very recently, the epicenter was in Silicon Valley, which is a bit amorphous but I'd call the geography spanning from roughly Stanford on down. Apple, Cupertino. Oracle, Redwood City (some would object this counts, too far north). Cisco, San Jose. Adobe, San Jose. Sun, Santa Clara. Intel, Santa Clara. HP, Palo Alto. Netscape, Mountain View. Yahoo, Sunnyvale. Later on, Google in Mountain View and Facebook in Menlo Park (another relatively northern outpost). Also, pretty much every VC of note has their offices within a mile or so of each other on SHR: it wasn't as if it was San Francisco airdropping money onto nerdy engineers down south. And most of the tech elite live near where they work: Meg Whitman Atherton, Zuck Palo Alto (albeit after a stint across the street from Mission Dolores), Sundar Los Altos Hills. Pac Heights has more names like Getty or Hellman than tech CEOs. Even in terms of schools, the best private school in SF doesn't really hold a candle in prestige compared to those in the South Bay (Harker, Castilleja, even some public schools like Paly or Gunn).

This provided the initial capital and technical skills that underlie San Francisco's nascent technical ecosystem, which only really started in earnest in the late 2000s. SF has a couple of important, successful companies based there (Salesforce, Uber, Twitter, etc.), but the giants only keep relatively small outposts in the city. And, of course, OpenAI and Anthropic are based there, along with a respectable percentage of Google's ML researchers (though most are still expected to take a shuttle down south to MTV three days per week), but it remains to be seen how that will develop.

Yes, Silicon Valley has a very odd pattern where in some sense San Jose behaves as a suburb to the towns with tech company offices. This does not make the valley a suburb of San Francisco. Nor do any of the other things you've mentioned.

Wikipedia even makes clear that the 'Bay Area' is officially short for the San Francisco Bay Area, because every substantial settlement in it was built (or largely expanded) around San Francisco's role as the capital of 'The West' since the early/mid-19th century.

No, it's the San Francisco Bay Area because it's located around the San Francisco Bay. South Bay was pretty much farms, until Stanford built his university (on his former farm). Shockley founded his company in Mountain View, Fairchild was San Jose, Intel in Santa Clara, etc. San Francisco wasn't invovled.

One thing I would add is that it is very hard to measure opportunity. How do you know two people have equal amount of it? You may coast on the idea for a few years or decades - we are equalizing opportunity, just wait for it. But after some time people will be tired of it, in the end increased opportunity should lead to increased outcomes in some way. Equality of outcomes is really the only way to measure equality of opportunity, I think people are falling into a trap even mentioning equality of opportunity. Because if the outcome will not improve, you will end up being the guy telling people that they had plenty of opportunity that they squandered, so they should stop complaining.

Equality of outcomes is really the only way to measure equality of opportunity

Because if the outcome will not improve, you will end up being the guy telling people that they had plenty of opportunity that they squandered

The fact that it hurts people's feelings to tell them that they squandered their opportunities to make something of themselves doesn't mean that they didn't squander said opportunities.

Admittedly there's a bit of equivocation betweeen societal opportunities and biological opportunities. No amount of social engineering will ever give a 90 IQ person the same opportunities as a 110 IQ person. But at a societal level, proponents of "equality of opportunity" are generally advocating that society should place no artificial barriers to pursuing opportunities: your race, sex, sexuality, religion etc. should not stand in the way of personal fulfilment. But even if we abolish all of those barriers, you're still left with the uncomfortable fact (qua deBoer) that some people are naturally smarter, taller, faster, stronger, more charismatic etc. than others and will inevitably have better outcomes as a result, and there's precious little that social engineering alone can do about that.

Perhaps you think that actually we're all born as blank slates and g is a pseudoscientific myth and perfectly equal outcomes are entirely achievable without radical wealth redistribution. If that's the case, I don't really know what to tell you.

The fact that it hurts people's feelings to tell them that they squandered their opportunities to make something of themselves doesn't mean that they didn't squander said opportunities.

Sure, but this begs the original question. You didn't make it, so you had to squander your opportunities because we removed all the obstacles such as religion, race and so forth. This is basically restating my original position - if the outcome are not equalized it is hard to argue that opportunities were equalized.

But even if we abolish all of those barriers, you're still left with the uncomfortable fact (qua deBoer) that some people are naturally smarter, taller, faster, stronger, more charismatic etc. than others and will inevitably have better outcomes as a result, and there's precious little that social engineering alone can do about that.

Sure, however the messaging is different. You are genetically one of the useless lumpenproletariat and equality of opportunity will do nothing for you or your kids. The best you can get is to equalize the outcomes, meaning you have to basically extract rent from those more successful somehow. Be it political action for more welfare - maybe using low level violence to extort them to cough up the money, up to actual crimes. Those are avenues available to you.

Which BTW kind of questions the whole idea of merit as well, if somebody is successful it has to be somehow related to some merit, he may be the best programmer or best hustler or best drug dealer or whatever. To me it really is not that clear that a programmer developing one of the addictive gacha games shows more merit than literal criminal or that some unemployed person who uses his money to do graffiti has less merit than somebody who has ability to worm herself into liberal arts academia financed by government dole.

if the outcome are not equalized it is hard to argue that opportunities were equalized.

No, it's not hard at all. If the person with poor outcomes cannot present convincing evidence that their progress in life was impeded by artificial and unfair barriers (e.g. racial discrimination, classism, insufficient disability accommodations etc.), it's reasonable to conclude that they had comparable opportunities to people who had better outcomes but squandered these opportunities or were never capable of fully pursuing them (perhaps through no fault of their own). If two people do the exact same anonymised exam at the same time (and they went to the same school, had the same study aids etc.), and one of them fails, it's weird to say that this is a failure of "equality of opportunity" because the exam was too hard to be completed by person of X intelligence. The whole point of exams is to discriminate between those who can and those who can't, and not everyone can do everything. You seem to be saying that "equality of opportunity" means that everybody passes the exam (or perhaps that there are no statistically significant differences in the rates at which different groups pass the exam); I'm saying that being black, a woman, gay, disabled etc. doesn't prevent you from sitting the exam or giving you adequate opportunities to prepare for it - without any guarantee that you'll pass, or that group X will pass at the same rate as group Y.

The alternative to this is the Ibram X. Kendi god-of-the-gaps definition of racism, in which any unfavourable disparity between white and black outcomes is taken as ipso facto evidence of racism at some point in the causal chain, which requires swift and totalitarian public intervention to remedy. (Disparities between blacks and whites which favour blacks are taken as evidence of whites squandering their natural advantage in the hierarchy of a white supremacist society, and require no remedying whatsoever).

You are genetically one of the useless lumpenproletariat and equality of opportunity will do nothing for you or your kids.

Yes, and this is unfair, but no amount of social engineering will fix it. This is why I'm an advocate, not for equality of outcomes, but for equality of opportunity (as far as is practicable) complemented by a strong cradle-to-grave social safety net. The strong social safety net is only feasible because of the surplus wealth and resources generated by high performers afforded the opportunity to live up to their full potential, which is impossible in a socialist state which practises wealth expropriation.

To me it really is not that clear that a programmer developing one of the addictive gacha games shows more merit than literal criminal

The word "merit" can be used in conflicting ways. In the word "meritocracy" it's being used more or less synonymously with "talent". The programmer in your example has a talent which is rare and valuable enough that employers will pay a premium for it. You seem to be using the word "merit" more or less synonymously with "virtue". I would agree that a programmer designing an addictive Skinner box game is not using his talent virtuously, but it's important to bear in mind that most talents are strictly virtue-neutral. The same talent that allows one programmer to design a super addictive Skinner box game could equally allow him to design medical software which would vastly improve numerous patients' quality of life.

We can debate until the cows come home whether an individual drug dealer is making society worse than the guy who designed an addictive video game. What's not open for debate is that the drug dealer has no special talent - just about anyone within reason can be a low-level drug dealer.

If your objection to meritocracy is that some talented people will use their talents for unethical ends - well, yeah. I was about to say that it's a problem inherent in free markets, the solution to which is governmental regulation - but really, I think it's a problem inherent in the human species, and it won't just disappear in a socialist state with nominal equality of outcomes.

some unemployed person who uses his money to do graffiti has less merit than somebody who has ability to worm herself into liberal arts academia financed by government dole.

Hard agree. It disgusts me that someone can get paid a government stipend by passing off their paedophiliac masturbation habits as "auto-ethnographic research", and I think academic reform is long overdue.

It's interesting to read this after reading the post linked in this thread, as it offers a counter to Freddie's question of why society's failures wouldn't deserve better: "your hypothetical D+ graduates are too dumb to be trusted with anything critical and deserving of a high wage in a complex society."

Scott made essentially the same point in his review of Freddie's book (https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/book-review-the-cult-of-smart): "meritocracy" isn't really a designed way of ordering a society (like aristocracy or monarchy), but a way of describing the distributed phenomenon wherein people care enough about having a task performed by a qualified person that they're willing to pay a premium for it. Framing high salaries as a societal "reward" for having a high IQ (which is mostly genetic or otherwise outside of the individual's control) is misleading.

Since talent is partially heritable, if we reward people based on their abilities then people who have been unlucky in the genetic lottery will be left worse off. [...] He seems to have the opinion that it is unjust for luck to play a significant role.

I've often pointed out to HBD promoters who mistakenly assume that if their theories become mainstream then somehow socialism would be less palatable to the wider public. If anything, we would probably see the opposite happening. This is not an argument against HBD, it's just a caution to anyone who believes left-wing thinking would decline.

If HBD is true and is used as a signal in society/to the state, the correct and rational response by anyone who has the wrong genes is to start the killing.

Same reason there needs to be some amount of welfare state: if someone has no property to confiscate and a shitty life to live, why shouldn't take some action to take yours?

Yes, you can even argue very convincingly for affirmative action from an HBD perspective.

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However, I think this idea is almost totally wrong. In my view, the main reason to reward some people more than others is if doing so leads to better social outcomes. The point is not to provide personal benefit to the people rewarded but to incentivize behavior that benefits the entire society.

This is completely consistent with the thesis that we should not reward people for things they cannot control (e.g. their genes).

Here's an alternative:

Analyze everyone's genome. Use that to estimate their income. Subtract their predicted income from their real income. Give everyone the average income for free.

We can definitely play the hole-poking game here – it's not practical to predict 330M people's incomes from genomes, your income-prediction model is bad, the welfare is too high so people will work less, etc. But that's ultimately a complaint about the implementation, not the core concept.

If people can't be incentivized to make good genes, then the economic justification for the inequality that is caused due to genetic differences is gone.

If people can be incentivized to improve their skills and found business, then, yes, we should definitely keep incentivizing that.

Doesn't work as an incentive to get high end people working unless they're already going to be earning their predicted income. Working harder to make 90% of your predicted income Vs 80% gets you nothing (in both cases you're just getting given average societal income), so you just don't do it. The fact that a non zero amount of people will be in this situation causes a dead weight loss that can be avoided.

The fact of the matter is that IQ is so so correlated with good things and anti correlated with bad things that even if you hold income constant, the IQ 130 person will have a much better life than the IQ 70 person. And that's that.

Wouldn't no one work if you are gifted average and only make money if you exceed expectations? It also would vastly reward people with very strong ingroup solidarity. If every Elbonian conspired to earn zero income, your test would predict Elbonians earn zero, so they never have to work.

DeBoer, in this essay, does not claim that we should use money to reward people for being good. He claims that we should ensure that even stupid and untalented people still have some minimal level of material comfort. He does not seem to mention anything about them being good or not.

His main point, I think, is that equality of opportunity is not sufficient to bring about a world in which everyone has that minimal level of material comfort. Which, really, is pretty obvious. Maybe there are a few people who have never thought about the matter before or who are extremely ideologically blinkered and so do not realize it but for the rest, DeBoer's essay just states something obviously true. I am not sure why he felt like spelling it out.

Your idea of focusing on better social outcomes is an interesting one, however. It provides some form of justification for allowing practices such as inheritance that are anti-meritocratic. In defense of inheritance, one could argue that letting parents pass on their wealth to their children encourages the parents to work harder and thus leads to better social outcomes overall.

He claims that we should ensure that even stupid and untalented people still have some minimal level of material comfort.

To what end?

Hedging against your own redundance in the face of increasing AI capabilities

I think he would see it as a terminal value. Frankly, I agree. The idea that some people are born into a society in which they are permanently denied even the most basic living standards because they had the poor fortune to be born stupid in a knowledge economy is unconscionable to me.

But ~0 people fit such a definition. Basically everyone can secure employment in our economy that provides basic living standards. What it doesn't provide is a guarantee of access to luxury locations, or luxury goods.

Except stupid, untalented people in developed countries do have a minimum standard of living, unless they just make cartoonishly terrible decisions. And the latter category is mostly the mentally ill, criminals, drug addicts, etc. Now it’s true that welfare and charity are the mechanism for this minimum standard of living, and that this is no doubt humiliating for many people who have done nothing wrong except for being below average in every respect. And it’s equally true that there are people who slip through the cracks, mostly through fault of their own. But at a certain level we have to stop pretending there is any good solution to those two problems- you can’t make psychotic people act rationally, that’s what ‘psychotic’ means. And of course people who can’t provide for themselves will often find it humiliating to be provided for, but you can’t fix that either.

Except stupid, untalented people in developed countries do have a minimum standard of living, unless they just make cartoonishly terrible decisions.

Replace 'cartoonishly terrible decisions' with 'decisions they are manipulated into' like spending their money on fast food, building credit card debt, financing cars at ruinous interest rates, and you quickly see how it's quite difficult for these people to handle themselves in the modern economy.

You may say 'oh well those are stupid decisions they deserve it,' but the fact of the matter is that they are being manipulated into these bad decisions by much more intelligent people. We cannot expect them to have the intelligence or discipline to ward it off. Basically predatory high-IQ businesses that fuck over poor people are extracting rents and creating huge negative externalities for the rest of society through their business models.

People with credit card debt, car payments that are too high, wasteful spending habits, or payday loans are in modern developed countries mostly not starving to death in the streets, or living rough, or what have you. America and Europe just don’t let people starve. Yes, there are many people who are manipulated into making bad decisions that adversely affect their quality of life, but these people still get to avail themselves of a minimum standard of living unless they’re cartoonishly poor decision makers.

Honestly I'm not even against the whole idea of just handing the hopeless poor a small warm apartment, three healthy meals a day, a Netflix subscription, a decent sized gaming computer and some pocket money every week to spend on whatever takes their fancy as long as they acknowledge that they are beneath the people who actually toil to produce the stuff they are getting given and swear to just STAY OUT OF THE WAY! while the rest of society is out there propelling mankind to greater and greater heights. Literally all someone would have to do to avail themselves of this would be to sign a declaration saying they are irrevocably checking in for X period (where X ranges from 6 months to the rest of their lives, as they see fit) to be treated as a ward of the state.

Providing all this for free would probably be cheaper than the untold billions being wasted today trying to maintain the illusion that low quality humans are just as good and useful in modern society as high quality humans if only they are given the right push.

Are you also going to give them medical care? "Yes" is unaffordable, and "no" makes it into a horrible deathtrap.

If we instead just ask, "How much medical care are you going to give them?" then there are plausible answers. After all, bandaids are medical care that you could give them. So is, like, free MRIs for anyone with a slightly sore wrist. Of course, the American polity is allergic to the very concept of this question most of the time.

This is a special case of the general problem people have when being pinned down into agreeing to how much is "enough" to give someone a "basic existence", but it's special in that people have been overly conditioned to view healthcare as a binary, either you "have it" or you "don't have it" thing. Compare e.g. food, where most people make their own choices on a regular basis about how much food they buy, what quality, etc. There, people are at least likely to have the capacity to engage in a discussion about how much food (quantity and quality) is "enough", even if there is sufficient heterogeneity to prevent meaningful political solutions.

Let me rephrase: Any level of medical care that would be affordable would make it into a horrible deathtrap.

Bear in mind that we can't afford to give everyone food, housing, clothes, and pocket money with or without medical care, unless we're living in Star Trek. The only reason this is even slightly plausibly affordable is that there are a limited number of poor people. I'm skeptical that there are so few that we could afford to do this. Medical care just makes it orders of magnitude worse.

And that doesn't even consider problems like "what if everyone, as soon as they retire, signs up for the poverty program so they get their medical care paid for".

If we instead just ask, "How much medical care are you going to give them?" then there are plausible answers.

They're utility monsters. They will essentially hold themselves hostage for whatever you have, and more. Unless you're willing to, at some early point, say "fine, die then" (and the US is demonstrably not so willing), they will consume ever-increasing amounts of resources.

Of course, the American polity is allergic to the very concept of this question most of the time.

I actually like this plan, my only worry is that way too many people would do this! Perhaps we can pull it off in another 10-20 years.

Oh, go chase yourself. A Netflix subscription is consumption, which your economy is founded on. Take that away, let Netflix and the other companies crash, and see how much "propelling to greater and greater heights" goes on.

If you want to argue that people doing pure research with no immediate 'how do we monetise this?' results should be 100% funded, I'm happy to go along there - but the funding will dry up if there is no money being made. And who makes the money? The engines of consumption.

And who are the majority of consumers? Those you call "low quality humans":

Here those strange entities, the Thrifty Housewife, the Man of Discrimination, the Keen Buyer and the Good Judge, for ever young, for ever handsome, for ever virtuous, economical and inquisitive, moved to and fro upon their complicated orbits, comparing prices and values, making tests of purity, asking indiscreet questions about each other's ailments, household expenses, bed-springs, shaving cream, diet, laundry work and boots, perpetually spending to save and saving to spend, cutting out coupons and collecting cartons, surprising husbands with margarine and wives with patent washers and vacuum cleaners, occupied from morning to night in washing, cooking, dusting, filing, saving their children from germs, their complexions from wind and weather, their teeth from decay and their stomachs from indigestion, and yet adding so many hours to the day by labour-saving appliances that they had always leisure for visiting the talkies, sprawling on the beach to picnic upon Potted Meats and Tinned Fruit, and (when adorned by So-and-so's Silks, Blank's Gloves, Dash's Footwear, Whatnot's Weatherproof Complexion Cream and Thingummy's Beautifying Shampoos), even attending Ranelagh, Cowes, the Grand Stand at Ascot, Monte Carlo and the Queen's Drawing-Rooms. Where, Bredon asked himself, did the money come from that was to be spent so variously and so lavishly? If this hell's-dance of spending and saving were to stop for a moment, what would happen? If all the advertising in the world were to shut down tomorrow, would people still go on buying more soap, eating more apples, giving their children more vitamins, roughage, milk, olive oil, scooters and laxatives, learning more languages by gramophone, hearing more virtuosos by radio, re-decorating their houses, refreshing themselves with more non-alcoholic thirst-quenchers, cooking more new, appetizing dishes, affording themselves that little extra touch which means so much? Or would the whole desperate whirligig slow down, and the exhausted public relapse upon plain grub and elbow-grease? He did not know. Like all rich men, he had never before paid any attention to advertisements. He had never realized the enormous commercial importance of the comparatively poor. Not on the wealthy, who buy only what they want when they want it, was the vast superstructure of industry founded and built up, but on those who, aching for a luxury beyond their reach and for a leisure for ever denied them, could be bullied or wheedled into spending their few hardly won shillings on whatever might give them, if only for a moment, a leisured and luxurious illusion. Phantasmagoria—a city of dreadful day, of crude shapes and colours piled Babel-like in a heaven of harsh cobalt and rocking over a void of bankruptcy—a Cloud Cuckooland, peopled by pitiful ghosts, from the Thrifty Housewife providing a Grand Family Meal for Fourpence with the aid of Dairyfields Butter Beans in Margarine, to the Typist capturing the affections of Prince Charming by a liberal use of Muggins's Magnolia Face Cream.

He claims that we should ensure that even stupid and untalented people still have some minimal level of material comfort.

I'm not convinced that his point is this simple. First, stupid and untalented people do have some minimal level of material comfort in every rich country around the world today. You could argue that it's not enough comfort or that it leaves out people who are psychotic (and children of people who are psychotic) or who have other problems much larger than "lack of talent" but then it becomes mostly a question of what is the necessary "minimal level of comfort." Second, and more importantly, I have never, ever heard someone who argues for "equality of opportunity" say that they want stupid/untalented people to not have some minimal level of material comfort. This seems to fundamentally misunderstand the debate about "equality of opportunity" vs "equality of outcome." If this is Freddie's whole point then it's like weighing in on an argument about taxation to say that we shouldn't execute people who don't pay their taxes. It's fighting a complete strawman of a position. Third, deBoer is an avowed socialist, of the pretty-much-a-communist type and I'm not convinced he doesn't favor a pretty radical program of wealth redistribution.

DeBoer, in this essay, does not claim that we should use money to reward people for being good.

At the very least, he seems to think that most people arguing for equality of opportunity think this. Otherwise it's hard to explain this line: "Core to that whole conception of justice is the notion that talent and hard work are something inherent to the individual or under the control of the individual." My point is that, no, that notion is not at all core to the argument for "equality of opportunity" and also, the best argument for "equality of opportunity" is not really about "justice" in the way that people normally use the word.

In defense of inheritance, one could argue that letting parents pass on their wealth to their children encourages the parents to work harder and thus leads to better social outcomes overall.

I agree that this is a reasonable argument for allowing inheritance (and for not taxing it too heavily). It's also an argument easily overlooked by people too invested in the "virtue theory of money." The children who inherit their parents' money did not do anything virtuous to earn it so (some people think) why should they get it?

First, stupid and untalented people do have some minimal level of material comfort in every rich country around the world today.

So yes, this is true to some degree. But as I mentioned before they are manipulated into' like spending their money on fast food, building credit card debt, financing cars at ruinous interest rates, and you quickly see how it's quite difficult for these people to handle themselves in the modern economy.

Effectively while the poor do have a minimum level of comfort, they need more protection from rapacious capitalists who see them as cattle to be exploited. The underclass are consistently manipulated and coerced into ruining their own lives, and we sit back and do nothing to stop it.

Do you want to make stupid people wards of the state, including having their decisions made by the state? Because that's what it would take to keep them from making bad decisions. You cannot protect them without confining them.

No, as a start I want to stop credit card companies and other financial entities from knowingly pursuing people they don't think will pay them back and will likely struggle with debt. I know that's kind of the business model, but I think it's evil.

We can absolutely do more to protect the consumer - look at the reforms in mortgages after 2008 for instance. It's not a binary where we either take away all the freedom of the underclass or give them maximal freedom. We find a balance between the two.

As long as your laws do not distinguish between stupid people and everyone else, this is basically just making everyone a ward of the state. As long as they don't do that, your "balance" results either in everyone being restricted as is appropriate for the stupid, or the stupid being unprotected from things the not-stupid don't need protection from.

I am far from convinced that regulators can actually protect stupid people from getting taken advantage of by clever marketing tricks- attempts to prevent alcohol and tobacco advertising to teens have been a dismal failure because alcohol and tobacco companies made ads disguised as psa’s against teen drinking and smoking that were more effective than just running normal ads, for just one example.

However, I think this idea is almost totally wrong. In my view, the main reason to reward some people more than others is if doing so leads to better social outcomes. The point is not to provide personal benefit to the people rewarded but to incentivize behavior that benefits the entire society.

A slight disagreement on your phrasing. I don't agree with Freddie but it does seem like you might be begging the question in this paragraph. If you exclude the premise that virtuous but untalented people being able to live a life that is not "barren of wealth, stability, and success" is also a desirable social outcome, one that may be more important than those you justify meritocracy on, then you've won the argument before it even started.

Freddie is (intentionally or not) inviting you to get bogged down in arguments about what social outcomes are desirable instead of the economic points you bring up, the normal way around this is to say that even granting his premise the least talented have a hell of a lot more wealth, stability and success than any other system that has been tried.

It is a desirable social outcome but it's not the only desirable social outcome. Every policy has tradeoffs and my main point is that we should recognize that meritocratic policies have (massive) benefits that don't fit into the framework of "someone is better off because they got a high-paying job through their hard work and abilities." I agree that I could have phrased this better.

even granting his premise the least talented have a hell of a lot more wealth, stability and success than any other system that has been tried.

I tried to gesture at something like this later on in my post. However, I don't think I quite agree with your phrasing here. Freddie seems to either think or at least think that proponents of "equality of opportunity" think that policies should be judged on how "just" they are in some personal-morality sense (e.g. he says "Core to that whole conception of justice is the notion that talent and hard work are something inherent to the individual or under the control of the individual"). That is a premise of his that I do reject.

It's a little hard to tell exactly what way of distributing resources Freddie would prefer instead, but he seems to have the opinion that it is unjust for luck to play a significant role. In Freddie's words: "it’s hard to see how rewarding talent falls under a rubric of distributing resources to people based on that which they can control."

DeBoer is missing the entire point of why markets succeed, because he doesn't understand resources. Resources don't "exist", they are created by people.

He who controls the distribution of resources controls everything. If control of resources is given to the creator of resources, more resources will be created. Some create more, some create less, and all can trade with a second party to improve their lot. If a third party is allowed to control the distribution of resources, that third party will accumulate power.

The purpose of markets and equality of opportunity isn't to distribute resources, it's to keep them away from tyrants.

DeBoer is missing the entire point of why markets succeed, because he doesn't understand resources. Resources don't "exist", they are created by people.

I mostly agree and this is part of my point. But my main goal was not to harp on deBoer or explain why he in particular is wrong. I was trying to explain why many people make this mistake. My thesis is that there is an intuitive but misguided idea that "people who are good deserve to be rewarded and salary/jobs/other opportunities are an appropriate reward" and that this idea leads people away from policies that lead to greater total societal wealth.

However, I think I do have some disagreements with you. First, things are often not so simple as one person single-handedly creating resources. Often, useful products are the coordinated work of many people and it is not so obvious who deserves how much credit or who should "control" the final product. For example, when RIchard Hamming invented error-correcting codes, how much credit did Shannon deserve for inspiring him? How about Bell Labs for giving him the chance to do basic research without any guarantee that it would pay off? How about the university that educated him? And so on.

Also, while I do think that the free market is underrated by many, I also believe that there are some times where some government intervention is useful. Essentially for all the usual intro economics about public goods, externalities and communication costs, etc (as well as for a few slightly more idiosyncratic reasons that I may write a top-level post about some other time).

For example, when RIchard Hamming invented error-correcting codes, how much credit did Shannon deserve for inspiring him? How about Bell Labs for giving him the chance to do basic research without any guarantee that it would pay off? How about the university that educated him? And so on.

You are fundamentally misunderstanding my argument. I'm not arguing that Richard Hamming "deserves" the invention. He may have been inspired by one person, hired by another, and educated by a third. His mom probably deserves some credit too, and perhaps