The Fable of Market Meritocracy

Shikha's article, 'The Fable of Market Meritocracy' is a must read and runs counter to what I proposed in my post, 'The paradox of our times' (I will still put in a counter-word later).

'In a functioning market, Hayek insisted, financial compensation depends not on someone's innate gifts or moral character. Nor even on the originality or technological brilliance of their products. Nor, for that matter, on the effort that goes into producing them. The sole and only issue is a product's value to others. Compare an innovation as incredibly mundane as a new plastic lid for paint cans with a whiz-bang, new computer chip. The painter could become just as rich as the computer whiz so long as the savings from spills that the lid offers are as great as the productivity gains from the chip. It matters not a whit that the lid maker is a drunk, wife-beating, out-of-work painter who stumbled upon this idea through pure serendipity when he tripped over a can of paint. Or that the computer whiz is a morally stellar Ph.D. who spent years perfecting his chip.

The idea that there is no god (or some secular version of him) meting out cosmic justice through the market's invisible hand is unsettling, even to market advocates, but it shouldn't be. It opens up the possibility of a defense of markets that is, as it were, more marketable.

Few would dispute that markets are fairer than the aristocratic order they replaced where privilege was a birthright, not something to be earned. But the view that the super-gifted or the super-smart deserve the biggest rewards doesn't seem a whole lot fairer given that these traits are arguably inherited, too. This conception, in fact, forces those who are less successful to internalize their failure—accept their second-class status as preordained—breeding alienation and resentment. Hard work or some quality of character would offer a more palatable basis for building a case for markets, except that all the lowlifes who routinely make it rich in markets offer too much evidence to the contrary.'

Read the complete article here.


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