"Donald Trump not only gave powerful positions to family members, perhaps a hallowed if disgraceful American tradition"

One of those family members, Jared Kushner, spearheaded the single greatest accomplishment in Middle East peace since Sadat's trip to Jerusalem in 1977. The Abraham Accords brokered by Kushner created a warm and fervent peace between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, far eclipsing everything that bureaucratic mediocrities at the State Department had done in the last 40 years.

Merit includes fairly evaluating the actual accomplishments of family members as well and not judging them solely by their origins and connections.

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As far as I can tell, Les, the Abraham Accords weren't "spearheaded" by Kushner or anyone else in the Trump administration. The UAE ambassador to the US brought the idea to the White House, and Kushner was assigned the role of American negotiator. Any American administration might well have done similarly, since they have all been for a peace process between Israelis and Arabs. It was the specific trade of normalization for ending annexation in the West Bank that had to be agreed upon, in which the Americans were merely a go-between. The real political work was done by the UAE and Israel, b/c their countries and polities were the ones real skin in the game. I don't mean this as a slam against Kushner (who apparently was competent enough in this case) or the Trump administration, but I think their real accomplishments lie elsewhere (e.g., the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, which was Trump's call and IMO much to his credit.) Here is the source I'm using to refresh my memory: https://www.axios.com/how-the-israel-uae-recognition-deal-came-together-d0d45b2e-b2c7-4593-b72a-0ef99ec96233.html.

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Nonsense, no chance to taking the credit for this away from Trump and Kushner:

Israeli and Emirati air forces started holding joint training exercises in 2017 over Greece ( Iniohos 2017), Trump's first year. That shows the degree of closeness made possible by the new Trump administration but not any previous one.

You have the cart before the horse: the brilliance of the Trump peace plan was that it created, out of thin air, concessions Israel could present to the UAE to show the Arab public. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980 and the Golan Heights in 1981; no need for approvals on those. Netanyahu had plenty of opportunities to do the same with Area C of the West Bank, but was always far too cautious to make such a change. Trump's peace plan allowed Netanyahu to back down publicly from what he never intended to do in exchange for UAE doing what they always intended. Interesting side note: special Israel Defense regulations allowed Israeli companies to sell military technology to the UAE since 2017 (about $150 million).

Kushner's close friendship with Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia and Mohammed bin Zayed of UAE was the key to moving these agreements forward.

Similarly it was only the Trump - Kushner dynamism that added Morocco to the Abraham Accords, by recognizing its sovereignty over the Western Sahara, a gift to Morocco that upset Algeria, Cuba and virtually no one else.

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The War on Meritocracy (which is real) is about perpetrating a fraud, not enhancing fairness...

Limited resources always need to be allocated. Using merit benefits everyone, not just the people to whom resources are allocated. Using merit means allocating limited resources to those who can do the most with them - to those who can provide the greatest advantage to, yes, themselves, but more importantly to society at large.

These so called 'do-gooders' claim that eliminating merit from the allocation process will enhance fairness. In fact, it will have the exact opposite effect. The allocation process will be far more arbitrary - take their idea for a lottery for example. What's more arbitrary than a true lottery?

But we all know where this is headed. It's an allocation process based on "power" or "clout" whether that's personal, family, position, political financial.

The people pushing for the removal of 'merit' know full well what they're doing. They want to cement a new 'caste' system into place based on power - their power. This is all quite deliberate. So, under the guise of enhancing 'fairness', they see an opportunity to cement their current power in place for their own benefit. Make no mistake about it.... It's not stupidity that's driving this supposed "War"....

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Interesting piece. On the one hand, one can dispute how meritocratic even the most 'meritocratic' societies have been, patronage/nepotism thriving in the labour markets of all advanced economies. On the other hand, one can query the extent of recent changes; I'm not sure that they have been very extensive (yet).

The sociology of anti-meritocracy is very interesting. As far as I can see, social justice liberals are the main supporters of anti-meritocratic measures, emphasizing equity rather than equality of opportunity. To some extent, this reflects the poor experiences that younger, educated citizens have had in labour markets. Consequently, such people favour ideologies which reject the entire system/seek to reform it fundamentally.

But will such people be consistent opponents of the meritocracy? I doubt it. When/if the labour market outcomes of social justice liberals become more consistent with their education/status, I'd imagine that the attacks on meritocracy will decline. Supporters of social justice liberalism tend to be more affluent and educated and I think that this limits the ideology's revolutionary potential.

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The reality is that the current system as for welfare and labour market in Sweden are mainly beneficial for the middle-class, the largest voting group https://glibe.substack.com/p/the-swedish-welfare-state-more-as

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Put differently, does the current intellectual fad against meritocracy really just amount to dissatisfaction with the extent to which true meritocracy reigns? Such that, as true meritocracy becomes more prevalent, the fad will die out? That's how I'd like to interpret things. Reflects a deeper intellectual trend, viz., that of outright rejection of fundamentally sound concepts and theories solely in response to their imperfect implementation.

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Yes, good point - agree that this could be the case.

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In line with the tenor of @Thomas Prosser's comment, it's worth mentioning that merit - "the quality of being particularly good or worthy, especially so as to deserve praise or reward" - is not something we can really measure. That's not to say a lottery is as good as an SAT score; merely that and SAT score doesn't guarantee anything.

I mention this because it goes to much of the Right's problem with "meritocracy". I'm guessing the problem isn't with doling out jobs and honors according to measurable criteria per se. What standards would we use instead? Rather, it's the use of those criteria for purposes that they're just not up to. Nobody is smart and knowledgeable enough to plan an economy, a society or a foreign policy with confidence. That leaves plenty of room for citizens of various levels of accomplishment to discuss the matters, rather than having the meritocrats pronounce "We're too smart for you to be right."

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I basically agree. Many forms of merit are manifest. Each has its place. The ability to engage in collaborative problem-solving is one that's often overlooked.

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I wonder what "nurture and repair" would look like vis a vis the meritocratic ideal, since it's not now, and never has been, fully operational. Its success at scale has been time and place- (to say nothing of race, and gender) specific. My favorite meritocrat, my dad, lived the dream. He was the child of immigrants, benefitted in the 1930s and 40s and 50s from an excellent free public education through college, then the GI Bill for law school, thanks to his peacetime army service. From there he enjoyed a lucrative, fulfilling career as a professor and writer that made possible my own and my sister's path of elite private education. We didn't get into Tufts and Harvard because of our merit, of course. We got in because of the enormous investments our parents made in putting us through the prep schools that smooth the way into schools like Tufts and Harvard. My father's counterpart today growing up in a basement apartment in the city would be zoned for a neglected, underfunded school, because the next generation of cutthroat meritocrats have hoarded all the good spots at the good schools for their progeny, and each year raise private millions to supplement public dollars. A true meritocracy is premised on access to quality education, which most people today simply do not get.

Of more concern for the meritocratic project, though, are meritocrats in the making who are content to stay as unburnished diamonds in the rough. I had an excellent writer in my low level -- read, low-income-- English class who refused to sign up for Honors level because it would mean sitting next to the rich kids. Two thirds of American adults, to this day, have no college degree, despite all the billions poured into pointless competitions like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Where do they fit into a meritocracy? I hear that word and I think "the enactment of segregation by social class." I have to believe there's a word out there for a system we've not yet dreamed of, not aristocracy or meritocracy, that's not premised on half the American population being stomped under the foot of competition.

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Brilliant. I love your passion and wisdom. I too search for another "word." Inspired by Elizabeth Anderson, I lean toward "democratic equality," which runs counter to "starting-gate" equality of opportunity. Regardless of what we call it, however, as Corey Robin argues in today's Times ("Why the Biden Presidency Feels Like Such a Disappointment"), promoting the alternative will require a massive independent social movement. A "movement of movements" advancing holistic and systemic transformation.

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Wooldridge prefers a top-down aristocracy based on “merit” to one based on inherited nobility. A bottom-up democracy is an alternative to both.

His pseudo-egalitarian meritocracy is mythical and always will be. As he acknowledges, humans “favor their kith and kin” (friends and relatives). Hyper-competitive individuals who make it to the top do so with special assistance from parents and peers and pass on their advantages arbitrarily. The result is a self-perpetuating concentration of wealth and power in a society that’s rooted in self-centered, naked competition. Democratic hierarchies, on the other hand, can hold owners and managers accountable for serving the public good. How to establish these alternatives is not easy, but glorifying intellectualized, dehumanized elites makes it more difficult.

Wooldridge acknowledges “the critics have some points on their side,” but his admission is narrow and shallow. He merely mentions how “the rich buy educational opportunities.” The problems are much deeper.

His essay objects to “holistic assessments” for making school admission decisions, praises “raw academic ability (that) lies in the mind,” and envisions an “intellectual aristocracy.” This approach neglects emotional intelligence, social skills, and other essential talents. Wooldridge imagines his approach leads to “a more productive economy and a more efficient state.” Recent history, however, suggests that reducing humans to objects nurtures counter-productive blowback.

Modern society encourages everyone to climb social ladders so they can look down on and dominate those below. Money becomes a way to keep score. Assumptions of moral superiority are widespread. Scapegoating prevails. “It’s the economy, stupid” is the dominant political mantra. Self-centeredness is endemic, as climate change and deadly viruses spread.

Wooldridge wants to “repair the meritocratic idea,” but doing so will require a holistic and systemic transformation that focuses on the quality of life, nurtures co-equal partnerships, and promotes democratic equality throughout society — beyond the scope of his “starting gate equality of opportunity” worldview.

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Thank you for a well written article.

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Because of the decentralized tech of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, cooperation will become more important value and beneficial than the competition. This means that it will be easier for more people to find income and rewards, communities and cooperation, create global markets and virtual societies. Thereby, individuals will have the chance to be more creative and connected.

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The concept of meritocracy sits in my mind as a challenge, a puzzle that I can’t quite solve. Love the reference to Plato as will as the reference linking money and merit. I don’t know of any parents with any amount of wealth who do not want to leave some of that wealth to their children. When I have suggested raising taxes on inheritance as a tactic to level the playing field, none think that whatever amount they might be able to leave to the next generation if enough to be part of the problem, yet there are so many people who inherit nothing and this absolutely affects their opportunities to compete on “merit.” They find themselves in the situation of the bright kid who doesn’t want to mix with the rich kids (referenced below, see Sheila Clary).

I believe meritocracy is a good thing, but that it’s value can be diminished by the access that money can buy. I don’t like the efforts to force equity into places where merit has value. But if we don’t tackle the effect of wealth on the way meritocracy functions in our society, we are damaging the system just as the much as equity advocates are..

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I agree with most of M. Woolridge's argument: an approach to advancement and placement by merit has been critical to the development of our modern civilization. However, it comes not without its risks. M. Woolridge recognizes this:

"The critics have some points on their side: the meritocratic idea is in danger of becoming decadent. We are witnessing a dangerous marriage between money and merit as the rich buy educational opportunities..."

Much like unrestrained capitalism tends towards oligarchy, so does a meritocratic system. In decadence, it ceases to be meritocratic, and instead becomes a system that reproduces generational advantages, focusing increasingly on the opportunities of those near the top and decreasingly on the opportunities of those below. This process is only natural, a result of those who have the financial capability wanting to ensure those they care about and for whom they are responsible get the best opportunity, and rather than, say, attempting to create more opportunities for their child by creating more opportunities for all children in their school, they simply move their children to a school that provides better opportunities. This move is possible because of their accumulated financial advantage, and there seems to be a pattern of those with advantages giving up on the solutions that serve everyone, and instead paying to opt out. This process leads them to stop caring about those universal providers of opportunity, leaving them with mostly less-motivated, less-advantaged students.

That process of opting out leads to even more segregation between social classes (and, by extension, races, given that certain races are far overrepresented in less-advantaged systems and far underrepresented in more-advantaged systems).

This lack of presence, and lack of knowledge of the less-advantaged class, leads the more-advantaged to fail to understand the real needs and the real values of the underclass. This ignorance leads to neglect of the underclass, the "universal" methods whether through lack of caring or through lack of knowledge.

It seems like we need to have a meritocratic system that doesn't get captured by generational advantages.

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I know what you mean. Trump and populist voters have economic capital but lack more social capital when compared to liberal voters https://glibe.substack.com/p/the-swedish-welfare-state-more-as

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There are two elements of American meritocracy:

1. Hire the best person.

2. Pay them according to their productivity.

The first element is key to a successful society--placing competent people in jobs. However, the second element can cause problems, because some people or orders of magnitude more productive than others, which leads to inequality, which then corrupts the meritocratic system in the next generation. The social democratic countries in northern Europe have done a better job of this, hiring the best person, but narrowing the income gap between the most productive and least productive person. We should try that here.

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The Department of Civil Engineering at University of Chicago leaked documents this year regarding their hiring practices. The most salient phrase was "If you're looking for the best candidate for the job, you're part of the problem."

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