Meritocracy's Miserable Winners

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sophie
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Meritocracy's Miserable Winners

Post by sophie » Sun Oct 06, 2019 10:14 am

An interesting take on overwork vs. privilege, that somehow manages to conflate "diversity", class/race issues, and the fact that if you win the game and become a member of the elite you're likely to be miserable.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/ar ... rs/594760/
Such demands exact a toll. Elite middle and high schools now commonly require three to five hours of homework a night; epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned of schoolwork-induced sleep deprivation. Wealthy students show higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse than poor students do. They also suffer depression and anxiety at rates as much as triple those of their age peers throughout the country. A recent study of a Silicon Valley high school found that 54 percent of students displayed moderate to severe symptoms of depression and 80 percent displayed moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety.
Of course, the reasons for the depression and anxiety are not exactly clear. But, it is an interesting proposition that "winning the game" and becoming a member of the elite might actually be a booby prize. Most of the people I work with are pretty miserable souls, and they'd certainly be regarded as having won the game. And I'm watching the pressure continuously ratchet upward at an ever-increasing pace. It'll hit breaking point one of these days, at which time I hope to be self-sufficient enough to be able to get out.
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Re: Meritocracy's Miserable Winners

Post by Tyler » Sun Oct 06, 2019 10:40 am

That reminds me of a conversation I had with a coworker who went to Palo Alto High in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the Bay Area. The suicide rate there is astronomical, and I asked what was causing it. Her reply shocked me and made me realize how much of a bubble some people live in. Paraphrasing: "When you work so hard but only get accepted to Berkeley and not Stanford, you feel like a complete failure."
Mechanical engineer, history buff, treasure manager... totally not Ben Gates
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Re: Meritocracy's Miserable Winners

Post by ochotona » Sun Oct 06, 2019 11:29 am

I had the opportunity to go to Brown University or the University of Rhode Island. I went to Brown. I have this sneaking suspicion that somehow I'd have ended up in exactly the same place, with a lot less stress, and having spent a lot less of my parents' money. And Brown was "cheap" back then. My entire education cost what one semester costs now.

My daughter had more sense, eschewed the Ivies, when to University of Houston, got her BSEE, and is now working as an engineer at a Fortune 500. I think she proves my hunch.

Good thing about Brown - I met my wife there. Their Admissions Office works better than Tinder. My wife also thought Brown was a boatload of cortisol.
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Re: Meritocracy's Miserable Winners

Post by sweetbthescrivener » Sun Oct 06, 2019 12:26 pm

@sophie

You are right, that article was conflation nation, and the author is one confused soul.

It was like he was trying to say everything at once in one go. I think he was sneakily trying to redefine meritocracy as code for white privilege without having to say it. Just give up your privilege, despite your white fragility, since you are unhappy anyway.

His solutions seem kind of tacked on to give more meaning to the piece.

A new New Deal? Free education? What exactly is he saying? Favoring goods and services by people with no degrees? Goods? When China does it cheaper? Services? You want a lawyer who didn't pass the bar?

This just seemed like veiled virtue signaling.

I also read it as a mea culpa.

Yeah, I've had all the advantages, and I am a winner, but at least I'm miserable, (not that that compares to the true suffering of the underclass.)

Anyway, the University of Oregon football team beat Berkeley last night, and you only need a B- average to go to the U of O, so maybe things are moving in the direction the author wants already.
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Re: Meritocracy's Miserable Winners

Post by Kriegsspiel » Sun Oct 06, 2019 1:03 pm

On average, children whose parents make more than $200,000 a year score about 250 points higher on the SAT than children whose parents make $40,000 to $60,000. Only about one in 200 children from the poorest third of households achieves SAT scores at Yale’s median.
It's almost like there's a big genetic component to intelligence, and intelligent people earn more money.
Hardworking outsiders no longer enjoy genuine opportunity [to join the top 5%].
WTF does this even mean? In his next sentence, he says that 3% of the middle/lower class will join the top 5%. Implying that 3% of the top 5% drops out of it. If there is 60% turnover in the top 5% over some period of time, how can you say genuine opportunity doesn't exist? Am I missing something? But that aside, everyone has the same opportunities to save and invest their money, which he comes back to later:
But it is simply not possible to get rich off your own human capital without exploiting yourself and impoverishing your inner life, and meritocrats who hope to have their cake and eat it too deceive themselves. Building a society in which a good education and good jobs are available to a broader swath of people—so that reaching the very highest rungs of the ladder is simply less important—is the only way to ease the strains that now drive the elite to cling to their status.
I don't see anything disagreeable there. You can get rich quicker with a high-salary than not, of course, but most everyone has the opportunity to eventually become rich in America by saving and investing, if they really want to. Yea, those high paying jobs are probably going to be more difficult and demand more time, but you don't have to do them. HIS recommendations just make no sense to me.
How can that be done? For one thing, education—whose benefits are concentrated in the extravagantly trained children of rich parents—must become open and inclusive. Private schools and universities should lose their tax-exempt status unless at least half of their students come from families in the bottom two-thirds of the income distribution. And public subsidies should encourage schools to meet this requirement by expanding enrollment.
We already have free, taxpayer funded schools. Community colleges are quite cheap. Punishing private schools and universities like he recommends sounds fucking retarded. Same with subsidizing schools. Too many people go to college as it is, and are weighed down by student loans afterwards. I'd say most jobs don't really require a bachelors degree in the first place, and people who don't want to work in a job where a degree is required (ex. lawyers, doctors, engineers, researchers) and forego it are thereby escaping the meritocratic trap. He's recommending something contrary to his goal!

Second,
A parallel policy agenda must reform work, by favoring goods and services produced by workers who do not have elaborate training or fancy degrees. For example, the health-care system should emphasize public health, preventive care, and other measures that can be overseen primarily by nurse practitioners, rather than high-tech treatments that require specialist doctors. The legal system should deploy “legal technicians”—not all of whom would need to have a J.D.—to manage routine matters, such as real-estate transactions, simple wills, and even uncontested divorces. In finance, regulations that limit exotic financial engineering and favor small local and regional banks can shift jobs to mid-skilled workers. And management should embrace practices that distribute control beyond the C-suite, to empower everyone else in the firm.
Well, that mostly makes sense, and it seems to be where we're heading already. He frames it weirdly; "favoring goods and services produced by [lower skilled] workers" sounds like Marx's Labor Theory Of Value. I say it makes more sense to think of it as not paying a doctor a doctor's wage to do the work that a nurse could do for a nurse's wage. I can't remember where it was from, but I recently heard an interview with someone saying that McKinsey recruits mostly out of the Stanfords/Harvards/Yales because they can charge their clients more if a Yalie is the one stapling some random papers together or taking an office coffee order rather than someone from State U.

So thinking about it that way, his examples for medicine and law are obvious. But since he seems to be thinking along Marxist lines, he goes off the rails with his finance example. If finance people can create financial technologies that are highly valued by their customers, why would we want to regulate that away? It seems to me that if the federal government wasn't seen as standing by to bail them out, the finance industry would autoregulate itself (maybe with Glass-Stegal reinstated?). And the environment that favored small/regional banks was the one that led to people losing their wealth when those banks failed. To make the same line of argument he does for law and medicine, you'd say something like don't have a quant unlocking safe deposit boxes in the vault, let a teller do that. Like I said, we already DO favor goods/services produced by lower skilled people when we can.

His comment about management practices... is pretty vague. He could have something like Continuous Improvement cards in mind, or he could be thinking of aspects of Elizabeth Warren's platform, some of which seem like a step towards Italian Fascism (I'd need to do more research on that point).

-----
Whereas aristocrats once considered themselves a leisure class, meritocrats work with unprecedented intensity.
I like this quote. It reminded me of Lacking Ambition posts saying something similar that stuck with me:
I’ve realized my attitude towards work more closely resembles that of the British upper class of the Edwardian era than it does that of a modern American.

The idea that someone should desire or need a career or profession is distasteful to me. -Something to be done only out of necessity. Education ought to be pursued so that it can help you obtain an understanding of the world, not a job. And work is something to be suffered to your detriment, and does nothing to build your character except to make you better able to suffer through yet more work in the future.

My attitude towards work varies though depending on the motivation for it.
and this one:
The Greeks had a word for people who worked harder than anyone else: slaves.
Last edited by Kriegsspiel on Sun Oct 06, 2019 8:48 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Meritocracy's Miserable Winners

Post by Kriegsspiel » Sun Oct 06, 2019 1:13 pm

ochotona wrote:
Sun Oct 06, 2019 11:29 am
I had the opportunity to go to Brown University or the University of Rhode Island. I went to Brown. I have this sneaking suspicion that somehow I'd have ended up in exactly the same place, with a lot less stress, and having spent a lot less of my parents' money. And Brown was "cheap" back then. My entire education cost what one semester costs now.

My daughter had more sense, eschewed the Ivies, when to University of Houston, got her BSEE, and is now working as an engineer at a Fortune 500. I think she proves my hunch.

Good thing about Brown - I met my wife there. Their Admissions Office works better than Tinder. My wife also thought Brown was a boatload of cortisol.
I had the opportunity to go to Brown as well, but I made the opposite decision as you and went to State U. I have always felt what you wrote. Ending up in the same place, less stress, spending less money.
There's this very disturbing set of studies where about half the articles printed in Science and Nature magazines, the two leading publications, involved experiments that could not be repeated by anybody.
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Re: Meritocracy's Miserable Winners

Post by InsuranceGuy » Sun Oct 06, 2019 2:28 pm

Whereas aristocrats once considered themselves a leisure class, meritocrats work with unprecedented intensity.
This stuck out to me too, Kriegsspiel, as well as the following passage:
The rich now dominate society not idly but effortfully. The familiar arguments that once defeated aristocratic inequality do not apply to an economic system based on rewarding effort and skill. The relentless work of the hundred-hour-a-week banker inoculates her against charges of unearned advantage.
While I wouldn't consider myself rich, I do find myself fairly compensated though paid less than I could have been had I stayed in the relentless working environments of previous jobs. I think they nailed it here:
Plaintive calls for work/life balance ring ever louder. Roughly two-thirds of elite workers say that they would decline a promotion if the new job demanded yet more of their energy.
Ultimately my choice was a tradeoff that I am happy to have made so that I can actually enjoy and participate in my family life.
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Re: Meritocracy's Miserable Winners

Post by sophie » Sun Oct 06, 2019 8:30 pm

Kriegsspiel wrote:
Sun Oct 06, 2019 1:03 pm
Hardworking outsiders no longer enjoy genuine opportunity [to join the top 5%].
WTF does this even mean? In his next sentence, he says that 3% of the middle/lower class will join the top 5%. Implying that 3% of the top 5% drops out of it. If there is 60% turnover in the top 5% over some period of time, how can you say genuine opportunity doesn't exist? Am I missing something?
Nope.

I realized this when reading your comment: only 5% of people can join the upper 5%, right? Argh, how selective!! If 3% of the middle/lower class joins the top 5%, and if the "middle/lower" is defined (arbitrarily) as the bottom 2/3, that 3% translates to 2% overall. Which leaves 3% for members of the upper class. Yes, that's still an advantage, but not such an enormous one as the article makes out.

I think this piece is sort of a misguided lament about how the world of employment just really, really sucks these days, because there's so much more top/down control. It's not just at the highest levels. There are really only two alternatives: early retirement, or self-employment. If my impression is right, there is increasingly more of both, which should not be surprising to the goons who keep wanting to make being employed worse (often in the guise of trying to make it better).
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Re: Meritocracy's Miserable Winners

Post by Kriegsspiel » Sun Oct 06, 2019 9:40 pm

sophie wrote:
Sun Oct 06, 2019 8:30 pm
I realized this when reading your comment: only 5% of people can join the upper 5%, right? Argh, how selective!! If 3% of the middle/lower class joins the top 5%, and if the "middle/lower" is defined (arbitrarily) as the bottom 2/3, that 3% translates to 2% overall. Which leaves 3% for members of the upper class. Yes, that's still an advantage, but not such an enormous one as the article makes out.

I think this piece is sort of a misguided lament about how the world of employment just really, really sucks these days, because there's so much more top/down control. It's not just at the highest levels.


Re-reading it, I got more of the Marxist vibe.
The main obstacle to overcoming meritocratic inequality is not technical but political.
::) I had to google him to see what's going on there. He did a recent interview with Jacobin Magazine and comes right out and says it. Evidently he closes the book out with an adaptation of a quote from the Communist Manifesto.
The elite can reclaim its leisure in exchange for a reduction of income and status that it can easily afford. At the same time, the middle class can regain its income and status and reclaim the center of American life.
Jacobin Interview wrote:To be sure, superordinate workers will earn a little less. But they will also work less hard and — more importantly — gain release from the tyrannical wage hierarchy that now dominates their working lives. Today only a few jobs, in a narrow range of fields (finance, management, law, and medicine) pay the wages needed to buy houses in elite neighborhoods and pay tuition at elite schools. . .
Yes, that's why they're called "elite."
. . . A more democratic labor market would free elites to pursue their interests, and treat work as a vocation, without sacrificing their — and their children’s — caste. It would provide relief from the alienated labor that now dominates elite adulthood.
Or just let people do whatever the fuck they want to do... If people were are capable of earning tons of money choose not to, they are free to do so. It's the opposite of what he thinks; it's not a political problem at all.
There are really only two alternatives: early retirement, or self-employment. If my impression is right, there is increasingly more of both, which should not be surprising to the goons who keep wanting to make being employed worse (often in the guise of trying to make it better).
The funny thing is, MMM, all praise and blessings be upon him, has helped thousands of people escape the meritocratic trap with a much more hopeful and fun message of personal agency. I predict this guy, with his Marxist sadface, will either have no impact on anyone, or would have the same impact every implemented Marxist system has had before.
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Re: Meritocracy's Miserable Winners

Post by technovelist » Sun Oct 13, 2019 9:12 pm

sophie wrote:
Sun Oct 06, 2019 8:30 pm

I realized this when reading your comment: only 5% of people can join the upper 5%, right? Argh, how selective!!
Yes, that is highly discriminatory! We need to do something about that!
We should start by making sure everyone is above average in intelligence...
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Re: Meritocracy's Miserable Winners

Post by Kriegsspiel » Mon Oct 14, 2019 12:48 pm

via Tyler Cowen this morning
There are so many myths and lies around the idea of meritocracy in this country. Even Trump’s whole, like, “I got a small loan.” I think we have this pervasive belief: If you work hard and you do the grind and you do the hustle, the American Dream is within reach for anyone. And what I’m trying to show from my stories is that so much of it is also due to systemic racism and who had access to what. Many of our members who are white have multi­generational wealth, because their parents or grandparents went to college on the GI Bill, or their ancestors had access to land ownership before any person of color was ever allowed access to land ownership.

link
Some more quotes:
I feel a really, ­really, ­really strong imperative to redistribute wealth. And I wish it wasn’t something that I had to do voluntarily. But given that it is, that’s no reason not to.
I think sometimes my parents perceive my politics as a rejection of them and who they are, and I really strive to help them understand that I wouldn’t be involved with Resource Generation if I didn’t care deeply about them and care deeply about honoring my relationship with them and the truth of my family story.

I fundamentally believe my family, and families like mine, will be a lot happier when we don’t have this sort of burden and… Sorry, burden is the wrong word, but the… I guess I’ll say it: the burden of feeling responsible for a lot of the pretty serious injustices and inequities that we see manifested.
If the indoctrination is really this effective, maybe the other thread about inheritances is moot. I'll mention that Wittgenstein gave away his inherited fortune over a hundred years ago, then, instead of being a whiny bitch, went to fight for his country in some of the heaviest action on the Eastern Front.
There's this very disturbing set of studies where about half the articles printed in Science and Nature magazines, the two leading publications, involved experiments that could not be repeated by anybody.
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Re: Meritocracy's Miserable Winners

Post by Kriegsspiel » Tue Jun 30, 2020 9:55 am

Over the past few decades, we find that about 80% of the widening residual wage inequality to be within jobs.
Furthermore, performance-pay incidence is the single largest factor behind that, accounting for 42% of those changes. Of course this brings us back to the least popular explanation for growing income inequality, namely that we measure productivity better than before, and reward it accordingly.

That is all from a new NBER working paper by Rongsheng Tang, Yang Tang, and Ping Wang.
Hmm. Via Marginal Revolution.
There's this very disturbing set of studies where about half the articles printed in Science and Nature magazines, the two leading publications, involved experiments that could not be repeated by anybody.
- Peter Thiel
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