Sunday, May 5, 2019

Is there a Conservative sense of Fairness?

According to Dan Meegan, author of America the Fair: Using Brain Science to Create a More Just Nation and an Atlantic article, Conservatives Have a Different Definition of ‘Fair,’ liberals miss the point when they presuppose that “fairness” should be defined in terms of need, so that those most in need—the poor, the disenfranchised, the physically or mentally challenged—are most deserving of government assistance. Liberals fail to appreciate that conservatives have an alternative view of fairness: conservatives care more about equity or proportionality, so that for them your benefits should depend on your contributions. Any helping hand, then, would be unfair unless we somehow earn that assistance. There’s no universal right to government assistance just because we’re in need of it if we’ve failed in life; on the contrary, in that case we’ve earned the barriers that result from those failures, given this conservative value of equity, of deserving to receive no more and no less than the fruits of our labour.

This appeal to conservative values—along the lines of Jonathan Haidt’s moral foundations theory— allows Meegan to explain why the Tea Party, for example, used to defend the Medicare health insurance program even though this program provides aid to those most in need, such as the elderly. Medicare is also equitable since it’s funded by a payroll tax, so that working people expect the program also to reward them for their contributions. Social Security in the US is likewise funded by a payroll tax so that while the poor receive more than they contribute and the rich receive less, the middleclass receives equitable benefits, more or less proportional to what they contributed from their personal earnings.

Meegan points out that, “This conservative version of fairness is wired deeply in the human brain, and liberals ignore it at their peril.” In experiments, primates will reject a reward if they see another monkey receiving a superior reward for the same effort. A monkey would rather throw away a meager reward than concede to the unfairness of arbitrary or free-loading extraction of benefits. For Meegan the genetic message is clear: “Don’t take advantage of me [in the future], and don’t help yourself to more than you deserve.”

The Absence of Conservative Values

But there’s a giant flaw in Meegan’s analysis, which is that so-called American “conservatives” save their objections to the free-loading poor, as though the rich earn every penny of their millions or billions of dollars. You hear a “conservative” rail against the welfare state when the issue is whether the government should redistribute tax dollars to help the needy poor (since the conservative rejects this liberal sense of fairness). But you don’t find the conservative repudiating unearned, inherited wealth or the lobbyist-concocted financial system that multiplies wealth through monopolies and rent-seeking behaviour, which conflict with the value of equity. If you have a monopoly, for example, you engage in price gouging not because your efforts or contributions increase to justify the higher price, but because you can take advantage of the lack of competitors. Nor do you find the conservative castigating the rich with anything like the vitriol he or she reserves for the poor, despite the obvious fact that all private concentrations of wealth are created in part by luck, which means no fortune is ever wholly earned.

Perhaps less obvious, but no less devastating to Meegan’s account is that we typically amass wealth also through unethical failures to avoid becoming greedy, sociopathic monsters, as a result of our character’s having been corrupted by our access to power. In so far as the rich increase their profits by exploiting or dominating others or by seeking out Machiavellian advantages, their rewards are forcibly taken but not in any sense earned. Discarding such lofty notions of value, the Machiavellian realist, after all, is beyond good and evil. All that’s left is the cold clash of impersonal mechanisms: if they’re clever and heartless enough, the strong will dominate the weak, which would explain the inequality of wealth without in the least justifying the existence of multimillionaires. On the contrary, this realist factor would dispose of the very notion of justice or of fairness as an epiphenomenal fairytale.

If Meegan and Haidt were onto something, “conservatives” would have to be consistent in applying their alleged sense of justice-as-equity. So the conservative would defend benefits only to the extent that they’re earned, any unearned portion—whether given to the poor by the government or whether accruing to the rich through rent-extraction, luck, or predatory domination—being unfair according to this supposed conservative value system. On the contrary, American conservatives, at least, have a blind spot in their sociopolitical criticisms: they demonize the poor and lionize the rich, despite the fact that neither earns all the benefits they receive. One reason for this blind spot is obvious: the Republican Party agenda is set primarily by the richest one percent of Americans. Historically, Republicans have used culture war wedge issues to persuade the working class to vote against its economic interests, as shown by Thomas Frank. This is largely why the election of Trump as president represents a wisening-up of blue-collar conservatives to this scheme: what American conservatives evidently want is a leader who will be every bit as vicious as his rhetoric. Another reason for the inconsistency is the dream of every American to have a reasonable chance of becoming rich: you wouldn’t want to condemn anyone for occupying a position as privileged as the one you intend to hold one day.

However, there’s a more fundamental reason, which is that we’re dealing here not with a value system, but with the primitive basis for the worship of the strong as gods. In an artificial setting, such as an experimenter’s lab, monkeys may display egalitarian tendencies, but in the wild, primates and most social species are forced to organize themselves into dominance hierarchies in which the group’s weaker members concede the leader’s right to more of the resources than he’s individually earned with his contributions. The leader dominates the rest of the group, driving home the power imbalance with petty displays of the subordinates’ inferiority. This happens until the leader shows weakness or the inequity becomes intolerable and the corruption at the top poses a threat to the group’s survival, in which case a beta challenges the alpha to fight for chief dominator status. When in the wild an omega male monkey receives only scraps from the carcass, that monkey is hardly in a position to complain about the inequity. To do so would invite the alpha male to terrorize the weaker member, to maintain group cohesion.

Our species takes this instinct and runs with it in our imagination, as we project the alpha dominator into our concept of the gods and goddesses we worship for allegedly being responsible for natural processes. So-called conservatism is just the rationalization of that instinct with myths and specious moralistic rhetoric. Conservatives condemn the poor and idolize the rich because their “values” are animalistic rather than humanistic. The inconsistency at issue is due to the nonrationality of the instinct at the root of their “political philosophy.” This instinct is just to fear the tyrant, because surviving the brutal wilderness dictated some such amoral expedient. The jungles and swamps and tundra and deserts were plainly godless and unfair, so we had to invent supernatural gods and monsters, along with their earthly representatives or avatars (kings and priests) to compel strangers to cooperate in great feats of cultural imagination. We flourished in the Neolithic period by using our intelligence to manage our envisioning of more and more audacious excuses for civilized assaults on nature.  

You know you have a true “conservative” on your hands if you find this impostor heaping scorn on the parasitic poor, while making excuses for the unearned wealth of the super-rich. What’s most conservative about this inconsistency is its betrayal of the primitive fear and prejudice behind the conservative rhetoric and “values.” The conservative, Paleolithic instinct is to surrender the human potential to transcend nature, in favour of the natural way of surviving by dividing the group into a dominance hierarchy. Such a power structure is ineffective if the social status of each member is unclear due to mixed signals. Thus, the poor must not only be kept poor, but they should be berated and mocked for their failures, while the rich in turn must just as unfairly be idolized for their exaggerated, sometimes bogus (e.g. lucky) successes. The wealth gap must be maintained to announce to the world that in the “United States,” a tiny minority dominates the majority, as dictated by jungle law, the Iron Law of Oligarchy, and whatever genetic and psychological mechanisms are responsible for conservative authoritarianism.

To pretend that conservatives have an alternative concept of fairness is to give credence to the empty rhetoric that dresses up the bestiality of conservative behaviour. As is apparent from the social Darwinian consequences of their “policies,” conservatives would have us all living like animals, with no “socialist” or humanitarian basis for civilized cooperation in government regulations, nothing but theocratic myths such as those that sustained faith through the European Dark Age. For example, there’s no conservative justification for science or for technological progress, since objectivity and progress depend on the humanistic vision of transcending natural limitations, of seeing farther than is required to complete our biological life cycle. (Technoscientific progress in the Middle Ages occurred in spite of the Church, since that progress was inspired largely by the rediscovery of ancient Roman humanism and by the infiltration of classical Greek texts which challenged defeatist Christian dogmas and sowed the seeds of the humanistic (i.e. liberal) Renaissance.)

The Bestiality of Conservative Governments

The most authentic conservative political system is the monarchy or totalitarian dictatorship, in which, together with the confederates who administer his or her commands, an alpha figure dominates the majority. The absoluteness of the king’s “divine right to rule” is inherited not from any god but from the practical necessity in the wild of submitting to the group’s strongest member for the sake of surviving in an indifferent, often hostile environment. All forms of government that depart from some such top-down power structure are progressive, meaning the opposite of conservative. Again, any system for maintaining group cohesion that’s prevalent in social species of animals is politically conservative. Human forms of these systems include oligarchies, autocracies, tribalism, feudalism, and plutocracy via runaway capitalism.

Republics, democracies, and socialist or anarchical societies that rein in the power of the privileged few at the top or that prevent the emergence of private concentrations of power are anti-conservative. This is because these progressive systems that typically enshrine their humanistic values in a constitution are forward-looking in seeking to transcend natural, animalistic regularities with a vision of how the world should be. Whereas a conservative society capitulates to nature’s tyranny over animal life, surrendering our godlike potential and existential, promethean responsibility to revolt against the monstrosity of a living-dead, self-creating universe, progressive, liberal, or otherwise humanistic societies represent an emergent layer of complexity in the universe. Anti-conservative societies posit human rights and values, liberties and responsibilities that ought to baffle an authentic conservative (a true opponent of human progress).   

What this means is that the notion of a “conservative party” in a democratic nation is oxymoronic. The conservative politicians are foxes guarding the hen house or wolves in sheep’s clothing. They’re either confused about their beliefs, contradicting their avowed humanistic principles with authoritarian tendencies or policies, or they’re only pretending to be civilized, being in secret so many subcriminal, social Darwinian sociopaths. Some Americans are evidently just now beginning to learn from the Trump “administration” what’s been at the heart of “Republican values” for decades, namely inhuman authoritarianism. The American conservative’s Orwellian effrontery begins with the misnomer, “Republican,” since according to the primary definition, a republic vests power with the voters, whereas the Republican’s “free market” economic policies strip away that power and award it to the wealthy who capture the government and form an effective plutocracy.

Alternatively, were “republic” taken to be synonymous only with “commonwealth” and to refer just to a group of sovereign states associated by choice (states which might choose to be dominated by plutocrats, for example), the Republican could theoretically repudiate humanism and democracy without contradiction, although such un-American convictions would have to be kept secret. Likewise, were “republic” taken to mean only a state in which the head of government isn’t a monarch and doesn’t inherit that title, Republicanism would be consistent with modern forms of oligarchy (such as with kleptocracy or kakistocracy, as in Donald Trump’s regime). Although plutocrats typically pass their wealth on to their children, their money had to have been generated at some point by labour, which means their economic power doesn’t derive just from (the myth of) royal blood.

Still, in practice a Republican, Tory, (most ludicrous) Progressive Conservative, or any other modern conservative politician who has some such minimalist concept of republicanism in mind and yet who campaigns to be voted into high office has a wildly incoherent belief system. If your goal is to form a plutocracy via crony capitalism and yet your power as a “conservative politician” in the interim derives from the voter, you must be only going through the motions in campaigning for those votes and in promising this or that to your constituents. Tories in Britain and Canada, for example, supposedly uphold “the supremacy of social order as it has evolved throughout history,” as the Wikipedia page puts it. That social order has evidently evolved as a result of progressive, humanistic, anti-dogmatic and anti-traditional ventures, so that the Tory must therefore be both backward- and forward-looking, as it were, a contradiction in terms. Thus is modern, democratic conservatism a charade, and Meegan’s account of a conservative sense of fairness is part of that pretense that all members of modern democracies are equally respectful of the humanistic enterprise.


  1. There's a great new edition of Ragnar Redbeard's, Might Is Right. You might want to check it out.

  2. A superb deconstruction of conservative rhetoric!

    The type of fairness conservatives preach sounds a lot like a meritocracy and yet they fail to realize that any country approaching a meritocracy would have to ensure that all of its citizens begin their lives at the starting line; a condition which would necessitate socialism to some degree. No one, not even the most progressive liberal, will argue against the idea that those who make bigger contributions to their society should receive a proportionally bigger reward, but in order for a person to make any contribution at all they need to first receive the basics of food, shelter or education.

    It's easy to make a big contribution when you've enjoyed the benefit of the best education money can buy along with a substantial inheritance, but what kind of contribution could, say, an orphan who went to a typical American public school be expected to make when she becomes an adult? Would Bill Gates have created the Windows OS if, instead of being brought up in an upper middle class household with private education and access to a computer, he had been raised in a family of Appalachian coal miners? I think every conservative knows the answer to that question; they just hope that no one will ask.

    BTW, Do you have any thoughts on a 100% inheritance tax? I think it would be the one necessary first step to creating a truly fair society. Why should any adult receive a cent of what their parents made unless they helped them make it? All that money could be funneled into social programs (especially education) guaranteeing that everyone starts from zero and has a fair chance of getting rich; or at least living a decent life. Make as much money as you can while you live, but when you die it all goes back into the common pot.

    1. Sybok, A 100% inheritance tax would end the phenomenon of a dynasty or of quasi-aristocracy. Would that be good or bad for society? Clearly, children of wealthy parents who don't have to work to be rich and powerful on account of their inheritance would probably be spoiled and otherwise corrupted. But if you preclude the possibility of disposing of what you've earned (the wealth you want to give to your children), you'd reduce the incentive to work hard (i.e. to be ruthless in business) in the first place, which was a problem with soviet communism.

      What we really need is a better reason to work hard. I'm reading a good science fiction series by John C Wright which looks at the need for a posthuman vision of deep time and which contrasts with our narrow-mindedness. Capitalism in the sense of the struggle to maximize private profit is animalistic. The notion of the salvific invisible hand is theistic and can be safely dismissed. Capitalism does generate innovation, and technological progress (as in medicine, for example) does elevate everyone's living standard, but that progress isn't due just to the selfishness at the heart of capitalism. On the contrary, the scientific ethos isn't so egoistic or short-sighted.

      If the government took the billions of dollars and gave it to the poor rather than to the billionaires' descendants, the government would be picking winners and losers, and that power would corrupt the government as surely as it would have corrupted the billionaires. Corruption happens under economic and under political conditions, because it's a function of one person's power over another. The issues here are biological, psychological, and sociological.

      I'm pretty sure that in a society with a 100% inheritance tax, the richest and brightest would move to another country or would hide their wealth in an offshore tax haven. Rich people get around tax laws or help to write them to their exclusive benefit. If the inheritance tax were inescapable, the billionaires would leave and take their business with them. Again, the source of the problem, I think, is the animalistic narrow-mindedness, enshrined by capitalism--which it's our existential obligation to transcend.

  3. "Why should any adult receive a cent of what their parents made unless they helped them make it?" My single mother worked her butt off for 30+ years in order to buy a modest house and retire on a small pension. It would make her physically ill to think that what little she has would go to the state instead of her only son. My father abandoned me and my mother when I was 3 years old. If you want a 100% inheritance tax, start with those with 5 million+ in assets. Why should any OTHER adult receive what my mother worked for unless they helped her make it?

  4. Beautiful. Also hilarious cartoons 👍

  5. "Why should any OTHER adult receive what my mother worked for unless they helped her make it?"

    Because the dead have no property rights. The idea behind 100% inheritance tax is that every citizen in such a system would receive an equal share of the money taken from the tax; so while your mother's money might not go to you directly, you would end up getting much more than you would have from your mother's insignificant pittance.

    The problem with direct inheritance is that some people are going to inherit a lot more than others, which in turn pretty much guarantees that, no matter how hard your mama works, you will likely stay poor no matter how hard you work. Meanwhile, the guy who inherited a billion dollar trust fund from daddy Warbucks will live in luxury his entire life whether or not he makes any contribution at all.

    As long as parents are permitted to bequeath their wealth to their offspring - giving them a massive advantage over everyone without rich parent - then we will never have anything close to a fair society where everyone receives what they put into it. Imagine a race. In a fair race everyone begins at the starting line. Which runners end up in 1st, 2nd, 3rd place etc depends on many factors: the length of their legs, their relative physical fitness and their endurance are all factors in deciding the winner. But the one thing that isn't relevant in a FAIR race is who their parents are. True, some might have inherited exceptionally long legs or high testosterone levels from their parents, but these factors alone cannot guarantee their victory IF the race is fair and they begin at the same place as everyone else. Imagine the indignation of a runner who had spent months building up his endurance and muscles only to be beaten by some fat, wheezing rich kid whose father bribed the racing committee to allow his son to begin the race three feet from the finishing line? Would that be fair?

    I've used the race as an allegory for the type of fairness conservatives pretend to be in favor of. They talk about fairness and everyone getting their just desserts, but have no objection to rich kids getting to attend private schools while poor kids must settle for public schools that can't even keep their students safe from mass murderers and rapists. They whine about welfare for the poor but are quick to defend welfare for the rich whether it be in the form of inheritance, subsidies or massive tax right offs. If rich conservatives REALLY believed in the fairness they preached, they would put their money where their mouth is and use it to give poor kids the same chance at success that they give their own. But of course they won't because they suspect that their kids might not be able to succeed in a fair competition. This is why Laura Loughlin and those other rich parents were willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars in bribes to get their kids into good colleges: they KNEW that their kids could never get to the Ivy league on their own merits.

    From the way you described your upbringing you are just the type of person who would benefit most from 100% inheritance tax. That you are opposed to something that would give you and your children a fair chance of escaping from poverty both amuses and frustrates me. Only a rich kid who expects to inherit his parent's estate should fight inheritance tax. And since the rich are a minority, it is a fight they would lose. Lucky for them, they have tens of thousands of poor chumps like you to fight for them. Maybe the poor really do get what they deserve...

    1. Sybok, So is the idea of the 100% inheritance tax that at death, all of our estates go to "the common pot," which is then equally distributed to everyone in the country? So to simplify, if there are ten dollars in the pot, and ten people in the society, everyone gets one dollar? That would answer my point about government corruption, since the government would no longer be picking who gets the most money from that pot. (But I read you as saying that the poor would get a greater share, to make for a fairer, more equal starting place in the race, as it were...)

      The idea of a 100% inheritance tax is certainly interesting. It addresses the anti-Randian fact that no one's wealth is privately earned. The whole society chips in in countless ways, by paying taxes which maintains the roads and bridges, etc. Moreover, luck is a crucial factor. So why not acknowledge the flaws of capitalistic egoism and surrender the wealth that spoiled scions of business titans would have squandered? Give everyone a fairer chance to fulfill their potential and to exercise their positive freedom (in Isaiah Berlin's sense)? It's a good question. I take it the social democracies in Europe are closer to this "socialist" mindset, but they're also mired in nasty nationalism (blowback from the fraud of neoliberal globalism).

      I just wonder whether people would work as hard if they knew they had to surrender the fruits of their labour when they die. The underlying issue there, though, is whether hard work should be the ultimate goal in life.

    2. Well, before I begin I want to make it clear that I am under no delusions that ANY social or economic system could ever bring about utopia. Human nature - or at least the nature of most humans - seems to preclude even the possibility of a wholly fair society. My intent, rather, is to create such a system which would suppress the worst aspects of our nature while fostering what is best in us. With that caveat in mind, here is what I propose.

      You asked if the money from the common pot would be distributed equally to every citizen or if the poor would be privileged over the rich. My answer is yes and no. Yes, the distribution of resources would be equal in terms of providing the basics of food, shelter and quality education to every citizen. Allowing anyone to live in squalor and poverty is not only unethical, but impractical since such conditions - if allowed to fester - have historically resulted in crime and often violent revolution. The conservatives can soliloquize all they like about how welfare corrupts the moral fiber of the poor and penalizes incentive and hard work, but the empirical, historical facts are in: in the long term, poverty is socially unstable and far more costly than providing welfare to the masses. I know this sounds like an assertion, but I will not debate it here. Anyone who thinks otherwise has only to study history.

      But beyond these basic prerequisites, the distribution would be unapologetically unequal. However, it is neither the rich nor the poor who would be privileged, but the most meritorious individuals. And that merit would not be based on the opinion of any biased human, but on objective, pre established criteria. For example: any child who evinced precocious abilities of any kind wouldn't be forced to work at the same pace as his peers, but would actually be given greater opportunities. Not that average or dull kids would be neglected; but clearly the more gifted ones merit more resources since they could prove more valuable to society in the future. Instead of the crude 'grade system' of present public schools, students would be segregated not by age, but according to their ability and their ability would not be measured by biased teachers, but through standardized testing.

      However, it is not just resources that should be distributed according to merit, but power as well. I envisage a society where neither wealth, nor social connections, nor even votes would guarantee a person's rank or place in society. I realize it would be impossible to eliminate the influence of these factors entirely; but I maintain that they can be minimized. A good historical example would be the bureaucracy of ancient China. In this system, positions of power and responsibility would be given to those who had undergone a purely objective evaluation of their merit through standardized testing. This would not only eliminate cronyism, but also forfend society against the infamous Peter Principle since no one would be promoted solely on their past performance, but would need to demonstrate their competence via a test. Under these conditions it would be impossible for someone like Donald Trump to attain any political power unless he/she were able to pass an exam which would demonstrate their mastery of relevant areas of knowledge such as law, economics and political science. I know that this flies in the face of democracy, but is it really so far-fetched? If physicians and lawyers must go through years of schooling and pass exams to practice their calling, why not politicians? Who, after all, exercises greater responsibility: a dentist or the head of state?

    3. You brought up the perennial problem of the corrupting influence of power. I am as aware as anyone that power corrupts; but anyone of experience must also admit that it does not corrupt all equally. Some people, for whatever reason, are simply more predisposed to abuse their power and these individuals can be identified just as easily as gifted children. Spend enough time on any playground and it becomes obvious who the 'alphas' are. I understand that, clinically speaking, only adults can be diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder; but that shouldn't stop us from flagging this kind of behavior early and keeping a close eye on them. It is important that such people be identified early since it is then when they are most brazen; adults are more likely to conceal their moral handicaps. Such children would be watched very closely and be evaluated by certified psychiatrists throughout their youth. If they did not grow out of their antisocial behavior, it would be noted in their permanent records and their opportunities would be limited accordingly.

      You ask whether a 100% inheritance tax would de-incentivize producers and cause them to leave the country. Frankly, I don't know. I'm no psychologist and most of my intuitions in that area have been proven wrong time and again. All I can say is that I would not personally care if my children received no inheritance from me provided that I knew they would always have access to the necessities of life, as well as the opportunity to improve their lot is life, which is what the 100% inheritance tax would be there to provide. If I had children, I would love them but I would not allow my affection to blind me to their weaknesses. If I knew my son was a poor mathematician, I would neither expect nor would I want him to be put in a position where math skills are vital. Any parent who cares more about their child's prestige than the wellbeing of society as a whole has no place in it and should go live in the jungle with the lions and tigers with their tribalist, family-first ethos.

      You asked whether or not money should be the prime motive for achievement and social contribution. I think that is a question which each individual will answer differently. I don't think that it necessarily has to be, but humans do like to compete and money is one way of keeping score. Another possibility might be the type of system shown in Star Trek where people compete for prestigious jobs on starships. Only a very few people are so in love with what they do that they won't compare themselves to others and try to outdo them in some way. Humans are born unequal and that inequality inevitably leads to some form of competition. The relevant question for me is not "Is this right?" but "How do we channel this competitive instinct in a constructive way?"

      I could have gotten into the technical details of how 100% inheritance tax would be enforced, but this post is long enough. Suffice it to say that I've given enough thought to the subject, and possess enough technical knowledge, to start working on a system tomorrow if the law were ever passed. But that is the catch, isn't it? The United States is a plutocratic oligarchy with only vestigial democratic systems which, even if they worked as intended, would be of no use in this regard. Most of the poor in this country are thoroughly opposed to a 'death tax' of any kind. Even if I tried to compromise and taxed only the top 1%, they would fight it because, as Rom put it in Star Trek: DS9, "We Ferangi don't want to end the exploitation; we want to become the exploiters."

    4. You do seem to have thought a lot about this issue, Sybok.

      I have some doubts about meritocracy. China has had a meritocratic tradition since Confucius, and while the current government in China surely excels in certain respects and doesn't face the same downside as American democracy, China's system is pretty corrupt. (There's even a long, Wikipedia article on it.)

      Also, Chris Hayes' book, Twilight of the Elites, points out an unintended consequence, which is that American meritocracy fueled economic inequality. "Since the 1960s, as the meritocracy elevated a more diverse group of men and women into power, they learned to embrace the accelerating inequality that had placed them near the very top. [This is why liberals like Hillary Clinton like to say that the losers from globalization just need to be educated more, because liberals believe in the American system that's rewarded them.] Their ascension heightened social distance and spawned a new American elite--one more prone to failure and corruption than any that came before it."

      Hayes' book "describes how the society we have come to inhabit--utterly forgiving at the top and relentlessly punitive at the bottom--produces leaders who are out of touch with the people they have been trusted to govern. Hayes argues that the public's failure to trust the federal government, corporate America, and the media has led to a crisis of authority that threatens to engulf not just our politics but our day-to-day lives."

      The problem with meritocracy is that it's not obvious how excellence should be measured or established. Which skills are relevant and which should be rewarded? This reminds me of Carl Schmitt's criticism of liberalism, which is that as long as liberals allow their leaders to make exceptions of themselves or to declare when exceptions are called for, liberalism presupposes dictatorial values. Underlying the meritocracy would be an arbitrary, authoritarian exercise of power (even if the favours shown to certain types of excellence evolves, making mindless nature responsible for the power play).

      As Bill Maher would say, the democrats couldn't sell the "death tax" because they don't know how to have a field day. I'd explain this deficit in line with my recent political writings on this blog. Sociopaths make the best salespeople, because the ideal sale is a con job, in which case profit is maximized from the selling of an inferior product, and that requires the lack of empathy and the mastery of deception. Sociopathy is a masculine ideal, and the Republican Party is far more masculine than the Democratic one. That's why the Republicans are much better at "framing the issues," which is to say at conning the American public.

    5. Cain, I read the China article you cited. It seems to me that the root of the corruption within the CCP is greed. One way of dealing with this problem is a fully digital currency system; which would be a prerequisite of enforcing the inheritance tax anyways. Officials could still be bribed, but the system would be able to track where each bribe came from and they would need to explain to auditors why they received that money. Even if the briber tried to use some sort of middle man to deliver the bribe, they would still risk exposing themselves, since every unit of currency would have a unique serial number and every transaction would be recorded on publicly accessible ledgers. Financial privacy would have to be sacrificed; but I see no other solution.

      Idealy, the leaders of a meritocracy would be forbidden to own private property; like the guardians of Plato's Republic. Those who sought wealth would go into business, not government. And it isn't as if this would have no historical precedent. We can adduce from Plutarch's biography of Lycurgus that Socrates must have derived his inspiration for his idealized Republic from the historical republic of Sparta. Assuming that Plutarch's history is accurate, then it is possible to have an unmonnied ruling class, since the Spartans evidently did just that. It might have been unusual or even unique in all of recorded history, but it existed.

      As for leaders loosing touch with the people, I admit that this is a strong tendency in any meritocracy. If people don't trust their government then their government will not trust them either and the ensuing breakdown of communication spells disaster. The only way to prevent this is to force the leaders to stay on top of every situation within their purview. And the only way to get them to do that is to make them answerable for their failures. No leader should be insulated from the results of his mistakes and I would see to it that outside of every capital building there would be a functioning guillotine to remind him of that.

      You brought up the interesting question of how 'merit' would be defined. I think the definition would depend on the job. The minimum requirements of anyone exercising government power would be a familiarity with the constitution and the laws of their state. A knowledge of history would also be required. But the most important thing would be to screen out the sociopaths by administering psych evals on every potential candidate; as well as compiling a detailed psychological history for each. Any red flags would disqualify that person from even running for a government position. This stuff can't be left to public opinion (as Trump's victory demonstrates), but must be decided by professionals. No one that's been diagnosed with any of the 'dark triad' personality disorders should ever be allowed to run for public office. And to reduce the likelihood that the ones doing the evaluations aren't themselves influenced by bribery or personal politics, each candidate would be evaluated by multiple psychiatrists across political lines.

      It's impossible to accurately predict how a new regime or form of government will play out in the arena of the real world; so all of this discussion is essentially mental masturbation. What's needed is a working model; perhaps on a small scale.

    6. These are all sound policies you're suggesting, but as I explore in my just-released article, 'The Incoherence of 'Meritocracy,"' I think there are some meta-questions that would have to be answered about the type of society that strives to be meritocratic.

      Sociopaths wouldn't make for fine leaders in a moral society, but what if the society is pragmatic and uninterested in morality, as in the case of China? What if the culture is vicious and bellicose (as in much of America in its current degraded form) so that it deserves a government of fraudsters and scoundrels? According to my analysis, the concept of "meritocracy" turns out to be something of a weasel word, since there are amoral talents that would serve well in leadership roles in the right sort of society, such as in a kleptocracy or a plutocracy.

      Have a look at that article, if you're interested.

  6. "So while your mother's money might not go to you directly, you would end up getting much more than you would have from your mother's insignificant pittance." If I was presented with evidence that proved this to be the case, I would obviously be in favor of it. Unfortunately humans would be in charge of this process, and time and again humans prove themselves unworthy of handling such power. How many charities started off with high minded ideals, only to end up with management paying themselves a bloated salary leaving little left over? See the Iron Law Of Oligarchy.

    1. I'd agree with this, as is clear from my writings on this blog, but I think Sybok has a point when he (or she?) says that some people are more corruptible than others. Those who are least corruptible, though, are least likely to succeed and to acquire power, because they're hyper-scrupulous, and nice guys finish last. Conceivably, a society might favour these saints by testing for their skills, but this would amount to what Jesus called the unearthly kingdom of God. Not likely in inhuman nature.

  7. To convert the exploiters to altruism is a fatuous programme–a maniac’s dream. The only remedy for social injustice is this: the exploited must save themselves by enlightened self-interest. The exploiters are certainly egoistic enough; the only hope for the exploited is for them to become equally so–yes, consistently, persistently egoistic. Egoism spells justice and freedom as surely as altruism spells charity and slavery.

    1. Hmm, that sounds a little like Ayn Rand. Egoism seems hard to fake, though. How do you turn an omega male into an alpha one? I'm sure losers can be taught to be more confident and to put their best foot forward, which can help them succeed. But if you're born with an overdeveloped conscience and sense of empathy, or if you were brought up with such values of "slave morality," I doubt you could learn to think you're better and more deserving than everyone else, without traumatizing yourself.

      Would you say a society of egotists would be the best of all possible worlds, because an invisible hand would steer that society towards a progressive end?

    2. Anon, I once held this same opinion. People allow themselves to be exploited because they've been socialized to be unselfish and docile. This was Ayn Rand's argument. But it rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of selfishness.

      It is true that there are many people who allow themselves to get swept up into the schemes of sociopaths; but their weakness isn't a lack of self-interest. If anything, it is their narrow self-interest which makes them such easy marks. It isn't exactly true that you can't con an honest man, but generally speaking it's the greedy who are easiest to con because they are the ones who want to believe they can get something for nothing (or minimal effort); their very selfishness blinds them to the trap they are walking into. Examples of this are too numerous to cite here, but if you analyze any con game - from the classic ponzi scheme to organized religion - you'll see that the victims are rarely as innocent as they might appear on the surface.

      You mentioned enlightened self-interest, but a truly enlightened person would see their relative insignificance in the grand scheme of things, as well as their very human weaknesses. How can someone with that broad of a perspective and level of insight sustain the kind of take-no-prisoners selfishness that would be a match for the psychopaths among us? That kind of radical selfishness is actually the result of ignorance. An enlightened person will indeed still have a basically self-interested nature insofar as it is imperative to take care of oneself first if one wants to help others, but it's impossible for an enlightened one to delude himself into believing that his petty desires are important enough to sacrifice any number of victims to. The only way a serial killer, rapist and other psychopath can justify his actions is by denying the value of his victims while simultaneously asserting his own unlimited value. But how can he rationally justify this? What makes him so special? Why privilege the needs or desires of himself over all others? Because he's unique? But everyone, even an identical twin, is unique. He might say he is stronger or smarter than his victims, but that only explains why he is able to exploit them, not why he SHOULD. In the the end 'ethical egoism' is simply a case of special pleading: the egoist arbitrarily decides that he, out of the 8 billion or so humans out there, is infinitely valuable and an end unto himself while the other 7,999,999,999 are only of instrumental value at best. It's rationally untenable.

      Of course, there is no rational justification for behaving rationally. If someone wants to irrationally assert his own wishes over those of others, he will do it. My point is that this behavior, because it IS irrational, cannot be enlightened; hence expressions like 'enlightened self-interest' or 'rational self-interest' are oxymorons. What people usually mean by 'rational selfishness' could be better described as 'intelligent selfishness'. An intelligent egoist would exercise impulse control and plan ahead, but this wouldn't make him enlightened, just a lot smarter (and more dangerous) than your average thug.