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Meritocracy Is Good But We Don't Have It

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The most surprising thing about the news that wealthy parents are bribing their children’s way into elite colleges was the outrage that it produced. After all, revelations of public corruption and depravity are now regular occurrences, and college admissions have rarely been considered a model of fairness.  Why so much upset over so little (relative) wrongdoing?The answer, I think, is that these events implicate the meritocratic ideal upon which the United States was founded, and which people still endorse.  Already we are being told, variously, that it all goes to show that meritocracy is an “illusion” or a “myth”; or maybe that meritocracy is functioning well; or that it is an “historically awful idea”; and more.  Alas, none of these authors take the time to say what they mean by “meritocracy”, making the claims hard to evaluate.  So I’d like to take a moment to explain precisely what a meritocracy is before drawing what I regard as the important moral lessons from the scandal.A meri...

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