Why neither right nor left support meritocracy

Charles says he believes in meritocracy, and Shem too thinks that admission to university should be based on merit. Polling the CIS did a few years back shows that most Australians also like the idea of meritocracy.

Meritocracy is a theory of desert; that if you have some characteristic – usually linked to ability – you deserve a position associated with that characteristic, most commonly places at educational institutions and particular jobs. Meritocracy’s Wikipedia entry states that this is in opposition to allocation by

wealth (plutocracy), family connections (nepotism), class privilege (oligarchy), cronyism, popularity (as in democracy) or other historical determinants of social position and political power.

But Wikipedia’s list is too short. Both liberals and social democrats support principles of distribution that are at least in tension with meritocracy.

Don Arthur likes pointing this out in the case of liberalism. Liberalism favours distribution by free exchange, and there is no guarantee that this will match distribution according to personal merit. The market is usually too impersonal to judge directly whether people are intelligent, hard-working, or have any other positive personal attribute. Consumers and producers often know little or nothing about each other. People can be stupid or lazy but lucky, and so reap market rewards. And people can be intelligent and hard-working but unlucky, and so go unrewarded in the market (as recent graduates are about to find out, at least temporarily).
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The hip pocket politics of climate change

The Treasury modelling of climate change abatement released this week put the likely cost at about $1 a day for the average household. An ANU poll (pdf) also released this week confirmed a general willingness to pay higher prices to protect the environment. But how does this dollar-a-day price to climate change abatement compare to more specific polling on the issue?

A Climate Institute poll of marginal seats last November found just 13% of its sample were prepared to pay $30 a month or more, the cost range according to Treasury. The annual Lowy Institute survey, which was carried out during July, found only 19% of its respondents were prepared to pay $21 a month or more.

Though there has been an advertising campaign for the government’s package since these two polls, it was only telling people what they already thought (something needs to be done), not selling them on a price, so I doubt the punters’ opinion on how much they are happy to spend will have softened. It is more likely that it has hardened, as voters focus on protecting their short term financial position during what will at best be a significant slowdown, if not a recession.

Though the dollar-a-day at least gives the government’s spin doctors something specific to work with, the polling shows that they are starting from a very low base of support.