Wednesday, February 17, 2010

One last post on markets and meritocracy

I know, I've already written too much about markets and meritocracy, but I couldn't resist piling on once more. Bryan Caplan fires back at Shikha Dalmia with:

Dalmia approvingly quotes Hayek:

"It is probably a misfortune that, especially in the USA, popular writers like Samuel Smiles and Horatio Alger, and later the sociologist W.G. Sumner, have defended free enterprise on the ground that it regularly rewards the deserving, and it bodes ill for the defence of it which is understood by the general public. That it has largely become the basis of the self-esteem of the businessman often gives him an air of self-righteousness which does not make him more popular."
I'm not convinced. Whenever any other group in society feels disrespected - whether it's women, gays, blacks, immigrants, nerds, or whatever - we advise them to stand up for themselves. We tell them to demand that their fellow citiziens give them the respect they deserve. Why shouldn't businesspeople and high-earners follow the same strategy? Yes, in the short-run, this might be, in Dalmia's words, "off-putting." In the long-run, though, pride movements are pretty effective.

Imagine a world where people feel as uncomfortable publicly criticizing "the rich" as they now feel about lashing out at blacks or gays. Imagine a world where politicians nervously fumble, "I'm not complaining about the rich, merely certain aspects of rich culture, because of course rich people make many great contributions to our society..." It won't be easy, but contra Hayek, this is exactly the direction free-market advocates should be pushing in.

Actually, it's rather common for the more moderate elements of a movement to tell the more radical elements to tone it down. I'm reminded of the classic Onion article, "Gay Pride Parade Gets Mainstream Acceptance of Gays Back 50 Years." Of course it's satire. But the point is that the humor works because lots of moderate liberals have had similar thoughts about the more flagrant and off-putting aspects of the gay pride movement. Libertarians and defenders of busines can make the same mistake, and we should be careful to avoid it.

No comments:

Post a Comment