What began as insisting that children playing tee-ball not keep score has come quite a long way. The recipients of participation trophies are now not only in college but in fact are running colleges. Although the stories of declaring that nothing is the result of individual effort, and everything is a result of “society” (good or bad) are numerous in today’s environment, one story in particular stuck out like a sore thumb recently.
A college professor at Penn-State Brandywine, Angela Putman, is taking aim at meritocracy, or the belief that merit largely determines how well people do in life. This belief in hard work and consistent effort is really all a part of “whiteness” ideology according to Putman. After conducting a study on 12 students, the professor found that most of her students sadly believed that their achievement is a product of their own work. The professor was deeply dismayed.
She believes that students “are socialized to believe that we got to where we are… because of our own individual efforts” and “thus, whiteness ideologies may be reproduced through a general acceptance and unchallenging of norms, as well as through everyday discourse from a wide variety of racial positionalities.”
To be perfectly clear – Putman is arguing against using merit as a means of determining who receives the most rewards in life. Another professor at Wake Forest University believes that installing a lottery type system for college admission would be a great way to “eliminate privilege”. In his model, students in the top 10% of their high schools would be randomly chosen to attend college. Of course, this makes a huge assumption – that all high schools perform at the same level. The top 10% from school A could be wildly different from the top 10% at school B.
These kinds of ideas fly in the face of basic economic thinking, and it is no wonder that the professors who are proposing such ludicrous notions are teaching courses in public speaking and sociology. While battling meritocracy may seem compassionate and fair at its face level, it has troubling consequences when put into work in the real world.
The free market and the workings of the price system make best use of scarce resources based on who uses those resources to most favorably serve the consumer. Profit and loss are the signals the market sends to either reward a business for meeting the wants and needs of his customers, or punish a business that fails to do so. These are amazingly strong signals; so strong in fact that most businesses close their doors for good in their first year.
When challenging meritocracy, what these “intellectuals” are suggesting is that the entire system of profit and loss is “unfair” and is inherently “white”. Let us use apply the ideals of the professors’ fantasy world to the real world of markets, scarcity, and economics.
Suppose there are two businesses, A & Z, that sell the same goods to their customers. Business A sells their products at low prices and thus attracts many customers who want to buy these products. Business Z sells their products at much higher prices, and thus attracts far fewer customers. Business A hires low skilled workers who do not demand high wages, while Business Z hires similarly skilled workers but pays them high wages. Business A works out of a storefront that is connected to other small shops in a strip mall. Business Z works out of a stand-alone store that it built itself and thus has a large mortgage.
Which business is best set to achieve high profits? Obviously, the answer is Business A. It serves its customers, has lower overhead, and can earn more profit despite selling products at a lower price. In time, Business Z will go out of business and leave all of its resources – the employees, the products, the storefront – to a business more equipped to use them efficiently.
Doing away with merit would mean each business, despite their differences, earns the same profit. This lack of profit for Business A would send a signal that they ought to raise their prices just as high as Business Z, seeing that even though they serve their customers better, there is no reward. The situation we end up with is two businesses, each offering high priced products to consumers, and the consumer losing due to lack of competition.
The free market does not care who is nicest. It cares not about someone’s background, their upbringing, their race, religion, or creed. It cares only about who serves the consumer best. Evening out the playing field, doing away with merit, may help one business, but it hurts the rest of society by forcing resources into the hands of people who do not use them efficiently.
Professors delusional about the real world hurt their students by reinforcing the belief that merit does not matter. Thankfully, Putman’s students by and large believe that hard work and effort is the most important factor in determining one’s success in life. However, if professors like Putman triumph in indoctrinating a generation of Americans with the belief that merit is equivalent to “whiteness”, then America will not only become less competitive here at home, but around the world.
Tim Preuss is the host of the Tim Preuss Podcast, available Monday-Friday on iTunes, the Liberty Radio Network, Talk America Radio, and everywhere else. More of his work is available at PreussPodcast.com.