Merit, Value, and Justice

 I am arguing with Connolley again.  The occasion is his review ( of a book called the Tyranny of Merit. It's not likely to be a book I would read, because I'm a lot more concerned about the tyranny of folly.  Dr. Connolley, and perhaps the author, manage to wander into the thorny philosophical territory of the meaning of  value, justice, and merit.  Can we say anything about these except that opinions differ?

Connolley: "The assertion (p 136) that Hayek doesn't understand that things other than market value, have value, is drivel. So what we get is a fatal problem for his theory: market value isn't moral worth. His answer (again, p 136) is to take market value as a proxy for social contribution, which is lying worthy of Plato.

In his version, free-market liberalism differs from meritocracy. In mine, it doesn't."

Dr. C tends to get a bit vituperative, which tends to have a bad effect on me, but let me take some exception.  "Value" is a word that we use in a few different senses, so it seems a bit extreme to toss around the l-word for daring to do that.  The neat thing about market value is that it easy to determine, even if it is subject to wild fluctuations.  If you assume that is he only meaning of "value" though many of the things that sensible people value fall by the wayside.  What is the value of your wife, or your children?  The amount you could sell them for?  How about the value of your country's military secrets?

How about Connolley's prescription that meritocracy is equal to free market liberalism.  To me this means that the only gauge of merit is what it can be sold for.  Heroes, scientists and artists only have merit if there work can be sold.  In case it isn't obvious, I find that measure of merit not just wanting but disgusting.

Finally, I would like to say something about justice, that concept that tied Plato in knots.  For Connolley, and allegedly for Hayek, justice is a contract.  There is an intellectual and moral poverty to this idea that makes Plato's crappy notion look good.

I like Popper a lot better.

Against all this anti-equalitarianism, I hold, with Kant, that it must be the principle of all morality that no man should consider himself more valuable than any other person. And I assert that this principle is the only one acceptable, considering the notorious impossibility of judging oneself impartially.

Popper, Karl R.. The Open Society and Its Enemies (Princeton Classics) . Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition. 


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