A Yale law professor, Daniel Markovits, has written an essay, “How Life Became an Endless, Terrible Competition,” attacking the structure of the current meritocracy. According to Markovits, our meritocracy is biased in favor of the rich, yet makes those who succeed miserable anyway. His solution is government intervention: deny tax deductions to private schools unless they admit mostly low income students, and regulate the economy so that work is shifted away from this class.
Markovits' arguments are flawed. He mistakes correlation for causation, failing to reckon with the substantial evidence that admission to the high ranks of the meritocracy is based on intelligence rather than the wealth with which it is also correlated. Nor does he recognize that what has made life harder for current elites than past ones has been ubiquitous competition, which has benefited consumers. Even if meritocracy is making meritocrats unhappy (another claim for which his evidence has causation problems), it makes others better off. Targeting classes to redistribute opportunities is an ugly program that will have the same bad economic and social consequences as when tried before in socialist societies. The real sources of angst in modern society are likely moral rather than political. Many people have trouble finding meaning in the world once they discard its traditional sources: religion and the web of binding duties to family and community.