Debunking the meritocratic argument on its own terms.
Didier Jacobs and Sam Pizzigati in Evonomics:
Back in 2010, Oxfam’s new stats show, the world’s 62 richest billionaires collectively held $1.1 trillion in wealth, far less than the $2.6 trillion that then belonged to humanity’s least affluent half.
Now the numbers have reversed. The world’s top 62 billionaires last year held $1.76 trillion in wealth, the bottom half of the world only $1.75 trillion.
“Far from trickling down,” Oxfam concludes, “income and wealth are instead being sucked upwards at an alarming rate.”
Flacks for grand fortune have a justification for this top-heavy state of affairs. We live, they assure us, in a meritocracy. Those with great wealth have made great contributions. They merit their “success.” If we want to encourage talent and hard work, we simply have to accept the inequality that meritocracy will inevitably produce.
Do our grandest fortunes really reflect merit? Oxfam economist Didier Jacobs last year set out to examine that question, and he has just published a paper that offers a fresh new take on meritocracy and the rhetoric and reality behind it. Too Much editor Sam Pizzigati last month asked the Boston-based Jacobs to share the thinking that underlies his innovative new research.