Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Matt Yglesias on the Pigmentocracy   posted by TangoMan @ 2/01/2006 03:45:00 PM

Matt Yglesias takes issue with the declaration that "The most attractive face of globalization is the idea that the great universities are creating a color-blind meritocracy that doesn't care where you're from as long as you did well on the SAT." In order to contest the fairness of this position he tosses out the following: "We should try and create an intelligence-blind pigmentocracy that doesn't care how you did on your SAT as long as your skin is pale. Would anyone sign on for that?"

He proceeds to build a case and states: "If it's wrong for the dark-skinned to experience poor living conditions on account of their hue, it's equally wrong for the low-scoring to experience poor living conditions on account of their test scores."

His conclusion:

My point is a more far-reaching one. Some people are smarter than others. Some people are less smart. The less smart don't just deserve a "fair chance" to succeed, a chance they're bound to squander due to lesser ability. Instead, insofar as they're willing to work hard, contribute to society as best they can, and abide by the rules of the game, they deserve a fair share of society's wealth -- the highest standard of living we can manage to arrange for them.

This whole argument goes off the rails by ignoring an elementary difference between the two examples he's using as counterpoints. In a meritocracy, your intelligence, skill, talent, work ethic or other attributes that lead to success are judged to be of worth to others in the marketplace and what you create with your talents benefit others so that they are willing to reward you for your efforts.

The pigmentocracy he throws out provides us with just a superficial similarity to a meritocracy, in that both provide a sorting mechanism, one by talent and the other by pigment. Where the analogy breaks down is that there is no mechanism in place that equates pigmentation and economic worth. Pigmentation, by itself, doesn't provide greater intelligence, talent, work ethic or any other attribute valued in the market by others.

A meritocracy creates economic wealth and a pigmentocracy does not. By accounting for this glaring distinction Yglesias' conclusion crumbles, in that it matters little how willing a less able member of society is to work hard, what matters is what his talents allow him to produce output that other people value. It matters little that he tries to contribute to society as best he can, what matters is what he does indeed contribute to society and what value others attach to that contribution. It matters little that the less able member abides by the rules of the game, what matters is that they play the game and win more often than they lose. Life has winners and losers and winners are rewarded for their talents and not their good intentions, which don't distinguish them in any fashion from all the other players with good intentions, nor do good intentions improve the lives of others. Good intentions are immaterial to claiming a fair share of society's wealth, what matters is that your contribution to society is valued by others.

Simply put, your talent will enrich my life, but your pigmentation won't, so I'll reward you for your talent and not your pigmentation.

Harrison Bergeron.

Bell Curve for Doctors. Here is a medical system run on pigmentocracy:

From the beginning, King/Drew was to be something special — a hospital that reflected African American achievement and power, a model for urban hospitals nationwide.

But within three years, it had become clear that, for all the aspirations the hospital represented, it was falling far short. At times, instead of healing its patients — almost all of them black and Latino — it was killing and maiming them....