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Got merit?

By Owen Paine on Wednesday March 1, 2006 01:49 PM

Been reading recently on a Democratic web site -- Tofu cafe or, no, TPM cafe. I found one entry most revealing. It's by DLC big shot Ed Kilgore and it rather anxiously tries to make two claims: first that "merit" is the best way to run a country, and second, that the donks are the real "merit" party.

As we enter Ed's all wet-henned up over an attack on "merit" itself by Max Sawicky:

Max's invalid point is that anybody, especially "neo-liberal" Clintonites, who stresses these "human capital" assets as important to the future economic welfare of currently disadvantaged Americans is buying into a "meritocratic fallacy" that justifies inequality perpetually.
... which is grace noted by this lovely sniff:
[Max] inelegantly calls [this] the theory of "bullshit human capital."
Ed dilates some for us as to why "Max's post is so unsettling." To him it's because
...it reinforces one of the most important conservative memes in American politics today: the idea that when it comes to economic policy, it really is a choice between "meritocratic" Republicans and "redistributive" Democrats.
Now do you follow that leap? I'm still not sure I do. Max isn't saying merit sucks; he's saying (echoing Krugman) that differences in "merit" don't account for differences in inequality. How'd this lead on to Republican merit and donk "redistributors"? The intrusion of an idee fixe? Or is this the proper gloss: a step got skipped, but Max, by trashing Clintonite "merit" has morphed, Ed thinks, into the unmasked visage of real donk motives. Ed knows Clinto-meritocracy is a sales pitch, and Max trashing the pitch will look to the ignoranti like the secret values of the donks -- the party of the undeserving poor. Far out, eh?

Remember in this type of guy's mental universe -- where the "memes" hang out -- there's only room for two thought groups. Each party, in the best of all possible worlds, would retain exclusive rights to certain memes, and every meme would have its party, one or the other.

Big Ed's meme world application here: the merit party meme is really a donkey meme and here's why:

Democratic elected officials do almost universally believe that within the limits required by the need to provide a decent living for every single american, something like a "meritocracy" is desirable....
Man... "almost universally"... "within required limits"... "something like" ... Does this passage have a hitch and roll in its gait or don't it? But to continue:
The main problem with Republican policies is that they thwart distribution of wealth by merit...
... I.e. the elephant is, practically speaking, an anti-merit party, almost a demerit party, because it "substitutes privilege" for merit, "while starving the aspirational public investments -- especially education -- that help harvest merit from disadvantage." And then along comes Max "obscuring that fundamental difference or worse yet, mocking it," and that leaves the donks open to attack as... what else... crypto redistributors, which is "not helpful to the progressive cause." Meaning, one imagines, the election of Clintonians.

As to why redistribution is counter-progressive -- well I'll leave that for you to fill in.

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