O Say, Can You Meritocracy?
Patrick Miller: Are you tired of tribalism?
Speaker 2: I think a lot of what the left supports is satanic.
Speaker 3: The only time religious freedom is invoked is in the name of bigotry and discrimination.
Patrick Miller: Are you exhausted by the culture war?
Donald Trump: If they don't like it here, they can leave.
Hillary Clinton: You could put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.
Patrick Miller: Are you suspicious of those who say Jesus endorses their political party?
Speaker 6: Is it possible to be a good Christian and also be a member of the Republican party? And the answer is absolutely not.
Speaker 7: From certainly a biblical standpoint, Christians could not vote Democratic.
Patrick Miller: We trust the lamb, not the donkey or the elephant. This is the podcast that's too liberal for conservatives and too conservative for liberals. I'm Patrick Miller.
Keith Simon: And I'm Keith Simon.
Patrick Miller: And we choose Truth Over Tribe.
Keith Simon: Do you? So guys, I've been asking people a question a lot lately, just everybody I run into. I asked this to some football coaches I do a Bible study with. I asked it on my Twitter account, friends at dinner parties.
Patrick Miller: Was that a backdoor brag that you do a Bible study with football coaches?
Keith Simon: It wasn't intended. I was trying to show the diversity of people I asked this question to and I want to get your take on it.
Patrick Miller: Okay.
Keith Simon: So here's the question. When you think about your personal, financial, professional success. So we're not talking about relationships with your parents, your wife, your kids, or that kind of thing. But when you think about your professional success, how much of that do you attribute to hard work and good choices? And what percentage do you attribute to luck?
Patrick Miller: Now, hang on a second. When one of you's going to answer first and the other one can't change their answer, or God will strike you dead, okay?
Keith Simon: So how much, what percentage to hard work and good choices, and what percentage of your professional and financial success do you attribute to luck?
Dan: Can I ask a clarifying question?
Keith Simon: That wasn't clear?
Dan: Well, I'm just wondering when you say financial success, you're meaning how much money I have first, and my professional success, how far up the chain I am in work?
Keith Simon: Yeah. For your age and the things that you've accomplished.
Keith Simon: Education would fit into this. How much of that is hard work, good choices, and how much luck? It's not a very hard question.
Patrick Miller: Dan, you go first.
Dan: I'll go first. I'm feeling 60% hard work and 40% luck.
Keith Simon: Okay. 60% hard work, 40% luck.
Keith Simon: Now, Patrick, hopefully you won't change your opinion based on Dan.
Patrick Miller: Well, here's the deal. If you had asked me this question five years ago, my answer might be the literal inverse of what I'm about to say, okay?
Keith Simon: Okay.
Patrick Miller: So I would say 90% luck, 10% hard work.
Keith Simon: Yeah. So quite a bit of difference between the two of you.
Dan: Now I feel like I jerk.
Patrick Miller: Yeah, I know. You're just luckier than Dan. I'm so pretentious and full of myself.
Keith Simon: Well, here's the deal. Maybe as you're listening to this question, you came up with an answer in your own head and there's no Bible verse that says here's exactly the right answer to this. It's just an interesting question to think how do we think about our own success in life and what do we attribute it to?
Patrick Miller: Yeah. Hold on, Keith. You got to answer it.
Keith Simon: Well, first of all, I asked this question and so I know where this is going, so it's not really fair for me to answer the question, but I will say this. I will answer it similar to the way you did. I think when I was in my 20s and 30s, I thought it was all about hard work and now I'm pretty sure it's all about luck. So let's frame this a little bit differently. Instead of talking about luck and hard work, let's think about it in terms of things you control and things you don't control because luck is offensive, which is why I ask it that way.
Patrick Miller: Why is it offensive?
Keith Simon: Well, people don't want to be thought of as lucky, but they will more quickly acknowledge that there's a lot of things that happen to me that aren't inside my control.
Patrick Miller: Okay.
Keith Simon: Right? Luck sounds offensive. I think wasn't it E. B. White who wrote this line in a book that said," Luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self- made men?"
Patrick Miller: Well, I don't believe in the existence of self- made men.
Dan: Well, so I'm saying it's everyone.
Keith Simon: Well, fair enough but how should we think about this because there's no right or wrong answer. How do we think about luck and hard work, or things we control and things we don't? And just think about all the things in your life that you don't control. You don't control what century you were born in. You don't control where you were born or your health, who your parents were.
Dan: I did not give my parents consent to have me.
Keith Simon: To conceive you?
Dan: Yeah. I did not give consent to exist.
Keith Simon: So what month you're born in has been shown to have had a huge impact on people's success.
Patrick Miller: Okay. Give an example of that.
Keith Simon: Well, Malcolm Gladwell in the book, Outliers, talks about NHL hockey players, and the most successful ones are just people who made the NHL were born at the beginning of the year. There's a higher proportion born in January and February.
Patrick Miller: That sounds like witchcraft. If you're born during the winter months, you have super, winter powers on the ice skating rink.
Keith Simon: It's not due to astrology, fool. It's because you're bigger and stronger. When you get in these leagues, they're determined by the birthday and they're run on the calendar year. And so if you're born in January, and you're playing a kid who's born in December, you're bigger, and stronger, and faster. You get better coaching and opportunities that allows you to move forward faster.
Patrick Miller: See, that's really interesting because my daughter is a May birthday, which puts her at the tail end of her age group. So she'll be the last one to get her driver's license, but it also means cognitively, physically, she's always going to be three to nine months behind most of her peers. And that makes a really big difference when you're six years old.
Keith Simon: I'm pretty sure it's in that same book, Outliers, that Gladwell says that CEO birthdays are most commonly at the beginning of a school year and not at the tail end so poor Iris can scratch off CEO, as one of her future positions.
Dan: It's interesting because my wife and I have actually decided crosstalk-
Keith Simon: Trying to conceive a child at the right time.
Dan: Well, no. We have one child and that child was born in June. And so we actually say we want to hold her back so that this success factor could come true.
Patrick Miller: Interesting.
Keith Simon: So she'll be lucky to have you as parents, I guess.
Patrick Miller: She'll be driving the summer of her freshman year. That'll be fun for you.
Dan: That would be. Oh, okay. I change my mind.
Patrick Miller: No, but here's the thing, Keith. This idea of things that are outside your control, this is part of why I said I feel lucky. Things that are outside of my control, for example, I am a third generation college graduate. Every man and every woman going back two generations in my family got college degrees.
Keith Simon: Wow. That's got to be remarkable.
Patrick Miller: It's very rare, right? I grew up with a base level assumption that there wasn't even a question will I go to college? Add to that, my parents are very generous people. They saved, they worked, oh gosh, I'm about to say it. They worked hard to save money so that they could pay for my college education. That meant I was able to graduate without debt. I come into my 20s at the ripe, old age of 22. And not just me, by the way, my wife also, her parents paid for her college education. So we have to be two of the only 22- year- old married people, who have no college debt. What an advantage, what a head start we got from that single, small fact, which I didn't choose? That was luck.
Keith Simon: Yeah. If you had to come into that marriage with a lot of debt, then compound interest would've been working against you instead of for you.
Patrick Miller: Yeah.
Keith Simon: But think about your name, your name, you didn't choose your name. That's just crosstalk-
Patrick Miller: I hate my name.
Keith Simon: You hate your name?
Patrick Miller: Yeah. I don't hate my name as much as you.
Keith Simon: Yeah, lets don't go there for now. So when certain academic textbooks are written and they have multiple authors, they list the authors, the tradition is, by alphabetical order by their last name. Well, they've shown that professors with last names beginning closer to the beginning of the alphabet have better chances for tenure. Well, why do they get tenure? Well, their names are at the front of the book so they are advantaged just by luck of having their last name.
Patrick Miller: So your point is if I'm reading an academic book and I'm looking in the glossary for whatever authors have been referenced on a particular topic crosstalk-
Keith Simon: Or the authors, the authors of the book. Let's say you and I write a book, so Patrick Miller is going to come before Keith Simon because of alphabetical order of our last names.
Patrick Miller: Oh, that's great.
Keith Simon: And so you're going to get tenure and I'm not.
Patrick Miller: Things outside of your control, Keith.
Keith Simon: Let's change it up a little bit and think about it a little bit differently. We were fortunate to be born in the country in the century we were, where there's lots of economic opportunity. So let's say you're an NBA player, I asked Michael Porter, Jr. this question because he's obviously very talented. Just signed up, max contract with the Denver Nuggets and he's worked incredibly hard to get where he is. But let's say he had been born in seventh century Argentina. Well, no one there would have valued basketball, right? So he would have all the talent, all the skills and work really hard, and he would've just been another warrior because nobody valued it. So even if you've achieved a lot of success, you are fortunate to be born in a society that valued your skills and talents.
Patrick Miller: If I was born 100 years ago, I'd probably be dead because I have zero athleticism, zero physical talent. I'm terrible at trades with my hand, I can't build anything. I'm not good at growing things. All the things I probably would've done growing up where I grew up 100 years ago, I would've been terrible at. I'm just lucky. I grew up in a culture that values mental work and I happen to be decently good at mental work. So lucky me that I'm here and not there.
Keith Simon: Well, just keep going on that road. And by the way, none of that was false humility on Patrick's inaudible so let's just keep going down that road. You are good at mental work. You're good at reading and processing things, but you wear glasses because your eyesight's not good.
Patrick Miller: Yeah, it's bad.
Keith Simon: So now imagine you had all the same mental powers, but you were born before glasses were made. No one would know you were good at these things because you couldn't read with your eyesight. So you're fortunate to be born with those skills in the age of glasses and contacts. That's luck. And what I mean by that is that's outside of your control and you wouldn't have achieved near the success had you been born in a different century without eyeglasses.
Patrick Miller: There's a great quote from Nicholas Kristof. He says this," One delusion among America's successful people is that they triumphed just because of hard work and intelligence. In fact, their big break came when they were conceived in middle class American families who loved them, read them stories, and nurtured them with little league sports." By the way, I got all those except for the little league sports. Library cards and music lessons, okay, I got those last two.
Keith Simon: Private schools.
Patrick Miller: "They were programmed for success from the time they were zygotes."
Keith Simon: Yeah. So what Kristof is getting at is how much where we were born, who we were born to has maybe given us some advantages. So regardless of how you answered this question, and I've gotten answers from 90/ 10 one way to 90/ 10 the other way and everything in between. I think Dan's answer of 60/40 one way or the other is a pretty common answer. How does it affect how you live? If you think you're 90/ 10 hard work or 90/ 10 luck, how does that affect how you live? That's more interesting to me than what number a person chose, because it all depends on what you were thinking about when you were asked the question, as far as what percentage you chose. But I think that if you tell yourself that this is mostly due to my hard work, that's going to shape how you live your life, how you see yourself, and how you see other people. Because if you tell yourself it's 90% hard work, then you're going to look at other people and say," Well, you're just not as successful because you haven't worked as hard as me. If you had just studied hard, if you had worked hard, you could have everything that I have." If you think," Man, a lot of what I have is based on things outside of my control, and you might call it God's grace, or blessing, or luck or whatever you want to call it. You look around and go," Man, I could be exactly where you are." And it might promote more generosity of spirit toward people who have less than you.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. And gratefulness in general. I'm about to present myself as a paradox because I think another question is what would you tell your kids because I almost want to do the exact opposite with my kids. So with myself, I find myself saying," Look, I am a beneficiary of tremendous luck. If life gave me a poker hand, I have a great, great, great poker hand right now." But when I talk to my children, I want to do the exact inverse. I've actually told my wife. I said," I don't want us with our daughter to emphasize her talents." In other words, when she comes back and she gets a good grade on a paper say," Wow, you are so smart or you are so good at math." What I want her to hear me say is," I'm so proud of you for working hard to do well on that test," which is almost the inverse of what we're saying. I want her to think hard work is the thing that produces results, not talent, not luck.
Keith Simon: Right, because we're afraid if we tell ourselves, or other people or kids that it's primarily based on luck, or God's grace, or God's blessing, it will make them lazy or passive. We don't want to do that because the truth is that everybody has to work hard and have some good fortune in their life.
Dan: I have a quick story about luck that I'd like to say. When I was 18 years old, my parents and I, we went to Aruba all awesome vacation, but I was 18 so I was able to gamble in Aruba.
Keith Simon: Wow.
Dan: And I was so pumped about that. And my dad thought," Oh, this is a great learning opportunity. He's going to take his money and he's going to lose it because luck doesn't exist in our family," which is fairly true. And I won 300 bucks on that trip so I love gambling. Now I have a gambling problem.
Keith Simon: Did you come back and keep gambling thinking crosstalk-
Dan: Yeah. Well, I eventually lost. Don't worry.
Keith Simon: Everybody does.
Patrick Miller: But here's the thing with what we say to our kids, there actually is a biblical principle here. The Bible is clear in books like Proverbs that hard work often does lead to success and that laziness can often lead to a lack of success. And so there're good principles in parenting," Hey, you should work hard." That may not actually always be reflective of the reality itself. You also got really lucky and that's why you're successful.
Keith Simon: Well, right. The Bible says both these things are true, which is why we can't say you're right or wrong because of the percentage you threw out. The Bible talks about, like you said, that hard work pays off. And if you're lazy, those true voices will come back to bite you in the bottom. But Ecclesiastes 9: 11 says this," I have seen something else under the sun. The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise, or wealth to the brilliant, or favor to the learned, but time and chance happen to them all." And so the Bible recognizes also that we have a certain set of blessings, and gifts, and graces given to us that we can't do anything about. We didn't earn or deserve. So I just want to think one other way. Why do we tell ourselves that we are the product of our own hard work and choices? Why did E.B.White write, "Luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self- made men?" I think it's because we love to tell ourselves that our success is due to our own hard work because therefore, it gives us an excuse to have a lot when other people don't have as much. And to enjoy whatever blessings that we have, and enjoy the fruit of our success without having to worry about our responsibility to other people, because we think, "Hey, I earned this and other people could earn it too, if they wanted to." And that gives us a freedom that saying, "Hey, I was blessed and I probably need to share those blessings," doesn't give us.
Patrick Miller: Well, and I think there's another reason too. It's because if you're an American listening to this podcast, you are a part of a culture, which has emphasized that we should have a meritocracy. And if you're a part of that culture, you begin to defacto think," Not only that my world is a meritocracy, but that a meritocracy is the right way for the world to be." Now, that's a big, fancy word and maybe people are like," What the heck does that mean?" So let's transition and let's talk about what is a meritocracy?
Keith Simon: Every society has to decide how wealth, rewards, opportunities are going to be distributed. And meritocracy is saying that those rewards should be distributed according to people's talents, abilities, hard work, choices. That's why it's called a meritocracy because those rewards are distributed according to people's merit.
Patrick Miller: And you can contrast that maybe to an aristocracy. This is where a success is based largely on who your parents are. So you can think about the UK, at least before this last century, where if you had a parent who was a baron, then guess what? You get to be a baron. If you had a parent who was a lord or a lady, you get to be a lord or a lady. And if you were not born with that kind of luck, well, guess what? You're just down on your luck.
Keith Simon: Yeah. And so you can see why meritocracy is more appealing or attractive than aristocracy because instead of being rewarded according to who you were born to, you're rewarded according to your talent and your work. There's a moral logic to meritocracy that says that we should be rewarded and advanced society by things that we can control, not things that are outside of our control.
Patrick Miller: Yeah, I think it appeals to our sense of fairness. It's not fair that Joe, who is the son of the king, should have more in his life, more wealth, more opportunity. And me, who's the son of a peasant, should have less of it, simply by virtue of things that we did not choose that were out of our control. It seems far more fair to say," Hey, Joe will be evaluated based on his merits. Maybe his intelligence, his talents, hard work, his morals, and I'll be judged by the merits of my own. And we will be as successful as those things take us." That sounds like a really fair system, doesn't it?
Keith Simon: In fact, if you're an American, you're probably wondering if there's any other way of doing it. This is so fitting to our cultural ethos that we think that people should be rewarded by what they do. That's just ingrained in us from when we were kids.
Patrick Miller: And again, it's because it promises opportunity to all people. Don't you want to be a part of a society that says," If you're willing to work hard and if you've got the right kinds of talent, then you have an opportunity to succeed here. You have an opportunity to earn more than your parents." We've talked about this in the past, Keith, how growing up as a millennial, I was always told you're going to make more money than your parents. You're going to have better jobs than your parents. And it's actually been really interesting in recent history to watch that hasn't been the case for millennials. We are the first generation and I think since the greatest generation that has made less than their parents' cohort. That has less success, wealth, all of these things than their parents' cohort.
Keith Simon: I'm sure you all out there feeling sorry for the millennials, just like I do. Do we have any music for the millennials? Every time Patrick talks about the millennials, we should play some violin music because he always talks about how hard they have it.
Patrick Miller: That's great, Keith. I appreciate your empathy. While we're talking about millennials and people being relevant, there is a TV show on Netflix called Squid Game. Now, as we're recording this, it's hot and new. By the time this comes out, it'll probably be passe and old because that's the way that the internet works, but Squid Game actually plays on this idea of a meritocracy. The person who's leading the game, his name's, the front man crosstalk-
Keith Simon: Have you seen this show or did you just read about it?
Patrick Miller: I've watched the show. It's so good. And we've got a great YouTube review so people should go check that out. Here's what the front man says about Squid Game. He says," The most important element of this place is that everyone is equal in these games. Players compete in a fair game, under fair conditions." And he goes on to say that," These players are people, who in their normal life, are totally saddled by debt. They haven't had opportunity. They haven't gotten a fair shot, but here in Squid Game, they get a fair chance." Now, one of the fascinating things about this show is that it actually undermines its own premise. In the end, it turns out that luck has a lot to do with whether or not win the Squid Game, and your personal merits don't have much to do with whether or not you'll win the Squid Game. And so it's just an interesting critique of this exact thing we're saying, that there's a beauty to meritocracy, there's a morality to it. And yet, sometimes in practice, it doesn't work out.
Keith Simon: So if you haven't figured out, I have not seen Squid Game. And I understand, based on reading, not on watching it, that you is a Korean show, is that right? It takes place in Korea?
Patrick Miller: Yes.
Keith Simon: And yet this worldview that it espouses, of course, it's not just Korean, but it's deeply ingrained in American mythology.
Patrick Miller: I want to state the obvious. The idea that our society should be a meritocracy isn't even a question for most people. You already said this, Keith. It's so deeply ingrained in us, we just assume it's the way the world should be but this is because we've been told a story. We've been told a mythology about how the world should be. And this actually goes all the way back to Thomas Jefferson. He had this idea that one of the government's jobs should be to, he put it really, frankly. He said," Rake through the rubbish to find the geniuses," so that the federal government would find these geniuses. And then it would train them in schools so that they could start, what he called, a natural aristocracy. An aristocracy of people who are there, not because of their parentage, but because of their merits.
Keith Simon: Yeah, today we have the same system. It's called private schools. And that's how we rake through it is we have admissions counselors, who rake through looking for the geniuses, while the rest of us, me, because you both are private school kids, were left behind. Yeah, if you want to know what the American mythology is, what you do is you listen to how presidents talk because presidents try to speak in a way and presidential candidates, government leaders, try to speak in a way that appeals to the core foundation. The common beliefs that all Americans hold to. And so what you find is that there is a particular way of thinking that a lot of presidents and presidential candidates' spouse, and that is this. America is great because America is good. So why are we a prosperous nation, because we are a good nation. And you see that from Eisenhower, to Ford, to Reagan, to the first President Bush, to Clinton, to John Kerry, to Hillary Clinton. In other words, this is not a partisan issue. This is how all presidents talk. America is great because America is good.
Patrick Miller: And it's not just morally good. Good meaning yes, morally good, virtuous, but also hardworking, talented, intelligent. America is great because America is good. And all those people you just listed, those are things that they actually said. That's a quote.
Keith Simon: Yeah, absolutely. So take the song, America the Beautiful, I think it's pretty interesting. In 1895, there's a woman named Katherine Bates. She's a Wellesley graduate and she writes the poem that eventually is turned into the song. There's the famous line," God shed his grace on thee." And in the poem, it's obvious that Katherine Bates intended that as a prayer. God, we pray that you would shed your grace on us.
Patrick Miller: So she's asking God to do something, shed your grace on us.
Keith Simon: And yet in the song, it's a little bit more ambiguous. Is this something we're hoping God does in the future, or is this something that God has already done in the past? And this is the reason we're a great country because God has already shed his grace on us. And then Ray Charles, before the opening of the World Series, he does this fantastic rendition that only Ray Charles could do of America the Beautiful. And he makes it very clear in this little riff he does that it is past tense, that God has done this in the past and that's why we're a successful country. We believe God shed his grace on us because we're good people and that's why we are a successful nation.
Patrick Miller: So if I'm catching your drift here, it's almost a way of saying," Look, because we are good, we're hardworking, we're intelligent, we're all these amazing things, God has given us his grace," which flips things upside down. It's not God gave us his grace and then we became a good nation, it's rather the other way around. Because we have all of these merits, God is giving us rewards, which, of course, is how a meritocracy works. You have the merits, you get the rewards.
Keith Simon: So one line we said that you see in presidential speeches is America is great because America is good. Another line that you see is through no fault of their own. And so what's happening here is that presidents are saying is that we will help people, who are in difficult situations through no fault of their own. In other words, they did everything they could but unfortunately, they're still in a tough situation. Here's Reagan in the State of the Union address," We will never abandon those, who through no fault of their own must have our help." That's not just by Reagan. That goes all the way back to Coolidge and Hoover back in the'20s, FDR said it during the depression. Clinton and Obama used that phrase," Through no fault of their own," twice as much as Reagan. And so what they're trying to do is they're trying to say," There are people who are deserving of our help and people who are undeserving of our help." And it's all based on what they did or didn't do to contribute to getting them into the position they're in.
Patrick Miller: In other words, yes, there's people out there who need our help, but in am meritocracy, the only people who deserve our help are those who merit it. Through no fault of their own, they ended up in situation and therefore, they merit our help.
Keith Simon: Yeah. So another line from presidential speeches," As far as your talents and hard work will take you." Now, hard work isn't always included, but it's always implied and often included. So one more time," As far as your talents and hard work will take you." So Ronald Reagan used that as a way to speak to African Americans to say," You can escape racial discrimination. In fact, racial discrimination is bad. You should be able to go as far as your talents and hard work will take you," and so there's a really positive meaning there. You shouldn't be discriminated against based on your skin color. And then other presidents and government leaders, senators take this up, like Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, and John McCain, Marco Rubio. But the person who uses it more than anybody, again, the phrase is," As far as your talents and hard work will take you," is President Obama. He uses that all the time. He says," All you need is to work hard, and be talented, and you can get everything that you deserve."
Patrick Miller: So all of these presidents are reinforcing the notion of a meritocracy. Work hard and you're going to get the rewards. Be a good person, you're going to get the rewards. That's the terms of the agreement in American society. As long as you're willing to do those things, you'll be a winner. If you won't do them, you'll be a loser.
Keith Simon: And so if you aren't succeeding in America, the message you're hearing is it's your fault. So another phrase," You deserve, you deserve." Like McDonald's used to have that ad," You deserve a break today." That phrase you deserve is not used much at all by presidents before Reagan. Reagan uses it more often than his five predecessors all combined. So speaking to a group of business leaders he says," The nation was not built on a foundation of envy and resentment. The dream I've always believed in is no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, if you work hard, pull yourself up and succeed, then by golly, you deserve life's prizes. And trying for that prize made America the greatest nation on earth." So you can see what he's doing. He's saying if you have succeeded, it's because of your hard work. Now, everybody else who hasn't succeeded is hearing," Hey, that's your fault." But if you think Reagan used it a lot, and he did, Clinton used it twice as much as Reagan, Obama used it three times as much. He openly spoke and embraced the meritocracy. On ESPN he said," That's why I love sports because it is a meritocracy."
Patrick Miller: Obviously, Hillary Rodham Clinton did it as well. In all of these stories, they're reinforcing the idea of a meritocracy. Now, Keith, you keep saying the quiet part out loud. Very rarely is it said," If you're losing it's because you're a loser, who doesn't merit having a good life," but it's often the implication. What I find super interesting is to compare juxtapose all of this to Donald Trump, because Donald Trump never talked this way. He didn't talk about a meritocracy. He didn't talk about people being able to go as far as their talents will take them. Instead, Donald Trump talks in terms of winner and losers. He looks at society and he says," This is in a world where you can go as far as you want to, as long as you're talented and hard working. He says," No, this is a society, which has been shaped by elitism. There are winners and there are losers. And if you're a loser, it's because the winner is taking from you."
Keith Simon: Yeah. Trump put his finger on something that a lot of people were frustrated with. He touched on a resentment that a lot of working class people felt. And that is that everybody was saying," You can go as far as your talents and hard work will take you." But they looked around and said," Hey, I know a lot of people working really hard. In fact, I'm working really hard. I'm driving a truck, I'm digging ditches, I'm teaching school," whatever it is that they're doing." And a lot of my friends are working hard and you know what? We didn't really have the same chance of getting into Harvard as you did. We didn't really have the same chance of getting hired on Wall Street, as you did." Opportunities are not equally distributed, so he put his finger on a resentment and that people were frustrated with this meritocracy. And mainly, they're frustrated because they're tired of being told that their lack of success is because they're not working hard.
Patrick Miller: It's actually really understandable. There have been a lot of studies that have shown, for example, that early Trump votes track well with college education. In other words, if you didn't get a college education, you were likely to vote for Donald Trump, which is ironic because people like Hillary Rodham Clinton try to use this against and say," Look, these are all the stupid people. If they were intelligent, if they understood how the world worked, they would've voted for me." And she's totally missed the point. These are people who, again, probably because of the luck of the draw that they had in life, didn't have the opportunity to go to college that other people had, and yet they're really hard working. They're intelligent people, and they're looking and saying," Look, me making less money than you is not a function of you being a superior human being to me, it's something else. It's because you've been a winner and I've been a loser." And again, Trump tapped into that.
Keith Simon: Yeah. I wish I had the data right at my fingertips, but I'm really sure that college education flipped in 2016. That people with college educations had up until that point, voted majority for Republicans. And the working class, those without college educations, had voted Democratic and those flipped in 2016 and I also believe in 2020. That's because I think of this backlash against meritocracy. But not so much a backlash against working hard and getting what you earn, but a looking down on those who haven't accomplished as much. That's what people resent.
Patrick Miller: Well, I want to underline this resentment isn't without cause. We could just ask the question is the United States actually a meritocracy? Again, there's lots of studies that have shown this. Wealth is passed on in tremendous ways in the United States. If you're Danish or you are Canadian, you are far more likely to rise out of poverty to affluence than you are in the United States. If you live in Beijing, you have a better chance of rising out of poverty into affluence than you do in the United States. The whole narrative of meritocracy is everybody gets a fair chance, and this is the way to give opportunity to everybody. What's happening on the ground doesn't fit the ideal.
Keith Simon: The New York Times wrote an article about this meritocracy and the American dream being alive in Beijing of all places. Here's what it says. Imagine you have to make a bet. There are two 18 year olds, one in China, the other in the United States, both poor and short on prospects. You have to pick the one with a better chance at upward mobility, which would you choose? Not long ago, the answer might have seemed simple. The American dream, after all, had long promised a pathway to a better life for anyone who worked hard. But the answer today is startling. China has risen so quickly that your chances of improving your station in life there vastly exceed those in the United States. So that makes us ask the question is America really a meritocracy? Is meritocracy something we aspire to be, something we want to be, or are we actually a meritocracy?"
Patrick Miller: Okay. Keith, we've explained what a meritocracy is. We've explored how the mythology of meritocracy developed in the United States and why we, as Americans, just assume it's the way it should be. And we've also looked at briefly, whether or not the United States is an actual meritocracy. So now I think it's time to evaluate meritocracies. If this is a way that we want to organize society and it has a moral logic, we should at least ask the question, is that moral logic sound? Do we want to be a meritocracy?
Keith Simon: I think you have to start with this. Every society has to decide how they're going to distribute wealth, rewards, opportunities, education. You got to have some way of doing it.
Patrick Miller: And I want an aristocracy.
Keith Simon: Right, because you were from a private school family, but the rest of us don't. So aristocracy is one of them and that's your parentage, where you came from, who you were born to. Or you could do something like government, central planning, like the former Soviet Union and the government decides who gets those rewards and opportunities.
Patrick Miller: And some people are always more equal than others.
Keith Simon: Right. Well, George Orwell for us. So you have to have some system and no system is going to be perfect. So let's just examine for a second what are some of the pros of the meritocracy? Well, one is that I want to work with people, who are good at what they do. If I call someone to come to my house and repair something, or if I take my car to a mechanic, I want to work with someone who has done well in school, who worked hard at their trade, who knows what he or she is doing in this area. I don't want to work with whoever the government sent over. I don't want to work with somebody, who was just born to a mechanic. I want someone who's come up through the ranks, and excelled, and showed ability to work on my car.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. So meritocracies reward competence. That's a good thing because you want competent doctors, you want competent mechanics, everything you just said.
Keith Simon: Yeah. Everybody believes in a meritocracy when you're ready to have heart surgery.
Patrick Miller: That's exactly right.
Keith Simon: We all believe in it then.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. And if you don't hire a merit, what are the other options? The other criteria always end up being unfair or discriminatory. Are you going to hire based on parentage? Are you going to hire based on race or gender? What's the other option that you prefer?
Keith Simon: Yeah. So we want to live in economy that values taking the initiative, that values hard work and getting better at your profession, not an economy that benefits favoritism or rewards favoritism. And one thing that the meritocracy does is it's motivating. You've got to work hard in order to make a living. And your working hard benefits society because the better you are at your craft, the more society benefits.
Dan: And as a millennial, I just wanted to step in here because crosstalk-
Keith Simon: Are you a millennial?
Dan: I am.
Keith Simon: I thought you were Gen Z.
Patrick Miller: I feel triggered by you saying that. Hashtag millennials. No, but as a millennial, I'm thinking about when I grew up, I was on a swim team and if we came in last place, we still got a ribbon. It was very, classic millennial participation.
Keith Simon: Yeah. The millennials are not meritocratic, are they?
Patrick Miller: Yeah. See, this is what I'm wondering though. In basketball camp one time, I got the most improved award and it's all these basically false awards. You didn't win so we need to give you an award. So in my head, I do see meritocracy as something that is beneficial and important for us millennials.
Keith Simon: Did receiving all those rewards make you feel special or did you know at the time that they were just patronizing you?
Patrick Miller: Oh, I totally knew I was being patronized. My mom said that getting the most improved award was the best award there was. I knew that I sucked and that's what it was. So these little false awards just made me feel honestly, just worse about myself.
Keith Simon: And you knew your mom would tell you whichever award you got was the best award, right? Of course, if you had gotten the best bench warmer award, everybody wanted that. I can't believe you got it.
Patrick Miller: And again, this is the pro of meritocracy. It actually rewards effort. It rewards initiative, talents, productivity and that's motivating. If you know that you're going to be rewarded for actually producing something or adding value to society, guess what? You are more likely to do it. People do what gets rewarded. People do what gets celebrated. And so if you're going to reward and celebrate things like that, is that such a bad thing?
Keith Simon: So let's flip it over now and look at some of the cons of the meritocracy and there are cons. At the end of the day, I think we're going to come out pro meritocracy, but there are cons and we might as well look at those straight in the eyes and address them, deal with them.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. So let's go through a number of these. One of the cons of a meritocracy is that it leads us to believe lies, lies about ourselves and lies about of talents. Let's start with talents for a second. Is having the talents, which are economy, rewards, is that your fault? In other words, were you born good at math or did you work hard to become good at math? Were you born with the right mental or physical talents or did you become those things? And of course, the answer is we're born with a lot of those things.
Keith Simon: Yeah. It goes back to an NBA basketball player. They are fortunate to have been born in a society that values putting the ball through the net and preventing the other team to do it. If they'd have been born in a different society, they could have worked just as hard, but those skills wouldn't have been valued. So if you are really good at being a car mechanic, that is not going to end up being financially rewarded the same way it is if you are good at making subprime loans on Wall Street. It's just not.
Patrick Miller: Despite one actually providing good things for society and the other one being utterly destructive.
Keith Simon: Yeah. So some of that is just the luck of when you're born, and what skills you were born, and who values the skills you have.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. And so that's one of the problems with a meritocracy that it's always going to value some talents over others and those are out of your control. I think another problem with a meritocracy though, is that it creates a false self- perception. So if you live in a meritocracy, you're going to start telling yourself a narrative about yourself and about other people. The meritocracy gives you a narrative for maybe why you're a winner or why you're a loser. And if you're a winner, you might come to believe I'm higher on the totem pole because I did this, because I am superior, because I do work harder, because I am more intelligent, because I am more relationally savvy.
Keith Simon: Yes. We want to have a reason that we have been successful and we want that reason to lie within us. So Max Weber, he's the guy who wrote about the Protestant work ethic and developed that idea. He says this," The fortunate person is seldom satisfied with the fact of being unfortunate. Beyond this, he needs to know that he has a right to his good fortune. He wants to be convinced that he deserves it and above all, that he is rich because he is deserving."
Patrick Miller: In other words, we want to merit what we have. And if we have a lot, it means that we can have a big ego, that we can feel like I am, again, a superior person to others.
Keith Simon: When things go well for you, you tend to say,"That went well for me because I worked hard." When things go badly for you, you have a tendency to go," Well, I had bad luck."
Patrick Miller: Yeah.
Keith Simon: And in some sense, that's good because if you think your successes are due to your hard work, when something comes along, another opportunity you go," Hey, I can handle that. I can work hard and do it." And if you see your failures as bad luck, when another opportunity comes along, you go," Well, the last time I failed, it was just an unlucky break. I bet I can do it this time." So even if it's not accurate, there's something good about telling yourself that your successes are your hard work if that propels you to keep going. But if it puts in you a pride and a snobbishness that looks down on other people, now it's doing a lot of damage.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. I think it also does damage because it does deny the good luck, the good fortune, or as you said, if we want to be nice, the things that are outside of your control, which allowed you to be who you are. Again, just stop and self- reflect. What opportunities were you given, which you had no control over? Your parents, if your parents are married, you have statistically speaking, a tremendous advantage in life. If your parents were wealthy or if they owned a business, you have a tremendous advantage in life. If your parents went to college, again, tremendous advantage in life. And so if you have all these things and you walk around thinking," Well, gosh, I'm amazing because I did all this," you've left off half the story.
Keith Simon: We'll be back to our episode really quick. Look, if you're enjoying the content in here, you want to sign up for our newsletter. We like to write little articles every week that are based on our podcast, but they really take one idea that we don't spend a lot time talking about and expand them. Not to a super long article, but to an article you could read in 10 minutes and get a good little nugget out of, that's going to help you think about what's happening in our world in a more Jesus centered way. So make sure to go to choosetruthovetribe. com and subscribe to our newsletter. So Michael Lewis, he gave a commencement address at Princeton, I think it was 2012. He's the guy I'm sure you're familiar with, Liars, Poker, Moneyball, a very successful guy. Anyway, he's talking to this graduation class at Princeton and he's talking about how his career was produced by a lot of luck. He happened to sit right next to the right person at a dinner event, and he got all kinds of opportunities that came from that, that allowed him to work on Wall Street, and then to start writing books about what he learned there. So he's just going on to the Princeton graduate class about how fortunate that he was. And he tells them about an experiment that was done. They took three people of the same sex, so three men, three women, groups of three, and they put him in a room, and they gave them a complex problem to solve. And they randomly appointed one of the three as the leader, completely random who the leader was. And then later on, about 30 minutes into trying to solve this problem, they brought in a plate of four cookies. And what they found was that the person who had been appointed the leader completely randomly ate two cookies and everybody else got one cookie. And they just noticed that,"Hang on a second. 30 minutes ago, you were just randomly, your name was pulled out of a hat and you became the leader, but somehow really quickly, you convinced yourself that you deserve that cookie." And it's interesting because that's real life, right? We convince ourselves that our success is something we deserve because we've earned it when really a lot of it's luck. We've been blessed in a lot of ways. So here's something he says to the Princeton class after explaining all this. Michael Lewis to Princeton graduates," In a general way, you have been appointed the leader of the group." He's referring back to those groups of three that got the cookie." Your appointment may not be entirely arbitrary, but you must sense its arbitrary aspect. You are the lucky few, lucky in your parents, lucky in your country, lucky that a place like Princeton exists, that you can take in lucky people. Introduce them to other lucky people and increase their chances of becoming even luckier. Lucky that you live in the richest society the world has ever seen, in a time no one actually expects you to sacrifice your interest to anything. All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time, you'll find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may, but you'll be happier and the world will be better off if you at least pretend that you don't."
Patrick Miller: Man, there's a lot of wisdom in that quote. I am someone who has, I think, received the extra cookie in my life. I do think I'll be better off if I don't pretend that I deserve it. Here's one reason why I should pretend I don't deserve it. It's because like it or not, we are all the beneficiaries, not just of our parentage and the other things that we've listed, we're beneficiaries of living in a place that allows us to grow wealth. A few years ago, 2012 during the presidential campaign, when Elizabeth Warren was trying to take the democratic ticket, she said some things that really offended Americans because she offended our meritocratic sensibilities. I just want to read the quote here because I love this quote. I actually think she's totally spot on right on this quote.
Keith Simon: I always knew you're or a leftist.
Patrick Miller: I will reunderline, I don't agree with her on a lot of other things, but this is what she said." There's nobody in this country who got rich on his own." Oh, there's your first offense against the meritocratic elite. Let's keep going." You built a factory out there. Good for you. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired your workers the rest of us paid to educate."" You were safe in your factory because of police and firefighters the rest of us paid for. You built a factory and turned it into a great idea. God bless, keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is that you take part of that and pay it forward to the next kid who comes along."
Keith Simon: The reaction to that was fierce. I think a lot of it had to do with because of our political tribalism. No matter what Elizabeth Warren said, there were some people who are going to hate it just because she's the one who said it. Interestingly, Obama said something similar to this and the reaction wasn't quite as strong. I think it all depends on how you frame it. If you tell somebody who's built a business," Hey, you didn't really work all that hard. You got lucky," they're going to be offended. If you tell them," Hey, we all share a lot of things in common in our society. We need to make sure that there are opportunities for the people who come after us," it goes over better. You're right, we are very sensitive. We don't want to be told that our accomplishments were due to something other than our own efforts, hard work and smarts.
Patrick Miller: And can I just go theological on us for a second? Because first of all, everything that Elizabeth Warren said in that paragraph is factual.
Keith Simon: Right. We didn't build the roads ourselves.
Patrick Miller: You didn't build the roads. You didn't educate the people.
Keith Simon: Firefighters, policemen.
Patrick Miller: All of that, it's a fact. And wow, what a beauty that we live in a society that those things happen but we are beneficiaries of that. But I want to go theological for a second and just state another fact, which is we are where we are by God's grace. If you have a lot of wealth, that's because God's been generous to you and he's entrusted a lot to you. If you have a lot of education, it's because God's given you opportunities in your life. If you have a good character, it's because God's given you the grace to develop that character. From a theological standpoint, we should all fundamentally agree that yes, maybe we want to live in a society that rewards hard work and effort, that's a good thing. And yet, on the flip side, what I have, how I see myself is always informed by the fact that I am a recipient of grace. I'm a recipient of God's gift and that's the most fundamental fact about me, not that I'm the most talented, not that I'm the best educated. The most fundamental fact about me is that I am a recipient of God's grace, which I did not deserve.
Keith Simon: That's been the underlying theological principle through this whole conversation. As Christians, we don't believe in luck, as a sense of random events that nobody had any control over. We believe that God is sovereign over all things that happen. We framed it like luck or things that are outside of your control to make it more understandable in our cultural conversation. But of course, Christian should be the first to say that everything we have is because of God's grace.
Patrick Miller: I think the flip side of this whole self- perception thing is that there are a lot of people in our society, who according to the meritocracy, are losers. And unfortunately, there have been a lot of studies that have shown that because they grew up in a meritocracy, they actually believe it. I'm tempted to say through no fault of their own, the quote from earlier, but there is a reality here that there are people who have less, they have less education, they have less wealth. And it's just because they got a worse hand in life than I got. And it's not right for me to look down on them and say," Oh, you are less intelligent." And I don't think it's helpful for them to look down on themselves and say," Oh, I'm a loser because I," fill in the blank.
Keith Simon: So we said earlier that every society has to decide how they're going to distribute rewards, opportunities, wealth, things like that. And another question that we have to decide as a society is how we are going to sort individuals. And the sorting machine in America has become college education, and then even more specifically, an elite college education.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. So there is an ever growing gap between the wealth of people who have college degrees and don't have college degrees. And there's also a growing gap between people who attend elite, what we might call Ivy League institutions, and those who just attend your ordinary, everyday state school or university. And so the way that we've decided to distribute the goods of our meritocracy has largely been decided by education. Now, this leads to a really interesting question, which is does that system work? In other words, do the most intelligent, the hardest working people, do they actually get sorted into the Ivy League? And do the people who are least intelligent and least hardworking get sorted to the bottom?
Keith Simon: One of the things I learned going through the college application process with my kids, is that there are a lot more smart students out there than there are slots at these top universities. That one of the things that they've tried to do in order to protect their elite status is to accept very, very, very few. The lower percentage of acceptance rate you have, the more elite your university is. And so the whole goal is to get a lot of kids to apply and then only accept a few of them. But like Stanford could accept only valedictorians and fill up their whole freshman class because these schools just aren't that big. What that tells you is there are a lot of smart people out there, who just didn't have an opportunity to go to those schools because their name wasn't picked.
Patrick Miller: And acceptance rates have actually gone down amongst elite institutions.
Keith Simon: A lot.
Patrick Miller: Tremendously gone down amongst elite institutions, whereas again, state schools, except pretty much anybody who applies and meets the bare minimum requirements, which would've been me.
Keith Simon: If you can pay, or you take a loan to get somebody else to pay.
Patrick Miller: That's exactly right. And so the way that we've chosen to sort people is largely standardized testing. This actually goes back to the 1940s. There was a president of Harvard, a guy named James Conant, I'm exactly sure how to say it. He was looking at Harvard at the time, and saw that Harvard was actually admitting an American aristocracy. So they wanted people from the cream of the social crop to come to Harvard. And that didn't mean they were the most intelligent or that they were the most hardworking, they just had the right parentage.
Keith Simon: Right. Can you afford to pay here? Did your parents go here? Are you a legacy? Did you come over from one of the private, Eastern schools, Andover or Phillips Exeter Academy, that's where they were looking for their applicants or their students. It really wasn't based on the students' intelligence, it was based on, like you said, who were you born to? Where were you born?
Patrick Miller: And so he ends up looking for a test that will help him evaluate the IQ of incoming students. And what he lands on was the IQ test from World War I, the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or as we know it, the SAT. So he starts using the SAT to admit applicants to Harvard. And it does actually help reduce the number of people, who are being admitted based on legacy, based on what school, or family, or social circle they were a part of. But the long- term legacy of the SAT has not been great. Let me read you a quote from Michael J. Sandel, who by the way, works at Harvard. And he was taking down his own university in his book, The Tyranny of Meritocracy, but this is what he said. He said," First, the SAT, it turns out does not measure scholarly aptitude or native intelligence, independent of social and educational background. To the contrary, SAT scores are highly correlated with wealth." So let's pause. Doesn't mean that wealth makes you have a higher SAT score, it means that higher scores are correlated with wealth so let's keep going." The higher your family income, the higher your SAT score. At each successive rung on the income ladder, average SAT scores increase. For scores that put students in contention for the most selective colleges, the gap is especially stark. If you come from a family with an annual income greater than$ 200,000, your chance of scoring above 1, 400 is one in five." That's a good score, by the way." If you come from a poor family, less than$20, 000 per year, your chance is one in 50. Those in high scoring categories are also overwhelmingly children of parents with college degrees." So Michael J. Sandel's point here is we're using the SAT to sort people, but as it turns out, it doesn't just sort out intelligence. It appears to also sort out your income level. Here's the irony we're trying to highlight. Someone who does well on the SAT will have a narrative in their head," I did well on the SAT because I am so intelligent." When the reality is you might be intelligent and chances are, you had a wealthy family that was able to give you the test prep that you needed to do well on that test. It's not just testing your intelligence. And the exact same thing is true of someone, who is from a poorer family. You might not have done as well on that test, because you didn't have a family that could provide you those resources.
Keith Simon: Well, think about the cheating scandal not too long ago, when those people who are very wealthy, who had succeeded in life, I think even one was a TV actress. They paid for their kids to get into these universities. They used a cheating scandal to do that, where people doctored the SAT scores, or you had kids being accepted on rowing scholarships, who had never rowed in their life, playing athletics that they hadn't played before, but they were accepted into these schools, based on these scholarships. And ask yourself, why is it that these parents, who are already wealthy, and already very successful, why did they think it was worth their effort and money to pay huge prices to get their kids into schools? It can't just be because they thought that their kids would benefit financially from it, because these parents already had so much money, they could have just given their kids that money. Why is it that they went to these great lengths, and even some served some jail time once they got caught, to try to do this?
Patrick Miller: Well, I think the answer's obvious, because they understand that an Ivy League education is the doorway to future financial opportunity to getting jobs on Wall Street, to getting jobs in Washington. Without that education, you can't open up that door. Now, again, if we live in a meritocracy, maybe that's not the way it should be. Maybe anyone should be able to have those opportunities, even more so. If we lived in a meritocracy, wouldn't it be the case that these Ivy League schools, which are the doorways to all of the best jobs, to every elite, managerial position in the country, that those schools would represent our entire nation? Instead, what we end up finding is that two- thirds of students at Ivy League schools come from the top 20% of the income scale. Princeton and Yale have more people from the top 1% than the bottom 60%. If it's a true meritocracy, you don't expect that to happen. So our sorting mechanism is not a meritocratic sorting mechanism. It's a mechanism, which sorts out the poor from the rich.
Keith Simon: Well, I would suggest that maybe those successful people paid exorbitant prices to get their kids into the schools because they know that it's not just a meritocracy. Yes, there are meritocratic features in our economy and in our society, but they know it's a lot about networking. It's a lot about the people you'll meet at that school, who will give you that opportunity. And therefore, they paid that money to skip the meritocracy to get into these schools.
Patrick Miller: And that helps us understand the backlash against elitism that happened when Trump ran for president. If you grew up in a family that didn't have that wealth, that couldn't slingshot you into the best schools to give you the best opportunities. Then you know that," Hey, maybe I'm losing in economics, but I'm not losing because of my own merits. I'm losing because I didn't grow up in the right family."
Keith Simon: David Halbertsam, I don't know if you've read him, Patrick, but he's got really interesting books and one of them is called The Best and the Brightest. And it is a nonfiction, a historical account of how JFK pulled together his cabinet. He got the best and the brightest that the world has to offer. And the idea is that these wonder kids were going to come in and solve problems. Like for example, he got Robert McNamara from Ford, left Ford being the CEO to come into government. It turns out that what these really, smart people did is they did really, really dumb things. And it turns out that if you just get the people from the Ivy League educations in the top of corporate America, they can't just come in and solve problems. Instead, they create problems, like ever heard of the problem of Vietnam? Those are the people who oversaw that, and it was an absolute disaster. And what you find is that there's a lot of people who, if they just had some common sense, would do better than the people who graduated with a 4.0 from Harvard. And there was a time in our country where you could rise to the top of government, or rise to the top of businesses without an elite education. Thomas Franken, his book on success and luck, he talks about how Harry Hopkins, who was President Roosevelt's closest confidant before he rose to the top of government, he was just a social worker in Iowa. Or Robert Jackson, who is the US attorney general, and eventually was on the Supreme Court, he was a lawyer, but he didn't have a law degree. So these are people, who had worked hard, smart, but they rose to these positions that everyone wanted to be in. And it wasn't based on the elite education, but now our system has said that you can't get those positions, unless you went to such and such school.
Patrick Miller: I have to give a few more examples, because they're great. Marriner Eccles, this one's my favorite. This guy was a visionary and Roosevelt appointed him to the Federal Reserve. He was a small town banker from Utah. He had no advanced degrees. Another one, Henry Wallace, who might have been the nation's greatest agricultural secretary, he studied at Iowa State. So this has not always been the way that our governments have run. There was maybe at some point in the past greater opportunity for meritocracy, but today, you have to be from Ivy League education to have these opportunities.
Keith Simon: Think about how all this has changed now, because remember President Trump was saying that he was going to sue Wharton, where he went to school, an elite school, if they released his SAT scores, because the thought is nobody knows. I don't know but crosstalk-
Patrick Miller: Well, because he bragged that he was the best in his class. He was number one. In other words, he actually bought into some of this elitism.
Keith Simon: The idea was that his dad had paid for him to get in Wharton and his scores weren't that great. And then Trump had paid for his kids to get into their schools, made donations, it's all legal. I'm not suggesting there was anything criminal about it. I'm just suggesting that SAT scores and where you went to school are so important now, that people will go to great links to get into those schools and then to hide their scores so it's not obvious to everyone that they got in, based on something other than their merits.
Patrick Miller: So let me try to pull back the camera. We've been exploring the question of whether America is a meritocracy, and whether a meritocracy is something that we want to be. And the big picture that we're trying to show right now is that all meritocracies have to sort people in some fashion. There has to be a way to say this person is more or less meritorious. The way we've done it in the United States is credentialism. It's largely through education and in particular, Ivy League education. And what we're trying to question here is whether Ivy League education actually sorts out the best and the brightest. And if it doesn't, that points to the fact that the entire system, the entire meritocratic system in the United States, is a bit of a sham. Because the people who are coming from those elite institutions really aren't the most meritorious for this job or that job, which of course, again, it helps us to understand why people in 2016 felt like, "Hey, I'm a part of a game. I'm a part of a system that claims as though everything's fair and equitable, when the reality is that it's much more complex than that." want to be an equal opportunity offender so if I told the story about President Trump, I want to tell one about now President Biden. So he was asked to name his law school that he attended and where he ranked in the class. And here's what he said to the reporter. He said," I think I probably have a much higher IQ than you, I suspect. I went to law school on a full academic scholarship, the only one in my class to have a full academic scholarship. And in fact, ended up in the top half of my class. I was the outstanding student in the political science department at the end of the year. I graduated with three degrees from undergraduate schools and 165 credits, only needed 123 credits. And I'd be delighted to sit down and compare my IQ to yours." So you hear the same kind of insecurity in Biden that you did in Trump and here's the worst part. When you go back and fact- check Biden's statement, what you find is that it had all kinds of exaggeration. He received a partial scholarship, not a full scholarship, and it was not based on his academic record, it was based on financial need. He didn't finish in the top half of his law class, but in the bottom half. He received one undergraduate degree, not three, and so on, and so on. But the point is that these politicians feel like they have to brag about these things, and even lie, and deceive, and hide because of the emphasis we've put on credentialism. Keith, we need to land the plane and give our final evaluation of meritocracy out of 10. Just joking, we're not going to rate it. Here's the deal. There's this great quote from Winston Churchill, he was asked what he thought about democracy, and he said," Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others." And I find myself feeling the same way about our meritocracy. Look, a meritocracy is the worst way to organize a society, except for all the others. Now, if we want to have a meritocracy, I do think there's value in having discussions around how do we actually make it more equitable? How do we actually make our meritocracy more meritorious? And there's lots of ways to think about this. One of my favorite ones is a thought experiment where you say," Hey, imagine for a second that you aren't you. Strip away your race, gender, parentage, all those things. You're just some being without any of that stuff. And you have to get together with a bunch of other people, and you have to decide how you're going to run your society, how you're going to live and work together." My guess is those people might end up picking something like a meritocracy where hey, hard work leads to success. And if you're going to be lazy, you don't work hard. Well, then it's going to lead you into a different direction. But if you were a part of that thought experiment, you'd know that you were rolling the dice. You know that whenever that thought experiment ended, you would randomly be placed somewhere in that society. You might be the son of a car mechanic in small, rural Missouri, or you might be the son of a real estate magnate in New York City. And if you know that, that's going to shape how you think about the world that you live in.
Keith Simon: Well, here's how I think of it. If you were going to go back now and play the ovarian lottery and to see where you come out in the world, would you want to be born into this world, as it currently is with all the wealth inequality? Because remember, most of the world, this is a world question, not a United States question, most of the world lives in dire circumstances, in dire poverty. Would you want to take the chance that you're going to be born into the current family you're in, and how well you're doing now, or maybe do a little bit better? Or maybe you end up where the vast majority of people are, who would love to trade places with you because they're living, like I said, in dire poverty? So if you had to go back and play the ovarian lottery now, would you want this world or would you want to change this world in some way? And some people have said," If I was going to go back and play that lottery, I think what I would want to do is be born into a world where everybody had the same." Now this is theoretical. Obviously, you can't create a world like that. But I would rather have a guarantee that I was going to end up in the middle than to take the chance that maybe I was going to end up in the upper 1%, but more likely I was going to end up in the bottom 75% that really struggled. So what world would you want to live in? And my guess is that you'd probably want to live in something with more equity. But if that's true, then shouldn't we work in our world to create a system that allows people who aren't as gifted in the ways that you are, who aren't as gifted in the ways that our society rewards, to do better in life? And at least don't we want to live in a world that doesn't look down on people, who struggle and create in them this loser mentality that festers resentment against the way that our system is set up? Because we've told them you're a loser, you just haven't achieved, you haven't worked hard. And they're looking around going," I work pretty hard."
Patrick Miller: When I think about my self- perception, I think this is what I want to be true. I want to believe about myself, that I am where I am because of a lot of luck, because of a lot of grace, because a lot of things that are outside of my control. I think it's best for me to look at other people and almost think the opposite. Like," Hey, you have what you have because you've worked hard." And maybe with people who have less, look at them and say," Hey, you might have what you had because you weren't as lucky as I am." In other words, if I can assume the worst about myself and the best about everybody else, I'm going to be able to live in this so- called meritocratic world with much less ego, with much more humility.
Keith Simon: So I started with the question asking you how much you would attribute your professional success to hard work and how much to luck. Well, the reason I started asking all these people this question is because of a story happened here in our town recently, where there was some high school kids, who were driving I think a ATV, something like that, I'm not exactly sure of all the details, but it's largely correct, down the road. They hit a curb and they wrecked. It was at night, there was no alcohol involved. They weren't doing anything wrong and they got hurt. And some of them had pretty serious injuries. One of them was left paralyzed, and then some of them walked away from it fine. And I thought about that story because there were people in the community that I had some kind of relationship with. And I thought to myself," Of all the dumb things that I've done in my life. In high school, of all the dumb things I've done. Even as an adult, the crazy, stupid things that I've done and I haven't had to suffer the consequences of those. I've done a lot worse things, a lot dumber things than those high school kids did." Again, they're just out having fun at night, driving this tractor around, they hit a curb and now one's paralyzed. And I thought to myself," I could have easily have ended up in a far worse position than they're in. I could have ended up at a far worst position than I've been in." And a lot of the reasons that I have been able to have the things I have in life and the success I had is because of good fortune, God's grace, God's blessing, God's favor, luck, whatever you want to call it. But just think about how many mistakes you've made in your business career. Think about how many mistakes you've made in your personal life or your physical health. Wouldn't it just suck if you had to reap the consequences of all those bad decisions? We are all very, very fortunate. God has been gracious to all of us. And if we will embrace that, and own that, and be thankful for it, we'll make for ourselves a better life, but we'll also be more generous and more kind to other people. So like Patrick said, work hard but be thankful for all the graces that God has given you. Thanks for listening. If you found this podcast helpful, make sure to subscribe and leave a review, and make sure it's at least five stars.
Patrick Miller: Stop.
Keith Simon: No, just be honest. Reviews help other people find us.
Patrick Miller: Okay. Okay. At the very least, you can share today's episode, maybe put it on your social, your favorite text chain.
Keith Simon: And if you didn't like this episode, awesome. Tell us why you disagree on Twitter at truthovertribe_. We might even share your thoughts in an upcoming newsletter.
Is America really a meritocracy after all? Do people who work hard and play by the rules get ahead? Or is the system just rigged against you from the start? That's what Keith, Patrick, and Dan are discussing in this week's episode of Truth Over Tribe. The three get into an interesting debate about how much of a person's success should be attributed to hard work vs. good luck. They provide a definition of meritocracy, discuss its pros and cons, compare it to aristocracy, and given all of that, they ask again: Is America actually set up this way? Listen now!
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