I’ve always been dissatisfied with Targeting Meritocracy and the comments it got. My position seemed so obvious to me – and the opposite position so obvious to other people – that we both had to be missing something.
Reading it over, I think I was missing the idea of conflict vs mistake theory.
I wrote the post from a mistake theory perspective. The government exists to figure out how to solve problems. Good government officials are the ones who can figure out solutions and implement them effectively. That means we want people who are smart and competent. Since meritocracy means promoting the smartest and most competent people, it is tautologically correct. The only conceivable problem is if we make mistakes in judging intelligence and competence, which is what I spend the rest of the post worrying about.
From a conflict theory perspective, this is bunk. Good government officials are ones who serve our class interests and not their class interests. At best, merit is uncorrelated with this. At worst, we are the lower and middle class, they are the upper class, and there is some system in place (eg Ivy League universities) that disproportionately funnels the most meritorious people into the upper class. Then when we put the most meritorious people in government, we are necessarily seeding the government with upper class people who serve upper class interests.
This resolves my confusion about why people disagree with me on this point. It reinforces a lesson I’ve had to learn again and again: if people seem slightly stupid, they’re probably just stupid. But if they seem colossally and inexplicably stupid, you probably differ in some kind of basic assumption so fundamental that you didn’t realize you were assuming it, and should poke at the issue until you figure it out.