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Murray and Meritocracy

I’m going to write a bit more about Murray, in response to an op-ed follow-up to his recent book.  The op-ed responds to the accurate criticism that his book describes a problem but doesn’t lay out policy suggestions or responses.  In the article, he makes several suggestions:

  1. Eliminate unpaid internships
  2. Replace the SAT with subject-specific tests
  3. Replace ethnic or racial affirmative action with socioeconomic affirmative action
  4. Eliminate bachelor’s degrees as a job requirement

All of those sound reasonable to me, though I don’t think those would make that much of a difference.  Neither does Murray, he thinks it would be more symbolic.

The big about degree requirements is interesting, in part because there’s been some action on a similar legal front with regard to high school diplomas.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has at least raised the issue of whether high-school diploma requirements could be discriminatory when that credential is not well-connected to actual job requirements.  There are probably quite a few jobs where the credential of a college degree (especially if not requiring any particular subject) is also not well-connected to the job requirements, and may have an adverse effect on protected groups.

Murray really does have a lot in common with meritocratic liberals.  A common mis-characterization of the liberal position on group differences among alt-righters seems to paint liberals as radical “blank-slate” believers, who either think there are no identifiable groups (plainly wrong), there are no differences between identifiable groups (plainly wrong), or that there are differences between groups but by really lucky coincidences none of those differences are morally significant (plainly wrong and incredibly implausible (unless you think no differences are morally significant, I guess)).  Rather, liberals mainly disagree with Murray on whether wandering into the rhetorical minefield of biological group differences is net-beneficial.

Murray himself notes in an essay summarizing his previous book:

In all cases, the variation within groups is greater than the variation between groups. On psychological and cognitive dimensions, some members of both sexes and all races fall everywhere along the range. One implication of this is that genius does not come in one color or sex, and neither does any other human ability. Another is that a few minutes of conversation with individuals you meet will tell you much more about them than their group membership does.

Which makes me wonder why he can’t avoid those minefields entirely instead of merely tiptoeing.

(There’s some further fascinating discussion of the op-ed here.  The comments are really worthwhile, in particular the comment (left March 8, 2012 at 10:19 am, sadly no comment permalinks on that site) by Albatross on meritocracy.)

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