Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Death of Meritocracy

We must lower the bar… there, that will do it.

Across America schools and companies are trying to produce racial equity by lowering standards. 

Now, some states have decided that if too many minority law students fail the bar exam, the solution is, to lower the qualifying score. Surely, that will solve America's race problems, don't you think?

Taxprof has the story, via Powerline and Maggie’s Farm:

Several states say they could make their bar exams easier to pass as a way to address racial diversity problems and access-to-justice issues entrenched in the legal profession.

Their statements coincide with the first data from California, which permanently lowered its “cut score” last summer just incrementally—but saw significant changes in the racial make-up of those passing the test to become its newest lawyers.

Last week, Rhode Island became the first to follow suit in lowering the state’s cut score. Several others say they’ll soon be weighing similar reforms. … Court officials from Texas, Arizona, and Michigan said they’re also monitoring efforts from a national testing group to modify the bar exam, with an eye toward eventual changes in their own states. …

Several other states—including New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, North Carolina, and Utah—said they could consider lowering cut scores based on their own reviews and after studying how the moves play out elsewhere.

Of course, as John Hinderaker writes, the first question here is whether we have too many or too few lawyers. Or better, whether we have too many or too few competent lawyers. Will the country be measurably improved by a surfeit of attorneys ginning up litigation?

Obviously, lowering the score needed to pass the bar exam will result in more lawyers in any given state. Is this a good thing? If you think we are a society with too few lawyers, yes. On the other hand, if you think it is important that lawyers licensed by the state demonstrate a minimum level of competence, and the bar exam is an important means of insuring such competence, then no.

But, that’s not all, folks. You might not much care if the legal profession starts accrediting less competent attorneys, but how about the people who fly your airplanes. Do you prefer merit or equity?

The trend toward dumbing down bar exams is part of a broader phenomenon that Paul has written about many times–a decline in standards across many sectors of our economy and our culture, allegedly in service of racial equity. If members of a particular ethnic group are statistically less likely to get over any particular bar, one solution is to lower the bar. Whether this helps in the long run is of course another matter.

The racial quota system that is becoming ever more pervasive in industry, the academy and government can only undermine the quality of work done in all of those environments. If, to take just one recent example, United Air Lines establishes a quota system for pilots rather than hiring the most qualified pilots possible, a decline in pilot quality follows inexorably. Maybe it doesn’t matter, at least not catastrophically. Maybe no airplanes crash as a result of a less skilled pilot pool.

Let’s say that the new quota system increases the chances that your pilot will be less than fully competent. Does that give you pause? Of course, the easy solution is to stop flying the friendly skies.

Of course, some of us, like the folks at Powerline, believe that meritocracy is a good thing, because it is fair and because it places the best people in jobs that they can perform. Need we say, our most significant international competitor, China, is going all-in for meritocracy while we dumb down our government, our schools and our corporations. (For the record, the only place where merit seems to be required is Silicon Valley. Go figure.)

But it would be ridiculous to suggest that meritocracy doesn’t improve quality in any human endeavor, leading to a better life for all of us. For almost all of our history, America has been a beacon of meritocracy, compared with the rest of the world. That largely explains our economic and cultural success. But today, individual achievement is being subordinated to group politics.

Meanwhile, China–ostensibly ruled by a Communist Party in which all are equal–has become a ruthless meritocracy. If you are trying to get ahead in China, whether in science, engineering, business or government, you need the best scores, qualifications and experience. Being from an “under-represented” ethnic group gets you nowhere, although family relationship to the powerful is still a plus, if a rare one. It appears that China is now more a meritocracy than the U.S. The implications for our economic, cultural and military future are dire.

So, the Communist Party rules a country where you can mostly only get ahead by merit, by doing well on standardized tests. In America, where we have a democracy system, you can get ahead on the basis of what is now called-- equity. It used to be called diversity quotas.

When our armies of social justice warriors meet their armies of scientists and engineers on the playing field, who do you think will prevail? 


Deana said...

Many people can choose to not fly and avoid the consequences of less competent pilots. But who can avoid the consequences of lowering standards in the medical field? It is happening. There is no other way to make things “equitable” overnight.

Anonymous said...

Another place where meritocracy rules is professional sports.

Sam L. said...

Yes, make it easier for the "less fortunate" to become lawyers, and let them fail when they come up against smarter, better-prepared lawyers...

whitney said...

In Idiocracy, the guy watching the show "Ow my balls!" while sitting on his lounge chair/toilet was a lawyer. And as the movie subsequently showed, he was a perfect representation of the legal profession as a whole. Mike Judge might be a genius!

Anonymous said...

“Another place where meritocracy rules is professional sports.”

Not necessarily. Moneyball proved there are shallow biases in pro sports, too.

Anonymous said...

At the same time, I believe bias is a natural tendency of every human being. The government leviathan cannot correct this. In fact, government makes it worse. At least Oakland could challenge the Yankees without federal political meddling.

ErisGuy said...

Do you prefer merit or equity?

This debate was settled in the 1960s. Too late to re-open it now.

IamDevo said...

And here I thought "Idiocracy" was meant as satire, not a template for societal development.

david foster said...

Anon..."Another place where meritocracy rules is professional sports."

Well, sports is actually *important*, as are all forms of entertainment...these are increasingly the things that really matter. So, actual performance is considered more important there than in boring fields like structural engineering.

Anonymous said...

More incompetent lawyers? Most will probably try to be public defenders, so more criminals convicted might be a plus!