Is democracy or the market better at defining merit?

2019-03-19T21:41:11.000Z Honest Cash

Robinson Hanson shared on Twitter a story by Lily Lamboy… Democratizing Success: Why We Need to Change Who Defines Merit in College Admissions. My reply…


We are unwilling to make the assumption that the exclusion of Negroes has relevance only for issues involving race. When any large and identifiable segment of the community is excluded from jury service, the effect is to remove from the jury room qualities of human nature and varieties of human experience, the range of which is unknown and perhaps unknowable. It is unnecessary to assume that the excluded group will consistently vote as a class in order to conclude, as we do, that its exclusion deprives the jury of a perspective on human events that may have unsuspected importance in any case that may be presented. — Thurgood Marshall

I completely agree that we need to change who defines “merit”, but you’re overlooking… science.

Think about the dogs at a show. Typically they are ranked by a small handful of expert judges. Alternatively they could be ranked by everybody voting. A third system would be for the dogs to be ranked by donations. All the money that was raised could be given to the Humane Society, for example.

ranking by committee = socialism

ranking by voting = democracy

ranking by donating = market

Some people might want to debate the semantics, but my main point is that every single ranking system can be safely tested and compared.

Right now the Libertarian Party is using donations to rank potential convention themes. Would the themes be better ranked by democracy or by socialism? This is a really good question. If it’s the case that democracy is the best system for ranking themes, then it must be the best system for ranking everything. There can only be one best ranking system.

With traditional education… one teacher uses letter grades to rank her students’ work. Is this the best ranking system? I’m certain that it really isn’t. Something that is completely useless to you might be very useful to me. As the saying goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Of course, the very point of education is to improve our definition of “treasure”.

If my assumption is correct that the market is the best ranking system, then in the future all students will upload their (home)work to sites like Honest Cash where everybody can use their money to “grade” it. In this case everybody will essentially always be a student and a teacher. We will constantly use our money to improve each other’s definitions of “treasure”.

Here on Medium I graded your (home)work by clapping for it. I gave you a really good grade. Why not? It’s not like it cost me any money to do so. But it would be a different story if you posted your essay on Honest Cash. In this case it would cost me money to give your essay a really good grade. My sacrifice is exactly what would make a really good grade meaningful. This is how and why markets work.

I’m sure you’re skeptical that the market is the best grading/ranking system, but hopefully you’re not skeptical that it would be very beneficial to safely test and compare different ranking systems. We can and should use our agreement about science to resolve our disagreement about economics.