(9) Justice and the Meritocratic State
Blurb: Like American politics, the academic debate over justice is polarized, with almost all theories of justice falling within one of two traditions: egalitarianism and libertarianism. This book provides an alternative to the partisan standoff by focusing not on equality or liberty, but on the idea that we should give people the things that they deserve.
Mulligan argues that a just society is a meritocracy, in which equal opportunity prevails and social goods are distributed strictly on the basis of merit. That gives citizens their just deserts. In addition to its novel conceptual approach, meritocracy is distinctive from existing work in two ways. First, it is grounded in research on how people actually think about justice. Empirical research reveals that people don't think that social goods should be distributed equally. Nor do they dismiss the idea of social justice. Across ideological and cultural lines, people want rewards to reflect merit. Second, the book discusses hot-button political issues and makes concrete policy recommendations. These issues include anti-meritocratic bias against women and racial minorities and the United States’ widening economic inequality. Justice and the Meritocratic State offers a new theory of justice and provides solutions to our most vexing social and economic problems. It will be of keen interest to philosophers, economists, and political theorists.
(8) "Plural Voting for the Twenty-first Century"
Forthcoming in Philosophical Quarterly
Abstract: Recent political developments cast doubt on the wisdom of democratic decision-making. In this essay, I describe and defend the epistocratic system of government which is, given current theoretical and empirical knowledge, most likely to produce optimal political outcomes--or at least better outcomes than democracy produces. To wit, we should expand the suffrage as wide as possible and weight citizens’ votes in accordance with their competence. As it turns out, the optimal system is closely related to J. S. Mill’s plural voting proposal. I also explain how voters’ competences can be precisely determined, without reference to an objective standard of correctness and without generating invidious comparisons between voters.
Penultimate draft: here
Final version: here
(7) "Uncertainty in Hiring Does Not Justify Affirmative Action"
2017. Philosophia 45: 1299-1311.
Abstract: Luc Bovens has recently advanced a novel argument for affirmative action, grounded in the plausible idea that it is hard for an employer to evaluate the qualifications of candidates from underrepresented groups. Bovens claims that this provides a profit-maximizing employer with reason to shortlist prima facie less-qualified candidates from underrepresented groups. In this paper, I illuminate three flaws in Bovens's argument. First, it suffers from model error: A rational employer does not incur costs to scrutinize candidates when it knows their qualifications with perfect certainty, nor does it refuse to hire better-qualified candidates just because they did not require extra scrutiny. Second, Bovens's core premise--that there is greater variance in the evaluation of underrepresented candidates than there is the evaluation of other candidates--hurts underrepresented candidates rather than helps them. Third, candidates who are not shortlisted for the reasons Bovens gives have a plausible complaint about unfairness in the hiring process.
(6) "What's Wrong with Libertarianism: A Meritocratic Diagnosis"
2017. The Routledge Handbook of Libertarianism, eds. J. Brennan, D. Schmidtz, and B. van der Vossen, 77-91. New York: Routledge
Abstract: Some people may think that libertarianism and meritocracy have much in common; that the libertarian's ideal world looks like the meritocrat's ideal world; and that the public policies guiding us to each are one and the same. This is wrong in all respects. In this essay I explain why. After providing an overview of meritocratic justice, I argue that meritocracy is a more compelling theory of distributive justice than libertarianism. Meritocracy better protects the core value of personal responsibility; incorporates efficiency-enhancing regulation which libertarianism cannot; provides more positive liberty; and solves salient, real-world debates about distributive justice.
Penultimate draft: here
(5) "A Note on the Epistemology of Disagreement and Politics"
2016. Political Theory 44: 657-63.
Abstract: Martin Ebeling argues that a popular theory in the epistemology of disagreement--conciliationism--supports an egalitarian approach to politics. This view is mistaken for two reasons. First, even if political parties have the epistemic value that Ebeling claims, voters should not regard each other as epistemic peers--which conciliationism requires that they do. The American electorate is strikingly heterogeneous in both its knowledgeability and its rationality, and so the necessary epistemic parity relation does not hold. Second, for technical reasons, the beliefs that a rational voter arrives at after conciliating with his peers do not, in general, accord with the results of egalitarian decision procedures. As its theory currently stands, the epistemology of disagreement does not support egalitarian politics.
(4) "Disagreement, Peerhood, and Three Paradoxes of Conciliationism"
2015. Synthese 192: 67-78.
Abstract: Conciliatory theories of disagreement require that one lower one's confidence in a belief in the face of disagreement from an epistemic peer. One question about which people might disagree is who should qualify as an epistemic peer and who should not. But when putative epistemic peers disagree about epistemic peerhood itself, then Conciliationism makes contradictory demands and paradoxes arise.
(3) "The Limits of Liberal Tolerance"
2015. Public Affairs Quarterly 29: 277-95.
Abstract: Political philosophy has seen vibrant debate over the connection, if any, between liberalism and pluralism. Some philosophers, following Isaiah Berlin, reckon a close connection between the two concepts. Others--most notably John Gray--believe that liberalism and pluralism are incompatible. In this essay, I argue that the puzzle can be solved by distinguishing the responsibilities of liberal states to their peoples from the responsibilities of liberal states to other states. There is an entailment from pluralism to liberalism, and it in turn implies that while liberal states must tolerate "illiberal" lifestyles within their borders, liberal states must not tolerate illiberal states. The fact of liberal intolerance, however, does not justify unreasonably aggressive intervention by liberal states, nor does it mean that illiberal states deserve to be punished.
(2) "On the Compatibility of Epistocracy and Public Reason"
2015. Social Theory and Practice 41: 458-76.
Abstract: In "epistocratic" forms of government, political power is wielded by those who possess the knowledge relevant to good policymaking. Some democrats--notably, David Estlund--concede that epistocracy might produce better political outcomes than democracy but argue that epistocracy cannot be justified under public reason. These objections to epistocracy are unsound because they violate a viability constraint: they are also fatal to democracy and all other plausible political arrangements. Moreover, there is a problem with the public reason framework itself--a problem that can only be solved by providing a better definition for what makes an objection to a political arrangement a "reasonable" one.
(1) "On Harry Frankfurt's 'Equality as a Moral Ideal'"
2015. Ethics 125: 1171-73.
Abstract: A retrospective essay, written for the 125th anniversary of Ethics.
Final version: here