Project #1: Justice and the Meritocratic State (under contract, Routledge)
Within philosophy, the debate about justice has been dominated by two approaches: egalitarianism and libertarianism. Much like American politics, this debate is polarized: Philosophers declare allegiance to one of the two camps, defection is rare, and progress is measured by the refinement of existing ideas.
But there is a third approach to justice, founded on the principle that justice is about giving people what they deserve. While this familiar idea enjoys support across cultures and ideological lines, it has attracted almost no philosophical attention. This is a mistake, I argue, because a desert-based society—a meritocracy—is fair, just, and more economically efficient than egalitarian or libertarian societies.
Empirical research shows that human beings simply don’t think that income, jobs, and the other good things in life should be distributed equally. Nor do we agree with the libertarian that the idea of social justice is bunk. Instead, we want people to get the social goods that they deserve. Studies show, for example, that if a person is making less than she thinks she deserves, or more than she thinks she deserves, she is less satisfied than if she receives the wage she thinks she deserves.
A meritocracy has three essential features: First, equal opportunity is established through the redistribution of undeserved wealth (e.g. inheritance) and public spending on children. Justice is impossible unless citizens compete on a level playing field for scarce social goods. Second, wealth and income reflect citizens’ productive contributions and not their family circumstances or their ability to extract economic rents. This is not only just—it’s efficient: When capital is provided not to those with the right connections but rather to those who are competent, productivity is optimized. Third, jobs are distributed strictly on the basis of merit. A meritocratic society proscribes nepotism and guards against insidious forms of anti-meritocratic bias, like racism and sexism.
Project #2: A Meritocratic Alternative to Democracy
Democracy as it is currently practiced suffers from two moral flaws. First, some people are de facto barred from political office on grounds irrelevant from the point-of-view of merit. Most Americans will not vote for a homosexual, a Muslim, or an atheist. Second, democracy leads to suboptimal political outcomes. Popularity contests are almost always bad ways for groups to make decisions, and this is evidenced, in my view, by Brexit, Colombia's rejection of the FARC peace deal, and Donald Trump's political success.
I am formulating a meritocratic alternative to democracy which does two things. First, it surmounts the justificatory hurdles which to this point we thought, erroneously, only "one person, one vote" democracy could negotiate. (See, e.g., my paper "On the Compatibility of Epistocracy and Public Reason".) Second, meritocracy produces better political outcomes--more just laws, more efficient economies, and a fairer distribution of wealth.
My theory draws on formal models of group decision-making under conditions of heterogeneous competence. The knowledge relevant to good political decision-making is diverse; it is held in different measure by different citizens; and citizens across ideological lines are afflicted by bias of different sorts. Voters' opinions should not be weighed equally.
Technical details aside, the bottom line of my theory is that we should maintain universal suffrage--indeed, we should expand the suffrage--but implement a form of plural voting, a la J. S. Mill.