I want to resolve the thorny problems of justice and efficiency that arise when people work together. Three threads run through my work. First, merit is important. We ought to harness it, politically and economically. Second, despite all our political division, consensus can be found--if we abandon the old egalitarian and libertarian ideas and look to more intuitively appealing foundations. Third, formal tools, assumed to have little real-world relevance, can help solve our problems.
Economic Justice: In Justice and the Meritocratic State (in production, Routledge), I advance a desert-based theory of justice called meritocracy. A just society provides equal opportunity to all citizens and then judges them strictly on the basis of their merit. Meritocracy is close to optimally efficient, and it appeals to citizens across lines of gender, race, class, and culture. We know from empirical research that people simply don't want income, jobs, and the other good things in life to be distributed equally. Nor do we agree with the libertarian that the idea of social justice is bunk. We want our just deserts. For example, if a worker is making less than she thinks she deserves, or more than she thinks she deserves, she is less satisfied than if paid what 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 investment in children. Second, wealth and income reflect citizens’ productive contributions and not their family circumstances or their ability to extract economic rents. Third, jobs are distributed strictly on the basis of merit. Nepotism, racism, sexism, and other forms of anti-meritocratic bias are proscribed.
Group Decision-making: What is the best way for a group of people to make a decision? I study the complications associated with this question. These include the possibilities that (1) different group members have different degrees of confidence; (2) some group members are more competent than others; and (3) the beliefs of group members are correlated (owing to, e.g., common information).
In addition to working on the formal theory of group decision-making, I consider its ramifications for political practice. For example, in "Plural Voting for the Twenty-first Century" (forthcoming, Philosophical Quarterly), I use a machine learning algorithm in a new system of voting--one which exploits differences in competence while avoiding invidious comparisons between voters. I believe that there is a meritocratic political system that gets us better results--more just laws, more efficient economies, a fairer distribution of wealth--and surmounts the justificatory hurdles that we have assumed only "one person, one vote" democracy can negotiate.