Human capacities are both inherited and subject to genetic variance. Structuring an elite based on education alone is senseless. While, on average, the children of the capable will also be capable, in practice, there will be a lot of variance in the capacities, capabilities, and characters their offspring, not even considering illnesses and defects.
The democratic meritocracy theory holds that we should do what we can to make it possible for everyone to compete on a ‘level playing field,’ irrespective of the fact that no human starts off the same. Our civilization has been made possible by thousands of years of accumulated capital, knowledge, and acculturation. We don’t emerge into a nothingness that we build up from a state of nature.
The pretense of meritocracy tends to result in a deficit of appropriate humility. Rather than seeing people who are less fortunate as less fortunate, people tend to instead look down upon them as morally deficient in some way. The idea is that if they had only studied textbooks hard enough, they would all be masters of the universe or super-scientists.
This is both unrealistic and uncharitable. The impulse also results in mad quests to uplift populations of billions of people in the course of less than a generation. The high goals also set hundreds of millions of people up for inevitable failure to achieve their goals.
Given that there’s substantial human variance both within relatively homogeneous populations, and even more variance between foreign populations, it’s better to stop attempting to structure society in a way that denies productive social roles to people who aren’t fully capable or desirous of being independent.
The existence of the welfare state implicitly acknowledges that there are substantial numbers of people who are poorly suited to legal independence, and those people tend to be more than willing to sacrifice their independence for regular payments.
These people could be productive under closer supervision (a role currently played by social workers employed by the state), given productive service roles.
For example, many American cities are dirty, unadorned, and dingy. There are many areas where public landscaping is unattractive. There are few people who can’t be disciplined into being marginally effective janitors, cooks, and yard-workers. These jobs are even within the capacities of people who are mentally retarded, at least with some sympathy and close supervision.
People who are too criminal or erratic to be productive should be either reformed or removed from society. This is the moderate, normal political point of view. The radical, strange notion by historic standards is that everyone no matter their inclination or capacity can be reformed, except in extreme cases which require life imprisonment or execution. We know that this notion is false, from long experience attempting to implement it, after spending trillions of dollars on fruitless corrections and educational programs.
The same liberal cities that house so many bleeding hearts would lose most of their restaurants overnight if minimum wage laws were enforced upon line cooks. The police could go through the restaurant section in the phone book in a typical city and lock up every single owner over the course of a month. So, to some extent, employers already express a preference for unfree labor in certain situations — just think of the H1B Visa program — it’s just that everyone agrees to lie about it and look the other way.
There’s honor and dignity in being a loyal, friendly gardener or custodian. Instead, democratic society tends to shame such people for failing to chase the white collar brass ring, or becoming ‘great artists’ who slap labels onto cans of their own feces.
The notion that all people should be independent is a radical one. It’s failed in practice, and the welfare state is a glaring acknowledgment of that fact. The welfare state thrives on pity and a sense of mercy, but it expresses that in forms which degrade the same people that it claims to be helping. Instead of continuing this degradation, we should instead be willing to take more active responsibility for those people.
Freedom is a trade-off that many people are more than happy to give up. Instead of raging against that unchanging aspect of human nature, we should instead structure the laws to make room again for the free and the unfree.