Daniel Markovits on the meritocracy myth

This week, I attended a very illuminating talk, by Daniel Markovits, Professor of Law at the Yale Law School. In his new book ‘The Meritocracy Trap’, he delivers a fierce indictment of a system he grew up in and is still part of. A system which, he says, prizes achievement above all else, making everyone—even the rich—miserable. He argues that this is undermining democracy.

Ever since I’ve known about the concept of meritocracy, I thought about it very positively. Reading Principles from Ray Dalio reinforced this.

Ray Dalio speaks of idea meritocracy as a decision-making system in business where the best ideas win out. It’s a a system that brings together smart, independent thinkers and has them productively disagree to come up with the best collective thinking and resolve their disagreements in a believability-weighted way. He argues that this will outperform any other decision-making system.

Dalio believes in building a culture where everyone weighs in – but also where everyone knows each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so you know how to best weigh opinions.

Sounds good to me.

Markovits looks at meritocracy from an economical, philosophical and sociological point of view. One of his key arguments is that today’s wealthy, unlike the aristocracy of old, overwhelmingly work for a living, often in soul-crushing “extreme jobs” that demand 60, 80, even 100 hours a week.

By his calculation, about 75 percent of the top 1 percent’s increase in the share of national income from roughly 1970 to the present came from returns on labor, not capital.


He gives examples where hardworking outsiders no longer enjoy genuine opportunity.

He argues that upward mobility has become a fantasy, and that the embattled middle classes are now more likely to sink into the working poor than to rise into the professional elite.

His book says meritocracy has created a competition that, even when everyone plays by the rules, only the rich can win.




Knowing without knowing how you know: Intuition. Our own sixth sense is hugely valuable for helping us to make better decisions about everything we do in life and  business.

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.
– Albert Einstein


Urgency vs importance

Question: What’s more important? Urgent tasks or important tasks? Recently, I had a thought provoking discussion with a business leader who shared with me her thoughts on this. And it made me think.

Everyone wants things instantly and a lot of us confuse urgent with important.

But actually, ‘urgent’ is important in the short run, ‘important’ is important in the long run. A leader needs to keep the long-term vision in front of their eyes all the time when making business decisions.

If you keep focusing on urgent tasks, you’ll be constantly firefighting. Instead, why not take the lighter out of the hands of those who light those fires?

In business, delegating urgent tasks and focusing on the important ones is the responsibility of a good leader.


Decision, decision

Life is complex, hardly anything is black and white.

So when it comes to decision making in business, I’d say that there’s no such thing as a bad decision either.  There’s a list of both positive and negative outcomes from every single decision, and we just need to weigh up one against the other to set the right balance in that exact moment. One thing is certain: there’s things to learn from every single decision.