Meritocracy and Economic Inequality

Kenneth Arrow, Samuel Bowles + Steven Durlauf (editors)

Princeton University Press 2000
A book review by Danny Yee © 2004
Meritocracy and Economic Inequality is a collection of papers on equality of opportunity and the relationships between race, intelligence, schooling, and success. Many of them engage, more or less directly, with Herrnstein and Murray's The Bell Curve. With technical papers from a range of disciplines, the volume makes fairly solid reading, but it presents some fascinating ideas and results which are broadly accessible — and the tables of data and the more esoteric mathematics can easily be skipped.

Some of the papers are philosophical: Amartya Sen writes on "Merit and Justice" and John Roemer presents his own "equal opportunity algorithm". Glenn Loury does some economic modelling of anti-discrimination law enforcement, Lundberg and Startz model racial inequality and labor-market discrimination, and Roland BĂ©nabou attempts to formalise concepts of meritocracy and show that redistributive policies can improve total output.

Two papers address bogus claims about intelligence. James Flynn looks at the implications of globally increasing IQ scores and argues against the inevitability of class-stratified meritocracy. Approaching from population genetics, Marcus Feldman et al. model gene-culture interactions and explain some of the misunderstandings about "heritability" and its applications to social policy.

The remaining five papers present econometric analyses of schooling and its connections with economic success and social background, using data from the United States. These involve teasing out causal relationships from complex data, asking questions such as "Does Schooling Raise Earnings by Making People Smarter?", reanalysing the Bell Curve data to find greater partial effects of family background and schooling in predicting social and economic success, and so forth.

June 2004

External links:
- buy from or
Related reviews:
- Samuel Bowles - A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution
- Samuel Bowles - Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions, and Evolution
- Samuel Bowles - The Moral Economy: Why Good Incentives are no Substitute for Good Citizens
- books about economics + finance
- books about social justice
- more sociology
- books published by Princeton University Press
%T Meritocracy and Economic Inequality
%E Arrow, Kenneth
%E Bowles, Samuel
%E Durlauf, Steven
%I Princeton University Press
%D 2000
%O hardcover, references, index
%G ISBN 0691004676
%P 348pp