On the Fictitious Link Between Magnitude of Pay and Competence: 1

One of the major beliefs necessary for the “normal” functioning of modern nation states (capitalist or otherwise) is that there is a direct linkage between a person’s pay and the important of their occupation. That is how, for example, people justify paying a surgeon more than a person who cleans sewers- though the later saves more lives than the former. Now some of you might say that it easier to clean and maintain sewers than perform neurosurgery, and that is partially true.

But not all hard to learn skills are paid well. For example, somebody who can juggle 6 knives or fart a musical tune (something that very few can do) will almost never make anywhere near the amount of money made by your average mid-level executive drone. Faced by the necessity to explain this problem, most people will quickly turn to a secondary explanation.

Most people want to believe that pay is correlated to the difficulty of an occupation AND its social necessity.

While this explanation might satisfy most people, it is also demonstrably false. Consider any number of recent cases where the CEOs or board members of large corporations receiving extremely generous severance packages while the majority of employees got pretty close to nothing. Or what about highly paid celebrities and entertainers? Are they really that much better than their peers who did not were less lucky? I could give you many more examples, but that will detract from the next point.

At the start of this post, I used the term “modern nation states”. Did you wonder why I used that term instead of others like “societies” or “countries”? Well.. that term is important because of the role played by that type of entity in this justification of income inequality. In previous eras income inequality was justified through the commission, or threat of, theft or murder.

The feudal knights, lords, vassals and kings of previous eras were not rich because they were “good”, “moral” or competent. They were rich because they could gather an entourage of followers large enough to terrorize and steal from people who could not do so. Sure.. some pretended that were of “noble birth” and “superior morals”- but collection of rents, taxes and tributes was always reliant on the threat of lethal force rather than their “noble birth” or “superior morals”.

The birth and evolution of the modern nation-state has certainly changed some of that. With a few exceptions, countries are no longer run by people who claim a special divine right to rule. Moreover, modern states do at least try to provide some basic level of legally guaranteed benefits and services to their general population. Yet in other respects, these entities are not that different from their pre-modern counterparts. Revenue collection is still done by the threat of force, torture or death and sovereignty is still defined by a monopoly on violence.

Then there is the issue of dressing older patterns of functioning in new explanations. As I mentioned previously, pre-modern societies were quite open about the fact that being rich (or well paid) was about being more lucky, violent or crooked than your peers. However this plain but depressing explanation is not compatible with societies of the complexity we live in today. Just think about how long modern societies would last if most people understood that the amount of money they received was proportional to their luck, ability to be violent or crookedness.

The necessity to cover up and justify income inequality has given rise to a new mythology- the lie of “meritocracy”. According to this new lie, the amount of money and power a person possess has a strong connection with their “IQ”, “competence” and “ability”. In other words, it claims that those with money are smart, competent and deserving and those without it are not. Of course there are obvious exceptions to this “rational” model of the world, but they are explained away as exceptions that prove the rule.

While this rational-sounding explanation might satisfy enough commoners, especially during times of economic growth, it carries within itself the seeds of its own demise. To understand what I am going to say next, you have to understand that not all lies are equally dangerous to the liar. For example- lies told to others are, usually, not especially harmful to the liar. In contrast to that, lies that people tell themselves can be extremely dangerous because people frequently believe their own lies.

In the next part of this series, I will use a few examples of illustrate why the “meritocracy” lie prevalent in modern nation states is significantly more dangerous than the pre-modern lies it replaced.

What do you think? Comments?

This entry was posted in Critical Thinking, Current Affairs, Dystopia, Musings, Philosophy sans Sophistry, Reason, Secular Religions, Skepticism, Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to On the Fictitious Link Between Magnitude of Pay and Competence: 1

  1. Atlanta Man says:

    I believe that genetics carry some weight in determining intelligence , but not as much as some would have you believe . The truly brilliant , genetic genius so to speak are the primary group for who genetics play a large role. The people that solve math problems that are 130 years old, the ones who typically stand out from a young age, finish Yale at 16 majoring in theoretical mathematics and get a PhD in applied physics fom MIT at 20 and their thesis wins the Nobel Prize- in these people genetics plays a major role.

    For the rest of us normal people parents on your ass , private school , and opportunity play a larger role in standedized test success as a marker of intelligence or capability. Intelligence is more about discipline than genetics for us normal people. I get especially wary when some HBD white dude tells me he is genetically superior to me mentally, and how many IQ tests he has excelled on but he has jack shit to show for it.

  2. Anon says:

    What is important is networking and have good looks. Intelligence, hard work and competence are important but not at the level people say.

  3. Flex Wheeler says:

    ‘The very first essential for success is a perpetually constant and regular employment of violence’

    -Adolf Hitler

  4. haha,

    My work experience seems to illustrate what you say as truth…

    I had the misfortune of working at a sleazy company that had lots of shysters who were from the mortgage industry…

    You are likely dealing with women of a much higher moral compass when you pay prostitutes than the lowlifes from the mortgage sham…

    I hated going there–and since I was a contractor, I’d go there as little as possible. I was told that they wanted to make me an employee and I’d have to go there full-time. I said no dice. The CEO threw his phone on the floor and yelled at me. I struggled to hold out laughter. He tried to insult me as I was escorted out of the building. Even though he berated me as I worked for his shit company, his anger betrayed the fact that I was more valuable to him than the peanuts he tried to keep me there for. Why else the anger? If I really was dead weight, wouldn’t he simply say, “Oh, well your a good guy but you ain’t hitting the numbers. Sorry to let you go but have a nice life.”

    I looked at the reviews on glassdoor and all the good ones were written by the CEO-I recognize his writing style. The real one’s are all 1 star and the place has turned into a blood bath. Luckily for me, I can survive quite well on 22-24k a year–as long as I have a job I can eat. (At least for now.)

    • P Ray says:

      The best part of leaving some jobs, is “getting an unofficial severance package”,
      “using it to deliver value to your customers”.
      Businesses that treat their workers badly yet say “workers are our foundation” …
      deserve certain unpleasant surprises.

  5. sth_txs says:

    As a guy who used to work in academia, most Phd’s are way overpaid and more so for those who become administrators.

    “Revenue collection is still done by the threat of force, torture or death and sovereignty is still defined by a monopoly on violence.”

    Yet you are a socialist. I’m not sure why that bothers you DA.

    • P Ray says:

      The “socialism” that he proposes, is the “socialism” to keep people from dismantling a society they “say they are proud of being a part of and perpetuating”.

      In other words, if society really cares for it’s members, give a crap about them,
      don’t complain when people become scheming, dishonest or cynical.

      • sth_txs says:

        “In other words, if society really cares for it’s members, give a crap about them, otherwise, don’t complain when people become scheming, dishonest or cynical.”

        Yeah, those people who are scheming or dishonest would cease to exist under socialism or communism.

      • P Ray says:

        Well, to your reply I just have to add the clever cop out
        “What you’re complaining about … wasn’t “real” socialism or communism” 🙂

    • P Ray says:

      I know someone who was very recently (last 2 years) at the University of New South Wales, getting his Ph.D …
      was only able to become a tutor there.
      Now he works trading shares.

  6. mark says:

    Got writing. Thanks. My work seems to always have been a lie. Had a crisis of confidence when I was younger and wondered how I could go to work. Debt kept me there until I planned my escape. Same now. Lie lies. feel more comfortable about it now. Work in fundraising and figure others like charity so, why not make a modest living helping them give their money away. Never ask why they support so and so. They can’t tell you.
    All reminded me of Ambroses Devil’s Dictionary. One entry that maybe relevant:
    MACE, n. A staff of office signifying authority. Its form, that of a heavy club, indicates its original purpose and use in dissuading from dissent.
    or..DEBT, n. An ingenious substitute for the chain and chain of the slave-driver.

  7. joesantus says:

    “However this plain but depressing explanation is not compatible with societies of the complexity we live in today. Just think about how long modern societies would last if most people understood that the amount of money they received was proportional to their luck, ability to be violent or crookedness.”


    I suspect the majority of modern peoples’, especially Western and Westernized peoples’, disconnect with this reality is because of the temporary economic period that precipitated the historical anomaly called “the middle class”. That anomaly unwittingly but effectively served to reinforce the delusions our duct-tape-evolved wiring uses to circumvent our rational thinking in order to trick us into continuning to reproduce.

    Human wiring seems to include within its complexi and imperfect admixture of self-awareness, rational consciousness, unconscious instincts, and mammalian drives, an impulsive attention to negatives (journalists and marketeers use this to catch attention and sell products), perhaps as a means to avoid threats that could harm or kill us; but also a strong desire for pleasance so a desire for positives, apparently as a means of generating “hope” and “control” and “justification” within us.

    If the rational, objective part of our brain is allowed full control, it’d becomes apparent to a human that life is nothing more than pointless pain and struggle merely to survive long enough to reproduce. A wholly rational human would probably refuse to reproduce. So, our wiring is evolved in a duct-tape way that allows us to deceive ourselves about our value and our purpose in existing.

    Part of that illusion means downplaying if not ignoring, on a daily level, the utter randomness of existence. . A wholly rational man would conclude that NOTHING about him is separate from randomness — not only overtly random areas including genetics any talents and intelligence; the place and time and family of his birth and of childhood; and random events such as weather; but, also and as significantly, areas including job opportunities, people whom he knows, educational opportunities, and even whether the bullet in the gun he’s using for a robbery is a dud or not.

    But, randomness means that it isn’t intrinsic nor acheived merit that governs existence — it means it IS ultimately about “luck”, including the random luck that permits and/or enables a person to be or become violent and crooked enough to “succeed” over others. And, therefore, the majority of people refuse to squarely face and accept the reality of randomness. It’s too depressing to most, because it means that there really is no hope, no control, no justification, so it opposes the delusion humanity needs in order to motivate it to continue reproducing.

  8. Your guest says:

    Randomness is exploitable and some do it better than others.

    Patterns in probability are how unpredictable phenomena like quantum tunneling can be used.

    Someone, or a group of people who are better at recognizing patterns and playing the odds come out ahead on average. Over time, even a small advantage stacks tremendously.

    Look what happens every time there’s a revolution. The same savvy breed always finds its way into power.

    Chance affects all of us, but how we deal with uncertainty makes a huge difference. One man might wait passively for things to go his way, while another farms many different possibilities, knowing a few will work out every time.

    • joesantus says:

      …and even those abilites to recognize and/or deal with any patterns is ultimately only possible because of the randomness which contributed to a person possessing those abilities.

      The spectrum of randomness bearing on what constitues an individual means that not every person (and probably very few) can end up equipped to perceive, utilize, and capitalize upon change and chance.

      Even passivity and risk-taking are significantly due to innate genetic qualities, as well as to randomly existent environmental and nurturing conditions which contribute to an individual’s personality.

  9. Your guest says:

    Exactly, genetics play a strong role.

    And nature has proven itself able to sort out highly specific traits whether it be a crossbill beak that’s perfect for splitting open pinecones, a jewel wasp that can use its stinger to perform brain surgery on its host, or for that matter dogs arrived at through selective breeding uniquely suited to herding sheep.

    Attrition begets results and humans are no different from other animals.

    After a 4000 year long process of domestication and selective breeding we already exist in breeds that survive by exploiting different niches.

    In fact, nature arrives at those who can exploit randomness in a very orderly and predictable fashion. If you can have a sheep dog, you can have a breed of randomness exploiters.

    Surely there are those of the most promising genetic material who are stunted by bad circumstances, but on average in a large population, those with better raw material perform better.

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