THE PROBLEM WITH...

THE PROBLEM WITH THE LIKABILITY ECONOMY. Yesterday, David Brooks argued that merit is its own reward in the contemporary economy, and that those who are falling behind are doing so because of a lack of merit. Even on its surface this philosophy is among the most pernicious and noxious forms of historical justification for social inequality around. A story in today's New York Times news section really drives that point home. Let's look again at what Brooks wrote:

...the market isn�t broken; the meritocracy is working almost too well. It�s rewarding people based on individual talents. Higher education pays off because it provides technical knowledge and because it screens out people who are not organized, self-motivated and socially adept. But even among people with identical education levels, inequality is widening as the economy favors certain abilities.

My colleague Ezra Klein has labelled this thesis The Likability Economy thesis:

...by relying on social skills rather than intelligence, Brooks makes the deciding factor mutable: a personality characteristic that we can change, improve, or develop.

In reality, this argument is nothing but a raw justification for the self-perpetuation of power. Today, The Times reports that New York City's Human Rights Commission has reached an agreement with a number of New York City advertising firms regarding apparently unequal promotion of African-Americans:

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