Merit discussed at lecture series

Abby EpsteinNews Writer

“Merit is a sham” is the first sentence in the book “The Meritocracy Trap” by Daniel Markovits.

Markovits came to Southern to discuss his book about economic inequality. Markovits was the first annual speaker of the Neil Proto Law and Social Justice Lecture Series. Neil Proto is an alumnus of Southern and this year’s theme was economic inequality.

Markovits book deals with the economic inequality that has been going on in the United States since the 1960s.

“There are two kinds of inequality in any society. There is high-end inequality and low-end inequality,” said Markovits. Low-end inequality fundamentally concerns poverty and high-end inequality fundamentally funds wealth.”

For Markovits, economic inequality remains exceptionally high.

“It remains the most suppressing economic injustice of our age,” said Markovits. “There are too many poor people in this country, and we are not doing enough about it.”

Students who did not know much about economic inequality when they attended the event said they found Markovits talk to be very educational.

“I’m an environmental major so I am not exposed to stuff like this and being able to relate this topic to everything we learned about social justice at this university, I think was definitely very interesting and helped understanding the topic as a whole,” said environmental system and sustainability major Brooke Mercaldi, a senior.

After Markovits’ lecture, he engaged in a discussion with and the audience. The conversation switched to concentrating on the merit of an individual. Theresa Marchant-Shapiro was the first one to ask the question relating to merit.

“What exactly does merit mean? In your talk you talk about talent as being a part of what you thought of as merit,” said associate political science professor Theresa Marchant-Shapiro.

Markovits made two points about merit, the first being that he does not believe in the conception of merit that drives this type of hierarchy. His second point was that there is a gap between talent and accomplishments.

“Talent has to do with your innate ability to accomplish when given support. Accomplishment has to do with what you actually accomplish with the support that you have,” said Markovits. “What counts as merit has to do with the interaction between the individual and the group,”. It’s not something that’s actually valuable or virtuous.”

Political science major Irene Machia, a junior said she was surprised by Markovits take on merit.

“I wasn’t expecting him to take the approach that he did on merit especially as a Yale professor. I was assuming he would be a little bit for merit,” said Machia.

She did like the examples and the way he described his position on merit.

“He explained that usually meritocracies create societies in which they are important and need merit or get merit and make themselves indispensable, so I thought that was interesting because I haven’t heard that before,” said Machia.

Southern is looking to continue the Neil Proto Law and Social Justice Lecture Series with a different topic to discuss each year.

“Every year we will have a different theme and next year the theme is going to be voting rights,” said MarchantShapiro, “and so next year especially with the election we’ll have a series of events where this year we only had the one event.”

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