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The Illusion of Merit and the Demons of Economic Meritocracy: Which are the Legitimate Expectations of the Market?

Luigino Bruni () and Paolo Santori ()
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Paolo Santori: LUMSA University

Journal of Business Ethics, 2022, vol. 176, issue 3, No 1, 415-427

Abstract: Abstract Meritocracy is gaining momentum in public discourse, being close to the determinants of people’s demand of social justice (equality of opportunity, social mobility). Conversely, in Academia meritocracy is the object of harsh critiques. The meritocratic rhetoric brings people to overlook the factors which contributed to their success (unequal starting conditions, luck) over their individual actions, legitimating socioeconomic inequalities. Recently, it has been argued that market-driven societies foster the problems related to meritocracy. The concept of merit, conceived as the value of the individual contribution to the common good of society, is absorbed by market value. While we share the concerns on meritocracy, we question the idea that those are necessarily connected to the market sphere. To prove that, our paper digs in the theological roots of the concept of merit to better understand meritocracy. We inquire Pelagius–Augustine debate on human merit and salvation, and its influence on Rawls’s critique of meritocracy. We base on the “Augustinian” Rawls our argument that market is not a meritocratic domain, but that in market there is space for merit conceived as ‘legitimate expectations.’ Our aim is to prove that merit can find some space in market societies without incurring in the problems of meritocracy.

Keywords: Merit; Market; Augustine; Pelagius; Rawls; Hayek (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2022
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DOI: 10.1007/s10551-020-04727-7

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