“Meritocracy, Equality of Opportunity, and Social Cohesion. Pick Two.”

On November 6th, Ryan Muldoon will be giving a talk as part of the Freedom Center Colloquium Series. Muldoon is a Senior Research Fellow in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Pennsylvania. Please join us in the Kendrick Room at the Freedom Center for Dr. Muldoon’s talk!

More details about Dr. Muldoon can be found here:


“A variety of liberal theories share a belief in the importance of several political desiderata.  Meritocracy has near universal support, both as a practical method of distributing resources, prestige and office, and as a moral claim about who is deserving of the social surplus that we generate.  Likewise, the equality of opportunity is embraced both as a means of ensuring fairness, but also as a justificatory support for unequal distribution.  When paired with meritocracy, we can argue that unequal rewards are directly tied to unequal effort and skill.  Finally, though liberal theories may tolerate social divisions, they tend to value social cohesion: a shared set of values and practices that provide the background framework for supporting a system of social cooperation.  I argue that these three desiderata, though each individually desirable, cannot be mutually satisfied.  In particular, I argue that meritocratic systems that are socially cohesive will result in a matthew effect, generating outsized rewards for small differences.  This undermines the equality of opportunity.  I argue that the best resolution to this trilemma is to drop social cohesion as a desideratum.”