The arguments that 1) America should be an unrestricted meritocracy and 2) America should be unconcerned about how equally the pie is sliced cannot exist side by side. If my competitor has twice the resources that I do, then I am going to lose the competition. Indeed, in the final stages of the competition, I should actually start losing my share -- precisely the phenomenon depicted by these two pie charts of the 80s.

But what if the pie grows so fast that, even with shrinking shares, the poor still advance? Surely, this would not be objectionable? The problem with this argument is that the poor did not advance in absolute terms, but lost ground in the 80s, as the statistics for personal and family income show. Later we'll review poverty figures that will show that poverty in the 80s was generally higher than poverty in the 70s. So the factual premise of this counter-argument is invalid right from the start.

But is the counter-argument sound in principle? In a moderated meritocracy, yes; in an unrestricted meritocracy, no. Perhaps an analogy might best highlight this principle. In a friendly training session, two boxers sparring with each other can both improve their skills; in an unregulated fight, however, one gets knocked out while the other remains standing. U.S. economic history confirms this analogy. We have already reviewed figures that show the incomes of the rich and poor grew together at roughly the same pace during the postwar years. In the late 70s and 80s, as our meritocracy became more and more unrestricted, the incomes of the rich grew while those of the poor shrank in real terms. Ultimately, the argument that unrestricted meritocracies are beneficial to all parts of society is hopelessly invalid.

Return to Overview