Worthwhile intertubez finds

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Mo
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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by Mo » 25 Jul 2017, 23:33

My beef with "meritocracy" is that they rarely measure merit and aren't really impartial. Until you can get job hiring to the orchestral play behind a curtain level, there's always going to be a lot of baked in biases. I agree that the goal should be to get to an impartial, meritocratic system, but the systems that claim to be them are those most frequently not that at all.
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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by thoreau » 25 Jul 2017, 23:43

And the answer to that is to either go to "orchestral auditions behind a curtain" types of selection processes or else try your best at something close to merits but balance it by explicitly correcting for biases. But that means something close to explicit affirmative action, which is verboten. So we're left with vague talk about how merit is problematic or whatever.

In the world where measures of merit are decried, expect more people to rely on insider networks for the sorts of information that officially nobody would ever pay attention to.

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Hugh Akston
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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by Hugh Akston » 26 Jul 2017, 03:55

Mo wrote:
25 Jul 2017, 23:33
I agree that the goal should be to get to an impartial, meritocratic system
Why?

Also, how do you measure merit? What are its parameters? Can anyone cite an industry slash profession slash circumstance where you can quantify merit and say definitively that Bro A is superior to Bro B? It seems like the variables outnumber the constants by a lot, especially when you take into consideration the contexts of the organization, the team, the project, and the trajectory.

Furthermore, even if you managed to find a way to measure and quantify merit, there would be no way to know if you were right because you have no access to the counterfactual outcomes.
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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by Sandy » 26 Jul 2017, 10:30

Hugh Akston wrote:
26 Jul 2017, 03:55
Mo wrote:
25 Jul 2017, 23:33
I agree that the goal should be to get to an impartial, meritocratic system
Why?

Also, how do you measure merit? What are its parameters? Can anyone cite an industry slash profession slash circumstance where you can quantify merit and say definitively that Bro A is superior to Bro B? It seems like the variables outnumber the constants by a lot, especially when you take into consideration the contexts of the organization, the team, the project, and the trajectory.

Furthermore, even if you managed to find a way to measure and quantify merit, there would be no way to know if you were right because you have no access to the counterfactual outcomes.
So...cronyism?
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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by Aresen » 26 Jul 2017, 10:41

Hugh Akston wrote:
26 Jul 2017, 03:55
Mo wrote:
25 Jul 2017, 23:33
I agree that the goal should be to get to an impartial, meritocratic system
Also, how do you measure merit? What are its parameters? Can anyone cite an industry slash profession slash circumstance where you can quantify merit and say definitively that Bro A is superior to Bro B?
At the actual 'production' or 'front line' level, I think it is possible. When you get above that level, most 'management best practices' guides are flavor of the month.
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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by JasonL » 26 Jul 2017, 11:27

I think it far more coherent to talk about something like reducing "unreasonably biased exclusions from consideration" than it does to talk about a meritocratic ideal to strive for. I don't think that second thing means anything at all whereas you can put your finger on some things in the first category.

For example, working with someone I know from the past may have a high likelihood of increasing success for this project and exclusions of other candidates may be perfectly reasonable even if in some sense you could argue they are "better". Better for what purpose? Smarter? Coordinates with people fluidly? Imaginative? Rigorous? Gritty? Sells well? Institutional knowledge? Handles stress well? Almost no cases show you a person where all of those things are best in class. You are doing tradeoffs. Merit doesn't mean anything.

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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by Hugh Akston » 26 Jul 2017, 11:54

Yeah if merit means anything, it's hella contextual and not measurable with standardized tests. Thoreau can contemplate that on the tree of woe.
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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by thoreau » 26 Jul 2017, 13:20

JasonL wrote:I think it far more coherent to talk about something like reducing "unreasonably biased exclusions from consideration" than it does to talk about a meritocratic ideal to strive for. I don't think that second thing means anything at all whereas you can put your finger on some things in the first category.

For example, working with someone I know from the past may have a high likelihood of increasing success for this project and exclusions of other candidates may be perfectly reasonable even if in some sense you could argue they are "better". Better for what purpose? Smarter? Coordinates with people fluidly? Imaginative? Rigorous? Gritty? Sells well? Institutional knowledge? Handles stress well? Almost no cases show you a person where all of those things are best in class. You are doing tradeoffs. Merit doesn't mean anything.
But even with trade-offs, when you know that Finalist #1 is better at this skill and Finalist #2 is better at that skill and it's a trade-off either way, you don't just throw up your hands and say "There is no such thing as merit." You make your best informed guess at which of those skills will be more valuable for the organization to have in the person in that role in the current or foreseeable situation, and you go with that. It is a concept of merit relevant to this role in this setting.

The subtext to most critiques of meritocracy is that they want you to put other considerations on the table. Mostly diversity.

And sometimes diversity is in fact merit. If you wanted to run ads for women's clothing in the Los Angeles market you wouldn't hire a bunch of white dudes in the Midwest to design the ads. But that isn't what the critiques are really aiming at.

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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by Sandy » 26 Jul 2017, 13:49

This is getting really close to the "there is no way to determine quality among teachers because they are magical, holy creatures, like whales." Except now everybody is holy and competence is an illusion and nothing means anything so why not vote Trump?
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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by Hugh Akston » 26 Jul 2017, 13:58

It's not so much that competence is an illusion, but rather that competence is highly dependent on context and thus hard to generalize from one situation to another, much less from one individual to another.
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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by thoreau » 26 Jul 2017, 14:02

Yeah, there's a difference between humbly acknowleding the limitations of our measurements and declaring that nothing matters. In the first case you try to be diligent while also recognizing that your measurements are not moral judgments. In the second case we get Foucault, Trump, unionized teachers, and all the rest.

Also, I understand Jason's allergy to the concept of merit as deserving something, but there's a difference between "I have a degree from an expensive school so I'm naturally the best" and "We hired this person because their track record and skills were the best match to what we think we need in this role right now." The critics of meritocracy most definitely do NOT want to walk away from the concept of "deserving." Implicit in their critiques is that "diverse" is synonymous with "deserving."
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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by JasonL » 26 Jul 2017, 14:06

Sandy wrote:
26 Jul 2017, 13:49
This is getting really close to the "there is no way to determine quality among teachers because they are magical, holy creatures, like whales." Except now everybody is holy and competence is an illusion and nothing means anything so why not vote Trump?
Quality is measurable in most cases. Merit, to the extent it refers to known performance against measured quality standards in a specific context, is similarly measurable. My argument is that merit as in "meritocracy" takes on a lot more baggage than that - it is the institutionalization of merit to imply something like "you should be able to look at the composition of outcomes in America or Education or Business and critique the system as meritocratic or not". That doesn't follow because mertiocratic determination in each micro case doesn't imply anything about National Meritocracy.

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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by thoreau » 26 Jul 2017, 14:13

If I understand you correctly, your point is not that meritocracy should be eschewed because the goal is a bad one, but rather because we can never really judge if anyone else is meeting this goal?

On some level that's true. Few individual micro-scale hiring decisions can or should be subjected to that scrutiny. At the same time, one could have qualms about just how meritocratic things are if statistics showed that upward movement into a certain tier was much less common than other types of movements.

The perfect should not be the enemy of the good. I think it's a goal that has some place in conversations. Its unattainability should neither be used to end all conversation about it nor to dismiss anyone who says "We hired the candidate who best met our needs for this role at this time."
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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by JasonL » 26 Jul 2017, 14:23

I'm more saying meritocracy dissolves into incoherence when you try to aggregate cases. It doesn't mean anything at a macro level because you don't know how any of those decisions were made and what variables were in play. I think functionally macro discussions of meritocracy are aesthetic arguments about distributions.

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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by Sandy » 26 Jul 2017, 14:24

JasonL wrote:
26 Jul 2017, 14:06
Sandy wrote:
26 Jul 2017, 13:49
This is getting really close to the "there is no way to determine quality among teachers because they are magical, holy creatures, like whales." Except now everybody is holy and competence is an illusion and nothing means anything so why not vote Trump?
Quality is measurable in most cases. Merit, to the extent it refers to known performance against measured quality standards in a specific context, is similarly measurable. My argument is that merit as in "meritocracy" takes on a lot more baggage than that - it is the institutionalization of merit to imply something like "you should be able to look at the composition of outcomes in America or Education or Business and critique the system as meritocratic or not". That doesn't follow because mertiocratic determination in each micro case doesn't imply anything about National Meritocracy.
Most of the outrage I've seen is against leadership in open source projects or within companies. I'd argue in both cases that it is measurable or at least discernible and meritocratic hiring/promotion practices should be the ideal. I've never heard anyone claim politics is a meritocracy.
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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by thoreau » 26 Jul 2017, 14:31

Scott Alexander has another post up about merit, credentials, etc. I think he makes some important observations about how players in many markets have chosen to look at educational credentials, even when (somewhat relevant) test scores are available and legal to use. He doesn't speculate on why, but he rejects some of the more common but naive explanations. Good for him.

http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/07/26/dont-blame-griggs/
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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by JasonL » 26 Jul 2017, 14:33

People claim politics is a remedy for failed meritocracy which implies that political actors or those outside the system can evaluate what should have happened. Broadly, as we've discussed many times, I'm very skeptical of outside actors having any particular insight into what "should" happen in any given micro cases.

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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by thoreau » 26 Jul 2017, 14:39

Jason, your fear of asking "is" questions about merit and outcomes, because of the potential for people to leap to "ought" conclusions about politics and redistribution, is not so different from the fear that some lefties have about "is" questions concerning predictors of educational outcomes, for fear of people leaping to "ought" conclusions about inequality. You fear that people will find inefficiency or unfairness and demand that something be done, they fear that people will find explanations for inequality and NOT demand (certain kinds of) political solutions.

Both attitudes are hostile to inquiry. If you personally don't want to join discussions of those lines of inquiry because you don't like the topic, that's cool. If you're afraid of anyone joining those discussions for fear of the conclusions, you're the mirror image of Right-Thinking Liberals talking about social science.
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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by JasonL » 26 Jul 2017, 15:48

There is no Is question about meritocracy in aggregate. I don't think you or anyone else could define the concept without going to some outcome and working backwards until you get the story you like. I like this person getting money, I don't like that other person getting money. We weren't in the room we had no (ugh, but yes) skin in the game, we have no way to analyze our own actions if we actually had to bear the cost of transactions. It's just bloviation.

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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by thoreau » 26 Jul 2017, 15:56

You're dangerously close to defining all transactions as rational and efficient, at which point economics ceases to be a subject of inquiry and becomes at best a philosophical explanation for why no transaction can or should be examined from the outside.

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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by thoreau » 26 Jul 2017, 16:10

Here are some perfectly valid "is" questions to ask. I don't know the state of the research on these questions, so I presume nothing about answers, but they seem perfectly reasonable to ask:

-How do people who got admitted to college because of legacy status perform in jobs after college? Does it depend on whether they work in roles where connections are valuable (e.g. anything that requires wooing outside clients, or navigating compliance issues with local officials) or more technical roles?

-How do family-operated businesses fare compared with others in the same sector? Which factors determine their success?

-When a manager employs large numbers of friends and relatives, do they see profitability go up or down relative to competitors? Does it depend on whether they're in a sector that faces large potential losses from theft and embezzlement? Does it depend on whether they're in a business that skirts the fine edge of the law and needs assurances of silence?

-Do companies that mostly recruit from a small handful of colleges do better or worse than competitors who recruit more broadly? Does it depend on whether they're recruiting for roles where few benchmarks exist (e.g. licensing and certification) so informative rec letters from trusted friends matter?

-Do teams of people who share an alma mater perform better than mixed teams?

-When people follow parents into a profession that has high barriers to entry, do they do better than less-connected peers because of their life-long acculturation, or worse because they got in on connections rather than demonstrated talent?

These are just a few "is" questions that an economist might study, and they all have implications for the general concept of meritocracy.
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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by thoreau » 26 Jul 2017, 16:16

I can't find it now, but there's been research showing that when employers are barred from asking about criminal background discrimination against minorities goes up, because people rely on stereotypes rather than information specific to individuals. Those studies may or may not replicate, but either way the result would have multi-faceted implications for a discussion of a broad concept of "meritocracy" in a society.

(I'd add that if the study results turn out to be valid and reproducible then there are very libertarian-friendly implications about the value of information for rational behavior and opportunity, and the willingness of people to move beyond stereotypes when information is available.)

Your allergy to concepts like "desert" and "meritocracy" would shut down a lot of interesting and important "is" inquiries for fear that lefties, protectionist Trumpsters, and others might use the results to bolster certain "ought" agendas.
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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by nicole » 26 Jul 2017, 16:38

But "desert" and "merit" both come with "ought" built in...
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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by JasonL » 26 Jul 2017, 17:27

nicole wrote:
26 Jul 2017, 16:38
But "desert" and "merit" both come with "ought" built in...
Yes. They do. They are almost all ought.

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Re: Worthwhile intertubez finds

Post by thoreau » 26 Jul 2017, 17:27

nicole wrote:
26 Jul 2017, 16:38
But "desert" and "merit" both come with "ought" built in...
I'll grant you "desert", but "merit" only comes with an "ought" built-in if it is one-dimensional rather than multi-faceted. As soon as it has multiple aspects and we acknowledge the difficulty of figuring out which aspects matter most in a particular situation, there's no requirement for individual decisions to go under the microscope and see if they pass "ought" muster. But there's still a framework for looking at the bigger picture and asking what predicts advancement in society.
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