Interestingly, in “Standing Up to Japan” (March 12), James Fallows does not dwell on Japan but rather devotes most of his essay to attacking the American realization of a meritocracy. Furthermore, he argues that unless the trend toward stratification is reversed, it will be one cause of our society’s economic decline. He laments the evidence of his thesis in the observance that “the best and the brightest” are flocking to the law and medicine.
Certainly, it is unfortunate that the sciences, teaching and manufacture have taken a back seat to the more glamorous professions, but this is not a result of a highly efficient meritocracy. Rather, it is partly a result of a meritocracy that doesn’t function well enough. An incompetent doctor or lawyer can still buy a house in Beverly Hills, while a brilliant scientist or teacher struggles to provide. The economic problem that Fallows has identified is more the result of taxing and financing policies that have encouraged the large concentration of wealth within the corporate structure. This large concentration of wealth can be expensed to medical insurance, legal fees, consultant fees and investment banking fees, before taxes, while the services procured through these expenses can help ensure management survival in the short run. The inevitable result of these strategies has been the incredible growth in incomes for parasitic professions. This is a gross distortion of meritocracy.