Meritocracy and Americans' Views on Distributive Justice
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The dissertation analyzes Americans' views on distributive justice and asks whether and to what extent Americans support meritocratic ideals. The project finds that Americans are ambivalent in their views towards meritocracy. They believe that intelligence and hard work should be rewarded, but they also support inherited wealth, seniority pay, and the distribution of educational opportunities through the market. This project contributes much to the existing literature on public opinion and meritocracy because it finds that Americans are not as meritocratic as other studies have found. For example, Lipset and others have found that Americans support meritocratic ideals. It has also been shown that Americans believe that the US is a meritocratic society where intelligence and hard work is actually rewarded. Data from the International Social Justice Project, General Social Survey, World Values Survey and many public opinion polls are used in this project and confirm the previous findings. However, the data also show that Americans are ambivalent when it comes to their support of meritocratic ideals. Americans support the distribution of wealth by heredity, of income by seniority, and believe it is fair for educational opportunities to be distributed via the market where the wealthy can purchase superior opportunities for their children. In short, Americans are not strictly meritocratic in their distributive preferences. They often consider items other than merit to be legitimate reasons for inegalitarian modes of distribution. Hochschild's qualitative study on distributive justice found that Americans are inegalitarian in the economic domain but egalitarian in the political and social domains. Analyzing the data from the data sets listed above more or less confirmed that Hochschild was correct about Americans' attitudes in the economic and political domains. However, Americans are not social egalitarians. The analysis in this dissertation has found that Americans believe it is perfectly just and fair for people to be given greater levels of respect and deference and to have higher social status if their jobs require great amounts of skill or if they make the most of the opportunities they had in life.