“The hardest thing about the meritocracy’s tyranny is that they’re not necessarily doing it on purpose. It’s just a convenient shorthand for a group of people who are really busy.”

November 20th, 2011

Megan McArdle (who was a brilliant MC at the IHS 50th Anniversary Gala last month) comments on Bryan Caplan’s post about how elite firms hire.

Forget about the effects on society, though; this is terrible for organizations.  You see this in Washington all the time–a friend who went to a lesser-known state school said he could always tell the people he wasn’t going to like when he met them at cocktail parties, because the minute he told them where he’d gone to school, they became extremely interested in going to get another drink or find the cheese dip.  This is one of the smartest, most consistently interesting and original, most talented writers I know.  Having actually attended one of those elite schools that apparently make you fascinating, I can attest firsthand that statistically, the elitists were vanishingly unlikely to be as interesting as the person they abandoned because he’d gone to a state college.
The Ivy League is full of smart, interesting people.  But it is not full of all of the smart, interesting people in the country, or even a majority of them.  And given the resumes required to get there, it produces a group of people who are narrow in certain predictible ways.  (I include myself in this: just because I can see it operating doesn’t mean I can escape it.)
The problem is that actually seeking out a wide variety of graduates would be much more expensive and time consuming.  Why spend the effort searching for “best” when you can easily access “very, very good”?
I didn’t go to an ivy league. I went to NYC public schools K-12. I went to a state school for college (a state school whose reputation is in the crapper for the foreseeable future). I went to a state law school (whose reputation is both severally underrated, and scorned at the same time for its perceived ideological affiliation).  I experienced a lot of this bias in the law prof hiring market. I will talk about it at some length in the near future. Needless to say, I succeeded in spite of, and not because of my academic pedigree.