Monday, October 27, 2008

Rough Equality of Network Chances, Not Equality of Individual Chances

Will Wilkinson of the Cato Institute has an interesting consideration of the liberal principle (cited to Rawls here, but found more generally in liberal thought) that a just society would have equally talented individuals having an equal chance at each position in the social structure. Wilkinson is for general equal opportunity laws and norms. He argues, though, that there is no way that equally talented individuals are likely to be in the same social networks, and networks strongly shape what opportunities come our way. Instead, he argues for a lightly regulated world with many different kinds of opportunities for talent to find a good place for itself:

Elite networks can achieve only limited succe[ss] in opportunity hoarding if new networks, new opportunities, and new hierarchies of prestige and status keep springing up.
Individual chances can't ever really be equal, but individuals can be in networks that are roughly equal. This seems to me a good sociological insight.


Corky said...

So does this imply it is not who you are or what you have done, rather who you know and how you are connected?

I think at times the above is true, but not sure that is always ideal. Yet, I guess what the quote implies is the "good ole' boy networks will be done away with" as new networks surface.

Kind of like Fox News and CNN versus ABC, NBC, and CBS.

ceemac said...


What's the difference between an "elite network" and an "establishment?"

I am pondering this post in light of your call for a new Presby. Establishment.

Gruntled said...

In a full sociological sense, an elite is made of individuals; an establishment is made of families. The Presbyterian Establishment that I wrote about elsewhere is therefore only a partial establishment in that (Baltzellian) sense.

Networks do make a big difference in connecting people with opportunities, but it still does matter "what you know" in actually doing the job.