The Balance Between Fairness And Meritocracy In Social Groups

…if fairness means everyone is treated the same.

Three months ago, Dan Price announced he was raising the minimum wage for his employees to $70k. That bumped up the salary for a lot of people in the company.

Can you guess what happened next?

Those already making $70k began to quit.

They weren’t making any less, others just began making more. Those already on $70k+ felt that was unfair. It no longer reflected their level of skill or history of hard work at the company.

Whether this is fair depends a lot on your version of what system you believe in.

If your version of meritocracy is working for you, you believe in meritocracy. You believe the people that have been there the longest, visit the most often, make the best contributions (as defined by you), make the most contributions, work the longest hours should be treated better (or paid more). That usually means the best/longest-term members get the best treatment.

Even within the above are 5+ possible systems for assessing the ‘merit‘ within ‘meritocracy’, each of which could be considered fair/unfair.

There’s a problem here. If you treat the elite far better than the rest, the rest will probably vanish. However, if you treat everyone the same, what incentive is there to contribute better/longer/more?

I don’t have a single good solution to this problem other than to highlight it is a problem we should proactively consider tackling. You can treat better members better to a certain extent. You can treat everyone more equal to an extent too. The challenge is figuring out which direction you’re heading in and where that ‘extent’ is for your group.


  1. Nick Emmett says:

    Some of this, for me, depends on what we’re considering treatment. It might be that people reach a certain level in your influence/trust/reputation scheme and in doing so become eligible for various benefits (access to beta products, testing, t-shirts :smile: ). Maybe, if you want something a little grander, you can get your community to nominate and then vote for people to be installed as the Community King and Queen, or whatever scheme you use. Salesforce’s brilliant MVP program works like this.

  2. Richard Millington says:

    @Nick_Emmett this is interesting because all 3 of those ideas are inherently meritocracy systems.

    ‘becoming eligible’ for benefits is very much a meritocracy system - you’re treating a specific group better.

    I haven’t found most nomination schemes to be too useful (few people care enough to nominate or vote) but again they’re voting on what they believe the key merits of each person are. Likability might trump experience, for example.

  3. Nick Emmett says:

    As usual @richard_millington you’re very much right! :smile:

    I think what i was trying to say is that if you remove any visible “levels” of reputation/influence etc and let people commend or nominate people then everyone has equal opportunities - but then they do regardless. I probably struggle to imagine how to incentivise people to post by treating all the same. Even a simple thing as a badge on your profile for reaching Super Lord of all Jedi status comes from a meritocracy.

    If I wasn’t thinking of it in this way also, I think it would be harder for other members to see which are the valuable people to follow and connect with.

    I feel like a bit of one trick pony on this one, but am not sure how the alternative would look and feel really! :confounded:

  4. Bo McGuffee says:

    For me whether you treat the community members as part of a meritocracy or egalitarian system completely depends on what kind of issue you are dealing with.

    For example, in our Finance Forum we have members ranging from financial aces to newbies. Everyone has equal voice in that they are all allowed to voice their opinions. If a newbie says something that’s blatantly wrong and an ace jumps on them with something like, “Wow, with advice like that you must be a financial moron,” then we will remove the flame to protect the new member. It doesn’t matter if the ace is correct; what matters is that the newbie has just as much right to post her or his opinion as the ace. If the ace wants to challenge the opinion, that’s fine, but the challenge must be respectful. So, in the sense that all members have a right to share an opinion respectfully, all voices are created equal. On the pragmatic side, it keeps the veterans from running off the new blood.

    If, however, I want to move the community in a given direction, then I will work with those who have earned authority and lead within the community. As the leaders go, so too do their followers, and I simply don’t have time to work with everybody. When it comes to questions of how to improve the community, not all voices are created equal. Again, from a pragmatic perspective, I work with those who are most likely to allow me to leverage the system.

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