Capitalism, Meritocracy, and Social Stratification: A Radical Reformulation of the Davis-Moore Thesis


  • Costas Panayotakis Ph.D.

    Search for more papers by this author
    • Costas Panayotakis teaches sociology at CUNY's New York City College of Technology. He has published a number of scholarly articles on political economy, social movements, and ecology and is the author of Remaking Scarcity: From Capitalist Inefficiency to Economic Democracy.

  • Address correspondence to: Costas Panayotakis, 836 Washington Avenue, 3B, Brooklyn, NY 11238. Tel: 718-857-2652.


This article advances a reconceptualization of the Davis-Moore thesis, which adresses the weaknesses of Davis and Moore's original formulation and can function not as a causal explanation of inequality but as a normative yardstick, against which the efficiency of capitalist society's use of human talents can be measured. I argue that the nonmeritocratic nature of capitalist society prevents it from using human talents efficiently and that this fact is obscured by a “meritocratic illusion” that is systematically generated by the structural logic of capitalist society. After briefly exploring one way in which capitalism's ecological contradictions impinge on the Davis-Moore thesis, I conclude by arguing that it is the mediation of capitalism's contradictions through social struggles that will determine whether a more meritocratic society consistent with the reconceptualized version of the Davis-Moore thesis will ever emerge.