There is an interesting debate going on at the Econlog blog about whether there is anything like a “meritocracy” in the market. (My short answer: it is a mixture of luck and merit, but I am not sure about the ratio between the two). Rather than me weigh in, I just wanted to point to what I consider to be Bryan Caplan’s insightful comments. I also liked the comments in the associated thread by a character with the name tag of “MernaMoose”.
It may not always be the case that the hardest working folk make the biggest bucks, but it generally operates that if people think it does, then the system as a whole generates a bigger pie in which many of those who have worked hard to maximise their talents do well. After all, fatalism (“why should I bother since it is all down to chance?”) tends to correlate, from what I can see, with a less prosperous society in general. Unfortunately, there will always be the hard cases where the supposedly worthless celebrity earns gazillions while the hard-grafting nurse gets paid a lot less. (Although in my experience, some of these celebs have worked incredibly hard to get where they are). But in a society based on voluntary exchange and where no central authority gets the potentially horrendous power to decide who has made the most use of their talents (assuming such talents can be known in advance), that situation is inevitable. Being philosophical about such things, such as watching a trust-fund brat sailing through life while someone else has to slog away for a relatively small income, is hard, I know.