The Invention Of The Meritocracy

rise-of-meritocracy-coverThe New Inquiry unearths the 1959 work of sci-fi satire that arguably coined the term — now used in earnest by many pundits to describe and defend our current society:

Michael Young’s The Rise of the Meritocracy begins in 2034 with a puzzled member of the commanding elite of the future wondering why in the world various discontented factions of the meritocratic society could be contemplating a general strike.

The more plausible meritocracy seems, the more self-righteous and intransigent the “meritorious” will become. In other words, the obvious shortcomings of the meritocracy myth don’t prevent beneficiaries of the status quo from taking ideological comfort in the idea.

There are inescapable problems of definition and measurement. What counts as merit? Who decides, and how is this decision objective? What sort of tests can be devised to isolate “merit” from some inherently privileged position in society that facilitates it? Doesn’t power redefine merit in terms of itself, and what it needs to preserve itself?

Read the rest at The New Inquiry

20 Comments on "The Invention Of The Meritocracy"

  1. Liam_McGonagle | Mar 28, 2012 at 5:54 pm |

    Well, it is pretty frightening to admit that life outcomes are largely a crap shoot.  Yeah, smugness is a big part of it.  But so, too, is the very real, mentally unhinging possibility that nobody’s behind the wheel.

    At least with regard to our individual outcomes. If you’re this very rare, transcendental type of character with a disposable ego, though, I doubt you’d have a lot of motivation to slug it out through endless board meetings with arrogant, benighted slugs.

  2. InfiltratedSlacker | Mar 28, 2012 at 6:43 pm |

    Bah!  If I am rich then it stands to reason I became so because I was better than the rest.  Therefore I deserve to be filthy rich.  My mere spending power is what contributes to society.

  3. Tchoutoye | Mar 28, 2012 at 7:15 pm |

    Andrzej Lobaczewski coined the much more relevant term “pathocracy”, to describe a system of government in which individuals with personality disorders (especially psychopathy) occupy positions of power and influence.

    Besides primary psychopathy, which is genetic, there is so called secondary psychopathy, which is not genetic but adopted by otherwise non-psychopathic individuals in order to fit in successfully within the pathocratic system.

    • Lobaczewski is seriously underappreciated. 

      I wish there was better supporting research for his _Political Ponerology_. Even without that, it is a useful study to aid our understanding of our present political and economic environment.

      I differ from Lobaczewski in that we don’t agree on the solution to the problem. I feel he is far, far too forgiving in the way he would deal with oppressive psychopaths.

  4. What’s particularly entertaining is the new version of the myth, that the superwealthy got that way because they brilliantly pulled themselves up from poverty or middle-classness with their own bootstraps. Hint: Gates got his opportunity because his family was both wealthy and EXTREMELY well connected. 

    • Disinfo_censors_dissent | Mar 28, 2012 at 8:32 pm |

       >What’s particularly entertaining is the new version of the myth, that
      the superwealthy got that way because they brilliantly pulled themselves
      up from poverty or middle-classness with their own bootstraps.

      (1) The majority of millionaires (~80%) are first-generation wealthy and inherited less than $10,000 from family members. They live in modest homes, and invest regularly and conservatively. They earn the most wealth in their 50s, after mortgages are paid off and the compound interest effect really kicks in on their investments. (See “The Millionaire Next Door” for empirical data contradicting your unsubstantiated claim.)

      (2) Browse through the old lists of the Forbes 500 (or the new version, the Global 2000), and you’ll discover that in any given year about two-thirds of the CEOs of the world’s largest companies were born to lower- or middle-class families. An increasing number of the superwealthy CEOs are from developing nations. Howard Schultz (Starbucks), Ursula Burns (Xerox) and Lloyd Blankfein (Goldman Sachs) were all raised in housing projects. Oprah Winfrey was born in poverty and sexually abused as a child. Sheldon Adelson (owner of the Sands in Las Vegas) and Andrew Carnegie (who practically invented the American steel industry, and build hundreds of schools and free libraries) were born to poor immigrants.

      What’s your excuse?

      • man, people still fall for the self made millionaire thing, if you bother to look, you will notice that most people  die in the social class they were born in.  what is it with americans, always thinking there millionaires who are just going through a temp financial problem.  I don’t know how many articles I’ve read about the homeless and so on, who when asked think they will make it out someday.  LALALA land of the insane.

        • Mr Willow | Mar 28, 2012 at 9:58 pm |

          “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires”.

          –John Steinbeck

      • Mr Willow | Mar 28, 2012 at 10:10 pm |

        For every one of those people there are thousands that cannot rise above their social or economic class, because in order to support the dreams of Adelson and Blankfein, they have to forever remain subservient to them. Not a partner to them, working for them; not offering ideas, taking orders; not really involved in the process, but serving a master. 

        It isn’t necessarily that any of those people are inherently evil, or even amoral, but they have to become so to own an empire the likes of Oprah’s, because to reach the top of the mountain, it means pushing others off its cliffs, and climbing over the bones of those unwilling to sell their souls. 

      • mysophobe | Mar 28, 2012 at 11:01 pm |

        I’m curious where you are getting your 80% figure from. Only two of Forbes top ten did not come from money or inherit a dynasty. Also I’d love to hear your success story. I bet it’s downright inspirational. Wow me.

      • InfiltratedSlacker | Mar 29, 2012 at 2:02 am |

         > What’s your excuse?

        Didn’t want to become a fascist – saw through the fiat/leverage currency scam.  I know, I know, being a millionaire is what I should aspire to, but didn’t, and that makes me a bad bad person.  I really am pathetic for going out of my way to avoid the wide-open path to riches.

  5. Disinfo_censors_dissent | Mar 28, 2012 at 8:12 pm |

    And in 1961, Kurt Vonnegut’s story “Harrison Bergeron” was published, predicting a future where  the government’s Handicapper General enforces equality by putting weights on the legs of ballerinas and masks on the faces of the attractive, and strapping radios to the heads of the intelligent so that they’re constantly distracted and unable to think clearly.

    There’s a reason everyone knows Vonnegut, and only whiny left-wing sissies know about Michael Young.

  6. You sound like the typical target for a pyramid scam. The book was popular because it told people like you what they wanted to hear. 

    Google on “Fooled by Randomness”

    From a review: “If they had investigated the whole population that their millionaires came from and discovered that all of the risk-taking accumulators (or that a disproportionate proportion of the risk-taking accumulators) had become millionaires, they would have come up with a conclusion that would be worth taking seriously. But they only studied the survivors, those who had successfully made it to millionaire status. They completely ignored all of those risk-taking accumulators who did not become millionaires.”

    for the story you don’t want to hear, and are probably incapable of understanding. 

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