Tag Archives | meritocracy

The Meritocracy is Made Up of Poor People

Photo credit DEA

Photo credit DEA

Paul Buchheit writes at Common Dreams:

Many wealthy Americans believe that dysfunctional behavior causes poverty. Their own success, they would insist, derives from good character and a strict work ethic. But they would be missing some of the facts. Ample evidence exists to show a correlation between wealth and unethical behavior, and between wealth and a lack of empathy for others, and between wealth and unproductiveness.

The poor, along with a middle class that is sinking toward them, make up the American meritocracy. Here is some of the evidence.

1. The Poor Don’t Cheat As Much

An analysis of seven different psychological studies found that “upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals.” A series of experiments showed that upper-class individuals were more likely to break traffic laws, take valued goods from others, lie in a negotiation, and cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize.

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Intelligence As The Marker Of The Meritocratic Elite

Historian C.F. Goodey on the varying terms the elite have used to justify their elite status, via New Left Project:

Four hundred years ago, religious elites saw themselves as superior because they possessed “grace.” This was an inner ability that God had predetermined in a small, distinct group. It was fixed in your nature, “seminally” (i.e. before birth or even conception). “Election” to grace guaranteed your elite status in this life and salvation in the next.

Secular elites, on the other hand, were superior because they possessed “honour.” This too was a predetermined psychological ability. It was fixed not by God but by the quality of certain natural particles in your blood – with a passing nod to the idea that the odd commoner might gradually cultivate enough “virtue” to earn himself a title, as long as he topped the virtue up with services to the state, or flat cash.

Modern meritocratic elites, meanwhile, are superior because they possess “intelligence.” This again is a predetermined psychological ability.

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Why Our Elites Stink

David Brooks, undoubtedly a member of “an” elite set of people in the New York/Washington media/politics world, if not what the Alex Jones crowd usually and ungrammatically call “the” elite, describes the failings of a meritocracy in the New York Times:

Through most of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Protestant Establishment sat atop the American power structure. A relatively small network of white Protestant men dominated the universities, the world of finance, the local country clubs and even high government service.

Over the past half–century, a more diverse and meritocratic elite has replaced the Protestant Establishment. People are more likely to rise on the basis of grades, test scores, effort and performance.

Yet, as this meritocratic elite has taken over institutions, trust in them has plummeted. It’s not even clear that the brainy elite is doing a better job of running them than the old boys’ network. Would we say that Wall Street is working better now than it did 60 years ago?

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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?

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