Ten Readings on Meritocracy

#1 –  Meritocracy and Economic Inequality

Eds. Kenneth Arrow, Samuel Bowles, and Steven Durlauf –  Princeton University Press (2000)
“This volume of original essays by luminaries in the economic, social, and biological sciences, however, confirms mounting evidence that the connection between intelligence and inequality is surprisingly weak and demonstrates that targeted educational and economic reforms can reduce the income gap and improve the country’s aggregate productivity and economic well-being. It also offers a novel agenda of equal access to valuable associations” (see also here).

#2 – Equality of Opportunity and Education: Meritocracy

by the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society – Stanford University
“While moves away from arbitrary discrimination are welcome, Meritocratic Equality of Opportunity has well-known limitations, especially with respect to children. For instance, judging by merit may be misplaced in the case of education since education is supposed to cultivate merit, in the form of skills and qualifications. […] Although some opportunities are open to all equally, opportunities to develop ‘merit’ are not distributed equally. It is this inadequacy of Meritocratic Equality of Opportunity that motivates the conception of Fair Equality of Opportunity.”

#3 – Meritocracy: the great delusion that ingrains inequality

by Jo Litter – The Guardian (March 20, 2017)
“It is not hard to see why people find the idea of meritocracy appealing: it carries with it the idea of moving beyond where you start in life, of creative flourishing and fairness. But all the evidence shows it is a smokescreen for inequality. As Trump, May and their supporters attempt to resurrect it, there has never been a better moment to bury meritocracy for ever” (see also here).

#4 – Down with meritocracy

by Michael Young – The Guardian (June 29, 2001)
“I have been sadly disappointed by my 1958 book, The Rise of the Meritocracy. I coined a word which has gone into general circulation, especially in the United States, and most recently found a prominent place in the speeches of Mr Blair. The book was a satire meant to be a warning (which needless to say has not been heeded) against what might happen to Britain between 1958 and the imagined final revolt against the meritocracy in 2033. Much that was predicted has already come about.”

#5 – What’s (still) wrong with meritocracy

by Toby Young – The Spectator (September 17, 2016)
“The unwelcome truth is that the underlying rate of social mobility in meritocratic societies is bound to be quite low — probably a big part of the reason it’s so low in contemporary Britain. Not that the UK is wholly meritocratic, but it’s meritocratic enough that any expansion of grammar schools would probably mean less social mobility rather than more.”

#6 – England’s class system is a meritocracy

by Roy Strong – The Telegraph (March 18, 2014)
“The truth is that nothing will eradicate the English class system. I am unashamed in admitting my delight in being knighted and knelt before Her Majesty recalling the Elizabethans who had similarly bent the knee to her namesake. Here was a grammar school boy made good and recognised for such.”

#7 – Meritocracy in Obama’s Gilded Age

by Aziz Rana – The Chronicle of Higher Education (September 25, 2016)
“The Obama years have been marked by the near-catechistic linking of college and opportunity, and also by a sustained assault from conservatives on the intellectual independence of higher education. […] It is not a complete surprise that as the language of social mobility has come to dominate our conversations about higher education, so, too, has emerged a focus on universities as handmaidens of business. […] For all the flaws of our university system, it is hard to imagine a free and equal society today — one that allows citizens to collectively decide the fate of their institutions — that does not have independent centers of higher learning, centers that are not reducible to the whim of government or business. Beyond the critical value of knowledge for its own sake or for scientific advances, universities are essential as repositories of dissent and as mechanisms for ensuring that all individuals have the cultural resources to pursue their own political and personal interests.”

#8 – Living in an Extreme Meritocracy is Exhausting

by Victor Tan Chen – The Atlantic (October 26, 2016)
“In the final accounting, this unbalanced culture serves no one: not the ambitious corporate employee stifling his empathy in order to clamber over coworkers, and certainly not the unemployed worker ostracized by a society that judges her to be a failure. But doing something about this will demand more than a technical solution. It will require challenging deep-rooted notions of what success is and more leverage on the side of workers—as well as, perhaps, a measure of grace” (see also herehere, and here).

#9 – Silicon Valley isn’t a meritocracy

by Alice Marwick – Wired (November 25, 2013)
“But if the tech scene is really a meritocracy, why are so many of its key players, from Mark Zuckerberg to Steve Jobs, white men? If entrepreneurs are born, not made, why are there so many programs attempting to create entrepreneurs? If tech is truly game-changing, why are old-fashioned capitalism and the commodification of personal information never truly questioned?”

#10 – The paradox of meritocracy

by Melissa Sandgren – World Economic Forum (March 21, 2016)
“From founders to funders, Silicon Valley prides itself on its meritocratic ethos; however, new research from MIT finds that organizations with meritocratic values are often the worst offenders of bias, specifically as it relates to gender.”

Featured image: Friedensreich HundertwasserThe Tower of Babel Pierces the Sun (1959)


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