A meritocracy is a system in which the people who are the luckiest in their health and genetic endowment; luckiest in terms of family support, encouragement and, probably, income; luckiest in their educational and career opportunities; and luckiest in so many other ways difficult to enumerate – these are the folks who reap the largest rewards.
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The Trap of Meritocracy

The world is not a meritocracy, as much as we may like to pretend that it is. And we have a long way to go before we really reward people based on their own merit.

                                Malcolm Gladwell

When I have started putting together this post, I quickly realised that one post will not be enough to really take in the complexity of the subject so I will be doing a three-part post.

In the first part I will define what is Meritocracy and will explain why I think is a trap, it will be called “The Trap of Meritocracy” 

In the second part called “Luck and Meritocracy” , I will explain why “luck” has to come back into the conversation when we are talking about Meritocracy and I will explain why this concept is a game-changing idea.

And finally in my third part called “Meritocracy and the Middle Class envy” I will explain how the Middle Class has created its own hell and how this can be solved.

 According to the Wikipedia definition, Meritocracy (merit, from Latin mereō, and -cracy, from Ancient Greek κράτος Kratos ‘strength, power’) is a political system in which economic goods and/or political power are vested in individual people based on talent, effort, and achievement, rather than wealth or social class. This definition is the purest form of Meritocracy.

For those of us who live in the real world, Meritocracy is closer to the definition given by Ben Bernanke (American Economist who served two terms as chair of the Federal Reserve, the central bank of the United States, from 2006 to 2014) which is:

A meritocracy is a system in which the people who are the luckiest in their health and genetic endowment; luckiest in terms of family support, encouragement and, probably, income; luckiest in their educational and career opportunities; and luckiest in so many other ways difficult to enumerate – these are the folks who reap the largest rewards.

Meritocracy has always been the ultimate goal of any political or social revolution. We want to be recognised for our talent, our ability, or our achievement no matter the origin of our birth.
We want to believe that the success of an individual is solely based on his or her own merit.

Revolutions have been instigated with this notion in mind. The French Revolution which started on 14th July 1789 was one of them.
But the revolution which will cement this notion indelibly in the history was the American revolution.
When the Founding Fathers declared independence from the British Empire in 1776, they wanted the people of this new constituted country to be judged by their skills, talent, or achievement instead of wealth or social class. They wanted a clear separation with the old-world  society which was divided by class with the King and the Aristocracy at the top.

But despite their best effort, the notion of Meritocracy soon turned out to be a pipe dream since, nothing is as easily corrupted as the human heart

Two hundred and forty-four years later, people realised that there was no such thing as meritocracy. 

Of course, we have all heard about some success stories about a man or a woman who started from nothing to become millionaire or billionaire because like any good propaganda, the people who profit from this notion, have to maintain the illusion that success and wealth can happen to anyone if they put enough hard work and will.

But the constant increased in global wealth inequality just laid bare for everyone to see that the idea of meritocracy was, like most of the human ideology, just another utopia to be reached by the few and not the many.

I will say that the American philosopher Noam Chomsky described accurately this catch-22 in his quote:
“That’s the whole point of good propaganda. You want to create a slogan that nobody is going to be against, and everybody is going to be for. Nobody knows what it means because it doesn’t mean anything.”

And he was right…

Who does not want to believe in Meritocracy? Who does not want to believe that one day he or she will reap the rewards of his or her hard work?
Of course, everyone. And this is why even though time and time again, we have been shown that Meritocracy does not work, you will not find one person who does not believe in its merit.

And this is how despite the flagrant inequality that the system promotes, most governments around the world  maintain the masses from revolting. They just dangle in front of them the possibility that they can improve their living condition by working hard so one day, they too could be rewarded from it.

But what they have forgotten to tell you, is that every time someone reaches the summit, that person will place some condition on how the next person can reach also the summit and so on  until there is a visible moat isolating them from the rest of us.

CNN Journalist Chris Hayes has summarised it perfectly in his quote:
“Those who are able to climb up the ladder will find ways to pull it up after them, or selectively lower it down to allow their friends, allies, and kin to scramble up. In other words: ‘Who says meritocracy says oligarchy.”

When someone reaches the summit of wealth and power, it becomes difficult for him or her to share this new acquired position with someone else. They become addicted to their power and start forgetting where they have come from.

Abraham Lincoln has accurately described in his quote: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”, What he has meant by that was that power and money do not change people, they only shine the light on their true character. 

If someone was already greedy, having more power will just highlight this details more than before.

People always say “how look  all that money has gone up to his head”, but the reality is that this person was already letting things going up to his head but it was less accentuated before he has got his money,

For example, imagine that you wake up in a real meritocracy world. Every one success is due to their particular skill or talent.

Depending on your skill, you will be able to buy a house that will showcase that talent etc.

But imagine for some reason, the same skill that has allowed you to buy your house, gives your neighbour a more successful outcome than yourself, how are you going to react?

Are you going to rejoice in his success because he deserves his due or are you going to be blinded by jealousy and decided that you can do better than him and you too deserve more than him?

If your answer is you think he deserves his success, you are a better person than most of us.

Because despite our good will, we humans value ourselves by the things we own and through the eyes of other people.

We spend our time comparing ourselves to our neighbours, our colleagues, our brothers or sisters and when we find ourselves short against them we will stop at nothing to beat them and to prove to ourselves that we are better than them and we deserve better than them.

And this the reason, meritocracy is an ideal that we will never achieve because people at the top always think that they deserve what they have got and are not willing to share with those at the bottom. They never stop and ask themselves that maybe it is not solely because of their work that they have reached the top but that they have just been lucky along the way too.

Hope you have enjoyed this post.

 See you soon for the part two : Luck and Meritocracy.

But before you go I will leave you with one of my favourite quotes, I think it concludes beautifully this article,

There is something perverse about more than enough. When we have more, it is never enough. It is always somewhere out there, just out of reach. The more we acquire, the more elusive enough becomes

Anonymous

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