The Merits of Meritocracy

Sunday, January 15, 2023
First Aired: 
Sunday, August 30, 2020

What Is It

For centuries, the promise of the “American Dream” has been that as long as someone buckles down and works hard, she can achieve her goals. In other words, we’ve perpetuated the meritocratic notion that the more effort one puts in and the more ability one possesses, the more success one can attain. But is this really the case? Given the historical and societal disadvantages that certain groups of people face, it may appear that a strict meritocracy could not—and should not—exist. So is a true meritocracy ever attainable? And if it really did exist and were in place, would it be fair? Josh and Ray level the playing field with Jo Littler from the City University of London, author of Against Meritocracy: Culture, Power and Myths of Mobility.



Josh Landy  
Shouldn't people be rewarded for their talent and effort?

Ray Briggs  
Or should society treat us all the same?

Josh Landy  
Is meritocracy just a smokescreen for a system that's rigged?

Comments (8)

Zettmeister's picture


Monday, August 3, 2020 -- 11:40 AM

Meritocracy is an ideal

Meritocracy is an ideal founded on the notion of the rugged individual. The notion that hard work alone bestows a certain prestige and authenticity to an individual is only realized among 'equals' Not all individuals have equal brain or physical function, economic or class opportunity or tribal affiliation based on race. That is not to say that those individuals so 'afflicted' cannot rise above and beyond a staring point further back in the line, only reflects the probability that not all will attain similar goals or aspirations when circumstances vary.

The challenge becomes how to sort out the willing from the less so. Given the impossibility of measuring distinctions among so many independent variables, the most efficient means, in a complex society, is redistribution! Charity is not enough. America learned during and after the great depression that society left to its on devices leads to ruin for the whole. Hence government intervention which became the mixed economy, along with the rise of trade unionism and public education formed the 3 primary advances in modern society. Survival of the fittest may have worked in earlier times, however the relentless pace of technology and urbanization of the population seeking economic prosperity has changed all that.

gmengel's picture


Monday, August 3, 2020 -- 3:55 PM

I think the purpose of

I think the purpose of Meritocracy as an ideology is not only to give elites a way to feel like they earned their prosperity, even if 98% of the time they inherited it (via the wide ranging advantages of social class). Perhaps of equal importance is that it blames and shames those who are trapped in poverty by mechanisms of racial and class-based oppression. The implicit and explicit shaming of the disadvantaged for their situation helps keep them from recognizing the systemic obstacles that function to keep them on the edge.

Trog16's picture


Tuesday, August 4, 2020 -- 3:03 AM

The closest I have found to a

The closest I have found to a meritocracy that works is the military promotion system. Is it truly without flaws? No is my answer. However, It does allow for the least amount of favoritism. It also provides for the best chance of recognition without personal bias. I do not feel that any conditions for recognition or merit based success is without flaw. I believe that is based on human nature which will always attempt to influence any System that is put in place to allow for maximum personal achievement. A meritocracy or merit based system is still the most desirable way to acknowledge and recognize Hardworking people.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, March 12, 2021 -- 3:20 PM

I wrote a different set of

I wrote a different set of comments and remarks this morning. Don't know what happened to that. Just noticing that the argument regarding socialism is being stoked by conservatives. This seems marginally congruent with meritocracy. To me. Conservatives seek to pin a preference for socialism on liberal/progressives. They paint their adversaries as socialists,claiming they encourage that system, further asserting liberal/progressives compare Scandinavian to American democracy and economic standards. Point of historic fact: the USA has had an element of socialism since the 1930s. It is called Social Security., and does not resemble it's name.
Comparison to the Scandinavian model fails, on it's face. Why? Social Democracy works in Sweden because of the much smaller population. In the United States, the whole notion violates the law of diminishing returns. So, the conservative political agenda comes front and center. Disinformation and misinformation rule. And 'average' Americans trust their sources and ideology to the dissemination of, uh, 'alternative act's. Remember that one?

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, March 17, 2021 -- 6:19 AM

Thinking further about the

Thinking further about the content of this post and the remarks offered (mine and others). Maybe the entire meritocracy idea is obsolete? Let's suppose, for a moment, that the united States was smaller, or, since that would be abstraction, suppose she did not shoulder the onerous responsibility of being a world power? More of the wealth currently generated might be directed towards improving the lot of every man, woman and child. Billions now spent on defense, aerospace programs and such like, would go towards social programs, medicine, food improvement and an array of other humanitarian goals and objectives. Lennon's brotherhood of man. Just imagine. Those Scandinavians! What a clever bunch. They don't have all of that onerous responsibility. True, they do not have the power and prestige accrued by other countries. But, I doubt they lose any sleep over it.

By most accounts I have gleaned, they are happier and more well-adjusted than most other peoples of the world. They have respected longevity and are healthier than many. So, I conclude there must be something to the notion of social democracy. It is too late for that system to be relevant here, for the reason(s) formerly stated. But, economists can be creative. Perhaps there may be some variant.
Some hybrid of some sort that would be a 'fit'? Well, just thinking in cyberspace.....

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, May 2, 2021 -- 6:01 AM

Received an email this

Received an email this morning. From a congressman. He talked about a conversation he'd had (he said) with President Trump at Mar Lago., or Mar-a-Lago, whichever is right. This was a recent conversation, or was represented as such. I usually delete these robo-mails, out of hand. But, feeling feisty, I replied, pointing out that DJT was no longer president. Now, I know this congressman does not recognize the fact stipulated. Probably still believes in alternate facts. The emails will not stop.
I know this. They are soliciting money and their originators don't care where it comes from. It makes being connected tedious. One of the downsides of free speech. That't OK. I would not want the alternative...

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Saturday, June 26, 2021 -- 9:10 AM

Rhetorical Question: when did

Rhetorical Question: when did the word socialism take on the sinister meaning, currently held by conservative America? I submit that it began with identification of the communist threat. As far back,I guess, as the 1950s. When the Russian world became the USSR, fuel was added to the fire. It was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Even though communism, not socialism, was the foundation of the economic and political system. Knee-jerk patriots pounced. And true conservatism was born. Now, anyone may argue this line of reasoning, But, I tend to be a pragmatist in such matters. So, I assert my proposal is at least partially true. Connect some dots; turn some knobs---see what you come up with.

Daniel's picture


Thursday, November 24, 2022 -- 10:30 AM

Your invitation is cordially

Your invitation is cordially accepted. Socialism is opposed to Capitalism as emphasizing group interests prior to individual ones. In a socialist state therefore no one starves to death, ideally, as long as enough is produced to feed everybody. The United States, for example, had a socialist economy during the Second World War. So it's clear why socialism is demonized by design by the forces of concentrated wealth and private power: They seek to pillage state resources which belong to the public. Those are the dots, now here's a couple of existing knobs, which might be turned as in the following considerations. One of these is the County Library system, into which the University System, going back to the Twelfth Century, can be absorbed. In that relation, I'm not aware of anyone going broke to pay off their library card. The other is the Federal Postal Service, which can be expanded to supersede private control over communications, so that no toll is paid to a third party in order to talk to a second one. A third knob doesn't exist at present but very well could in the future: Between the County and the Federal system lay the individual states, which could erect a locally staffed, state-funded cafeteria system which is open to the public without fees or restrictions. These knobs, continuing your well-chosen analogy, open the doors of social justice for the mind, the public square, and the gut, respectively. Little wonder that the privateers of public-plunder are so afraid of it. It works a little too well.

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