Meritocracy is broken and how to fix it

Meritocracy is a system where people achieve success through their talent and efforts, not wealth or social class.

“Those of us who have landed on top have come to believe that our success is our own doing, the measure of our merit and by implication that those who struggle, those left behind must have no one to blame but themselves.

The meritocracy is far from perfect because affluent parents have figured out how to pass their privileges on to their kids.

Even if we had a perfectly fair meritocracy even if we had perfectly fair equality of opportunity, there would still be a problem a dark side to do with the attitudes towards success – to do with the tendency of the successful to inhale too deeply of their success, to believe it’s our own doing and to forget the luck and good fortune that helps us on our way.

Until we come to grips with this, until we find a way to address that sense of demoralisation and disempowerment and humiliation we’re not going to put to rest the appeal and the source of support for the kinds of authoritarian populist politics that still are very powerfully present on the political horizon.

Those of us with the luxury of working from home can’t help but recognise how deeply we depend on workers we often overlook – not only those heroic workers in hospitals caring for COVID patients, but just as you say, bus drivers, truckers, deliver workers, warehouse workers, home healthcare providers, daycare workers. And these are not the best paid or most honoured workers in our society. And yet now we are calling them ‘essential workers’. So this could be the opening for a broader public debate about how to bring their pay and recognition into better alignment with the importance of the work they do.

One of the attitudes that’s missing from our collective public life is humility, the humility that comes from recognising the role of luck in life and that comes from recalling our indebtedness for our success to parents, to teachers, to neighbourhoods, to communities, to our country, to the times in which we live.”

Source: Michael Sandel