Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Problem with Meritocracy

Everyone should read this essay on Front Porch Republic by Jeremy Beer. His superb essay is a seering indictment of our meritocratic system of voluntary sorting and hyper-mobility whose practical outcome is severe and worsening forms of inequality, the emptying of our small towns and hamlets of their most talented young people, and the dim prospects for democracy as a result of this form of social organization. Beer quite rightly points out that the ideal of "meritocracy" is an ideology which aims to re-make and even eviscerate older patterns of life in the name of progress. Like all other ideologies, its political consequences are dire - tending toward tyranny whose path to ascendancy is cleared especially by creating a rootless, deracinated and deeply insecure populace. Its quite brilliant conclusion is to point out that the now-fashionable movement of "buying local" is embraced above all by people who have largely eschewed the real practice of living locally. This last step will be the hardest for a populace that has grown deeply accustomed to the idea that success requires the achievement of maximum mobility, fostered by an educational system that teaches one thing - how to live nowhere and everywhere. The deepest roots of our current financial crisis can be traced to these forms of dislocation - starting with the practice of dissociating mortgages from the communities in which they originated - and can only be truly redressed not by continuing to expand these forms of dislocation (a project as eagerly embraced by our current Democrats as our erstwhile Republicans, both of whom agree that the object of modern politics is to foster "equality of opportunity" in the name of economic growth maximization), but by putting a stop to its destructive course.

1 comment:

Beowulf said...

Meritocracy coined 1958 by Michael Young and used in title of his book, "The Rise of the Meritocracy." (Etimology Dictionary, it is a contemporary mix of latin and greek original words). Michael Young wrote an article to The Guardian against the misuse of the concept, which was unsuccessful of course:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2001/jun/29/comment