How "meritocracy" went from a joke to a dogma, and destroyed the lives of everyone it touched

In other words wealth is used as a measure of merit by the wealthiest groups, and not the abilities or skills one has.


Could be worse. Could be Holacracy."meritocracy"&lr=lang_en&source=lnt&tbs=lr%3Alang_1en%2Ccdr%3A1%2Ccd_min%3A1%2F1%2F1800%2Ccd_max%3A12%2F31%2F1954&tbm=bks

(Maybe google’s dating is iffy though)

Your lack of search hygiene looks like it’s producing FUD.

The 1920s entries are for 1970s journals and the 1940s ones look like they’re referencing Michael Young’s 1958 novel too.

Those dates are probably mostly the years the journals were founded or something.

The term might have been used in a one-off somewhere obscurely, but putting Google blindly on blast isn’t that helpful.


I believe it was. Young’s coinage and novel were satirical. The most prevalent definition of meritocracy is, as per Wikipedia: “a political system in which economic goods and/or political power are vested in individual people on the basis of talent, effort, and achievement, rather than wealth or social class.”

Which is not to say that this is being achieved: it’s aspirational.

Appropriating a perfectly serviceable term and goal, like meritocracy, and redefining it on the basis of a satire (or as Avery_Thorn said, because jerks use the word incorrectly and assume it to be in force when it is not) isn’t helpful. It’s a bit like describing Jonathan Swift as “that baby eater”, or calling the Hindus or Navajos Nazis for having used swastikas.

Markovits is certainly correct in his assessment of the many ills of the current environment. My original point (about ‘elites’) was that criticism of the people trying to excel within this environment has become too routinely linked with the justifiable criticisms of its flawed implementation & manipulators of it.

Right; our society (especially at the top) infers merit from wealth and status instead of distributing wealth and status according to any meaningful measure of merit.

Mythical, even.

But in any case, if your goal is to create a society where wealth and power are distributed based on any reasonable definition of “merit” then the first step is to recognize our current system has almost no correlation between the two.

Many of the richest, most powerful people on the planet got that way by either fucking over society or inheriting their money from someone who did.


Indeed, as has been historically so & to even greater extents.

My sense is that we are in violent agreement on many of the points you’ve made. And as you so very importantly used the word ‘many’, I gather you agree that, as wealth and power should not reflexively signify merit, neither should their possession automatically confer guilt. Each person’s story is unique.

I dabbled with it in College but thankfully got away from that crowd.


It looks like it first shows up in books in around mid 1950s

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This is true, but on the other hand, wealth and power are a great comfort when faced with accusations that you haven’t fully earned your place.

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The existence of a lot of people who haven’t earned their wealth disproves a general “meritocracy”.

It doesn’t matter if some people have earned it. That’s obvious. That’s just #notallrichpeople. It has nothing to do with the point of the thread.


As one of the groups you cite, may I say amen and preach on. There is a reason primary care docs are getting out of the biz in droves, and it is not because we don’t get paid. Burnout is a huge problem.

Additionally, and only tangentially related, “meritocracy” has been reborn in the evangelical community as the “prosperity gospel” and is just as damaging.


An interesting correlate to your point is that the younger the population you serve, the less you get paid (pediatricians, kindergarten teachers, daycare providers, etc.) While it may sound self serving, this is just the opposite of the level of impact these same folks have on the future and therefore, IMHO, the level of value society would be well advised to place on them. But what do I know?


But it is simply not possible to get rich off your own human capital without exploiting yourself and impoverishing your inner life

Once again, the Protestant Work Ethic finds a way to make chumps of us all. I’ve made it one of my personal missions in life to let younger people know how to avoid the traps the system sets for them.


As I understand it, it starts early with the extremely long shifts (that result in diminishing returns due to fatigue) and the institutionalised hazing and abuse by supervising physicians that are integral parts of medical residency in North America.

I understand the need for extreme rigour when it comes to training doctors, but a lot of these elements strike me as gratuitously cruel and unhealthy even within that context.

That’s happened for a reason. Those who strive to excel in this crappy system quickly become complicit in perpetuating it, and in the process spread the myths about meritocracy that are belied by the realities faced by themselves and by the non-elites.

It’s not the the wealthy in general who are miserable, it’s the working wealthy (the top 10-20% in terms of earnings) who spend 50+ hours/week in their miserable, unfulfilling, soul-draining, often BS jobs because they see no outcome to getting off the treadmill beyond falling into poverty (a mindset exacerbated by growing inequality). If some of them are starting to see that the entire system is unsustainable, that’s a good thing for everyone (except perhaps for the 1%).


Training and credentialing isn’t the same thing as assuming that the people who end up at the top of society are there because they “deserve” it, as do the people living out of their cars.

That’s precisely what insisting we live in a meritocracy right now today papers over - that the best don’t rise to the top, because often people with talent and promise lack access to the education needed to get those jobs and if they are, they often have to deal with ingrained racism, sexism, etc. These things are not figments of some SJW imagination. They are facts of life.

No one is saying “let that guy fly the plane.” They are saying that we do not live in a level playing field with regards to access to training.


Whenever I hear someone justify high CEO pay by saying it’s due to their “impact on society” I point out that, in that case, the highest paid people should be kindergarten teachers…


And dangerous to the very people they are supposed to protect.

Nobody is at their best at the end of a 12½ hour shift. It’s so easy to miss something that seems small but can prove deadly.


Variant claim: “You need to pay CEOs top dollar if you want to attract the best talent.”
Variant reponse: “Shouldn’t we be trying to attract the best available talent for educators?”


On first read I figured this was more lulz from Yale Law like that Amy Chua Tiger Mom BS. But I look forward to reading the book for more detailed arguments. The article is a tale of woe about the meritocracy of elites in finance and law, which Yale Law is by habit and tradition one of the primary sources of supply. And Markovits went to Yale for his BA, his law degree, and occupies a chair named after the judge he clerked for. Blindered much? The inequality the 99% worries about is not the wealth of the meritocracy, it’s inherited and unethically, even criminally, acquired. There are plenty of professions, take STEM, that hire all kinds of graduates from all kinds of schools, not just the incoming 1%, and don’t require you to kill yourself to do well financially. So I shed crocodile tears for the 1% that Yale grooms for their elite clients year after year, and perhaps call BS on the whole thesis.