I got the feeling that capital is more or less “merit” in a sense, grown out of a way to measure how many favours are owed. Capitalism is a rejection of other measurements of merit, especially those inferred merely by birth (aristocracy) or by what only the priests say the divine will is (theocracy). “Meritocracy” merely replaces the currency involved with “merit”.
Sure, “meritocracy” is really used as shorthand for “X is the chosen leader because X earned it in my eyes”, a way to hand-wave personal prejudice with supposed merit. I merely argue that the term is the outer circle on a Venn diagram, and used because the speaker/writer isn’t sure or willing to nail down which measurement of “merit” is in play.
Yep, this is the concept of a meritocracy as opposed to an aristocracy, though here the hoped-for measure of merit is competency. Or the proven qualified. Something different than the mere merit of being the biological heir, or chosen by shamans who claim to hear God’s voice.
Sure, as you note, the end result is only slightly different as those born into privilege have much, much better chances of claiming “competence”, so that actual social mobility is limited. But it isn’t automatic (at least in theory, as any test system can be gamed or even cheated).
More than anything else, it has made test prep into an enormous industry. There are cram schools on every street corner here in Japan. Many of these places are not terribly expensive (though it certainly varies), so it does mean that social mobility is possible, but it makes me wonder if it is really worth it. These kids are sacrificing a year of their lives (in ninth grade) to get into a good high school and then another year to get into a good university (in twelfth grade). On the plus side, raw intelligence without discipline and hard work is not enough to cut it, which sends a good message. But then, on the other hand, having your whole life decided by a single test just doesn’t feel right…and then there’s the stress.
No system is perfect, that is all too true. It isn’t enough to be a step up from having your whole life decided for you by which family you were born into, it lacks fallbacks, corrections to catch mistakes, and so on. The brittleness and the way it can be gamed is a problem that needs to be fixed.
What all of these “-acy” systems do not describe is how flexible a system is. How does each system compensate or try to avoid becoming what all systems decay into, the kakistocracy? That is the real question to be answered here.
It seems to have come as a response to social liberalism, which itself came in the first half of the 20th century as a response to socialism from people like Winston Churchill (he didn’t become a Conservative again until far later). Before that you have things like Gladstonian liberalism and Manchester liberalism, which are far closer to modern libertarian-capitalism than to social liberalism.
Libertarian is also a retcon, as the original libertarians were far left. Some of them still are (libertarian socialists, libertarian Marxists, etc.), and they have no ideological connection with libertarian capitalism.
ETA: Karl Marx used the term Classical Economy and Classical Political Economy to describe what is now called classical liberalism.
For sure, “classic liberalism” has come to represent a sort of dog whistle that broadly means “post-Enlightenment-era advancements in science and civilization were largely good.” It’s just a vague, general nod to the (presumably) positive parts of Western Civilization. And certainly white people have European descent have made some good contributions over the last few centuries! But that’s really an interesting or controversial or even meaningful opinion to have.
Or outright appropriated by Libertarians to refer only to economic liberalism (i.e. unregulated markets and corporations), leaving out the social liberalism so inconvenient to white cis-het Xtianist males. They’ve succeeded to the extent that when I hear the term I think of it first in the economic sense.
I like to call them the Koch Libertarians. The Bros set up an entire alt-academia to promote stuff like Hayek and von Mises as the real liberals.
The class of its victims who endorse meritocracy, basically the Trump voters, are probably not persuaded by the arguments of neoliberal intellectuals. Instead they are in the grip of a 200 year old cultural meme of individualism. It arose as a reaction against abuses by English and Scottish monarchies, and was carried to the new world, where it dug in its heels. I wrote a short review of this circumstance. The historical root seems well known (See Albion’s Seed) but ignored by political theorists wanting to solve the problem.
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