How Life Became an Endless, Terrible Competition

Over at the Atlantic, Daniel Markovits discusses how Meritocracy harms everyone. While many of the examples he cites are centered around the wealthy elite, that’s kind of the point – it’s already clear to people not in that caste that the notion of meritocracy, while good in concept, is a sham in practice. As soon as the criteria for “merit” become understood, it is gamed by those who are in a position to do so, further entrenching the already wealthy (but with a slightly more palatable veneer than the up-front nepotism of previous systems).

Hardworking outsiders no longer enjoy genuine opportunity. According to one study, only one out of every 100 children born into the poorest fifth of households, and fewer than one out of every 50 children born into the middle fifth, will join the top 5 percent. Absolute economic mobility is also declining—the odds that a middle-class child will outearn his parents have fallen by more than half since mid-century—and the drop is greater among the middle class than among the poor. Meritocracy frames this exclusion as a failure to measure up, adding a moral insult to economic injury.

Daniel Markovits

I agree that it’s a problem, and I don’t really know a good solution. It sounds like the author has some ideas (some of which sound a little… optimistic to me). It’s clear that things are coming to a head, though, and something is going to have to change.