Do you believe that America is a fair system where people are free to work hard to apply their talent and climb the ladder of success? American presidents, including Donald Trump, often wrap political reforms in the language of meritocracy, and many people believe them.
When the 2008 financial crash happened, many people noticed that the meritocracy they had been taught to believe in, wasn’t working. The idea you could be anything you wanted to be, if only you tried hard enough, was becoming harder and harder to swallow. We realized this when even the relatively pampered middle class found it difficult to find work, the debt had soared and housing had become unaffordable.
In the face of this instability Trump is one of those politicians that has managed to use the idea of meritocracy to justify policies that will increase inequality. These politicians acknowledge inequality but prescribe meritocracy, capitalism and nationalism as the solution.
Just look at Trump's moves and what he believes in. He wants to create economic havens for the uber-rich while deepening the marketization of public welfare systems and extending the logic of competition in everyday life.
In theory, meritocracy might actually be a productive engine for the new knowledge economy. But in reality it best describes of a world of extreme income disparity.
We are told that anyone can “make it”, and those who “made it” were spotlighted as parables of progress.
But climbing up the social ladder is an increasingly individualized matter. The rich get richer and those who didn’t “make it” are ignored or positioned as having personally failed. The very act of aspiring to climb higher up the social ladder has become a moral obligation. Those who can't draw on existing reservoirs of privilege are told to work harder to catch up.
Don’t you see? Meritocracy is a myth. Our social system rewards through material gain, increases inequality and doesn’t assists in terms of social mobility. People just pass their privilege on to their children. And you feel like it's your fault if you are not rich and successful.
The idea of meritocracy is very appealing. It gives you a sense of hope that you too can move beyond your starting point in life. It is the idea of creative flourishing and fairness. Unfortunately all the evidence shows it is just a cover for inequality.
It is not enough to work hard and be exceptionally intelligent to “make it”. This is just not that kind of society!
Sign in with Facebook to comment:
Sign in with Facebook