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Monday, October 20, 2014

Is "meritocracy" another word for plutocracy?

A new article in the WP bewails the fact that a child born to money is more likely to succeed than a child born into a poor family, even when the rich kid is a total screw-up and the poor kid "does everything right."
Specifically, rich high school dropouts remain in the top about as much as poor college grads stay stuck in the bottom — 14 versus 16 percent, respectively. Not only that, but these low-income strivers are just as likely to end up in the bottom as these wealthy ne'er-do-wells. Some meritocracy.

What's going on? Well, it's all about glass floors and glass ceilings. Rich kids who can go work for the family business — and, in Canada at least, 70 percent of the sons of the top 1 percent do just that — or inherit the family estate don't need a high school diploma to get ahead. It's an extreme example of what economists call "opportunity hoarding." That includes everything from legacy college admissions to unpaid internships that let affluent parents rig the game a little more in their children's favor.

But even if they didn't, low-income kids would still have a hard time getting ahead. That's, in part, because they're targets for diploma mills that load them up with debt, but not a lot of prospects. And even if they do get a good degree, at least when it comes to black families, they're more likely to still live in impoverished neighborhoods that keep them disconnected from opportunities.
We've known this for a while. America used to be the land of class mobility, but no longer. Europe -- filthy, socialist "old" Europe -- is way ahead of us in that department.

What bothers me here is the use of the term "meritocracy." That's the problem, right there -- that word. The fact that we have internalized "meritocracy" as an ideal demonstrates how and why we have betrayed our principles. To understand what I'm talking about, check out the Chris Hayes lecture embedded above. Yes, I know that many of you watch Hayes all the time on cable news, and a few of you probably want to bitch about this or that aspect of what he does and what he represents. This lecture (presented a couple of years ago) is quite good, and I would advise you not to judge it until you've heard it.
As bad or worse
(first posted unsigned by mistake - please delete)

The term "meritocracy" was coined by social democrat Michael Young, who drafted much of the British Labour Party's famous manifesto of 1945.

Saw what you like about Clement Attlee, Bessie Braddock, etc., but subsequent Labour leaders Callaghan, Kinnock, Blair and Brown haven't been fit to lick their boots. (Harold Wilson and Michael Foot I'd be less rude about, but still - not a patch on Bevan and Cripps.) Attlee went down to Victoria Station to meet the surviving British worker volunteers when they arrived back from the lost war against fascism in Spain. He must have had something good about him at that time even if later he didn't seem to have a problem with joining NATO and UKUSA. Aneurin Bevan was the best prime minister we never had. Wish I'd realised that 30 years ago, but there you go.

Later, Michael Young was the main man behind the foundation of the Open University. The idea was sound. Would that that institution had become 100 times bigger!

He introduced the term "meritocracy" in his 1958 book Rise of the Meritocracy, 1870-2033. I haven't read it, but I'm told he describes a future where the meritocracy, having 'risen', craps on the downtrodden majority something rotten. I don't know whether he shows them getting overthrown; he may do. The book is online.

I'll read it. Nothing much worth reading seems to be written about the future nowadays. There's a lot of shit about artificial intelligence, 'the singularity' (give it a rest!), and 'transhumanism' (neo-Nazi or non-neo-Nazi, take your pick). Behaviourism on steroids, John von Neumann faction. Then there's the Turner Diaries. Some anarchists in London once did a cartoon book that went down well among some of those characters who like to wear black clothes and throw rocks for a year or two. I can't remember the last time I had an intelligent discussion with anybody about the future, the next 5, 10, 20 years. Or consumed a decent cultural production with that as a theme, even. Greenwash has got a lot to answer for. Youngsters in particular seem mainly not to have the sheerest fucking clue of how to begin to think about the present historical dynamic. Most of them just can't make the effort even where big megacorps like Google and Facebook are concerned.

One of my personalities is shrieking at me: "WRITE YOUR OWN BLOG, YOU ARSEHOLE!"
Not bad advice, b. In fact, didn't I give you that very advice, like, ten years ago?

I have tried to help those who have sought to start their own blogs. I've even tried to help people whose views differ markedly from mine.
thanks for the post joseph and the link to the chris hayes talk... i liked watching it.. trust is a big deal and people don't have it in much of anything at this point. he mentions how the military is trusted most and congress the least... i don't know about life in the usa, but here in canada we don't have the same fanatic veneration of the military/police that folks in the us seem to have.. i don't know if it is still the same, but my viewpoint is based on living in canada.. the fact trust is missing in so many areas were it might have been taken for granted is very true.. chris covers it quite well..

meritocracy is not another word for plutocracy...the idea of reward based on merit has an idealistic ring to it, but it is more idealistic then realistic.. same goes for ideas of democracy and freedom.. i don't watch tv, so i have never seen this guy chris hayes before.. he is touching on an number of important issues, trust being but one of them.. thanks - james
As I suspect b knows, Nye Bevan and Sir Stafford Cripps were never leaders of the Labour party. Nye Bevan was the intellectual leader of the left wing faction known as the Bevanites, but Gaitskell was the leader of the party.

Cripps was just one of the Cabinet after the 45 election, like Ernie Bevin or Chuter Ede.

Attlee was okay, but he was limited by the condition of Britain after the war. Reverse Lend-Lease and the other provisions of the Lend-Lease agreement and the Anglo-American Loan Act created a disastrous economic situation, along with the weakened military which allowed the creation of Israel.
Oops - posted anonymously by mistake again. Apologies!
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