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Meritocracy... Myth or Miracle?

Meritocracy. A system that recognises people based on their merit and talent. This is a system that promotes equality and the opportunity for all people to be recognised regardless of their background or economic/social background. As appealing as this system sounds, it can be questioned whether this is genuinely displayed in todays society.

Daniel Markovits, in his book ‘The Meritocracy Trap’ states that “meritocracy has contributed to increasing inequality and the decline of the middle class”. He also said that this system was something that did initially work, but in later years it ended up being less about people’s academic skill and more about whether they had the connections to back them up or not.

It can be said that a lot of people now get jobs based on recommendations and personal connections. Around 85% of positions are filled by networking. Of course, not all 85 are personal based but it can be said that, that networking is done between people of the same social circles. To be exact, it is said that 70% of people are actually found their jobs through connections in the company.

Those connections can be said to be mainly from the same class. For example, those who are rich and have a certain background, would be friends with others of the same background. That in turn would incline them to network amongst themselves and establish connection through each other with their other friends who are most likely the same as them. It was actually Percy Bysshe Shelly that came with the aphorism “The rich get richer, and poor get poorer”. This further emphasising that personal connections do play a large part in networking, job searching, and most likely other parts of a person’s personal life.

A blog post written from Cornell University stated that “A study found that when those who have higher socioeconomic status are threatened with job loss, they tended to widen their social networks to be larger and more diverse. On the contrary, those who report having low socioeconomic status were inclined to shrink their social networks by remembering their networks as smaller and less diverse, compared to when there was no threat of job loss”. It is said that this is the case because those with the higher status can hold into all their connections, even the weaker ones. And it can be said more job opportunities can be found in those weaker ties.

Even if they are not as closely affiliated with the weaker ties, they could still form that networking opportunity. The same cannot be said for those of lower status because they are forced to essentially cut those ties because they do not have the social standing to keep them up.

Professor Davis Schmidtz from the University of Arizona discussed the idea of equality, he suggests that society is like a “zero-sum game”. This, similar to poker is a game where “the only way to win is by making other lose”. He says that people are getting more accustomed to this “game” and there are cases where someone can profit and make more money even if they came from humble beginnings.

Of course, these situations are not apparent to all settings. It can be said that more attention is being brought to the idea that people form lower backgrounds do not get as many opportunities from those of richer backgrounds. So, provisions are being put in place to make sure that all people are able to get some kind of opportunity, and be able to have the backing that can put them up along with those from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.

Meritocracy can be seen to be as somewhat prevalent in today’s society as people are given opportunities and have the same opportunities as other regardless of their socioeconomic background. However, it can be seen that there are still wide gaps in socioeconomic status and that is something that will still and most likely effect people when it comes to jobs and other opportunities.

The idea of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, is something that will remain and possible never fully diminish. But it can be said that steps are being taken to make a more equal society. A society where meritocracy can be widely seen and people are encouraged and given more opportunities, solely based on their merit and hard work, instead of just who they are associated with.


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