Meritocracy - Myth or Reality?


Origin of meritocracy

Meritocracy, as we learn came into the limelight by Michael Young over 60 years ago. He was the greatest practical sociologist of the past century, who pioneered the modern scientific exploration of the social lives of the English working class.

Meritocracy signifies a vision in which power and privilege would be allocated by individual merit, and not by social backgrounds.


Sociologist view

Social theorists such as Marxists criticised the functionalist view of role allocation of 'sifting and sorting' arguing that the appearance of meritocracy is nothing but ideology. Marxists also argued that the proletarians(the workers) were made to believe that the rich and powerful achieved their positions through their hard work and natural ability, rather than their advantaged births, this was the excuse they used for justifying, believing and accepting inequality as being fair. Another area of argument is the educational system which plays a vital role in this topic, as the myth of meritocracy has been used to develop a false class consciousness amongst people.


Today's world

In today's world, it is easy to fall back and rely on arguments from the Marxists, Functionalist and so on, as the best jobs around the world, (i.e. third world countries, the USA and Britain) are extremely being occupied by the children from the wealthy class. It is therefore gradually becoming difficult for brilliant but poor children to go beyond their status. This issue does not only worry the less well-off, but it also damages the middle classes too, as they are gradually being locked out of the top professions by the children from the wealthy class.


An unclear promise from our politicians to build a 'meritocracy' is not enough, nor is it suitable: a perfectly class-conscious meritocracy, in which everyone knows that their position is based on 'merit' would be an extremely unfriendly place to live in. Any honest attempt to improve social movement must start by taking away the gap between the rich and the poor. What the Marxists call, the bourgeoisie (rich) and the proletariat (workers).


Up until recently, Labour and Conservative politicians alike have sought to deal with the problem by promoting the idea of equality of opportunity. In politics, social success is the competition in town and old socialist contentions that highlights economic equality are almost as fashionable today as 'mullets and shell suits'.


True in today's world, equality of opportunity is impossible in conjunction with the levels of inequality as perceived during the 30's. In a grossly unequal society, the privileges of the parents are steadily becoming the freedom of the children.


Well thank goodness, all is not lost because, in September 2015, the United Nations adopted a set of 17 global sustainable goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. Two of the goals: Goal 5 - gender equality and Goal 10 - reduced inequality, include reducing social inequality, which refers to a group-based difference in opportunities and rewards. Another area which is of great interest was in former British Prime Minister, Theresa May's speech on the 9th of September 2016, she said, "I want Britain to be the world's great meritocracy - a country where everyone has a fair chance to go as far as their talent and their hard work will allow. I want us to be a country where everyone plays by the same rules; where ordinary, working-class people have more control over their lives and the chance to share fairly in the prosperity of the nation".


Bearing in mind the United Nations sustainability goals and Theresa May's speech, in which unfortunately she did not finish her Prime Ministerial tenure, we still find worldwide that merit does not earn you the topmost jobs but it is on the basis of 'who you know', and these are then passed down to their children and the next generation, and so on. On the other hand, if you can struggle VERY hard and damn whatever consequences you meet along the way, you can get to the top and be a Richard Branson, Alan Sugar, Amancio Ortega, Jay-Z, Rihanna, to name just a few. After all, these are people who dropped out of school but still worked very hard to get to where they are now, don't get me wrong, the best asset a parent can give to their child(ren) is education.


In this 21st century, and with so much issues around the world, my question is, "Is meritocracy a myth or a reality, and is there anyway social justice can give a proper definition to meritocracy?"