Is meritocracy what we really want?

Theresa May has said, “I want Britain to be a place where advantage is based on merit, not privilege, where it’s your talent and hard work that matter, not where you were born, who your parents are or what your accent sounds like “.

Sounds reasonable.

And yet, in the wake of the financial crash of 2008 it became clear that meritocracy wasn’t working. Jobs had dried up, debt had soared and housing had becoming increasingly unafforadable. Both May and Trump acknowledge inequality, but prescribe meritocracy, capitalism and nationalism as the panacea. Both praise economic havens for the super-rich, the group they regard as the meritocrats.

Meritocracy used to be regarded as a term of abuse, describing an unequal state that no one would want to live in. Why offer more prizes to the already prodigiously gifted, who could look after themselves, and do? Instead, we should concentrate on helping people who do important but poorly paid jobs (teachers, for instance), spread wealth more widely and thus have a better quality of life and a happier population. This should be the Epicurean way.

Regrettably, it is the “meritocrats” who control the levers of power. Maybe over half these people have been the happy recipients of sheer luck, being born to the right parents, being in the right place at the right time. No doubt the people who run the huge tech firms are smart people, but they caught the tide, had good technical skills, but were also good “politicians”, a must in big corporations. They manipulate the party politicos, donating huge sums, ensuring low tax rates for themselves, and then broadcast misinformation that further divides the country. If they are typical of meritocrats, let’s find some people who do something for the country, not just for themselves.

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