Sunday, June 04, 2006

Meritocracy & the "Secession of the Successful"

This is a continuation of my previous post about Manufacturing "Merit"...

According to Wikipedia:
"Meritocracy is a system of government based on rule by ability (merit) rather than by wealth, race or other determinants of social position.... Meritocratic governments and organizations stress talent, formal education, and competence, rather than existing differences such as social class, ethnicity, or sex. In practice, research on social mobility indicates that all these supposedly neutral criteria favour the children of those who are already privileged in some way."...

The term "Meritocracy" was coined by a British sociologist Michael Young in his 1958 novel The Rise of Meritocracy. Ironically, Young had coined the term in a disparaging sense to describe an unstable society in which one's social place is determined one's IQ. In the novel, this social system led to wide disparities between the masses and the elites, who had become arrogant and disconnected from the public sphere... And ultimately, to social revolution in which the masses overthrew the elite

Much later, the Harvard Professor, Richard Reich, coined the term "Secession of the Successful" in a 1991 New York Time article to describe how the elite "become arrogant and disconnected from the public sphere"

In a recent HT article, Sagarika Ghose captured the meaning of "Secession of the Successful" quite graphically:

"the ‘successful’ tend to ‘secede’ from society as they get richer and more successful. That is, those who are successful tend to retreat into a totally private world. They use private electricity. They attend private schools and colleges. They live in private colonies, manned by private security guards. They socialise at private clubs, use only private transport and thus they cease to have any stake at all in the ‘public realm’ or in the public world."

Perhaps most insightful are these excerpts from Michael Young's 2001 The Guardian article about merit and meritocracy:

"It is good sense to appoint individual people to jobs on their merit. It is the opposite when those who are judged to have merit of a particular kind harden into a new social class without room in it for others.

Ability of a conventional kind, which used to be distributed between the classes more or less at random, has become much more highly concentrated by the engine of education.

A social revolution has been accomplished by harnessing schools and universities to the task of sieving people according to education's narrow band of values.

With an amazing battery of certificates and degrees at its disposal, education has put its seal of approval on a minority, and its seal of disapproval on the many who fail to shine from the time they are relegated to the bottom streams.... The new class has the means at hand, and largely under its control, by which it reproduces itself."


gaddeswarup said...

Thanks for a number of good posts. I have been trying to follow this controversy from a distance looking for some clear definitions and statistics. Many blogs and articles seemed too frenetic and this is one of the few analytical sites that I found. There are also some interesting articles in:
I hope that you will convert these blogs in to articles and publish in magazines which are better known and more accessible to the public.Thanks again.

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