Meritocracy Doesn’t Exist, and Believing it Does is Bad For You
"Meritocracy has become a leading social ideal. Politicians across the ideological spectrum continually return to the theme that the rewards of life–money, power, jobs, university admission–should be distributed according to skill and effort. The most common metaphor is the “even playing field” upon which players can rise to the position that fits their merit. Conceptually and morally, meritocracy is presented as the opposite of systems such as hereditary aristocracy, in which one’s social position is determined by the lottery of birth. Under meritocracy, wealth and advantage are merit’s rightful compensation, not the fortuitous windfall of external events.
Most people don’t just think the world should be run meritocratically, they think it is meritocratic. In the U.K., 84% of respondents to the 2009 British Social Attitudes survey stated that hard work is either “essential” or “very important” when it comes to getting ahead, and in 2016 the Brookings Institute found that 69% of Americans believe that people are rewarded for intelligence and skill. Respondents in both countries believe that external factors, such as luck and coming from a wealthy family, are much less important. While these ideas are most pronounced in these two countries, they are popular across the globe."