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Meritocracy: A Flawed Ideal?

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Meritocracy is an absolute farce. It is a sham term. It is fiction. The world’s prevalent meritocracy is extremely problematic for both the elite and lower middle classes. Merit is the notion that social and financial compensation should follow aptitude, effort, and accomplishment. Middle-class children lose out to rich children at school, and middle-class adults lose out to elite graduates at work. Meritocracy perpetuates inequality. The rich oligarchs used their existing wealth to invest in the socialization of their children and build influence.

At midcentury, the super-rich really were a mix of oligarchs and aristocrats. In the 1950s and 1960s, the richest 1 percent of earners received around three-quarters of their income from capital. Sociologist Thorsten Veblen called elites at the time a “leisure class” because they were rarely employed and instead spent their days mastering nonproductive tasks as social signifiers of their wealth. Those who did work, for instance, as managers, partners in law firms, and bankers, worked relatively few hours. All the while, ordinary working people toiled for long, strenuous hours just to make a decent living.

A century ago, you could tell how poor someone was by how hard they labored. Today, that connection has entirely changed. Nobles labor for a living. They work harder than they used to. They work harder during periods of intense labor than the middle class during periods of moderate labor, and they earn the majority of their income through labor. This isn’t embroidery. A Harvard Business Review survey found that 62 percent of high-earning people work over 50 hours a week. Elite’s today work an average of 12 more hours per week than middle-class employees (the equivalent of 1.5 additional workdays).The wealthy are also more competent than ever.

A meritocratic imbalance functions like this: First, elite employees attain highly skilled jobs, expelling middle-class toil from the middle of economic production. Then, those privileged employees employ their enormous earnings to dominate elite schooling for their kids, provided that their descendants are more competent to monopolize high-skilled enterprises than their middle-class companions. The process begins again, resulting in what is known as “snowball inequality”: a compounding feedback loop that exacerbates economic imbalance, dramatically suppresses social mobility, and creates a “time divide” between a favored class whose partners work longer and longer hours (due to increased demand for their mastery) and an increasingly inactive upper class (whose job has been rendered redundant).The most apparent victim of this process is the middle class. Involuntary laziness leaves out the middle class in terms of social suitability.

For example, we are often told that we will be hired on merit. This is not the case. Even though you have an excellent educational background. This starts in the early days. Let’s consider this example: Suppose someone is born into a poor family. The other person was born into a rich family. The rich family will invest in their children in terms of healthy diet, adequate socialization, standard health practices, extracurricular activities, and psychological comfort at initial levels. Due to family issues, the children will not get essential ingredients for meals, socialization, or mental stress. The difference will be that both will develop different mental patterns to tackle the issues—sharp memories, excellent health, and efficient minds. This difference will persist throughout life. The lifelong investment of parents and family will matter here. It is undeniable that the rich boy will be able to secure maximum benefits from his cognitive skills and investments. Merit is a myth. The middle class and lower middle classes were singled out from the competition at the early stages when the investments of parents differed.

The difference between the middle class and the lower middle class is similar. It is an investment, and throughout life, socialization, as parents refer to their children, matters. The conclusion points all to merit. This is not merit; this is just competition for investments throughout life. Rising inequality is a product of these meritocratic myths. For example, rich people now rebuild their oligarchies by investing in capital. This capital may exist in the form of investments in education and child rearing. We need a comprehensive meritocracy instead of this polarized meritocracy.