“The exacerbation of status anxiety under liberal meritocratic capitalism.”

I'm an image! 2021 / 13 / Dec

Concern arises among all classes in society, especially the general classes, as to whether it is possible to maintain their status and the status of their children, and even advance that status in light of the intense competitiveness of the labor market and its increasing requirements based on supply and demand for competencies and skills, which are a main product of the application of the liberal meritocratic capitalism system in society. 


Meritocracy is a system or society in which people are selected and moved to positions of success, power, and influence based on their demonstrated abilities and merit.[i] Liberal meritocratic capitalism refers to a system that focuses on private sector growth and attempts to ensure equal opportunities for all; This framing of domestic inequality in terms of metrocratic terms will prove self-reinforcing; deserving individuals will rise out of poverty regularly, and this will make it easier to ignore those left behind.


Linking the principle of meritocracy to liberal ideology is essential because the aspirations of meritocracy are a product of liberal ideology in many ways, so liberalism focuses on the rights that every person deserves, and meritocracy rises to this perspective to transform disparities into rights, so acquired privileges are reinterpreted as deserved rights. Liberalism attacked inherited privilege, abolished defined economic roles, and advocated openness based on choice, talent, opportunity, and effort.


The exacerbation of societal status anxiety, which has increased in recent years under liberal meritocratic capitalism, can be framed in two main aspects. The first is the impact of the principle of merit on equality and justice in society on the one hand, and the second is social status and social mobility under the principle of merit.




First - The impact of the principle of liberal meritocracy on both equality and justice in society:


Equality means treating everyone the same way, while justice occurs when people are treated according to their needs, which are not necessarily equal.


The idea of meritocracy attempts to address two of the biggest problems at the heart of modernity: How can we reconcile the moral equality of individuals with social differentiation? How do we secure economic growth that pays for the things we expect, such as social welfare? In that context, the impact of the principle of merit on both equality on the one hand and justice on the other must be clarified as follows:




A- The impact of the principle of merit on equality in society:


The ideology of meritocracy competed with two alternative concepts of social organization: egalitarianism, which called for absolute equality in the distribution of property among all members of society; The principle of inheritance, which supports the automatic transfer of positions, status, and titles from the rich to their children or from one generation to another; The advocates of the efficiency system were prepared - like the ancient aristocrats - to tolerate a great deal of disparity in fortunes among people, but they preferred - like the supporters of the principle of equality - complete equality in the provision of opportunities (if only for a transitional period); They believed that if everyone received the same education and had the opportunity to enter any professional field, then the subsequent differences in income and status would be justified based on the individuals' special talents and shortcomings, and therefore, there would be no need to impose artificial equality in salaries or property; You will not be less deserving and deserving of the benefits.


The system of "liberal meritocratic capitalism" has resulted in an elite that is diverse in terms of gender and race, but at the same time, it has deepened inequality under the pretext of meritocracy, as the wealthy can claim that their status and wealth are derived from their work and merit, which obstructs the desired social mobility. ; Milanovic explained that these wealthy elites focus on investing in two areas: the first, is investing in the education of their children in a way that ensures the continuation of this elite by ensuring that future generations maintain high incomes and a prominent social status. The second is establishing political control, by investing in expanding the scope of political influence, whether In elections or through research centers, universities, etc., such that these elites ensure the transfer of economic capital and thus acquired education and inherited capital lead to the reproduction of a ruling elite.


In his book The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World, The Economist's Adrian Wooldridge argues that although the meritocracy is plausible, it is flawed: an increasing proportion of wealth is in the hands of people with superior mental abilities, who use their wealth and power to To enroll their children in the best schools since distinguished education becomes the basic requirement for the best job, the wealthy can buy educational privileges for their children, and thus the new class does what the old aristocracies do in transferring those privileges, but under the guise of education and merit that makes it difficult for the poor to bemoan their fate. For example, students who cannot afford additional private lessons have fewer opportunities for educational competition. 


The 2019 Human Development Report, entitled “Inequalities in the Twenty-First Century: Beyond Income, Average and Present,” provided a logical explanation for the state of discontent witnessed by some countries that have an advanced position in the Human Development Index and some indicators of economic growth. The report attributes this discontent to The inability of many countries to achieve the required progress in human development indicators related to enhanced capabilities, including access to good health services, good education at all levels, and the ability to access modern technology, and these capabilities are linked to obtaining appropriate job opportunities. The ability of individuals and groups to express themselves.

Accordingly, those incompetent individuals who remain in villages, towns, and cities are condemned to difficult economic conditions, confined to low-paid and stagnant service field jobs, and isolated from the higher levels of analytical and intellectual work reserved for elite graduates, since they are rooted in Economically deprived areas or struggle with life on the periphery of elite concentrations, where they will have a taste of both with inflated property prices, either by overcrowding in substandard urban housing or by living too far from work and leisure.

B- The impact of the principle of merit on justice in society:

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development believes that high social mobility is a sure sign of merit and promotes economic growth, and both the World Bank and Transparency International show that corruption and nepotism harm long-term prosperity. In this context, Nicholas Bloom of Stanford University and John Van Reenen collected data on management practices in thousands of companies in 34 countries and concluded that countries that prefer to appoint professional managers through open competition enjoy higher growth rates than those that appoint managers through patronage. ; In a study conducted by economists at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, they examined the growth of America’s GDP per capita from 1960 to 2020 through the perspective of talent distribution, and they noted that approximately one-fifth of the country’s growth during this period can be explained by improving the allocation of talent. Talent, especially opening up highly-skilled professions to new talent pools. In 1960, 94% of American doctors and lawyers were white men. By 2010, this number had shrunk to 60%. This makes society more productive and more just.

One of the virtues of meritocracy is that it is self-correcting. Whenever a system or society seems to degenerate into justifying the status quo, reformers devise more creative methods of discovering talent; Countries that enjoy the principle of merit, such as Singapore, are growing stronger than those that do not enjoy this principle, such as Greece. Public companies that employ people based on merit are more successful than family companies that rely on patronage.

In this context, John Locke explained in his book “The Second Study of Government” that the prehistoric world in which a subsistence economy prevailed was characterized by the absence of private property, and each person gathered enough food and necessities for each day he passed, and any differences in talents were, Abilities and aspirations are not fully realized, and Locke provides the Native Americans in the Americas as an example of this “prehistoric” era. In a world like this, there can exist people who have merit, such as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, but they are very busy hunting animals, fishing, or collecting. The fruits are daily so that his latent abilities go unrealized.

This perspective in support of the principle of meritocracy as it supports justice in society is crystallized in both market competitiveness on the one hand, which ensures that people with competencies and abilities are occupied in places that increase the advancement of society, and the theory of the “invisible hand” proposed by the economist Adam Smith on the other hand, which is based on The interest of a community member in achieving his interest and maximizing his benefit contributes indirectly to achieving the interest and maximizing the benefit of the rest of the community members. For example, when an individual starts a project such as a factory, the raw materials, and equipment necessary for operation are purchased from other producers, many individuals are employed in the project and opportunities are provided. The work is for them and thus contributes to serving the public good. The general return to society - according to Adam Smith - is nothing but the sum of the returns of individuals in society.

Second - Social status and social mobility under the principle of liberal meritocracy:

Social mobility is the movement of individuals or groups through a system of social hierarchy. If that movement results in a change in status, especially in occupation, but without a change in social class, it is called “horizontal mobility.” An example of this is a person who moves from a managerial position in one company to a similar position in another company. However, if this move involves a change in social class, it is called “vertical mobility” and involves either “upward movement” or “downward movement.” For example, a worker An industrialist who becomes a wealthy businessman moves up the class system; While the aristocrat who loses everything in a revolution moves down the system.

If we link social mobility and status to the principle of merit, we will find that because there can be both upward and downward social movement and that this competition has been globalized, all classes are prompted to participate with deep concern because social status is to a large extent a function of For position, income, and geographic location, they are often compared and insecure. While advanced liberalism asserts that individuals are freer than ever before from the accidents of birth, race, gender, and location, people today are suffering almost universally under the yoke of a zero-sum economic equation. In addition, the accusations of preoccupation with the advancement of the profession and the focus on building a CV are not a result of the failure of contemporary education, but rather reflect the deepest lessons that have been centered in people’s minds, which are that today’s society produces economic winners and losers, and that an individual’s educational qualifications are almost the only determining factor in determining one’s status. final for the individual.

In his book "Discourse on the Origin of Inequality" 

Discourse on the origin and basis of inequality Among Men

Jean-Jacques Rousseau wondered: Is it possible that a person who lives by hunting and gathering, and not the modern worker as everyone has come to believe, is the one who enjoys a better life? Rousseau's argument was based on a radical premise, which is that true wealth does not require possessing many things, but instead requires possessing what one aspires to. Wealth is not an absolute thing but rather is proportional to desire. Rousseau articulated his argument that there are two ways to make a person richer: to give him more money or to limit his desires. Modern societies have accomplished the former admirably, but they have continually stoked people's appetite for more, but perhaps it is better for us to distance ourselves in practice. Emotionally, about those who we consider our equals, and yet they have become richer than us, as the outcome of capitalist societies can foster in us unlimited aspirations, which maintains a permanent gap between what we want and what we can achieve or pay for.

Such inequalities may leave us with a feeling of deprivation worse than that of primitive savages, who, as Rousseau insisted, did not feel that they lacked anything in the world, as long as they had a roof over their heads and a few fruits to eat. Here aspirations play a major role in determining our share of esteem. Self, we may be happy with little if little is what we expect, and we may be unhappy with much when we desire to have everything (satisfaction).

In his book The Rise of the Meritocracy, Michael Young argues that meritocracy produces a class system that includes a hierarchy of social respect, and grants dignity to those at the top, but denies respect and self-worth to those who are less fortunate in talent and the ability to exert effort as well as others. Providing them with a suitable education would give them access to higher-paying professions, so a society that possesses pluralistic values and acts by them must be provided. So that people are valued morally not only for their intelligence, education, and profession.

In light of the open market society and the high competitiveness of the labor market, and with no alternative, the children of the working class must accept the controls of educational and school life as they strive to distance themselves from their old classes, where for them the most important choice is “change or death”, economic and social death of course. In contrast, middle-class achievers are less motivated by performance imperatives and their success depends on the participation of their families and individual efforts, and thus the principle of merit becomes objective.

Thus, liberal meritocratic capitalism helps to activate greater social mobility in society. In this context, those interested in meritocracy argue that the goal of meritocracy is not to allow everyone to be good but to maximize the total amount of good work that is accomplished. Meritocracy is based on relative productivity. , so that more is given to those who are most able to transform resources into wealth, and less is given to individuals who are less able to create wealth, such as the poorly educated.




It is clear from the above that the principle of meritocracy includes advantages, the most important of which is spreading the principle of justice in society and increasing productivity, but at the same time it includes shortcomings, the most important of which is widening the inequality gap in society and also promoting a culture of intolerance towards the less worthy classes and therefore the lowest status as they are - from the point of view of The principle of merit - the primary cause of their situation in light of the competitive environment that provides equal opportunities for all; It is also important to clarify that there are still problems related to enhanced capabilities that are becoming more urgent with technological progress, which has led to a widening of the gap of disparity as a result of the majority not possessing what qualifies them to realize themselves or obtain job opportunities appropriate to the requirements of the modern era.