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Equality and Meritocracy -- How To Allow and Preserve a Meritocracy

Updated: Apr 20


A beautiful old city

Ms. Tamara Moskal's Synopsis

Finding a functional balance between individual freedom and equality is the key to a prosperous and just society. In a fair democracy, all citizens have equal rights, and the law applies to all without favoring the privileged. Meritocracy is an idealistic social system that allows everybody to succeed based on their abilities, regardless of wealth or social status. However, meritocracy can create an undesirable or dangerous elite based on outstanding skills, destabilizing society because of a lack of regulations. Equality can limit individual freedoms in some cases.
An example is economic equality, which requires heavy governmental intervention and control. On the other hand, equal opportunity to jobs and prosperity without discrimination aligns with individual freedom and should be promoted. Yet, equality of pay that disregards work quality and talent leads to demotivation and decreased performance, followed by decline. Communism serves as a cautionary example.



The Limits of Meritocracy in a Fair Democracy


The core principle of an honest democracy, I believe, lies in the equality of rights and the law. This equality ensures that everyone, regardless of background or ability, stands on the same ground before the legal system. Here, individuality should not influence legal judgments.


Imposing legal consequences based on individual capacities or social standing is a slippery slope, bound to favor people like celebrities over common citizens. It would lead to an autocratic structure where those with "favored" traits receive preferential treatment and protection under the law. This inherently contradicts the core democratic value of fairness.



Meritocracy is best expressed not when it gives access to privilage but when it allows anyone an opportunity to prosper without discrimination. That can only be done by elimination of unfair discriminations, promotion of equal opportunity, and removal of all "glass ceilings" that hinder our progress.


After all, a meritocracy, according to Cambridge dictionary, is:

a social system, society, or organization in which people get success or power because of their abilities, not because of their money or social position:

Case Example 1: A Gifted Musician


Imagine a talented musician receiving a lighter sentence for a crime compared to someone less fortunate. Such a system breeds injustice.


The law should strive to be blind – judging actions, not the potential or accomplishments of the individual. Their musical talent of a gifted pianist is irrelevant to a crime they committed. Here's where the meritocratic ideal needs a check. The punishment should reflect the severity of the crime, not the talents or social standing of the offender.


In a fair and just democratic society, equal rights and the application of the law are imperative. While individual merit holds value, it shouldn't dictate legal outcomes. A well-functioning democracy ensures that justice is served based on the crime, not the characteristics of the person proved guilty


Allowing so can prevent people from seeking merit on the basis of getting a lighter sentence.


Freedom and the Limits of Equality: An Individualist Perspective


There's a tension between freedom and certain forms of equality. While I firmly believe in equality of opportunity and equality under the law, absolute equality can contradict individual freedom. Here are some examples where my arguement applies:


  • Economic Equality: Striving for absolute economic equality might require heavy government intervention, which could limit individual economic freedom (e.g., high taxes, wealth distribution, equal salary and so on).

  • A Pure Meritocracy: A purely meritocratic system might lead to unequal outcomes, where it allows individuals to reap the unequal rewards of their unequal efforts. This in turn leads to the creation of the meritful few, employing the talentless many with little to-no restriction. An example of that is the fictional city-state of Rapture, which we'll be covering later.


Equality of opportunity ensures a level playing field regardless of background (race, financial status, disability). This core principle aligns with individual freedom. Everyone deserves the chance to succeed based on their merit, not on pre-existing disadvantages/advantages.



Measures that promote equal opportunity, such as affirmative action programs and the avoidance of nepotism, can be seen as a limitation placed on absolute freedom for the overall benefit of disadvantaged groups. Such moral limitations can allow the prosperity of the disadvantaged based on their merit mostly or alone, which in the long term should fix their current socio-economic status.


However, complete equality, particularly in outcomes, goes too far, when greater merit is naturally rewarded with greater outcomes. It implies that everyone is identical, neglecting the inherent differences in talent and work ethic that define us (and a high degree of work ethic should be considered a merit of its own, as presented by salarymen).


Communism serves as a cautionary example. By forcing an equal distribution of wealth, it stifles individual incentive and innovation. People with exceptional talent, the potential economic engines of a society, are demotivated to exert themselves when the rewards are capped at a basic level. This ultimately leads to a decline in overall prosperity, along with the increased motivation to perform just the bare minimum.


Case Example 2: The City State of Rapture


Rapture was a fictional underwater nation of one city from the Bioshock series. It was created by its visionary, Andrew Ryan, a wealthy industrialist who sought the freedom of all people from outside intervention. He imagined a wealthy society where there will be no government intervention on the economics of the city.


However, Ryan was too intimidated by a prominent crime lord Frank Fontaine, who followed the very same philosophy Ryan promoted, which is Ayn Rand's Objectivism which states that life is to be preserved for its own sake through the use of rational thinking. As proved in the article, "How to Survive in Capitalism", getting more power is how survival is further ensured.


However, in the absence of regulation, unrestricted liberty can be expolited to oppress the very same government that allows it. Thus, the concept of a pure meritocracy is a dangerous one when the vaccuum of regulation allows its own downfall by the very people it was ideally designed for.


Conclusion


Meritocracy, while ideal and fair in nature, can have a darker side when there are no regulations to ensure its own preservation. Thus, the application of pure meritocracy is a dangerous one, and should be avoided in order to preserve itself and its ability to allow anyone to actualize themselves, without the risk of a civil war, caused by meritful revolutionary faction/s.


A well-functioning democracy thrives on a delicate balance between individual freedom and equality. While meritocracy is a desirable goal, a purely meritocratic system can undermine the very foundation of a fair and just society. A truly meritocratic society requires a strong foundation of equal opportunity and a fair legal system. By finding the right balance between individual freedom and equality, we gain the power a society where everyone has the chance to thrive based on their own merits.


Mr. Nathan Lasher's Feedback

I can laugh about this a little because of America’s "American Idol Meritocracy". A fallacy as people aren’t elected for their abilities, they are elected for their marketing and creating an image which people like. [They must be] good at selling themselves.
It used to be that people were in power solely for their abilities. Look at the military. People are ranked based upon their abilities. A person is a senator all because they are good at selling themselves to people. Politics is the death of meritocracy. 
What happened to America’s Meritocracy? We used to be a country where people held power because of their abilities. Now it has more to do with social standing. We completely lost sight of this.
People confuse what economic equality actually is. It does not mean everyone is as rich as each other. What it means is you have the freedom to buy whatever it is you can afford. You have every right to try and go out and make more money. That is economic equality. Where people’s merits determine their economic level. Anyone can be rich if they find a new way to solve a problem which solves it better.

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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