Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Meritocracy Myth

A new report from the London School of Economics shows how the Right has fostered the myth of meritocracy to render the have-nots complacent to inequality. The report, "Divided societies more likely to accept inequality," finds that "people in some of the most unequal societies are the ones that are the least concerned about it."

From The Guardian:
Looking at surveys across 23 western countries since the 1980s, Dr Jonathan Mijs of the London School of Economics International Inequalities Institute monitors how, as countries become less equal, attitudes of the majority shift in the wrong direction.

People come to believe more strongly that their country is a meritocracy where hard work and talent take people to the top. They are less likely to think structural inequalities help or hinder people’s rises. The US, home of the American dream – the myth that everyone has an equal chance to rise from log cabin to White House – is the most unequal, yet 95% now firmly believe in meritocracy. The UK, Australia and New Zealand are not far behind, sharing this anglophone disease, a societal “body dysmorphia”: other European countries are less inclined to justify inequality, though the movement has been in that direction. This is the neoliberal triumph over hearts and minds
The meritocracy myth comes with other tropes, especially placing the blame on the poor, with decreasing social empathy. Believing people sink through their own fault is the necessary adjunct for proving that the mega-wealthy got there by merit alone.
...Yet riots are extraordinarily rare – the French have always done it: it’s in their founding revolutionary DNA, and it helps to keep them less unequal than the anglophones. Fear of revolution in the cold war years kept unions strong and boardrooms wary of excess: the mid-70s, famed for union militancy, were the most equal years in British history. 
This research suggests that as countries get more unequal, people live in greater social isolation, locked within a narrow income group. Their friends and family share the same incomes, are segregated by neighbourhood and marry similar partners. Children mix less in socially segregated schools. People no longer see over the high social fences, so they don’t know how the other half lives, Mijs finds.
From the LSE study:
The analysis showed a large majority in almost every country and period supporting the view that theirs is a meritocratic society. At least two-thirds of citizens in all countries (apart from Communist-era Poland) - and 95 per cent of Americans — attributed success to meritocratic factors. 
The study also tracked changes in the Gini coefficient (a measure of income inequality) over time alongside citizens’ views, finding that citizens in more unequal societies hold stronger beliefs in meritocracy, and weaker beliefs that structural inequalities might help or hinder their pursuit of social mobility. 
This trend was strongest amongst citizens of more unequal societies, who are markedly less concerned about inequality and expressed the strongest belief in meritocracy, compared to those who live in more egalitarian societies.
It seems that this is what befalls those who tolerate neoliberalism which includes most Canadians.  "At least two-thirds of citizens" in all developed countries embrace the meritocracy myth. And that includes Canadians.

You don't have to go to Jonestown to drink the Kool-Aid. Neoliberals in your own country are more than pleased to pour you a refreshing cup of their elixir. All you have to do is believe it's good and drink it.

More, here.


Anonymous said...

No meritocracy without equality of opportunity. And not much equality of opportunity in a racist concentration-camp of a civilization where the global top 1% is $30k/y or greater.

The experts say free-trade globalization will bring rainbows and unicorns. Well they did manage to bring back slavery! That's gotta count for something.

How long ago did Nixon go to China to begin it all? The prosperity will start trickling down any time. Ye of little faith!

The Mound of Sound said...

As a young lawyer, every now and then a colleague would mention some tax shelter. It was always presented as a means of avoiding an unfair tax burden. A couple of times I replied by asking about law school, the key to their newfound wealth. I would ask what percentage of the cost came from their own pocket and how much of it was a gift from ordinary Canadian taxpayers. I used to frame it as how much came from some guy on the line in some car plant. Then I would ask how much of what this tax shelter would save them would have to be made up through higher taxes on that same guy in that car plant. Thanks to that publicly subsidized education we were enabled to make handsome incomes even as we indignantly shirked the tax burden. After all, we deserved that money. We were self-made men. Meritocracy.

We had a tax expert, name of Drache, at our school. This is back in the mid-70s. I recall him saying, "show me a man who earns $100,000 and pays tax and I'll show you a fool." Meritocracy.

John B. said...

As long as it's legal - right? And if it's not legal maybe we can use some of what we kept the last time to find and get somebody into a position where he can make it so. And when we've stashed even more, maybe we won't have to bother with the politics. We'll just have some fun and use some of it to either wait or wear them out.

We're not so bad. Chuck Koch wants it all. We just want more.

The Mound of Sound said...

John, I suppose you're right. Really wish you were wrong.