The Moral and Prudential Superiority of a True Meritocracy

The topic for this article is a slightly controversial take- it intuitively seems wrong to consider any system apart from an egalitarian model as one that can prevail morally and prudentially. And who can fault those who reject such a notion without truly understanding the reasoning behind my proposal of the superiority of a meritocracy? This article will primarily deal with comparing a meritocracy and an egalitarian utopia.

Prior to substantiating my thoughts, I feel it is imperative to emphasize one particular part of my proposal- assuming possibility. A true meritocracy or a truly egalitarian society is unfortunately one which is the  figment of an idealist’s imagination- if something is too good to be true, it probably isn’t. And that is precisely what applies to the two utopian systems here. It is then of utmost importance to assume possibility in the following three ways:

  1. Resource scarcity is not a problem that clings to the underside of the world like a parasite. Simply put, resources are more than sufficient to support an absolutely gargantuan population without societal collapse. 
  2. The State that exercises control (over the judgment of merit of the populace, over the allocation of resources, among other functions) over the nation is one free of corruption.
  3. Any other condition serving as an obstacle to the existence of a meritocracy is now immaterial.

My arguments henceforth shall be based upon these three assumptions. I shall now delve into the superiority of a meritocratic system.

A true meritocracy, as the name implies, is one that would consider merit and accord resources based on that. This sentence in itself leads people to dismiss a meritocracy for the word “merit” creates a presumption that merit is something that can exist only and only in the present. Most iterations of a meritocratic system fail to take into account the fact that merit is not something that exists in but one tense- it can extend into the future as well. And that is precisely why the meritocracy that I propose evolves into one that can advocate for universal healthcare; one that can implement a universal basic income; and one that can establish a fairer system than any other.

A common criticism of a meritocracy is that it would dismiss all who aren’t considered meritorious- however, the same critics do not take into account the fact that the very citizens not considered ‘meritorious’ have immense potential to become meritorious in the future, only if they are given the chance to utilize their potential. It would be foolish to create an assumption that a meritocratic State would have a device capable of seeing into the future and hence judging the merit of the citizens- after all, that assumption is more far-fetched than the aforementioned three and has drastic implications. For the sake of brevity, I will not be expanding on these implications given that they are only tangentially related to the topic at hand. 

This essentially means that the State will do its absolute best to ensure that every citizen receives aid, for there is no better way to ensure maximization of merit when the State is uncertain of the future. Allocating resources based on past merit might seem like a better solution- but in a world where scarcity is not an issue, there is simply no need for the State to effectively gamble. 

One could pose a question now- how exactly does this place a meritocracy above, say, egalitarianism? Wouldn’t a citizen receive resources either way? And yes, that would undoubtedly be true. However, an egalitarian society would award everyone the same amount of resources irrespective of merit and actual contribution- this creates a situation wherein one who creates an innovative technology receives the same amount as one who does nothing. There is simply no incentive to work. Of course, since resources are functionally infinite, the State could theoretically afford to finance all citizens irrespective of their work hours- however, what keeps the system running? Why should the State itself exist? Even if some citizens continue working regardless of the fact that they have no incentive to, the vast majority of the populace will simply refuse to do truly meaningful and long-term work. 

Why exactly would one not face the same issue in a meritocracy? Because a meritocracy ensures consequences. This doesn’t mean that a single slip-up will cost a human their livelihood- again, the meritocratic system I propose is capable of evaluating citizens wholly. Such a system will recognize that giving support- be it monetary, emotional, in the form of healthcare, etc.- is more beneficial than simply ‘cutting losses’ and letting the citizens fall into a dark abyss of despair.

After all, doing so might harm the emotional wellbeing of multiple citizens. This creates a domino effect wherein a number of citizens are forced to suffer and hence ‘lose their merit’. Clearly, the ‘overall merit’ of the State goes down in such a scenario. After all, merit is not something that exists in a vacuum. It is inherently dependent on other individuals for most people, for incredibly obvious reasons. ‘Cutting losses’ and abandoning one citizen could lead to a fallout on other citizens due to emotional causes.

One final and common criticism of a meritocracy is that it is ableist i.e. it discriminates against the differently abled. This seems like a perfectly valid criticism, but only on a superficial level- after all, the previous reasoning (about the domino effect of ‘cutting losses’) still holds true. 

However, a few fringe cases still serve as chinks in the nigh impenetrable armour that is the ideology of a meritocratic system- the hard, cold truth is that a few people exist who unfortunately absolutely no one cares for. And these are the people who would truly flourish in an egalitarian society, and not in a meritocratic one. The heartlessness of humans serves as a sort of (albeit minor) kryptonite to an otherwise perfect system.

At the same time, such a criticism is not enough to render the rest of my article null and void. Everything else that I stated is still true. And thus, in most cases, a meritocracy stands above any other form of society. This article does not delve deeply into the social conditioning and beliefs that have the potential to arise in such a system and could affect the conclusions laid out by me- for that is an interesting topic for another day.