Meritocracy: a universally available golden escalator to a life of high status and luxury?
When Young (1970) conceived of the meritocracy it was a satirical device to draw attention to a possible dystopian future where everyone is stratified in concrete by their I.Q.: the sub-optimal intelligent condemned to a meaningless existence. The meaning of meritocracy has evolved (Allen 2011) to become a discursive device. Politicians from all major parties now clamour for the moral high ground by claiming making society more meritocratic is their political raison d’etre. The Deputy Prime Minister, for example said exactly that; “It’s the reason I do this job” (Clegg, 2012). Indeed meritocracy’s conceptual power is far reaching:
“Meritocracy as an abstract ideal is also a measure of progress, where more advanced societies are held to be those that are more meritocratic. They make fewer decisions based on prejudice and extend opportunity further. Meritocracy is sometimes used as a measure of corruption, where corrupt societies or corrupt institutions are thought to be those that disobey the formula: merit = ability + effort. Meritocratic societies are open and fair, non-meritocratic ones are obscure and underhand. Justice, social cohesion, progress, fairness and transparency, these are the timeless ideas upon which meritocracy is presumed to rest.” (Allen 2011, p2) (more…)
West Virginia citizens wait in line to retrieve clean water.
On January 9, 2014 government officials in West Virginia discovered that over 7,500 gallons of chemicals used to clean coal had leaked out of a Freedom Industries’ chemical facility and into the nearby Elk River. The location of the leaking storage facilities was just upriver from the largest treatment facility in West Virginia affecting over 300,000 residents throughout the state. Immediately discovering the leak, government officials notified the residents of Charleston and surrounding areas to stop using tap water. The government warned against water usage for drinking, cooking, and bathing. The chemicals spilled caused skin irritation, nausea, vomiting, and wheezing to several residents. (more…)
There appears to be a link between neoliberalism, individualism, and violence. In reference to the association between neoliberalism and individualism, consider neoliberalism’s insistence that we do not need society since we are all solely responsible for our personal well-being (Peters 2001; Brown 2003). From a criminological standpoint, it is not hard to understand how this focus on the individual can lead to violence. According to Hirschi’s (1969) social control theory, for instance, broken or weak social bonds free a person to engage in deviancy. Since, according to this theory, individuals are naturally self-interested, they can use the opportunity of individualization to overcome the restraining powers of society. Bearing in mind neoliberalism’s tendency to value the individual over society, it could be argued that this ideology is hazardous as it acts to tear apart important social bonds and to thereby contribute to the occurrence of ego-driven crimes, including violent interpersonal crimes. Such a thought suggests that as neoliberalism becomes more prominent in a country, it can be expected that individualism and, as a result, interpersonal violence within that country will increase. (more…)
(If you’re interested in this topic, please see my earlier posts on neoliberalism (1) and (2))
Increasingly, there appears to be a connection between neoliberalism and the development of anomie. Such an association is unsurprising considering that neoliberalism encourages individuals to achieve ever greater success even though such a goal is unrealistic. In response to being blocked from realizing their never-ending aspirations, Merton (1968) argues that people in success-driven societies will feel deprived and frustrated as a divide forms between idealistic ambitions and factual reality. While such a divide has traditionally been the widest in developed capitalist states like the U.S., Passas (2000) contends that the growth of neoliberalism has exacerbated this problem in countries throughout the world. As a result, anomie, or the “withdrawal of allegiance from conventional norms and a weakening of these norms’ guiding power on behavior” has increased on a global scale (Passas 2000:20). Oozing with the anomie brought about by constant strain, neoliberalism can intensify the occurrence of violence as frustrated people struggle to live and to succeed in an unequal society. In response to this idea, it appears that as neoliberalism becomes more prominent in a country, it can be expected that anomie and, as a result, interpersonal violence within that country will increase. (more…)
(If you are interested in this post, please see my earlier post on neoliberalism)
Source: Microsoft Clip Art
Based on recent research, there appears to be a link between the ideals of neoliberalism and increasing rates of inequality. Navarro (1998) argues, for instance, that neoliberal policies have contributed to growing inequalities around the globe and to worsening living conditions for the majority of the world’s people. For her part, George (1999) agrees and blames increasing inequality on the common neoliberal practices of placing public wealth into private hands, approving tax cuts for the wealthy, and pushing wages down for the non-elite. And, unfortunately, evidence suggests that inequality may mediate the relationship between neoliberalism and a third variable: interpersonal violence. In this regard, Krug et al. (2002:1086) write that “economic conditions [i.e., inequality] are both the causes and the effects of violence” with those on the poorer end of the spectrum experiencing the most violence. Other scholars, too, have found that inequality is positively correlated with violent crime rates (see Fajnzylber, Lederman, and Loayza 2002). Considering these findings, it appears that as neoliberalism becomes more prominent in a country, it can be expected that inequality and, as a result, interpersonal violence within that country will increase. In an attempt to demonstrate this argument, I will review these relationships before providing a brief case study to demonstrate how these variables may be interrelated. (more…)
Starting in the second half of the 20th century, neoliberalism became increasingly prominent as a form of governance in countries around the world (Peters 2001). Originally, the roots of neoliberalism were planted by a classical political economy theory which advocated for markets (and thus people) to be completely liberated from any type of governmental interference (Smith 2009). “Free” competition and “free” enterprise were promoted as manners in which economies should be allowed to grow. Martinez and García (2000) contend that this “liberal” type of economic theory began to be adopted in the West throughout the 1800s and into the early part of the 1900s. The Great Depression of the 1930s and the development of Keynesian economics, though, temporarily slowed down the advancement of liberal economics. In recent decades, however, there has been a revival of economic liberalism (or, neoliberalism) on a truly global level as countries around the world now either choose or are forced to engage in neoliberal governance. As a result of the growing hegemonic prominence of neoliberalism, there have been vast changes at the national-level, the international-level, and the individual-level.
At the national-level, neoliberal ideas have drastically changed how states operate. By heavily promoting market-based economies that highly value competition and efficiency, neoliberalism has moved countries closer to adopting social Darwinism. Under Thatcher and Reagan, for instance, Peters (2001) argues that neoliberalism directly led to the economic liberalization/rationalization of the state, the restructuring of state sectors, and the dismantling of the welfare state. As a consequence of these changes, the U.S. and the U.K. have seen things like the abolishment of subsidies and tariffs, the corporatization and privatization of state trading departments, a sustained attack on unions, and the individualization of health, welfare, and education. Although the idea that markets should fully dictate governments would have seemed ludicrous in prior decades (George 1999), Bourdieu (1999b) contends that neoliberalism as a form of national governance has become a doxa, or an unquestioned and simply accepted worldview. Harvey (2005) is thus not surprised that the ideas of capitalism have been infused into political, social, and cultural institutions at the state-level. By placing a mathematical quality on social life (Bourdieu 1999a), neoliberalism has encouraged formerly autonomous states to regress into penal states that value production, competition, and profit above all else, including social issues.
Many political candidates use their wealth as proof of their competence, work ethic, and expertise. They craft campaign-ready stories about how a successful businessperson wishes to use their immense talents and work ethic to serve the nation. At the same time, politicians have to convince voters that they share the concerns of the common person. So, while wealth may be listed on the resume presented to voters, politicians omit the expenditures that accompany such wealth. Wealthy politicians go out of their way to convince voters that while they may be wealthy they don’t live elite lifestyles. For example, billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg takes the subway, while former President George W. Bush was filmed clearing brush at his ranch. However, occasionally this façade falls away and one of the wealthy elite ends up answering questions about a 500,000 dollar Tiffany’s credit line. (more…)