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Meritocracy | Munk Debates

SEASON TWO - EPISODE #41

Meritocracy

Be it resolved, meritocracy is killing the middle class.

Guests
Daniel Markovits
Adrian Wooldridge

About this episode

Meritocracy has long been championed as a way of attaining success through hard work and skill; society’s best and brightest are rewarded based on their performance, not their background. But some people have started to poke holes in this theory, arguing that meritocracy, as it exists today, is an illusion. Critics argue this foundational principle has been co-opted by society’s elite, allowing them to transfer social status and wealth to their children by limiting the competition they face whether it's attaining higher education or gaining lucrative employment. The faux meritocracy of the 21st century is exacerbating inequality and diminishing opportunities for middle- and lower-class families and youth.

While not perfect, others argue that meritocracy is the best system we have for conferring society’s resources on individuals thereby rewarding human talent. Meritocracy has transformed over a century or more Western societies mostly for the better, giving the poor and middle class a chance at upward mobility and including women and other historically disadvantaged groups in the collective pursuit of individual success. Social mobility is stalling not because of meritocracy, but due to institutions’ failure to complete the meritocratic revolution and fully embrace its core principles and ideas.

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Guests

Daniel Markovits

“Meritocracy has restructured education in such a way that having rich parents is almost a necessary condition for getting the kind of education that you need to get ahead.”

Daniel Markovits

“Meritocracy has restructured education in such a way that having rich parents is almost a necessary condition for getting the kind of education that you need to get ahead.”

Daniel Markovits is Guido Calabresi Professor of Law at Yale Law School and Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Private Law. Markovits publishes widely and in a range of disciplines, including in Science, The American Economic Review, and The Yale Law Journal.

After earning a B.A. in Mathematics, summa cum laude from Yale University, Markovits received a British Marshall Scholarship to study in England, where he was awarded an M.Sc. in Econometrics and Mathematical Economics from the L.S.E. and a B.Phil. and D.Phil. in Philosophy from the University of Oxford. Markovits then returned to Yale to study law and, after clerking for the Honorable Guido Calabresi, joined the faculty at Yale. 

His current book, The Meritocracy Trap, develops a sustained attack on American meritocracy.

Adrian Wooldridge

“Inequality between the upper and middle class is widening due to a lack of meritocracy. And the best solution to the problem is more meritocracy, not less meritocracy.”

Adrian Wooldridge

“Inequality between the upper and middle class is widening due to a lack of meritocracy. And the best solution to the problem is more meritocracy, not less meritocracy.”

Adrian Wooldridge is The Economist‘s political editor and writes the Bagehot column; an analysis of British life and politics, in the tradition of Walter Bagehot, editor of The Economist from 1861-77. Adrian also used to write the Schumpeter column on business, finance and management. He was previously based in Washington, DC, as the Washington bureau chief where he also wrote the Lexington column. Prior to his role in Washington, he has been The Economist‘s West Coast correspondent, management correspondent and Britain correspondent. He is  the co-author of The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea, A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden Promise of Globalisation, Witch Doctors, a critical examination of management theory, and The Right Nation, a study of conservatism in America. His most recent books are The Great Disruption: How Business Is Coping With Turbulent Times and Masters of Management: How the Business Gurus and their Ideas have Changed the World—for Better and for Worse.

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