Published in August 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
The Myth of Meritocracy: Why Working-Class Kids Still Get Working-Class Jobs
by James Bloodworth (Biteback, £10)
The pursuit of meritocracy, James Bloodworth argues, is a “modern political obsession.” And why not, you might ask. A society where the most talented rise to the top through ability rather than parental connections or inherited wealth is, surely, the closest to a social and economic utopia as we can reasonably hope for.
Not so, argues Bloodworth, in this elegant and illuminating polemic. The desire for meritocracy, he argues, is disastrously misguided. In a society still as class-bound as Britain’s, people still feel envy towards their “betters” (these days the wealthy rather than the aristocracy) and guilt about those less fortunate. We cling to the idea that the lottery of birth has allowed some to rise above others.
Such attitudes, which act as a break on our worst impulses, would be absent in a truly meritocratic society where those at the top had got there through superior IQ and talent. Those beneath could justifiably be sneered at as deserving their fate.