Wednesday, September 09, 2015
Is a meritocracy closer than we think?
I am putting up below just the first part of a very searching essay on the implications of meritocracy. The most interesting claim is that our society may already be very meritocratic. In Britain, the 7% of the population who go to private schools end up running just about everything in the whole country. They even make up about a third of Britain's Olympic team.
This leads Leftists to claim that inherited social class governs one's opportunities in Britain. But that may not be so. Toby Young argues below that those who go to private schools are already genetically advantaged. They are by and large the children of economically successful people and such people tend to have higher IQs -- which they pass on to their children genetically. So the issue of social class and private schools is a red herring. It is actually higher IQs that are easing the way for that top 7%
So schemes to improve education for the hoi polloi will not work unless the pupils concerned are already intellectually gifted. And it was precisely that precondition that made Britain's "Grammar Schools" (academically selective schools) so successful at elevating children from poor families. They were bright to start with.
Toby Young does not want that now nearly extinct Grammar School system to be revived but he does want marks and awards in existing schools to be strongly achievement-based. He wants real ability recognized and rewarded -- just the opposite of the "dumbing down" that has for some time been the existing tendency. In his system, those with genuine ability will be eased in their upward path, regardless of where they come from.
So it is possible to argue that MOST people already end up at a level within society that is commensurate with their innate intellectual abilities. And even if that is not already so we are well on the road towards it.
My own experience bears that out. I have a top 2% IQ but was born into a very humble and not very congenial family. But, despite that background, I cruised through life mostly doing what I felt like and ended up as a well-paid university teacher. I ran from one end of the occupational status scale to the other. And I hardly worked at it. What I did came easily and was fun. Education for me was like solving a series of easy puzzles. So I ended up where my IQ placed me, not where my birth placed me.
But society's responsiveness to IQ creates a problem. What will happen if it becomes known that society has already placed just about everyone where they belong in the staus hierarchy and that there is no real possibility of an aspiring person cracking that? Will it not lead to social unrest among the less gifted and maybe even a bloody revolution against the existing order?
If that is a possibility, the present Leftist myth that it can all be solved by better education is in fact highly beneficial. It gives hope and diverts attention from the "unfair" reality -- JR
The left loathes the concept of IQ -- especially the claim that it helps to determine socio-economic status, rather than vice versa -- because of a near-religious attachment to the idea that man is a piece of clay that can be moulded into any shape by society
In 1958, my father, Michael Young, published a short book called The Rise of the Meritocracy, 1870–2023: An Essay on Education and Equality. It purported to be a paper written by a sociologist in 2034 about the transformation of Britain from a feudal society in which people’s social position and level of income were largely determined by the socio-economic status of their parents into a modern Shangri-La in which status is based solely on merit. He invented the word meritocracy to describe this principle for allocating wealth and prestige and the new society it gave rise to.
The essay begins with the introduction of open examinations for entry into the civil service in the 1870s—hailed as “the beginning of the modern era”—and continues to discuss real events up until the late 1950s, at which point it veers off into fantasy, describing the emergence of a fully-fledged meritocracy in Britain in the second half of the twentieth century. In spite of being semi-fictional, the book is clearly intended to be prophetic—or, rather, a warning. Like George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), The Rise of the Meritocracy is a dystopian satire that identifies various aspects of the contemporary world and describes a future they might lead to if left unchallenged. Michael was particularly concerned about the introduction of the 11+ by Britain’s wartime coalition government in 1944, an intelligence test that was used to determine which children should go to grammar schools (the top 15 per cent) and which to secondary moderns and technical schools (the remaining 85 per cent). It wasn’t just the sorting of children into sheep and goats at the age of eleven that my father objected to. As a socialist, he disapproved of equality of opportunity on the grounds that it gave the appearance of fairness to the massive inequalities created by capitalism. He feared that the meritocratic principle would help to legitimise the pyramid-like structure of British society.
In the short term, the book achieved its political aim. It was widely read by Michael’s colleagues in the Labour Party (he ran the party’s research department from 1945 to 1951) and helped persuade his friend Anthony Crosland, who became Labour Education Secretary in 1965, that the 11+ should be phased out and the different types of school created by the 1944 Education Act should be replaced by non-selective, one-size-fits-all comprehensives. Crosland famously declared: “If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to destroy every f***ing grammar school in England. And Wales and Northern Ireland.” Today, there are only 164 grammar schools in England and sixty-eight in Northern Ireland. There are none in Wales.
But even though my father’s book helped to win the battle over selective education, he lost the war. The term “meritocracy” has now entered the language, and while its meaning hasn’t changed—it is still used to describe the organising principle Michael identified in his book—it has come to be seen as something good rather than bad.  The debate about grammar schools rumbles on in Britain, but their opponents no longer argue that a society in which status is determined by merit is undesirable. Rather, they embrace this principle and claim that a universal comprehensive system will lead to higher levels of social mobility than a system that allows some schools to “cream skim” the most intelligent children at the age of eleven.
We are all meritocrats now
Not only do pundits and politicians on all sides claim to be meritocrats—and this is true of most developed countries, not just Britain—they also agree that the principle remains stillborn. In Britain and America there is a continuing debate about whether the rate of inter-generational social mobility has remained stagnant or declined in the past fifty years, but few think it has increased. The absence of opportunities for socio-economic advancement is now seen as one of the key political problems facing Western democracies, leading to the moral collapse of the indigenous white working class, the alienation of economically unsuccessful migrant groups, and unsustainable levels of welfare dependency. This cluster of issues is the subject of several recent books by prominent political scientists, most notably Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (2015) by Robert Putnam.
Unlike my father, I’m not an egalitarian. As Friedrich Hayek and others have pointed out, the difficulty with end-state equality is that it can only be achieved at too great a human cost. Left to their own devices, some men will inevitably accumulate more wealth than others, whether through ability or luck, and the only way to “correct” this is through the state’s use of coercive power. If the history of the twentieth century teaches us anything, it is that the dream of creating a socialist utopia often leads to the suppression of free speech, the imprisonment of a significant percentage of the population and, in some extreme cases, state-organised mass murder.
Having said that, I recognise that a lack of social mobility poses a threat to the sustainability of liberal democracies and, in common with many others, believe the solution lies in improving our education systems. There is a consensus among most participants in the debate about education reform that the ideal schools are those that manage to eliminate the attainment gap between the children of the rich and the poor. That is, an education system in which children’s exam results don’t vary according to the neighbourhood they’ve grown up in, the income or education of their parents, or the number of books in the family home. Interestingly, there is a reluctance on the part of many liberal educationalists to accept the corollary of this, which is that attainment in these ideal schools would correspond much more strongly with children’s natural abilities.  This is partly because it doesn’t sit well with their egalitarian instincts and partly because they reject the idea that intelligence has a genetic basis. But I’m less troubled by this. I want the clever, hard-working children of those in the bottom half of income distribution to move up, and the less able children of those in the top half to move down.
In other words, I think the answer is more meritocracy. I approve of the principle for the same reason my father disapproved of it, because it helps to secure people’s consent to the inequalities that are the inevitable consequence of limited government. It does this by (a) allocating wealth and prestige in a way that appears to be fair; and (b) creating opportunities for those born on the wrong side of the tracks, so if you start with very little that doesn’t mean you’ll end up with very little, or that your children will. If you think a free society is preferable to one dominated by the state, and the unequal distribution of wealth is an inevitable consequence of reining in state power, then you should embrace the principle of meritocracy for making limited government sustainable.
Much more HERE
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).