Friday, July 29, 2005

The Life Cycle of a Meritocracy


For many years we saw that Meritocracy was good for any society that practiced it. It is a reinforcing loop and a virtuous cycle as shown in the relationship between Box 1 and Box 2. Meritocracy helps to identify and groom the able and make them successful (Box 2).

Unfortunately all good things will eventually decline and come to an end, Meritocracy notwithstanding. It seemed that when a huge numbers of able individuals have been identified and groomed (Box 3), Meritocracy seem to only suggest that the offspring of the successful parents are the most meritorious – See the dashed arrow from Box 3 to Box 1. E.g., The elite schools used to receive students from families with mixed backgrounds, now those who come from humbler families are an increasingly small minority. What are the consequences?


Meritocracy will eventually breeds a new elite that mostly reproduce the next generation of elite. This is the new reinforcing loop between Box 2 and Box 4. The logic of the reinforcing loop between Box 1 and Box 2 becomes yesterday’s logic because Box 3 has appeared to slow the virtuous cycle. At the same time, a new under class will emerge (Box 5).

Eventually the environment will change and the new elite (Box 4) will become the old ossifying elite and get supplanted as they finally fail to adapt to an changed environment. The society might then return to the former logic of Box 1 and Box 2 that will eventually produce the next elite, which is more compatible with the changed external environment. However there is no guarantee that this will happen. The society might enter into a dark age instead of clearing the ground to create the next golden age.

1 comment:

Jeffery Tan said...

Hi Sing Cher,

Interesting you decided to feature the paradox of meritocracy. There was a similar article in the Fri papers (Insight on pg 30) lamenting about how meritocracy feeds on itself. I truly hope your hypothesis of the new elite come about and illuminate the way out of the shadow of the dark ages.

cheers!
--jeff