Word Origin & History
coined 1958 by Michael Young and used in title of his book, "The Rise of the Meritocracy"; from merit + ending from aristocracy, etc. Related: Meritocratic.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
A meritocracy is a form of government or administration in which leaders and others are chosen and advance in position based on their merit or ability. There are relatively few governments in the world that are based on this ideology. A modern example of a meritocracy can be found in Singapore.
- Performance is Rewarded
As a form of government, a meritocracy looks for people who have the best abilities and qualifications, including education, and it rewards those who perform well. Identifying people who have certain abilities might be done through testing with educational materials, looking at experience levels and other types of evaluations — or a combination of these assessments. Some critics say that this form of government is highly discriminatory because it might automatically discredit some people who have capable skills but are not quite as intelligent or as educated as others.
- Advantages and Disadvantages
In Singapore, for example, some children might be conditioned and targeted for greater enrichment at a particular age, based on aptitude. It is possible, in some cases, that these children might not be free to choose their own career paths or be exposed to all possible options. In such cases, a meritocracy can be limiting to the well-rounded development of individuals.
It is hard for such people to imagine that America is anything but a meritocracy: their lives are a perpetual competition. Yet it is a competition among people very much like themselves—the offspring of a tiny sliver of society—rather than among the full range of talents that the country has to offer.
The second reason is that America's engines of upward mobility are no longer working as effectively as they once were. The most obvious example lies in the education system. Upward mobility is increasingly determined by education. The income of people with just a high-school diploma was flat in 1975-99, whereas that of people with a bachelor's degree rose substantially, and that of people with advanced degrees rocketed.