Published in the Straits Times (originally in the Financial Times)
May 10, 2016
What is in a word? When it is packed with as much moral zeal as “meritocracy”, the answer is: a lot. A meritocrat owes his success to effort and talent. Luck has nothing to do with it – or so he tells himself. He shares his view with everyone else, including those too slow or indolent to follow his example. Things go wrong only when the others dispute it.
Now magnify that to a nation of 320 million people – one that prides itself on being a meritocracy. Imagine that between a half and two-thirds of its people, depending on how the question is framed, disagree. They believe the system’s divisions are self-perpetuating. They used not to think that way.
Imagine, also, that the meritocrats are too enamoured of their just rewards to see it. The fact that they are split – one group calling itself Democratic, the other Republican – is detail. They are two sides of a debased coin. Sooner or later, something will give.
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