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What is a Meritocracy?

By Ken Black
Updated May 23, 2024
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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.

The trade-off in these situations is that people who are chosen to be inducted into this program are likely to live a life of privilege, never having to want for anything. People in a meritocracy usually work their way through lower levels of government, gaining experience as they go. In some ways, this might not be much different from lower-level government employees in other types of settings gaining experience and working their way up the ranks, gradually being given more responsibility over time.

Unlimited Advancement Possibilities

Unlike in other forms of government, in a meritocracy, there is often no limit to how far a person can advance. In other types of government, after an official reaches a certain level, he or she might be able to advance only by appointment. This appointment might be based partly on merit, but there usually are political considerations that also play roles in advancement. In a meritocracy, it is possible that a person could advance to the highest level — even becoming the leader of the nation — without having to worry about political considerations.

Promotes Hard Word

A meritocracy, according to those who support such a form of government, has more of an ability to instill a valuable work ethic into individuals than other forms of government do. If citizens know that advancement is based on merit, they are more likely to do things that will improve their chances, it is assumed. Therefore, they will work and study to prove themselves capable of better things.

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Discussion Comments
By anon337320 — On Jun 04, 2013

Nicely concise and transpolitical.

By anon307165 — On Dec 03, 2012

@anon298393: Yes!

By anon298393 — On Oct 19, 2012

Is meritocracy the best thing to have?

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