The word ‘meritocracy’ finds its origin in both Latin and Ancient Greek. The word ‘merit’ has Latin origin meaning ‘to earn’ whereas ‘cracy’ stems from Greek word ‘kratos’ meaning strength or power. Therefore, meritocracy is the term given to a system by individuals characterized by their ability, skill and education (or, in short, merit) to hold the power positions. Meritocracy ensures that individuals employed in the system are merited for the position and that these employments are not used as political favors. The merit is usually decided by an examination.
Meritocracy has been advocated by many philosophers over the time, but the earliest practical example of meritocracy was found in Ancient China. Chinese philosopher Confucius is believed to be the first person who described the concept. While philosophers like Voltaire, Aristotle and Plato have also advocated meritocracy. The concept of meritocracy spread from China to British India and then to Europe during the 17th century. Since then it has been used by many governments and organizations.
Following are some of the advantages of meritocracy:
- Meritocracy ensures smooth running of the system.
- It promotes equal grounds for people from different races and castes.
- It endorses efficiency and effectiveness of governmental organizations.
- It prioritizes performance and uses it as a scale for promotions, bonuses and other rewards.
Meritocracy also has many disadvantages. Some of them are explained below.
- Merit, in most cases, is determined by education and can prove to be unaffordable in some countries.
- Difficulties in acquiring higher education turns meritocracy into elitism.
- Obstacles in pursuit of higher education for lower and middle class creates lack of opportunity.
- Meritocracy is based on the principle of rewarding a person’s effort and, in doing so, it disregards the fact that not everyone starts on the same footing due to circumstances out of one’s control.
Meritocracy in Modern World
Many countries have incorporated meritocracy in their systems at different levels. This incorporation is of varying degrees in different parts of the world. Singapore is the best example of a modern meritocratic state. Singapore believes meritocracy to be the guiding principle in their public policy formation and academic credentials are regarded as the basis of merit and qualification. Countries like Ecuador are also following the lead of Singapore in building a meritocratic government.
Meritocracy is an efficient system of assigning power positions, be it in a government or some organization. It has proven to be effective over the time. However, it also requires a clear and definite description of ‘merit’ and it should be ensured that this merit is within the reach of all the members of a society.