The failings of meritocracy – Michael Sandel

Michael Sandel questions what has gone wrong in civil life and how those failings have led to the unrest across the USA and around the world. The pandemic has opened people’s eyes to the massive divide between those seen as winners and those seen as losers in society. The massive inequalities and attitudes to those inequalities, on each side of the divide.

Elites that believe that their status in society and all the benefits of that status, are to do with their merit and that those on the lower rungs of the societal ladder, can only blame themselves, for their situation within this pandemic and the economic hardship that will ensue.

Sandel argues that the premise that we live in a meritocracy, that everyone has an equal chance, that the winners merit their positions in society and that the losers deserve their plight, is corrosive and damaging to the common good.

In reality social injustices mean that the opportunities in life are not evenly distributed. Which social class, family, religion, ethnicity, location, etc are all key factors in access to opportunities.

Access to higher education is key to the concept of meritocracy in Sandel’s analysis.

However, recent scandals in the US involving rich celebrities buying places at prestigious universities for their children, is contrasted to rising student debt stacked up by any young person from a less privileged background fighting to get a place to study in the hope of a better life.

Then there are the prejudices and systemic difficulties the latter have to overcome in what we are led to believe is a system based purely on the merit of each individual.

Which sections of society are better equipped to apply for STEM courses over Arts courses and why? This broadens out into a new question about elitism and snobbery to do with elites from STEM backgrounds.

The purpose of this review is to introduce you the reader, to the work of Michael Sandel and in particular his notion of “meritocratic hubris”.

That those at the top of the ladder of success believe that their success is their own doing and look down on those who have not made it.

Sandel examines why so many ordinary people positioned as consumers rather than citizens are feeling that they are not valued within society.

This has led to a rejection of the established political elites on the right and the left and creating a vacuum that is being filled by populist leaders. Populist political figures who promise to “drain swamps” and end immigration they say is caused by globalist elites.

Michael Sandel sees the corrosive nature of meritocracy as being fundamental to what we are seeing on the streets of the USA and around the world today.

Michael Sandel has been advocating for many years for more morality in politics and the encouragement of the State to promote a public life based on the individual being a citizen not a consumer. Citizens are entitled to healthcare, the consumers relationship to healthcare is based upon their ability to pay.

Sandel argues that healthcare provision in the US is afforded to those who are able to pay and those who are tied to employment based schemes, that include health insurance. However, those who do not fare well in the meritocracy are often left without adequate healthcare provision.

When the pandemic hit and the lockdowns happened communities were faced with the large scale imminent danger of falling ill with Covid 19, every citizen needed the security of healthcare. Then the further injustices of police brutality in cases like the death of George Floyd brought home to the ordinary person in the street that the elites stood detached from their suffering. This understanding has contributed greatly to the uprisings on the streets of many US cities and protests around the world.

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