The Aristocracy of Merit

London depends on key workers: cleaners, drivers, bar staff, attendants, doctors, teachers, fire-police-ambulance workers, accountants, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, builders, fixers, diggers, nurses, coaches, musicians, clerks, roofers, artists, security guys, pilots, actors, plasterers, waiters, surveyors, insurers, bankers, tailors, cobblers, assembly line workers, …the list goes on.

Each person has an integral role to play. If the bakers stop making their bread then the food of millions will be depleted. If the truck drivers stop delivering their supplies then transport and retail will grind to a halt. If the refuse collectors don’t empty bins, the city will soon turn into a tip.

How long must we suffer the hectoring exhortations of the political class, who big up the concept of meritocracy. It’s a false notion that insults the intelligence and hard work of all those who make our culture rich. In reality meritocracy is another name for cleptocracy, a western parallel to  Arabian sheikhs.

Meritocracy condems 99.99% of all people to also-ran status; it is unimaginatively wasteful. It is symbolised in our time by the propaganda of celebrity, competitive tendering and game shows. And yet, even in these displays, they completely depend on bums-on-seats, other competitors and the unemployed observer. It is a game, a bit of fun, entertainment – so let’s not get rid of it completely, but please don’t run our system that way! We have a system fault which seeks to hide truth under the garment of glamour.

Meritocracy is the mantra of the lucky few, who by being there at the right time and place, have risen or been blown to the surface, like flotsam on water.

Meritocracy and Aristocracy are the crests of inequality and war.

The way forward is more clear: it is based on principles of fairness, hard work (and play) and freedom. We will value each person for the contribution they make. We will nurture the potential in each child.  We will give everyone a chance to play their part. For example, disability will not be a weakness to be pushed around or looked after, but will be integral to our quality of life: the key consultants of society and culture, who from their unique vantage can make life better for all. We will do to others as we’d like them to do to us – not just when our luck is down, but especially when we’re in the money. Then we will have new Florences and Venices, a new Istanbul, but this time without the paranoid princes and slippery sultans.

“And finally, thanks to all the agricultural laborers, banana-growers, carpenters, dentists, engineers, flower-sellers, grocers, handbag-makers, inspectors, jewellers, knife-grinders, lathe-operators, midwives, night-watchmen, organists, potters, quantity surveyors, reed-makers, seamstresses, tattooists, undertakers, vets, window-cleaners, xylophonists, yogurt-makers and zoologists (to name but a few)”.  From The Company of Strangers by Paul Seabright

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