SINGAPORE - The vicious circle of meritocracy is such that once those who decry the unfair playing field manage to climb the social ladder, they protect their position to maintain the same quality of life for their offspring, who, in turn, would have inherited an advantageous starting point over their peers ("Has meritocracy changed here?" by Mr Adrian Tan Xi Jing; last Saturday).
This is a reality of meritocracy because it rewards those who have made it, precisely by dangling the carrot from the start.
Policies to level the playing field cannot punish the achievers because this distorts the incentive mechanism which meritocracy runs on.
Instead, policies should help increase the opportunities to the less well-off.
A complete eradication velling of the playing field is impossible in real life.
A way to combat the rising tide of elitism as a consequence of meritocracy was echoed by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who stressed the need to uphold meritocracy but guard against elitism ("Meritocracy works but beware of elitism: ESM Goh"; July 28, 2013).
We should advance the idea of "compassionate meritocracy", where beneficiaries of meritocracy do not develop a false sense of entitlement, but instead, give back to a system which gave them their achievements in the first place.
Paul Sim Ruiqi
This article was first published on June 10, 2014.
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