Meritocracy is the idea that wealth, power, and status are the results of individual merit, or at least should be. In a perfectly free society without discrimination, so the story goes, the superior will rise and the inferior will sink, each to their own proper level.
A recent Counterpunch article by Richard Moser states this well:
The true nature of the corporate economy is that wealth is distributed according to collective political power not individual merit. Merit and the ideas of Social Darwinism that came before it tells us that the world is a true and transparent regulator of merit. The good and worthy rise; the weak and stupid fall as competition sorts thing out. But given an equal chance, the argument goes, people of color, women, or working class people can rise through the ranks to claim their individual success. If enough individuals earn enough wealth then the problems of race, class, gender or sexuality can be solved. We are treated to a parade of celebrities, athletes, and politicians, to prove the point.
Meritocracy hides class power. It hides the structures of economic, political, and social power than actually determine who gets what. Instead, the losers are defamed as lazy, stupid, or bad. It an atrocious idea, as malignant as racism.
Faith in merit disappears class struggle by suggesting we are all just individuals performing in some magical free market. This is total bullshit. Meritocratic beliefs make it easy to view the white working class as lazy deplorable failures. After all, we are white. With that privilege in hand, what could stand in our way? Class? What is that?
Meritocracy is a logical outgrowth of liberal individualism and free market ideology. Supposedly the free market, if it’s really free and cleansed of all discrimination, gives everyone exactly what they have produced, and thus what they deserve. The rich deserve their wealth because they have contributed so much more. The poor deserve their poverty because they have contributed so little, probably because they are inferior or bad.
Current politically correct obsessions fit neatly with this denial of class. The focus is on the uttermost minute iteration of race, gender, and sexual orientation issues. Class is ignored.
Class is the real basis of power in capitalist societies, indeed all class societies. Race and gender oppression are derivative or historical. Although these issues are important in themselves, using them to bury class consciousness plays right into the hands of the ruling powers.
Capitalism does not need race or gender or sexual orientation discrimination. It does need class. Get rid of all discrimination and you still have class. Wealth and power will still be concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite while that masses will be powerless and poor. And dishonored.