TMI How Do You Define Merit in a Meritocracy? insetA common concern with Meritocracy is the question of defining merit. We’re led to believe that everyone has their own definition of merit, and that this stops Meritocracy from ever being truly effective. While it’s true most people will have their own idea of what constitutes merit, this is a far deeper question than we realise when we first come across it.

It’s not black and white

Merit depends on the field you work in. It depends on the activity you carry out. You can’t measure the merit of an engineer and a nurse using the same criteria. These are two completely different occupations.

There isn’t a single definition of merit. There are hundreds to thousands of definitions of merit. There are as many definitions as there are fields and activities. With so much variety, how can we possibly unite concepts of merit under a single banner?

The People Principle

This is fundamental to Meritocracy. People come before profit, or anything else for that matter. We believe in community values. Everyone should be striving toward the goal of elevating everyone else to their fullest potential. If this were the case today, we’d be travelling the stars.

The People Principle can be defined as an ethical rule that guides all action. Any standard or definition of merit for a field should incorporate the People Principle. Thus, we can reconcile all activities that are measured in this way as working for the benefit of the People. Activities that are incapable of incorporating the People Principle are clearly anti-meritocratic, e.g., crime and reckless financial games. They work completely against the overall benefit of the majority.

Merit is defined collaboratively

Where do we start when it comes down to defining merit? We start with major professional fields that already have their own standards. Many jobs require you to be properly qualified. Fields that have professional associations are an excellent place to start. The professionals in those fields, e.g., all teachers in a teachers’ association, can work together to specify what they would consider to be the merit for their field.

Try it yourself:

1. How would you define praiseworthy qualities in your field?
2. What are the desirable traits or abilities people in your field should have?
3. How would you measure these?

Any job, occupation or career can have its own definition of merit that incorporates the People Principle — no matter how small or big it is.

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ARGENTUM CONVERSUM joined THE MERITOCRACY PARTY in 2012. He serves as EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR of the MERITOCRACY INTERNATIONAL, where he strives to organise Meritocrats worldwide into a structure that will create social change. When he isn't spearheading an activist organization, he writes on the issues that face all people of conscience in a world dominated by the greed of financial oligarchs.

6 Responses to “How Do You Define Merit in a Meritocracy?” Subscribe

  1. Christopher Story October 28, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    I mostly share the political sentiments expressed, but I think a meritocracy that measures and promotes leadership would be more consistent with the People Principle.

    A meritocracy that institutionalizes a single standard of intelligence or virtue per discipline eliminates competing conceptions that could be superior. It consolidates the power of a few hundred cohesive corporations and marginalizes the rest of society, ensuring a culture of poverty and insecurity. Who are these corporations responsible to and why?

    In a meritocracy that measures and promotes leadership every citizen would be well employed, competition among leaders would ensure that intelligence and virtue of every kind and degree is fully exercised.

    Leadership could be easily and accurately measured and promoted with an individual income tax code, something like: income x .000001 x income divided by number of dedicated citizen votes = $debt to state

    • Argentum March 15, 2014 at 10:00 am #

      I agree that measuring and promoting leadership would be an important aspect in a Meritocratic Democracy.

      I think competing conceptions of merit per discipline could co-exist if we used the scientific method and analysed the results. Find out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to defining merit in X field.

      Implementing meritocracy throughout society first requires the *willingness* to achieve it and the understanding that it’s a work-in-progress. We won’t reach a perfect definition of merit for everything overnight (or perhaps ever — but we can do our best, which is what it’s all about).

      I’d be interested in seeing more written about leadership in a Meritocracy. Would you be willing to write an article relaying your thoughts on the subject?

      P.S. Apologies for the delay in replying, I’ve only just now seen this comment!

  2. Sidney Williams February 20, 2014 at 2:44 am #

    merit consists of three qualities and they are:

    * honesty
    * civility
    * job specific competence

    merit selection begets peace and excellent service delivery.
    dishonest, uncivil and incompetent officials are the cause of public demonstrations worldwide.

    • Argentum March 15, 2014 at 10:05 am #

      True, although “civility” sounds a bit ambiguous to me in this case. Are you equating it with politeness and having respect for everyone?

      If so, we could argue that many political leaders already display that trait (even if they’re faking it)… mostly because that’s what they need to do in order to get elected.

  3. Gavin Taylor May 10, 2014 at 8:20 am #

    I have a few general thoughts, after thinking on meritocracy for a while.

    I can only see that merit is the designation given after-the-fact to what has generally encouraged the meritocratic ideal. In this case, anything more abstract constitutes merit just the same as traditional values and moral aspects, and “best” remains too complex to know on a direct basis (and rightly so; for a world complex enough to be changed).

    The more fundamental something is, the more it affects the world. Bloggers, musicians, artists, programmers: these peoples’ work, when it is quality, is what effectively attains the substance of virtue or merit because of its wide reach. It would follow that, systemically, merit becomes the recognition of increased systemic clarity or an increased general health of the society. With that given, it would seem to be a superior strategy to recognize particular behaviours of particular qualities, fundamentally, if we are genuinely talking about actively improving society. If we were ever going to reach the meritocratic ideal, this is a task inherent and crucial somewhere along the way, anyway. Is it possible to distinguish between poor music and quality music? Keyword articles and serious comedians? If so, why would this possibility not be utilized by a meritocracy?

    Some music artists (not particularly quality artists) have released music albums for free. Is this the kind of general behaviour that needs more encouragement? A far better idea is to accept that the most talented people need encouragement more, else systemically the quality of a society’s art potentially has no true meaningful direction with only money as incentive. While variety is the spice of life, variety much more fundamentally does not effect as much change as quality. And it is change or a constant awareness of a need to change that the meritocratic society needs, rather than just variety. If we switch the talent to writing or programming we find that duplication is catastrophically inefficient. Why should a special allowance be created for music? If we would say that good writing is important for everyone to read, this requires some measure or filtering process for quality. If we would say that good music is important for everyone to hear (ultimately for a more quality society), the same is true.

    It might be possible to contribute ideas for rewards that you think are meritous in a meritocracy. Third party funding-organizations or individuals could publicly hold money ready to be handed over for meritous acts. A voting process could take place in an online forum after the Action of Merit had been argued for with a case based on reason, evidence and logic. Thus, the equivalent of grants are created on an ad-hoc basis, through reason alone.

    Encouraging people to contribute to society may change the nature of the merit criteria which is to be the most effective at a given time. What are the best methods for encouraging people to contribute precisely where it would be suitable to and nowhere else? Nowhere clearer would be the criteria/definition for such tasks than in merit. More generally speaking, There have been many projects which have sought to organize some sort of almost existential online presence yet failed, and we can conduct a post-mortem on these websites.

    What about accessibility to key information in clear, concise, consolidated, exoteric format? (e.g. choosing a legal structure and so on, for starting a business)? These things would be extremely meritous. A web portal which links up meritous action: this could be key.

    Google gives attractive cash rewards; what about something that money can’t buy, and simultaneously the knowledge you would be more than simply exploited? The usual rules just don’t apply when we are talking about merit and not money. Merit vs. money.. hmm..

  4. Gavin Taylor May 10, 2014 at 8:26 am #

    One thing unique to merit is the lack of a temporal aspect within broader timeframes: good ideas can be washed away in the online world along with yesterday’s news headlines, but a meritocratic web presence might “upvote” the only things worth the eyes of meritous people. might be seen as an attempt at this concept, but the selection criteria is ultimately arbitrary. A stronger definition is needed of merit for such a thing to be truly effective. Also, the tone of Upworthy sounds much more collectivist and dazed as opposed to solemn and serious. What would an ideal meritocratic tone look like?

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