Words that should be banned (or in this case just used as they were originally intended): meritocracy

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[This entry originally appeared on Clare Lynch’s blog, goodcopybadcopy]

So Goldman Sachs has announced it’s cutting ten percent of its workforce.

I’m not sure why the media has made such a big deal about this announcement – I was under the impression that the world’s greatest bastion of “meritocracy” has always had regular culls to weed out the “non-performers” and those who were “the wrong cultural fit” (for the latter read: “didn’t buy into the whole Goldman Sachs cult thing”).

But imagine if you were one of those ten percent. Or one of the tens of thousands of other bankers who’ve recently found themselves on the receiving end of a P45 (or pink slip for US readers).

Worse still, imagine waking up one day only to find that the bank you work for is now owned by the government. Over night you’ve gone from Master Of The Universe to minor civil servant – minus the juicy public sector pension, of course.

Ouch.

But wouldn’t your pain be all the more if you’d believed all along that you’d been working in a “meritocracy”? If you’d been encouraged to think it was your own innate, inimitable talent that got you the job at Goldmans?

And you’d bought the line sold by your similarly remunerated colleagues that you all really did deserve those million-pound bonuses and that promotion to Master Of The Universe status.

Now it turns out that your success wasn’t because you were special. Like everyone else, you’ve just been hitching a very lucrative ride on the back of the biggest market bubble history has ever seen.

Just like that last M&A deal you did, your career was as fuelled by lax credit as it was your putative talent. And now both the deals and your career are being sucked into the black hole of deleverage.

But here’s something else that none of your colleagues ever let you in on – no doubt because they never knew the truth themselves.

The word “meritocracy” wasn’t invented by one of your own to describe the true and right state of affairs.

It was coined by the sociologist Michael Young in his 1958 satirical essay, The Rise of the Meritocracy. Yes, you read that right – satirical. The formula “I.Q. + effort = MERIT” was a big, if deadly serious, joke.

On you, it seems.

Young’s “meritocracy” was originally a pejorative term, describing a dystopian world in which the elite use the idea of I.Q. + effort to maintain their position – though not forever, according to his predictions.

So if you’re an ex-banker and you’re wondering what to do with all that extra time on your hands, perhaps you should consider giving Young’s book a read?

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