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Rethinking excesses of Meritocracy in Singapore

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Meritocracy is a system that tries to equalise opportunities and not outcomes. It allocates rewards based on an individual’s merit or their abilities and achievements.

When rewards are tied to one’s abilities and achievements, people are motivated to strive and be the best they can be. The success of Meritocracy can be seen through the success of Singapore’s economic status from its poor beginnings in 1970s to now. Singapore’s GDP has increased by over 500 % in the last 30 years. This system ensures a society whereby everyone will work hard. Such a system is especially crucial to Singapore’s rapid development from a Third World Country to a First World Country within 40 years. Since everyone is judged by what they do, it also ensures fair play. As people are not judged based on preset biased criteria, which may affect work performance in any way, such as race or religion. People would strive harder and produce better results. It ensures fair play in a field and people who lose out will have to seek other ways to improve themselves, thus creating a well equipped and self motivated society.

However, by rewarding according to merit, Elitists are able to gain more opportunities in more than one way, especially when the reward is in terms of monetary benefit. People, who are rich, are able to afford better facilities and have more exposure to better opportunities. This makes the winners of the previous generation of meritocracy to pass on their advantages, such as wealth and knowledge, to prepare their children for the academic world, creating the new generation of elitists. This cycle repeats itself and with each cycle, the social gap increases exponentially. It then once again comes to a primitive system whereby a person’s fate is decided upon birth. This practice ultimately defeats the purpose of meritocracy as it has circuitously altered the equality of opportunities for everyone, significantly. In many countries, meritocracy is justified as it rewards people by merit and encourages effort. In so doing helps society deal with the problem of moral hazard that is likely to arise with other ways of allocating rewards. It has evolved over time to reward the type than rewarding effort. One very good example to reflect this issue would be the Singapore education system whereby students are streamed from a young age of 9. Meritocracy in Singapore is overly focussed on sorting the best from the rest. With more rewards channelled to the former, the incentive for individuals to gain a competitive edge through non-meritocratic means is accentuated. This makes it harder to form Social cohesion and mobility as income gaps and statuses would eventually segregate a society.

Though these systems may have worked in favour for us in the past is it really worth sacrificing our social cohesion. This further makes us question whether it is an inevitable trade off for consistent progress. In my opinion in such a society, economic efficiency takes precedence over distributional concerns or considerations of social equity as ultimately when the entire nation progresses it will increase the standard of living for everyone, including the poor. Holding the talented back by having onerous taxes or regulatory restraints on markets undermines growth and hurts the poor and everyone in one way or another. Meritocracy may create an inevitable social inequality however; at the end of the day progress is very much shared by everyone. Therefore, I would like to conclude that striving for equality in our meritocratic society only hinders progress and caps the true potential of a nation.

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