The Tyranny of Merit

The Tyranny of Merit

Subtitle
What's Become of the Common Good?
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A joint event with the Policy Institute at King's College London as part of the Fair Society series

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What accounts for our polarised public life, and how can we begin to heal it? Political philosopher Michael Sandel offers a surprising answer: those who have flourished need to look in the mirror.In his latest book, The Tyranny of Merit: What's Become of the Common Good?, Sandel explores how "meritocratic hubris" leads many to believe their success is their own doing and to look down on those who haven't made it, provoking resentment and inflaming the divide between "winners" and "losers" in the new economy.

Panel

  • Michael Sandel, Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at Harvard University and author of The Tyranny of Merit: What's Become of the Common Good?
  • Jo Littler, Professor of Social Analysis and Cultural Politics at City, University London, and author of Against Meritocracy: Culture, Power and Myths of Mobility
  • Adrian Wooldridge, Political Editor of the Economist and author of The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World
  • Maria Alvarez, Professor of Philosophy and Head of the Department of Philosophy at King's College London
  • Bobby Duffy, Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Policy Institute at King's College London (chair)
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Our take

A spirited debate about whether the ideal of meritocracy was desirable, and to what extent it had been achieved, led to an unexpected degree of consensus on what a 'good' society looks like. This consensus evolved from a shared critique of the particular form of meritocracy that exists in the UK and the US (as opposed, for example, to the variant that exists in Germany and Scandinavia). There was agreement about the need to separate economic incentives (proportional rewards for talent and effort that are necessary for delivering productivity and prosperity) from the moral recognition of deservingness. It was suggested that we could 'bribe' the talented to work for the common good without conferring honour or moral recognition on them. This could look something like a return to the values of elite educational institutions in the nineteenth century, which instilled humility, sacrifice and a sense of duty into their students, in stark contrast to today's hubris for the rich and humiliation for the poor.

Watch the recording