sat21nov2009—47w325d89%— 07h06m00s—0utc

Meritocracy used to be simply a more positive word for elitism to my mind. The word comes up frequently in discussions of elite universities and what they should aspire to. I considered it something good, a value, but the “meritless” masses left out were always a big cloud. Why exactly it was worthwhile I had never given much thought for.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I learned from Singaporean Kishore Mahbubani‘s The New Asian Hemisphere was his completely different take on the meaning of meritocracy: it’s not about exclusion but about inclusion, about casting your net as wide as you can. It’s the very base of human resource management: to be honest about people.

The principle of meritocracy is astonishingly simple. It states that since every individual is a potential resource, all should be given an equal opportunity (as much as possible) to develop and to make a contribution to society. No talent should be neglected. Virtually all successful human organizations succeed because they apply the principle of meritocracy rigorously.

[It’s the story] of how a society views its own population. Are the poor a burden or a potentially rich resource waiting to be tapped? The shift to the latter perception explains why India is now on a steadily upward trajectory. Each year India is introducing more gifted people into the global economy than any other society, with the possible exception of China.

The simplest way of understanding the virtues of meritocracy is to ask this question: why is Brazil a soccer superpower and an economic middle power? The answer is that when it looks for soccer talent, it searches for it in all sectors of the population, from the upper classes to the slums. A boy from the slums is not discriminated against if he has soccer talent. But in the economic field, Brazil looks for talent in far smaller base of the population, primarily the upper and middle classes.

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