Does an American Meritocracy Still Exist?

The Economist suggests that America may no longer be the meritocracy that we think it is.

A growing body of evidence suggests that the meritocratic ideal is in trouble in America. Income inequality is growing to levels not seen since the Gilded Age, around the 1880s. But social mobility is not increasing at anything like the same pace: would-be Horatio Algers are finding it no easier to climb from rags to riches, while the children of the privileged have a greater chance of staying at the top of the social heap. The United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society.

It isn't that the U.S. has abandoned meritocracy – we haven't. We have simply chosen new measures of merit. Whereas work ethic, skill, and intellect used to get you a long way, in today's increasingly interconnected world it's who you know that gets you where you want to go. Our prosperity has given us so much stuff and so many activities that time has become our most valued asset. And one way to manage time is to use the familiar, the people and places and things you know, rather than conducting a fresh search each time you need something.

Is this a good or bad thing? I don't know, but I suspect it is just a phase. Increasing access to knowledge and information combined with more and more decentralized decision making will give more people the opportunity to change their socioeconomic status. I think we are just going through some of the growing pains that change always brings, and regardless of the trend we currently see, I'm still positive on the future of the country.