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Wealth: Having it all and wanting more

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Global wealth is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of a small wealthy elite. These wealthy individuals have generated and sustained their vast riches through their interests and activities in a few important economic sectors, including finance and pharmaceuticals/ healthcare.

Companies from these sectors spend millions of dollars every year on lobbying to create a policy environment that protects and enhances their interests further. The most prolific lobbying activities in the US are on budget and tax issues; public resources that should be directed to benefit the whole population, rather than reflect the interests of powerful lobbyists.

GLOBAL WEALTH IS INCREASINGLY BEING CONCENTRATED IN THE HANDS OF A SMALL WEALTHY ELITE

Global wealth is becoming increasing concentrated among a small wealthy elite. Data from Credit Suisse shows that since 2010, the richest 1% of adults in the world have been increasing their share of total global wealth. Figure 1 shows that 2010 marks an inflection point in the share of global wealth going to this group.

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In 2014, the richest 1% of people in the world owned 48% of global wealth, leaving just 52% to be shared between the other 99% of adults on the planet [1] Almost all of that 52% is owned by those included in the richest 20%, leaving just 5.5% for the remaining 80% of people in the world. If this trend continues of an increasing wealth share to the richest, the top 1% will have more wealth than the remaining 99% of people in just two years, as shown on Figure 2, with the wealth share of the top 1% exceeding 50% by 2016.

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The very richest of the top 1%, the billionaires on the Forbes list [2] have seen their wealth accumulate even faster over this period. In 2010, the richest 80 people in the world had a net wealth of $1.3tn. By 2014, the 80 people who top the Forbes rich list had a collective wealth of $1.9tn; an increase of $600bn in just 4 years, or 50% in nominal terms. Meanwhile, between 2002 and 2010 the total wealth of the poorest half of the world in current US$ had been increasing more or less at the same rate as that of billionaires; however since 2010, it has been decreasing over this time.

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The wealth of these 80 individuals is now the same as that owned by the bottom 50% of the global population, such that 3.5 billion people share between them the same amount of wealth as that of these extremely wealthy 80 people.[5] As the wealth of everyone else has not been increasing at the same rate as that for the top 80, the share of total wealth owned by this group has increased and the gap between the very rich and everyone else has also been increasing. As a result, the number of billionaires who have the same amount of wealth as that of the bottom half of the planet has declined rapidly over the past five years. In 2010, it took 388 billionaires to equal the wealth of the bottom half of the world‟s population; by 2014, the figure had fallen to just 80 billionaires (see Figure 4).

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Updating the Credit Suisse wealth data – and Oxfam’s 2014 statistic

In January 2014 Oxfam calculated that in 2013, 85 people had the same wealth as the bottom half of the world‟s population, a number that was cited worldwide due to the extreme level of wealth inequality that it illustrated.[6] The paper used data from the Forbes list published in March 2013 and from the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook with data for „mid 2013‟.
In October 2014, Credit Suisse updated their wealth estimates; the share of wealth held by each global decile and the total global wealth estimates for the years 2000–2014 at the end of each year. The new estimates include an update to the wealth numbers for 2013, from which Oxfam calculated the 85 statistic. This briefing uses the updated number for 2013 and all other years as published in 2014. Based on these updated figures, in 2013 the number of billionaires holding the same amount of wealth as the bottom 50% was recalculated to be 92.

 

WEALTHY INDIVIDUALS HAVE GENERATED AND SUSTAINED THEIR RICHES THROUGH INTERESTS AND ACTIVITIES IN A FEW IMPORTANT ECONOMIC SECTORS

In 2014 there were 1,645 people listed by Forbes as being billionaires. This group of people is far from being globally representative. Almost 30% of them (492 people) are citizens of the USA. Over one-third of billionaires started from a position of wealth, with 34% of them having inherited some or all of their riches. This group is predominately male and greying; with 85%[7]of these people aged over 50 years and 90% of them male.[8]

There are a few important economic sectors that have contributed to the accumulation of wealth of these billionaires. In March 2014, 20% of them (321) were listed as having interests or activities in, or relating to, the financial and insurance sectors,[9] the most commonly cited source of wealth for billionaires on this list. Since March 2013, there have been 37 new billionaires from these sectors, and six have dropped off the list. The accumulated wealth of billionaires from these sectors has increased from $1.01tn to $1.16tn in a single year; a nominal increase of $150bn, or 15%.

Table 1: Richest 10 billionaires (ranked in 2013) who have made (at least part of) their fortunes from activities related to the financial sector, and their increase in wealth between March 2013 and March 2014.

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Between 2013 and 2014 billionaires listed as having interests and activities in the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors saw the biggest increase in their collective wealth. Twenty-nine individuals joined the ranks of the billionaires between March 2013 and March 2014 (five dropped off the list), increasing the total number from 66 billionaires to 90, in 2014 making up 5% of the total billionaires on the list. The collective wealth of billionaires with interests in this sector increased from $170bn to $250bn, a 47% increase and the largest percentage increase in wealth of the different sectors on the Forbes list.

Table 2: Richest 10 billionaires (ranked in 2013) who have made (at least part of) their fortunes from activities related to the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors, and their increase in wealth between March 2013 and March 2014.

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COMPANIES FROM THE FINANCE AND PHARMACEUTICAL SECTORS SPENT MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN 2013 ON LOBBYING
The biggest and most successful companies from both the finance and insurance sectors and the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors achieve extremely high profits and therefore command substantial resources which they use to compensate their owners and investors, helping to accumulate their personal wealth. But these resources could also potentially be used for economic and political influence. One way that companies explicitly use their resources for influence is through the direct lobbying of governments, particularly on issues and policies which affect their business interests.

During 2013, the finance sector spent more than $400m on lobbying in the USA alone,[10]12% of the total amount spent by all sectors on lobbying in the US in 2013. In addition, during the election cycle of 2012, $571m was spent by companies from this sector on campaign contributions.[11]The financial sector is found by the Centre for Responsive Politics to be the largest source of campaign contributions to federal candidates and parties. Billionaires from the US make up approximately half of the total billionaires on the Forbes list with interests in the financial sector. The number of US finance billionaires increased from 141 to 150, and their collective wealth from $535bn to $629bn; an increase of $94bn, or 17% in a single year.
In the EU, an estimated $150m is spent by financial sector lobbyists towards EU institutions every year.[12]Between March 2013 and March 2014, the number of billionaires in the EU with activities and interests in the financial sector increased from 31 to 39, an increase in collective wealth of $34bn, to $128bn.

While corporations from the finance and insurance sectors spend their resources on lobbying to pursue their own interests, and as a result go on to increase their profits and the associated wealth of those individuals involved in the sector, ordinary people continue to pay the price of the global financial crisis. The cost to the US taxpayer of the bailout of the financial sector was calculated to be $21bn.[13] While the financial sector has recovered well as a result of this bailout, median income levels in the USA are yet to return to their pre-crisis levels.[14]The ongoing cost to the tax payer for „systematically important financial institutions‟ – in other words those that are too big to fail – has been estimated by the IMF to be $83bn every year.[15]

During 2013, the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors spent more than $487m on lobbying in the USA alone.[16]This was more than was spent by any other sector in the US, representing 15% of $3.2bn total lobbying expenditures in 2013. In addition, during the election cycle of 2012, $260m was spent by this sector on campaign contributions.[17] Twenty-two of the 90 pharmaceutical and healthcare billionaires are US citizens.

At least $50m[18] is spent by the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry on lobbying each year in the EU, where 20 of the 90 billionaires who made their money from pharmaceuticals and healthcare reside, and who together increased their wealth in the last year by $28bn.
While millions are being spent on lobbying by pharmaceutical and healthcare companies and billions being made by individuals associated with these companies, a health crisis has erupted in West Africa. The Ebola virus has been threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia in 2014.

Companies have responded positively to the Ebola crisis: some pharmaceutical companies are investing in research to find a vaccine, the full costs of which are not yet known. The three pharmaceutical companies[19] that are members of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA) and that have made the largest contribution to the Ebola relief effort, have collectively donated more than $3m in cash and medical products.[20]But the amount of money that has been spent on Ebola and other activities that have a broader benefit to society needs to be looked at in the context of their expenditure on corporate lobbying to influence for their own interests. These three companies together spent more than $18m on lobbying activities in the US during 2013.

To put the funding for the Ebola crisis in perspective, the World Bank estimates that the economic costs to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone was $356m in output forgone in 2014, and a further $815m in 2015 if the epidemic is slow to be contained.[21]The largest increase in wealth between 2013 and 2014 by a single pharma-related billionaire could pay the entire $1.17bn cost for 2014–15 three times over. Stefano Pessina[22] increased his net worth by $4bn, from $6.4bn to $10.4bn in a single year; the largest single increase in wealth of all the billionaires listed with pharmaceutical and healthcare interests.

THE MOST PROLIFIC LOBBYING ACTIVITIES IN THE US ARE ON BUDGET AND TAX ISSUES
The billions that are spent by companies on lobbying, giving them direct access to policy and law makers in Washington and Brussels, is a calculated investment. The expectation is that these billions will deliver policies that create a more favourable and profitable business environment, which will more than compensate for the lobbying costs.
In the US, the two issues which most lobbying is reported against are the federal budget and appropriations and taxes.[23]These are the public‟s resources, which companies are aiming to directly influence for their own benefit, using their substantial cash resources. Lobbying on tax issues in particular can directly undermine public interests, where a reduction in the tax burden to companies results in less money for delivering essential public services.

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RISING INEQUALITY IS NOT INEVITABLE
In October 2014 Oxfam launched its Even It Up campaign, calling for governments, institutions and corporations to tackle extreme inequality. This briefing provides further evidence that we must build a fairer economic and political system that values every citizen. Oxfam is calling on world leaders, including those gathered at the 2015 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, to address the factors that have led to today‟s inequality explosion and to implement policies that redistribute money and power from the few to the many.

1 Make governments work for citizens and tackle extreme inequality
Specific commitments must include: agreement of a post-2015 goal to eradicate extreme inequality by 2030; national inequality commissions; public disclosure of lobbying activities; freedom of expression and a free press.

2 Promote women’s economic equality and women’s rights
Specific commitments must include: compensation for unpaid care; an end to the gender pay gap; equal inheritance and land rights for women; data collection to assess how women and girls are affected by economic policy.

3. Pay workers a living wage and close the gap with skyrocketing executive reward
Specific commitments must include: increasing minimum wages towards living wages; moving towards a highest-to-median pay ratio of 20:1; transparency on pay ratios; protection of worker‟s rights to unionise and strike.

4. Share the tax burden fairly to level the playing field
Specific commitments must include: shifting the tax burden away from labour and consumption and towards wealth, capital and income from these assets; transparency on tax incentives; national wealth taxes and exploration of a global wealth tax.

5. Close international tax loopholes and fill holes in tax governance
Specific commitments must include: a reform process where developing countries participate on an equal footing, and a new global governance body for tax matters; public country-by-country reporting; public registries of beneficial ownership; multilateral automatic exchange of tax information including with developing countries that can‟t reciprocate; stopping the use of tax havens, including through a blacklist and sanctions; making companies pay based on their real economic activity.

6. Achieve universal free public services by 2020
Specific commitments must include: removal of user fees; meeting spending commitments; stopping new and reviewing existing public subsidies for health and education provision by private for-profit companies; excluding public services and medicines from trade and investment agreements.

7. Change the global system for research and development (R&D) and pricing of medicines so that everyone has access to appropriate and affordable medicines
Specific commitments must include: a new global R&D treaty; increased investment in medicines, including in affordable generics; excluding intellectual property rules from trade agreements.

8. Implement a universal social protection floor
Specific commitments must include: universal child and elderly care services; basic income security through universal child benefits, unemployment benefits and pensions.

9. Target development finance at reducing inequality and poverty, and strengthening the compact between citizens and their government
Specific commitments must include: increased investment from donors in free public services and domestic resources mobilization; and assessing the effectiveness of programmes in terms of how they support citizens to challenge inequality and promote democratic participation.

A full list of Oxfam‟s recommendations to governments, institutions and corporations can be found in the report Even It Up: Time to end extreme inequality published in October 2014.[24]

NOTES

All URLs last accessed in December 2014 unless otherwise stated.

1   Credit Suisse (2013 and 2014 respectively) “Global Wealth Databook, found at https://www.credit-suisse.com/uk/en/news-and-expertise/research/credit-suisse-research- institute/publications.html

2   Forbes, Billionaires list, available in real time at http://www.forbes.com/billionaires/list/#tab:overall. Annual data taken from list published in March of each year.

3   These are not the same individuals over time; some billionaires may enter or exit this elite group from year to year.

4   Values given in „Money of the Day for each year, based on current exchange rates against the US$. Value of $970.9bn in 2014 money is approximately $1,042bn; therefore between 2009 and 2014 billionaires increased their wealth in real terms by approximately 82%. Variation in wealth over time can also be driven by exchange rate fluctuations, where assets are owned in currencies other than the US$, but need to be converted to US$ values for the purposes of this Index.

5   For detailed explanation of the calculation, see http://oxfamblogs.org/mindthegap/2014/11/19/have-you-heard-the-one-about-the-85-richest- people/

6   R. Fuentes-Nieva and N, Galasso (2014) „Working for the Few: Political capture and economic inequality, Oxfam, http://oxf.am/KHp

7   Fifty people with no recorded age in the Forbes data set were excluded from the summary statistic.

8   Six people listed as male and female couples and were excluded from the summary statistic.

9   Billionaires were coded as having business interests or activities in the finance sector if the description of the source of wealth was interpreted to be related to the finance sector. In some cases the source of wealth is explicitly listed as „finance, in others the company name, such as Bloomberg, a financial sector media service. Some billionaires have interests in more than one sector, including finance.

10 Data from Centre for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/indus.php?id=F&year=2013. Total spend for finance, insurance and real estate, minus real estate.

11 Data from Centre for Responsive politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/industries/contrib.php?ind=F&Bkdn=DemRep&cycle=2012

Total contributions for finance/insurance/real estate, minus real estate.

12 Corporate Europe Observatory (2014), “The Fire Power of the Financial Lobby”, http://corporateeurope.org/sites/default/files/attachments/financial_lobby_report.pdf. Research finds annual spend of €123m, converted to USD at 1.24 (FX rate as of 10 December). The actual numbers are likely to be far higher. This underestimate is also due to the lack of a mandatory register at the EU level that provides reliable information for a proper monitoring of industry lobbying

13 Congressional Budget Office (2013), “Report on the Troubled assets Relief programme”

http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/44256_TARP.pdf

14 United States Census Bureau (2014), „Income and poverty in the United States – 2013

https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2014/demo/p60-249.pdf

15 IMF (2012), “Quantifying Structural Subsidy Values for Systematically Important Financial Institutions”. Value of subsides calculated into US$ per year terms by Bloomberg http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2013-02-20/why-should-taxpayers-give-big-banks-83- billion-a-year-

16 Data from the Centre for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/indus.php?id=H&year=2013

17 Data from the Centre for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?ind=H

18 Corporate Europe Observatory (2012) “Divide and Conquer: A look behind the scenes of the EU pharmaceutical industry lobby”, http://corporateeurope.org/sites/default/files/28_march_2012_divideconquer.pdf

As registration to the Transparency Register is voluntary; many pharmaceutical companies choose not to declare their expenditures. If recorded properly, expenditure on lobbying activities by the industry could be shown to be as high as €91m annually.

19 The three largest cash and in-kind contributors that are members of the IFPMA are GSK, Johnson and Johnson and Novatis

20 http://www.ifpma.org/global-health/ebola-outbreak/ebola-capacity-building.html

21 World Bank (2014) „The Economic Impact of the 2014 Ebola Epidemic, World Bank Group, 2 December 2014, https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/20592/9781464804380.pdf?sequence=6

22 http://www.forbes.com/profile/stefano-pessina/

23 Data from the Centre for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/top.php?indexType=u&showYear=2014

24 E. Seery and A. Arandar (2014) „Even It Up: Time to end extreme inequality, Oxford: Oxfam International, http://oxf.am/Ffd

© Oxfam International January 2015

This paper was written by Deborah Hardoon. It is part of a series of papers written to inform public debate on development and humanitarian policy issues. For further information on the issues raised in this paper please e-mail advocacy@oxfaminternational.org

This publication is copyright but the text may be used free of charge for the purposes of advocacy, campaigning, education, and research, provided that the source is acknowledged in full. The copyright holder requests that all such use be registered with them for impact assessment purposes. For copying in any other circumstances, or for re- use in other publications, or for translation or adaptation, permission must be secured and a fee may be charged. E-mail policyandpractice@oxfam.org.uk. The information in this publication is correct at the time of going to press.

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New Social Compact

Meritocracy in the Age of Mediocrity

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Authors: Ash Narain Roy and Sophia Thomas*

Meritocracy, political theorist Hannah Arendt famously says, “contradicts the principle of equality. Without equality, it is no less than any form of oligarchy.” Until there is equal opportunity for all, meritocracy will only be a facade. In the best global universities ranking in 2019, eight of the 10 best were American in terms of academic research, academic reputation, international collaboration, publication and citations. The US, thus, may claim to be an “aristocracy of talent”. In reality, it is what French sociologist Jean Baudrillard says a land of “utopia achieved”. In the name of meritocracy, inequality has grown. As President Obama said during his presidential campaign, “a strong middle class can only exist in an economy where everyone plays by the same rules from Wall Street to Main Street.”According to Oxfam, the richest 1 % today has as much wealth as rest of the world combined. The richest 62 people in the world have as much wealth as the poorest half of the total population.

Meritocracy is the new aristocracy. It is a myth perpetrated by the rich and the elite. Meritocracy as it is being practiced is a great delusion and a smokescreen for a system which is rigged. It is another form of plutocracy. Industrial sociologist Alan Fox poses a question rather succinctly, “Would you give more prizes to the already prodigiously gifted?”

Meritocracy has figured prominently in both ancient Western and Oriental political theory and practice. But the earliest practical example of meritocracy finds mention in ancient China. Daniel A Bell, author of The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy, says that China has a long history of debates over political merits and a concept of “elevating the worthy.”  Confucius and his followers saw worthiness in relation to morality.(Bell D. A., 21-23 May 2014)

China is known to have invented the civil service examination system. For over 1300 years, Bell says, public servants have been selected in China through the public service examination which is in line with Confucian tradition of meritocracy. As Confucius said, society should select those who are both virtuous and capable of public service. Bell describes China as a “vertical democratic meritocracy”. From Confucius to Mencius, there have been debates throughout Chinese history “how to select able and virtuous political leaders”.(Bell D. , 2015)

Zhang Weiwei, Fudan University professor of international relations refers to shangshangce, the best of the best which is the Confucian tradition of meritocracy whereby “competent leaders are selected on the basis of performance and broad support after a vigorous process that includes screening, opinion surveys, internal evaluations and various types of elections.”(Weiwei, 2018)

 Plato in The Republic says, only a small number of people, the philosopher-kings are naturally suited to rule because only they are able to know how. They alone have the ability to make morally informed political judgements and the power to rule over the community. However, it is common knowledge how Athenian democracy later evolved into what  Herodotus called, “the one man, the best”.

 India’s has been a case of meritocracy trap. Its much-maligned caste system saw its worst perversion with Brahmins becoming a class with prerogatives and access to sacred knowledge. It perpetuated the presumed supremacy of one small group against the ‘inferiority’ of others on the basis of ancestry.

Age of mediocrity

Meritocracy in the age of mediocrity and reckless demagogues has become even more farcical. Today one sees an assortment of mediocrities all around. The educated members of government, parliament and bureaucracy appear too happy to submit before the autocrat. Voters across the democratic world too have remained ignorant despite rising educational levels.

Ironically, mediocrity in the post-modern world is new genius. With the rise of mediocrity, a bubble of mediocrity has been created and citizens have slowed down their aspirations. Mediocratic and demagogic leaders have patronized mediocrity and fraternalized sycophancy.

Technology and technological violence have resulted in our mediocrity and cultural-intellectual morass. As Adrian Chiles says, “long before the machines get too clever for us, we ‘ll all be too stupid for words.”.(Chiles, 2021)

This has prompted some scholars to go beyond meritocracy. Jason Brennan in his book Against Democracy argues that it is entirely justifiable to limit the political power that the irrational, the ignorant have over others. Plato had first articulated such a view.(Brenan,2017) John Stuart Mill also favoured  giving more votes to the better educated. Some suggest extra votes for degree holders, a council of epistocrats,  with veto power, while others prescribe qualifying exams for voters. From around 1600 to 1950, people in Britain who had college degrees, had an extra vote.

Is epistocracy the answer? Is it even desirable? What about those not qualified to be in power? Epistocracy is antithetical to democracy. Jennifer Senior, New York Times columnist, writes that 95 % of Representatives “have a degree. Look where that’s got us”. In the 17th Lok Sabha, lower house of Indian parliament, 394 of 545 members have at least a graduate degree which is almost three times the number of graduates in the first Lok Sabha. And yet, bills are often passed without much discussion and critical scrutiny. A few years ago, President Pranab Mukherjee asked lawmakers to improve the quality of deliberations, discussions and debates in the House, saying India can’t remain a role model to the world simply because of the size of the electorate.

 As Mark Bovens and Anchrit Wille maintain, representative democracy has become “diploma democracy” ruled by those with higher qualification but to what good.(Bovens & Welle, 2017) Modern democracy has become vulnerable because of institutional weaknesses. Strong institutions and enlightened citizenry, not degree holder MPs, are the sine qua non of robust democracy.

Many political leaders, industrialists, bureaucrats and intellectuals owe their leading position to their bloodline. Michael Young argues how stratification “becomes inevitable in a perfect meritocracy. Each individual has an equal chance of becoming unequal.”(Young, 1994)

 Another analyst maintains, any system which rewards “through wealth and which increases inequality don’t aid social mobility”.(Littler, 2017) Half the students of America’s 12 top universities come from the richest 10 % of families. Robert Reich, professor of public policy at University of California, Berkeley, says that 60% of US personal wealth is inherited.

Nearly two decades ago, The Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Golden wrote a series of investigative articles how donations and influence helped undeserving students to grab elite university seats at the expense of meritorious students. That practice has not only continued but become worse.

Nathan Robinson maintains that the college admission scandals “reveal the lies that sustain the American idea of meritocracy”.(Robinson, 2019) He further adds that there are three ways in which a rich student gets into top college or university. The front door is when one gets in on merit. The back door is “through institutional advancement”, often ten times as much money. The third way is through what he calls “side door” that is by paying bribes and faking test marks.

Infantilisation of higher education

There is another worrying trend what Frank Furedi of University of Kent calls growing infantilization of higher education”. Referring to the practice of The University College, London, permitting students to leave class if they find historical events “disturbing,” Furendi says, “today one can’t teach the Holocaust without unsettling students.”

 He further laments how universities which nurtured intellectual experimentation are today becoming conformist and censorial. Earlier university students “were treated as young adults, capable of independent living and learning”, says Furendi.Today, that distinction “has eroded as institutions of higher education have become reorganised around the expectation that their students require paternalistic support.”. Furendi further says that the infantilisation of higher education is based on the premise that “undergraduates are emotionally vulnerable and lack the psychological resources for the conduct of independent life.”(Furedi, 2006)

Educationist Jonathan Zimmerman echoes Furendi’s views. He argues that allowing administration to solve every problem infantilizes students and that time has come to wrest control of the educational process from an administrative bureaucracy. It is time to stem the rot or else colleges and universities will become courses in “self-infantilisation.”

In universities across Europe, often students are educated to accept ideas that don’t challenge them. They are also encouraged to adopt the role of “biologically mature school children.” In 2018, when Toby Young, co-author of What Every Parent Needs to Know, wrote a stinging comment on the state of British universities describing them as “left-wing madrasas”,(Young,2018) he was brutally attacked from all quarters including Higher Education Minister Charles Camosy. Even in Sweden, known for its egalitarianism, the academia is no model of meritocracy as it is plagued with an entrenched culture of cronyism.

In China and East Asian countries, teacher-student relationship is hierarchical. In China, teachers are seen as transmitters of truth and students as passive recipients of knowledge. Chinese academics have long believed that the task of the students is to learn about the world until 40 or so and only then try to critically examine the world. Several Western scholars have noted a big difference between in and out-of-class of Chinese students. As one scholar writes, often the Western teachers find “the deathly silence of students rather unnerving”. Even open-ended questions “mostly meet with no response.”(Biggs, 1999) However, such behaviour could be cultural. For example, asking question during a lecture is considered impolite and unrespectful.

Meritocracy trap

Meritocracy is the new face of inequality.In fact, as Francois Crouzet argues, the “image of the self-made man as the mainstay of the Industrial Revolution is a myth.”(Crouzet, 2011)

Daniel Markovits, author of The Meritocracy Trap, sees meritocracy itself as a problem.It produces radical inequality, stifles social mobility, and makes everyone — including the apparent winners — miserable. These are not symptoms of systemic malfunction; they are the products of a system that is working exactly as it is supposed to.(Markovits, 2019)

About 140 million people in the US are categorised as poor and with low income. About 24 million people of colour, 38 million Latinos, eight million Asian-American, two million Native people and 66 million Whites fall under this category. Many Americans have argued that riches are the “fruit of industry” and that America must “honour the fruit of merit”. Such meritocracy is of course a false narrative and a plutocratic fraud. China may have evolved a sophisticated system of selecting and promoting political officials, involving decades of training and examinations at different stages of their career, but its much-touted political meritocracy too is anything but meritocratic. Meritocracy remains a dystopia.

The culture of mediocrity is growing. The alternative to meritocracy should not be to stick with the status quo. Thinkers like British Social Democrat R N Tawney argue that we must strive for “equality of result” and “democratic equality of condition.” David Civil, author of The Rise of Functiocracy, has come up with a formula:Social Need +Democracy=Function. Social need, he stresses, must be “democratically identified by the community as a whole.”. It, however, raises more questions than answers. American civil rights theorist Lani Guinier, author of The Tyranny of the Meritocracy,underlines the importance of “educating a class of students who will be critical thinkers, active citizens and publicly spirited leaders.” She lays emphasis on “democratic merit”(Guinier,2016) that measures the success of higher education “by the work and service performed by the graduates who leave.”

Meritocracy inevitably metastasizes into oligarchy.Yet, even a flawed meritocracy is far better than epistocracy, feudal aristocracy or Brahminical caste system. John Rawls provides an interesting alternative. He says, “those who have been favoured by nature, may gain from their good fortune only on terms that improve the situation of those who have lost out.”Working towards radical egalitarianism is the right model. Of course, that work is never done. It is like Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus—to struggle perpetually and without hope of success. As they say, sometimes it is better to travel than to arrive.

*Sophia Thomas is Masters in Public Policy and Governance from Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, India

References

  • Bell, D. (2015, December 17). Chinese Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy. (E. Pastreich, Interviewer) Diplomat.
  • Bell, D. A. (2016). The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of     Democracy. Germany: Princeton University Press.
  • Bell, D. A. (21-23 May 2014). On the selection of good leaders in a political Meritocracy. Third Nishan Forum on World Civilizations. Shandong University, Jinan, China.
  • Biggs, J. (1999). What the Student Does: Teaching for enhanced learning. Higher Education Research & Development, 18(1).
  • Bovens, M., & Welle, A. (2017). Diploma Democracy: The Rise of Meritocracy. Oxford University Press.
  • Chiles, A. (2021, January 20). Never mind machines getting cleverer : Is technology making me stupider? The Guardian.
  • Civil, D. (n.d.). The Rise of Functiocracy.
  • Crouzet, F. (2011). The First Industrialists : The problem of Origins. University of Cambridge.
  • Furedi, F. (2006). The Culture of Fear Revisited. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Guinier, L. (2016). The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America. United States: Beacon Press.
  • Littler, J. (2017, May 20). Meritocracy: The great delusion that ingrains inequality. The Guardian.
  • Robinson, N. (2019, May 14). Meritocracy is a myth invented by the rich. The Guardian.
  • Weiwei, Z. (2018, 03 17). Selection and election: How China chooses its leaders. Retrieved from https://news.cgtn.com/news/3341444e796b7a6333566d54/share_p.html
  • Young, M. (1994). The Rise of the Meritocracy. Routledge.

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New Social Compact

Media, Democratic Politics and Citizen Journalism

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Media plays a key role in liberal democratic regimes. There are many functions of media in enhancing democracy. Media freedom is essential to a working democracy as agenda-setting is one of the significant roles of media. There is a constant relationship between the ruling elites and those governed in democratic countries. Public opinion is shaped in this process of interaction. The main tool of this relationship and interaction is the media.

Media is seen as the “fourth estate” in modern democracies. It acts as a “watchdog” for state affairs. The media coverage of issues—why and how they have emerged, why they are important for influencing people’s understandings of political and social reality – is very important in agenda setting (Blumber, 2015)

Journalism serves various democratic functions such as giving information, making investigation, providing society a public forum, and democratic education (Schudson, 2014). Ruling elites need media support in order to be able to create effective public support. The Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci’s (1971) conceptualization of “hegemony” states that rule must be based on both coercion and consent. Thus it can be said that media has a major role in providing a solid ground for consent.

Historically, the press has been an indispensable building block for a democratic regime. In a democratic regime, the media actors must provide a basis to the public that will enable the free expression of thoughts and opinions, the freedom of criticism of every institution and organization, including political power-holders. It can be said that, media discourse plays a key role in shaping the dynamics of the relationship between governments and the masses. Media through using a discriminatory or even stigmatizing language can undermine the legitimacy of certain actors while stressing the positive features of other actors to make them have legitimacy in the eyes of the masses. The powerful actors such as elites shape news discourse by setting time and space, agendas, participants, and news language. It is known that, the media is generally under the influence of diverse ideological forces.

In the course of time, with changing dynamics including technological advancement, democracy and media relationship has changed too. After 1945, a new type of democracy emerged. John Keane (2009) calls this as “monitory democracy”. If assembly democracy is linked to the spoken word, today’s democracy [monitory democracy] is linked to the digitalized societies.

It can be said that, in the age of globalization, the media structure has transformed. This transformation has an impact on democratic politics as well. In this new era, digitalization is on the rise and this is a major factor paving the way for citizen journalism. Citizen journalism is conducted by people who are not professional journalists. These people disseminate information using web sites, blogs, or social media platforms such as Twitter. Citizen journalism is also known as network journalism, and Web 2.0 journalism and it makes reference to the shifts in the nature of news and the media professionalism in a general sense. According to Chris Atton (2003) citizen journalism presents a “radical challenge to the professionalized and institutionalized practices of the mainstream media.”

The monopolies that constitute an obstacle to the freedom of having access to information erode democracy. However, citizen journalism offers small-scale, decentralized and interactive communication tools to ensure the freedom of having access to information and this empowers democracy.

As final remarks, it can be said that, the developments in digital communication have facilitated the proliferation of small companies and citizen journalism practices in the environment which once was dominated by a more rigid structured media sector. The developments in technology have attached a major importance to social media. The advent of new technologies and grass-roots media tools has created a significant shift in collecting and sharing information. Citizen journalism as an alternative form of news gathering and reporting is conducted outside of the traditional media boundaries. The technological improvements created a new platform for both news makers and news consumers. Thus, citizen journalism made the access to news easier and cheaper. Moreover, the global crisis like Coronavirus pandemic has shown that digital news consumption has become more critical and this ultimately increased the importance of citizen journalism.

Cited Works

  • Atton, C. (2003), “What is ‘alternative journalism’?” Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism 4, No. 3: 267-400.
  • Blumler, J. G. (2015), “Core Theories of Political Communication: Foundational and Freshly Minted” http://commres.net/wiki/_media/comt12077.pdf (Access Date: 24.1.2021)
  • Gramsci, A. (1971), Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Translated from Italian by Hoare, Q. and Nowell Smith, G. London: Lawrence and Wishart.
  • Keane, J. (2009), The life and death of democracy. London: Simon & Schuster.
  • Schudson, M.  (2014). “How to think normatively about news and democracy”, In: Kenski, K, Jamieson, KH (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Political Communication. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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New Social Compact

An Analysis on Marshall McLuhan’s concepts

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Marshall McLuhan is an important scholar who has made major contributions to communication discipline through introducing new concepts like “global village” and “medium is the message”. It can be said that ideas of McLuhan can be applied to new technologies and social media discussions today.

McLuhan introduced the idea of “medium is the message” in his book called Medium is the Message that was published in 1967. According to McLuhan, what is said by the message is not very significant. The media actors which can be regarded as the medium hold a more major influence on the masses than the message it presents.

The medium (or media in other terms) does not only have the role of being the carrier of the message but it is also the message that shapes people’s views and perceptions (McLuhan, 1967). McLuhan, based on the idea of “medium is the message” gave examples to support his claim in his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man published in 1964. According to McLuhan, the content of any medium is always another medium. For instance, the content of writing is speech; the written word is the content of print; and print can be seen as the content of the telegraph (McLuhan, 1964).

Another important concept coined by McLuhan is “global village”. This concept was introduced in the 1960s to say that mass media will spread all over the world and make the world become a global village (McLuhan, 1962). According to McLuhan, the electronic interdependence of today’s world produces a world in the sense of “global village”. The global village has been created by the instant electronic information movement according to McLuhan.

McLuhan believed in the usefulness of communication technologies. One of the most important emphases McLuhan made was about drawing attention with his findings about the global communication revolution. According to McLuhan, TV has been a critical invention that ensures that nothing remains a secret, and that eliminates privacy, and he believed that the change of societies is possible with the development of communication tools in various forms. McLuhan made one of the most important predictions of the 20th century. This was  the Internet.

In contemporary world, social media is used by millions of user all over the world. New technologies have turned the world into a “global village” Although McLuhan said almost 60 years ago, his ideas about media (medium is the message) and the “global village” concept are still relevant today.

References

  • McLuhan, M. (1962), The Gutenberg Galaxy: The making of typographic man.   London: Routledge.
  • McLuhan M. (1964), Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan, McGraw Hill
  • McLuhan, M. (1967). The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects.  London: Penguin Press.

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