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The British Lose Faith In A Meritocracy?

by | Monday, 13th February 2012

The Economist's blogger Bagehot writes that his:

print column this week looks at the British debate about high pay, and suggests that the row is about more than bonuses and banks. Somewhere in amongst the public rage, I think the British are losing faith in the idea that they live in a meritocracy.

Bagehot expresses views which are typical of the oligarchical mind, which whines when the unwashed masses demand limits are placed on bankers salaries.

I worked in the financial sector for several years. The people I met were good at their jobs. But were they better at their jobs than an equivilently qualified physicist, or an engineer? Absolutely not.

Did they work any harder than a production line worker, or a miner? Not in these times of squeezed margins.

Are their jobs more stressful than an air traffic controllers, or a bomb disposal operative? Don't think so.

And yet the salaries received by people in the financial sector are orders of magnitude larger than these others.

Yes, the people I knew in the financial world were good at their jobs. But I never saw any evidence of them having a conscience. They certainly never once gave any thought to their impact on society or the world.

Britain is still very much a meritocracy. I believe Britain very much wants to see people who do valuable jobs being well rewarded.

But the British people are not fools, despite what Bagehot might think. We know the difference between a meritocracy and a kleptocracy.