top of page

Meritocracy vs Inherited Wealth

While in the shower - where all good thoughts happen - I was struck by the idea that a key, underpinning idea in capitalism (that isn't present in socialism/communism) is that your birth should be a key influencing factor on the rest of your life.

Where you are born, who you are born to, and the socioeconomic status of your parents currently affects every aspect of our lives. Where you'll be educated, and therefore your educational attainment. What kind of job you'll get, how much you'll be paid - all of this affecting mental and physical health throughout your life, and ultimately determining your life expectancy (e.g. the Glasgow Effect).

For anyone wanting a depressing read on social mobility and death (my favourite kind of read), have a look at the Glasgow Effect. This is the name given to the incredibly low life expectancy of people born in Glasgow - currently an average of is 54 years old. This is especially insane when 12km down the road, the average life expectancy is 82. The Glasgow Effect beautifully demonstrates the relationship between where you are born, and what your life will look like.

Now lets we put in a pin in this, and consider some major political disagreements between the left and the right. A particularly pertinent one today is immigration.

In a very simplistic way: right wingers seem to disagree with freedom of migration - though the degree varies. Some right wingers want to limit the amount of immigrants who enter Britain, while some don't want to allow even asylum seekers in - arguably some of the most desperate people in the world (right wingers or asylum seekers? You decide!)

I am an obviously left wing person (because I'm a queer person who just loves abortions - what a fucking snowflake). The idea that where in the world you're born should have any impact on where you can go/live/how entitled you are to opportunies, seems like a total farce. Why would be being born a hundred miles south mean that you can't enter another country? It's so peculiar. And so arbitrary. Like chosing where a person can live based on their hair colour. Why pick geographical location, of all things, to decide what another human being is allowed to do?

Now if we take a step back and look more widely at capitalist and socialist values, a crucial capitalist one is meritocracy. This is the idea that people should only be rewarded for working hard, being intelligent and earning it, so meritocracy states that all wealth/privilege should be earnt, rather than someone lucking into it.

Despite this, capitalist societies champion inherited wealth, whereas communist theory states that inherited wealth is automatically theft.

This is so fascinating to me, because the idea of inheriting vast sums of money and property because your parents earnt it, is directly opposing meritocracy. People who inherit lots of money have done absolutely nothing to earn it. What is so infuriating about rich people is the ludicrous self-belief they have that they somehow earnt their privilege and wealth, by merely winning the parental lottery and being born with stinking rich parents.

Whilst I say this, it's important to note that even by having this blog and therefore the time and energy to make it means that I have won the parental lottery. Being able to study a degree, and have a laptop, and a house, and running water, means that - globally - I am incredibly rich. So I include myself in that belligerent, entitled group of "entitled rich folk." Thankfully I hated myself enough before this realization that it doesn't make too much of a difference.

Anyway, I think that this massive contradiction in capitalist logic shows how important the idea of birth (where you were born/who you were born to) is to capitalist societies. Capitalists care so much about the conditions of your birth that they will even endure the undignified flip flop of being openly antithetical.

I think this post has been enough of an unseemly thought-stream that I'll leave it here for now. To figure out if this is more of a shower thought or more of a legitimate theory I'll have to do a lot more reading, so I'm not going to do that.

bottom of page