A system is said to be meritocratic if the compensation and power available to individuals is determined by their abilities and merits. A system is topocratic if the compensation and power available to an individual is determined primarily by her position in a network. Here we introduce a model that is perfectly meritocratic for fully connected networks but that becomes topocratic for sparse networks-like the ones in society. In the model, individuals produce and sell content, but also distribute the content produced by others when they belong to the shortest path connecting a buyer and a seller. The production and distribution of content defines two channels of compensation: a meritocratic channel, where individuals are compensated for the content they produce, and a topocratic channel, where individual compensation is based on the number of shortest paths that go through them in the network. We solve the model analytically and show that the distribution of payoffs is meritocratic only if the average degree of the nodes is larger than a root of the total number of nodes. We conclude that, in the light of this model, the sparsity and structure of networks represents a fundamental constraint to the meritocracy of societies.
Meritocracy refers to a governmental or other administrative system wherein appointments and responsibilities are assigned to individuals based on their merits, which are determined through objective evaluations or examinations. Merit can be earned by either intellectual or manual labour, as each person has his or her own talents. Nevertheless, there is no absolute definition of merit because both intelligence and skill are relative. In our current society, individuals can, theoretically, reach any goal in a meritocratic system. Indeed, merit should be the basis on which resources are allocated. This said, personal beliefs, bureaucratic complications, national regulations, and other human characteristics obscure the obvious superiority of this approach. Members of groups, including societies, often support and follow an individual who adheres to the group’s norms rather than one who may be more deserving of such loyalty but who does not adhere to the shared rules. Individuals in a meritocratic system feel valued, believe their abilities are recognised, and have incentives to improve their professional performance. In such a context, individuals experience their environment as fair and feel more confident about themselves, others, and their work. Individuals working under such conditions are very likely to have higher levels of motivation, engage in more collaborative behaviour, show greater flexibility and experience enhanced well being compared with those operating in a system that is perceived as not based on merit. This paper presents an integrated discussion of meritocracy and poses seven questions that may improve our understanding of this concept.
Contact with the dominant group can increase opposition, among the disadvantaged, to social policies that would benefit their group. This effect can be explained in terms of contact promoting support for an ideology of meritocracy, which privileges the distribution of societal resources based on individual merit, rather than group-level disadvantage. We tested this ideological mechanism in a large, nationally representative sample of Māori (a disadvantaged group in New Zealand; N = 1,008). Positive intergroup contact with the dominant group (New Zealand Europeans) predicted increased opposition to a topical reparative policy (Māori ownership of the foreshore), and this was fully mediated by increased support for the ideology of meritocracy. Intergroup contact may enable the ideological legitimation of inequality among members of disadvantaged groups, engendering political attitudes that are detrimental to their group’s interests. Contact with ingroup members had the opposite effect, increasing support for reparative policy by reducing subscription to meritocratic ideology.