The Myth of Meritocracy and Social Mobility

  • on Mon, 6th August 2018 9:09 AM
The Myth of Meritocracy and Social Mobility
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Meritocracy is a myth. Social mobility is largely a myth.

Hard work, focus, and determination are good but don’t lead to wealth. The number one predictor of a child’s socioeconomic class is not his IQ, talent, education or networks. It is the parent’s socioeconomic class. If a child is poor/middle class/rich, there is an 80% chance that the parents are poor/middle class /rich respectively. Do you also know that the number one predictor of a child’s educational aspiration is not their IQ, family wealth or type of school, but the mother’s educational attainment?

Poor people usually have only a 5% chance of ever ending up rich in their lifetime. In fact, the global ratios tend to be between 7.13-13.56%. The upper-middle-class people only have a 20% chance of ever ending up rich. In fact, 60-85% of all people live and die within the social class that they were in, in their 20s. Don’t get it twisted, the rags to riches story tend to be anything but. Yes, there is always a Kirubi who started from the streets to billionaire status but that is the exception, not the rule. And as the saying goes when you legislate to the exceptions you end up with bad laws. About 40% of those born poor will live and die poor. Contrary to what you keep hearing, education is great but it’s not an equalizer. Rich kids with lower IQ graduate in higher numbers than poor kids with high IQ.

The ability to make Zuckerberg/Gates/Oprah/Bezos kind of wealth within one lifetime is possible but not normal and available to 99.9% of the population. Usually, it takes about three to four generations of industrious heirs to achieve it. That’s the reason the good book says, a good man leaves an inheritance for his children and his children’s children. The forces at play are referred to as the principles of inherited (dis)advantages.

For the other 80-85% with average brains, average families, average income and average talent the only ‘second father’ available is social mobility through public sector reforms.

In the GODFATHER, Mario Puzo tells the story of an encounter between the Irish criminal lawyer Tom Hagen and the Hollywood film star Mr. Jack Woltz. The mafia, Don Corleone, had sent Tom Hagen to negotiate, a once in a lifetime deal, for his other godson Johnny Fontaine (usually believed to be Frank Sinatra). During their strained exchange, Tom Hagen at some point tells Mr. Woltz. ‘Italians have a little joke, that life is so hard that a man needs two fathers to take care of him, and that’s why they have godfathers.’ Tom himself was a consigliere (eyes and ears) to Don Corleone, even though he was Irish and not Sicilian as was the tradition, something that regularly invited scorn from the other five Sicilian New York Mafia families. He had been adopted into the Corleone family at 11yrs after his dad died of alcoholism and his mom went blind and mad.

There are different kinds of second fathers out here depending on where you fall. There’s the 5% of the population who were wise enough to choose to be born to wealthy parents or those whom Warren Buffet calls the ‘Lucky Sperm Club’. The level of family influence and laws of general immobility is their second father.

There is the second 10-15% people whose second father is their endowment. These are people who are armed either with exceptional brains, massive talents, amazing personality, displays great judgment, extremely good looking or they are simply lucky.

For the other 80-85% with average brains, average families, average income and average talent the only ‘second father’ available is social mobility through public sector reforms. This includes a functioning public health care system, access to social amenities, a good liberal education or a general boom. These are the kinds of reforms that can lift a significant level of the populace upwards and increase access to opportunity. Great examples of these include the tech boom of South-east Asia, Mongolia/Australia mining boom, the Deng Xiaoping 1970s Chinese reforms, Brazil’s manufacturing boom of early 2000s and the Singaporean 1950-2000s public sector reforms.

Last year, this week we went to polls to give one man a trillion annual budget, 22 ministries, 200+ parastatal and over 800,000 employees.  Armed with this and a proper focus on public sector reform agenda including the TJRC report, the man would have the capacity to lift this country back into prosperity with 18 months to 3yrs. For the top 15-20%, they would prosper irrespective of who wins. For the 85% out here, the polls were about selecting abetter second father. 

Whatever happened, whatever choice we made, here we are. 


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