Sociology Paper on a predominately meritocratic society
The United States is perceived to be a predominately meritocratic society, where people are judged not by their family connections, but rather on their individual capabilities. In a meritocratic society, the individual, regardless of the effects of the approved status, will be able to surmount all potential social, as well as cultural hindrances, in order to attain a level of success purely through personal effort. The U.S. citizens believe that individuals have the capacity to prosper and ascend the economic ladder through self-reliance, hard work, as well as embracing entrepreneurial attitudes. The concept of meritocracy has made Americans split themselves into three social classes, which define individuals based on their intelligence, as well as property ownership. Despite being among the most prosperous in the world, the American meritocracy is perceived by its members as lagging behind in terms of performance.
Meritocracy is a political viewpoint that supports the notion of power being in the hands of individuals who are talented and competent. Gallagher and Lippard termed meritocracy as a system that allows the progress in social positions and resources to be distributed on the basis of individual talent, capacity, and ingenuity (776). Thus, meritocracy is a mixture of effort, skills, and intelligence. Meritocracy is a dominant principle in the U.S. since the stratification of social institutions is normally accredited to individual merit instead of social hindrances, such as discrimination. The American Dream is closely tied to meritocracy since individuals base their successes on responsibility, hard work, and talent.
From the beginning, most Americans assumed that having equality of opportunities put them a step forward above other nations, as they could free themselves from unbearable pretentiousness, as well as enable them to gain from the capacities of the entire population. They believe that social positions should be awarded to the most qualified individuals, as they carry unequal rewards and expectations. This perception led to social stratification with regard to people’s origin and color of their skin. Social stratification based on race, class, and other aspects have challenged the concept of meritocracy because people are perceived not by their educational qualifications, but through their social groups (Gallagher and Lippard 777). People of color are deemed to trail on issues concerning success. Efforts to ameliorate the effects that bring racial discrimination are often discouraged by the higher social class, which benefit from the situation.
Americans perceive themselves as a society divided into three classes, which emerge through influence and prestige. Although the U.S. Constitution asserts that all people are equal, the representation among states illustrates a different picture. The nation states are made of three types of castes. According to Bargo, the bottom class is made of the lowest paid individuals, who hold the least skills or are unskilled at all. The second class is the middle class, which carries the largest share of the population, as it incorporates people who undertake various tasks in the economy. Although the middle class is educated and skilled, it does not the power nor resources. The highest social class incorporates the political elites, who preserve and hold the power that allows them to control the lower social classes. The lowest social class incorporates individuals that earn low wages, which lacks economic security. Such individuals are perceived to be uneducated or having little education, which cannot guarantee them better-paying jobs.
Wealth Distribution within the U.S. Society
Americans are quite articulate when it comes to the distribution of social resources, which is within the conception of the American Dream. According to Sklar, the U.S. is not like South Korea, where workers are compelled to change from one job to another without health insurance, pension, or retirement benefits (331). Unlike Japan where violence against women has become an epidemic, the U.S. has strived to enhance equality and equal pay for both genders. However, the struggle to distribute wealth evenly among Americans is marred with stereotypes that certain groups can never be qualified enough to deserve high income.
There is no doubt that the US is experiencing a rising inequality in the wealth distribution for the last four decades. According to Cragg and Ghayad, the gap between the wealthy Americans and the poor Americans has continued to widen over the last three decades, posing the risk of income distribution (1). The Great Recession obliterated two decades of gains in terms of wealth and income distribution among the middle-income families. The wealth decline has created an economic drag, which affects consumption and other expenditures. When the level of income drops among the middle-income families, those who suffer most are the lower social classes because they would experience loss of jobs and less income.
The growing indebtedness among most Americans is one of the reasons for the inequity in the wealth allocation. Although many middle-class families have homes and are on pension schemes, most of them are paying high mortgages, as well as clearing student loans. Most Americans have no issue with income inequality as long as such practice would allow expansion in social mobility. They distinguish income inequality as a price for having a dynamic economy.
Wealth distribution in the U.S. is becoming skewed every day due to due to social clustering of communities and inequality in education. Incentives are usually offered to the already wealthy entrepreneurs to motivate their efforts in accumulating capital. Such entrepreneurs expand those benefits to the family members who are introduced to the practical business world. For instance, a child of an entrepreneur is likely to succeed in running a business because he/she is already equipped with first-hand skills in entrepreneurship (Means). The U.S. is at risk of replicating the European-style of class-based society. People are finding it difficult to climb from rag to riches while the children raised in the affluent classes have a higher chance of succeeding in life.
Since the Cold War era, America’s education system has never been equal or fair. The system seems to favor the white majority, as students who reside in areas predominantly occupied by the wealthy white communities tend to have huge advantages over other students. Such students are taught by experienced teachers while the ratio of teacher to student is relatively low. Students from wealthy communities enjoy modern facilities, which are equipped with computers and science apparatus while their textbooks are up-to-date. It is not surprising to see students from the affluent families graduating at a higher rate than students from the poor families.
Defining merit with regard to students’ grades and test scores implies that the society values individual’s competition more than anything else. Each parent’s desire is to see the best out of his/her children, but states contribute largely in how educational resources are distributed. The gap between wealthy urban schools and poor rural schools in terms of per-student expenditure is extremely high, and in most cases, such gap is triggered by private fund raising that is carried out for public schools. The situation is usually worse among the U.S. Black students, who ranked even below Mexico in terms of educational success. Students who graduate from Black colleges are often ignored, and those who succeed in getting attractive jobs are often discriminated through lack of promotions and unequal pay.
Although education gains in the U.S. have been on the rise, the gap between whites and minority students seems to be too wide to close because of diverse levels of funding. Even when the state government strives to balance the amount of fund that each student should receive, wealthy communities may supplement such fund, thus, creating the disparity in terms of location. Students from school districts that host low-income families suffer from education segregation because their parents cannot afford to pay the tuition fee that the summer schools demand (Dreier n.p). Racial gap has made the black community suffer in poverty, as it does not have a chance to succeed in a segregated education system.
Education is one of the keys towards solving broader American inequality, although there is a need to resolve educational inequality first. Education inequality increases doubt concerning meritocracy, particularly in the institutions that offer higher education. College admission boards are often involved in unlawful practices, where they restrict admissions to only the privileged applicants who score high in secondary education. This practice keeps away bright students who score lower marks in secondary schools.
Influence of Social Caste Ideologies
The U.S. is termed as the most greatly stratified society among the industrialized countries. This is due to class distinctions that control almost every feature of the American life. A class system assumes achieved characteristics, where rewards are offered based on the talent or effort. However, media has been utilized to conceal social inequalities from the public view. Media coverage has made people believe that poverty is a personal choice, and should be addressed as statistics rather than through human face (Mantsios 451-452). It portrays the poor as undeserving, or as a crime, yet it is a creation of the political elites.
In a caste system, an individual rank is determined from his/her birth, since it is an ascribed status. The caste system is in a hierarchical order, where some individuals are considered more superior than others, thus, are permitted to influence other to act according to their wish. According to Karl Marx, the connection between the means of production defines the positions of individuals in the hierarchy. In a capitalist society, such as the U.S., the most fundamental force within the caste system is the conflict of interest, which emerges between the owners of production and the workers. Owners of production will always remain on top because they have the power, as well as the means to maintain their lifestyles while the workers would remain in poverty because they lack the means to move out of their poverty.
The strive to maintain meritocracy in the U.S has been hampered by the founding fathers, who failed to honor women, as well as the African Americans, in the Constitution. Historically, racism and White dominance in the U.S. led to some people becoming land owners while others became laborers. Such division is supported by powerful cultural beliefs that trigger caste systems. Although women from the highest caste do not suffer more than other women, they still experience gender inequality in terms of distribution of opportunities. Land ownership created the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, who depend on each other for economic and social survival.
Caste system determines people’s occupations and lifestyles. This implies that certain positions within the ruling class are held by the highest caste. The political class has managed to maintain the lower castes based on racism and exploitation. Even after abolishing slavery in the U.S., the political class has successfully made the middle class and the lower class contribute financially to its survival. The middle caste relies on the political class for job creation while the lower caste depends on the middle caste and the political class for subsistence needs.
The U.S. is considered as a predominantly meritocracy owing to its efforts to allow individuals to overcome their social and cultural obstacles to attain their desirable levels of success through hard work. However, issues such as unequal distribution of the country’s resources, unequal distribution of education, social stratification, and influence of the caste systems have made individuals and societies to miss their opportunities for a better lifestyle. Meritocracy has been put into doubt, particular in college admissions, where students from the middle-class society are denied entry, and where privileged groups are favored through test scores. The caste systems have also destroyed the concept of meritocracy, as individuals from lower caste system do not get chances to join prestigious occupations. If the U.S. government can strive to eliminate inequality in education and wealth distribution, the concept of meritocracy can work extremely well for all Americans.
Bargo, Jr., Michael. “How Democrats Created America’s Social Caste System.” American Thinker, Sept. 7, 2015. http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2015/09/how_democrats_created_americas_social_caste_system.html. Accessed 17 November 2016
Cragg, Michael, and Rand Ghayad. “Growing Apart: The Evolution of Income Vs. Wealth Inequality.” Economists’ Voice, vol. 12, issue 1, Cambridge: MA, 2015, pp. 1-12.
Dreier, Peter. “America’s Classist Education System.” The Huffington Post, July 25, 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-dreier/americas-rigged-education_b_5621332.html. Accessed 17 November 2016
Gallagher, Charles A, and Cameron D. Lippard. Race and Racism in the United States: An Encyclopedia of the American Mosaic. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2014. Print.
Means, Benjamin. “Wealth Inequality and Family Businesses.” Emory Law Journal, vol. 65, no. 4, 2016, n.p. http://law.emory.edu/elj/content/volume-65/issue-4/articles/wealth-inequality-family-business.html. Accessed 17 November 2016
Sklar, Holly. “Imagine Country”. In Race, Class, and Gender in the United States (9th ed.). Paula Rothenberg (Ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers, 2014. pp. 324-334.