What is ‘merit’ and how do we value it?

by Elias Blum

A guest post by Brian the Brainy Biking Boxer

This morning Theresa May said we should create a ‘meritocracy’ and John McDonnell said (separate interview) ‘We can’t live in a society where nurses use food banks.’

To be a true meritocracy we need to scrutinise our whole understanding of ‘merit’: who we believe has it, where it comes from, how we acquire it, and how it’s rewarded. Does merit grant money, or money grant merit?

It’s easy to get misty-eyed about nurses when discussing the link between merit and pay, but there’s a reason for that: they’re relatable, understandable, and most of us encounter them at some point. We know what they do and, roughly, what they get for it. The money-merit chasm here is obvious. And this gap cannot be bridged using our current conceptions of what’s valuable and what’s not, what’s earned and what’s not, and what individual success- if that is what we mean by ‘merit’- looks like.