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« On meritocracy »

In a certain underdeveloped country, the story circulated about a prominent father who was worried that his son, propelled into a senior job in a ministry by his father’s influence, was being led into bad habits by his large salary. The father approached his friend the minister, and begged him to re-allocate his son into a more junior post. The minister expostulated: “But my dear friend, if your son is to have a junior post, he’ll have to pass exams!”

Occupants of subordinate posts are meant to do a definite job, with clear job specifications. Hence, clear, publicly checkable criteria for performance and suitability exist. If these criteria are not applied, we feel that we are in the presence of corruption. Our efficiency depends on fair selection of persons for posts, and we believe in meritocracy. But at the top? Or in choice of fundamental policies? … No Delphic oracles for small issues, where reason prevails; but for really big questions, oracle-surrogates remain in use.

Ernest Gellner, Plough, Sword and Book