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News Would a more meritocratic system be more beneficial than contemporary republics?

  1. Jan 20, 2013 #1
    Because of some ambiguity of word meritocracy, by meritocracy I mean here a republic but where only better educated part of population (ex.: 20%) has voting rights.

    As the way of measuring that merit should be applied standardized tests, including math, logical thinking, understanding written texts and basic knowledge.

    Logic behind the idea:
    -better educated portion of population should in general make better decisions;
    -better educated people should be in general harder to mislead in add campaign, thus financing add campaigns would be less tempting;
    -better educated people in general tend to prefer more moderate positions;
    -world is simply more complicated than in the past (ex. more information that can be known, moving from simple night watch gov towards all encompassing state, deep economic ties with whole world);
    -we don't mind to test someone skills before giving him driving licence, while creating reasonable policy is harder than driving;
    -contemporary democracy is anyway evolving in system where importance of view of voter is diminishing (USA - its congress can barely claim double digit support; EU - where people are as long asked in referendums whether they agree for deeper integration until they agree out of apathy; power is granted to supranational organizations in multilateral treaties like WTO - its not a bad idea, however, you know decisions there are not specially democratic; not only judiciary became an independent branch with mild direct influence of the voters but the same route was followed with central banks; southern EU - politicians may promise their citizens whatever they like, but anyway have no choice to adopt austerity that their voters detest)

    Concerning potential counter arguments:
    -I'm not an American, so quoting US constitution wouldn't be treated as infallible argument.
    -If argument revolves around the fact that the idea is against democracy, then I would like to point out that introduction of democracy was clearly against divine right of kings. (ideas change with time, maybe there is a need for a next change)
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 20, 2013 #2
    The question is then - how do formal oligarchies function?

    Most formal oligarchies have been based on, basically, wealth censuses. Education census has been used as supplement, but rarely for majority of voters.

    If you have education census then your problems will be:

    do the tests decide anything else useful in daily life besides voting rights? (If 20% of population get a vote, then individual vote is not very useful for most of them.)

    If no, then you have the problems justifying the costs of administering the tests.

    If yes, the people have the incentive to cheat.

    Generally, any test which is important enough to be worth administering is important enough to be worth rying to cheat. You need tests which are easy and practical to administer in face of people trying to cheat.

    Not only will the people sitting the tests be trying to cheat, and people administering the test will be trying to earn bribes by letting people cheat, but people designing the tests will be also controversial, in what exactly the tests measure.

    Another example of current formal oligarchies are the various single parties. Chinese Communist Party is about 10 % of eligible adults... but the rank and file members do not actually get to bote much.
  4. Jan 20, 2013 #3

    D H

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    Would only the 20% who vote pay taxes? Probably not.
    Would the 20% who vote have to obey the same laws as the 80% who can't vote? Probably not.

    More likely is that the voting elite would vote left and right to protect and take advantage of their elite status.

    What distinguishes that 80% who have no rights (and they eventually will have no rights) from slaves?
  5. Jan 20, 2013 #4
    Tests can be used as part of exams after the end of secondary school, while anyone who is willing can take them on different occasion.

    I don't find it particularly good analogy. The selection process requires not merit but conformity.

    You know, nowadays you can vote without paying taxes (as welfare recipient who gets more money than pays in indirect taxes) or as foreigner / foreign investor pay taxes without right to vote. I'm not sure how it's relevant here, unless you prefer neither democracy nor suggested meritocracy, and rather a system where the paid taxes matter.

    Let's imagine that you actually pass that test, while quite a few of your relatives or friends don't. Would you vote to turn them in to second class citizens or slaves? (Would you expect others to want to turn big part of their friends and relatives in to slaves?) If not, wouldn't that contradict that what you have just said?
  6. Jan 20, 2013 #5


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    The obvious first step would be close down the education system, except for teaching their own kids how to pass the tests.

    If you think that's far-fetched, consider that for about 1000 years the main reason people in Europe were taught arithmetic was so they could understand how to calculate the date of Easter - and not many people need to know even that much.
  7. Jan 20, 2013 #6


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    If past human history means anything then yes I would expect the "non-elites" to eventually become 'slaves' that would eventually rise up and destroy the elites. A meritocratic system would quickly concentrate power to a very few "peter principle" rulers that would degenerate into the normal states of chaos, maintaining power by payoffs and harsh punishments. Never underestimate the ability of people to be cruel to others when there is no fear of reprisal.

    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  8. Jan 20, 2013 #7


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    That was my exact thought, too! Power corrupts.
  9. Jan 20, 2013 #8
    I think that would very quickly lead to social instability. Theoretically if a dictatorship is led by a competent person, it could generate much better results than a democracy, but you're taking away people's rights and social instability will follow.
  10. Jan 20, 2013 #9
    I'd say that it has been tried. In the old days only property owners could vote. I bet you would find a strong correlation between wealth and education. Third world countries like Chile still pretty much operate this way, or at least they did last time I checked.

    The result was/is that political decisions were made to benefit property owners, and the propertyless didn't like it. In the US they got the vote rather quickly, though I don't know how.
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2013
  11. Jan 20, 2013 #10
    Studying history this doesn't happen unless the system breaks down enough that people start to get hungry. People care a lot more about food than about freedom.

    Especially if they are starving. Then you might as well rebel, because you're going to die anyway.
  12. Jan 20, 2013 #11

    Vanadium 50

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    Czcibor, do you think you would be in the 20% or the 80%? Would your viewpoint change if you knew you would be in the 80%?
  13. Jan 20, 2013 #12


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    It's been my experience that people revolt long before they starve unless it's in a total gulag like in Cambodia where the leaders control by brute murder to simply erase unwanted groups.
    Libyan is a classic example of a revolt: http://www.spiegel.de/international...-against-escalation-of-violence-a-746847.html

    Helpless not hunger causes revolts. Helpless in a meritocratic system would happen very quirky for the "stupid" as they effectively would have little real control over their lives but would still have to support the system with the labor of their lives.
  14. Jan 20, 2013 #13

    jim hardy

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    I wouldn't trust it .

    my favorite writer had this to say:

    Last edited: Jan 20, 2013
  15. Jan 21, 2013 #14
    No, they do not.

    I believe United Arab Emirates is the only formal oligarchy I know, and they are mostly absolute monarchy. The rest either claim universal suffrage (and use various means to prevent actual free vote) or (a minority) do not hold elections.

    For example of limited suffrage, look at UK between 1832 and 1928.

    Before 1832, approrimately 1 man from 7 could vote at all, and most of them were represented only by the constituencies of shires and boroughs with wide franchise. A small fraction of that 1/7 controlled a large number of Commons seats of rotten boroughs.

    From 1832 to 1867, about 1/5 of men could vote, and their votes were more equally distributed.

    From 1867 to 1884, about 1/3 of men could vote.

    From 1884 to 1918, about 2/3 of men could vote.

    From 1918 to 1928, almost all men over 21 could vote, and about 2/3 over women. Women had to be over 30 to vote and hold property or be wives of property owners - but women with university education could also vote even if they did not qualify under property census.

    From 1928, all men and women over 21 could vote.

    The minority who could vote did not vote to make the rest "slaves". In fact, they voted 5 times to give votes to others. But even over the centuries before 1832, the people without votes were not deprived of all rights or reduced to slaves.
  16. Jan 21, 2013 #15


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    Far fetched? Nope.

    Just google "war on education". There's lots of material.

    And one doesn't have to go outside of PF to find out that educated people can be, um, ....

    I'm sorrry, but I have no adjective to describe that guy that won't get me an infraction.

    I suppose I was lucky not to get one when I compared him to the Nazi Propaganda minister.
  17. Jan 21, 2013 #16
    I think that I would be within 20%. No, I wouldn't change my mind, the point is to have reasonable gov and not a flattering ego illusion that my vote matters. (In the same way as I'm not outraged that by moving power from my country to the EU) I would also support such system if it would be scaled so that the threshold would be above my skills.

    I'm impressed by you so vast knowledge that you apply so general term "past human history". Especially when I think about moving from feudal monarchy towards absolute one, to move further towards actually system where monarch power was somewhat limited by parliament. Judging from that that Austro-Hungarian Empire did not belong to the past human history in which you believe in.

    Is 20% a very few? Just for comparison in my country in voting to Europarliament the turnover wasn't much higher (24,53% in 2009)

    What about corruption caused by the power to vote in democratic election?

    How do you define "control over their lives"? For example until quite recently my country had compulsory enrolment to army. Did I have control over my life in that respect? Did the fact that I could vote for politician saying "no", and be compelled go anyway matter much for the control of my own life?
    Same with ex. libertarians - they can whine as much as they want, but anyway they are compelled to do long list of things they detest. Do they rebel?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  18. Jan 21, 2013 #17
    I don't think a percental part of the population is a good idea, for reasons that have been mentioned above, and because it makes it very hard to change a downwards spiral in power distribution.

    However, I still think a meritocratic system might be worth considering, if it's done using a more absolute goal, for example everyone with a high school or collage degree can vote, regardless of how many percent of the population that becomes. This ensures more fluidity in the power distribution, and anyone to whom voting is important enough, can just focus on getting educated enough to participate.
  19. Jan 21, 2013 #18


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    hmmm... In retrospect, maybe it's not a bad idea.

    I think only PF members should be allowed to vote.

  20. Jan 21, 2013 #19


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    Or perhaps a different meritocracy?

    In the book, "Starship Troopers", Heinlein proposed a system where only former military members could vote. (Not current members, since they would have too signficant stake in whether or not the population went to war.)

    The important part of being a former military member was that the vote was entrusted to a group of people that had proven their tendency to put the group's needs over their individual needs.

    While the "former military member" part may be a little overly restrictive, one could see some positive aspects of demonstrating some sort of serious sacrifice and commitment to the group (nation/city/etc) before allowing a person to decide the fate of that group.

    As opposed to an educational requirement, which only ensures that voters understand the effect government policies will have on their own lives.
  21. Jan 21, 2013 #20


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    I'm not sure what you mean by that. Can you explain?
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