I wrote this quote on an index card and it's been floating around my desk for awhile. It deserves to be shared. It's from Matt Miller's The Tyranny of Dead Ideas:
"The instinct to treat the poor as deserving, not of charity, but of their fate, is easy to come to when you believe in a meritocracy."
A lot of my current work is related to designing training and development programs for disadvantaged youth and adults. We butt up against this idea all the time--that the poor DESERVE to be poor because they just don't have what it takes to succeed in a society based on merit.
But the notion that money follows merit assumes that "merit" (generally intellectual merit) is something we earn.
In fact, much of what passes for merit is really privilege--the privilege of a life that allows you to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to earn a good living. It is the privilege of having parents who could afford to move you into a good school district or give you money for college. It is really the privilege of race and class, which still affords people protections and opportunities they refuse to see, insisting that their achievements are a result of their skills and hard work, rather than where they live, who they know and what they started with. (This is not to say that skills and hard work aren't there--just that privilege plays a major role in this notion of "merit.")
As Miller points out in the video above, though, maybe people are really starting to understand that money following merit is a dead idea. Because if that was true then all those millions paid out in AIG bonuses were actually DESERVED and I'm pretty sure that not many outside of Wall Street buy that idea.
Hopefully this new knowledge--that those above us on the economic ladder don't necessarily "deserve" it--will make us think twice about those who are less fortunate. And the fact that many of us have lost jobs despite the fact that we've done all we were supposed to to "earn" them, may give further food for thought, too.