Is a Merit-Based System Worth Aspiring To?

It Can Be a Safeguard Against Nepotism and Corruption. It Might Not Make Society More Equal

Should society judge people based on merit? How do 21st-century institutions measure merit, and how should they measure merit? And what is merit, anyway? These were three of the thorny questions addressed at a Zócalo event titled, “Is There Still Merit in a Merit-Based System?”

New Yorker staff writer Nicholas Lemann, who moderated the discussion, has been thinking about the subject for over 20 years, since researching his 1999 book about the SAT, The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy. “What does meritocracy mean to you?” he asked …