Saturday, 15 September 2012

In which Michael Young is prophetic

From his satire The Rise of the Meritocracy 1870-2033, first published in 1958:

On promotion by seniority:

“Our grandfathers... did not fully understand that when castes were abolished... there was still another category of people to circumvent – the class of old men.... In an open society the few who are chosen out of the many who are called should be chosen on merit; age is as much an irrelevant criterion as birth.... The story of the third and most recent phase is the story of the way in which the principle of seniority has gradually yielded to the principle of merit.... In any rapidly changing society the young are more at home than the old....”

“... eventually every forward-looking company had its teams of talent scouts combing the universities.... college magazines grew larger and larger on the proceeds of advertisements.”

“... when the retiring age was raised to seventy, the political consequences were so grave that we had to wait twenty years for the age to be raised further to eighty....”

On inequality:

“As for the lower classes.... They are tested again and again.... If they have been labelled ‘dunce’ repeatedly they cannot any longer pretend...”

“... few contemporary observers were aware that economic progress threatened to produce a new kind of selective unemployment.... They knew that the prime purpose of machinery was to save labour, but did not ask – what kind of labour?... More and more was demanded of the skilled men, less and less of the unskilled, until finally there was no need for unskilled men at all.... What was to be done with them? There was only one possible answer... personal service. For instance, most of them could... serve in public restaurants and places of entertainment.... Domestic service could be restored once it was again accepted that some men were superior to others.... The trouble has been the men... no really adequate modern counterpart has been found for the butler and the footman of old. Male unemployment has been higher than female for forty years or more.”

More in a bit.