Meritocracy, the fallacy of the elites and equal opportunities

martha ortega He started folding T-shirts before taking over the Inditex textile empire, Elon Musk in a garage before acquiring Twitter, the possibility that the system offers you the same opportunity as everyone else… Hold on… Hold on… There’s something grating about all of this . What if it was a fallacy, a trap, and what if what social democracy elaborated under the name of equal opportunities was really just a concept that strengthened inequality from the backyard of words? That is the question and that is the reflection that the philosopher Cesar Rendueles proposed this Friday at the last NORTES Meeting, held at Les Cigarreres in Gijón, on the occasion of his latest book “Against equal opportunities. An egalitarian pamphlet (Seix Barral, 2020).


The world is worse, something has changed for the worse. It’s not that the air is more polluted or the planet is hotter. It is something else. Let’s rewind, maybe the world wasn’t always this sinister… or yes. “There were a number of concerns that led me to write this book. From the surveys and studies of the 2008 crisis, it was found that there had been a growth in inequality. It is curious how until that year, news about social exclusion was a taboo subject and, nevertheless, from then until today they have been part of the political debate”, Rendueles began by explaining to a crowded audience.

Since the crisis in Spain, society is more aware of the growth of poverty, but not so much of inequality. “In fact, nobody wants to admit that they are part of the lower class. Nor do those who are part of the upper class publicly acknowledge that they are members of the upper class. They have all settled in a common, fictitious, conventional place called the middle class. And it is true. Nobody talks about money. No one says whether or not he has a good salary. Nobody says it on the street, in the bar. Not being able to pay the house rent or the mortgage payment and going to the last Primavera Sound have been approved. In other words: in the story of our lives, the need and the desire are received as the same result. But are they really? Obviously not.

Christian Ferreiro and Cesar Rendueles, during the last Meeting of Nortes, in Les Cigarreres. Photo by Luis Sevilla.

“The distance between those who have the most and those who have the least makes us worse,” said Rendueles. Indeed, the indicators of education, life, health, and drug use are worse. “Life becomes more unlivable.” However, the growing concern for poverty and inequality does not correspond to a symmetrical growth due to the importance of equality and that is where another element comes in, another factor: equal opportunities”

From World War II to the Oil Crisis, the ideas of the left and the right had built an imaginary about equality that, through different methods, tried to limit extreme inequalities. In fact, there was “an unprecedented growth in equality in market societies ruled by either the left or the right.” Until the 1970s, one and the other, from the most liberal governments to the most social democrats, incorporated tax systems that today would seem confiscatory, Soviet: “The tax policies of that time are today a Bolshevik fantasy and, in their eyes, those of today seem to be the result of a dystopia“. And yet…


It is difficult for us to imagine ambitious policies that transform our lives and to a large extent it is because in societies they have been perfectly installed in systems of privilege that we accept as normal. “·It is hard for us to imagine more inclusive projects. It would seem that inequality has gotten into our bones and we cannot find alternatives” Rendueles diagnosed.

Photo: Luis Seville

The equal opportunities system is very healthy in competitive processes, whether for a football match or an opposition, but when it becomes a rule of general justice it hides a pernicious trap. According to Rendueles, “Giving up the real equality of each one based on what they deserve, is another meritocracy“. Equal opportunities become a falsehood that does not work in the educational system or at work. It only broadens and reproduces inequalities. It is a “good elitism”.

Marta Ortega deserves to lead Inditex and Elon Musk deserves to control Twitter and we all deserve them… The moral argument that justifies equal opportunities is sustained under an apparently legitimate premise: to each according to their merits, to each according to what they really it deserves. However, from an eminently Marxist position, equality should be supported under another axiom: to each according to what they need “for their personal self-development and so that they can display their best talents.”

Audience listening to Cesar Rendueles. Among the attendees, Laura Tuero, Xune Elipe and Covadonga Tome, regional candidates for Podemos, in Les Cigarreres. Photo by Luis Sevilla.

Social democracy and the equal opportunity model devised a social elevator that only rises with the resignation of those who do not rise. Actually, this lift is closer to the operation of a plunger coffee maker. It elevates a few by crushing all the rest, like a perverse social ingenuity that has found universal legitimacy. “That some ascend implies that others have to stay.” The Marxist premise, to each according to their needs, is today a scandalous idea “because it presupposes that all personal developments have the same dignity. Messi and a disabled person to speak, . It is about limiting the inequalities of the results”.

The meritocracy that is hidden in the equal opportunity system only justifies the privileges of the elites. “Meritocracy is a very good translation of the aristocracy that, from the 80s of the last century until today, has developed programs for the circulation of elites, with more destructive and nihilistic traits. that have freed the most powerful from any kind of responsibility,” said Rendueles.

And so it is. Whoever achieves success is released from any obligation. A man without responsibilities is only a parody of himself, but an unfair and cruel parody that, deep down, makes us grimace. Only shared responsibilities make us more equal. Who knows, one day we may get to see Marta Ortega actually folding T-shirts.

Meritocracy, the fallacy of the elites and equal opportunities