Balancing the meritocracy

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Balancing the meritocracy

The author is the national news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Harvard Professor Michael Sandel’s 2021 book “The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become the Common Good” addresses the problem of meritocracy. While meritocracy has the positive aspect of efficiency in the market economy, it forces people to think that success results from competency and excellence while failure results from negligence and lacking qualifications. Since there are so many other cases, Sandel criticizes the belief that if you are “good,” you will succeed, and if you are “bad,” you will fail.

For instance, a student who receives expensive tutoring to study abroad is more likely to get admitted to a good school and get a decent job. But not everyone can do this. Parents must be able to afford this. Yale University Professor Daniel Markovits, another renowned critic of meritocracy, criticized in his 2020 book “Meritocracy Trap” that in modern society, ability is made by the ability of parents rather than produced as a result of a child’s talents and efforts.

You don’t need to think the theories of meritocracy critics make meritocracy useless. But it should be noted as a warning to blind faith in meritocracy. In that sense, President Yoon Suk-yeol’s sole emphasis on “strict meritocracy” makes people anxious. In fact, his Cabinet and vice-ministerial appointments in the early stages were biased toward male Seoul National University graduates in their 50s. Yoon’s meritocracy is actually elitism.

Criticism is growing as former prosecutors dominate major positions in the government. Starting with Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon, prosecutors were named as heads of the office of planning and coordination in the National Intelligence Service, the prime minister’s office and the Ministry of Government Legislation, not to mention his appointments of prosecutors as secretaries for public service ethics, legal affairs, general affairs and personnel affairs in the presidential office. On June 7, Lee Bok-hyeon, former prosecutor at the Seoul Northern District Prosecutors’ Office, was appointed as head of the Financial Supervisory Service (FSS). Since the FSS was established in 1999, no former prosecutor has taken up the position. On his bias for prosecutors, President Yoon, a former prosecutor general, claimed that his principle was “using competent people for the right place.”

When employing people, anyone would consider people close to themselves. The problem is that Yoon did not try to find diverse talents with experiences in various fields other than the prosecution. What makes Yoon believe that the right people who are not only able but also satisfy all conditions are concentrated in the top law enforcement agency?
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