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IS MERITOCRACY OUTMODED IN A KNOWLEDGE-BASED ECONOMY?

STEPHEN J. APPOLD

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Singapore prides itself on its system of meritocracy that is meant to channel the most capable individuals to the most critical positions. Performance in school, buttressed by a system of university scholarships, identifies potential stars early on. Scholars are often carefully groomed in the early years of their working careers and screened further. Only the best reach positions of real responsibility. Such a system worked well in the past and some researchers have held the meritocratic stratification system at least partially responsible for Singapore's economic growth (and that of some other Asian countries). The meritocratic system, however, is not well-suited to the exigencies of knowledge-based economies; these require a broad base of committed workers each with a high level of skill. As tasks and needs rapidly shift, so may job performance. Building on information gathered from Singaporean workplaces and on theories of internal labor markets, this paper will identify how a meritocratic stratification system limits overall job performance by producing only a small number of committed workers. This paper will illustrate how a stratification system capable of motivating a larger number of workers would work and discuss adaptation issues.