Skip to content

Newsweek: "American Meritocracy Catches on in Europe"

"Europeans are adopting American values, but slowly and selectively," writes Jacopo Barigazzi in Newsweek:
Nobody would argue that Europe has become an American-style meritocracy, but the concept is no longer as alien as it once was. When I was in high school, 20 years ago, teachers went on strike for a salary increase. I mentioned a strange, American conceptpay raises linked to performanceand was accused of being a right-winger. Now this alien term appears in the manifestos of all would-be prime ministers for the next Italian elections.
UPDATE: Fulbright grants are not based on merit anymore? ;-) "Rebecca, Mary and Kate Kirchman are citizens of the world. The sisters, originally from Portage, have each received Fulbright grants from the State Department in the last year." writes the Portage Daily Register.

Trackbacks

No Trackbacks

Comments

Display comments as Linear | Threaded

Sonja on :

What a stupid article! "Meritocracy is catching on, and so is the principle of a consumer-based society." What is that supposed to mean? What does the author imply Europe to have been up till now? Aristocratic? Coummunist? Last time I checked, I've lived in a consumer-based society all my life (in Germany). And the German (tuition-free) system allowed me to become the first in my family to earn a college degree, which I doubt would have happened under the same circumstanes in the U.S. And Iraq, an "akward" war? The fact that "U.S. leaders won’t allow their soldiers to be tried abroad" - a "relatively isolated situation"???

Anonymous on :

[i]What is that supposed to mean?[/i] This is the change: When I was in high school, 20 years ago, teachers went on strike for a salary increase. I mentioned a strange, American concept pay raises linked to performance and was accused of being a right-winger. Now this alien term appears in the manifestos of all would-be prime ministers for the next Italian elections.

Don S on :

"And the German (tuition-free) system allowed me to become the first in my family to earn a college degree, which I doubt would have happened under the same circumstanes in the U.S." My family is working-class, Sonja, and I was the second college grad in the entire family. My mother was the first. But if you look at my extended family you'd see than more than half of my generation of cousins (4 out of 7) landed the coveted sheepskin. Perhaps not 'under the same circumstances' as you did - but we managed it anyway. Two of us went on to get advanced degrees, and I had an offer of admission to one of the US' best MBA programs which I was unable to take up due to illness in the family. None of us were 'Fulbright scholars', of course. And we all attended less-presitigious colleges than the people you perhaps take as typical scions of the US educational system. But for all that we got good educations because the US university system is very deep in quality, as anyone who looks at the global ranking of universities can clearly see.

Pat Patterson on :

Bad article and an even worse comment from Sonja. Over 30% of the US population has a college degree, only Norway and Canada have a larger percentage. While Germany, with a tuition-free system, has managed to graduate only 11% of its population. Maybe some countries get exactly what a diploma is worth to it's recipient.

Zyme on :

Or maybe the requirements are different.

Don S on :

Availability is certainly different. Virtually every US city with more than 50,000 people has a 4 year college or university, and many smaller cities also. Virtually every US town over 20,000 people has a 'junior college' where one can get the first two years of college. I doubt that is true in Germany and I know it's not true in Italy.

Sue on :

It's true that there are a variety of institutions, some with very low entrance requirements. But if you're bright with a good record, you'll get into a decent school and you'll find a way to pay for it. Many high-prestige universities and colleges in the US have need-blind admissions. Only about 25% of the student population pays sticker price for a college education. The rest get some combination of loans, grants, discounts and scholarships. If anything, it's too easy to go to school in the US; I've seen a lot of kids wasting their time and their parents' money when they'd be better off painting houses or waiting tables. However, at least it's their money, and not the taxpayers'.

Pat Patterson on :

Which seems to contradict completely Sonja's argument on the availability of college education in Germany. Which country in the short and long term will have the advantage, the country that has 9.1 million college graduates or the country that has 91 million college graduates?

Anonymous on :

You can't compare a US college education with German university education, which until recently only offered MAs, but no BAs. Besides, US high school is just 12 years, while German Abitur takes 13 years in most German states. And Americans go to school at an age when Germans are in Kindergarten. A US college degree is not much more than a German Abitur (highest high school diploma)

Pat Patterson on :

Ok, I'll bite! The US has four times as many people with masters then Germany has college graduates. Kindergarten in the US is mandatory and starts for all children, unlike Germany where it is not compulsory nor free(I understand this can vary by area), during the school year that those children will celebrate their 5th birthday. Many, I know myself started when four years old after attending pre-school, Montessori I might add, for 18 months. Most children in the US attend voluntary pre-school which admittedly vary in quality. America has chosen, as the basis for it's Republic, to make education available for all its citizens. We do not test people at fourteen to determine if they are allowed to pursue an education in the field they want as opposed to what an apptitude test indicates.

Detlef on :

But can you really compare the percentages that easily? For example college degrees in "nursing" simply don´t exist in Germany AFAIK. Normally nursing education in Germany takes place in nursing schools linked to a hospital. It´s not a (tertiary) college education. The same probably is true for some other jobs / education courses. The job education system in Germany is a bit different than in the USA. With an emphasis on vocational training. Usually 2-3 years, starting as an apprentice. I´m not sure but I think the following college degrees in the USA would also be vocational training in Germany: "health care administration" "community health education" "human services" "Social work" And that was just a 5 minute look at some degrees offered by US colleges. Note: I´m not saying that there isn´t a difference in college degree numbers. I´m simply saying that you can´t compare the percentages directly.

Don S on :

"health care administration" "community health education" "human services" "Social work" I'm not sure. For one thing no college degree in the US is purely vocational. Even in the technical disciplines such as Engineering at least a quarter of the required curriculum is in the humanities and much more of the curriculum is in math and the physical sciences. Management may also be in this curriculum. Social work comprises far more than is apparent from the name. Graduate social workers do a great deal of the counseling in the US, particularly family counseling and marriage counseling. Surely these are professional roles any way one looks at it? The other roles you list appear to be specialisations of a business or management curriculum, and health education could be looked at as a hybrid of health sciences and education. These are not professional occupations in Germany? You cannot simply dismiss these programs because German universities do not offer them. Surely Germany has many people who do these things - and I doubt that they come from apprentice programs, at least at the higher levels. Also you should understand that the US has lower-level one and two-year degrees offered by community colleges and junior colleges in all of these areas - so the university degrees mark advanced programs. Given the degree of respect offered globally to the US higher education system (notably in Asia) one might conclude that if the US has found these programs worthy of univertisty degree status - they actually might be? Rather than dismissing them as you seem to do?

Detlef on :

Thank´s for the information, Don. Just one minor point. I didn´t dismiss any of the American college degrees. I just wanted to point out to Pat that we probably can´t compare college degree numbers directly. Some education paths in the USA seem to involve a college degree while a comparable job education in Germany might not involve a college. (I searched for college degrees in the USA and these 4-5 I mentioned were the first I found with no corresponding German degree.) That was the simple point of my post. It didn´t involve any judgment which system is better.

Pat Patterson on :

Nursing degrees are Associates of Arts which can be finished in two years and they are most assuredly tied to a local hospital. Most technical positions, programming, welding, some types of counseling, etc. are also Associates of Arts which I did not include in the number of Americans that have BAs. Most of the other degrees mentioned, Social Work, etc., are only acquired after getting a BA and working in the field for a specified period of time. These degrees are usually sought by people that want to go into administration. The facts, except there are only 3 1/2 times as many Americans with MAs as Germans with any college degree not 4 times as many as I originally posted, remain that the US enjoys a huge advantage in creating an educational system that not only creates the elite of the future but also they men and women that will work for the elite and be able to translate those ideas into reality.

Anonymous on :

German Universities are horrible. Full of half-assed students who did their Abis in HH on religion. The physical infrastructure is third-world and the bureaucracy overwhelming. That said if you are fortunate enough to join a Lehrstuhl and escape the hoi polloi, it can be a remarkably educational experience. But the griping, moaning, cheating and stealing of books et alia makes the totality of the experience outside of a Lehrstuhl rather repulsive.

Don S on :

"That said if you are fortunate enough to join a Lehrstuhl and escape the hoi polloi, it can be a remarkably educational experience." Lehrstuhl translates to 'chair'. I infer that these programs are students srongly associated with a learned faculty specialising in a certain discipline. Perhaps similar to some academic Masters (and a very few baccalaureate )programs in the US or the English tutorial system. Correct?

Anonymous on :

(a) Don, I can not speak for the British version but the German runs thusly: it is usually a closed subject (say Central European political science) which is run by a professor with tenure. He may or may not run an institute and may or may not have secondary professors or dozents under him. You start as a pleb helping say Wissenschaftler Mitarbeiter (students usually contemplating their Ph. D) and slowly move up the ladder until you finish your Ph.d and start on your Habilitation or leave for work in the private field. It changes from subject to subject. The Lehrstuhl system however exists as a meta university. You can change your Lehrstuhl if your interest is peaked by a similar subject. Being very German however, you owe complete allegiance and deference to the professor. Read say nooit voor slappen by Hermanns who describes a Norwegian Geologist dreaming of sending his disciples out to influence the world. So say out of the thousands who study a subject, only the elect, the chosen few make the cut.

Shah Alexander on :

Hasn't Margaret Thatcher Americanized Britain through introducing complete meritocracy? Some leaders in New Europe may follow the same path.

Detlef on :

If we assume that meritocracy is connected to social mobility then the UK seems to have a problem. http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/pressAndInformationOffice/newsAndEvents/archives/2005/LSE_SuttonTrust_report.htm "Jo Blanden, Paul Gregg and Steve Machin found that social mobility in Britain - the way in which someone's adult outcomes are related to their circumstances as a child - is lower than in Canada, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. And while the gap in opportunities between the rich and poor is similar in Britain and the US, in the US it is at least static, while in Britain it is getting wider. A careful comparison reveals that the USA and Britain are at the bottom with the lowest social mobility. Norway has the greatest social mobility, followed by Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Germany is around the middle of the two extremes, and Canada was found to be much more mobile than the UK."

Don S on :

I agree, Detlef, though I'm not so sure that social mobility in the US is static. My take is that it is getting worse in the US also. I'm not sure I can identify a country in the G8 in which it is not. We're too rich and set in our ways. I used to oppose affirmative action in the US but have changed my mind. There are a lot of difficulties but it is one factor which works against the creation of a class-based society. The problem with AA is that it really doesn't help poor blacks and hispanics much; it helps the already successful. The other problem is that the way AA is implemented it tends to hurt the poor in groups which nominally are not 'disadvantaged', so on balance it may do as much damage as it does good. Or perhaps more. It also gives a sop to the concious of wealthy liberals who shamelessly promote their offspring at the expense of those who aren't advantaged while congratulating themselves that they are enlightened because they support AA. To rebuild social mobility to where it should be we're going to have to see the entire problem rather than small parts of it. The fact is that the loss of social mobility is occuring across the entire society - not only to blacks or hispanics.

Shah Alexander on :

Thank you for showing a reference link. It is commonly understood that Anglo Saxon economies are more competitive than Continental economies. This report says quite opposite to this. It is interesting. The conclusion can change in accordance with research methods. I do not have sociology background. I have an MSc in international political economy from the LSE. Yes, from the link you suggested. A careful observation of Eastern Europe may be interesting. Old communist regimes have collapsed there, and red establishments have gone.

Sue on :

Back to meritocracy: the linked article takes "Europe" as a whole, when attitudes toward meritocracy probably vary quite widely in different parts of Europe. You can't really compare nepotistic Italy, for example, to the relatively open and meritocratic UK. The stereotype is that Mediterranean cultures score higher than northwestern Europe on corruption and cronyism (i.e. it's not what you know, it's who you know). It's also interesting to note that the states in the US with bulk immigration from Southern Europe (New Jersey, Louisiana) have been traditionally noted for corruption, compared to states where the immigrant stock was primarily from Northwestern Europe (Iowa, Wisconsin).

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

"the linked article takes "Europe" as a whole," This is often a problem. Another example, an article about holidays in France concludes with "I applaud a whole continent shutting down for a month." [url]http://atlanticreview.org/archives/753-Those-Lazy-Europeans.html[/url] Though, the European media is not better. We don't differentiate between Vermont and Texas, but treat all states as one entity.

Don S on :

You can count me something of a skeptic about the concept of 'meritocracy' at least in the implementation. The reason is becuase 'meritocracy' seems in practice to reduce to be the invariable victory of the scions of the middle classes. This seems to be occuring everywhere in the western world (not excluding Germany) whether it is called a meritocracy or not. One only need look at admission to the best schools and the composition of the privileged classes to see that certain groups seem to be filtered out (largely anyway). It's doubtful that this is due to intelligence or native ability (at least in the US). Anyone well-read enough in American social history realizes that today's successful groups have frequently been regarded as the bottom of the human refuse heap in times past. In the US one needs look no further than Irish and Italian Catholics and Eastern European Jews to see that. I'm unwilling to bet against the current US underclasses (blacks and Hispanic-Americans) over the next century because I feel they possess am much human potential as anyone else - if we and they can only remove the obstacles to their development. Similarly, Turks seem to occupy an inferior position in Germany, Moroccans an inferior position in France and Spain, etc. What people call 'meritocracy' is a major part of the problem. The middle classes ensure the primacy of their offspring through this mechanism. They offer superior schooling - not wrong, necessarily. But the demise of superior schooling offered to the disadvantged classes is a marked trend of the past 50 years in the US - the poor have almost no good schooling options.The best schools tend to be in the best areas. The poor are exclused by tuition fees or being unable to afford to live in the catchment areas (school districts in the US) offering superior public education. Elite schools which once existed in slum areas have been watered down to the point where they no longer functionally exist.

Tuomas on :

[quote="Don S"]What people call 'meritocracy' is a major part of the problem.[/quote] I do not entirely agree. A basic requirement for meritocracy is that the schooling is not determined by the economic standing of the parents, but by the pupils abilities. [quote="Don S"]The middle classes ensure the primacy of their offspring through this mechanism. They offer superior schooling - not wrong, necessarily. But the demise of superior schooling offered to the disadvantged classes is a marked trend of the past 50 years in the US - the poor have almost no good schooling options.The best schools tend to be in the best areas.[/quote] In this respect, it's true that the U.S. system is not a very good example, and maybe the development in the U.S. at this time is in the opposite direction. The [u]other[/u] fundamental requirement is that advancement is done due to merits and not due to birth rights. In this second respect, I would propose that the U.S. still does fairly well, and the U.K. still fairly bad, with Western European and Scandinavian countries scattered inbetween. With regard to the debate above on the merits of tuition free schooling and proportions of students in tertiäry education, I must say that I find the [i]international[/i] debate futile. There is absolutely no need for Germans to tell Americans that European solutions are better, nor is there any reason or need for Americans to tell Europeans. Such a debate takes the form of "my father is stronger than yours"... If Germans wish to go to the U.S. or to Finland to study other solutions than their own, that's quite another thing, and the same goes for Americans, of course, but we should never believe that a solution that is based in the historic experience of one nation can be easily transplanted to another nation. There is, to say the obvious, no collective memory in the United States of two devastating peace-times when everything was in ruins and the fathers were either dead, mad or (the latter time) disappeared in allied POW-camps in Sibiria.

Don S on :

@Tuomas, I agree with you that the theory of meritocrcy is much prettier than what I painted - but one needs lo look at what is actually occuring - not the theory. Communism was a beautiful theory but a brutal fact in most places (excepting parts of Italy and France). I have watched believers in meritocracy destroy elite public education programs aimed at the poor in the US and the UK (in the name of 'equality' both times). Now many of them are fighting the school choice movement in the US. Their children are getting good schooling - to hell with the others! One more thing. Were you aware that more than 60% of places in US 'selective' universities go to applicants with some form of special advantage (parents, athletics, racial and other preferences, etc)? It's a fact. How does that fit in with 'meritocracy'?

Add Comment

E-Mail addresses will not be displayed and will only be used for E-Mail notifications.

To prevent automated Bots from commentspamming, please enter the string you see in the image below in the appropriate input box. Your comment will only be submitted if the strings match. Please ensure that your browser supports and accepts cookies, or your comment cannot be verified correctly.
CAPTCHA

Form options