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Has there ever been a meritocracy at the scale of a nation? By meritocracy I mean a system of government in which the citizen's vote is weighted based upon the merit of the individual casting that vote.

If so, what was their measure of merit? How did it go/is it going for them?

As an example, an admittedly poor version of a meritocracy would be a nation where each citizen's vote is weighted by his income for the year. In this example a person's income would be the figure of merit. What would such a system be classified as? A meritocratic democracy?

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@Chad I meant that the power of the citizens' choice is based on (weighted by) merit. –  Chris Mueller Feb 11 at 20:28
    
OK I have edited the question to make that more clear. Make much more sense now. –  Chad Feb 11 at 20:31
    
Sure there was. Every single limited franchise is "meritocracy". Just that their criteria for "merit" may range from "managed to reach the age of 18 without killing self" to "owns N amount of land/wealth". –  DVK Feb 12 at 12:16
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@ChrisMueller - I'd suggest editing the question to clarify that you're looking for a scaling meritocracy (where every person gets one or more votes based on a criteria), rather than a franchised/disenfranchised dichotomy. Assuming that's what you're looking for, anyway. –  Bobson Feb 12 at 14:46
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en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technocracy may be a current "system" that you're looking for - the manner is different (not weighting votes) but the intended result seems to be in that direction. –  Peteris Mar 19 at 19:37

7 Answers 7

up vote 5 down vote accepted

In the early US in order to qualify to vote one was required to own land(as well as be white). The precept being that only those people who owned land had a real investment in country and thus deserved to have a say in how the country was governed. This was a very simple merit test and certainly not one that was scaled upon merit. It was a simply yes you are white enough, yes you own land, and yes you have a penis(though I have found no proof that this was actually verified). The US has always been guided by a principle of one man one vote, again provided you deserved your right to vote...

According to Wikipedia China may have first dabbled with a meritocratic government around 165BCE. The system allowed any that could pass certian knowledge tests to get a position in the government.

The system allowed anyone who passed an examination to become a government officer, a position which would bring wealth and honour to the whole family. The Chinese Imperial examination system seemed to start in 165 BCE, when certain candidates for public office were called to the Chinese capital for examination of their moral excellence by the emperor. Over the following centuries the system grew until, finally, almost anyone who wished to become an official had to prove his worth by passing written government examinations.

As for what a system like you suggest would be called...

I can only see 2 potential paths. The first is Oligarchy. Since having more money would result in more votes, the very rich would effectively hold all of the power. Even if it started out on an even playing field gaining more wealth results in more power inevitable those who crave power would horde the money and in a relatively short amount of time the very few are in charge. This system creates a benefit to creating a permanent underclass which has virtually no power, and is ripe for exploitation and corruption.

If the system were somehow balanced to prevent any relatively small group of people from gaining excessive power, and prevents the hording of power, you would have a system that promotes Social Darwinism. These sorts of rewarding effectiveness systems are what some say allowed the US to become a power house in the 1900s. It is also associated with the Nazi's.

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"one was required to own land (as well as be white)" were non-white people allowed to own land? –  Lohoris Feb 16 at 11:39
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@Lohoris - It theory yes... in practice it was quite a bit more difficult. Several slaves were freed in wills and bequeathed land, usually the family would contest the will, and get both provisions struck. If not then of course taxes had to be paid up front or some previously unknown creditor popped up which were always more than the land was worth and or at least was available to pay for them. Since they were just slaves and not "real" people there was also no one to fight for their rights. –  Chad Feb 18 at 4:47

I think the USSR can be considered to an extent depending on your definitions. This is because people with significant achievements were more or less automatically nominated to a seat in the Supreme Council or in the councils at the republican level. These included:

  • Laureates of the USSR state prizes, and prizes of the constituent republics.

  • Academicians of the USSR Academy of Sciences, Academy of Arts and lower-level academies.

  • Heroes of the USSR, Heroes of the Socialist Labor and laureates of the Order of Lenin, holders of the title Pilot-Cosmonaut of the USSR, which was given to those who completed a space flight.

  • Holders of the titles People's Artist of the USSR and Merited Artist of the USSR, People's and Merited Writer of the USSR, People's and Merited Painter of the USSR, People's and Merited Medic, People's and Merited Teacher, People's and Merited Architect and a number of the "merited" titles from other spheres, as well as similar titles of the constituent republics.

  • Distinguished sportsmen such as Champions of the Olympics and World Championships, holders of the titles of People's and Merited Trainer.

All these titles and decorations had a hierarchy and the more titles, the more chances you had.

The Supreme Council had extensive powers allowing it to adopt and change any law, including the constitution, to form the cabinet (Council of Ministers), appoint judges and all other state officials. Most decisions required the simple majority, with nobody having the veto power.

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Interesting answer. What do you mean by "the more chances you had"? The more chances you had of being nominated, or something else? –  Bobson Feb 14 at 15:36
    
@Bobson yes, you're right –  Anixx Feb 14 at 15:42
    
I don't think it was more than one candidate on any elections in USSR after some time 30's. As for being nominated to Supreme Council: I agree with Anixx's answer. I think it was also requirement to be member of Communist Party but could be exceptions. –  lowtech Mar 19 at 21:58

There were some examples of this in some states of the United States such as Literacy Tests and Poll Taxes(which measured wealth)

Today, states would be punished for doing this due to the 14th amendment, and it is also illegal according to the Voting Rights Act of 1965

Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, *the basis of representation therein shall be reduce*d in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

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Poll taxes and literacy tests were not actually used to show merit but to instead prevent certian people from voting at all. In Canada it was the Chinese in the US Blacks and Indians, in the UK serfs and the underclass. –  Chad Feb 11 at 20:33
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@Chad regardless of what the actual intent behind them is, literacy tests still operated under the pretense of being a merit-based qualification, and something like them is not at all unreasonable to expect when someone introduces what he/she calls a "merit-based" voting system –  Sam I am Feb 11 at 20:41
    
I agree. The pretense and justification was merit. –  Chad Feb 11 at 20:44
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I'm not sure if a binary "yes/no" test satisfies the question. If the number of votes you could cast was based on a series of literacy tests, that would. –  Bobson Feb 11 at 21:37

You may also consider the Roman Senate where the senators usually were those people who previously occupied a governmental position, although I do not know how much it depended on the person's performance.

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While I apologize for not replying directly to your perception of meritocracy, some view non-partisan systems without campaigning (even China which ends up being effectively non-partisan) as more conducive to a system where technically competent people get voted in. Democracy can also be non-partisan (potentially alleviating some of the criticisms of absolute meritocracies).

As far as tweaks to who may vote in the interests of meritocracy, indirect elections have been supposed to refine the selection process (e.g., celebrities may be less likely to get voted in). The Electoral College may, as I understand it, have been intended in this vein, though in practice it has rarely led to any practical difference due to the role of parties and electors sticking to their pledges.

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At multiple points in ancient Greece there were classifications of voting rights, eligibility for offices and also duties (i.e., requirements to provide arms or ships to the army) based on your wealth. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentacosiomedimni for example.

The difference from other examples is that it's not a binary classification that removes the slaves or poor, but a multiple layer system providing for separate rights and duties, and mobility between those layers as you became rich or suffered losses.

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Looks like modern Latvia is country fitting to definition of 'meritocracy'. They have 'non-citizens', mostly russian minority (~300k) living in Latvia. That 'non-citizens' don't have a right to vote, only Latvia citizens could vote. Note that "Latvian non-citizens can be regarded neither as citizens, nor aliens or stateless persons but as persons with "a specific legal status" (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-citizens_%28Latvia%29)

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