We are repeatedly told that those who run banks and other great enterprises require to be paid enormously because their jobs are so tremendously demanding and those who can do them are so few. I suspect that there are actually quite a number of people who could do them, and the evidence suggests that both the CEOs and the star traders often fail to perform above chance and that they can commit egregious errors, even when warned of their possibility.
Yet to pay such individuals truly exceptional amounts of money helps create the impression, to the impressionable, that they are truly, almost Platonically, exceptional people. For the rest of us, to fall in with this view of the world and to give the idea that we are all to be placed into the positions for which we are pre-eminently fitted, there has been created the panoply of ever-expanding competitive formal qualifications. In education and training, as in the economy, ranking and rating supplant judgement. Such a system favours those who can operate it, either as candidates or providers (witness the recent fuss here about our now privatised secondary education examining boards training teachers how to get the best out of their systems), but, beneath it, privilege and favouritism persist.
This is the new 'world-class' status to which we must all aspire (or, in the case of many labourers in the vineyard, sink) lest we perish. The result, amongst the people generally, is to detroy the hope of good fortune (a necessary element of social content always), the belief in an accommodating society (it is no accident that it is in supposedly meritocratic societies that social mobility has declined), and the faith in the nation as a legitimate and effective expression of collective choice (as para-governmental international agencies and trans-national corporations increasingly dictate terms to states). Across Europe the extremist tendencies flex their muscles in dark and disreputable corners, and Molotov cocktails are a growth industry.