Tarun Khanna and Michael SzonyiDec 29, 2022
Lessons from China and India, from Antiquity to the Present
Oxford University Press 2022
What does it mean to be a meritocracy? Ask an ordinary person, and they would likely say it means promoting the best and brightest in today’s society based on merit. But that simple explanation belies many thorny questions. What is merit? How do we measure talent? How does equality come into play? And how do we ensure that meritocracies don’t degenerate into the same old privileged systems they strived to replace?
Tarun Khanna and Michael Szonyi write in their edited volume Making Meritocracy: Lessons from China and India, from Antiquity to the Present (Oxford UP, 2022) that “Few public policy issues generate as much analysis or rouse as much emotion as the question of how to make society more meritocratic,” Tarun, Michael, and their fellow contributors try to define, study, and interrogate the idea of meritocracy with reference to two countries in particular: India, and China.
In this interview, Tarun, Michael and I talk about meritocracy, why they chose Asia as their focus, and why it’s important to understand how this idea is implemented in practice.
Tarun Khanna is the Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at Harvard Business School and the first director of Harvard's Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute. Michael Szonyi is Frank Wu Professor of Chinese History and former Director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University.
(A quick editorial note! Tarun unfortunately had to leave slightly early in our interview, meaning he’s not present in the outro!)
You can find more reviews, excerpts, interviews, and essays at The Asian Review of Books, including its review of Making Meritocracy. Follow on Twitter at @BookReviewsAsia.
Nicholas Gordon is an associate editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at@nickrigordon.