Attracted by the belief that hard work and ingenuity should be rewarded, I think meritocracy is a compelling ideal which justifies a degree of inequality. Yet it is difficult to reconcile this view with the subjective nature of ‘merit’ and the randomness of circumstance. Ultimately, it is the inevitable association between wealth and opportunity, recognised in Stiglitz’s The Great Divide, that makes me cynical about the potential for a true meritocracy in a society as unequal as our own. Even with political will, the causes of inequality are difficult to identify and challenging to address. I was very highly commended in the John Locke Institute Essay Competition, arguing that the persisting gender pay gap is perpetuated through entrenched social norms.
As Secretary the school’s Politics Society, I gave a presentation on the ethics and economics of immigration, highlighting the inconsistency between our abhorrence of discrimination due to race and gender and our consignment of millions of foreign residents to poverty on the basis that we have a greater moral obligation to our own citizens. The swelling tide of nationalism poses a major hurdle to a global meritocracy, inspiring my argument for open borders in a debate at the IEA, where I interned this summer. It is this sort of normative issue that makes PPE so exciting for me. The consideration of crucial philosophical and political ideas – like the conflict between political sovereignty and an individual’s right to free movement – is what underpins the economic choices that shape society.
To strengthen my understanding of Politics and Philosophy, I have pursued an additional elective course in the History of Modern Political Thought and majored in Philosophy at the John Locke Institute Summer School, where I was awarded a Junior Fellowship as their best overall student. This inspired me to read Rousseau’s The Social Contract; the distinction between particular wills and the general will reminded me of the game theory concepts of collective and individual rationality. Moreover, Mill’s On Liberty urged me to confront the dilemma of the extent to which individual freedoms should be curtailed to maximise general utility. I have also delivered a lecture on the more fundamental issue of whether political liberty is valuable at all if the existence of determinism precludes free will. Intrigued by freedom in the context of government, I entered the Corpus Christi Essay Competition, reflecting on The Bottom Billion and Why Nations Fail to address whether democracy is a critical precursor to economic growth. With my school’s team, I also finished in fifth place in the national final of the IEA Budget Challenge proposing a libertarian manifesto. Both economic exercises led me back to the ethical question: should we most value outcomes or intentions?
Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy shocked me by highlighting the link between economics and philosophy as supposedly value-neutral economics is contingent on a utilitarian form of consequentialism. Concerned by the pervasive yet simplistic cost-benefit analysis that permeates our society, I entered the New College of Humanities Essay Competition questioning whether Utilitarianism can be defended and won first prize from 1800 submissions. While I remain torn, I believe that certain values, like freedom, should be sacrosanct. Perhaps that is why I always bristle when I cross from Hong Kong into China.
At school I won the Verney Prize for Argument, our most prestigious academic prize, applying the principles of liberty and utility to argue in favour of assisted suicide. I have also won our annual Politics essay prize three times, was twice runner-up in the school’s composition of argument prize and received prizes for Economics and English this year. Outside academics, I am a keen runner and swimmer, recently completing the DofE Gold Award and volunteer at a local care home. I also am a school prefect and an editor for the school newspaper.
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