The Meritocracy by Daniel Markovitz

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A revolutionary new argument from an eminent Yale Law professor, attacking the myth of meritocracy to show how it has directly caused today’s political, economic, and psychological crises—and how we might escape its trap

The United States is in the midst of a dangerous period of social upheaval caused by runaway economic inequality and social division. Yet it is nothing less than an axiom of American life that meritocracy—the idea of just reward for effort and ability—reigns supreme and promises to promote opportunity for all. So deeply entrenched in our national psyche is this belief that, even as the country divides itself at almost every turn, both Democrats and Republicans can be heard repeating meritocratic notions. After all, meritocracy cuts to the heart of American self-definition. It is who we are. Meritocracy is the American dream.

But what if upward social mobility is an anachronistic fantasy? And embattled middleclass workers these days are far more likely to join the ranks of the working poor than those of the professional class. What if, in fact, meritocracy itself is directly causing the rampant inequality tearing the country apart, and not only ruining the lives of a dwindling middle class and a struggling working class, but also, unexpectedly, taking a grievous toll on the superrich elites? Elites who are no longer simply born into an aristocracy, but now must tirelessly exploit themselves and their lavish educations in order to remain unhappily at the top of the heap. What if, both up and down the social ladder, meritocracy itself is a sham?

This is the revelatory and radical argument that Daniel Markovits prosecutes with rare force, comprehensive research, and devastating persuasion. A towering legal mind trained in moral and political philosophy and behavioral economics, Markovits is better placed than most to give the lie to meritocracy. Having spent his life at elite educational institutions, he is a meritocrat through and through, and works with students toiling under its delusions. He knows better than most the fraudulent system we are trapped within, as well as how we can take the first steps outwards, and towards a new world that might once again afford dignity and prosperity to the American people.

The Meritocracy by Daniel Markovitz