Like most liberals Christopher Hayes is extremely unhappy with the state of our nation. (Does anyone out there know a happy liberal?) He is tired of the country being governed by what he perceives to be an increasingly isolated and out of touch elite. He abhors the ever increasing income disparity between the haves and the have-nots. And he dreams of a day when equality of outcome will matter as much as equality of opportunity. Mr. Hayes enumerates his rather lengthy list of grievances against the current ruling class and the "rigged" system they preside over in his intriguing new book "Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy". But as is so often the case with books of this genre Hayes scores numerous points with some very valid criticisms of the way the current system operates but fails to very offer much in the way of meaningful solutions.
For the better part of the 20th century America was largely governed by members of the so-called Eastern Establishment culled from both of the major political parties. These were individuals from prominent families who were primarily interested in governing the country. But as a result of the social upheaval of the 1960's a new, more diverse elite would emerge in America. In the name of "diversity" the best and brightest of all races and income levels were recruited to join the so-called "meritocracy". According to Hayes the results have been less than satisfactory. He observes that "the working classes have been deprived by educational selection of many of those who would have been their natural leaders, the able spokesmen and spokeswomen of the working class who continued to identify with the class from which they came." Hayes has a point there! Meanwhile, it would appear the meritocracy is also playing an ever increasing role in selecting the titans of industry. Rather than aspiring to a career in public service graduates of these elite universities are opting for careers in finance. Hayes quotes from Karen Ho's book "Liquidated" in which the author laments the fact that "I found not only that most investment bankers came from a few elite institutions, but also that most undergraduates....assumed that the only `suitable' destination for life after Princeton....was first investment banking and second management consulting." It sounds to me that despite the best of intentions we have created a two-headed monster here and frankly I have no idea how you can reverse it.
Throughout the pages of "Twilight of the Elites" Hayes cites statistic after statistic that seems to corroborate the notion that the gap between the so-called "1 percent" and the rest of us has increased dramatically over the past few decades. Hayes worries that such "extreme inequality produces elites that are less competent and more corrupt than a more egalitarian social order would." Another fascinating point discussed in the book is the notion that the expulsion of ROTC from elite college campuses in the 1970's has had some negative consequences that the liberals who supported the idea all those years ago simply did not foresee. The political scientist Michael Nelson argues that "the expulsion of the ROTC from elite campuses, combined with the implementation of an all-volunteer military has produced a dangerous estrangement from meritocratic elites from the armed services, one that has made the nation's inclination to war and other military action greater than at any other time in its already war-saturated history." I think it is safe to say that those who have served in the military and have seen war first-hand are far more hesitant to initiate conflicts and place our armed forces in harm's way.
So now that Christopher Hayes has outlined the problem for us does he offer any real concrete solutions? Well, not really. Hayes believes that "the first step in persuading the public--including the elites themselves--that the ideology of meritocratic achievement stands in the way of social progress." Hayes points to Latin America where "over the last decade a variety of leaders were elected to power on explicitly left and center-left egalitarian platforms. They went to work putting their platforms into practice with an emphasis on redistribution via payments to the poor, and the result is that across the continent, inequality fell. But the United States is hardly Latin America. I shudder to think that the likes of Hugo Chavez might actually be held up as a role model for America. To me the kinds of solutions proposed by Christopher Hayes smacks of more utopian nonsense.
Just the other day I was on the phone with a buddy of mine and I told him that I was reading "Twilight of the Elites". He responded by proclaiming that "the elites are not going anywhere". For better or worse I completely concur. Perhaps the only way the current system will come tumbling down is if there is an economic collapse of historic proportions. But alas, the "best and the brightest" have already determined that the meritocracy is "too Big to fail". Where I do find common ground with Christopher Hayes is the notion that the elites need to be reined in. There needs to be far greater accountability for what these folks do. Note that both the Bush and Obama administrations chose not to pursue the perpetrators of the 2008 financial meltdown in both the public and private sectors. As far as I know not a single person has been indicted or gone to jail for their unconscionable actions. Furthermore, the elites should not be bailed out by government when the economy turns sour. This is precisely why so many of us took issue with the bailout of the major banks back in 2008. Although I largely disagree with his solutions I still thought that ""Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy" was a worthwhile read. Whatever your politics might be this is certainly a book that will get you thinking. Recommended reading.
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Paul Tognetti (drifter51)
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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A powerful and original argument that traces the roots of our present crisis of authority to an unlikely source: the meritocracy.
Over the past decade, Americans watched in bafflement and rage as one institution after another – from Wall Street to Congress, the Catholic Church to corporate America, even Major League Baseball – imploded under the weight of corruption and incompetence. In the wake of the Fail Decade, Americans have historically low levels of trust in their institutions; the social contract between ordinary citizens and elites lies in tatters.
How did we get here? With Twilight of the Elites, Christopher Hayes offers a radically novel answer. Since the 1960s, as the meritocracy elevated a more diverse group of men and women into power, they learned to embrace the accelerating inequality that had placed them near the very top. Their ascension heightened social distance and spawned a new American elite--one more prone to failure and corruption than any that came before it.
Mixing deft political analysis, timely social commentary, and deep historical understanding, Twilight of the Elites describes how the society we have come to inhabit – utterly forgiving at the top and relentlessly punitive at the bottom – produces leaders who are out of touch with the people they have been trusted to govern. Hayes argues that the public's failure to trust the federal government, corporate America, and the media has led to a crisis of authority ...