Daniel Markovits on the (De)Merits of Meritocracy
It’s not every day that you hear about the “exploitation of the elite.” Usually, it’s the rich and powerful who are allegedly exploiting the poor and disenfranchised.
In the past, the working class earned that designation by working much longer hours than the bankers, lawyers, and landlords. But today, the situation has reversed and the wealthiest Americans work longer hours under insane pressures to achieve.
Daniel Markovitz, Guido Calabresi Professor of Law at Yale Law School, is a brave man to advance elite exploitation as an argument against meritocracy . This is just one of the contrarian claims that underlie The Meritocracy Trap, Markovitz’s challenge to “America’s foundational myth.”
The Founders directed their screeds at a royal aristocracy, which the American experiment intended to replace with a republic governed by the most virtuous and talented citizens (regardless of their bloodline).
However, Markovitz argues, dynastic succession is still the reality in America. Children of elite parents are under intense competitive pressures to excel— first educationally and later in their workplace achievements. This hyper-meritocracy is increasingly felt as a burden both to the parents and children, and many are starting to question whether the rat race is worth it.
When I first came across Markovitz’ argument on Vox, I was taken aback by the mere suggestion that there is a fundamental problem with meritocracy — as if being rewarded for hard work is a bad thing. But The Meritocracy Trap makes a more a subtle point about how social polarization ends up harming both the elites and working class.
In studying his arguments, I’ve come to see that the forces driving elites to accumulate more and more expertise and human capital are the same forces expanding the power of bureaucrats in the administrative state.
Clearly there’s more to this picture than meets the eye.
You won’t want to miss what is a lively discussion with my guest this past Sunday (11/24), Daniel Markovitz.
Follow Daniel on Twitter (@dsmarkovits), buy the book, and be sure to tune in to the show of ideas, not attitude: