Twilight of the Elites

Book review: Christopher Hayes argues that the United States’ long-held belief in meritocracy resulted in the country losing its way.

James Cowan 0
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(Photo: Natalie Castellino)

Twilight of the Elites: America after Meritocracy
(Crown)
Christopher Hayes

Pollsters first began tracking Americans’ confidence in their major institutions—such as the church and the Supreme Court—as a result of the rancor caused by the Vietnam War and Watergate. At the time, it seemed public trust had reached a record low in the early 1970s. But since then, remarkably, our faith in the establishment has only sunk lower. Hayes, an editor at The Nation, wants to explain this crisis of confidence. He argues that the United States’ long-held belief in meritocracy resulted in the country losing its way. Sure, it made sense to give everyone an equal shot, regardless of race or gender, and let the smartest, hardest-working people run the country. But even if you guarantee equal opportunity for all, the divide between the elite and everyone else eventually grows so large, it becomes impossible to leap the gulf. “Those who are able to climb up the ladder will find ways to pull it up after them,” he writes. Rather than focus on equal opportunity, Hayes says we should share the wealth more equally. How? A better tax system. Feel free to sigh—it is a drab answer from a writer who reaches to link problems with the financial system, the Catholic church, the U.S. Congress and major league baseball with one soaring theory.

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