A meritocracy is a society in which an individual advances based on his or her achievements, accomplishments, and overall successes. In a meritocracy, it doesn’t matter who your parents are, or what you inherit – it’s your achievements that determine your success. In essence, it’s the American Dream.
In this novel, Christopher Hayes argues that America used to be a meritocracy – but that it’s quickly fading. Why?
Well, a lot of reasons – but the big one is that, thanks to a whole new group of ways to give yourself and your future descendants a leg up, the deck often turns out to be heavily stacked. Instead of everyone starting off on the same step, a couple individuals manage to start out several feet in front of the rest – or sometimes even almost at the finish line.
There are many examples of this at an individual level – and most of them benefit the rich. If you’re rich, you can pay accountants to manage your money in trusts, so that it dodges taxes and is passed on to your heirs. You can pay for elite kindergarten and elementary schools, so your kids get the best education. You can pay your way into colleges and the workplace – if you need to work at all. And, of course, you can pay to dodge taxes through a million little loopholes.
But why are all these avenues available in the first place? Hayes argues that the real core reason is linked more to the decline of the social contract in America. Instead of “all of us are in this together,” we have now become a selfish nation, one where it is perfectly acceptable to knock down your fellow man in order to get ahead yourself. And this “us versus them” mentality appears everywhere – Wall Street, Major League Baseball, and even in the Catholic Church.
I greatly enjoyed the presentation of the topics in this book, and I wholeheartedly agree with Hayes. The issue is, of course, that while many books can accurately display the problem, there are few solutions available. We’re left with rage, but no outlet to improve things.
Frustrating, to say the least. Pitchforks, everyone!
Time to read: 4-5 hours.