The Meritocracy Trap: How America’s Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite

Daniel Markovits. Penguin Press, $30 (448p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2199-4
Yale law professor Markovits presents a reasonable but confusingly structured argument that what in the U.S. “is conventionally called merit is actually an ideological conceit, constructed to launder a fundamentally unjust allocation of advantage.” The elite maintain their status, he writes, not through the possession of merit but through fetishizing their own labor and skills, and sending their children to elite schools that people with less money can’t afford, entrenching a rigid class system. As such, the problems the meritocracy narrative causes are both emotional (especially for the underemployed and out of work) and political (because inequality breeds political divisiveness). Meanwhile, chances for advancement for those who aren’t already rich have dried up drastically in the last 50 years: the system, Markovits argues, consists more and more of “gloomy” and “glossy” jobs—those at the very bottom of the ladder, and those at the very top, with few rungs in the middle. Automation has reduced the number of middle-class jobs on offer, and, in industries such as finance and retail, the disparity between the pay received by higher-income and lower-income workers has grown drastically. Markovits makes some astute observations about this fundamentally American dogma, but in a frequently verbose and repetitive style. Nevertheless, those seeking insight into the landscape of contemporary income inequality will find much of value in his analysis. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 05/31/2019
Release date: 09/10/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 978-0-7352-2200-7
Paperback - 448 pages - 978-0-7352-2201-4
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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