Fred R's Reviews > Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy

Twilight of the Elites by Christopher L. Hayes
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's review
Jun 19, 2012

it was ok

Read on the recommendation of a fellow "goodreader".

It's written in journalese so it isn't exactly my style, but there were some interesting things in here. Like Murray's Coming Apart, this is a book about the negative long-term problems of our psychometric-industrial complex. Unlike Murray, Hayes attempts to link a series of policy blunders over the past ten years (Iraq, Katrina, the financial crisis) to this increasing social distance of our elites. By my lights he is not very successful, as his arguments rely almost exclusively on anecdote.

Hayes believes that our meritocratic system is ossifying due to subversion by current stakeholders (seen in such trends as test-prep by elite students), but I don't think the data on social mobility will bear this out. My impression is that decreased social mobility is largely due to trends in the lower-class, not the middle or upper. And his intelligent use of Michels' "Iron Law of Oligarchy" is subverted by some blather about the non-hierarchical nature of OWS and Wikipedia in the conclusion.

He lingers for a while on Hunter College High School (his alma mater) as an exemplar of this ossification, but in fact if anything Hunter appears to have grown more meritocratic over the period by reducing affirmative action.

Ultimately I shared his concern about the social distance produced by our current meritocracy, but I thought the actual case he made was much weaker than the one he should have made, and that his attempt to convince even the pro-meritocracy crowd that their own ideals were being subverted was a failure.

I keep thinking back to Baltzell's Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia, which seems to me still the best book on this subject.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Richard (new) - added it

Richard Taylor sounds like this reviewer was predisposed to disagree going in

Fred R Mea culpa. Print is guilt. Life is guilt.

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