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The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  7,595 ratings  ·  1,075 reviews
These are dangerous times for democracy. We live in an age of winners and losers, where the odds are stacked in favour of the already fortunate. Stalled social mobility and entrenched inequality give the lie to the promise that "you can make it if you try". And the consequence is a brew of anger and frustration that has fuelled populist protest, with the triumph of Brexit ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published September 10th 2020 by Allen Lane
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spoko I’d say he does, and as the book isn’t restricted to America, he goes back further than the Puritans. That said, I don’t think he treats the issue of …moreI’d say he does, and as the book isn’t restricted to America, he goes back further than the Puritans. That said, I don’t think he treats the issue of racism as a question of “merit,” because I don’t think he sees it that way. The working definition of merit in this book seems to be that it’s about deserving something based on your actions. I actually disagree with that definition, and your question exemplifies one reason (there are others, especially further back in history).

That said, his examination of the question of “merit” as it has informed (and been informed by) certain approaches to Christianity is really interesting. And one of the best parts of the book is the way he ties that sense of merit to modern liberal notions that tightly link merit with things like higher education and white-collar employment.(less)

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May 30, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: social-theory
I’ve read a few books on merit now – they should come up if you search my shelves – and I would recommend any of them, but this is a particularly good telling of the ‘anti-merit’ argument. The warnings about the dangers of meritocracy are literally (and I mean literally, not figuratively) as old as the term itself. That’s because the guy who coined the term in 1958, Michael Young, did so as the premise for his novel on a future dystopia. In fact, he was so annoyed that the term was being used fo ...more
Clif Hostetler
Sep 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: current-events
What could possibly be wrong with a political and social structure that allows citizens to rise to the level of wealth and prestige equivalent to their ability? Many politicians proudly proclaim that their country is a place where anyone who goes to college and works hard can have their dreams come true to achieve a prosperous and happy life. In light of all these positive comments many readers of this book will be surprised to learn that the term meritocracy was originally coined in 1958 by soc ...more
Jul 25, 2021 rated it really liked it
The Politics of Humiliation

Anyone familiar with differential calculus can recognise the fundamental logical problem of attributing responsibility for results (pay for performance; test scores; organisation success; etc) to an individual. The contribution of any one factor (person) to a total can only be assessed when all other factors (social background, level of education, genetic composition, ethnicity, etc.) are held constant. So for example, in the question of performance pay, one must be ab
David Wineberg
Jun 15, 2020 rated it liked it
“The more we think of ourselves as self-made and self-sufficient, the harder it is to learn gratitude and humility. And without these sentiments, it is hard to care for the common good.” This is the framework for Michael Sandel’s The Tyranny of Merit. A noble sentiment, it is an attack on the so-called meritocracy the USA runs on. Unfortunately, it’s a difficult read and doesn’t solve any problems. And it is often simply misguided.

Meritocracy is a system in which people rise to their level of in
Ryan Boissonneault
Dec 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A meritocracy is a political system in which economic goods and political power are vested in individuals on the basis of talent, effort, and achievement, rather than on wealth, social class, or other arbitrary prejudices.

The principle is simple and easily illustrated with an example. Let’s say you’re hiring someone to perform a job, in this case a mechanic to repair your car. Who should you choose? In the interest of both efficiency (the mechanic's capacity to quickly make affordable, quality
Jacob Naur
Nov 06, 2020 rated it did not like it
Sandel wants to restore the dignity of work by universal basic income (he does not call it that but that is what it is), because he thinks Trump got elected by white, racist males with no college degrees left behind by globalization. Thus, every worker (in Sandels imagination: every envious, angry non-college graduate) should have a part of their salary paid directly by the state. Moreover, he wants to make the college admissions process of Harvard into a lottery, so it is random above a certain ...more
Nov 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A philosophical goldmine. This is the book I'm going to be giving to all my cerebral friends for Christmas this year. Political elites all over America NEED to understand this book.

I grew up poor. Took one semester of college but didn't finish, in large part because I was already working as a self-taught computer programmer. It was the late 90s when any breathing programmer was richly rewarded by the dot com boom. My career in technology turned out to be very economically rewarding, better than
jasmine sun
Jan 16, 2022 rated it really liked it
i ran into a random stanford alum in nyc yesterday. after going over our graduation years (she was '16, i white lied as a '21), she asked what i was reading. i responded with this book and she laughed: "yeah, that sounds right."

in the tyranny of merit, sandel poses that america spends all this energy trying to perfect our educational meritocracy (affirmative action, standardized testing, etc) without ever questioning its foundational assumptions — and their consequences for our civic and politic
Sep 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Every single book authored by Michael Sandel has transformed the way I perceive the moral and political world around me and this book was no exception. To me, this book was the best analysis of the 2016 election of Donald Trump in the U.S., the Brexit in the UK, and the populist movement around the world. Michael Sandel brings to light the failure of the elites (like those that live in my liberal bubbles) to see their role in creating the populist response in the last decade.

(Hint: If you're a
Oct 01, 2020 rated it it was ok
I seriously hated this book for reasons too numerous to recount. Very disappointed. At a very basic level, if you are going to write a book where you continually evoke “the elite” and “merit” — defining the terms would be an excellent start. The lack of care with definitions and repeated invocations of unproven and unsupported premises made this book incredibly problematic for me.
Jul 21, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy, society
What's become of the common good? Well, if we are to listen to the growing chorus of books on the topic, it has melted into the air or has wilted from neglect. With his latest work, Michael Sandel ventures into this fray. In The Tyranny of Merit, Sandel attempts to thread the fine needle between criticizing meritocracy and keeping the door shut on the older class and race-based hierarchies of yesteryear. As a whole, it's a strong work of moral and political philosophy. After a promising introduc ...more
Oct 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: economics, beloved
"The technocratic faith in markets set the stage for populist discontent. The market-driven version of globalization brought growing inequality. It also devalued national identities and allegiances. As goods and capital flowed freely across national borders, those who stood astride the global economy valorized cosmopolitan identities as a progressive enlightened alternative to the narrow, parochial ways of protectionism, tribalism, and conflict. The real political divide, they argued, was no lon ...more
Wick Welker
Time for contributive justice.

Slowly but surely this book reeled me in. In the US we have long since fetishized meritocracy, the idea that we are rewarded according to our efforts and talents. It is an incredibly enticing ideology that both modern political parties have bought into with disastrous consequences for the average American.

If we all subscribe to meritocracy then immediately we valorize income and profession. Immediate is the inference that those who have not succeeded deserve their
Dec 21, 2020 added it
Professor Sandel asserts with this work that the American meritocracy is an illusion, one he adeptly parses, while providing important insight into our national political dynamics, specifically, the seemingly incomprehensible adoration for President Trump, who received some 74 million votes in the most recent election. There must be something very much awry in our republic for a man of such reprehensible character to receive such broad, enthusiastic support. Professor Sandel reports much is inde ...more
Dan Devine
Nov 10, 2020 rated it it was ok
Another entry into 'good academic tries to fulfil popular publishing contract', like 'How Democracies End' by David Runciman. The book could be condensed to about 50 pages. Very little actual research cited, very little philosophy. Most examples are from the US and UK (how many times can you read 'Like Donald Trump's election, and the 2016 Brexit vote in the UK'?), and other cherry-picked examples.

An important topic which I broadly agree with done over far too many pages with far too little eff
Mark Jr.
Jan 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library-book, 2021, audio
I loved Sandel's book Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? His power is incisive analysis: he cuts to the Augustinian heart of divisive issues using classic philosophical tools. He also explains all this slowly and clearly. He is the single most gifted guide of classroom discussion that I have ever seen (I not only read Justice; I watched the WBUR Boston recordings of his class; they were sterling).

This book wasn't quite as lean and refined as Justice; it also didn't deal with as important a t
Nelson Zagalo
Although repetitive, "The Tyranny of Merit: What's Become of the Common Good?" (2020) by Michael Sandel was the most transformative book I have read in recent years, as it touches on fundamental current issues that explain the intricate human relations of our society at the beginning of this century. The principal point of this book is revealed as: The dignity of our work is not measured by the salary we receive.

A análise completa, extensa, encontra-se no meu blog em Português:
Matthew Jordan
Dec 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Michael Sandel straight up GOATed. What a legend. For some reason, his books really got me this year. I think Tyranny of Merit is at the top of my "full book is better than the one-hour podcast interview" list for 2021. My brain was exploding with thoughts the entire time, because this book is about a class of person I very squarely belong to: hard-working graduates of esteemed universities. So a lot of the arguments hit very close to home, and made me realize just how perverse the attitudes of ...more
Sep 20, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: junk
The Common Good is for you to pay for Sandel's wages, pension, health care, even his nephew's education. So perish the thought of you enjoying your earnings, because Sandel has made plans to speak in Europe, all expenses paid by you. ...more
Mar 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
For most of my life, I’ve taken for granted that the idea of “equality of opportunity,” or meritocracy, while not perfect, is a democracy’s best tool to ensure everyone a fair place at the starting line. This book changed my mind. In the words of author Michael J. Sandel, “The meritocratic ideal is not a remedy for inequality; it is a justification of inequality.”

For an extended review of this title, check out Audiobook Reviews in Five Minutes: https://podcast.jannastam.com/episode...
Jan 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Sandel argues that the shift to a meritocratic system, which seemed so just in comparison to inherited rights or other ‘systems,’ in fact has two critical flaws in its implementation. First, particularly as seen in educational systems, it ignores the differential benefits of nurturing across environments that range from upper crust helicopter parenting to fend-for-yourself because your parents are working three jobs apiece to keep food on the table. That one is well known. I worked for the Unive ...more
Ray Kluender
Sep 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a wonderful example of accessible political philosophy writing -- Sandel's an incredibly clear writer and his ideas came through very effectively.

Pieces of this book were transcendent and really challenged my worldview. I'm ashamed to say I'd never given much explicit thought to the implications of national rhetoric and mythos centered around the ideals of meritocracy for those who wind up on the losing end. The strongest parts of the book trace the ways our emphasis on meritocracy deva
Jul 14, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sandel critiques the concept of meritocracy in this book and describes how it damages society. Both the left and the right promote meritocracy in different forms.

On the left, meritocracy comes in a form that focuses on education. In this form, those who get educated deserve to reap the rewards in society. In particular, the left promotes going to university (a prestigious one if possible) and encourages graduate study or developing a high level of expertise in one's field. While education is ce
Aug 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. I think it is Sandel's best yet. He is one of the world's great philosophers for a mass audience so, as ever, the prose is clear and engaging. I devoured it in two sittings. I particularly enjoyed the idea of contributive justice which he explores towards the end . A very helpful alternative to the endless back and forth about the validity of voting for Trump and BREXIT. It is both intuitive and unintuitive in the best sense. I highly recommend it.

*Disclaimer: A received a fr
Dec 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Liked very much, this book made great points in criticizing both the left and right in their support for meritocracy. Pretending that success in life in basically due to smarts and hard work is an insult to the “bottom” 50%, many of whom work plenty hard and are perfectly smart. The truth is there’s a ton of luck involved, whether one has “succeeded” or “failed.” Of course, an overwhelmingly large part of this luck involves who your parents are. Didn’t agree with every single thing in the book, ...more
Sep 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Meritocracy has become toxic when merged with highly unequal pecuniary awards, which open up huge gaps in dignity, says Sandel. We need to develop a notion of "contributive justice" in which everyone is properly appreciated for the contribution they make the collective good, with prestige judged on that basis, rather than simply on how much money we make. ...more
Dec 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I picked up this book because I, like many others, believe in the ideal of meritocracy. I believe in education as a way forward for society.
What Sandel does in this book is to show the dark sides of the choices our societies make. While meritocracy may be have been necessary forward movement decades ago, it might not be the next step as it leaves a big portion of the population behind.
The book refers mostly to the American context, but easy comparisons might be drawn to our European society. Whi
Dec 06, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
In the last few years, I read several books on meritocracy, not necessarily exclusively. Recently I went to a bookstore for the first time since early March, saw this book, and decided to read it.

I finished in a few days and have very mixed feeling. The introduction and 2nd half of chapter 7 are fine. The sections about the historical, religious and especially philosophical background are valuable, even though I doubt it's for everybody (there's a feel of ivory tower, especially chapter 5. It's
Cavar Sarah
Aug 26, 2021 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2021, philosophy-misc
Oh, man. What a master class in white, male mediocrity. This is a book about how, evidently, white supremacy is not largely responsible for trump’s rise, but rather, white men being sad for reasons Totally Unrelated To People Of Colors’ Success.

If your resistance to meritocracy is primarily in order to re-enfranchise already-powerful white guys who are finally, finally facing the reality that the floor-level standards to which they’ve been previously held will no longer cut it, your resistance
Carolyn Kost
Mar 31, 2022 rated it liked it
Time to re-read Vonnegut's prescient "Harrison Bergeron," about what equity looks like, because that's what we are hurtling toward, and it can't come soon enough for Sandel.

Sandel's basic point is that "helping people scramble up the ladder of success in a competitive meritocracy is a hollow political project that reflects an impoverished conception of citizenship and freedom" (120). "The meritocratic ideal is not a remedy for inequality; it is a justification of inequality" (122). Instead, the
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Goodreads Librari...: DONE please combine 2 books with the original edition 2 7 Oct 23, 2022 02:09PM  

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Michael J. Sandel is an American political philosopher who lives in Brookline, Massachusetts. He is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at Harvard University, where he has taught since 1980. He is best known for the Harvard course 'Justice', which is available to view online, and for his critique of John Rawls' A Theory of Justice in his first book, Liberalism and the Limits of ...more

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25 likes · 6 comments
“The meritocratic ideal is not a remedy for inequality; it is a justification of inequality.” 8 likes
“Being good at making money measures neither our merit nor the value of our contribution.” 6 likes
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