Twilight Of The Elites

Chris Hayes 2012 book

Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy - Wikipedia

  • test scores have become the key to one's entrance
  • "fractal inequality" defined as the insecurity which haunts elites of not belonging to even more elite circles
  • He credits the insecurity caused by fractal inequality, coupled with what he calls "the cult of smartness" for rampant institutional corruption.
  • widening of the pool eligible to become elites but ultimately reproduced widespread inequality and corruption
  • few African-Americans are able to afford the fees of test prep courses
  • scandals which he believes heightened the distrust: Enron, the unveiling of rampant sexual abuse by Catholic priests, the misguided consensus among media and political elites that Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction

Interview: Chris Hayes on the Twilight of the Elites

And at the top, corporate compensation has become totally detached from performance

We're relentlessly punitive at the bottom and unimaginably forgiving at the top. We

if you have this vision of an institutional arrangement with huge rewards for performance, it's trickier than it looks to design a system that doesn't also have big rewards for cheating

But why did the smart people fuck up, again and again?

The pathology of ceaseless competition is inculcated early and creates this kind of constant status obsession upwards

You're habituated early on to think of life as winning a set of competitions toward some small set of scarce resources.

isn't very meritocratic at all.

Behind the seemingly haphazard pile-up of recent calamities he sees a pattern: In each case, a cadre of Very Important People succumbed to some combination of blinkered groupthink, deception, self-dealing, fraud, smugness, and self-delusion. And in virtually every case, they escaped accountability. Or, as Hayes puts it: "All the smart people fucked up, and no one seems willing to take responsibility."


The Cult of Smartness: How Meritocracy Is Failing America

The elites who run things, having advanced to the top of various hierarchies, are performing miserably, Chris Hayes argues, citing failures as varied as Enron, the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, the Catholic Church molestation scandal, the financial crisis, and the steroid scandal in Major League Baseball

The intense competition inherent in meritocracy creates powerful incentives to cheat, and encourages the attitude that whatever you do in pursuit of dominance is fine as long as you profit or win

But as a democratic society we should care much, much more than we currently do about them.

If you don't concern yourself at all with equality of outcomes, you will, over time, produce a system with horrendous inequality of opportunity

Twilight of the Elites perhaps blames too many pathologies on America's relationship with meritocracy. Don't elites in most cultural systems grow distant, self-perpetuating, and unaccountable?

When elites break the rules they aren't punished like regular people

inequality begets more inequality

There is too much social distance separating the people in charge with the folks subject to their decisions

why are present arrangements -- lets call ourselves an "aspirational meritocracy" -- failing us?

"While smartness is necessary for competent elites," Hayes retorts, "it is far from sufficient: wisdom, judgment, empathy, and ethical rigor are all as important, even if those traits are far less valued."

Taken to its absolute extreme, a commitment to equality of outcomes is summed up by the Maoist adage, "The tall stalk gets cut down."

What Hayes finally counsels is raising taxes on the rich, redistributing more to the poor, increasing the estate tax,

With that end in mind, I present them for debate, the doable right beside the implausible thought experiments:

doing away with the many unnecessary Occupational licensing

Write simpler regulations.

Stop subsidizing college tuition

Tax test prep courses, and use the proceeds to subsidize test prep for anyone eligible for free school lunch.

Stop subsidizing mortgages

And transition to an e-Congress, so that House members spend more time in their districts

End the War on Drugs


2016: How the Chris Hayes book Twilight of the Elites explains Donald Trump's appeal

This likely explains why Trump’s core support — including some people who are not core Republicans — has been so impervious to attacks from traditional sources of authority.

Hayes’s hopes for a progressive coalition of angry populists from both left and right were almost certainly misplaced.

It is impossible to talk about Trump’s anti-system populism without talking about racism and xenophobia. Trump blames elites for what is happening to America, but he also blames people who are not white Americans

what really drives Trump support

Rothwell builds on work by Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren at Harvard to find that people in living in areas with weak mobility for kids from middle-class families are more likely to vote for Trump.

While poorer people have always been at a disadvantage in the American system, middle-class people have historically had more faith in it, yet they are increasingly finding their expectations frustrated.

Hayes argues that the angriest voters are not going to be the people at the bottom, but the people in the middle, who used to expect that they and their kids could do well through enterprise and don’t believe that anymore

They do not trust the traditional press anymore, and are able to find alternative sources of information that may often be wrong but at least reflect their understanding that there is something basically wrong with American politics.

Riffing on Michels’s "iron law of oligarchy," which holds that all democratic institutions will end up being run by an internal elite, Hayes proposes what he calls the iron law of meritocracy. He argues that the equality of opportunity that meritocracy promises will inevitably be overwhelmed by inequality of outcome. The people who do well from meritocracy will invest the proceeds from their success in working the system to make sure that they and their kids have the resources they need to continue to do well.

The problem is that openness in theory does not translate into openness in practice

The crucial insight in Twilight of the Elites is that economic inequality is not just a statistical relationship, in which some people earn more and others earn less. It is also an engine that transforms institutions


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