Friday, August 9, 2013

Guest Review: Twilight of the Elites

Summary: Over the past decade, Americans watched in bafflement and rage as one institution after anotherfrom Wall Street to Congress, the Catholic Church to Major League Baseballimploded under the weight of corruption and incompetence. In the wake of the Fail Decade, the social contract between ordinary citizens and elites lies in tatters.  

 How did we get here? With Twilight of the Elites, Christopher Hayes upends well-worn ideological and partisan categories to offer a radically novel answer. Since the 1960s, as the meritocracy elevated a more diverse group of men and women into power, they learned to embrace the accelerating inequality that had placed them near the very top, leaving a new American elite more prone to failure and corruption and more out of touch with the people they govern.  

Mixing deft political analysis, timely social commentary, and deep historical understanding, Hayes entirely reorients our perspective on our times by arguing that the public's loss of trust in the federal government, corporate America, and the media has led to a crisis of authority that threatens to engulf not just our politics but our day-to-day lives. -- Broadway Books

My husband recently listened to TWILIGHT OF THE ELITES: AMERICA AFTER MERITOCRACY by Christopher Hayes and found some of his ideas to be interesting. When I mentioned that I had received the opportunity to review this book, he suggested that my dad might possibly be interested in some of his concepts. Even though my dad is not a fan of Mr. Haye's show on MSNBC, he decided to take a chance and see what the book had to say. Here are his thoughts:

As I was deciding how to begin my review of TWILIGHT of THE ELITES- America after Meritocracy, I noticed a headline on my computer screen that read “America’s Faith in Washington Hits Striking Low, NBC/WSJ Poll Finds”. This is a perfect example of what author Christopher Hayes is discussing in his book.

Meritocracy is a system in which individual progress is based on ability and achievement rather than social status, wealth or seniority. The end result is a group of elites that lead our institutions. Hayes argues that meritocracy is rigged today and puts too much power in the hands of a few elites. It is creating a huge gap in our society between the elites and everyone else and is responsible for the collapse of public confidence in nearly all American institutions including government, education, media, sports and corporations. He contends that meritocracy creates a highly competitive and highly rewarding environment that ultimately leads to fraud and deception and places our elite leaders out of touch with the general public. Hayes feels that the current situation is a crisis of authority that threatens our way of life

To support his argument he uses examples such as the impact of government lobbying, the Major League Baseball steroid issues, the Wall Street subprime fiasco, the Catholic Church pedophile scandal, the Enron collapse, and even Hunter, an elite school that selects its students from one test issued to New York City students.

Hayes discusses in some detail how the basic principles of meritocracy, the Principle of Difference (match best talents with the hardest tasks) and the Principle of Mobility (selection process that ensures performance is rewarded and failure is punished) are subverted by the system itself. Hayes suggests that the solution to the current crisis is to make America more equal by balancing equality of opportunity with equality of outcome. He discusses two eras of equality since World War II. The first being an era that lasted into the 1970s and resulted in good GDP growth, a strong middle class, good manufacturing base, strong unions and strong families but saw continued race, gender and sexual orientation bias. The second era lasting until now increased equality along the lines of gender, race and sexual orientation but greater inequality in skills, wages and health. Hayes wants the best of each era going forward. Hayes sees tax policy and the continued protests by such groups as the political left’s Occupy Wall Street and and the right leaning Tea Party as solutions to the current inequality that leads to our crisis of authority. He also offers Brazil as a possible model for the United States for experiencing economic growth coupled with reduced inequality. The author may regret his references to the now defunct and Brazil with its current class protests

Although I find myself on the opposite side of the political spectrum from author Christopher Hayes, TWILIGHT OF THE ELITES gave me some food for thought as to why America is in such a mess today. Even though Hayes offers a few ideas as to possible changes to the system, I believe he would agree that there is no easy answer.

I would recommend TWILIGHT OF THE ELITES to anyone who has interest in public policy or wants to read an interesting perspective on America’s problems of leadership.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book and to Booking Pap Pap for his honest review.


bermudaonion said...

This sounds like it would give you a lot to think about but I wonder if it's too dry for me.

Beth F said...

My husband might like this.