Notes On: “The Tyranny of Merit” – Chapter One

“As the meritocracy intensifies, the striving so absorbs us that our indebtedness recedes from view. In this way, even a fair meritocracy, one without cheating or bribery or special privileges for the wealthy, induces a mistaken impression—that we have made it on our own”

Thus is the delusion of the rugged individual. No one in a society succeeds on their own. There are always others who have, in one way or another, help in their overall success. To believe otherwise is truly delusional.

“Their anxieties are best addressed by job-training programs and other measures to help them adapt to the imperatives of global and technological change.”

Yes, and no. While it is true that people need to look toward self improvement, it is not the case that job-training, free or otherwise, is available to all people. Those that rail against economic changes are right in seeing that the market does not care about them, and that the market is willing to throw them away. Governments, in the face of a changing market, need to provide the job-training needed to support its population. If they do not, and leave it to the market, people will be priced out of the training they need.

“…it is the result of the way mainstream political parties and elites have governed.”

I.e. allowing the market complete control over economic policy.

“As good and capital flowed freely across national borders, those who stood astride the global economy vaporized cosmopolitan identities…”

Cosmopolitanism only in the sense that capital has the ability to move where it wants. Those that create, moreover those that create the goods that make the money, are stuck in a single location. A fact that the market takes full advantage of.

“Meanwhile, the technocratic approach to governance treated many public questions as matters of technical expertise beyond the reach of ordinary citizens. This narrowed the scope of democratic argument, hollowed out the terms of public discourse, and produced a growing sense of disempowerment.”

Yes, absolutely. And yet, the American people have flocked to the very political party that sold their jobs to the lowest national bidder. The party that is more worried about ensuring the capital flows, but not to all people.

“By the time of Trump’s election, the Democratic Party had become a party of technocratic liberalism more congenial to the professnal classes than to the blue-collar and middle-class voters…”

Very highly true. At least the left has hopes of using that market to benefit social programs. Whereas the right doesn’t care for the general population in any way, seemingly so at least. The draw of economic colonialism/imperialism is strong for any political party that seeks power.

“They softened the harsh edges of unfettered markets but did not challenge the central premise of the Reagan-Thatcher era—that market mechanisms are the primary instruments for achieving the public good.”

The can be no ‘public good’ so long one tries to measure it in capital gains, quarterly profits, and dividends. The public good is not equivalent to the corporate good.

“The age of globalization has bestowed its rewards unevenly, to say the least.”

Globalization is just economic imperialism. The intent of globalization was never to provide for the greatest number of people; but to fund the growth of wealth for those that own and invest in major corporations.

“Americans have long tolerated inequalities of income and wealth, believing that, whatever one’s starting point in life, it is possible to rise from rags to riches.”

That belief is of course a myth. While some will achieve the pulling of ones self out of poverty to the lower or middle class, it is wealth that begets wealth. No major corporation, no major business success story (the kind sold to the masses), was achieved by the poor.

“Seventy percent of Americans believe the poor can make it out of poverty on their own, while only 35 percent of Europeans think so. This faith in mobility may explain why the U.S. has a less-generous welfare state than most major European countries.”

Right wing philosophies, and corporate market manipulation, have fed this belief that success is a wholly individual story. This has lead Americans to looking upon their fellows with scorn when they are unable to succeed, due to deep seeded, but ignored economic and social barriers.

But is having (or lacking) certain talents really our own doing?”

There is equal amounts of talent, luck, and external economic support, that leads to great success. Many very hard working people have languished because they were simply unlucky, or did not have financial backing in some way.

“More than a protest against immigrants and outsourcing, the populist complaint is about the tyranny of merit.”

And yet, they rail against the ideal of equitable treatment because ‘those people’ have not earned it.

“For those who can’t find work or make ends meet, it is hard to escape the demoralizing thought that their failure is their own doing, that they simply lack the talent and drive to succeed.”

It is rarely the case that failure for those that try is theirs alone. Too often there are vast systems at play that the individual has been made blind too.

In regard to the 2018 election: “She had won the votes of the winners of globalization, while Trump had won among the losers.”

It is right that they were losers of globalization, but it was their fears of foreigners and racist and sexist ideologies that Trump used to get elected. While all sides are responsible in someway for the failings of globalization, the very people, i.e. Trump and the GOP, are the last ones to help those that have lost. It was their ignorance, and easily manipulated minds that won them to Trump.

“This morally blinkered way of conceiving merit and the public good has weakened democratic societies in several ways. The first is the most obvious: Over the past four decades, meritocratic elites have not governed very well.”

This should be of no surprise. The meritocratic elite have become elite through self-centered actions that completely deny the role of others for their success.

“By contrast, the elites who have governed since have brought us four decades of stagnant wages for most workers, inequalities of income and wealth not seen since the 1920s, the Iraq War, a nineteen-year, inconclusive war in Afghanistan, financial deregulation, the financial crisis of 2008, a decaying infrastructure, the highest incarceration rate in the world, and a system of campaign finance and gerrymandered congressional districts that makes a mockery of democracy.”

This is all largely due to the socially destructive belief that the success of the one is paramount to the success of the group. But more importantly, the belief that one has no obligation to, and no real connection to, others in society.

“Today, the common good is understood mainly in economic terms. It is less about cultivating solidarity or deepening the bonds of citizenship than about satisfying consumer preferences as measured by the gross domestic product. This makes for an impoverished public discourse.”

It leads common citizens to value each other in terms of dollars and not in intrinsic moral worth.

“But it would not, Young thought, be an unmitigated triumph; for it was bound to foster hubris in the winners and humiliation among the losers. The winners would consider their success a “just reward for their own capacity, for their own efforts, for their own undeniable achievement,” and would therefore look down on those less successful than themselves. Those who failed to rise would feel they had no one to blame but themselve”

All this is wrapped up in the notion that only those that ‘contribute’ to the economy through some labor, have value. Moreover, those who support meritocracy see the economy and society as being almost irrevocably link, i.e. to labor, to make money, to support the economy, is contributing to society.

All Excerpts From (in italics)
The Tyranny of Merit
Michael J. Sandel
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