Even in the midst of runaway economic inequality and dangerous social division, it remains an axiom of modern life that meritocracy reigns supreme and promises to open opportunity to all. The idea that reward should follow ability and effort is so entrenched in our psyche that, even as society divides itself at almost every turn, all sides can be heard repeating meritocratic notions. Meritocracy cuts to the heart of who we think we are. But what if, both up and down the social ladder, meritocracy is a sham? Today, meritocracy has become exactly what it was conceived to resist: a mechanism for the concentration and dynastic transmission of wealth and privilege across generations. Upward mobility has become a fantasy, and the embattled middle classes are now more likely to sink into the working poor than to rise into the professional elite. At the same time, meritocracy now ensnares even those who manage to claw their way to the top, requiring rich adults to work with crushing intensity, exploiting their expensive educations in order to extract a return. All this is not the result of deviations or retreats from meritocracy but rather stems directly from meritocracy's successes. This is the radical argument that The Meritocracy Trap prosecutes with rare force, comprehensive research, and devastating persuasion. Daniel Markovits, a law professor trained in philosophy and economics, is better placed than most to puncture one of the dominant ideas of our age. Having spent his life at elite universities, he knows from the inside the corrosive system we are trapped within, as well as how we can take the first steps towards a world that might afford us both prosperity and dignity.
Daniel Markovits delivers a fierce indictment ... perfectly pitched to the contemporary political moment -- Jennifer Schuessler * New York Times * Brimstone rains down from every sentence. -- Louis Menand * New Yorker * an imaginative new book that will prompt endless debate in the faculty lounge, the country-club tap room, and the family dinner table. ... He melds the economic royalist critique with an insightful new analysis -- David M. Shribman * The Boston Globe * At once wide-ranging and rigorous, subtle and penetrating, Markovits's book is revelatory both in its particulars and in its big picture. Anyone who wants to argue about the merits of meritocracy must take account of this book. -- Kwame Anthony Appiah Daniel Markovits has written a bold, brave critique of the meritocracy-backed version of inequality that prevails today. He argues persuasively that meritocracy is destructive and demoralizing for winners and losers alike. Challenging conventional wisdom, Markovits shows that technological change is not a fact of nature that happens to increase the value of highly credentialed workers; instead, the prevalence of credentialed elites calls forth technologies that bias the labour market in their favour and hollow out the middle class. This is a splendid book that should prompt soul-searching among meritocrats. * Michael Sandel * The Meritocracy Trap is an entertaining read, full of useful facts, and contains some penetrating insights into the shortcomings of what amounts to a secular religion, not just in America but across the West. -- Toby Young * Spectator * The Meritocracy Trap defines a central issue for our age -- Camilla Cavendish * Sunday Times *