Featured Author Event: Daniel Markovits (Washington, DC)

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Colleagues who are going to be in the vicinity of Washington, DC this weekend, take note: Daniel Markovits, Yale Law professor and Penguin Press author, will be discussing his new book, THE MERITOCRACY TRAP: How America’s Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Cllass, and Devours the Elite, on Sunday, September 15, at the Politics & Prose Bookstore (5015 Connecticut Ave NW). This free event begins at 5:00 p.m. Seating is available on a first come, first served basis.

In his deeply researched, passionately argued, and nonpartisan book, Markovits blames the country’s current crises on an unusual suspect: the abiding faith in meritocracy. It is an axiom of American life that advantage should be earned through ability and effort. Even as the country divides itself at every turn, the meritocratic ideal – that social and economic rewards should follow achievement rather than breeding – reigns supreme. Both Democrats and Republicans insistently repeat meritocratic notions. Meritocracy cuts to the heart of who we are. It sustains the American Dream.

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.

When THE MERITOCRACY TRAP reveals the inner workings of the meritocratic machine, it also illuminates the first steps outward, towards a new world that might once again afford dignity and prosperity to the American people.

Daniel Markovits is Guido Calabresi Professor of Law at Yale Law School and founding director of the Center for the Study of Private Law.

Posted: September 13, 2019