Pulling Up the Ladder

'Twilight of the Elites'

The United States is in the midst of a broad crisis of authority, with our most important institutions and the elites who run them facing a huge deficit of public trust. In a June 2012 Gallup poll, Americans reported near-record distrust of the medical system, the criminal justice system, and organized religion. Fewer than half the respondents said they trusted religion “a great deal” or “quite a lot,” compared to 60 percent in 2001. Just one in five said they trusted corporations “a great deal” or “quite a lot.” Organized labor didn’t do much better.  And almost half—48 percent—said they trusted Congress “very little” or “not at all.”

In Twilight of the Elites, Christopher Hayes, a thirty-three-year-old MSNBC host and former Washington editor of the Nation, offers a compelling counterintuitive theory for what is causing Americans to lose their faith in elites. Meritocracy is failing us, Hayes argues, because the socioeconomic inequality produced by a meritocracy inevitably undermines meritocracy itself, as people climbing up the socioeconomic ladder pull it up behind themselves. Hayes calls this phenomenon the “Iron Law of Meritocracy.” Our highly competitive social and economic system is decaying, turning...

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About the Author

Nick Baumann is the news editor for Mother Jones.