EPISODE 423: The Meritocracy Trap: How the Myth Feeds Inequality

Every year I live outside the U.S. I’m able to better understand my culture simply due to my physical distance from it. I notice things like promiscuous use of peanut butter and cinnamon in American foods, the endless sports and war metaphors in colloquial language, the ubiquitous nostalgia for the post-World War II family life, and the universal belief that every underdog has a chance to go all the way up.

Meritocracy.

Study hard, work hard, and show up year-after-year, and you can be just about anything you want to be. In the 1950s, that was somewhat true. Today, the schism between the have and have-nots is so vast that in many cases, no amount of hard work or earned street cred will give you equal access to opportunity.

If you’re dealt an unlucky hand, as most people are, your options are limited by gatekeepers you’ll never meet, schools and jobs you’ll never have access to. More perplexing still, if you’re dealt a lucky hand, as I was, and if you play your cards right, you enlist into a lifetime of self-sacrifice, ridiculously long work days, and an almost guaranteed inability to enjoy the so-called privileged life you lead.

Why? Because you’re working all the time.

Meritocracy, like any ideology, sounds amazing on paper, but falls flat in the real world. It’s as mythical as a unicorn. Catch me if you can. On this week’s show, you’ll meet researcher and writer, Daniel Markovits, who shares his findings on just how broken this meritocratic system is today.

Listen in to learn:

  • How average CEO compensation has grown 940% since 1978 while typical worker compensation has risen only 12% during that same time
  • How elite education, more than any other factor, acts as the gating factor into the ruling class
  • How the best universities brag about sub-10% acceptance rates, essentially creating an elite class system
  • How mid-level jobs are getting completely eliminated by technology leaving only the ruling and working classes on either end of the spectrum
  • How the meritocracy myth is not just unfair, but potentially dangerous as it threatens the safety and happiness of both the haves and have-nots.

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ABOUT OUR GUEST

Daniel Markovits holds degrees from Yale, London School of Economics and Oxford. He’s on the faculty at Yale Law School, where he publishes on the philosophical foundations of private law, moral and political philosophy, and behavioral economics. His latest book is, The Meritocracy Trap: How America’s Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite.

Nutritional Tip of the Week:

  • White Bread Better Than Whole Wheat

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