Markovits’s description of the meritocratic machine is quite believable, and it casts an intriguing light on our current inequalities ... Markovits’s book reads like a powerful brief, but one addressed to the lay reader. His writing is elegant, imaginative, and compelling. Intriguingly, his harsh depiction of both glossy and gloomy jobs jibes with the 'anti-work' theorists who argue that, under capitalism, all forms of work entail serious self-loss ... One point that may not be sufficiently accepted, or in any case stressed, by Markovits is that work is critical to human psychology, and that at least some work is joyful and engaging ... Markovits convincingly shows, but it does not necessarily follow that we should abandon hard work in pursuit of a goal.
... ambitious and disturbing ... There is something salutary and urgently necessary in the way the professor pounds his message home, with his statistics and charts and sickening Ivy League anecdotes, informing his right-thinking readers that the status of which they love to boast was purchased at the expense of our egalitarian ideals ... In some ways, however, Markovits pushes his thesis too hard. Yes, smug professionals sit atop our class system, but they aren’t the only winners up there. There are also self-made oil billionaires, retail billionaires, real-estate billionaires and so on. Besides, to put the blame for inequality on the shoulders of the educated elite is to overlook the particular political deeds that decimated the middle class — among them, changes to the tax code that have had a marked plutocratic effect, the crushing of organized labor and the refusal of our nation’s leaders over the years to enforce antitrust laws ... But in other ways Markovits doesn’t go nearly far enough. When he squares off against the meritocratic elite, he keeps pulling his punches, assuring us that its members’ educational credentials really are excellent, that their skills are real and that they work extremely hard ... A fuller account of the last real-estate bubble and the global financial crisis would have been helpful here; or the story of the Wall Street bailouts ... The book’s most unfortunate blind spot is the past ... forcefully interrupts the comfortable bath of self-flattery in which our well-graduated professionals pass their hours. We are so enlightened, they tell one another; we care so very much; we wish we knew whom to blame for our toxic, embittered society — and Markovits drags them to the mirror and bids them open their eyes.
How...do we understand today’s winners? What do they deserve, and how? In The Meritocracy Trap, Yale Law professor Daniel Markovits offers his assessment: Super-skilled workers have remade the economy in their image, leaving themselves overworked and unhappy while rendering middle-class Americans underworked and unhappy ... Most of the book’s policy conclusions are reasonable...But The Meritocracy Trap gets tripped up in its own premises. Markovits jams together a range of critiques into an argument that probably seemed honest, empirical, and heterodox to the author at the time. Instead, the framework is original in a bad way, full of holes and contradictory to its core. A graduate of Yale, the London School of Economics, Oxford, and Yale again, Markovits turns in research so lazy, prose so laborious, and thinking so shallow as to refute the very idea of merit in the anglo-phone system of higher education. If this is what they reward at Yale, then I don’t know what they’re measuring over there—it’s certainly not skill or hard work ... The disagreement isn’t really about the numbers, it’s about ideology: Markovits doesn’t think we give the rich enough credit for their work. It’s hard to suss exactly what he’s saying, because the book is framed as an attack on the meritocracy, but when he goes out of his way to claim that noted scammer Mark Zuckerberg earned his fortune, aggressively misclassifying the Facebook founder’s wealth as labor income, the author tips his hand ... What Markovits is unwilling and/or unable to understand is that value has a dual form. Under capitalism, innovation and the demand for corresponding new kinds of labor don’t emerge according to human needs, they develop according to potential profit, that is to say, potential labor exploitation. The rich are better—better at making money off of other people. Markovits teaches their lawyers, and it shows. In his acknowledgments for The Meritocracy Trap he thanks not one, not two, but sixty-six research assistants, for a book that comes in at under three hundred pages. Nice work if you can get it.