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This book is both interesting, and depressing.

Interesting, of course, in the way just about anything Chris Hayes decides to talk about is worth reading. What actually motivated me to give the book a read is that Chris Hayes has been a frequent guest on the Rachel Maddow show, and he's always interesting there. I know he's also got his own MSNBC show now, though I've never seen it since he doesn't do a podcast of it and I'm too lazy to invest a lot of time in watching clips on the website. But that meant when he had a book coming out, I decided to grab it and see what he had to say.

Actually, what I picked up was the audiobook, which is unabridged and read by Chris Hayes himself. I have no regrets about this.

The man thrust of the book is that meritocracy, which is lionized as an idea in America, just doesn't work. The concept sounds nice - who doesn't like the idea of people who have more ability rising to the top and being in charge - but in practice rapidly devolves into an oligarchy. Most of the book is devoted to developing the argument and providing examples.

One major point is that we are obsessed with equality of opportunity, and assume that if there is equality of opportunity - bootstraps for everyone! - then equality of outcome will follow. But since there's no even minimal equality of outcome (eg: people are destitute) then equality of opportunity is quickly lost.

This is definitely a point I can buy. After hearing about and seeing what happens to kids in low income schools, I feel comfortable that whoever claims we have equality of opportunity today are kidding themselves.

Another point Hayes makes very well is the problem of social distance. As opportunities and outcomes become more unequal, the social distance between those making the decisions and those affected most by them increases to the point of complete divorce. The douchebags that crashed the economy for the most part didn't get their lives ruined the way poor schmoes who have been on unemployment for endless months have. Most everyone in congress is a millionaire, while the people they supposedly represent are not. Very few veterans are in congress these days - and we haven't had a veteran as a president for quite some time - but they're the ones that decide to send people who have no real connection to their lives to war.

Which, as an aside, is a point Rachel Maddow goes over in her book Drift, which I also recommend. (I have the audiobook of that one too, and it's really good, read by Rachel.)

What makes the book depressing - you know, aside from the unending litany of American social failure - is Hayes' proposed solution. He thinks it lies in the upper middle class, who have been radicalized. Maybe I'm just not hanging out with the right people, but I'm really not seeing it. By and large, middle class, let alone upper middle class, American still seem to be under the mistaken impression that the wealth gap isn't as awful as it really is. How many people freaked the hell out about letting the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthiest because they had the utterly crazy impression it would somehow affect them? Also, considering that part of Hayes' solution seems to be convincing the elite that they really need to let other people drive the boat on occasion... yeah, I don't think I can be that optimistic about that.

But trust me, I'd love to be proved wrong.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 10th, 2012 02:25 am (UTC)
I've long countered the "equality of opportunity" argument with "equality of outcome is how you measure equality of opportunity; if outcomes are unequal between large demographic groups, this is prima facie evidence that opportunities are unequal also." Don't know if this has ever convinced anyone, but I keep pushing it. :/
Jul. 10th, 2012 08:55 am (UTC)
Well, you've sure got Chris Hayes on your side, so you're not the only one who thinks that. (And I agree.)
Jul. 10th, 2012 10:55 am (UTC)
Yeah, it's just that I get the feeling of preaching to the choir a lot. And when I make that argument to those who aren't already convinced, it feels more like preaching to the Vatican ... with myself in the role of Martin Luther. Neither is especially useful.
Jul. 10th, 2012 06:00 pm (UTC)
ayup. he's got the disease completely right. so many of our institutions that used to be there to help people "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" are either gutted so not to be practically helpful, or just plain gone. both my parents came from crushing poverty. they, and most of their siblings got to college through the GI bill, back when the GI bill actually paid for college. tuition wasn't as stupidly high as it is now. better loans were available.

not to mention, geography makes a hueg difference. roger went to a supposedly high-end, private catholic prep high school in bum-fuck NE. i went to public school in a wealthy, very white suburb of MPLS. my public school education was so vastly superior to his, as to not be believed. it made it easy to get into any college i wanted, and prepared me for college, and law school even. his sucked.

but, i don't know why he thinks that the solution lies with the upper middle class. where it really lies is 2 places: 1) the millenial generation for whom grew up with clinton economics, are much more liberal than my X generation, and who reject reaganism "government is the problem" ideology. and, 2) the death of baby boomers. in other words, the force of history is happening.

the world is changing faster than the baby boomer generation can adapt. the hippies are now part of the military industrial complex, for which they fought so hard against in the 60's and 70's, cos _thats_where_the_money_is_. so, these aging baby boomers, the upper middle class, dig their heels in that much harder. but, it's doomed to fail. unfortunately, it's going to take awhile for that to occur, and we'll prolly have at least another decade of this political/economic craziness.
Jul. 11th, 2012 12:06 am (UTC)
Yeah, I didn't really buy his upper middle class thing. If nothing else, I feel like the upper middle class would really be more a recipe to exchange one shitty deal for another.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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