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The Tyranny of Merit: What's Become of the Common Good?

av Michael J. Sandel

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Las sociedades occidentales padecen dos males relacionados, la desigualdad económica y la polarización política. En el marasmo resultante, parece que hemos perdido de vista la noción clave del bien común. En esta obra fundamental, Michael J. Sandel se plantea cómo recuperarla.
Cuando solo hay ganadores y perdedores y la movilidad social se ha atascado, resulta inevitable la combinación de ira y frustración que alimenta la polarización y la protesta populista, además de reducir la confianza en las instituciones y en nuestros conciudadanos. Así no podemos hacer frente moralmente a los retos actuales.

Sandel, premio princesa de Asturias de Ciencias Sociales y uno de los filósofos más prestigiosos de nuestra época, sostiene que para superar las crisis que asedian nuestras sociedades hemos de repensar las ideas de éxito y fracaso que han acompañado la globalización y el aumento de la desigualdad. La meritocracia genera una complacencia nociva entre los ganadores e impone una sentencia muy dura sobre los perdedores. Sandel defiende otra manera de pensar el éxito, más atenta al papel de la suerte, más acorde con una ética de la humildad y la solidaridad y más reivindicativa de la dignidad del trabajo. Con esos mimbres morales, La tiranía del mérito presenta una visión esperanzadora de una nueva política centrada por fin en el bien común. (Librotea)
Michael Sandel (Minneapolis, 1953) ocupa la cátedra Anne T. y Robert M. Bass de Ciencias Políticas en la Universidad de Harvard y es uno de los autores de referencia en el ámbito de la filosofía política. El curso sobre la justicia que imparte allí desde hace dos décadas es el más popular de la universidad. Autor de numerosas obras, en castellano se han publicado El liberalismo y los límites de la justicia (2000), Contra la perfección (2007), Filosofía pública: ensayos sobre moral en política (2008) y Justicia. ¿Hacemos lo que debemos? (Debate, 2011). ( )
  MigueLoza | Dec 30, 2020 |
A dense, wonky, and thoughtful look at the history behind the rise and acceptance of meritocracy, the idea that if you work hard and play by the rules, you will be able to rise as far as your talents will take you. Sounds reasonable, and it's become a baseline assumption in America and much of the world, but meritocracy has resulted in rising inequality and large segments of the populace being left behind and undervalued. There is much to think about here, but few suggestions for improvement or remediation. Some of the sections of the book dragged, but I especially appreciated the section on the dignity of work. This is an important book, with useful takeaways for readers across the political spectrum. ( )
2 rösta RandyRasa | Oct 25, 2020 |
Excellent book. Brought my attention to concerns that otherwise I would not have been aware of. Important for parents and citizens. ( )
1 rösta lisaclaw | Oct 24, 2020 |
“The more we think of ourselves as self-made and self-sufficient, the harder it is to learn gratitude and humility. And without these sentiments, it is hard to care for the common good.” This is the framework for Michael Sandel’s The Tyranny of Merit. A noble sentiment, it is an attack on the so-called meritocracy the USA runs on. Unfortunately, it’s a difficult read and doesn’t solve any problems. And it is often simply misguided.

Meritocracy is a system in which people rise to their level of incompetence – just slightly beyond where they should be, and are rewarded according to how high they rise. This is as opposed to an aristocracy, in which everyone is born into their role, and cannot move up in society. Both are awful, and neither one of them describes the reality of the USA.

Meritocracy looks good on paper, but in practice it is a disaster. Suicides of despair are soaring in the land of meritocracy, and not nearly as common where aristocracy is the rule. In a meritocracy, those who make it claim they earned it alone and by themselves, and look down on those who didn’t. Those who don’t make it cannot blame the system; they can only blame themselves. Life becomes a race for credentials, from a very young age. Parents take childhoods away from them, packing their lives with classes and memberships. The list of negatives about meritocracy is endless.

Sandel teaches this at Harvard, so a lot of what he has to say pertains to higher education. Rich parents bribe their way into admissions for their kids, or if they went to the school themselves, their kids get a pass to get in. Or they can bribe the administration with a new lab or building or chair to get their kids in. This is really the kind of meritocracy the USA operates.

The whole premise is that a certificate from a top school will keep them in the 1%. So the rich crowd out everyone else to take those spots. It’s all about the résumé and the letters after the name. Doesn’t matter how they got them or if they can even act like they represent what the letters stand for. The whole country is obsessed with credentials. But as Sandel and many others have shown, Barack Obama’s overcredentialed cabinet was incapable of remaking the country, while FDR’s barely high school cabinet changed the whole world. Obligatory fake meritocracy is as rigid as an aristocracy.

There are lots of examples to show credentials are no panacea. Sandel shows that in pro sports, one of baseball’s greatest pitchers, Nolan Ryan, was the 294th draft pick when he (barely) got in. Tom Brady, possibly football’s greatest quarterback was 199th. So demonstrated merit does not automatically mean the best or wisest choice. Meritocracy is like eugenics for the economy.

The best point Sandel makes about credentialization is that “Turning Congress and parliaments into the exclusive preserve of the credentialed classes has not made government more effective, but it has made it less representative.” The fact is only a third of Americans have college degrees, and the weaponization of credentials has totally alienated the populace into “draining the swamp” with a totally uncredentialed and unqualified president. Donald Trump is the best argument against American meritocracy, and is precisely what the founders tried to prevent in the constitution.

The facts, as Sandel finds them, are that inequality becomes so refined in a meritocracy that the rich do not even associate with the common people. They have private jets, skybox seats and numerous homes around the world. They hide their money in overseas trusts so they pay even less in taxes than they are required. They actually are the new aristocracy, so why pretend otherwise? In a real meritocracy, the talented should rise to the top. That’s not how it works in the USA.

The USA has lost the entire concept of the common good. Today it appears to mean only higher Gross National Product. In Sandel’s writing, there is nothing to consider beyond that. It’s just about national wealth. But there should be more to it than that. To me what is missing is that membership should have its privileges. As the richest nation on Earth, the USA should offer special treatment to its members. Healthcare should be a right, for example, not reserved only for the rich. But that would mean equality. Instead, Sandel focuses on how and whether the rich should be forced to pay taxes that might benefit those less successful. That’s not it at all. But it’s his book.

The country is supposedly built on mobility; anyone can get ahead if they try. This is a catchphrase used by politicians, along with “The more you learn, the more you earn” and other totally bogus distillations of meritocracy. Sandel cites “The Lord helps those who help themselves”, and “Being on the right side of history” and others that presidents love to pad their speeches with. Unfortunately, so does Sandel. He spends endless pages showing how and when those phrases are used, the number of times various presidents have used them and which presidents have used various ones of them more than all other presidents combined. He says “When politicians repeat a hallowed verity with mind-numbing frequency, there is reason to suspect that it is no longer true.” But then he repeats his scoring and counting and listing again, and again, as if it were a totally new concept each time. The book could stand a total reorg.

The best point he makes about American mobility is its total untruth. He says “It is easier to rise from poverty in Canada or Germany, Denmark or other European countries than it is in the United States.” Yet 70% of Americans think the poor can make it out of poverty on their own, thanks to America’s unique attribute of mobility. This alone puts the lie to meritocracy in the USA.

Sandel also repeats himself endlessly on other premises, concepts and simple citations. He will introduce the same author of the same book, several times. He will describe the same idea every time he uses it, as if the reader had never seen it before, in the previous chapter.

Even without this book, it is pretty obvious that American meritocracy is a fraud. It stratifies society, increases inequality and solves no problems. America is not better for it. It is a meritocracy in name only.

The common good is a concept that has been off the American table for far too long, and it is the reason I wanted to review this book. But the book skims over and perverts the common good into something unrecognizable. This is not the book to base a better policy on. While Sandel makes some eminently quotable points, the book is mostly annoying. The topic deserves better.

David Wineberg ( )
2 rösta DavidWineberg | Jun 15, 2020 |
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