Books

Book Review: The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? by Michael J. Sandel

Should merit dictate what we deserve and how our lives should go? And what does it mean if merit is the building block of how we value ourselves and others? And what if it is how politics is justified? Michael J. Sandel argues in his book how merit and meritocracy rule our modern societies and politics and how they have led to popular movements, especially as the elite overlook how their own policies are more the cause of how people can get ahead in life. So what is this merit and meritocratic idea? It is the thought that the effort you put into things (life goals, job, studying) defines the outcome. To put it in extreme terms: those who never got that high-paying job are due to the fact they didn’t work hard enough.

Sandel argues that meritocracy seems more equal on the surface than the idea that your birth defines what profession you can pursue and what you can ever become. But what is often overlooked is that people don’t have equal chances to do things, even in our modern societies. Thusly, the idea that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed in the world is questionable, especially as the current trend in social mobility has stagnated and actually moves downward. Then there is the question of how and what we value in our society. If making the maximum amount of money in life is the top goal despite the cost to oneself and society, then stockbrokers speculating with our future and bailed-out bankers are more valuable than, say, a nurse. And the thing is, as Sandel points out, we clearly value stockbrokers and bankers more than the nurse who puts on a mask and apron to safeguard themselves from all the potential threats they face during their shift to aid strangers.

Sandel argues that we as a society have put too much stress on higher education to be the salvation anyone can use to escape such fate as becoming a nurse with low wages. First, he argues that the whole education system and who gets in is already skewed and unequal. Second, it seems to value one set of skills over others (like seeing plumbers, dental nurses, and so on somehow losers who didn’t work hard enough to get into a premium university.) And Sandel argues that all this is present in our societies, and it is no wonder people feel devalued, alienated, and restless, especially as this rhetoric is part of the public speech through our politicians and other elite.

But I better stop here and let you read the rest. This is an excellent book, and I didn’t do justice to the argumentation. I highly recommend this book.

Thank you for reading. Have a beautiful day!

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