Chris Hayes – Twilight of the Elites

June 18, 2012

Our guest this week is Chris Hayes, host of MSNBC’s Up With Chris Hayes and editor at large of The Nation.

Hayes has come out with a much anticipated new book that makes a surprising argument. It’s called Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, and in it, he attributes the stunning loss of trust in American institutions to, well, the system by which we chose who runs them.

That system is a meritocracy—and it’s supposed to be a fair one in which people get ahead or fall behind based on their own inherent abilities. But in reality, Hayes says, inequality in, inequality out.

It’s an intriguing and unexpected thesis, and after reading it, we wanted to ask Hayes about what this means for science in particular—which is, after all, a meritocracy. We also wanted to ask Hayes why people at the top of the totem pole—supposedly so smart, supposedly so well-trained and cultured—are in fact so poor at reasoning about those below them.

This is point of inquiry from Monday, June 18th, 2012. 

Welcome back to Point of Inquiry. I’m Chris Mooney. Point of inquiry is the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs. And at the grassroots. My guest this week is Chris Hayes, host of MSNBC is up with Chris Hayes and editor at large of the Nation. Hayes has come out with a much anticipated new book that makes a surprising argument. It’s called Twilight of the Elites America After Meritocracy. And in it, he attributes the stunning loss of trust in American institutions to the system by which we choose who runs them. That system is a meritocracy, and it’s supposed to be a fair one in which people get ahead or fall behind based upon their own inherent abilities. But in reality, Hayes says, it’s more like inequality in inequality. Out. That’s an intriguing and an unexpected thesis. And after reading it, I wanted to ask Hayes about what this means for science in particular. After all, it’s supposed to be a meritocracy. And I also wanted to ask him why people at the top of the totem pole, supposedly so smart, so well-trained, so cultured, are in fact so poor at reasoning about those below them. Chris Hayes, welcome to Point of Inquiry. 

It’s great to be here. It’s wonderful to have you. Your new book, Let Me Just Say, is a stunning read. And I’ve been sitting here composing these annoyingly long multi sentence questions to ask you, which kind of shows how the book occupies your brain and causes this spillover. So let’s I guess let’s start simple and lay out the argument for people before we build on it. 

So you want to you wanna start or shall I? Sure. 

And, you know, it’s I think, you know, one of the things is that if I can make a quick šemeta note and you’re someone who’s written a number of books and you’re very good about talking to them, that you’ve talked about them on my show, it’s a funny thing that you you know, the reason to undertake a book and Rachel Maddow said this and she was doing some book and the reason to write a book in this media environment is because you have something that you want to say that can’t be captured in, you know, an article, a tweet, a soundbite, a blog post, an eight minute monologue on television. And then, of course, the nature of it is that when you go out to talk about the book, you have to condense it to exactly those things. And so the first day that I’m, you know, doing a lot of interviews about it, I’m still like getting, I think, honing my craft in in in in condensing the argument. So apologies upfront, if I seem if I seem a little scattered are all over the place. But the book was a long time to making, and I’m still figuring out how the best way to sort of communicate its core, its core ideas. 

Well, let’s start with the loss of trust. I mean, Americans don’t trust their institutions. This is kind of your starting point in America feels broken. And I think we all feel this your pivot. What’s unique is you tell us that this is arising from an area we wouldn’t expect dysfunction in meritocracy, a system that we think is fair. 

Yeah, exactly. So the starting point of the inquiry is that, you know, I think reporting on this this last decade and experiencing that, I think, you know, the defining feature is the collapse of public trust in institutions. Is there a cascade of institutional failure and incompetence where you have everything from Wall Street to Congress to the Big Three automakers to Major League Baseball, to the Catholic Church, to newspapers seemingly imploding in on themselves, discredited at the center of of huge scandals or crises or catastrophe. And it’s reflected in public opinion data, which is quite robust across a whole bunch of different sorts of surveys that show that people, Americans have historically low levels of public trust in their pillar institutions. We started polling for this in the 1970s, ironically, in the wake of Watergate, when folks like James Rust in The New York Times were worried that we were suffering through a crisis of authority and no one trusted any source of authority or our institutions. And in retrospect, that period was the high watermark, though, that that was actually the you know, the the apex of public trust were far, far lower now. So the question is why? Why do we have that distrust? 

And I think there’s two theories people will advance. I think if you read, for instance, David Brooks in The Times today or an interview I did with Bob Bennett, who is a longtime senator from Utah who was booted out by a Tea Party challenger in that state’s Republican convention, they will tell you the reason for the distrust is the toxic media environment. The fact that people just expect way too much of the institutions that we have a 24 hour news cycle and cell phone cameras that capture every failing, no matter how small or pathetic, that that distributed misinformation that make it seem like everyone is scheming or screwing up. And so fundamentally, the problem with the trust is a perception problem. I don’t think that is a plausible story, because I think if you take a step back and run through the actual catastrophes, crises and disastrously face over the last decade, it’s hard to conclude that the institutions are actually functioning well. I think the reason we’re not trusting our institutions is because they have revealed themselves to be untrustworthy, that even though there is some un you know, there’s some irrational distrust, make sure you and I will get into that, because I think the an area that you have. You and I both have a lot of shared concern over. For the most part, we’re living in the consequences of institutional failure, and that’s produces distrust. So then the question becomes, why do we have the institutional failures that we’ve had? And I think the answer is we have produced a society in which our leaders are increasingly socially distant from the people whose decisions who their decisions affect, essentially that we’ve kind of untethered the elites from the rest of society. 

And this rising inequality, declining social mobility has created a caliber of elites who are much more prone to failure, that the more elitist American society gets, the worse the caliber of elites it produces. 

Got it. And let’s talk about who the elites are, because this is I mean, you could argue that you and I are both elites. You went to Brown. I went to Yale. OK. So but I don’t think that that’s who you mainly target. I mean, you probably you do target is to some extent, but it’s mainly the super rich. Right. And, you know, members of. Yeah, I know. 

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think. Let me let me see that. You know, I think I write in the book there’s next to freedom. There’s no more contested word in America than elites or elite. Right. And in fact, it’s a word that has been co-opted and manipulated by the right to to refer not to some how much money, power, influence or status someone has. But what their esthetics are, what their case are. Jeffrey, no go. The linguist who’s on fresh air sometimes says it’s people who have seditious taste in cheese and beverage. Right. 

When when Sarah Palin was asked an interview, you talk about a little what? What do you mean? She says, well, you know anyone who thinks they’re better than someone. 

Right. So it’s been captured by the right to refer to a kind of snobbish. Right. Someone to listen to NPR. Drives a Prius and read The New York Times and lives on the coast, etc.. We know that a whole host of cultural signifiers. But, you know, traditionally throughout history and there’s a robust literature up a leap here. 

Some of them were probably right. These are like conservative right wingers who are writing about the elite and why the elite deserve to be in charge. The elite aren’t distinguished by their esthetics or taste or distinguished by how much power they have relative to other people, how interconnected they are. And part of the project, the book is just reclaiming that symbol meeting. Right. I also want to say, you know, it irks me. I’ve seen I’ve been at an event at the Heritage Foundation watching Dick Armey, you know, rail against the elites. 

You know, Dick Armey, the guy who was a high ranking Republican leader in Congress, worked at one of the most influential lobbying firms, you know, was worth a whole lot of money. I mean, if that guy is an elite, I don’t know who is. And I want to avoid the same hypocrisy here. 

Like, I I’m a very lucky, privileged person with a big platform. I’m a cable news show, much of this book. I am implicated in and the people that I care about and they’re close to are also implicated in. I don’t want to let those folks off the hook. I want to say it’s just the Jamie Diamond of the world, not just the Debbie Goddard world. So the elite. Our people at the top of our institutions and our social hierarchy who have a preponderance of power, influence, money, status and networks. Right. They’re connected to each other. Where you draw that line that that cordon them off from Monopoly is a debatable one. But I think that Occupy Wall Street’s rough usage of one percent as a kind of shortcut for the concept is a very useful one, because what it means is when we’re talking about elites, we’re not talking about people who read The New York Times. 

Right. My father’s a civil servant in the New York City Department of Health and read The New York Times. And Henry Kissinger read The New York Times. Right. And there’s not a lot of productive generalizations that can be made about those two men. Well, we want to talk about the Henry Kissinger and Jamie Diamond. They’re not, you know, the civil servants in the Bronx. So I think that’s that’s an important thing to capture when you’re talking about who the elite are. 

So do you really think that by talking about distrust of elites, you can get the left and the right into the same room? Because, I mean, we it’s already come up the right distro when they say elites, they distrust academics and scientists. That’s kind of their, you know, a large part of the elites that they distrust. And yet you do think that they’re tied together in some way in this period? 

I think there and I think there’s a sort of taint that has spread from institution, an institution. And one of my fears about the crisis of authority is that the sins of the banks end up late at the feet of scientists, for instance. 

It makes no sense. But yes, no. 

I mean, I yeah, I don’t think it’s rational. But I also think it’s it’s it’s it’s part of what’s going on. And I think that, you know, I mean, I quote Rush Limbaugh saying that the four corners of deceit, our government, the media, science and academia. Right. Sure. They exist solely through defeat. And I think that, you know, to the extent that people really think that’s the case, it’s incredibly dangerous because of the importance of confronting climate change. You know, it may be a fool’s errand to try to create some kind of trans ideological middle ground in this distrust. You know, part of part of polarization along ideological lines is a real fact in American life. It’s something that I was a little skeptical of. But the more that I look at the data, the more it revealed itself to be really a true sociological description of both how our politics are working and how people are in terms of where they’re living and the degree to which they’re polarizing as well. But but I do think there’s a shared sense on the left and right that the game is rigged, that it’s not on the level, that the playing field isn’t level, that that that the rules aren’t square and the people at the top are manipulating them in their favor. And the be the target of that ire is different for for different parts of the political spectrum. But that sense of betrayal is definitely shared. 

Let me remind our listeners that Chris Hayes new book, Twilight of the Elites, is available through our website Point of Inquiry, Dawg. One thing I like about the book is you get into sort of systematic reasoning failures or systematic biases that elites hold. And so I’d like to I mean, a lot of it boils down to sort of overconfidence and self-delusion. But you talk about psychological research on that. So I’d like to kind of get into get into that a little bit. What why do elites think wrongly so? 

I think part of this goes it gets gets to the nature of the meritocracy. And there’s a few a few things going on here. C.S. Lewis, the amazing British writer, Chronicles of Narnia, the first set of actual books I ever read as a child and theologian, gave this amazing address. I think it’s 1945 because it King’s College. It’s called The Inner Ring. I quoted in the book, and it’s become a kind of moral signpost for me and my life. Any. Yes. The students are some old form, he says. Have you ever had the experience of walking into a room and two people are talking about something and they hush up when you walk in and you realize they’re talking about something that. You don’t you’re not privy to and that there’s an inner ring that you on the outside of. He says the seedbed for corruption. Much of the seedbed for the corruption you will face in your life, for things you will come to regret is the desire to be on the other side of the inner ring, to be in the inner ring. I think it’s a very profound statement about the nature of human desire for status to be on the inside. 

And I think the way the meritocracy is constructed, which is a set of sort of concentric funnels, right. 

That, you know, you start out and then you try to get into Brown or Yale and then you try to get into law school and you try to be the head of the law review and then you try to get the right jobs afterwards, that this is nothing, if not an endless cycle of inner rings and thus an endless opportunity for corruption, because there is no top, there is no satisfaction. The nature of the distribution, the top, the nature of what I call fractal inequality, which is these yawning distances, inequality, Reince scribed themselves at every level of analysis, is that it’s it’s a it’s like an M.C. Escher drawing of a staircase that ascends ever upwards. Right. You can never reach the top of the you can never reach the top. You never be satisfied. And that drive is also that drive for achievement can very easily be turned to a drive for moral shortcuts, for corruption, for game rigging and for cheating. 

We see this all the time. And the way that Wall Street functions, I mean, this is this is endemic to Wall Street, but we even see it in something as simple as school testing. I mean, Steven Levitt made his name with a paper looking at the amount of cheating that was happening in Chicago. Among Chicago, school teachers want standardized testing was put in place. And we’re seeing in places like Atlanta, where there’s a huge scandal after a school reform based on high stakes testing and merit pay was instituted in which you have these incentives constantly to take shortcuts. So that’s that’s part of the psychology that leads towards a kind of corruption, moral transgression in terms of in terms of just errors of judgment, errors of competence, not errors of of of sort of moral errors. You know, there are cognitive costs to not having access to informational feedback. You your vision narrows in one place. I think one concrete way to think about this is the housing crisis. I went down to North Carolina. I spent some time with the folks at the Center for Responsible Lending, and they run a basically a community bank lending institution. And in 2002, 2003, a lot of working class folks, primarily African-American, around Raleigh, Durham, were getting these very predatory loans, teaser rates that would explode home equity loans that essentially were designed to strip the equity out through a series of refinances and fees and leave people with a home they’d owned for 30 years that’s now being foreclosed on. And they saw this because they were embedded in the world of it and they realized something was very wrong with the subprime market and with the way that lending was happening. And they, along with other groups, Greenlining Institute, famously started to raise alarms, even brought it to the attention. The Federal Reserve were in meetings with the Federal Reserve saying this is happening on the ground. This is 2002, 2003, 2004, when the Fed Alan Greenspan later Ben Bernanke, who’s sitting on the board at the time, is not your chair saying there is no housing bubble, there’s no real problem there, telling them there is a problem. And it’s not that Ben Bernanke or Alan Greenspan aren’t exceptionally smart individuals. And Ben Bernanke is clearly quite, quite brilliant and an incredibly accomplished, tremendous sterling academic record. It’s the social distance of the institution from the Federal Reserve, from the world of people on the wrong side of subprime loans was just insurmountable. It could not be Cockcroft by just a few meetings with some activists in an airless boardroom. And this is a really, I think, a really important point, how we make decisions. Our cognitive capacities are really affected both by the data that we come in. That comes in through reports we read and things that we might come across the Internet but actually lived experience. Being embedded in the lived in visceral experience has a very profound effect. And I, I think that if Ben Bernanke lived in a neighborhood or Alan Greenspan lived in a neighborhood in which these kinds of loans were happening and he was seeing his neighbors foreclosed on, the Fed would have taken very different action because I think that social distance really matters in the way that our decision makers approach decisions even when they’re trying to do it in good faith. 

And there’s also something about being smart, but not as smart as you think. I mean, this this comes out in the book. I called it the I call it the smart effect where it happens that conservatives have basically you have people who become more wrong because they’re able to reason why they’re right and they’d but they don’t take all information into account. So so the elites are always, well, relatively well educated and they think very highly of themselves. 

That’s exactly right. And they’ve been told that. And and and when you have this kind of cult of smartness that that that you see in elite circles and I’m sure, Chris, you’re familiar with this and I’m part of it. Right. Like, when people say, oh, you know, my show is smart, I get this little tingle, right. Like, it’s like it’s the cookie we’ve been trained to go for. 

You know, smartness is necessary, I think, for four good decision makers usually, but not far from sufficient. And an environment that that celebrates smartness over all this. And Wall Street is one of those places is a is a petri dish for what I call him, of destructive intelligence. Right. Because people that make what are the smartest arguments can override people that are making the better arguments, the sounder arguments, the more sensible, prudent arguments, the more moral arguments. David Addington is a wonderful example. He was the general counsel for breakfast, President Dick Cheney and then his chief of staff. By all accounts, one of the most pernicious influences in the Bush administration in terms of pushing the most maximal interpretation of the law to a mountain to allow the most latitude for the executive to do things that were quite transgressive in terms of torture and warrantless wiretapping, etc. and also, by all accounts, absolutely brilliant individual who even his school teacher told Jane Mayer in New York article the guy was just incredibly bright and contemptuous of people not as bright as him. And he was able to win arguments because he had this that he had this palpable intelligence. But he can intelligence in the wrong environment, which celebrates intelligence above all else, without the countervailing traits of prudence or judgment or empathy and compassion can be quite destructive if it produces figures that have this destructive intelligence and can produce really terrible results. 

So I want to this is a good transition, too. I want to know about science a bit, because reading your book I and thinking about meritocracies, I thought, well, here we have one. I mean, it’s here. We got really smart people. They actually are socially distant. I mean, the scientists do not know how to relate to other people. A lot of them don’t. And yet somehow we don’t. The right thinks there’s been some sort of systematic failure, but I don’t think it’s actually true. They seem to somehow police themselves quite well. So why what do you think is is healthy about that enterprise, assuming you agree with me? 

Yeah, I do agree with you. And I think when you. 

You e-mail me about this and I’ve been thinking about this morning, and I think it’s a really good point in some ways, I think you would probably be in a better position to answer the question that I would, because this is something that you’ve spent a lot more time reporting on and thinking about. A, I do think the sciences acquitted itself quite well. 

I think I think actually in some ways that the robustness of the data they’ve been able to assemble on the climate is really like a remarkable human achievement. I mean, you know, I remember thinking meeting a Jane Mayer piece about a couple in England that were lepidopterists and, you know, they were just two individuals that loved each other and loved butterflies and they committed their life, you know, to the inquiry. 

And it turned out that, you know, certain certain butterflies, the latitude at which they could exist was creeping ever northward as the temperature was was climbing. And they had this incredible data that showed how far north on the you know, in England you can spot these butterflies. And it was this chilling visualization of the of the warming of the planet. And I thought to myself, how remarkable this this is this small, noble enterprise that was done for no reason that you could foresee that would be important. You know, tracing butterflies actually proves to be remarkably important. And there’s something incredible about science in the pursuit of knowledge for its sake. You can’t predict what its results will be. But in those cases, it ends up being powerful, meaningful here. Here’s my case, and I would like to hear you say that. I think that there are a lot of countervailing egalitarian impulses in the institution of science that are not present in, say, Wall Street. Right. 

That the nature of peer review and and the thrashing it out that happens in scientific debate is everyone is on a level playing field. And I’m sure there’s obviously there’s big and status that goes on. But the core vision of the scientific process is really an egalitarian one, that everyone is an equal player. And I wonder if that ends up saving science from some of the worst excesses that I’ve identified in other institutions. I also wonder if just the amount of the degree that most science is happening in in this year that is somewhat insulated from the crassest commercial concerns of other spheres. And again, there are commercials turned that a lot of commercialization of science and a huge literature about how that may or may not be distorting research priorities. But I also wonder if the degree to which it retains some insulation from the commercial sphere, also insulated from some of these worst kind of inner ring impulses towards corruption that I identified other institutions. 

Yeah. No, I think I think that’s right. You see, in science, you get fraud. It certainly happens, but it doesn’t ever end up being sort of systemic. It’s like the odd case when it happens. Um, but there’s something, you know, I think Americans can’t even really be that psyched about this, because what’s happening in science is a global meritocracy is making itself felt and other countries are actually trying harder to succeed based on the merits than Americans are. Americans are sort of like fat and happy in the world of science. And so actually, you’re fine. The Brazils, the China cetera are starting to starting to outdistance us. So it’s it’s bad news there, but for just a different reason. 

That’s interesting. But but you think that’s so. But it does seem to be a functioning marriage. I mean, I guess I wonder how much it seems like the scientific process. That’s kind of egalitarian commitment I’m talking about in which, like, people really are being judged on the merits. Their work has not been distorted by whatever status comes from. The fact that I’m a big deal scientist. I mean, I’m sure those distractions happen on the margin, but they haven’t corrupted the enterprise. 

And you also don’t get as many super rich. I mean, you get some people who did definitely cash in on some kind of finding and start companies. But I don’t think I don’t think you get it as much as, you know, as you sort of get in Wall Street. I think that they sort of are the exception and then they leave academia. 

So I think although I think I mean, if if he let me I now I’m just sort of speculating, you know, there’s something I spent a summer ones doing cognitive psychology experiments at Northwestern, which with a great researcher named Detrich Garner. And, you know, it’s incredibly humbling enterprise. I mean, science is profoundly in some ways, it’s it’s the opposite of the kind of. 

Ego glorification that the meritocracy is at its worst can be flash. You know, ego glorification combined with insecurity. There’s almost this almost monkish humility that it it it instills in people because the work is so hard and because you’re wrong more often than you’re right. If you’re doing good, science in some is right. 

You design this thing and you’re quite sure that you’ve seen a pattern in the world. And then it turns out to be nowhere in your actual data. And then you strike for a year. 

I know you know that that experience is something that I think that they’ve all gone through. And so maybe that’s that’s a good. 

I wonder if that third shears off some of the edges of kind of the psychological pathologies that I talk about. 

Let me remind our listeners again, the Hayes new book, Twilight of the Elites is available through our website. Point of inquiry dot org now. Chris, I took a couple Web comments. They were in advance, but I think that they’re good questions. I wanna throw one or two of them at you. Before we wrap up here. 

Aaron, where this asked, how is a social distance between elites and the rest of society affected journalism over the past few decades, since the profession shifted from working class to white collar? 

The great, great question, and I think it’s had tremendous effect, I think, in terms of the way that, you know, return to the example I get with the housing bubble. I mean, you know, we had a lot of business reporters who were enmeshed in this in the social socioeconomic cohort of the people on Wall Street, not the socioeconomic cohort of grandmothers with the home equity loan that’s, you know, got a huge teaser rate and this is putting them underwater. And I think that you definitely see that in the balance of the coverage. You know, I think that that that one of the problems is that you increasingly the socio economic cohort vision, world view of people at the top of both Journal of Journalism, Wall Street business and government are all quite similar. And people kind of move between all three. And they are they are increasingly disconnected from from from people outside that world now. Good journalism in some ways. And I’m consider myself a journalist. And I love journalism reporting. Make good good reporting is is actually a set of methodological tools to bridge social distance, you know, and I had a good a good reporter. 

Good reporting can succeed in doing that. It succeeds in doing it for the reporter and it succeeds in doing it for the reader. So, you know, we send people to report on the war about a province in Afghanistan who are not themselves Afghans. Right. And that creates obstacles, linguistic obstacles, cultural obstacles can create bad reporting. But when it creates good reporting, it’s because a reporter actually goes and listens and embeds him or herself in the lived world and lived experience of people. And there are people that are, you know, ideally graduate to do great reporting on poverty in America. And if it is possible to do. But it does it does skew in toto, I think, the way that the media talks about it even now, I think this is this is a small thing. But the unemployment rate for people for your college degrees, which again is a minority of the American population, is around four percent, below three point nine percent. And it’s as high as ten or eleven percent for people with just high school degrees or high school dropouts. And I think that it’s not coincidental that you’ve seen a decline in the expressions of urgency about the jobs crisis in this country as the employment rate for people with college degrees has has rebounded and it’s approaching something less crisis inducing and less panic inducing. I think that just people’s lived experience of folks being out of work in, again, a certain social cohort has dramatically reduced as the recovery has been good to those with bachelors and graduate degrees relative to those without them. And I think we’ve seen that reflected in the way that the emphasis on things like the deficit in political and policy reporting and in in the politicians in Washington. I mean, people are not you know, there was a period of time when joblessness and the crisis felt incredibly close. I think even to people who were relatively privileged. And I think that’s receded a bit. And I think we’ve seen that reflected in the priorities of the national conversation. 

Let me let me give one more question. I’m going to kind of co-opt this one, although it’s originally from John Windsor, but it articulates my main concern, you know, or disagreement a little bit with you. He says you hope for a Tea Party, occupy a la alliance to address certain problems. Is this realistic? I think probably the disgust factor between the two groups is too much to allow them to mingle. And I guess I sort of agree because I think your ultimate solution does involve more equality. And I just don’t think that the right feels the same way as the left about equality, period. I mean, I think that when we all the research on left and right shows that that’s the biggest divider. In many ways. 

Yeah, I mean. Yeah, that may be the case. You know, obviously egalitarianism is very close to my heart and key to my analysis. And the book is a very forthrightly, forthrightly egalitarian book. I do think there are shared concerns about. Conception of a rigged game. I think in the in the in the way in which I think there’s particular overlap in the way we think about the way Wall Street and Washington interact. And I think there is there’s room for some shared critique and shared and shared work. There are massive cultural divides and polarization is a very serious thing. The one thing I would say is that periods that the periods of social disruption and social reform in America have often periods in which ideological coalitions have broken up and reformed along different and interesting lines. Right. And I think we tend to think that our current lines are essential. They they describe something about the world, about people’s psyche. But if you look back over history, I mean, the the prohibition that the the temperance movement, which is one of the most improbably successful social movements in history, although the actual result was disastrous. But just as a as a as a movement, you know, it was a bizarre, bizarre coalition of very, very different interests. I mean, there were you know, there were African-Americans and racists in that in that coalition. There were there were, you know, reformed alcoholic current drinkers and teetotalers. There were religious folks and secular folks or people on the left and people on the right. I mean, that was a very fascinatingly strange coalition and politics. You know, I can imagine, particularly in the wake of some other out in a shock to the system. And I do really fear that if must we reform some of the things I talked about in the book. We’re headed towards more crisis that that we can see some kind of ideological reformulation that is hard to predict where those might be. But I’m not quite ready to concede that the current axes of disagreement, conflict and ideological tension are are essential and durable. 

No. Well, you’re right. I mean, the U.S. is so polarized now because the Democratic or Republican Party represent the sort of the deepest psychological cause of left and right. And we know that they haven’t been that polarized before because we know that there’s a they’ve been less well sorted before. Let’s put it that, you know, 30 years ago, they were less well sorted in terms of these really, really broad ideals. And so you could you could unsought them. You would. It would take some gigantic jolt to make it. 

That’s the really interesting idea. Right. Is the sorting process like is the sorting process efficient such that like we’ve actually we we’ve ended up the place where we’re actually efficiently sorting between these two psychological dispositions and there’s no undoing that? Or is it a combination? 

Is it partly also the happenstance of what the the kind of contingent class or economic interests or social interests or cultural affinities are at this moment, geographical location that those can be remapped or or disrupted based on events? 

I don’t know. The GOP tried to saurus this way. That was the strategy and it worked. I mean, that’s what I would argue, that the Southern strategy that they’re picking, picking off the south, the religious south, making it Republican, was this mean sort. 

So, you know, some something big could good realigns because other countries aren’t as well sorted either. Yeah. Well, look, I mean, this is this has been fascinating. And Selimi just, you know, up with the closing the closing question. In the end, you’re not actually a deep seeded enemy of meritocracy. I mean, you’re a qualified enemy. You’re. You’re gonna fix it. And so are you’d like to see us fix it. So I guess just in conclusion, lay out some of the things that you think would kind of kind of go towards doing that. 

Yeah, I mean, look, I think I think meritocracy as an ideal creates a dangerous complacency on our part because we don’t reconcile with its costs both and in the costs it creates in terms of how it produces certain psychopathologies among the elite and the people that ascend through it, and also the degree to which it contains the seeds of its own destruction that by embracing a certain elitist and inegalitarian vision of who should rule them, you know, the best and the brightest, for lack of a better term, we can feel a lot of things that betray some of our most egalitarian, democratic commitments. I think that one of the first steps is just thinking about meritocracy, critically, thinking about whether it’s an ideal that can be SABIC salvaged, whether it actually the degree to which it contains the seeds of its own destruction is inherent to it. It’s one of the arguments I make in the book. I think one of the more radical ones, and I think ultimately it also requires us to have a much franker conversation about equality and inequality, not as I mean, we need it. We need to make the society more equal, I think, and not just equality as justice or equality. As you know, it is unfair that certain people, the top heavy Smallman again, but equality actually as producing a better social worker, producing a better caliber of elites, producing better decisions, producing more robust institutions. Actually, a practical argument for equality and against inequality, because inequality produces crisis. And there’s there’s interestingly like that’s an argument I’ve made from reporting and some social science and some kind of intuitive judgments that I think is now being reflected in some academic work, both that’s being published. And Justice Stiglitz has a book about inequality that makes that argument. And Jimmy Gail Galbraith coming out with a book about inequality and instability and how the two are related. So, you know, and yes, how do you make a more equal? I mean, one of the things I point in the book is that the computer programs were take a solved problem. I mean, you know, the whole catechism of liberal solutions that better, you know, fonts, sound tried and true, more redistributive taxation, large universal public benefits that everybody that everybody shares in transfer payments to to the bottom, a higher minimum wage, big public institutions that people all participate in, for instance, like state schools, you know, all of those really do work. 

I mean, to say that undertakings have been put in place, you know, create more equality. And this is true in the continental Latin American Brazil particular, in which you’ve had a variety of left of center governments who have been elected on a mandate to produce more egalitarian societies, have pursued policies that are egalitarian and produced outcomes that are more egalitarian, in fact, bucking the trend of the rest of the world. 

So actually implementing creating a society and economy that’s a better, more equal is not an unsolvable problem in terms of what the policy prescriptions are. The problem is the entrenched power of people, the top who want to maintain the status quo. 

And so maybe yeah. So maybe owning this idea that, you know, that equality works. You know, I think actually we don’t hear that enough. 

Yeah. That that to me is the project of the book. Right. 

Is to say to those people who are in some ways implicated in or at the top that they need to look carefully at whether the system that that that we all sort of tacitly endorse is producing good results or maybe it is is responsible for some of the crises through which we are living. 

Well, you know, on that, no, Krasa, it is a fascinating book. And I know that it’s going to create a lot of discussion. And it’s been a it’s been a pleasure to have you on point of inquiry. I think our listeners are going to really have enjoyed it. So thank you very much. 

Thank you. It’s really a pleasure. Thanks for letting me talk at such length. I really enjoyed it. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry to join the discussion about today’s show, you can visit point of inquiry, dawg. You can also send questions and comments to feedback at point of inquiry dot org. You can find us on Twitter at point of inquiry and on Facebook at slash point of inquiry. The views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor of its affiliated organizations. 

Point of inquiry is produced by atomizing and amrs New York, and our music is composed by Emmy Award winning Michael Wailin. 

Today’s intro featured Debbie Goddard. I’m your host Chris Mooney. 

Chris Mooney