Political Animal


June 09, 2012 8:13 AM Chris Hayes on Elite Failure

By Ryan Cooper

His new book Twilight of the Elites is coming out next Tuesday, and the Nation excerpted a section that gives you a flavor of the argument. He proposes that there is an “iron law of meritocracy,” where meritocratic institutions naturally become corrupted through elites desire to perpetuate themselves and avoid accountability:

And we might ask what a society that has been corrupted entirely by the Iron Law of Meritocracy would look like. It would be a society with extremely high and rising inequality yet little circulation of elites. A society in which the pillar institutions were populated and presided over by a group of hyper-educated, ambitious overachievers who enjoyed tremendous monetary rewards as well as unparalleled political power and prestige, and yet who managed to insulate themselves from sanction, competition and accountability; a group of people who could more or less rest assured that now that they have achieved their status, now that they have scaled to the top of the pyramid, they, their peers and their progeny will stay there.
Such a ruling class would have all the competitive ferocity inculcated by the ceaseless jockeying within the institutions that produce meritocratic elites, but face no actual sanctions for failing at their duties or succumbing to the temptations of corruption. It would reflexively protect its worst members; it would operate with a wide gulf between performance and reward; and it would be shot through with corruption, rule-breaking and self-dealing, as those on top pursued the outsized rewards promised for superstars. In the same way the bailouts combined the worst aspects of capitalism and socialism, such a social order would fuse the worst aspects of meritocracy and bureaucracy.
It would, in other words, look a lot like the American elite in the first years of the twenty-first century.

I was lucky enough to pick up an advance copy of the book and I recommend it highly. It will definitely make my top ten list for the year.

Also, if you’re a DC resident, Hayes will be giving a talk at the Politics and Prose bookstore on the 18th of this month.

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper


  • c u n d gulag on June 09, 2012 9:13 AM:

    Oh no - not RYAN again!
    Juss' kiddin,' Ryan.
    "Who loves ya, baby?!?!"*
    *"Kojack" reference, btw, for those too young to know that phrase. ;-)

    Yes, I agree with Hayes - and our elites are now becoming an aristocracy.
    They hand down their positions of power, and the money that comes with it, to their children, and their children's children, etc.

    And this whole mess of an economy we have, and this whole "Austerity" movement, not just in this nation, but in the whole WORLD, is the largest International grift in the worlds history!

    The .01 to .0001%er’s, are trying to move money away from working and retired people WORLDWIDE, and keep if for themselves - and the one's who'll inherit their money and power.

    And the Galtian Overlords in this “Cannibal Capitalism Grift,” are giving this theft cover by saying, merciful caring souls that they are, that cutting deficits, and having “Austerity,” and by sacrificing safety net programs, it’ll save “OUR” poor children, and “our” poor children’s poor children, and “our” poor children’s poor children’s poor children, etc.


    THEIR children, for many, many, many, many generations, will never have to work a day in their empty and useless lives, living off of trust funds that will move from any country in the future that’s growing unstable – and moving that money to whatever place(s) is/are stable that month, year, decade, etc.

    They are trying to ruin the social safety net programs of as many countries as possible, and take that money, and pocket it.

    And not only that, they want to use the coming economic collapse as an example for any emerging countries in the future who may think of establishing social safety net programs of their own, and tell them, ‘look at what a disaster THAT brought back then – and that was to to places as stable as America AND Europe! Don’t do that here – we’ll take care of your little nation – trust us!’

    THIS is all being done on purpose!

    The richest are making the biggest money grab in history – and it’s International in it’s scope!
    They want to rule over a world of serf’s – just like in, and before, “The Feudal Era”.
    They want to make this “The Futile Era.” Where, with modern technology like listening and tracking devices, new weapons, and new ways to control crowds, resistance will be futile – AND deadly!

    I know this sounds crazy. Maybe it is…
    But go ahead – tell me I’m wrong!
    Go ahead – tell me I’m mad!

    Maybe it’s not too late to try to stop this!

    We’ll deserve our fate, and the fate of future generations, if we DON’T AT LEAST TRY TO REVOLT!
    And if they won’t appreciate and accept a peaceful revolution, well, let it be on their be-headed heads! Or, ours…

    Btw - I cut & pasted parts of this from a rant I had on another website - so, I'm sure that there will be formatting errors.

    Forgive me.
    And also forgive me for starting off a weekend morning with a real downer of a comment. I haven't had much to feel "up" about lately.

  • RalfW on June 09, 2012 9:38 AM:

    Just one moment (among thousands) to illustrate the royal remove of elites. On NPR yesterday we had David Brooks lecturing the US on how we are in a period of austerity now. It was this dour view of limits and hard choices and oh austerity.

    And then I thought of him buying a $3.95 million home in D.C. and really, what a f*&%ing elite, cloistered, privileged prick. Austerity for thee, a manse and cocktail parties for me.

    And no one can challenge him. I don't think he's ever read a word of the 100s of comments his columns garner every week. Why should he? He's got a great gig inside the closed, voiceless conservative bubble.

    It seems that the only way this bubble will pop is the way they always have: with the peasants and their pitchforks, in a rather personal and unpleasant fashion that will take the elites by total surprise since they haven't a clue what austerity looks like to a laid off school teacher or a diabetic who has 5 years to wait till 65 and medicare...

    It's just morally abhorrent what these elites preach. And yet they think they hold the high ground, dispensing noble suffering. It would be shocking...if history wasn't full of this sort of craven selfishness.

  • stormskies on June 09, 2012 9:42 AM:

    Gulag nailed it: we are rapidly moving towards a plutocratic/ fascist/ oligarchy state in which anyone who is not within the 'elites' becomes an indentured servant to that state.

    And the mind fucking part of this is the fact that a vast majority of our fellow citizens, because of their stupidity, will actually 'vote' for this to occur by way of the elections of politicians who support that state.

    And when the stupid finally realizes what they have done it will be far to late to undo it minus a massive social rebellion.

  • Steve P on June 09, 2012 9:46 AM:

    Actually it sounds more the first decade of the 20th century in most western countries. While that may evoke an immediate image of the peaceful, ordered world of "Downton Abbey", older viewers may able to remember the first two reels of "Dr. Zhivago".

  • DAY on June 09, 2012 9:57 AM:

    The fact that Random House published his book gives one hope.

    Hayes tells how his alma mater, Hunter HS, went from a meritocracy to just another elite prep school in two short decades.
    But, how do cram tutors and prep tests differ from Archie Manning throwing footballs to his two super bowl MVPs at an early age?
    Genes for brain or brawn can be given another leg up by early preparation. Also, “Dad, can I borrow a million bucks to start a business?” can’t hurt.

    Mass extinctions come along every so often, and Gaia survives. Rome rose and fell, France deteriorated to the point where tumbrels were the only solution. So too will the 21st Century end- and quite possibly well before 2099!

    Either another world war, some new biological setback, or climate change will set humanity on a new course. Hopefully a better one.

    In the meantime, plant a garden, learn a trade, and keep your power dry.

  • markg8 on June 09, 2012 10:27 AM:

    There's a solution to people like Brooks. Quit clicking on his column and reading his stuff. If nobody reads him the Times will eventually realize he's not economically viable let alone influential and he'll get fired.

    Same goes for any of these elites. I can't tell you how often otherwise perfectly sensible people spread his nonsense on FB, twitter or in these columns thinking they're making some brilliant take down when they in fact are just giving him more publicity.

    The opposite of love isn't hate, it's indifference. If enough people ignore them they'll eventually go away.

  • Rick B on June 09, 2012 11:07 AM:

    @c u n d gulag

    You said it!

    This is a new power grab by elites to provide unearned social, political and economic power for their families for generations to come. It's very similar to the power grab made by military bandits in Europe that created feudalism. There the military bandits gained control of the land by force, which gave them ownership of the food production and the peasants who produced the food.

    The only thing that shook them loose in Europe was the rising populations, increase trade and the wars that resulted. The wars required that power be centralized on the kings instead of the individual barons (whose families had long given up actually fighting in exchange for tax-free existences.)

    The kings, however, in order to displace the local gentry and barons, had to go to the merchants of the city and organize them through parliaments and banks. The only stable outcome of all that was various forms of European democracy.

    This new power grab by wealthy families is really quite similar, but it's based on financial organization, intensive use of communications channels, concentration of wealth onto families with elimination of taxes (as they gain control of government and the ability to tax the population and divert the tax money to themselves - MIC as an example), and the careful preparation of the next generation through the forms of tutoring and educational favoritism that Chris Hayes describes.

  • castan on June 09, 2012 12:16 PM:


    Unfortunately, when things go sideways I don't think the stupid among us who have voted in favor of fascism will strike out against the elites whom they put in power.

    Instead, I think they will target gays and lesbians, Hispanics, blacks, Muslims, and "Others," just as they have been programmed to do by rightwing hate radio, their preachers, and so forth.

  • GoodWithNoGod on June 09, 2012 5:18 PM:

    Chris Hayes as usual is really on top of things!
    I agree with most of the above comments. The net of it 7 billion people are screwed. We are past the point of no return for homo sapiens.
    Chris Hayes had a great UP program this morning.
    Melissa Harris-Perry followed with her usual disappointing program. She gave Mutt Romney a big plug with her Mormon thing in spite of her disclaimer at the end. I don't understand how she could support such a misogynist asshole bunch with a sordid history (yeah the other fundamentalists are almost as bad.
    Chris should get more air time and MSNBC should dump Melissa and put a woman with critical thinking credentials in her place.

    Sorry for diverging, definitely gonna buy Chris's book

  • TCinLA on June 09, 2012 5:25 PM:

    Castan: I'm sorry to say you are right. For the rest of you who think there will be a "social uprising" against these people, I refer you to William L. Shirer's "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich." The German communists thought if Hitler was put in power back in 1933, it would bring on the revolution. We all know how that worked out, eh? And recall that real opposition to Hitler didn't begin till he started to lose the war, by which time it was far too late.