Daniel Markovits (@DSMarkovits) is Guido Calabresi Professor of Law at Yale Law School and Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Private Law. Markovits publishes widely and in a range of disciplines, including in Science, The American Economic Review, and The Yale Law Journal.
His current book, The Meritocracy Trap (Penguin Press, 2019), develops a sustained attack on American meritocracy.
The meritocratic ideal—that people should get ahead based on their own accomplishments rather than their parents’ social class—has become our age’s literal common sense. Both Democrats and Republicans, even as they agree on almost nothing else, insist that meritocracy gives everyone fair shot at success and place it at the heart of the American Dream.
Markovits argues, however, that both up and down the social ladder, meritocracy is a sham. Today, meritocracy has become exactly what it was invented to defeat—a new aristocracy, only now based on schooling rather than breeding. Upward mobility has become a fantasy, and the embattled middle class is more likely to sink into the working poor than to rise into the professional elite. At the same time, meritocracy ensnares even those who manage to claw their way to the top, trapping rich adults in a pitiless competition, which requires them to work with crushing intensity, exploiting their expensive educations in order to extract a return.
People commonly say that we suffer so much inequality because we have too little meritocracy—because elites cheat to get and stay ahead. But in fact, Markovits argues, it’s because we have too much. Meritocracy has created a competition that (even when everyone plays by the rules) only the rich can win and that, at the same time, exploits and degrades even the supposed victors.
After earning a B.A. in Mathematics, summa cum laude from Yale University, Markovits received a British Marshall Scholarship to study in England, where he was awarded an M.Sc. in Econometrics and Mathematical Economics from the L.S.E. and a B.Phil. and D.Phil. in Philosophy from the University of Oxford. Markovits then returned to Yale to study law and, after clerking for the Honorable Guido Calabresi, joined the faculty at Yale.
Photo credit: Stephanie Anestis