We’ve argued this is a sham fight, since our meritocracy values its privileges and only makes gestures in the direction of leveling the playing field. What seems to be the meritocracy’s greater concern is their desire to keep their children and families at the top, and finding highly stressful the somewhat meritocratic rules they face in doing so.
The meritocracy, as we have said, does feel guilty about coming out on top in a society that to them consigns a majority to more-or-less permanent underclass status. As Brooks says, a “self-reinforcing” sorting “seems to grow more unforgiving every year.” And Brooks calls efforts to resist the meritocracy’s spreading inequality “like shooting a water gun into a waterfall.” But it’s false to call this, as Brooks does, a “race between meritocracy and government,” for the simple reason that government and meritocracy are so intertwined. It’s those outside meritocracy+government who are the real losers.
Meritocracy-led government, in fact, is ruining the country.
Byron York, at the conservative Washington Examiner, has unearthed evidence unemployment is wreaking ordinary people’s lives as much as it ever has. He draws on a survey by Rutgers University scholars showing that
many more Americans than previously reported have been profoundly touched by joblessness and its related hardships. . . 23% of those surveyed -- have lost a full- or part-time job in the last four years. An additional 11% who have not lost a job said someone in their immediate family had. "Together, the data indicate one-third of American households -- approximately 39 million -- lost work as a result of the recession during the past four years," the report concludes.
The researchers found that an additional 26% had an extended-family member -- parent, cousin, aunt or uncle -- who had lost a job in the last four years. Still others reported having an unemployed close friend. Add them all together, and nearly everyone has been affected. "What we showed is that unemployment and what happened in the recession are society-wide experiences," says Rutgers professor Carl Van Horn, a co-author of the report.Are we doomed to some sort of permanent unemployment problem, one like America lived through during the 1929-40 11-year Great Depression?
Jay Cost, writing in the conservative Weekly Standard, doesn’t think so. He believes Democrats (and their meritocratic government) will lose power unless they fix the economy.
According to Cost:
majority coalitions inevitably depend on how well the party they empower governs. . . since the 1830s, no issue has mattered more to the question of “Who governs?” than the performance of the economy. [And] since the recession of 2001, the economy has been in stall speed, [averaging] just 1.6% since then, [with] real incomes [stagnant and] paychecks [unable to keep] pace with the rising cost of health care, education, and energy.
the most recent GDP number is inconsistent with where the economy should be at this point in the business cycle. We should be hitting 3% growth or higher, not saddled with a modest contraction. And let us not forget [that w]ithout growth, there is no way for the United States to meet its social welfare obligations, which has in turn [given us] the budget deficit. If the Democratic party cannot bring about improvement in the economic numbers, it will not retain control of political power. It is as simple as that.Cost sees a particular problem facing any Democratic coalition attempting to reform the economy, for the party has many powerful factions “isolated from the ebbs and flows of the private economy.” These factions include “upscale” Northeast and Pacific Coast social liberals “so well off that they are basically recession-proof,” along with government workers and “far-left gray-collar labor unions like the SEIU” more interested in expanding government than the economy.
Cost ends by asking, “Can the Democrats keep these groups happy and grow the economy? The evidence to date suggests the answer is no.”