In a new book, “The Tyranny of Merit,” Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel argues that an American emphasis on success as a result of merit has poisoned what he calls “the common good.” Sandel went on Greater Boston to discuss his argument with Jim Braude.
Sandel takes aim at a key sentiment that he says leads among center-left politics: the concept that working hard always correlates with success. Democrats, he says, focus on offering individual upward mobility, with an emphasis on higher education to level the playing field. “If you have that philosophy, if you think that inequality of income and wealth and power can be dealt with only by encouraging people to get a better education,” he said, “then you’re never going to be able to deal in a serious way with the structural inequalities reflected in what we see with the tax system, for example.”
The strategy has caused political problems for the left. “The Democratic Party has lost credibility and has even alienated many working-class voters,” Sandel said. “One of the most potent sources of Donald Trump’s appeal — his authoritarian populist appeal — is the sense that elites are looking down on those who lack a four-year degree. And the Democratic Party had better figure this out.”
WATCH: Michael Sandel on social mobility in America