Twilight of the Elites - Chris Hayes

Posted by Berry Waters
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Twilight of the Elites - Chris Hayes

Over the last few years, Chris Hayes has emerged on the political punditry scene as a cogent and analytic liberal voice. The brand of analysis that is making him famous is on full display in this book, and it makes for thought provoking reading.

At its heart, this book is a long-form argument that increasing inequality (both financial and political) are corrupting our governing institutions and leading to repeated disasters. These disasters are happening because those who wield the greatest power over governing institutions are so far removed from the majority of peoples' experiences that they become almost incapable of seeing how their actions affect those below them. Interestingly, Chris takes great pains to show how this dynamic cannot be captured in our usual left/right political debates - the Tea Party and Occupy movement may both be outraged by similar issues like the financial industry bailouts, but tend to focus on different, and predictable, villains. In fact, I would imagine this book would be of great interest to open-minded conservative readers, who will find a lot with which they agree (although I doubt many will read it).

Chris makes a very persuasive case about the causes of our institutional failures. Where the book falls short is the too brief chapter on how these problems can be solved. The solutions end up being remarkably similar to the usual liberal redistributive policies (ones with which I agreed even before reading this book, but am not sure would persuade an open-minded skeptic), and a seemingly simplistic series of assertions that the Internet will help by allowing easier organization to promote this agenda. The Internet argument is among the least persuasive since these tools have existed for a long time now, and if anything, they've become just as useful for extending the problem of elite corruption as solving it.

In the end, it seems like the logical direction in which Chris is arguing would lead one to conclude that the political problem would best be solved moving more toward parliamentary democracy - since that system, which does not electorally punish narrower political parties, would allow for creating the kind of temporary populist left/right coalitions that seem necessary to combat self-dealing among elites. Chris does not make this argument, but it seems like a more genuine and direct answer to the problem he has identified than the ones he offers.

Chris is an excellent writer and a clear thinker. This is not the typical partisan political book that have become depressingly common. This is a very smart book on a centrally important topic, and the world is better off for it having been written.