This 2012 book remains an important work of the ongoing predicament America faces. Its very title'Twilight of the Elites' is evocative of the central predicament faced by not just the USA but by most modern industrial societies governed and organizer by powerful elites (in both public and private spheres). Or more accurately mis-governed and organized dysfunctionally. These all too powerful elites increasingly use their perogatives to preserve their own power rather than to better the common good the way the institutions they control were originally designed to do.
The author Christopher Hayes writes undeniable, uncomfortable truths in the first pages.
From page one and two:
Most of us have come to see the nation's problems either as the result of the policies favored by those who occupy the opposite end of the political spectrum, or as an outgrowth of political dysfunction: of gridlock, "bickering." and the increasing polarization and the representatives it elects.Hayes writes about the dramatic increase in income inequality, and the way the US Congress caters to the demands of the wealthy almost exclusively. He looks at a study by Martin Gilens.
But the core experience of the past decade isn't just political dysfunction. It's something much deeper and more existentially disruptive: the near total failure of each pillar institution of our society. The financial crisis and the grinding, prolonged economic immiseration it has precipitated are just the most recent instances of elite failure, the latest in an uninterrupted cascade of corruption and incompetence.
...but Gilens also looked at issues where middle class voters (50 percentile of income) and wealthy voters diverged and found again that legislative outcomes closely tracked the preferences of the wealthy and nearly totally ignored the desires of the middle class. He concludes that "government policy appears to be fairly responsive to the well off and virtually unrelated to the desires of the low and middle income citizens.'Page 146
Hayes looks at how we effectively have two divergent legal systems. A harsh one for the vast majority of Americans, and a much more merciful one for the privileged.
Along with all of the other rising inequalities we've become so familiar with - in income, in wealth, in access to politicians - we confront now a fundamental inequality in accountability. We can have a just society who's guiding ethos is accountability and punishment where a black kid dealing weed in Harlem and investment bankers peddling fraudulent securities on Wall Street are forced to pay for their crimes, or we can have a just society who's guiding ethos is forgiveness and second chances, one in which Wall Street Banks and foreclosed households are bailed out, in which both traders and street felons are allowed to rejoin polite society with full privileges of citizenship intact. But we cannot have a just society that applies the principal of accountability to the powerless and the principal of forgiveness to the powerful. This is the America in which we now reside.Page 102.
The book lays out how isolated our elites have become from the vast majority of Americans. And how this "social distance" have created an elite with distorted myopic view of the world and the very institutions they lead. How an out of touch elite becomes prone to making such disastrous decisions such as the ones leading up to the 2008 financial crisis that set off a world wide economic calamity. Hays writes about the Federal Reserve heads:
Or imagine if Ben Brenanke or Frederic Mishkin lived in the neighborhoods in which foreclosures had become widespread scourge. Now imagine if they had to walk past the foreclosure signs or council distraught neighbors through the trauma of being expelled from their homes.Page 211.
Instead Americans get leadership from our elites that can only see the view from lofty board rooms far removed from the realities of Main Street.
Polls consistently rate thew economy and jobs as voters prime concerns. Yet the political system seems deaf to the cries for more stimulus and direct job creation. As soon as stocks had recovered and a modicum of growth was restored, the dominate conversation in Washington among both Republicans and Democrats was about how and how much to cut the deficit.Pages 213 -214
Hays looks at developments that can help elevate the serial crises our elites keep inflicting on the rest of society and he sees some encouraging trends. Not surprisingly he makes mention of the Netrooots.
On the left, the most durable new force in the last ten years is the Netroots, which includes a host of new progressive institutions, like Move On.org, and the diarists and readers of progressive blogs, like the Daily Kos.Page 230
This remains an important book and its conclusions shouldn't be overlooked. If you haven't already read it already you should give it a read.