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Books in brief

The Myth of Meritocracy: Why Working-Class Kids Still Get Working-Class Jobs

by James Bloodworth (Biteback, £10)

The pursuit of meritocracy, James Bloodworth argues, is a “modern political obsession.” And why not, you might ask. A society where the most talented rise to the top through ability rather than parental connections or inherited wealth is, surely, the closest to a social and economic utopia as we can reasonably hope for.

Not so, argues Bloodworth, in this elegant and illuminating polemic. The desire for meritocracy, he argues, is disastrously misguided. In a society still as class-bound as Britain’s, people still feel envy towards their “betters” (these days the wealthy rather than the aristocracy) and guilt about those less fortunate. We cling to the idea that the lottery of birth has allowed some to rise above others.

Such attitudes, which act as a break on our worst impulses, would be absent in a truly meritocratic society where those at the top had got there through superior IQ and talent. Those beneath could justifiably be sneered at as deserving their fate.

On a more practical level, Bloodworth laments that the quest for “equality of opportunity” (meritocracy’s attendant) has replaced policies aimed at reducing economic inequality: the only way to reduce the gap between rich and poor and create true social mobility. Bloodworth is unsparing in his criticism of much of the modern left—particularly the way that identity politics disregards the issue of class. Written by one of today’s best young radical writers this book is essential for those Millennials facing what seems like a bleak future.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s August issue: Rachel Sylvester argues that the EU referendum has started a re-alignment of British politics while Roger Scruton and Jay Elwes say that it has thrown Britain into a bout of self-examination with the fundamental question of who we are as a nation at its centre. In addition, Peter Mandelson says without reform the EU could fall victim to a populist uprising. Also in this issue: Philip Ball explores quantum entanglement, George Magnus looks at the political situation in Brazil ahead of the Olympics and Adam Mars-Jones unpicks the work of Steven Spielberg. James Cusick looks at the impact of the Chilcot report and Kathy Lette explains what the world would be like if she was in charge.