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The Tyranny of Merit | Michael Sandel

Video 10 Comments

  • Economic democracy
  • Communities
  • Institutional reform
  • Philosophy

We live in an age of winners and losers, where the odds of success are stacked in favour of the already fortunate.

Stalled social mobility and entrenched inequality give the lie to the promise that "you can make it if you try". And the consequence is a brew of anger and frustration that has fuelled populist protest. How do we restore social solidarity and create the conditions for genuine equality of opportunity? In this powerful new RSA Minimate, Michael Sandel confronts the defining political challenge of our time.


The minds behind the award-winning RSA Animate series are back! RSA Minimates are super-short, information-packed animations for busy people. All audio excerpts are taken from live, FREE events at the RSA’s HQ in London, and animated by Cognitive. This animation was produced by RSA Senior Events and Animations Producer, Abi Stephenson.

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  • Very well stated indeed! A patient's case is sad indeed when his medicines are poisons, and his physicians his worst disease. By physicians I mean our political leaders. It is our misfortune to be living in an age in which the whole world appears to be suffering from a debilitating disease, namely, 'poverty of leadership.' And until we find an antidote to this disease urgently, it is my sincere fear that we may have little prospect of solving the issues alluded to in the video. A search for a cure is indeed the greatest challenge of our time.

    My humble contribution this search may be found in a blogpost, 'Immigration is not the ugly truth; poverty is.' You may kindly look it up by visiting:

  • Beautifully presented and told! Have a look at 'the spirit level' a highly readable book picking through the social statistics of different countries and laying bare the some suprising truths - the wealthiest in the most unequal countries live unhappier shorter lives even though they have more wealth than their compatriots in heavily taxed more equal countries - here is a strong case for the wealthy and powerful to pull everyone else up the ladder not pull up the ladder... Looking back on the British Victorians elites, there was a strong sense of 'doing good works' with Education and Libraries receiving their largesse as an enlightened approach to lifting the poor from their lot - where is their equivalent today?

    • From my own professional experience the philanthropic instincts of the Victorian era are, largely, still present among both the elites and the middle classes and I see strong desire among independent school parent and alumni groups to ensure that "elite" schools remain as accessible as possible to children from underprivileged backgrounds. But while potential donors are aware that their aid is a necessary part of ensuring that social mobility is maintained and fairness achieved, their philanthropic instinct is assailed by such modern problems of a lack of personal time to engage with the charitable purposes they are most drawn to and the loss of a sense of personal agency in contributing solutions to what are seen as systemic problems. In particular, donors and mentors are concerned that their acts of generosity are not interpreted as boastful or self-regarding.   

      The (partial) resolution to these challenges is to present them in a very focused way: demonstrating individual success stories and extrapolating beyond these particular cases to make a case that meaningful change can be brought about by every act of volunteering and every economic level of giving and that this can be done without engendering an accusation of paternalism. 

  • It’s this belief that drives the cult of the likes of Tony Robbins. Effort and focus may be necessary but they aren’t sufficient