Transcript: Is Meritocracy Anti-Democratic? | May 27, 2021

An animated slate reads "The Democracy Agenda. A TVO and Toronto Star partnership."

Steve sits in a room with white walls, a low slanted ceiling and several framed pictures on the walls including one of George Drew. He's slim, clean-shaven, in his fifties, with short curly brown hair. He's wearing a white shirt and a black tie.

A caption on screen reads "Is meritocracy anti-democratic? @spaikin, @theagenda."

Steve says DEMOCRACY IS SUPPOSED TO BE A SYSTEM THAT ALLOWS EVERYONE A SAY IN HOW WE ARE GOVERNED. BUT AS POPULISTS HAVE ARGUED TO SOME EFFECT, THAT DOESN'T EXACTLY SQUARE WITH THE LEVEL OF POWER THAT THEY SAY RESTS WITH THE EDUCATED, INFLUENTIAL ELITES. AS PART OF OUR ONGOING JOINT INITIATIVE BETWEEN TVO AND THE TORONTO STAR, THE DEMOCRACY AGENDA, LET'S EXPLORE WHETHER MERITOCRACY CANNOT HELP BUT BE ANTI-DEMOCRATIC WITH: IN OUR NATION'S CAPITAL: JOHN IBBITSON, WRITER-AT-LARGE FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL...

John is in his sixties, clean-shaven, with short, receding brown hair. He's wearing a black suit and a blue shirt.

Steve continues IN THE ANNEX OF THE PROVINCIAL CAPITAL: JANICE STEIN, BELZBERG PROFESSOR OF CONFLICT MANAGEMENT AND FOUNDING DIRECTOR OF THE MUNK SCHOOL OF GLOBAL AFFAIRS and PUBLIC POLICY AT THE U OF T...

Janice is in her seventies, with short gray hair. She's wearing a pink blouse.

Steve continues AND IN CORSO ITALIA: KOFI HOPE, CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST FOR THE TORONTO STAR, AND MOST RECENTLY THE CEO OF MONUMENTAL, A NEW START-UP SUPPORTING ORGANIZATIONS WORKING ON AN EQUITABLE COVID-19 RECOVERY...

Kofi is in his thirties, with short curly black hair and a goatee. He's wearing a gray jacket.

Steve continues IT'S GREAT TO SEE YOU THREE AGAIN. I THINK WE SHOULD JUST START BY PUTTING ON THE RECORD HERE THIS CLIP FROM MICHAEL SANDEL, THE HARVARD PHILOSOPHER, WE HAD HIM ON THE PROGRAM A FEW MONTHS BACK. HERE IS HOW HE DREW THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN MERIT AND MERITOCRACY.

A clip plays on screen with the caption "September 23, 2020. Michael Sandel."
In the clip, Michael speaks on screen. He's in his sixties, clean-shaven, with short, receding gray hair.

He says I HAVE TO GO IN FOR HEART SURGERY, I WANT A VERY WELL-QUALIFIED SURGEON TO DO THE OPERATION. SO MERIT IN THE SENSE OF PLACING PEOPLE IN JOBS WHO ARE WELL-QUALIFIED FOR THEM, THAT'S A GOOD THING. BUT MERITOCRACY IS A WAY OF ORGANIZING A SOCIETY AND AN ECONOMY IS A WAY OF ALLOCATING REWARDS AND ALSO SOCIAL RECOGNITION. MERITOCRACY HAS A DARK SIDE. AND THE DARK SIDE IS THAT MERITOCRACY IS CORROSIVE OF THE COMMON GOOD. IT GENERATES HUBRIS AMONG THE WINNERS AND HUMILIATION AMONG THOSE LEFT BEHIND. BECAUSE WHAT IT SAYS IS, THAT WHERE WE LAND REFLECTS WHAT WE DESERVE.

The clip ends.

Steve says NOW, THAT'S A HARVARD PHILOSOPHER, ONE OF THE MOST CREDENTIALED PEOPLE IN HIS FIELD PUTTING THAT COMMENT ON THE RECORD. JANICE, GET US STARTED. MERIT GOOD? MERITOCRACY BAD? SQUARE THAT CIRCLE FOR US, IF YOU WOULD?

The caption changes to "Janice Stein. Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. University of Toronto."

Janice says I AGREE WITH MICHAEL. FIRST OF ALL, THAT'S A REALLY IMPORTANT DISTINCTION HE MAKES BETWEEN MERIT AND MERITOCRACY. BUT HE'S GETTING AT SOMETHING THAT IS SO IMPORTANT, STEVE, WHICH IS THAT WE OVERVALUE SOME KINDS OF MERIT AND WE UNDERVALUE OTHERS. AND THE KIND THAT WE OVERVALUE IS CREDENTIALED. THE KIND THAT WE DON'T VALUE ENOUGH. AND WHILE THE PANDEMIC SHOULD HAVE TAUGHT US THIS, ARE ALL THE KINDS OF WORK THAT, FOR EXAMPLE, OUR GROCERY STORE CLERKS AND OUR FOOD MANUFACTURING AND PROCESSING PLANT WORKERS... THEY THERE IS A LARGE CHUNK OF OUR SOCIETY WHO PLAY A CRITICAL ROLE IN MAINTAINING AND HELPING TO SUSTAIN THE COMMON GOOD. WE DON'T PAY ENOUGH ATTENTION TO THEM. AND FRANKLY, MICHAEL IS GETTING AT SOMETHING SO IMPORTANT IN THE BOOK THAT HE WROTE AND HE TALKED ABOUT IT. HE SAID MANY OF THESE PEOPLE FEEL HUMILIATED, UNDERVALUED. SO IT'S NOT ONLY THE FINANCIAL REWARDS THAT THEY GET OR DON'T GET, AND IN MANY CASES THEY DON'T GET, IT'S THE WAY THEY'RE REGARDED AND THAT INTERNAL [indiscernible] THAT SO MANY HAVE ARE NOT RESPECTED: "I'M NOT VALID BY MY COMMUNITY."

Steve says THE BOOK YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT IS THE TYRANNY OF MERIT. IT WAS A GREAT READ. THAT'S WHY WE HAD HIM ON THE PROGRAM. DO YOU SEE EXISTING MARE CREASE IN CANADA AS A... MERITOCRACY AS A LADDER OR BARRIER TO SUCCESS, KOFI?

The caption changes to "Kofi Hope. Toronto Star. Monumental."

Kofi says I THINK IT'S INCREASINGLY CREATING BARRIERS FOR FOLKS, RIGHT? WE DON'T HAVE PURE MERITOCRACY IN THE COUNTRY BUT WE HAVE IT TO A DEGREE BUT CERTAINLY WE KNOW THE NEIGHBOURHOOD YOU'RE BORN IN, THE COLOUR OF YOUR SKIN, KIND OF IF YOU'RE AN INDIGENOUS PERSON... THERE ARE SO MANY FACTORS IN LIFE THAT CREATE BARRIERS. EVEN IF WE USE THAT NARROW APPROACH TO MERITOCRACY OF LOOKING AT ACADEMIC SUCCESS, SO MUCH OF ACCIDENTS OF BIRTH, WHO YOUR PARENTS ARE, THE COMMUNITIES YOU'RE A PART OF INFLUENCE PEOPLE'S ABILITY TO SUCCEED AND DO WELL, AND WE'VE JUST DONE SUCH A TREMENDOUS DISSERVICE TO THIS COUNTRY WHERE WE... CERTAINLY FOR MYSELF, A CHILD OF THE '80s, GROWING UP WHERE WE SAID REALLY THE ONLY WAY TO TRULY SUCCEED, TO TRULY HAVE VALUE IS YOUR ECONOMIC SUCCESS AND THE ONLY WAY TO DO THAT IS THROUGH KIND OF ADVANCED OR UNIVERSITY EDUCATION. SO WE DEVALUE THE TRADES. WE DEVALUE SO MANY PARTS OF THE ECONOMY. WHAT JANICE WAS SAYING, NOT ONLY THAT, WE DEVALUE CARE WORK. WORK THAT HAS TRADITIONALLY BEEN SEEN AS WORK THAT WOMEN WERE ENGAGED IN, WHETHER THAT'S STAYING AT HOME TO RAISE KIDS, RAISING AN ELDERLY PARENT, A TEACHER. IT'S WHERE PEOPLE SHOW AN AMAZING IMPACT ON CANADA, GREAT MERIT IN THE EFFORT AND INTELLIGENCE THEY BRING, THAT IS TOTALLY DEVALUED IN THIS SYSTEM THAT WE HAVE. AND THAT CREATES BARRIERS AND IT CREATES GREAT PSYCHOLOGICAL DAMAGE TO FOLKS. IT ALSO ON THE OTHER HAND HAS A LOT OF PEOPLE FEELING THAT THEY DESERVE IT AND THEY GOT IT, THEY EARNED IT, AND IT REINFORCES THESE COGNITIVE BIASES THAT MAKE US LESS OPEN TO SOCIAL SOLIDARITY OR REDISTRIBUTION WHICH WE SO DEARLY NEED IN AN EQUITABLE SOCIETY.

Steve says JOHN, AS I GET YOU TO WEIGH IN ON THIS, LET ME GET A LITTLE PERSONAL WITH YOU. YOU'RE A GUY WITH ONE OF THE GREAT JOBS IN ALL OF JOURNALISM IN THE COUNTRY TODAY FOR A FINE NEWSPAPER, AND... BUT YOU'RE A KID WHO CAME UP FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS IN MUSKOKA. AND I WONDER HOW YOU VIEW THE ROLE OF MERITOCRACY AND HOW IT EITHER PLAYED OR DIDN'T IN MAKING THINGS POSSIBLE FOR YOU?

The caption changes to "John Ibbitson. The Globe and Mail."

John says IT'S TRUE. WE SHOULDN'T MAKE OUR ARGUMENTS BASED ON ANECDOTE. WE ALL KNOW THAT. BUT IT IS TRUE. I GREW UP IN I THINK WHAT WOULD BE CALLED AN ASPIRATIONAL WORKING CLASS ENVIRONMENT, AND BECAUSE I WAS DETERMINED TO BE A WRITER, I WAS 33 BEFORE I MANAGED TO GET PAST 10,000 dollars A YEAR. THE REST OF THE TIME WAS SPENT WORKING IN CLERICAL JOBS OF ONE KIND OR ANOTHER. BUT IT ALL WORKED OUT. YOU'RE RIGHT, I HAVE NOT ONE OF THE BEST JOBS IN CANADA, I THINK I HAVE THE BEST JOB IN JOURNALISM IN CANADA AS A COLUMNIST FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL. AND I AGREE WITH EVERYTHING JANICE AND KOFI SAID, ESPECIALLY ABOUT THE DIGNITY OF WORK AND UNDERVALUING WE'VE SEEN FOR EXAMPLE IN LONG-TERM CARE, PERSONAL SUPPORT WORKERS, THE ENTIRE SYSTEM RESTS ON THEIR SHOULDERS AND THEY'RE OVERWORKED AND UNDERPAID, VERY OFTEN WOMEN, VERY OFTEN IMMIGRANT WOMEN, AND THE PANDEMIC REVEALED HOW BADLY WE UNDERVALUE THE WORK THAT THEY DO. THAT SAID, EVERY SOCIETY IS A MERITOCRACY OF ONE KIND OR ANOTHER, ALL SYSTEMS ARE CLASS-BASED, ALL SYSTEMS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN CLASS-BASED THROUGHOUT ALL THE HISTORY. THERE HAS ALWAYS BEEN A NOBILITY, A PRIESTHOOD, A MILITARY CLASS. WE'VE ADDED IN MODERN SOCIETY THINGS LIKE THE BUREAUCRACY, THE CULTURAL INDUSTRY, ACADEMIA, THE LIKE. WE ARE NEVER GOING TO INHABIT A SOCIETY THAT IS NOT CLASS-BASED. ALWAYS AND FOREVER THAT WILL BE THE CASE. THE ONLY QUESTION WE CAN ASK OURSELVES IS HOW PERMEABLE ARE THOSE? HOW EASY IS IT TO GET FROM MIDDLE CLASS TO UPPER CLASS TO STINKING RICH? THAT IS SOMETHING WE ALWAYS SHOULD DISCUSS BUT WE WILL BE DELUDING OURSELVES IF WE THINK THAT EVER GOING TO LIVE IN A SOCIETY THAT IS NOT CLASS BASED.

The caption changes to "The Democracy Agenda. A TVO and Toronto Star partnership."

Steve says THAT DOVETAILS NICELY TO WHERE I WANTED TO GO TO JANICE NEXT. WE REALLY WANTED YOU ON THE PROGRAM TONIGHT BECAUSE LOOK AT HOW MANY DECADES HAVE YOU BEEN ENSCONCED AT ONE OF THE WORLD'S MAJOR UNIVERSITIES? IT'S... WELL, ANYWAY. SUFFICE TO SAY YOU'VE HAD A LOT OF TIME THERE. AND UNIVERSITIES ARE REALLY THE LOCUS OF THIS DEBATE BECAUSE IF THE IDEA IS TO CREATE A SYSTEM THAT IS FAIR AND EQUITABLE AND SERVES THE NEEDS OF TALENTED YOUNG PEOPLE FROM ACROSS VARIOUS SOCIAL STRATA, THE UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES OF THIS PROVINCE AND COUNTRY ARE SUPPOSED TO HELP MAKE THAT HAPPEN. ARE THEY, IN FACT?

Janice says THEY ARE DOING... I THINK IT'S IMPORTANT TO SAY, STEVE, WE'RE DOING A MUCH BETTER JOB THAN THEY ARE IN THE UNITED STATES, AND FOR TWO REASONS. ONE, WE HAVE A MUCH HIGHER PROPORTION OF OUR YOUNG PEOPLE GOING TO COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY. IT'S QUITE AMAZING, ACTUALLY. BECAUSE THE UNITED STATES HAS THE FAMOUS ELITE INSTITUTIONS BUT THEY HAVE A LOWER PERCENTAGE OF THEIR YOUNG PEOPLE GOING. BUT THE SECOND REASON IS MUCH MORE IMPORTANT. THE COST OF AN EDUCATION AT ONE OF THOSE ELITE UNIVERSITIES IN THE UNITED STATES, 75,000... dollars WE COULD PUT IT...

Steve says U.S.

Janice says U.S. YOU KNOW, AT OUR UNIVERSITIES, IT'S STILL 7,000 dollars FOR AN UNDERGRADUATE TUITION WITH A LONG SUMMER IN WHICH MOST OF OUR STUDENTS WORK. SECONDLY, UNLIKE THE UNITED STATES, WE DON'T HAVE LEGACY ADMISSIONS. IT JUST DOESN'T EXIST IN CANADA. SO TWO OF THE WORST CAUSES OF WHAT MICHAEL SANDEL IS TALKING ABOUT DON'T EXIST IN CANADA. LET ME MAKE ONE OTHER POINT, WHAT KOFI AND JOHN HAD TO SAY ABOUT THIS. IF I GO FOR HEART SURGERY, I REALLY WANT A WELL-QUALIFIED DOCTOR TO DO THAT OPERATION. I THINK EVERY ONE OF US WOULD AGREE WITH THAT COMMENT. THE ISSUE IS NOT SO MUCH THAT. THE ISSUE IS: DO WE RECOGNIZE DIVERSE KINDS OF TALENTS TODAY WHEN WE ADMIT YOUNG PEOPLE? DOES A YOUNG PERSON WHO IS JUST A PROFESSIONAL, ICONOCLAST, WON'T TOE THE LINE AND FILL OUT A CV WITH ALL THE CORRECT THINGS ON IT, IS THAT PERSON GETTING IN... SATs. WE DON'T HAVE THEM IN CANADA IN THE SAME WAY. THEY'RE A TREMENDOUS BARRIER IN THE UNITED STATES. SO THE PROBLEM IS NOT THE EDUCATIONAL... ALTHOUGH THERE ARE ISSUES HERE... THE PROBLEM IS: WHAT ARE THE ADMISSION CRITERIA? HOW DIVERSE ARE THEY? HAVE WE LET A LESS HOMOGENEOUS GROUP OF PEOPLE, AND I DON'T ONLY MEAN RACE AND CLASS, I MEAN THOUGHT. HOW DO WE LET THESE PEOPLE IN SO WE CONTINUE TO SHAKE UP OUR SOCIETY AND GET ORIGINAL AND ICONOCLASTIC PEOPLE TO BE OUR FUTURE LEADERS?

Steve says JOHN, ACCORDING TO THE ECONOMIST, WE'RE GOING BACK A LONG TIME NOW, 1967. TWO-THIRDS OF BRITAIN'S CIVIL SERVICE CAME FROM A HIGH SOCIOECONOMIC BACKGROUND. TWO-THIRDS. TODAY THE FIGURE IS 72 percent. EVEN HIGH. MERITOCRACY, AS YOU POINTED OUT, WAS MEANT TO GO HAND IN HAND WITH SOCIAL MOBILITY. BUT DO YOU THINK THE ROLE OF SOCIAL MOBILITY IS NO LONGER PLAYING THE SAME ROLE IT ONCE DID?

John says IT IS A GENUINE THREAT. AFTER THE SECOND WORLD WAR, WE LIVED... IF YOU LIVED IN THE UNITED STATES, CANADA, AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND, YOU LIVED IN PRACTICALLY A GOLDEN TIME. MOST SOCIETIES DID NOT SUFFER THE EFFECT OF WAR. BUT WE HAD ALL THE BENEFITS OF AFTER-EFFECTS OF WAR. WE HAD MASSIVE DEMOBILIZATION OF THE MILITARY WORKFORCE AND THE CREATION OF ESSENTIALLY A SUBURBAN MIDDLE CLASS THROUGH THE EQUIVALENT OF THE GI BILL, THROUGH FREE HOUSING OR SUPPORT FOR HOUSING, THROUGH MASS EDUCATION. WE CREATED A GENERATION, MY GENERATION, OF PEOPLE WHO WERE BROADLY WELL-EDUCATED, BROADLY AFFLUENT, AND EVEN IF YOU DIDN'T HAVE A UNIVERSITY DEGREE, WHICH BECAME MUCH, MUCH EASIER TO ACQUIRE FOR THE BOOMERS THAN IT HAD BEEN FOR THE GENERATIONS PRIOR, YOU COULD MAKE A GOOD LIVING WORKING THE LINE FOR G.M. OR SOME OTHER MANUFACTURING COMPANY. THAT HAS DIVIDED, AS WE MOVE OUT OF THE MANUFACTURING ECONOMY AND INTO A MORE "KNOWLEDGE BASED" ECONOMY IN WHICH YOU HAVE PEOPLE WHO ARE WINNERS ON THE SIDE OF HIGH-SKILLED, HIGH-VALUED OCCUPATIONS, AND LOSERS WHO ARE EITHER IN DEAD END WORK OR MARGINAL WORK OR INSECURE WORK OR GIG ECONOMY WORK. THIS IS PRODUCING THE POPULIST REACTION AND POPULIST BACKLASH THAT WE'VE SEEN IN THE UNITED STATES THAT LED TO DONALD TRUMP, THAT LED TO BREXIT IN BRITAIN, THAT IS LEADING TO REALLY HORRIFIC NATIVIST, RACIST POLICIES IN PARTS OF EASTERN EUROPE AND THAT WE NEED TO WATCH FOR AND GUARD AGAINST HERE IN CANADA. AGAIN, THESE ARE PHENOMENA THAT WE NEED TO WORRY ABOUT. BUT I DON'T SEE A SOLUTION OTHER THAN, AGAIN, THE PERMEABILITY OF CLASS SYSTEMS BASED ON GOOD, SOLID PUBLIC EDUCATION SYSTEMS, AND MAYBE CHANGING THE TAX SYSTEM TO INCREASE TAXATION ON THE RICH AND OTHER THINGS LIKE THAT. BUT IT STILL HAS TO BE INCREMENTAL, THERE STILL HAS TO BE TUNE-TUNING. YOU CAN'T GO ABOUT RESTRUCTURING SOCIETY IN AN ATTEMPT TO... HISTORY HAS TOLD US

Steve says DID I HEAR A CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST CALLING FOR TAX INCREASES? I'M PRETTY SURE I HEARD THAT.

John says I HAVE LONG ADVOCATED FOR GREATER EQUITY IN THE TAXATION SYSTEM. I WOULD DO IT THROUGH THE ELIMINATION OF TAX BREAKS THROUGH THINGS LIKE CAPITAL GAINS AND STUFF LIKE THAT. SURE, I'M A CONSERVATIVE AND I BELIEVE IN MARKET PRINCIPLES AND I BELIEVE IN ALLOWING PEOPLE TO GET AHEAD AND MAKE THE BEST LIFE THEY CAN. BUT IF YOU LOOK AT THE REALITY OF WHAT IS GOING ON ON THE GROUND, ESPECIALLY IN PLACES LIKE THE UNITED STATES, YOU HAVE TO RECOGNIZE THERE IS A REAL THREAT THERE AND YOU HAVE TO TAKE CONCRETE, PRAGMATIC ACTIONS NOT BOUND BY IDEOLOGY OF THE LEFT OR THE RIGHT IN TRYING TO SOLVE THEM.

Steve says GOOD FOR YOU, JOHN. KOFI, I WANT TO BRING YOU BACK IN HERE BECAUSE YOU'RE THE ONE MILLENNIAL AMONG US RIGHT NOW. YOU'RE IN YOUR HIGH 30s. I WOULD LIKE TO ASK YOU THAT AMONG THE MILLENNIALS THAT YOU KNOW, THAT YOU WORK WITH, HAVE THEY BEEN LIFTED OUT OF, SAY, LOWER INCOME SITUATIONS TO GET TO HIGHER INCOME SITUATIONS BECAUSE THEY'VE BEEN SOMEHOW TOUCHED BY MERITOCRACY, OR WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN?

Kofi says YEAH. I MEAN, CERTAINLY I THINK IT'S A MIXED BAG. THERE ARE FOLKS I KNOW WHO HAVE BEEN ABLE TO KIND OF MOVE OR TRANSCEND FROM ONE CLASS POSITION TO ANOTHER THROUGH EDUCATION, PRIMARILY. BUT THE REALITY IS, YOU KNOW, FOR MANY FOLKS I KNOW, THE POSITION YOU'RE BORN INTO, THE NEIGHBOURHOOD, AND ESPECIALLY... ONE THING I TALK ABOUT IS SOCIAL CAPITAL, RIGHT, THE SOCIAL CAPITAL THAT YOUR PARENTS HAVE OR YOUR FAMILY HAVE PLAY TREMENDOUS ROLES IN THEIR SUCCESS. NOT TO SAY PEOPLE I KNOW WHO ARE SUCCESSFUL DIDN'T WORK HARD. THAT WASN'T PART OF IT. BUT SIMPLY THE FACT YOU HAVE A MIDDLE CLASS BACKGROUND LIKE MYSELF, WAS BORN INTO, YOU KNOW, A PRETTY STANDARD CANADIAN MIDDLE CLASS FAMILY. MY MOM WAS AN IMMIGRANT FROM THE CARIBBEAN, MY DAD WAS BORN HERE. BUT BOTH OF THEM HAD GRADUATE DEGREES. BOTH OF THEM HAD A REAL UNDERSTANDING OF HOW THE CANADIAN SYSTEM WORKED, HOW GOVERNMENT WORKS, HOW THE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM WORKS, HOW TO NAVIGATE IT. THAT WAS A TREMENDOUS PART IN REMOVING SOME OF THE BARRIERS THAT COULD HAVE BEEN THERE FOR MY SUCCESS. I SEE THAT FOR SO MANY FOLKS. NOW, OTHER ONES HAVE ACHIEVED SUCCESS. BUT WHEN YOU LOOK AT THEIR FAMILIES, IN MANY CASES THERE IS THIS TRADE-OFF, RIGHT? FOLKS COME TO THIS COUNTRY, NEWCOMERS, WITH ALL KINDS OF SKILLS, WITH ALL KINDS OF MERIT, EXCEPT IT SIMPLY WON'T BE ACCEPTED IN CANADA, IT WON'T BE SEEN AT THE SAME LEVEL, AND THEY WILL NOT BE ABLE TO ACHIEVE UP TO THEIR ABILITY AND THEY POUR ALL OF THEIR TIME AND RESOURCES INTO THEIR CHILDREN. I DON'T THINK THERE'S ANYTHING WRONG WITH PARENTS SACRIFICING FOR THEIR KIDS. BUT A SOCIETY WHERE YOU KNOW FROM THE DEFAULT, MY DEGREE WON'T BE RESPECTED, I WON'T BE RESPECTED BECAUSE THE ACCENT I HAVE, OTHER PIECES, THAT'S NOT A TRUE MERITOCRACY. THAT'S NOT AN EVEN PLAYING FIELD. AND THAT'S A CRITICAL PIECE THAT WE NEED TO THINK ABOUT BECAUSE THERE ARE SO MANY FOLKS HERE WITH INCREDIBLE POTENTIAL TO GIVE TO SOCIETY WHO ARE HELD BACK IN MANY WAYS BECAUSE OF A LACK OF CANADIAN EXPERIENCE. AND AS SOMEONE SAID, IF YOU'RE A DOCTOR AND YOU ARE HEALING PEOPLE IN EGYPT, HUMAN BEINGS ARE STILL U OF M BEINGS IN EGYPT AS THEY ARE HERE. YET FOR SOME REASON THAT MERIT IS NO LONGER ACCEPTED IN OUR SYSTEM.

Steve says WELL, A LOT OF WHAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT HERE TODAY IS ABOUT BEING LISTENED TO AND ABOUT BEING RESPECTED. TO THAT END, WE GOT A NOTE... WE GET MAIL EVERY DAY, EMAILS EVERY DAY MOSTLY, FROM VIEWERS WHO WANT TO GIVE US A PIECE OF THEIR MIND AND WE'RE HAPPY TO HAVE IT. A COUPLE OF MONTHS AGO WE GOT AN e-mail FROM A VIEWER WHO GOES BY THE NAME OF WALTER ABOUT OUR CHOICE OF GUESTS ON OUR PROGRAM. I'M GOING TO ASK TONY BURKE TO BRING THIS UP AND WE'LL READ ALONG HERE.

A quote appears on screen, under the title "Us and them." The quote reads "I feel mister Paikin's choice of guests who are experts in their fields for the particular topics on 'the agenda' is pretty good, but they seem to miss the point. Oh, they sound well enough, with all their jargon, but do not strike me as ones who 'walk the walk.'
They discuss their point from their studies and research but do not express the word from the street of the average 'joe and josephine', because in effect, 'joe and josephine' are not so 'average' and have very interesting thoughts and viewpoints to offer.
It would be more interesting, I think, if 'the agenda' program also brought in not only professors, economic experts, etc. but also people who are slugging away in their jobs to make ends meet."
Quoted from Walter, via email to The Agenda. January, 2021.

Steve says A BUNCH OF THINGS TO UNPACK THERE. FIRST OF ALL, FOR CLARIFICATION'S SAKE, ONE OF THE THINGS I DEFINITELY NEED TO DO OFF THE TOP IS CONFIRM, PAIKIN DOESN'T CHOOSE THE GUESTS. THE PRODUCERS CHOOSE THE GUESTS. I'M NOT DUCKING RESPONSIBILITY BY SAYING THAT BUT I JUST THINK VIEWERS OUGHT TO KNOW, THAT'S HOW IT WORKS ON OUR PROGRAMS. THE PRODUCERS CHOOSE THE GUESTS. SECOND AND MOST IMPORTANT, WHAT WALTER WANTS IS PEOPLE LIKE HIM, I GUESS, TO BE VISIBLE AND TO BE HEARD. JANICE, THERE'S A BIT OF A SHOT IN THERE. I THINK ABOUT PEOPLE LIKE YOU. PEOPLE WHO HAVE GREAT CREDENTIALS AND HAVE SPENT A LIFE IN ACADEMIA AND I WANT TO BETTER UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU THINK THIS TELLS YOU ABOUT THE ATTITUDE TOWARDS, IF I CAN PUT IT THIS WAY, THE CREDENTIALED CLASSES?

Janice says YEAH, I THINK WALTER IS GIVING VOICE TO A REALLY IMPORTANT POINT: HOW HE FEELS AND THE FEELING THAT HE HAS THAT THE CREDENTIALED CLASSES DON'T SPEAK LIKE THEY DO, BUT MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE WAY WE SPEAK IS WE DON'T HEAR THEM. AND UNDERNEATH THAT IS, WE DON'T RESPECT THEM. AND IF I HAD TO PICK ONE ISSUE THAT DRIVES POPULISM, IT'S THAT. IT'S THE FEELING... YOU KNOW, THAT THEME FROM HILLARY CLINTON, THAT THEY ARE A BUNCH OF DEPLORABLES. SHE GAVE VOICE TO THAT CONDESCENSION THAT IS SO OFFENSIVE TO ANY COMMUNITY. AND LET ME JUST TAKE WALTER'S POINT AND TAKE IT ONE STEP FURTHER. STEVE, WE'RE AT A POINT OF INTERSECTION NOW WHERE THOSE JOBS THAT JOHN TALKED ABOUT, THOSE GOOD PAYING JOBS ON THE LINE, THEY'RE GONE. THEY'RE NOT COMING BACK. AND MORE AND MORE OF THE JOBS OF THE FUTURE ARE GOING TO REQUIRE SOME SORT OF DIGITAL LITERACY AND FAMILIARITY, BUT THEY'RE NOT GOING TO BE ENOUGH TO LIFT PEOPLE, THOSE THINGS BETWEEN CLASSES. WHAT DOES THAT TELL YOU? THE WORK YOU DO SHOULD NOT BE THE BASIS OF THE RESPECT THAT YOU GET. AND I THINK THAT'S AT THE CORE OF MICHAEL'S ARGUMENT. YOU CAN BE AN ARTIST... I LOVE ART. YOU CAN BE AN ARTIST, NEVER GET ABOVE THAT 10,000 dollars THAT KOFI TALKED ABOUT BUT MAKE A TREMENDOUS CONTRIBUTION TO YOUR SOCIETY. OR A NOVELIST. YOU CAN WORK WITH KIDS. YOU CAN BE A CARE-GIVER FOR A SENIOR. ALL THOSE PEOPLE ARE NOT HIGH EARNERS. AND WHEN YOU USE THAT SINGLE CRITERIA, HOW MUCH MONEY YOU MAKE IS THE ONE LINE THAT DETERMINES HOW MUCH RESPECT YOU GET, THAT'S THE ISSUE WITH MERITOCRACY. THE CRITERIA OF MERIT IS TOO NARROW. AND IT'S GOING TO GET WORSE AS WE MOVE INTO THIS NEXT STAGE OF THE ECONOMY. LET ME JUST THROW IT OUT THEN. WE ARE DISCUSSING A UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME FOR A REASON. WE UNDERSTAND THAT WE'RE GOING TO HAVE LARGE CHUNKS OF THE POPULATION THAT ARE NOT GOING TO FIND THOSE GOOD-PAYING JOBS. AND THAT SIMPLY TO TELL PEOPLE HOW MUCH YOU EARN IS THE SINGLE CRITERIA BY WHICH WE VALUE YOU IS WRONG.

Steve says THAT'S PERFECT. BECAUSE I WANT TO GO TO JOHN IBBITSON ON THAT VERY POINT. I WAS THINKING OF IT AS YOU GAVE YOUR ANSWER AND THEN YOU TALKED ABOUT THE UBI. AND, JOHN, YOU KNOW, IF WE WANTED TO PRODUCE A PROGRAM, LET'S SAY, ABOUT UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME, WE COULD GO TO ANY ACADEMIC INSTITUTION IN THE COUNTRY AND FIND SOMEBODY WITH 30 YEARS' EXPERIENCE OF DOING RESEARCH INTO WELFARE SYSTEMS AND SO ON AND SO FORTH. ARE WE COULD GET SOMEBODY WHO HAS LIVED ON THE STREETS FOR 30 YEARS AND HAS BEEN A SOCIAL SERVICES RECIPIENT AND HAS A VERY DIFFERENT UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT IT'S LIKE TO LIVE ON WELFARE. AND FOR WHATEVER REASON, OUR INDUSTRY SEEMS TO PRIZE THE FORMER AND NOT SO MUCH THE LATTER. AND I WANT TO KNOW WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT THAT.

John says YEAH. WELL, OF COURSE, THERE IS A SKILL INVOLVED IN SPENDING HALF AN HOUR BEING GRILLED BY STEVEN PAIKIN, AND THE PERSON... JOE AND JOSEPHINE, AS THE WRITER SAID, PROBABLY DOESN'T YET POSSESS THOSE SKILLS AND WOULD NOT GIVE GOOD TELEVISION, TO BE JUST BLUNT ABOUT IT. BUT I THINK THAT MISSES THE POINT. THE BIGGER POINT IS, AGAIN, THE OSSIFICATION OF CLASS STRUCTURES THAT WE ARE THREATENED WITH BY THE RISE OF THE KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY. THE MIDDLE CLASS BREEDING MIDDLE CLASS. AND THE KNOWLEDGE CLASS MAKING CLASS DIVISIONS STARKER RATHER THAN MORE PERMEABLE. I WROTE A TWITTER ESSAY A YEAR AGO THAT SEEMS TO GET CONTINUALLY REPUBLISHED IN WHICH I TALK ABOUT, HOW DO YOU BECOME A COLUMNIST? AND MY FIRST PIECE OF ADVICE WAS WORK NIGHTS. THAT WAS MY GENERATION. THEY PUT YOU ON THE NIGHT BEAT AND YOU SAW PRETTY MUCH THE SEAMIEST POSSIBLE SIDE OF THE CITY THAT YOU WERE COVERING. I ALSO WORKED FOR YEARS AS A SECRETARY. AND AS I SAID, YOU KNOW, IF YOU WANT TO TELL PEOPLE HOW THEY'RE GOING TO BE PAYING TAXES, WORK WITH THEM RATHER THAN TALKING AT THEM. SO I WOULD PUT THIS AS A CHALLENGE TO ANYONE WHO IS WATCHING THIS SHOW WHO IS YOUNG. IF YOU HAVE STRUCTURED YOUR LIFE SUCH THAT YOU ARE PLANNING TO GO TO UNIVERSITY TO MAYBE GRADUATE WORK OR MAYBE INTO THE WORKFORCE IN THE AREA THAT YOU WISH TO WORK IN... NOW, LOOK, YOU MAY IN FACT BE WORRIED MOSTLY ABOUT THE FACT THAT YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE NOTHING BUT CONTRACT POSITIONS FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, BUT THAT'S ANOTHER TOPIC. THE QUESTION YOU SHOULD BE ASKING YOURSELF IS: WHAT AM I DOING AS AN INDIVIDUAL TO EXPERIENCE ALL OF THE ELEMENTS OF MY SOCIETY? SHOULD I BE TAKING TWO OR THREE YEARS OFF TO TRAVEL? SHOULD I BE TAKING TWO OR THREE YEARS OFF TO GO WORK FOR AN NGO? SHOULD I BE TAKING TWO OR THREE YEARS OFF TO GO AND WORK AS A TRUCK DRIVER? WHAT AM I DOING TO MAKE SURE THAT I DON'T ALWAYS INHABIT THE CLASS BUBBLE I WAS RAISED IN? WHAT I AM DOING TO MAKE SURE I HONESTLY UNDERSTAND THE EXPERIENCES AND OPPORTUNITIES AND FRUSTRATIONS OF THE PEOPLE LIVING OUTSIDE MY CLASS? THAT REALLY IS NOT SOMETHING GOVERNMENT CAN DO. THAT'S ONLY SOMETHING WE CAN INCULCATE IN OURSELVES AND IN OTHERS, BY SAYING: GET OUT FROM YOUR GATED SUBURBAN COMMUNITY AND GO LIVE IN THE REAL WORLD FOR A WHILE. YOU'LL BE THE BETTER FOR IT.

Steve says THAT IS A GREAT CHALLENGE AND I HOPE PEOPLE TAKE YOU UP ON THAT. LET'S GET MICHAEL SANDEL BACK IN HERE BECAUSE I WANT TO GET POLITICAL FOR A SECOND. TONY, IF YOU WOULD, LET'S ROLL THAT SECOND SANDAL CLIP.

Another clip from the interview with Michael Sandel plays on screen.

In the clip, Michael says WE SHOULD FOCUS OUR POLITICS AWAY FROM THE RHETORIC OF RISING. AWAY FROM THINKING THAT THE SOLUTION TO INEQUALITY IS TO PROMISE INDIVIDUAL UPWARD MOBILITY THROUGH HIGHER EDUCATION. WE SHOULD FOCUS LESS ON ARMING PEOPLE FOR MERITOCRATIC COMBAT, AND FOCUSING ON PEOPLE WHO MAYBE VALUABLE CONTRIBUTIONS THROUGH THE WORK THEY DO, THE FAMILIES THEY RAISE, THE COMMUNITIES THEY SERVE EVEN THOUGH THEY MAY NOT HAVE ILLUSTRIOUS CREDENTIALS THAT A MERITOCRACY SO PRIZES. THE WAY I WOULD DO THIS, THE WAY I THINK WE SHOULD SHIFT THE TERMS OF PUBLIC DISCOURSE, STEVE, IS TO PUT THE DIGNITY OF WORK, RATHER THAN INDIVIDUAL UPWARD MOBILITY, THE DIGNITY OF WORK RIGHT AT THE CENTRE OF OUR POLITICS.

The clip ends.

Steve says LET'S FIGURE OUT HOW WE'RE GOING TO DO THAT. KOFI, LET ME GET YOU ON THAT FIRST. GO BACK TO 2016. TWO-THIRDS OF WHITE AMERICANS WITHOUT A COLLEGE DEGREE VOTED FOR DONALD TRUMP. HILLARY CLINTON, CONVERSELY, WON MORE THAN 70 percent OF THE VOTERS WITH ADVANCED DEGREES. I HOPE THIS IS NOT A CONTROVERSIAL THING TO SAY, BUT DESPITE THE FACT THAT DONALD TRUMP IS A THOROUGHLY DISGRACEFUL PERSON, HE CLEARLY WAS A VOICE FOR A PART OF AMERICA WHICH FELT IGNORED. DO WE NEED A SHIFT OF THE SORT THAT MICHAEL SANDEL IS TALKING ABOUT TO AVOID MORE TRUMPS, IF I CAN PUT IT THAT WAY?

Kofi says YEAH, I THINK WE NEED A SHIFT IN A FEW WAYS. IT'S NOT JUST THE DISCOURSE. BUT WHEN I THINK ABOUT THE DIGNITY OF WORK, I THINK ABOUT DECENT WORK. AND THAT'S SOMETHING THAT HAS TO DO NOT JUST WITH HOW WE TALK ABOUT IT AND SPEAK ABOUT IT, BUT HOW WE STRUCTURE OUR ECONOMY, RIGHT? AND THAT'S ONE OF THE WORRYING THINGS THAT HAPPENED IN ONTARIO IS WE HAD LABOUR LAWS WHICH HADN'T BEEN REVIEWED FOR DECADES. WE HAD SOME CRITICAL PIECES PUT IN PLACE AROUND PEOPLE HAVING CONSISTENT SCHEDULING, RIGHT? FOLKS WHO ARE WORKING IN MULTIPLE LOCATIONS LIKE THOSE PSWS JUMPING AROUND LOCATIONS, THAT THEY COULD KNOW CONSISTENTLY WHEN THEY WERE WORKING. THEY COULD HAVE PAID SICK DAYS. WE COULD HAVE A LIVABLE MINIMUM WAGE. AND MANY OF THOSE THINGS WERE ROLLED BACK AS SOON AS WE HAD A CHANGE OF GOVERNMENT. I THINK WE NEED TO GO DEEPER AND ASK WHAT DOES DECENT WORK MEAN? WHAT ARE THE BASICS THAT ALL WORKERS DESERVE SO THEY CAN BE RESPECTED, SO THEY CAN LOOK AFTER THEIR FAMILIES, SO THEY KNOW THEY CAN SAVE FOR RETIREMENT, THEY CAN HAVE A VACATION A YEAR, SOME OF THESE BASIC PIECES THAT ARE PART OF ENJOYING FULLY MODERN LIFE IN CANADA. WE NEED TO ENSHRINE THAT IN WHAT WE DO. WE NEED LEADERS... WHAT JOHN WAS SAYING, I AGREE WITH. IT'S ABOUT THE PERSONAL CONNECTION. THAT'S A BIG PART OF IT. WHEN I WAS WORKING AT JANE AND FINCH RUNNING A CHARITY THERE, PEOPLE WOULD SAY ALL THE TIME ABOUT ROB AND DOUG FORD. THEY COME TO THE HOOD. WE SEE THEM. THEY COME, THEY TALK TO US. THEY DON'T SEEM UNCOMFORTABLE WHEN THEY WALK INTO A TORONTO COMMUNITY HOUSING BUILDING. THEY DON'T SEEM UNCOMFORTABLE IN A ROOM FULL OF WORKING CLASS FOLKS. NOW, I THINK ONE OF THE PROBLEMS... I'M A POLITICAL PROGRESSIVE AND I THINK ONE OF THE PROBLEMS WITH THE PROGRESSIVE MOVEMENT AND THINGS TO BUILD ON IS THE WAY IN WHICH, THROUGH THE LANGUAGE WE USE AND THE DISCOURSE, WE GET SO INTO OUR ECHO CHAMBERS, TALKING TO EACH OTHER, CONNECTING TO EACH OTHER, FORMING RELATIONSHIPS IN THE PART OF THE CITY WE LIVE IN. AND IN ORDER TO REALLY TRANSFORM SOCIETY AT THE HEART IS HUMAN CONNECTIONS BETWEEN PEOPLE. ESPECIALLY FOR THOSE IN THE POLITICAL CLASSES, THOSE WHO ARE IN THE MANAGERIAL PROFESSIONAL CLASS, THAT NEED FOR CONNECTION TO OTHER NEIGHBOURHOODS, OTHER COMMUNITIES IS KEY. BUT WE'RE MOVING THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION. YOU USED TO SEE ONE OF THE BIGGEST WAYS YOU WOULD CONNECT FOLKS ACROSS CLASS DIVIDES WAS THROUGH MARRIAGE. MORE AND MORE WE HAVE DOCTORS MARRY DOCTORS, PHDS MARRY PHDS. WE BECOME SEPARATE ALONG EDUCATIONAL LINES BUT WE CREATE SEPARATE CULTURAL AND POLITICAL ALIGNMENTS, VIEWS, THE TYPE OF TV YOU WATCH, ALL OF THESE PIECES BECOME SO THOROUGHLY LINED UP ALONG THESE DIFFERENT POLARIZED TRIBES THAT IT'S VERY EASY FOR AN OPPORTUNISTIC POLITICAL ACTOR TO COME IN, SEE THE CLEAVAGE AND TURN IT INTO A POPULIST MOVEMENT OR USE IT AS A CAMPAIGN. WE BREAK THAT DOWN BY BUILDING HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS ACROSS THOSE CLASS DIVIDES.

Steve says JANICE, WE HAVE LITERALLY A COUPLE OF MINUTES LEFT HERE. LET ME SUGGEST TO YOU THAT ROB FORD AND DOUG FORD WERE NOT YOUR KIND OF POLITICIANS AND I'LL GO OUT ON A LIMB AND SAY I BET YOU DIDN'T VOTE FOR EITHER ONE OF THOSE GUYS. HAVING SAID THAT, THEY TAPPED INTO SOMETHING THAT MADE PEOPLE WHO FELT LIKE THEY WERE IGNORED IMPORTANT. DO YOU HAVE TO GIVE THEM THAT IN A DEMOCRACY?

Janice says NO, I HAD A CONVERSATION WITH ONE OF THE PROGRESSIVES IN THE CITY WHEN DOUG FORD WAS ELECTED AND THE COMMENT HE SAID TO ME WAS: OH, MY GOD, WE DON'T DO THIS. AND I SAID JUST A MINUTE. WHO IS THE "WE"? HALF THE CITY VOTED FOR THIS MAYOR. SO LET'S NOT MAKE THIS ASSUMPTION. YOU MEAN PEOPLE LIKE YOU DON'T DO THAT. AND THAT'S EXACTLY THE DIVIDE THAT KOFI IS TALKING ABOUT. BUT, YOU KNOW, STEVE, AND JOHN SAID IT'S NOT ABOUT GOVERNMENT, BUT IT IS ABOUT GOVERNMENT TO SOME DEGREE. LOOK, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US KNOWS WHAT HAPPENED IN LONG-TERM CARE HOMES IN THIS PROVINCE. PART OF THAT IS WE HAD PERSONAL SUPPORT WORKERS WHO WERE DOING SHIFT WORK AND WERE WORKING IN MULTIPLE INSTITUTIONS AND THEY DID NOT MAKE A DECENT LIVING. WHAT HAVE WE DONE ABOUT IT? 90,000 FOR PERMANENT RESIDENCY. THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF PERSONAL SUPPORT WORKERS WHO CAN'T MAKE A DECENT LIVING AND WHO ARE WAITING FOREVER TO GET THEIR PERMANENT RESIDENCY IN THIS COUNTRY. THAT'S GOVERNMENT. AND THAT'S FRANKLY NOT OKAY. AND YOU DON'T NEED ANY HIGHFALUTIN DIALOGUE TO SAY IT. IT'S JUST NOT OKAY. PEOPLE WHO ARE WORKING IN BRAMPTON IN MEAT PROCESSING FACTORIES COULDN'T GET SICK LEAVE. THIS IS PART ABOUT GOVERNMENT. AND WHAT WE'VE LEARNED FROM WHAT WE SAW OVER THE LAST 15 MONTHS, IT'S STRIPPED OFF ANY BAND-AID THAT WE HAD. I GUESS WHAT I'M REALLY SAYING, STEVE, IS THERE'S NO GOING BACK TO WHAT WAS. IF WE DON'T GO FORWARD TO SOMETHING BETTER THAN WHAT WE'VE SEEN, IT IS REALLY, REALLY DISAPPOINTING.

The caption changes to "Producer: Wodek SZemberg, @wodekszemberg."

Steve says AS SHE OFTEN DOES WHEN SHE AND I SPEAK, JANICE STEIN GETS THE LAST WORD. I WANT TO THANK JOHN IBBITSON FROM THE GLOBE AND MAIL, JANICE STEIN FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO, KOFI HOPE FROM THE TORONTO STAR FOR COMING ONTO OUR PROGRAM TONIGHT FOR A GREAT CONVERSATION ON OUR DEMOCRACY AGENDA. THANKS SO MUCH, YOU THREE.

Janice says PLEASURE.

John says THANKS, STEVE.

Kofi says THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

Watch: Is Meritocracy Anti-Democratic?