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The Meritocracy Muddle

Populist resentment against "elites" is a recurring feature of modern democracy, owing to the fact that popular sovereignty is at odds with the careful management of increasingly complex economies. But what causes public discontent to explode at some times rather than others?

CHICAGO – If anyone still doubted that we live in a populist era, the surfeit of recent books which aim to make sense of the current moment should settle the matter. If these efforts are not always successful, that is partly because populism itself can be so conceptually slippery. Commentators use it to describe the revolt of ordinary people against experts and elites, but few ever carefully define who belongs to which group and why.