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Elias Acosta
Dr. Serviss
Meritocracy in Mountains Beyond Mountains
In the non-fiction biography, Mountains Beyond Mountains, the author, Tracy Kidder,
shows the work that Paul Farmer has done in various countries through the organization Partners
In Health. The readers are presented with Kidder's point of view as he is the one that is narrating
the story and through that the reader can see how Kidder views the world around him. Haiti is
one of the nations that Kidder focuses on frequently throughout the book. Due to its close
proximity to the US, Farmer is able to travel back and forth from Haiti. Haiti is described to be a
poor nation plagued with disease and political instability. In Christopher Hayes book, Twilight
of the Elites America

After Meritocracy, he highlights the way the meritocracy plays a key role
in the power divide in America and it also causes a strain in the worsening economic inequality.
Meritocracy is defined as giving the power in a society to someone based on their talents and
virtues. It may seem that the way to get to the top of the social ladder is to work hard and do your
best. However, there are people who have more resources than others to get to the top with less
effort. Therefore to judge someone based solely on their merit would be favoring one side of
the population. Both texts share similar qualities as privilege is seen as something that creates an
easier path to succeed in life and that money and power corrupts people. Through Farmers
character it is evident that Hayess criticism doesn't truly describe Farmers motives or

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In the book, Twilight

of the Elites America After Meritocracy, the privileged people are

portrayed as the ones who always have access to the resources that help them succeed and meet
their goals. Hayes argues that there should be something to level the playing field to make it
equal for all people to have access to the same resources. Essentially he claims that Meritocracy
should be working if we all have the same effort, then we can all reach our goal. However that is
not the case, in Haiti, the people want to have a better healthcare system and really try to do it
but no matter how much effort they put into it, they are still going to fall short. This mirrors a
low income student in New York that want to get into Hunter College High School but lacks the
resources to better prepare for admission tests. Healthcare and education seem to fall under the
same category in both texts as it is something that only the privileged are able to get. The story of
Justin Hudson could be applied to the story of America as a leading developed nation, it should
feel the guilt of how its infrastructure favors its growth. Hudson was nurtured into becoming a
high achieving student and his wealthy environment made it even easier for him to expand his
talents. In his speech Hudson claims, We received superior teachers and additional resources
based on our status of gifted, while kids who naturally needed these resources much more than
us wallowed in the mire of a broken system (Hayes 3). The speech serves as a critique of the
broken system in the way that power and money is divided in the United States. However, this
idea can be applied to the world and in the way that first world nations are dominant and thus
they control most of the money. In effect poorer nations like Haiti are left out not only in
education, but in health, which is a human right. In America healthcare is often taken for granted
as it part of American values to have regular check ups and the country also has the money and
resources to vaccinate its people against diseases. In effect, Americans are rarely dying of

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tuberculosis. A case of TB would be treated quickly and efficiently because we have the money
and the privilege to say that we can control this disease. This would not be leveling the playing
field because Haiti is still being left out from the healthcare policies and there is little that is
being done to help alleviate the situation.

Money and greed can make a make a humanitarian situation into a plot to make profit
from a seemingly good philanthropy. Throughout Mountains Beyond Mountains, Farmer is
constantly fighting to get cheap medical help to Haiti as a form of helping the poor. While
Farmer may view it as a form of help, other companies look at it as a profit and a way to make
money. America has become a nation of capitalism in which profit is valued and loss is frowned
upon. Even with humanitarian act, there could be a monetary reason behind US involvement.
Farmer sees this when he receives a pregnant women with malaria who is in desperate need of a
blood transfusion. She is denied of the procedure and consequently her and her unborn baby die
that night. Farmer is completely outraged as he believes that we are all human beings and we
should not be denied of the basic right to health care. Furthermore, there are for profit drug
companies that foil Farmer and Kims plan to lower the price of second-line TB medicine. They
argue that the prices need to remain high to keep up with competition. The shows how cynical
the drug companies can be as they focus on profits rather than helping people through their
drugs. The World Health Organization also is short on money and is inevitably, tangled in
bureaucracy (172). While the WHO may be trying to do its best to help, the ultimate decisions
are made by the elites and they have ultimate control. In Hayess chapter on Meritocracy there is
a notion that because of the opportunity gap, most of the people in charge are wealthy elites that
were catapulted into the position based on social status. Oligarchy and bureaucracy was

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inevitable and the leaders control the tools to manipulate the opinion of the masses(Hayes 27).
Therefore we could assume that the leaders in the WHO could possible be the elites that Hayes is
talking about. Given their ideals, it is seen as an issue of privilege.
In Hunter College High school there is the argument that students all have equal access to
get admitted since they take the same admission test but in reality there are many factors that go
in. There is also for profit study prep that is targeted towards students in order to maximize their
chances of getting into competitive colleges. Hayes describes the test prep service as a
multimillion dollar business and that we can predict how a student will score by looking at the
family income (Hayes 9). Test prep can be seen as a loophole in the meritocracy idea since it
takes a lot of resources to get tutors or private help and in a way it favors the rich since they are
more likely to afford this help. Test prep companies could be compared to for profit drug
companies since they both take advantage of a desperate situation to make money out of them.
Farmers character doesnt seem to follow the implications that Hayes has shown in the
problem with elitism and meritocracy. Paul Farmer could be described as a Harvard man as he
was able to attend prestigious universities and become one of the elites. Hayes would argue that
elites end up working in Wall Street or other large corporations. Farmer could have done the
same but he chose to go into philanthropy instead of becoming a doctor in America. The Iron
Law of Meritocracy states that those who are able to climb up the ladder will find ways to pull
it up after them, or to selectively lower it to allow their friends, allies, and kin to scramble up
(Hayes 29). While this may be used to describe the elite, Farmer doesnt seem to have this
mentality. He is more empathic and is willing to dedicate his life to serve other. Hayes portrays
meritocracy as a cutthroat environment where the people are selfish and want to work only for

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their own agenda. The ladder metaphor can be applied to the humility aspect that most elites
lack. They are so caught up in their achievements that they do not help others. In this case they
would sabotage others by taking the ladder away and only lowering it for the people that they
care about such as family.
Both Mountains Beyond Mountains and Twilight of the Elites America After Meritocracy
argue about the how privilege, money, and power corrupts people in the sense that they want to
maximize profit. Whether it is with hospitals and for profit drug companies, or high end tutors
and expensive test prep to get into elite school, it is clear that the elite are portrayed as cynical.
However with Paul Farmers character the reader is conflicted whether to classify Farmer as an
elite even though he doesnt embody the roles. Hayes would ultimately argue that Farmer is an
exception of the system as he was humanized through his upbringing and thus he has achieved
all his merit but it was at a cost. That was clear to him and therefore he set out to help others.
Farmer demonstrates that humility could be the key to breaking the problems caused by the
affluent upbringing of the elites.