Drake Bennett

Drake Bennett is a former American Prospect writing fellow and is currently a freelance writer in Cambridge, MA. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, the New York Times, Business Week, and the Boston Review.

Recent Articles

Gates Of Privilege

The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton by Jerome Karabel ( Houghton Mifflin, 684 pages, $28.00 ) In 1958 a young British sociologist and Labour Party official named Michael Young published a book called The Rise of the Meritocracy , coining the now-commonplace term. A mock sociology doctoral dissertation from the year 2030, it looked back over the development of an England that had attained what, for educational reformers of Young's day (and ours), was only a distant goal: true equality of opportunity, a society where success was determined not by connections or lineage or wealth but solely by an exact and foolproof calculation of merit. The formula was simple: intelligence plus effort. The book, of course, was satire, but it was also a cautionary tale. After all, equality of opportunity, Young wrote, meant “equality of opportunity to be unequal.” Comfortable in the knowledge that the able were rewarded and only their inferiors left...

Right on the Low Road

The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead By David Callahan • Harcourt • 353 pages • $26.00 Few decisions caused George Washington more agony than whether or not to accept some canal-company shares that the Virginia General Assembly offered him in 1784. The gift was perfectly legal, and such signs of appreciation were commonplace in the early republic. Washington was a private citizen at the time (a somewhat cash-strapped one at that) and had always been a great champion of the canal system, but he couldn't abide the thought that his acceptance might be seen as a payoff. He debated for months, writing everyone from Jefferson to Lafayette for advice. In the end, he decided to bequeath the shares to the college that was to become Washington & Lee. Washington had what might be called an overdeveloped sense of virtue, and in that he has an heir in David Callahan, co-founder of the public-policy center Demos. Callahan's new book, The Cheating Culture , is a...

Our Mongrel Planet

Creative Destruction: How Globalization is Changing the World's Cultures By Tyler Cowen, Princeton University Press, 179 pages, $27.95 In a short story by the late William Maxwell, an American named John Reynolds takes his family to Le Mont-Saint-Michel 18 years after his magical first visit. Their hotel is bland, the food mediocre and they are swept along in thick throngs of harried tourists. Worst of all, the walled gardens that Reynolds remembers as visions "from a fifteenth-century Book of Hours" have been plowed under so that the souvenir shops can expand. Disconsolate, Reynolds thinks to himself: Once in a while, some small detail represented an improvement on the past, and you could not be happy in the intellectual climate of any time but your own. But in general, so far as the way people lived, it was one loss after another, something hideous replacing something beautiful, the decay of manners, the lapse of pleasant customs, as by a blind increase in numbers the human race...

Crime and Redemption

Because the Texas legislature is in session a mere five months out of the year, serving as a Lone Star state representative is not the most time-consuming of jobs. It's hardly unusual, therefore, that Ray Allen, the Republican chairman of the House Corrections Committee, has a couple of careers on the side. When he's not serving the good people of Dallas County, Allen runs the Academy for Firearms Training, where Texans who want to apply for a concealed-carry handgun permit can go and receive the required instruction. He also, along with his chief of staff, heads a company called Service House Inc., whose sole client is the National Correctional Industries Association (NCIA). On the NCIA's dime, Allen lobbies Congress, the White House, the Department of Justice, and the Office of Management and Budget on the virtues of prison privatization. Oddly enough, this is actually legal. All of which suggests that Ray Allen may not be the legislator one would expect to have written a law...

Head Cases

Throughout American history, the Senate -- where small and conservative states have disproportionate weight and where rules allow one senator to block key legislation -- has far more often been a force for reaction than for progress. But these are unusual times, and with an ideologically rigid administration and scores of zealots in the House, it's often fallen to the Senate to bring sanity to the legislative process. The latest case in point is the Head Start debate, which shows just how extreme the White House and the House of Representatives really are -- and exposes the increasingly glaring fissures within the GOP over the administration's extremism. The debate over Head Start reauthorization is usually the legislative equivalent of a wedding rehearsal dinner. Legislators from both sides of the aisle rise to extol the early-childhood program's virtues and speed it on its way to a lopsided vote of approval. Of all the components of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, Head Start has...

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