October 25, 2010

WHAT’S WRONG WITH “THE NEW ELITE?” Forget cultural insularity or smugness. The main problem with the “new elite” is that they’re not an elite at all. That is, they aren’t particularly smart, or competent. They are credentialed, but those credentials aren’t so much markers for smartness or competence, or even basic education, as they are admission tickets to the Gentry Class, based on good standardized test scores. That’s fine — ETS was berry, berry good to me — but it doesn’t have much to do with ability to succeed, or lead, in the real world. Worse yet, it seems to have fostered a sense of entitlement.

UPDATE: A reader emails:

Very long-time reader and first time emailer. Just my two cents on the elitists.

I am an elite anti-elitist Tea Partier and I made my first protest signs way back in March 2009. I’m a Yale [BA, Philosophy], Columbia [MA, International Affairs] former Wall Street trader and risk manager who is just about done getting another masters [in Library and Information Science] during a two-year “John Galt” sabbatical from work. I’ve met many, many Tea Partiers at this point and they are not anti-elitist in a general, superficial sense. Indeed, they most often admire those who have succeeded by dint of a good education or hard work or taking advantage of a bit of good luck. The subset of elitists that we are fed up with are the ones in the government, the media, and academia who think (erroneously) that they know better what we should be doing with our time every day and have the right to pick our pockets to fund it. Not only are we tired of being condescended to (and take my word for it, I could wipe the floor with most of them intellectually) but they’re obviously screwing everything up. So, to borrow Lee Harris’ word from his new book, we’re the “ornery” bastards who, from time to time, rise up to put the elite (and effete) corps of impudent snobs back in their place.

Please leave my name off this if you excerpt any of it. Living in the bluest of blue, I really don’t want a busload of SEIU protesters on my front lawn.

Meh. Last time they tried that, they couldn’t even fill the bus. But okay.

And reader Carl Stritter writes: “Our betters; Bitterly clinging to their sheepskins and NPR tote bags and waiting for that Government job so that they don’t have to, you know, perform.”

ANOTHER UPDATE: Jim Bennett emails:

I’ve been thinking about this, and I am starting to think that the problems with a meritocratic elite are essentially the same as those of a centrally planned economy. Every meritocratic system is ultimately dependent upon some set of metrics to judge merit. But just as no centrally planned economy can create metrics that adequately describe the needed outputs of industry, no one meritocratic system can create metrics that adequately describe all of the characteristics needed to be, collectively, the decsion-makers of a society. Inevitably, the young people start performing to the metrics rather than the desired characteristics themselves. The university system has now created a truly bizarre set of success metrics (e.g., pleasing a professor of critical theory) and it is little wonder that many kids graduate after an expensive education and have almost no capabilities that fit them for work in the real world. To the extent that we make a graduate degree a necessary qualification for any real work we are getting the intellectual equivalent of the slop that Soviet factories churned out toward the end.

Any single meritocratic system that uses a single set of metrics will suffer from this version of the fatal conceit. America has historically been run not by any sort of meritocratic system but rather by a reasonably open system with multiple paths to the top, with many competing sets of metrics along the various paths. Making a lot of money has always been one of those metrics, and frankly, it’s not such a bad one. I’d hate to be in a society in which is was the only one. Still, even that is better than the current system, of which the ultimate product is Barack Obama.

The old American system wasn’t perfect. There were categories of people who had no good path to the top, or even the upper strata, and that was a waste of good talent. But we would be much better off if we could go back to something like an improved version of the old system before the current system becomes entirely entrenched.

A subject worthy of further study.

MORE: Dodd Harris references this Robert Heinlein quote:

Political tags — such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth — are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.


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