2010 February 21 Sunday
David Brooks On Poor Performance By Elites

Writing in the New York Times former neocon David Brooks points out that the replacement of the WASP establishment with a much more meritocratic and smarter elite doesn't appear to have made American society run better.

Yet here’s the funny thing. As we’ve made our institutions more meritocratic, their public standing has plummeted. We’ve increased the diversity and talent level of people at the top of society, yet trust in elites has never been lower.

It’s not even clear that society is better led. Fifty years ago, the financial world was dominated by well-connected blue bloods who drank at lunch and played golf in the afternoons. Now financial firms recruit from the cream of the Ivy League. In 2007, 47 percent of Harvard grads went into finance or consulting. Yet would we say that banks are performing more ably than they were a half-century ago?

Government used to be staffed by party hacks. Today, it is staffed by people from public policy schools. But does government work better than it did before?

Among the reasons he cites for the poor performance of our meritocracy: It is less inbred. There are fewer loyalties among the elites. This reminds me of Robert Putnam's research on diversity leading to lower social capital and lower trust. We are well on our way toward a lower trust society with an elite that has fewer connections and loyalties to the rest of the population.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2010 February 21 03:42 PM  Elites Betrayal And Incompetence

Clarium said at February 21, 2010 4:51 PM:

I am reading Kevin MacDonald... let's just blame most of this on the Jews because no one does that and it is contrarian, and it is cool to be a contrarian. Jews have been pursuing a group evolutionary strategy for their benefit, not for the whitey.


Clarium said at February 21, 2010 5:02 PM:

"Government used to be staffed by party hacks. Today, it is staffed by people from public policy schools. But does government work better than it did before?"

The failure of policy wonks. I always believed a policy wonk are a superior group of people with their intellect and knowledge... but I guess a policy wonk needs bonds with their constituents so they can empathize, and multiculturalism erodes those bonds.

Richard Lynn says that despite affirmative action, the US is fairly meritocratic. I guess meritocracy is not optimal unless supplemented with citizenship and civil virtue.

Red said at February 21, 2010 5:17 PM:

Consider the fact that most of what is taught about human nature in universities is bullshit. The best and brightest are taught nothing but propaganda about human nature is it really surprising everything they touch falls apart?

Bring back the people who had time tested traditions about what works for people and what does not. Toss out sudo science bullshit they teach in schools and learn what really works for people.

James Bowery said at February 21, 2010 7:15 PM:

In systems engineering there is something called a "figure of merit" which is a function of a bunch of variables that you try to optimize. If "meritocracy" means "he who has the biggest virtual dick length by virtue of his money" then I think there is no mystery:

Taxing economic activity to pay for the protection of property rights creates centralization of wealth that is subsidized by the taxation of producers.

Steve Johnson said at February 22, 2010 12:42 AM:

Elites are for their ability to score highly on standardized tests plus some bias towards having correct social attitudes (see the "extra curricular" section of a college application). Elites used to be picked by being the children of the current elites.

The children of past elites were likely to be about as qualified as the previous elites.

The children of "meritocratic" elites are likely to regress towards the mean.

Past elites had to increase the value of their country because it was their children's patrimony. They were husbandsmen of people; they harvested what they could and left behind a larger, richer herd. They didn't maximize their take because they cared what their children had to live off.

The current elites are likely to get one harvest out of our society so why not slaughter and sell all you can and not bother to feed or protect the herd?

What could ever have made anyone think meritocracy was a good idea?

Dave Gore said at February 22, 2010 9:47 AM:

Also, at one time you could hope to start an enterprise and pass it on to your children and grandchildren. This lead to long term thinking and investment. Now with confiscatory estate taxes and foundation disbursement regulations, it all gets broken up and sold off anyway. Hence short term thinking in business.

Mercer said at February 22, 2010 12:50 PM:

" Yet would we say that banks are performing more ably than they were a half-century ago?"

The bankers are making more money for themselves. They would probably say that is the goal of being a banker. The question is why the rest of the country tolerates bankers having huge incomes based on activities that harm the rest of the economy.

from the Brooks column:

"the more government has become transparent, the less people are inclined to trust it."

I think this is probably true. People also idealize the past. Iraq is not dumber then the Vietnam or Philippines wars. Brooks has no hard data that things are worse today.

MarkyMark said at February 22, 2010 1:58 PM:

"In 2007 47% of Harvard grads went into finance or consulting". This is yet another depressing statistic.

On the assumption that finance and consulting don't add much if anything to the prosperity of the US (arguably these activities are actively destructive) this seems like a huge waste of human resources. I suspect the male % would be even higher.

I think the US needs more Stanfords and less Harvards.

tehag said at February 23, 2010 6:29 PM:

An "elite" that underperforms refutes itself. The "meritocracy" is no such thing.

Chunk said at February 25, 2010 12:14 PM:

A meritocracy promotes those who are most competitive, most concerned with only their own advancement

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