Why our elites stink
The basic Brooks premise is this:
I’d say today’s meritocratic elites achieve and preserve their status not mainly by being corrupt but mainly by being ambitious and disciplined.
Intellect, the ability to defer gratification, possession of the qualities of diligence and perseverance, and the desire to get ahead are no doubt profound contributors to becoming elite, and yet, how did anyone ever first become elite to begin with? I’m waiting for the explanation from the evolutionary biologists how it somehow benefitted the development of the human race to have people who are unambitious and undisciplined.
Our current definition of elite—as it pertains to political success—has little to do with effectiveness, efficiency, or non-academic accomplishment. Rather, it has to do with compliance in the classroom (test scores and academic success; that is, pleasing the instructor) and credentialing (academic degrees from institutions deemed elite).
As such, we end up with elites who are well-credentialed and not necessarily educated.
Credentialing is an easily measured and observed discriminator while success is often more ambiguous. Similarly, when the game is rigged (Is Warren Buffett still an elite businessman or is he more of a crony capitalist? Does anyone really think Eric Holder possesses an elite legal mind? How about the elite investment acumen of Bernie Madoff? Or the elite statesmanship of Joe Biden?), all “results” must be taken with a grain of salt.
The reality is there is truth—perhaps not total truth, but undeniable truth—in the hypothesis of the Chris Hayes book, Twilight of the Elites (which inspired the Brooks column). Such truth cannot be easily dismissed, even if the following is an overgeneralization. (And the block quote below is still from the Brooks column.)
In his book, “Twilight of the Elites,” he argues that meritocratic elites may rise on the basis of grades, effort and merit, but, to preserve their status, they become corrupt. They create wildly unequal societies, and then they rig things so that few can climb the ladders behind them. Meritocracy leads to oligarchy.
Similarly, there are the poorly qualified, the pseudo-elites, those like Dear Reader, AKA Barack Obama. These elites have, for one reason or another, received preferential treatment or have been blessed with good personal luck. As a result, they have moved into the realm of the “political elite” with self-evident and disastrous results.
The reality of the non-success of our elites leads back to William F. Buckley: “I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.”