David Brooks On “The Power Elite”
One of the great achievements of modern times is that we have made society more fair. Sixty years ago, the upper echelons were dominated by what E. Digby Baltzell called The Protestant Establishment and C. Wright Mills called The Power Elite. If your father went to Harvard, you had a 90 percent chance of getting in yourself, and the path upward from there was grooved in your favor.
Since then, we have opened up opportunities for women, African-Americans, Jews, Italians, Poles, Hispanics and members of many other groups. Moreover, weâ€™ve changed the criteria for success. It is less necessary to be clubbable. It is more important to be smart and hard-working.
Yet hereâ€™s the funny thing. As weâ€™ve made our institutions more meritocratic, their public standing has plummeted. Weâ€™ve increased the diversity and talent level of people at the top of society, yet trust in elites has never been lower.
Itâ€™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?
The banksters are certainly performing more ably at pocketing a larger share of the GDP.
Third, leadership-class solidarity is weaker. The Protestant Establishment was inbred.
If, say, 60% of the population in 1910 were white Protestants, was America`s Protestant Ascendancy really all that inbred compared to today? In 2009, 35% of the Forbes 400 are from one ethnic group that makes up only 2% of the population. So, is “The Power Elite” really that much more diverse today?
If you break down Brooks` list — “African-Americans, Jews, Italians, Poles, Hispanics”– by membership in the 2009 Forbes 400, you come up with:
African-Americans: 1 (Oprah)
Poles (and all other Eastern Europeans): 6
Similarly, if you look at the 2009 Atlantic 50 ranking of most influential pundits, it`s half Jewish, versus 2% black and 0.5% Hispanic.
In other words, this increased “meritocratic diversity” among the elites that Brooks is writing about essentially consists of the rise of Jews over the last century.
Fourth, time horizons have shrunk. If you were an old blue blood, you traced your lineage back centuries, and there was a decent chance that youâ€™d hand your company down to members of your clan. That subtly encouraged long-term thinking.
Now people respond to ever-faster performance criteria â€” daily stock prices or tracking polls. This perversely encourages reckless behavior.
Perhaps if 35% of the Forbes 400 (up from 23% in 1987) grew up being told over and over that they belong to a victimized minority who can`t trust the majority, that might incline them toward short-term thinking?
The unspoken implication of Brooks` analyses is that American Jews should start thinking of themselves less as oppressed outcasts who need to go for whatever they can get while the getting is good, and start thinking of themselves more realistically as the core of the New American Establishment. Thus, American Jews should realize that, like the Protestant Establishment of yore, their privileged position as a de facto leadership caste bestows upon them corresponding duties to conserve the long-term well-being of the overall nation rather than to indulge in personal and ethnic profit and power maximization.
I`ll predict that within three months, Brooks will publish a column saying more or less that, but written in such a way that New York Times subscribers who aren`t VDARE.COM readers won`t get what he`s saying.