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Thought Experiment


Oligarchy is not good.

 ….But as soon as the people got leaders, they cooperated with them against the dynasty for the reasons I have mentioned; and then kingship and despotism were alike entirely abolished, and aristocracy once more began to revive and start afresh. For in their immediate gratitude to those who had deposed the despots, the people employed them as leaders, and entrusted their interests to them; who, looking upon this charge at first as a great privilege, made the public advantage their chief concern, and conducted all kinds of business, public or private, with diligence and caution.

16    But when the sons of these men received the same position of authority from their fathers-having had no experience of misfortunes, and none at all of civil equality and freedom of speech, but having been bred up from the first under the shadow of their fathers’ authority and lofty position-some of them gave themselves up with passion to avarice and unscrupulous love of money, others to drinking and the boundless debaucheries which accompanies it, and others to the violation of women or the forcible appropriation of boys; and so they turned an aristocracy into an oligarchy. But it was not long before they roused in the minds of the people the same feelings as before; and their fall therefore was very like the disaster which befell the tyrants.

                                                       – Polybius

I have made, from time to time, the observation that the elite in American society is trending in its favored policies toward conscious promotion of oligarchy. Over at The Committee of Public Safety, Joseph Fouche quoted a theorist, retired CIA analyst Patrick E. Kennon, who is a delighted advocate of a coming technocratic oligarchy:

“Now, as we enter the twenty-first century, the future of the nation-state is much in doubt…Indeed, tribalism has revived with a brutal savagery from Rwanda and Cambodia to the newly dissolved USSR and the newly unified Germany…At the same time, a kind of shadow empire…is being embraced by elites around the globe. UN bureaucrats and Greenpeace activists, Carlos the Jackal and Mother Theresa, Toyota and Amnesty International, the Cali drug cartel and the World Bank, people who worry about the dollar-yen ratio and people who worry about the ozone layer, all of these consciously or unconsciously look to empire for their profit or salvation. All of these have largely given up on the nation.”

Oligarchs elevate self-interest and class interest over national interest, it’s the signature of oligarchy, be it the Thirty Tyrants or the Soviet nomenklatura. Milovan Djilas knew what the hell he was writing about as much as did Thucydides.

What to do?

The proto-oligarchical class in America, the elite who are the product of “the good schools”, tend to embrace and celebrate progressive taxation and diversity as high moral principles. What if we applied them?

The gateway to membership in the elite and opportunities for fabulous wealth and power runs through the admissions offices of our best universities, the Ivy League and a few other select intitutions and a handful of old, highly exclusive, liberal arts colleges. What if we put a special surtax on the purchase of tuition on a sliding scale that correlated with how many generations that members of a family have matriculated at such schools? Plus a few other tweaks here and there.

For example, a student who is the first in their family to go to college and was accepted by Yale would not be taxed at all, perhaps instead, they would be subsidized with a free ride for four years. But someone like Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, a Dartmouth grad who was the son of a Dartmouth grad and a Ford Foundation executive, his kids might face a steep penalty, maybe a $ 250,000 per annum fee on top of tuition, then an additional surcharge to their income tax rates if they entered government service or certain professions like, say, hedge fund management, for the next couple of decades. Entering a different field, say becoming a social worker, a bowling alley manager or a policeman would not incur any income tax surcharge.

We can argue about the appropriate level of progressive taxation but the basic idea is that we could make it increasingly expensive for a family to continue to perpetuate itself, generation after generation, at the political and economic heart of American power. Not impossible, that would be un-American, but very, very expensive.

The net result would be far greater “diversity” at our flagship educational institutions – far more white ethnics whose last names end in vowels, Catholics, Jews, Eastern Orthodox, Asian-Americans, Hispanics, Southerners, Midwesterners and Westerners, people hailing from small towns or blue collar socioeconomic backgrounds. Currently favored demographic groups might be markedly reduced under such a system but since most of them come from long established UMC to UC families with great connections, they’ll be ok even going to Big State U. and getting a third tier school degree.  No worries.


39 Responses to “Thought Experiment”

  1. Joseph Fouche Says:

    Some thoughts:

    1. Admissions to the top institutions of higher learning should be determined solely by a random drawing from among the top 10% academically proficient high school students in each of the 50 states. Pay all educational expenses for those so selected out of the public purse, perhaps paid for by…
    2. A steep inheritance tax that actively encourages dividing an estate into as many tiny pieces as possible.
    3. Mandate that 2o years must transpire between when an officeholder ends their tenure in an appointive or elective office and when a member of their immediate family can hold any appointive or elective office. This requirement can be waived if the immediate family member serves 15 years in the active duty army. In the infantry.
    4. Fill more offices with sortition or a combination of voting and sortition such as in the Venetian Republic.
    5. Ban any immediate family members from receiving a salary from any non-profit established by another immediate family member.

  2. Andy Says:

    I read somewhere recently that a prospective student’s potential to become a generous alumnus could be a factor for admission at some universities.  Instead of a tax, maybe we should look at the incentives which drive elite universities to the students they ultimately choose to admit.  The child of a Tim Geithner, for example, can probably get into most elite universities because he/she is the child of Tim Geithner. 

  3. Abu Nasr Says:

    The major educational institutions are living off of their reputation and Hollywood mythology. Alumni from "prestigious" institutions keep the myth alive by practicing elitism. These social networks hire and promote their own to "prove" that their institution produces the very best.

    Take a look at the educational background of the Army’s three most significant four-star generals (Petraeus, McChrystal, Odierno); all West Point. Is it even worth the time or effort for a State school graduate to bother an attempt to make it to the top in the Army?

    A friend of mine is in grad school at one of the Ivy League institutions. Every few weeks he gets what he calls a "free vacation." All of these companies want to hire/promote a ____ graduate so they fly him out first class with a top suite just to interview him. These contacts are maintained through the alumni association.

    We insist on a democratic style and transparency for elected government officials, yet this never transferred into any other sector. The fact is if you want a high level position today, you must eventually kiss the open oligarchy ring and receive some sort of formal education through the prestigious institutions.

  4. joey Says:

    Its a pity that you didn’t mention the experience and success that politically and culturally similar nation states have had in increasing social mobility.  I don’t think punitive taxes on education are the way forward.  Increasing education funding from the ground up, and opening access by lowering Collage fee’s will benefit  greater numbers of people,  rather than merely seeking to punish the son for the sins of his father.

  5. Charles Cameron Says:

    Just by coincidence, my next reading (on Registan) after your post above took me to Craig of Craigslist, who wrote:
    People use social networking tools to figure out who they can trust and rely on for decision making. By the end of this decade, power and influence will shift largely to those people with the best reputations and trust networks, from people with money and nominal power. That is, peer networks will confer legitimacy on people emerging from the grassroots.
    You think?

  6. BrentGrace Says:


     I think the biggest problem with your suggestion is that you are fighting the creation of one overly complex and unstable bureaucracy with another complex (and easily manipulated) bureaucracy. Who will decide what qualifies as an "elite" school? Ok, the schools offically called "Ivies" are easy targets, I suppose, but what about Middelberry or Stanford? What about Berkly? What about the University of Michigan? Maybe we could just use USN&WR’s list of top 25 schools, but wouldn’t everybody flock to 26? And once the smart and capable children of smart people flock to school 26 then it becomes "elite", right?

    If we assume that their is an oliarchy the only way to reduce their power is to reduce the power of the government in general. Cut spending and taxes – I realize that’s easier said then done – and you’ll reduce the opportunities for system gaming. On the other hand, your sugestion would just shift the power from the admittance office to the government office where decisions about which schools do and do not qualify for the new surcharges are made. And how do you stop graduates from ____ (insert your "elite" school of choice here) flocking to apply for that job?

    On the other hand, if you never create a given regulatory agency in the first place you eliminate the possibility of regulatory capture. I realize some regulations are important for society and I’m not arguing for complete anarchy, I’m just saying that its precarious to assume that the government can just create a few tax policies that will outsmart every Harvard grad – who is also the grandson and son of a Harvard man – who wants his children to go to a top school. The guy got into Harvard, if there’s one thing he understands its how to game systems.

  7. zen Says:
    Hi Gents,

    My proposal is serious in the same sense that suggestions for eating Irish babies was a serious effort to alleviate hardship in old Ireland 😉

    My effort here is to A)  point out a serious and emerging political problem and B) demonstrate the kind of unfairness directed at the middle and working class by policies designed by the elite to narrow the gates of entry into the top tier of American society and generally cement their control over the rest of us, by putting the shoe on the other foot. Byzantine and politically manipulated affirmative action and legacy admissions policies or 280% tuition increases aren’t going to keep Tim Geithner’s kids out of Dartmouth. Nor will proposed restrictions on Angel investing damage their trust funds – but these and other policies are being intentionally aimed by the elite at the strivers from the middle and working classes to keep them from climbing the ladder of opportunity.
    That’s the problem.

  8. onparkstreet Says:

    So, I graduated from one of those big land grant State U’s and went on, in my own haphazard fashion, to be a junior faculty member – in the medical school – of one of the Ivies.
    The experience was, well, I don’t even know how to verbalize or process all of it. But one of these days. Abu Nasr gets, in the first sentence, to a bit of what I felt. Hey, wait a minute, I’m totally prepared to do this job, so, like, what’s the big deal? Except that while I could do the work-work very well, I was lousy at navigating the political minefields.
    Those places, from my brief narrow view, are very political and rather corrupt. Corrupt in the sense of a lack of transparency, which serves all large institutions strive for. Who wants to let the outside world in? Related, because I only skimmed it, is an article on the feed at Kings of War: Scholarship and Solitude. I’ll dig up the link, later, hopefully.
    – Madhu
    (I keep joking that I am going to write some kind of campus satire based on my experiences. Maybe I should stop joking! e-book publishing, look out!)

  9. onparkstreet Says:

    Oh for heaven’s sake – the above nonproof read comment deserves to made fun of. Look at all the mistakes riddling that supposed academic’s comments.
    No knock on this site, which I love, but KoW allows you to edit comments for five minutes once you post them, you know….
    – Madhu

  10. onparkstreet Says:

    "That is exactly what places like Yale mean when they talk about training leaders. Educating people who make a big name for themselves in the world, people with impressive titles, people the university can brag about. People who make it to the top. People who can climb the greasy pole of whatever hierarchy they decide to attach themselves to. But I think there’s something desperately wrong, and even dangerous, about that idea."
    – Madhu (sorry for the rushed nature of this, but well, you know, I’m rushed!)

  11. joey Says:

    Well the most straight forward way to go about it is to increase taxes for high earners, and use the proceeds to drive down barriers to education.But this is America and it is Verboten to think along those lines.So my solution would be to borrow more money and cut taxes,  while decrying the budget deficit,  and warning about drifting into a socialist state.  

  12. onparkstreet Says:

    High tax countries never have nepotism or cronyism or oligarchic tendencies at all.
    – Madhu

  13. zen Says:

    Doc Madhu

    I vote you go with writing the book – a lot of folks would find the anthropological aspects fascinating. Errr….be tenured somewhere though first.
  14. joey Says:

    Well they seem to have less, and the class structure is more fluid.  In advanced Industrailised countries that is.  There are other reasons but a more redistrabutive tax system is a commonality.  Its not higher taxes as a flat rate remember. 
    Anyway I’ll try to think of a way to eat my cake and keep it, just in case.

  15. onparkstreet Says:

    Sorry, Joey, my comment was excessively flippant. But which countries did you have in mind? Do you see less of an elite or connected class in Great Britain or France or Germany or Canada than the US? It seems an elite builds itself up where ever it might, well, find itself.
    Or I’m way off on this one. It’s been known to happen 🙂
    – Madhu

  16. karaka Says:

    Isn’t this thought exercise almost exactly the struggle France is having between the grandes écoles and public universities? It’s sort of similar to the Ivies and publics here in the States, but much narrower and with far greater repercussions.
    PHD comics actually had a great overview of that system and its problems here, for us Yankee plebes.

  17. Joey Says:

    Yes and no,  all those countries mentioned have greater class movement, there is more of a churn.  The UK is closest to the US in its relative class rigidity, Germany is not too far behind, France is somewhere in the middle.  You are right about the Grandes écoles and public universities,  there are certain similarities.  But the difference is money, the fee’s are much lower, this helps with a more meritocratic admissions policy.   Its certainly not perfect though. 
    In the US you have greater income inequality than European countries, this coupled with far higher Education fee’s acts as a barrier to higher education.  This I feel is the root cause of the emergence of a  cross generational governing class.  It would take a generation of policy making to reverse those trends, but it can be done. 
    You can put a band aid on it with affirmative action ect, but this is treating the symptoms
    rather than the cause. 
    What would happen to Harvard if fee’s were dropped, and admissions were conducted solely on merit? What would the class of 2015 look like? If this happened for every Ivy league University in America, what would the Government look like in 2035?

  18. tdaxp » Blog Archive » The Bad and the Good Says:

    […] Obama is fighting a class war against the middle class, to make sure the poor never have to earn money and the rich never have to lose money […]

  19. onparkstreet Says:

    "Yes and no,  all those countries mentioned have greater class movement, there is more of a churn."
    What is the data for that? I am genuinely interested. And I ask because as an immigrant, with family in a far flung diaspora in multiple countries, that is not the anecdotal cultural feeling. It’s pretty hard to work your way up in lots of Western countries. This, of course, is likely to be very accurate.
    If you took the governing elite in each country, I bet you would find most are educated in one or two elite institutions – even Germany – how many Turks are in high positions there? – and many are politically connected or come from familial connections. I just don’t believe it unless someone provides me with the data.
    – Madhu 🙂

  20. onparkstreet Says:

    Oops, I mean inaccurate.
    – Madhu

  21. onparkstreet Says:

    And finally – I’ll leave it alone after this: I don’t want a governing class to come from just one or two schools. No matter how good they are, this will engender group think. The reason for my personal anecdote above was to point out that lots of people can do the work – they don’t need all to come from Harvard. Who cares?
    – Madhu

  22. joey Says:

    Most of it comes from the OECD, basically they look at how much more lightly you are to end up with an adjusted larger income than your parents.On this measure the US comes  close to the bottom of the pile of advanced countries.The Nordics are the highest, French and Germans somewhere in the middle, Britian edges the states on this measure.About half of my siblings have moved to the states, as well as many first cousins(NY,NY) and done extremely well for themselves, almost uniformly.  It maybe something to do with the drive immigrants have to conquer the odds.  http://www.oecd.org/document/51/0,3343,en_2649_34325_44566259_1_1_1_1,00.htmlStarts at chapter 5

  23. karaka Says:

    @Joey – I would say for that to be truly effective, though, you’d have to legislate across all universities in the US. It’s not merely an Ivy-to-governing-class expression, it’s true of just about any particular field. Philosophy, for example: there are most assuredly certain schools that will allow, and others that will hinder, a young student from becoming a graduate or professional in philosophy. If you were to take your idea to its further conclusion, breaking the fee structure that exists in both private, public, and generally elite universities in the US would probably contribute to a far more diverse graduation pool in the subject. See also biology, or any of the hard sciences.
    @Madhu, I don’t know that it’s one or two schools; rather, I suspect it’s more a culture of a certain class more exspensive, more historic, and consequently more prestigious schools, all of which can churn out variations on the same graduate. And the relative competitiveness (and nepotism) that results from going through such a university for a graduate.
    @Everyone, I completed my BA at a small American private university and my MA at a large public UK university. The difference between a uni based on a profit model and one based on a state-supported model is really significant here. Now, granted, public unis in the UK are struggling a lot to maintain their fiscal viability, particularly in this climate, but in my opinion the market system as applied to the US university system–not unlike health care–does far more harm than good. I don’t think it would be enough to generate taxes to subsidize lower-income students; it seems that restructuring the for-profit system itself would contribute to greater accessibility at affordable costs that could result in a larger, more diverse, and potentially more industrious pool of graduates.
    Not that I expect that to ever happen, mind. And there’s certainly a reason that the US sees so much foot traffic from international students to its universities and postgraduate courses. But walking away from your average private institution with between $50k-150 of debt is an absurd burden to place on newly certified potential workers, and the fear (or reality) of that acts as a major barrier to entrance to many universities, period, whether they are Ivies or state schools (not that state schools are always a more inexpensive option either–UC Berkeley, New York University, and others immediately spring to mind).

  24. karaka Says:

    @Joey – the Economist published an article this week about social mobility using a similar model, too. It’s here: http://www.economist.com/world/united-states/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15908469

  25. seerov Says:

    Nothing can tell us more about the American/Transnational Elites future aggregate planning and forecasting than the discourse they maintain on the subject of race and ethnicity. Why would any group of people produce such an aggressive narrative towards middle America (for lack of better term at this point) if they didn’t view them as their near peer competitors? 
    There are three main units/nodes currently interacting within the American political system: The transnational elite, middle America, non-whites/ immigrant groups. The major narrative is the "White as Oppressor" of non-whites. The major theme and plot is overcoming the "racist exploitation system."  The transnational elites are the noble "ubermensch" who, along with with their faithful companions (non-whites) are fighting the white legion of doom.  This narrative is produced and maintained in the  big three information systems (entertainment media, news media, education).  
    Of course, a lot of people (in all parts of the political correctness spectrum) point out the glaring double standards, selective outrage, and diversity status seeking of the multi-cult.  Some people ask what the cause of political correctness is; this is a good question.  A better question is what the results of political correctness will be?  What is the future for middle America when the discourse, myths, and heroes are not in their favor or their image? Why would any people accept such a predicament?  If the information that you consume in the big three information systems is insulting, offensive, and using violent sexual overtones (teabagger), then you probably have thew wrong people running these systems.   
    The most important point this:  Whether the transnational elite do conspire in secret meetings and clubs, or if its unorganized doesn’t really matter.  The fruit is what we know them by, and the fruit is starting to go bad.  For some reason, aggressive talk and posturing is being marketed to middle America.   What was the atmosphere before the Jews were persecuted by the Nazis?  What did other ethnic conflicts or oppression scenarios sound like in the media before they happened? 
    Recent news in South Africa directs us towards one of the transnational elites future  models for Middle America.  In Zimbabwe we saw legitimate ethnic cleansing of white Africans, and no one knows about it in the US.  In South Africa,  (which is more likely in n. America or w Europe), White South Africans now install "rape rooms" in their homes because a break-in brings with it a high probability that the women/girls will be raped.  National leaders sing songs about killing white farmers, and political assassinations take place without much thought in the western media.  South Africa was most likely an early experiment in how one group of whites (the transnational elite), could use the "other" (non-whites) as weapons to neutralize the other whites (middle America) who the elite perceive as their near peer competitors. 
    This would truly be a system of exploitation that would "level the playing field" by taxing middle America of its communities, assets, and spirit, while being supported by myths, art, entertainment, discourse, and a narrative that doesn’t favor middle America (or western Europeans, east European, Australians, etc..) .  This is neutralizing a threat to the elite by literally forcing middle America to accept a narrative (whites exploit the world, breath too much air, have too big of an environmental footprint and the elite and their faithful non-white companions have the holy mission of punishing them and making things right). 
    The elite always talk about how "the radical right" takes advantage of people’s hard times with messianic messages.  Maybe the "big lie" is that the elite are truly the people playing on people fears and the people using "racism" to "advance their interests?" They then create subsystems to "combat hate" which do nothing but naturalize ideas that they perceive as dangerous (middle American solidarity and cooperation is the most dangerous idea).  With the consumerist era of order coming to an end, the elite will need some new strategy/belief system to remain at the top. The "white as oppressor" narrative may be that strategy/belief system?


  26. onparkstreet Says:

    Multiculturalism is especially pernicious because it attempts to fit varied groups of individuals into all too neat categories, and is so doing, elides the truth at times.
    Thanks for the OECD data, Joey, I’ve seen it elsewhere and something about this model – and the broad flat way in which it is being interpreted – doesn’t sit right with me, but I don’t have time to explain. I’ll try later. There is something unsatisfying about that model. There are other ways to measure social mobility, I think, and income is not the only one? I guess my thought experiment is the kid of a wealthy businessman or something that goes on to follow his or her own bliss by becoming a ballerina or actor or artist, or goes on to serve in the Peace Corps, because they Daddy allows them to. If you see what I mean? What do scenarios like this tell us about a society and how does that fit into the model?
    Hey, don’t mind me, I like to pull apart models, data, numbers, ideas, and look for what doesn’t work. It’s just me. It may be that you are correct, let me look into the chapter and delve deeper.
    – Madhu 🙂

  27. onparkstreet Says:

    Also, because I’m brainstorming and not explaining this well – does that data discuss the top tier of society and their social connections? It may be that different systems still produce a sclerotic upper core. That was my initial point before I distracted myself.
    – Madhu

  28. onparkstreet Says:

    Zen, I’ll stop – today – after this, but there is hetereogeneity in the European sample such that I don’t know what to make of it in terms of my snarky high tax comment above. Also, some countries with generous access to higher education don’t do too well in generational movement as described by this model?
    Sigh – as usual, a simplified model trying to describe complicated phenomenon is unsatisfying.
    – Madhu

  29. joey Says:

    Well at the end of the day its just a data set,  and cannot cover very real socio-political differences between  say Denmark and Portugal.
    But it does point to a strong link between educational access and social mobility.  Obviously this may be an uncomfortable fact depending on your personal politics or economic beliefs.
    On one hand it points to a failure of progressive policy’s as implemented in the US (despite a relativity large investment) , on the other hand I can’t see any worth while suggestions coming from the right of the political spectrum to deal with the widening income gap as occurred under a mainly republican watch.  Both sides seem to have fallen into a political orthodoxy,  in which positions are stacked out and fought over in ritual combat.
    In the meantime America is becoming a more unequal place.

  30. onparkstreet Says:

    I lied about stopping, obviously 🙂
    No, no, I can believe that there is a link between education access and social mobility. I just don’t know 1) how best to define social mobility 2) what type of social mobility is best 3) and how to break, as you say, the sort of logjam of thinking we seem to have gotten into in the US with regards to being an unequal place. Also, how are we defining unequal? Say we have two societies – one in which everyone is fairly, but equally, poor, and one in which the gap is very wide but empirically many of the people in the middle and below are richer than the first society. Which society is better?
    I don’t know, as usual, where I am going with this. I’ll have to keep looking over that data….
    – Madhu

  31. Joseph Hertzlinger Says:

    It might make more sense to encourage the sort of student who might be the first in his family to go to an "Ivy League" school to go elsewhere. You can think of the Ivy League scam as a matter of mixing real brains and future members of the American House of Lords in such a way as to make hereditary aristocrats look like real elites. Real brains going to the Ivy league merely raises the prestige of the undeserving.

  32. T. Greer Says:

    Says Madhu-

    Say we have two societies – one in which everyone is fairly, but equally, poor, and one in which the gap is very wide but empirically many of the people in the middle and below are richer than the first society. Which society is better?


    Ah, the classic conservative reply to the communist challenge. In a sense (particularly on the global scale), it still works. But this logic breaks down when you apply it to a more contiguous population with higher living standards.


    Part of the problem is  psychological – the way humans are hardwired. For human beings, happiness (and wealth) are circumstantial conceptions. We do not think in absolute (or ’empirical’) terms. I am reminded of a study (can’t find it just now, I will search around and see if I can dig it up) where the participants were told that they and a coworker were going to get a raise. This hypothetical coworker had performed the exact same amount of work as had the participant. They were then given a choice – would you rather have your raise be $25,000, with the caveat that your coworker got a raise of $35,000, or would you rather both of you have your income raised by $20,000? Most people chose the latter.


    In absolute terms, people don’t care much about wealth. Save in places where small changes in absolute wealth are trans formative (the third world), empirical increase does not matter much. Inform the average middle class family that they are absolutely more wealthy than most 18th century noblemen and see the reaction. Will they thank the heaven’s that they were born into such wealth? I doubt it. See, that the average poor American is more wealthy than most every human being who has yet lived on the planet matters little is he is poorer than most other Americans. Words like ‘wealthy’ and ‘poor’ only have meaning in a comparative situation. No child knows if they are poor or rich until they have gone to school and seen all the other kids.


    So why does all this matter? I think Tocqueville summed it up nicely two centuries ago:

    The coarseness of the populace in civilized countries results not only from their ignorance and poverty but from the fact that, being coarse, they are in daily contact with enlightened and wealthy men. The sight of their adversity and weakness, in contrast each day to happiness and power of their compatriots, arouses, at the same time, anger and fear in their hearts; the feeling of their inferiority and dependence frustrates and humiliates them. The inner state of mind finds a parallel in their ways as it does in their language; they are simultaneously rude and vulgar.


     The truth of this is easily proved by observation. The populace is coarser in aristocratic societies more than anywhere else, in affluent towns more so than in the countryside. In those places one encounters very powerful and rich men; the weak and poor fell, as it were, burdened by their low status and, since they discover no means of being able to recover equality, they lose any sense of hope in themselves, drifting below any standards of human dignity.


         ~Alexis Tocqueville, Democracy in America,  trans. Gerald Bevan, pp. 33-34.


    Inequality – particularly when paired with social immobility – is dangerous. It promotes disunion and class warfare.  Unable to actually join the upper class, those of the poorer ranks will try to take on the trappings of it instead. As the last sub-prime crisis so aptly demonstrated, it is often the first step towards larger economic meltdowns. And then there is the most chilling danger – men do not enjoy living in a state of abject inequality. In such circumstances, they will gladly forfeit liberty to those who promise them equality.

  33. onparkstreet Says:

    It seems that when I have mountains of paperwork to do, the internet is irresistable.
    Yes, I know T. Greer, as soon as I wrote out my last comment, I knew exactly what I was doing and exactly what the response would be to it! (By the way, I think I first saw the OECD data on your wonderful blog.)
    So, inequality is bad. Social immobility is bad. Are we measuring social immobility by the data set in the OECD study?
    I should stick to first principles, but I have a bad habit of being scatter-shot when trying to educate myself.
    I’ll do this instead: I’ll read Chapter 5, put up my questions about the data on my blog or Chicagoboyz, and then I’ll see where I am with it. For the sake of argument: just what do you think is being measured by the OECD data? I am not close minded and will follow the data where it takes me. What I am seeing, however, is that people look at that data and see what they want to see, right and left both.
    – Madhu

  34. onparkstreet Says:

    Good grief. I may have to retract my offer. I am unused to social science literature: is this how things are done? You develop large data bases and then run some sort of stats on the data bases? But what I want to know is how the data is collected and in what way?  I’d have to know more about the EU-SILC database which seems to form the basis of this "analysis," which is simply a bunch of conclusions? Huh?
    I could never be a social scientist – I’d be digging into every database looking for shoddy work. Not that this is shoddy work, but you know what I mean.
    – Madhu

  35. LFC Says:

    The situation is more complicated than the post and Zen’s comment @7 above (I haven’t really read the other comments) suggest. On the one hand, it’s true that legacy admissions, for example, probably contribute to a certain amount of ‘reproduction of hierarchy’ or perpetuation of the existing base of the elite. On the other hand, some ‘elite’ institutions (well,at least one in particular that I am aware of) have become more concerned in the last five to ten years with ensuring that they make themselves affordable to a wider range of students by expanding financial aid. This kind of policy should have, over time, the opposite effect of legacy admissions, broadening the base of the elite rather than perpetuating an existing base.
    But finally and most important, the post’s premise — that access to the U.S. elite runs only through attendance at a relatively small number of schools — is empirically very dubious. I would bet that a study of ‘the ruling class’ or ‘the elite,’ defined in some suitable way, would reveal its members to have attended a quite wide range  of institutions, not just the Ivies and a very small group of liberal arts colleges.
    (Here’s one manageable idea: look at the governors of the 50 states — clearly members of the elite — and the undergraduate (and, if you like, graduate) institutions they attended. I think it would support my point, though, not actually having done the research, I can’t be positive.)

  36. T. Greer Says:

    <i> finally and most important, the post’s premise — that access to the U.S. elite runs only through attendance at a relatively small number of schools — is empirically very dubious. I would bet that a study of ‘the ruling class’ or ‘the elite,’ defined in some suitable way, would reveal its members to have attended a quite wide range  of institutions, not just the Ivies and a very small group of liberal arts colleges.</i>

    @LFC: Sounds like a fair deal. If you don’t mind, however, I will look at the educational background of the 100 senators in Washington, as their data is easier to acquire. I will post a break down of the schools they have attended, along with any conclusions, at my place later tonight. (I being in Hawaii, this might mean early tomorrow morning for you folks.)

  37. T. Greer Says:

    Hmm. For some reason my ability to leave a trackback is not working. Oh well. Here is a link to the promised breakdown, for those interested.

  38. zen Says:

    I think you win "Top Billing!" in the next Rec Reading, T. Greer. 🙂

    I think you have a potent research book idea here, if you are so inclined. I can say that it is a book I’d very much want to read ( though probably not research and write, lazy bastard that I am).

  39. Luminous Emptiness Says:

    Zen, I thought I’d just point out the similarity between the image of the double headed spoon on this post, and a dorje, or vajra. Stunning.

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