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A Window into the Future

A Window into the Future The importance of understanding how elites are formed to deciphering a country’s future

No. 2, Nov.-Dec. 2016 » ToBeContinued

Trying to figure out what America or some other important country will do is a cottage industry that keeps many analysts well fed and in the public eye. One analyzes country profiles, historical precedents, and the national culture and even performs biographical analysis on its decision makers. One area which this author feels is a useful weathervane for the evolution of America’s worldview and political options beyond the medium-term is to see how its elites will shift in the future. America is a useful experiment in this regard, being the target of the largest mass migration in history finding the most amenable society towards accommodating foreigners ever conceived, even at the cost of the natives. The result is that the demographics of American elites are in continuous flow, with very little thought given to how fundamental changes in background, culture, worldview and values of these elites-in-waiting will also change the result of whatever these elites will be asked to perform. The result is reflexively assumed to be good while being, a priori, legitimate regardless of whether it is good or not, through its sheer diversity. One cannot browse a political article in a mainstream US magazine without tripping over an enunciation of the difference in how America’s officials do things today and what they value as opposed to elites of yesteryear (often as a sort of morality play underscoring how enlightened the Current YearTM is), but extending that thought process into the future is a conspicuously absent and easy innovation. Perhaps because the population might go ahead and elect Trump again, this time with the full “sturm und drang” that a President not looking for reelection is capable of.

A useful weathervane for the evolution of America’s worldview and political options beyond the medium-term is to see how American elites will shift in the future.

Under the surface

While maintaining the rhetoric and outward trappings of meritocracy when it comes to selecting the non-business elites, the truth is that the America has become steadily ossified, as evidenced by declining social mobility, the rise of political dynasties (they barely dodged a Clinton dynasty recently) and connections, rather than business acumen, becoming an important trait in the continuing success of one’s business, thus bypassing the “shirt sleeve to shirt sleeve in three generations” paradigm of worthy ancestors accumulating wealth to be destroyed by profligate descendants. More and more, where you go to school and who you know becomes more of a factor in your success (on the margins) than sheer merit. These mechanisms were set up by existing elites to preserve their status, which would imply a persistence of their descendants. However, once these mechanisms have been created, the state or other actors, acting under an unspoken mandate of social justice, fairness and diversity, can then appropriate control over those mechanisms and the resulting social capital to distribute to however it sees fit, thus steadily marginalizing the prior elites or their wider group. Like the frog being boiled in the cliché, we are not necessarily at the point where the WASP elites, the Boston Brahmins or the later arrivistes from Europe realize what is happening and they are happily complicit in their dispossession, as long as it appears that their progeny are being spared that particular fate.

The kritarchs

Just as an example – the United States Supreme Court is an important body which has steadily accumulated more and more influence as a result of political actors wanting to use the Constitution to enshrine their preferences into constitutional law, rather than defend or promote them constantly in the public sphere and leave it to legislatures to see that the law fits the tastes and prejudices of the age. The phrase “judicial activism” has been used in connection to the Supreme Court, some critics even alleging that the United States is a kritarchy, a nation ruled by judges, like ancient Judaea. Supreme Court justices used to be representative of the historic American nation and drawn from among the deserving, regardless of how they came to the bench. Today, however, and for the past few decades, every Judge on the Supreme Court has been from Harvard or Yale. Are there no other law schools in the country? To exemplify the shift of the elites, let us be reminded that, despite Protestants being over half the country in nominal terms and the core of the population that built America, there are no Protestants on the bench today, only judges of the Catholic or Jewish faiths. For a country obsessed with being representative of its diversity, it is an immense and lingering oversight.

The American ideology of non-discrimination has shifted to where the assumption of the irrelevance of background gives way to a celebration of its effects on your worldviews, meanwhile attaching positive values to it.

Neither is it expected anymore for the Judges to at least attempt the inhuman burden of being objective and leaving their preconceptions and cultural baggage at home, which is what enabled landmark decisions to be reached in the past. On the contrary, Justice Sonya Sotomayor, nominated by Barack Obama to the Supreme Court (one of two during his Administration, the other being Elena Kagan) wrote about for how “a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life” [1] and was effusively praised for it, even though Donald Trump would later be castigated for doubting the objectivity of Judge Curiel after his comments on Mexicans, since the judge was a member of the La Raza Lawyers Association. Justice Sotomayor might have been right, but her admission makes it valid to assume that changing the timber will also change the sound the instrument makes and to wonder what those changes might be and whether they will be desirable. The American ideology of non-discrimination has shifted to where the assumption of the irrelevance of background gives way to a celebration of its effects on your worldviews, meanwhile attaching positive values to it.

Tomorrow’s elites

American software tycoon, politician and activist Ron Keeva Unz wrote an influential article in the American Conservative in 2012 alleging that America’s Ivy League schools, the hothouses of tomorrow’s elites, were applying unofficial quotas [2] to keep the number of Asian students below the level justified by their standardized test scores. His thorough and well researched article led to an exploration of the myth of American meritocracy, while also, unwittingly, exposing the stakes of deciding who gets to be part of America’s future elite, as chronicled in books such as “The Gatekeepers”, which described admission to Wesleyan, a second-tier elite college. This is because, while America’s population has quadrupled in the last hundred years and grown by 50% since the start of mass migration in 1965, America’s elite universities and their imitators have resisted all calls of expanding their student bodies and thus diluting their scarcity value, which has only grown with the competition. Harvard admits 2,000 students each year, or 6% of those who apply, who are themselves an elite bunch. Students at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale (among others) then go on to be the bankers, politicians, presidents and assorted leaders of tomorrow, which makes the evolution of their student bodies an interesting topic for study. Let us remember that 2004 presidential rivals George W Bush and John Kerry were contemporaries at Yale and were both in the Skulls and Bones “secret” fraternity there, which is a bit of a coincidence for a country of 300 million people.

America’s elite universities and their imitators have resisted all calls of expanding their student bodies and thus diluting their scarcity value, which has only grown with the competition.

What did Ron Unz discover? According to test score analyses, Asians were underrepresented at the Ivies. Wherever test scores decide entry, the very studious and academically adept model minorities end up being a large proportion of the student body, such as being half of the students at the elite engineering college, Caltech. Inherently subjective criteria regarding leadership and extracurricular activities, essays and interviews were used to supplement the test-based portion of the admittance process. This had been a favored tool of the elite to keep out high achieving minorities for decades, such as Jews in the early 1900s. Today, it was being used against Asians. But Ron Unz also discovered something else – under the guise of diversity, extensive affirmative action was also propping up students from certain minorities, considered disadvantaged. The Asians were occupying less than a purely meritocratic system would entail, but more than their population percentage, while African-Americans and Hispanics were occupying more. Citing research by Princeton sociology professor Thomas J. Espenshade in the 2009 book “No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal”, Ron Unz reported that:

“The research certainly supports the widespread perception that non-academic factors play a major role in the process, including athletic ability and “legacy” status. But as we saw earlier, even more significant are racial factors, with black ancestry being worth the equivalent of 310 points, Hispanics gaining 130 points, and Asian students being penalized by 140 points, all relative to white applicants on the 1600 point Math and Reading SAT scale.”

This is in line with the current ideology, so it is no surprise. But there are unintended side effects. Because the universities constrict supply to maintain scarcity, one group must inevitably be squeezed between less deserving groups getting assistance through Affirmative Action (Michelle Obama was a confirmed recipient, but Barack Obama was not) and more deserving groups managing to occupy more than their proportion in the population (with allowance for discrimination against Asians) – cutthroat competition from above and unfair competition from below. That group is the generic Americans, meaning European-Americans, which used to account for a near totality of American elites. Ron Unz states it trenchantly when he remarks that: “Elite Colleges Look Neither Like America Nor Like America’s Highest-Ability Students”.

Because the universities constrict supply to maintain scarcity, one group must inevitably be squeezed between less deserving groups getting assistance through Affirmative and more deserving groups managing to occupy more than their proportion in the population – cutthroat competition from above and unfair competition from below.

The stated goal of Harvard and other Ivies that they should strive to look like America looks today, not yesterday, is a pretense – they already look like the America of tomorrow. At every Ivy League school, European-Americans are fewer than their proportion of the population (45-50%, as opposed to 63% of the population), but if we also take out the original American model minority, the Jews, whose academic excellence has been noted, than the results are even more drastic. Ron Unz reports that: “Between 1980 and 2011, the official figures indicate that non-Jewish white enrollment dropped by 63 percent at Yale, 44 percent at Princeton, 52 percent at Dartmouth, 69 percent at Columbia, 62 percent at Cornell, 66 percent at Penn, and 64 percent at Brown. If we confine our attention to the last decade or so, the relative proportion of college-age non-Jewish whites enrolled at Yale has dropped 23 percent since 2000, with drops of 28 percent at Princeton, 18 percent at Dartmouth, 19 percent at Columbia and Penn, 24 percent at Cornell, and 23 percent at Brown”. Of course, there is still a place for children of alumni (the Bushes of the world), children of wealthy donors and for exquisite genius. However, since membership in the Ivies awards automatic elite status, every group that is allowed to have “tribal” interests watches the admission statistics like hawks, since they determine their share of society’s elites. The extraordinary result of the silent revolution in the Ivies is that, with one exception, the ethnic groups that built America and took it to the Moon, as well as building the reputation and wealth of the Ivies, are the least represented in the institutions today, accounting for maybe 25-30% of the student body, as opposed to still over 63% of the country.

Anglo-Saxon America has been receding for a long time, since before 1965, but the hollowing out of formal institutions and laws will be complete when the mental modes, values and cultures that sustained them are no longer the yardstick by which everything good and proper in society is measured.

And such a statistic still hides a probable divide, not according to religion, but according to background. Another finding of the Espenshade book was that the ideological background of the “gatekeepers” in charge of the subjective portion of elite admissions was tainting their decisions – “One of Ephanshade’s most striking findings was that excelling in certain types of completely mainstream high school activities actually reduced a student’s admission chances by 60–65 percent, apparently because teenagers with such interests were regarded with considerable disfavor by the sort of people employed in admissions; these were Reserve Officer Training Corps, 4-H Clubs, Future Farmers of America, and various similar organizations”. The most interesting finding of Ron Unz’s article was that, contrary to expectations, the least likely background in an elite University was not a disadvantaged ghetto upbringing, but being a bright European-American from “flyover America”, meaning rural areas, involved in activities pursuant to the regional culture. Some examples of rural Americans who made great contributions where William Shockley, Nobel Prize laureate for inventing the transistor and Lewis Terman, who invented the widely used Stanford-Binet IQ test, and whose son Frederick is considered the Father of Silicon Valley and progenitor of the tech hub model of innovation. The raw talents still produced by America’s rural areas are almost completely cut off from the schools that prepare tomorrow’s elites, and likely considered failures through the winner-takes-all mentality that permeates American society leading to an assumption of a near-monopoly of talent in the hallowed halls of the Ivies, which is why many elite businesses only recruit from there. They are victims of advanced social engineering schemes run without permission or thought spared for consequences.

The consequences

America’s elites will be a more diverse lot, less likely to feel attachment to Western civilization or to Europe as the cradle of the American people. With less affection will come less involvement and less inclination towards solidarity. They will respond much easier to American pivots towards new areas of the world, for good or ill, especially to places such as Asia-Pacific. America’s elites are also less likely to maintain an attachment to the old English derived principles regarding power, government, the privileges of citizens and the entire worldview that comes with it. Anglo-Saxon America has been receding for a long time, since before 1965, but the hollowing out of formal institutions and laws will be complete when the mental modes, values and cultures that sustained them are no longer the yardstick by which everything good and proper in society is measured. With the steady loss of North-Western European notions of fair play and selfless public service, America will become much more corrupt (as it has already become) and dysfunctional, while still being an economic and military powerhouse. The still turning engines of meritocracy, along with accumulated capital and infrastructure will ensure continuing prosperity, even as efficiency dwindles at the margins and bad policies and corruption enact ever higher costs. Even today, research abounds detailing how Millennials, the most diverse generation ever in the history of the US, do not believe in free speech, want more government and are more liberal in every way. The idea of privacy from arbitrary government spying is also fading under an ethos of fighting against an imported terrorist problem that will very soon have been going on for the entire lives of a new generation of voters. Whether this is a good or bad thing is beside the point, what matters is that this is not a natural occurrence but a foreseeable consequence of policies regarding population growth, assimilation, permissiveness of non-assimilation or absimilation, promotion of values and historical continuity of values, affirmative action and so on. The granular consequences are foreseeable only in the abstract – loss of trust, balkanization, an undermining of American identity under the weight of numerous hyphens, all leading to a possibly less productive and trusting society, less capable of delivering high value public goods such as safety, community links, generational continuity and so on.

A warning

Thinking about America’s elites is a useful exercise, but one does not need immigration to theorize a change in elites. In Romania, for instance, the Communist period involved a severe levelling of society through the marginalization or elimination of prior elite groups, allowing new elites to take form, with the right background, that also served to generate social mobility. Even in a homogenous society, how one decides who gets a certain job or place in University will determine social mobility and the nature of future elites, as well as their specific values and skillsets. To rely on objective measures is, in itself, not a neutral stance, but adherence to a specific vision and policy regarding who the elites will be. Even changes in the relative status of professions will influence elite status, with teachers and engineers having suffered the highest losses in the post-Communist era.

We should turn the magnifying glass on ourselves and see where our elites are headed towards and what this will mean for future Romanian leaders.

We should, in the fullness of time, turn the magnifying glass on ourselves and see where our elites are headed towards and what this will mean for future Romanian leaders. Will the progeny of current elites eventually end up in inaccessible schools, to network only with their elite peers and thereby slowly become a group with little understanding and connection to other social classes or will the egalitarian impulse that currently sees the richer and the poorer placed together according to ability persist? Will the wealth of Romania’s nouveau riche persist across generations, leading to entrenchment, and how will the new aristocracy of inheritance relate to the population over which it will preside? Will we succumb to the siren song of unity in diversity and engineer our own elites’ displacement in favor of Mogadishu-on-the-Dâmbovița or simply distant Brussels? These questions and more must be explored before we give in to the “illusion of permanence” that blinds people to change.

NOTES
[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/15/us/politics/15judge.text.html
[2] http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-myth-of-american-meritocracy/
 
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OEconomica No. 1, 2016