Friday, May 18, 2018

The New Aristocracy

The new aristocracy is the 9.9%. They have convinced themselves that they deserve to be at the top because of their superior intelligence, talent, and work ethic. And yet, somehow, those traits get passed on to their kids... but not through genetics. More through legacy college admissions and other mechanisms of privilege.

Here in Australia college really is meritocratic. You need good scores to get into good schools, and all the schools are free (you have to pay them back after you graduate, but only if you earn enough money. The point is if you are accepted to a good school you can afford to go). So what's a wealthy family to do? Private high school. Many of which charge over $12,000 a year.

Elite colleges don't have better instruction, they have better research projects. Go to an elite college and your Teaching Assistant is doing Nobel prize work as his day job. That has obvious advantages, but the point is that the advantage isn't so much from teaching skill as other factors. Factors that don't apply to high schools. The education isn't that much better at a private high school than at a public one.

What does apply, though, is sending your children to school with the children of the rich. Not just because all of the kids there are studying all of the time (so your kid does it through peer pressure) but because the connections they make will keep them in the aristocratic class more than any education they get.

Our new multiracial, gender-neutral meritocracy has figured out a way to make itself hereditary.” - The Birth of the New American Aristocracy

And in one of the enduring absurdities that always makes me crazy:
You see, when educated people with excellent credentials band together to advance their collective interest, it’s all part of serving the public good by ensuring a high quality of service, establishing fair working conditions, and giving merit its due. That’s why we do it through “associations,” and with the assistance of fellow professionals wearing white shoes. When working-class people do it—through unions—it’s a violation of the sacred principles of the free market. It’s thuggish and anti-modern. Imagine if workers hired consultants and “compensation committees,” consisting of their peers at other companies, to recommend how much they should be paid. The result would be—well, we know what it would be, because that’s what CEOs do.


  1. "Here in Australia college really is meritocratic. You need good scores to get into good schools"

    I'm sure Australian schools (college and pre-college) have changed in the last 20 - 30 years, but you may be interested in Miraca Gross' work on exceptionally gifted Australians.

    "A 20-year longitudinal study has traced the academic, social, and emotional development of 60 young Australians with IQs of 160 and above. Significant differences have been noted in the young people’s educational status and direction, life satisfaction, social relationships, and self-esteem as a function of the degree of academic acceleration their schools permitted them in childhood and adolescence. The considerable majority of young people who have been radically accelerated, or who accelerated by 2 years, report high degrees of life satisfaction, have taken research degrees at leading universities, have professional careers, and report facilitative social and love relationships. Young people of equal abilities who accelerated by only 1 year or who have not been permitted acceleration have tended to enter less academically rigorous college courses, report lower levels of life satisfaction, and in many cases, experience significant difficulties with socialization. Several did not graduate from college or high school. Without exception, these young people possess multiple talents; however, for some, the extent and direction of talent development has been dictated by their schools’ academic priorities or their teachers’ willingness or unwillingness to assist in the development of particular talent areas."

    I follow both gifted education (the extreme of born merit, if not developed merit) and the abuses of the meritocracy (such as the article you cite in this post).

    1. I'm not sure how much that applies in general - obviously kids with 160+ IQs are going to need to be accelerated or they will get bored.

      But I was really just pointing out that test scores, not money or legacy, is what gets you into college here - and hence people spend a fortune on high schools.