The Elites Cling to Their Jobs

After the job numbers on Friday showed that we continue to tread water on job creation, Chris Hayes tweeted,

Dirty secret about the jobs crisis: A lot of the policy elite in both parties don’t think there’s much to be done.

I asked him whether that was because of political reasons–that they couldn’t pass anything through Congress–or because of ideological ones, because “they think this is structural or there’s no possible room for maneuver.” He responded,

not political reasons. a lot of people buy the structural story and Reinhart-Rogoff post crisis account

(Here’s a Paul Krugman post on Reinhart-Rogoff for background and a critique.)

Though he did retweet Dan Froomkin’s point that “Policymakers have tons of ways to create jobs, many just aren’t possible w/o crushing GOP obstruction.” “Oy. Time to get a new set of elites,” I said the guy who had written the book on such matters.

Twilight of the Elites

I’ve been meaning to post on Hayes’ Twilight of the Elite since I read it months and months ago. I agree with Freddie DeBoer that the book feels kluged together. Unlike DeBoer, I thought Hayes’ description of the many failures of the elite its best part: the Catholic Church pedophile scandal, the Katrina response, our failed and permanent wars, the financial crisis. Hayes’ indictment of the elite is a concise proof that our elites really aren’t worthy of their name.

The rest of the book maps out both what Hayes understands our current elite to be, the reasons for its failures–which Hayes argues is the decline of the educational meritocracy put in place last century, and a proposal to reverse that trend and so, Hayes hopes, to return our elite what he sees as its proper function.

It’s in his conception of the elite where I disagree with Hayes. First, he assumes our elite is primarily based on intelligence.

Of all the status obsessions that pre-occupy our elites, none is quite so prominent as the obsession with smartness. Intelligence is the core value of the meritocracy, one which stretches back to the earliest years of standardized testing, when the modern-day SAT descended from early IQ tests. To call a member of the elite “brilliant” is to pay that person the highest compliment.

In his critique of Hayes, DeBoer unpacks several of the problems why we shouldn’t use intelligence as a measure of meritocracy generally (and I’ll follow up on this in a later post).

Educational outcomes are dictated by a vast number of factors uncontrollable by students, parents, or educators, and the lines are never as bright as “took a test prep class/didn’t.” If it’s anything like the SAT and most other standardized tests, the Hunter exam is undermined by sociocultural factors that condition our metrics for intelligence.

At its most basic, the logic of “meritocracy” is ironclad: putting the most qualified, best equipped people into the positions of the greatest responsibility and import.

DeBoer’s talking about why shouldn’t use education. But I’m not even sure we do, except as a stand-in for a kind of cultural indoctrination (which is sort of what DeBoer is saying).

Our elites aren’t so smart

Among the symptoms of the failure of the elite Hayes offers, after all, are steroids in baseball, the Sandusky scandal, and the financial crisis. The importance of athletic failures should make it clear that book-smart people aren’t our only elites. And while many of the people responsible for the financial crisis came through elite schools (though I can attest that even weak students at those elite schools got great offers from the bankster industry, because they were culturally appropriate, which was more important than academic success), a lot didn’t.

Indeed, I’d like to suggest that the consummate elite–the guy wielding more power in our society than anyone else–is Sheldon Adelson. He’s a working class CCNY dropout who succeeded by making massive bets and also by using all means–with lots of dollar signs attached–to influence elites around the world. Any conception of the elite that doesn’t account for the way Sheldon Adelson can single-handedly play one of the most significant roles in the so-called democracy of two countries is a misunderstanding of what traits our society values. The smart people? They’re just the servants of the ballsy gamblers who rode a string of luck and ruthlessness to power.

And Adelson is a perfect example of our current elite for the way that he really isn’t “ours” anymore. His is the consummate American success story, but he doesn’t live here and he seems just as interested in “us” for the power it gives Israel as anything else. America–particularly its politics–has become just his plaything.

That’s the biggest problem I had with the book. The elite who run this country no longer identify as the American elite. Rather, they have become the global oligarchs borrowing the military might and reserve currency of the US to build their power. And their interests have to do with retaining the supremacy of those things rather than in the sustainability of “the nation” itself. Thus, it’s not in the least surprising that they’re not delivering on sustainability.

In a piece called “Revolt of the Elite,” former Republican Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren (he’s the guy who described how TeaParty Congressmen were a “casebook in lunacy” last year, and who has just come out with a new book on the failure of our parties) offers one of the best explanations I’ve seen of how the rich–our elite–have seceded from our nation.

The super-rich have seceded from America even as their grip on its control mechanisms has tightened.


The objective of the predatory super-rich and their political handmaidens is to discredit and destroy the traditional nation state and auction its resources to themselves. Those super-rich, in turn, aim to create a “tollbooth” economy, whereby more and more of our highways, bridges, libraries, parks, and beaches are possessed by private oligarchs who will extract a toll from the rest of us. Was this the vision of the Founders? Was this why they believed governments were instituted among men—that the very sinews of the state should be possessed by the wealthy in the same manner that kingdoms of the Old World were the personal property of the monarch?


But in globalized postmodern America, what if this whole vision about where order, stability, and a tolerable framework for governance come from, and who threatens those values, is inverted?

(Note, Lofgren’s consummate elite is Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, whose public school to Yale to Harvard Business matches Hayes’ education-based notion of an elite much more than Adelson.)

This is the problem with both Hayes’ remedy–reinjecting a meritocracy of smarts into our elites–and with David Brooks’–returning to the era of noblesse oblige. These elites have been chosen for their adherence to an ideology that sees the rest of society as a profit center, not as an obligation. The very logic–both the ideology and the process–of our elite selection embraces an ideology that advocates against fostering society. So we would need to do far more than tinkering with the meritocracy or noblesse oblige to turn these people into elites that could credibly lead society again.

Lofgren calls this ideology (at least the more extreme Republican half of it) the “absolutist twin of Marxism.”

GOP proponents of globalized vulture capitalism, such as Grover Norquist, Dick Armey, Phil Gramm, and Lawrence Kudlow, extolled the offshoring and financialization process as an unalloyed benefit. They were quick to denounce as socialism any attempt to mitigate its impact on society. Yet their ideology is nothing more than an upside-down utopianism, an absolutist twin of Marxism. If millions of people’s interests get damaged in the process of implementing their ideology, it is a necessary outcome of scientific laws of economics that must never be tampered with, just as Lenin believed that his version of materialist laws were final and inexorable.

Which brings me back to where this post started: with the policy elites looking at 8.1% unemployment in a world where fewer and fewer people are in the job market and declaring there’s nothing they can do.

How do we know the free market?

One of Hayes’ most interesting chapters, “Who Knows?” traces what he says is a crisis in knowledge that arises out of the decline in trust and the proliferation of knowledge.

Which brings us to the most destructive effect of the fail decade.The cascade of elite failure has discredited not only elites and our central institutions, but the very mental habits we use to form our beliefs about the world. At the same time, the Internet has produced an unprecedented amount of information to sort through and radically expanded the arduous task of figured out just whom to trust.

Together, the discrediting of our old sources of authority and the exponential proliferation of new ones has almost completely annihilated our social ability to reach consensus on just what the facts of the matter are.

He goes on to trace how we “know” things, discussing consensus, proximity, good faith. It’s rather telling that it appears in a book that argues that intellectual achievement are the basis for our elite.

I enjoyed the chapter, but I didn’t get it. First, it’s entirely unclear who is included among the “we” here? He and I, who are elites, albeit with some distance on elite consensus? Or is it a generic person, whose scope of critical knowledge differs greatly from Hayes’ and I, who pride ourselves, rightly or wrongly, on a certain expertise about the way the world works, but who may have far less competence on issues of daily life and certain professions than most people? That is, is Hayes saying he’s bewildered by this cognitive state of affairs, or is he suggesting–without much concrete evidence–that others are, and are because of the crisis in authority and proliferation of information?

After all, if the “we” there is me and Hayes, then it says we should throw out the entire concept of elite education; if he and I can’t figure out how to assess information, then our entire elite education is for shit. But I don’t think that’s what he’s talking about. Rather, I think he’s bemoaning that the true elite have invested a lot of money into inventing ideologies that compete directly with what science and self interest ought to produce. But it’s not at all clear this has anything to do with what the general populace knows or think they know.

He describes the stakes of this by looking at climate change.

The most important social project we must undertake in the wake of the Fail Decade is reconstructing our institutions so that we once again feel comfortable trusting them. Because without the social cohesion that trusted institutions provide, we cannot produce the level of consensus necessary to confront our greatest challenges. I believe the most important of these is climate change. Public opinion in the United States is nowhere near where it would have to be to produce the kinds of dramatic policy changes we must make if we are to cap carbon at a level scientists say is sustainable.


The fundamental problem is that too many Americans simply don’t trust the various forms of scientific and elite authority through which information about the threat of climate change is transmitted.

In actuality, even when Hayes wrote this, there was a fairly high degree of consensus about climate change, and after Fat Al Gore summer in the interim, the numbers have climbed significantly. That is, there’s plenty of consensus about climate change, everywhere except where it counts, among the DC policy elite who have been heavily incented not to believe in climate change. So while my meat farmer–who has taken to showing me the metastasizing drought map on her iPad every week–has a growing expertise in how to feed her cows and chickens without grass to graze them on, the people who can apply expertise at a broader level to solving climate change have an artificially stunted belief in climate change. Elites like the Koch brothers, you see, have an incentive to keep it that way.

And those elites–people whom Hayes and I both know, the people he’s telling this dirty little secret about with respect to the jobs crisis–are no longer bound by public opinion. So long as the Kochs and the Adelsons continue to pay enough to win the grudging support of 31% of eligible voters, they’re not bound by public opinion. So while people in my poverty simulation had widespread consensus about how to end the poverty of these individual simulated families–things that would make it possible to send 17 year olds to college rather than work a shit job to sustain the family–we were more likely to find assistance from churches than from the government. And while polling consistently shows almost unanimous support for manufacturing and very high levels of support for an industrial policy, that is one of the things that (the purchased cognitive beliefs about Solynda has made sure) is outside acceptable discourse.

And this operates at a more macro level–it is baked right into the elite selection process Hayes writes about. As Yves Smith lays out at length in Econned, the “science” of economics has been affirmatively built to foster the ideology of the global elites, whose interest has become divorced from the country. So to the extent that an elite has “expertise” in economics, she has expertise in a belief that has been wired not to sustain the country, but to help the global oligarchs.

I’m going to continue this with a discussion of the “consensus” about how to fix our economy that crossed both the RNC and DNC. But as we discuss what the policy elites have planned for our recovery, it’s important to ask whether they’re “our” elites or those paid by the global oligarchs.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

36 replies
  1. KWinIa says:

    I’d like to hear more about the consensus from your workshop on how to end the poverty of these families and how to enable the 17 year old to attend college instead of working the shit job. Presumably, this also includes enabling the 17 year old to select the right college and program so he/she can get an education that leads to something instead of just student debt.

  2. emptywheel says:

    @KWinIa: We didn’t get that far since it wasn’t an option, but I assume it would involve an Associates Degree at the local CC to begin with.

  3. TarheelDem says:

    I found Hayes’s book one of the better on slicing and dicing the elite failure. My own take is that what he talks about as “intelligence” is really the myth of inborn talent denied an opportunity. That is, there are some people more talented than others who only need to be discovered and mentored and polished and socialized into the elite. And the rest don’t deserve that same coddling because they don’t have “talent”.

    I think he exposed rather well that “talent” these days has been reduced to test prep and patronage. (Or as we politely called it in the elite university that I had the opportunity to attend, “brownosing”.) One need think only of George Will and Meg Greenfield to see the failure of this heuristic for selecting people who are seen to be “serious”.

    Ordinary folks see that (1) this elite isn’t the “smartest guy in the room” by working for them and serving them and (2) think that if that is what education produces or what intelligence is, I want to keep my kids as far away from that as possible. Or if they are still ambitious, turn their failure into a successful buying their way into the elite so they can tell the rest of the world “Eff you.” That would be the Sheldon Adelsons of the world. Who understand from his life experience that a lot of people have come to conclusions 1 and 2.

  4. rosalind says:

    @emptywheel: good luck with that.

    “Just into the start of the new fall semester, students at Santa Monica College learned winter classes, which were set to begin in January, have now been cancelled.

    Thursday night the board of trustees voted unanimously to eliminate the six-week winter session, which will save about $2.5 million. The board says it had no choice, given the college lost $8 million in state funding. But it will cost the 11,000 students who take winter classes.

    About 400 classes will be eliminated with winter session, and many students fear this is just the beginning of even more drastic cuts given the state’s dire financial situation.”

  5. MadDog says:

    I confess to not having read Hayes’ book, so I’m commenting about something that based on your writing EW isn’t part of Hayes’ definition of elite.

    If as defined by Hayes, and communicated here by EW (with her own disagreement on the Hayes’ standard noted), elites are:

    “…obsess[ed] with smartness [and] Intelligence is the core value of the meritocracy…”

    If this is Hayes’ conclusion, then I think Hayes has a particularly narrow observation of just who usually ends up sitting in the positions of power.

    One of the observations that I’ve made in my life, witnessed by actual first-hand experience, is that there is a certain type of person who quite often dominates groups of other people, and/or ends up in positions of power.

    The common characteristic of this type of person is not “intelligence” per se, but rather an ability to manipulate other people.

    It is important to understand that this people-manipulation ability is not tied directly to what we commonly understand as “intelligence” (stuff that shows up in SAT scores, IQ tests, in higher degrees achieved etc.).

    Instead this people-manipulation ability is a separate “talent” that is evidenced in some people at all levels of “intelligence”.

    Whether it’s a gang leader or mob boss, or it’s a corporate high-flier or politician, the level of their “intelligence” is not necessarily the dominant characteristic that helps them succeed.

    Instead, it is the ability to manipulate other people that helps them to become king of the hill.

    For the sake of this discussion, let’s call them Manipulators.

    The talent of Manipulators is to instantaneously and almost unconsciously understand what button to push, what words to say, what things to do, that allow them to dominate, and even direct, the thoughts and actions of others around them.

    Typically, not even the brightest person you’ve ever met is always able to resist the ability of a Manipulator. Our history books are almost entirely dominated by evidence of their ascension to, and grip on, the levers of power over others.

  6. rosalind says:

    A 3rd Generation Californian, I grew up with a deep disdain for the East Coast filter all American life seemed to get distilled through. I never had a reverence for the NY/D.C./Chicago/Boston axis ‘cause I was always aware of how much of the story they left out. I look at the parade of Harvard Horribles (Kagan/Susstein/Koh) and I just see the result of years of pseudo-intellectual inbreeding, each generation losing that much more connection with the real world.

    Any counter to the new world order will be coming far afield the rarified air of the D.C. Bubble.

  7. allan says:

    @Arbusto: This provided a good example of how the elites are totally disconnected from the masses, even the small sliver of the masses who attend national political conventions. Commenting the next evening on PBS, Gwen Ifill and Madeleine Albright were completely at sea as to why some (most, actually) people were shouting “Nay” during the Jerusalem vote. I don’t think they were faking it. In their world view, it just doesn’t compute that delegates would be against that.

  8. scribe says:

    @Arbusto: Just as a note: the triggering event of the 1989 peaceful revolution which brought down the government of the then-East Germany by the following October, was when the election results in springtime municipal elections in parts of East Germany (96 or so percent for the government) arrived at East German TV stations and were read on the air several days before the election.

    History might not repeat itself, but it surely does rhyme.

  9. Hugh says:

    In my writing, I distinguish between kleptocrats (the rich) and the elites, those who serve them and aspire to join them. For me, elites are bought off by a system of privilege which anoints and credentials a chosen few, and rewards them with careers, positions, and financial security for serving the interests of the rich.

    When the topic of the elites is brought up, I like to cite the following from Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society:

    “The moral attitudes of dominant and privileged groups are characterised by universal self-deception and hypocrisy. The unconscious and conscious identification of their special interests with general interests and universal values, which we have noted in analysing national attitudes, is equally obvious in the attitude of classes. The reason why privileged classes are more hypocritical than underprivileged ones is that special privilege can be defended in terms of the rational ideal of equal justice only, by proving that it contributes something to the good of the whole. Since inequalities of privilege are greater than could possibly be defended rationally, the intelligence of privileged groups is usually applied to the task of inventing specious proofs for the theory that universal values spring from, and that general interests are served by, the special privileges which they hold. The most common form of hypocrisy among the privileged classes is to assume that their privileges are the just payments with which society rewards specially useful or meritorious functions.”

  10. emptywheel says:

    @rosalind: Yeah, we’re having real problems here, too. The city is run by people who refuse to fund any level of public ed, and a millage for the CC just failed.

  11. greengiant says:

    Fraud and corruption are where the money is and fraud and corruption are the filters through which we select our captains of industry, finance and politics. Some of this is not new, Washington was the largest land owner in the colonies and an investor in Ohio river valley land companies.
    Here is an old story about how accounting changed. I still remember my accounting prof telling me that a high score on the CPA was a ticket to ride. He was just behind the times. Fraudsters and corrupters beget more and larger fraudsters and corrupters.'s%20Fall%20From%20Grace%20Is%20a%20Sad%20Tale%20of%20Greed%20and%20Miscues.htm

    As far as a lot of high paying jobs, those are long gone and not coming back as neither the free fraudster market nor socialism has the cash flow to provide them. I think a good analogy is that in 1946 there where a million coal miners in the US, and another million in the UK. Now there are about 10,000 in the US. Just like agriculture or mining the jobs are no longer there, and in the modern US economy the high paying jobs are no longer there.
    Even as late as the 80s and 90s some in the US could find a technology business opportunity to invest in. But there is no monopoly on these opportunities and they can be done in many other places in the world today. Somehow I don’t think 500,000 people writing applications for androids and Iphones is a long range solution.

  12. greengiant says:

    @rosalind: Caught between prop 13 and the CCPOA and CTA. You have the option of moving to another state. I find the benefits to rental and commercial property owners from these propositions outrageous.

  13. bmaz says:

    @rosalind: Thank you sister. As a fellow mostly member of the west coast set, I am sick and tired of the cloistered Harvard jackasses of life determining how the rest of us live. The stuck up dumb ass privileged inane narcissists are nothing but the “best and brightest” of their own little inbred, moribund subset of life.

    If I sound petulant and pissed then, congratulations, you are starting to pick up on my inner furor of being ruled by condescending Ivy League jackasses.

    If you are one of them, fuck you; if you are not, welcome to the club.

  14. Ken_Muldrew says:


    “Typically, not even the brightest person you’ve ever met is always able to resist the ability of a Manipulator.”

    Resist? You can work for Steve Jobs and have your stuff become the fabric of the universe or you can put in days-without-end doing construction labour while spending your few precious moments of leisure writing supremely elegant linux hacks that are buried deep within the kernel and known only to a small community of similarly anonymous geniuses. There is no “resist” about it; everyone wants to be a Roman Citizen.

    Nobody does anything by themselves, least of all super smart people. Anyone who has any ambition at all wants desperately to team up with a “manipulator” who can fill the holes in their particular competence-landscape. Getting credit for one’s work is desirable, but it is readily traded for the chance to spend one’s days doing something that they are good at.

    Universities used to understand that, and gladly provided assistance to those who had unique talents for creating knowledge but were not capable of doing the mundane tasks of administration and management that are necessary to build on that knowledge. Now they just want entrepreneurs who get good press and bring in the money (as if entrepreneurs are going to stay at a University and share the money).

  15. joanneleon says:

    This is one of the most insightful things that I have read in ages.

    That’s the biggest problem I had with the book. The elite who run this country no longer identify as the American elite. Rather, they have become the global oligarchs borrowing the military might and reserve currency of the US to build their power. And their interests have to do with retaining the supremacy of those things rather than in the sustainability of “the nation” itself. Thus, it’s not in the least surprising that they’re not delivering on sustainability.

    It took me a long time to figure out that:

    1) They don’t care about this country. I could never figure out why they would destroy the country and kill their golden goose. But they have moved on and don’t need America anymore except for the things Marcy described as their tools, the military and financial system.

    2) Our military is the tool of the elite and the multinational corporations.

    How long will it take for a significant number of Americans to realize that this is happening? And if they do figure it out will they be able to handle it? Everything I see happening with this election tells me that most people, especially the hyperpartisans, will rationalize and deny it and they will also shoot the messenger, or better yet, accuse the messenger of being all kinds of horrible things.

  16. guest says:

    As someone who had awesome SAT scores and good grades, I can tell you they don’t get you very far unless you’ve got connections and the ability to schmooze to use those connections and make new ones(and the willingness to do things you don’t agree with). Mostly they will earn you disdain by those who thought they were smarter than you who scored a few hundred points lower. Otherwise all that “intelligence” will at best get you a decent paying job as a technocratic cog in a machine used by the real elites to advance themselves.
    So I agree that Hayes is off there. And as I think EW almost says, making it easier for the more deserving types to do to us what the current elites are doing sounds like a small, marginal improvement, at best.
    I think the biggest problem is the idea of elitism itself. The idea that all good things flow from the special people who are somehow more deserving than the rest, and that we have to reward and elevate them. They may be somewhat more deserving of economic rewards, just as hard work deserves more rewards than slack work. But the level it has reached in the last generation or so is just so out of line with the actual benefit these elites might possibly contribute to society. They expect to receive back every red cent in value that they create, which is bad enough, but then the metrics they come up with to determine what value they have created are absurd, and of course plain old self serving.

  17. posaune says:

    Have to comment about standardized tests. Our son, 8-yo, took the WISC and CELF last month as part of a comprehensive assessment. Now, he came to us from foster care, at age 6, multiply handicapped, with about a 3-year delay in cognitive ability and behavior. He has made huge strides and, amazingly, is above grade level in reading ( a year ahead, in fact.) He is a bright and curious kid, despite a history of trauma.

    On this IQ test, he had to read a story about McDonald’s and answer questions about Happy Meals! (So there is “Product Placement” on standardized tests, now?). Our son has never been to McDonalds, never in foster care RTC (no money for such things) and not with us, his adoptive family. He was TOTALLY CLUELESS about answering the questions, which actually relied on assumed knowledge. The test giver could hardly believe he didn’t know what a Happy Meal was — so surprised, in fact, that she called us to ask if what our son was saying was the truth. See what’s happened to education?

  18. guest says:

    @bmaz: Being a native of DC(which is pretty much overrun by the nonnative valedictorian set from Boston to Ann Arbor to Stanford) who came of age at the time of Reagan’s election, I can almost sympathize. Until I remember how things went under the West coast set during the 80’s, and then the 3rd coast set under Dubya.
    As insufferable as the intellectually barren and stale Ivy League set are, it still beats the batshit craziness of Texas, Arizona or California conservatism. And even nice Minnesota, who Molly Ivins found so inoffensive, and the land of cheesefoodnotreallycheese Wisconsin now put forth right wing stars like Paul Lyan and the girl with faraway eyes.
    Of course, conservatives (led by the drug addicted college drop out pedophile named after a brand of poppers) never bother themselves about such silly credentials when conferring elite status. Ideology and money are the only qualifications needed. Only the what-passes-for-liberals-in-this-country seem to care about the prestige of such establishment trappings.

  19. bmaz says:

    @guest: My thought is that no “set” should rule, and certainly not in perpetuity as the Ivy has set up, and really only Harvard and Yale of the Ivy. It is neither right, healthy nor natural for one region or academic philosophy to lord over the nation. The lower and mid level folks at regular first line research level universities may not be as good as the average mope at Harvard, but the top people sure as hell are.

    The incestuous inbred nature of leadership, reportage and judicial thought controlled by the Ivies, mostly Harvard, Yale and Princeton is insane and crippling. Especially when all SCOTUS comes from only Harvard or Yale. They ain’t that preternaturally brilliant.

  20. posaune says:

    @bmaz: Incestuous is right. I worked my way through two grad degrees at Columbia (M. Arch, M. S. Planning). I was a distinct minority, having to WORK while in school. I had no choice-it was a necessity. There was only one other student in my situation. And the entitled, incestuous arrogance dripping from Dean to Faculty to Trust-funder Classmates was one of the most difficult things I have ever endured. The Dean of Admissions called me in at the beginning of the 1st term to ask me to reconsider my admission — (you are qualified to be here, but you’re just not the right type — it would be much better for you if you withdrew and went to City College).

    Every break, I went back to working two jobs on the day classes ended, while my classmates flew to Switzerland for the skiing, or Canary Islands, etc. One student was unhappy with the 2-bedroom apt he rented – he wanted the one on a higher floor, so he simply bought the whole building over Christmas break and became landlord to the whole building, evicting the tenant in the desired apartment. One student’s semester project was redesigning the plantation he owned in Jamaica! One student was admitted in mid-semester from Italy (industrialist family from Turin) because his father had received a kidnapping threat (this was after Aldo Moro), and they wanted him in New York, “doing something interesting.” So, I plugged through, actually found a few professors with some ethics and interest in teaching (who, by the way left for University of Oregon and the other for Chicago — I really admired them for leaving.) And I graduated with $65,000 of debt. Mr. posaune & I rented a one-room apt for years, sleeping on a floor futon under the ganged drafting tables paying off debt. The elitist classmates? One is Bloomberg’s Director of City Planning, a few others are now Columbia professors, shaking hands with the East Coast elite all over New York.

  21. joanneleon says:

    I think it’s a little too easy to blame everything on people from the east coast, and east coast thinking in general. If we’re talking just about the Ivy set, that’s a different story and it ignores the set with the same characteristics on the left coast. Some of the states in New England and the MidAtlantic are the places where we’re seeing the last bits of sanity in this country in governing (though admittedly eroding every day). Democrats that I know from California are capable of extraordinary self delusion and rationalization, considering themselves to be awesome liberals but at the same time ignoring the things going on and working hard to shoot the messengers. I also see a lot of fear of not being with the in crowd. Anecdotal, I know, but I keep seeing this play out over and over.

  22. emptywheel says:

    @posaune: Wow, that’s troubling.

    Click through and read what DeBoer–who works on literacy and education–says about things like that. We’ve long known the SAT is cultural. But that goes far beyond the cultural cues of SATs IMO.

    And congrats on how well your son is doing. That’s got to feel rewarding.

  23. emptywheel says:

    @bmaz: Dunno. They may be better. Having gone to Amherst, I’d always get students at UM who had applied but not gotten into Ivies. Often as not they were showing real initiative, working with top professors in graduate level projects. And each time I’d have to hit them over the head and say, “if you stand out among 28,000 students and work with the same caliber professors you would have at an Ivy–particularly if you’re taking advantage of the larger size of this one–then you’re going to do far better off in the long run.”

    THe rest if just cultural indoctrination, as I think a big part of law school is too. That’s really important, but it shouldn’t be.

  24. spiny says:

    Cogent post Marcy. I completely agree with you- I increasingly believe that America is now pretty much all about the Benjamin’s. The religion of capitalism has almost completely replaced the tenants of basic democracy, partly because the myths of America (anyone can make it if they work hard enough, etc…) dovetail nicely into the winner-take-all nightmare of an economy that we live in today that benefits mostly the financial elite who get to gamble with other people’s money.

    I’d like to believe that the remedy to the increasingly irresponsible control of America by the financial elite is an educated and engaged electorate- but that possibility seems increasingly remote. For one thing, while it certainly has its moments (you being one of them!), the internet hasn’t turned out to be quite the utopian panacea to corporate controlled media for the masses that many thought it would be.

  25. OrionATL says:


    “… In my writing, I distinguish between kleptocrats (the rich) and the elites, those who serve them and aspire to join them. For me, elites are bought off by a system of privilege which anoints and credentials a chosen few, and rewards them with careers, positions, and financial security for serving the interests of the rich…”

    i don’t know who you are, my friend, but you’re right on the money. the “elite” in the u.s. today are no more than trustworthy servants who have been vetted (often thru social networks formed in elite universities and major corporations)to serve, but never to question, those with real power.

    president obama is one such. that is why i repeatedly refer to him as a “board room charmer”. it is also why he is struggling to win an election against a party of no-nothings and destroyers of our ability as citizens to function collectively.had he expressed genuine concern for the citizens of this nation rather than those occupying private power centers, the election would not be as much in doubt.

  26. OrionATL says:

    a critical rhetoric and advertising –

    those are the key to unlocking the control of the the plutocrats and their elite/functionaries is to educate citizens about the workings of politics thru television, radio, and internet advertising.

    the rhetoric used in that advertising must challenge the way politics and political discussion are deployed in our society.

    ask yourself when was the last time you saw an advertisement that criticized the way national politics is conducted, e.g., big money contributions.

    ask yourself when was the last time you saw an ad that strongly criticized the ignorance and ability to be manipulated of american voters.

    when was the last time we had an advertising campaign aimed at identifying manipulation in our political rhetoric and inoculating voters against that manipulation.

    however we debate who is elite and what good or ill elites do,

    the central fact is that there is one channel for information to flow to the vast majority of voters – advertising.

    and it those voters that legitimize the current state of our politics.

  27. Kathleen says:

    Have not read this book by Chris Hayes. Did you see where Chris Hayes stepped out of the comfort zone about the Jerusalem/God platform debacle at the Dem Convention when an MSNBC panel discussed the matter. Rachel Maddow went silent, Ed rolled over, Al Sharpton (who even went so far to shamelessly try to correct Chris Hayes for speaking the truth) Lawrence O’Donnell spun it as much to do about nothing. But Chris Hayes stepped out and spoke the truth. Adam Horowitz and Phil Weiss have put up multiple post about this skirmish over at Mondoweiss . The oneew with Chris Hayes “In caving on Jerusalem Dems pulled back the curtain on the Lobby” Jon Stewart (Daily show has changed their silent ways on this issue the last few years) did a great piece on where that 2/3rds figure came from when the chair manipulated the votes. Kept wondering where that 2/3rds percentage came from. Still curious who and when that number went up on that screen which did not reflect the actual vote at all. Then Soledad O’Brien take Dem Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz down on DWS’s disregard for this event and what it actually said. Over at Mondoweiss “DNC Chair: I bring my love of Israel to work” Worth reading all post on this issue.

    Chris Hayes had Scahill on this morning. He reminded those who need to be reminded that MSNBC and other MSM outlets are not talking about Obama’s foreign policy honestly if at all. Scahill brings up how absurd it was that Biden brought up the specific numbers of how many American soldiers have been killed and injured in Iraq because Biden voted for the Iraq war resolution.

  28. coral says:

    @joanneleon: I agree. The comment is spot on. Emptywheel, how about developing that into a longer essay or book? I think this is the key problem of our age and a harbinger of the global future.

  29. earlofhuntingdon says:

    “Our elites aren’t so smart.”

    Amen to that. They are incredibly selfish and self-serving. They have dismissed dismissed the idea that government – a body formed by and for and paid by the people – need no longer serve the interests of the people. It need only serve the interests of the elite. Hence, the only jobs that matter are theirs, that is, for those elites who have or want one. Most people, however, need one to pay for what the elites take for granted: housing, food, education, medical care, old age.

    I think Mr. Hayes needs to dry out a little behind the ears before he pontificates further. He is, his self-image not withstanding, now one of those elites.

  30. greengiant says:

    The evil is at all levels of society, from the low level sales people and pay day loan solicitors to the top of the food chain. I’m not sure about just bad mouthing the “elite” or whomever. It’s not like they can stop peak oil, although they seem to be maximizing the pain for their profit.
    You have to experience the change when new management is brought in and the first cost cutting measures you hear are defer ALL maintenance, ( read BP Houston refinery and resulting fire/explosions/deaths precursor to deepwater). There is a ruthless 3 month time horizon. They find it is better to junk yard equipment rather than salvage for parts, just so they can get the tax writeoff down to the bottom line that quarter.
    Don’t let the outright theft by the hedge funds distract you.

  31. greg brown says:

    Intelligence without moral intelligence is cleverness, craftiness and in that respect unworthy of praise. While our elite may be made up of the most intelligent, it would seem to be of those without moral intelligence, that is, without a desire to govern/rule with common decency.

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