Saturday, July 14, 2012

David Brooks on Why Our Elites Stink

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with David Brooks.  Most of the time, I find him to be one of the most intelligent and thoughtful proponents of a restrained politics and a conservative worldview.  Every now and then, he goes off the reservation and says something that appears aimed at mollifying his masters at the New York Times.  THIS article is NOT one of those times. 

In response to a new book on the downside of meritocracy, Brooks puts forward a nicely stated defense of the old guard---what he refers to as a "... relatively small network of white Protestant men..." and the way that they maintained and guarded the very institutions that make our society great.  Acknowledging that they were not perfect, Brooks makes a nice case for the ethics and morals of the WASP leadership and its superiority over a far more diverse (and potentially more talented) leadership structure of today.  Where today's leaders fail (and by extension, where leaders of the past excelled) is named here:  "The problem is that today’s meritocratic elites cannot admit to themselves that they are elites.Everybody thinks they are countercultural rebels, insurgents against the true establishment, which is always somewhere else. This attitude prevails in the Ivy League, in the corporate boardrooms and even at television studios where hosts from Harvard, Stanford and Brown rail against the establishment. As a result, today’s elite lacks the self-conscious leadership ethos that the racist, sexist and anti-Semitic old boys’ network did possess."  

Looked at another way, Brooks isn't saying that things were better in the past because white, sexist men ran the show.  He's saying that things were better because they OWNED the responsibilities of running the show, that they measured themselves by standards of stewardship that policed their conduct, and they while they did not necessarily brag about their status, they did not deny it.  Implicit in Brooks' argument is that there is nothing elemental about today's multi-cultural, multi-gendered meritocracy that would keep them from taking on this approach.  Nothing except their thoroughgoing denial of their own status.


"The Hammer" said...

I think it can all be attributed to our universities. Since the free-speech riots at Berkeley in the 60's (free speech my ass, the provost was just trying to keep the campus from being politicized) the academy has moved increasingly left. These business people were educated by radicals who equate capitalism with theft. So, why wouldn't they steal? Why wouldn't they demand salaries far beyond their worth. Why wouldn't they cut corners with bad paper, swindles and the like. Haven't you heard, capitalism is theft so let's steal!
Unfortunately the days of Thomas Watson, Jack Welch, Steve Jobs and Sam Walton may be coming to an end and we'll be left with a bunch of rich kids who got into school on their family name, got a job the same way and feel entitled to loot the joint three ways from Sunday.

NavyAustin said...

Similar sentiments expressed in Calvin Trillin's piece on how Wall Street imploded:

Summary: The old guard of the Ivy League that ran things had an inverse proportion of class rank to income - the top of the class became Supreme Court justices, the bottom went to Wall Street.

But even on Wall Street, the "rich" had a sense of "enoughness" - a summer place was fine, no need for a second ocean-going yacht. But the meritocracy, the whiz kids, the quant jocks - they started creating derviative markets for things that didn't even exist.

And once the obscene profits started rolling in, the old guard at the top couldn't say no. Until the house of cards collapsed.

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