“The more efficiently a society identifies the most able young people of both sexes, sends them to the best colleges, unleashes them into an economy that is tailor-made for people with their abilities and lets proximity take its course, the sooner a New Elite—the “cognitive elite” that Herrnstein and I described—becomes a class unto itself.
“An elite that passes only money to the next generation is evanescent (“Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations as the adage has it). An elite that also passes on ability is more tenacious, and the chasm between it and the rest of society widens.”
—Charles Murray, “The tea party warns of a New Elite. They’re right,” Washington Post, October, 24, 2010
The costs and future vitality of America’s flourishing meritocracy will be much debated in the years ahead, as wealth creation for those on the outside becomes more difficult. The Tea Partiers, however, should suck it up if they really do want America to honor its founding vision of freedom and individual responsibility. The important question is not about the way winners dress or whether their kinetic cosmopolitan ways hurt the feelings of small town and suburban big shots. The essential disputes in politics should be about how those on top get there and how they can make a proper contribution to society as a whole, while advancing themselves.
Despite the immemorial inclination of winners to try to shore up their success and seek out each other’s company, to an unprecedented extent, merit and ambition are determining individual advancement. (In “Empire of Illusion,” Chris Hedges complained about the “twenty five to fifty well connected, but academically borderline applicants” who eventually get into Harvard each year.” Really! Harvard has 18,000 full-time and 13,000 part-time students.) The new snobs of capitalism clearly favor every kind of open market, including overwhelmingly the election of a black president. As employers, as entrepreneurs, and as leaders of learning institutions they have made the United States the leading world center for graduate students and global intellectual capital. Some members of the new elite may have been lucky and made their fortunes with one quirky idea. However, they are not politicking to shore up their advantage and make America’s economy less open and less adaptable.
They have as great a stake as the middle-class and the poor in supporting—and paying substantially for—an acceptable distribution of the spoils of globalization. But, let’s get passed hurt feelings. This new elite is an immense improvement on earlier models.