Posts Tagged ‘Why Elites Fail’

What the Afghan failure reveals about the U.S.

August 23, 2021

In and of itself, the collapse in Afghanistan, in and of itself, is not a total disaster for the United States.  Our government, our economy, our military forces are still intact.

True, we Americans as a nation sacrificed the lives of thousands of patriotic young men, took the lives of hundreds of thousands of Afghan people who did not threaten us and spent trillions of dollars (we’re not sure of how many trillions) only to suffer defeat by an enemy most of us think of as primitive.

But we are still rich and powerful enough to absorb the cost in blood and treasure, just as we did after the collapse in Vietnam.

The significance of the defeat is that shows us something about ourselves that is hard to face.  After all the lies, graft and incompetence, continuing over decades, how can we have any confidence in any of our institutions.

When I was growing up, the one thing the overwhelming majority of Americans believed in was America itself.  I don’t think the majority believe that anymore. 

We have a Constitution, which is supposed to be a check on unaccountable power.  We have a democratic form of government, which is supposed to reflect the will of the people. 

We have a free enterprise economy, which is supposed to make competition serve the common good.  We have military officers, civil servants, judges, intellectuals, physicians, lawyers and journalists, all with traditions and codes of conduct that are supposed to guarantee integrity.

All of these things really exist, at least in weak or latent form.

None of these things has been strong enough to save us from crime, failure and humiliation.  Unless things change, we’re on track for more crime, failure and humiliation.

The Afghanistan failure was a case study in failure to deal with reality.  Will we do better in dealing with the coming climate-related crises? pandemics? the breakdown of globalization? China?

As the saying goes, if something cannot go on forever, someday it will stop.  The USA cannot go on forever as it is, under the leadership it has.  So it won’t. 

I have long felt that something new is coming.  I don’t know what it will be.  It may be better; it likely would be worse.  I both hope and fear I will live long enough to see it.

LINKS

Assabiya Wins Every Time by Lee Smith for The Tablet. 

Assabiya is an Arab word, used by the historian Ibn Khaldun, which means bravery and patriotism.  He wrote that nations and peoples rise when they have it and decline when they lose it.  The Taliban have it; the U.S ruling elite lacks it.  Unless we Americans as a people have it, our future is dim.

Farewell to Bourgeois Kings by Malcom Kyeyune for Power & Politics. 

Kings claimed a divine right to rule, based on lineage and ideals of honor.  Our meritocratic elite claims a pragmatic right to rule, based on their mastery of reason, science and modern technique.  What happens to their legitimacy when their supposed mastery is shown to be fake?

How elitism masquerades as meritocracy

June 22, 2012

Christopher Hayes, author of Twilight of the Elites (which I haven’t read),  wrote an article in The Nation about how systems supposedly based on merit are subverted to benefit the privileged.

Chris Hayes

Hayes was a student at the elite Hunter College High School in New York City, where admission is based on scores on a three-hour test.  In the 1990s, when Hayes attended, admission really was based on merit.  The student body was 12 percent black, 6 percent Hispanic and a large percentage the children of immigrants.

But with the rise of the test preparation industry, Manhattan’s elite sent their children cram schools charging thousands of dollars to teach how to game entrance exams.  Some consultants charged up to $90 an hour for one-on-one instruction on test-taking.  As a result of the ability of wealthy parents to game the system, Hunter High’s student body now is only 3 percent black and 1 percent Hispanic.  What happened with Hunter High is not unique, or even usual.  It is a typical example of how the privileged game the system.

Test preparation schools are contrary to the whole purpose of education.  They teach students how to pass tests without having learned anything.  They get the credential, but not necessarily the knowledge that the credential supposedly represents.

Yet I imagine the students who pass the tests through these methods think they have succeeded solely through their own individual effort and brilliance.   And because they think that, they think they have no obligation to anyone else.

Click on Why Elites Fail to read the whole article.

Click on The Age of Illusion to read an interview with Chris Hayes in Jacobin magazine.

Click on An Elite Like Any Other? Meritocracy in America for a review of Chris Hayes’ Twilight of the Elites by Mike Konczal in Dissent magazine [added 6/24/12]

Who gets preference on college admissions?

June 20, 2012

Daniel Golden wrote in his 2006 book, The Price of Admission, that at least a third of the students at elite American universities got special treatment in the admissions process, and the figure was at least half at liberal arts colleges.

A typical student body, according to Golden, is:

  • 10 to 25 percent children of alumni (“legacies”)
  • 10 to 15 percent minorities
  • 10 to 15 percent athletes
  • 2 to 5 percent children of potential large donors (“development cases”)
  • 1 to 3 percent children of faculty members
  • 1 to 2 percent children of politicians and celebrities.

Preferences for minorities seem to generate a lot of outrage, other preferences not so much.  Why do you think this is?

Click on Poison Ivy for a review of Golden’s book in The Economist.

Click on The Best Education Money Can Buy for a review in the Washington Post

Click on Daniel Golden’s “The Price of Admission” for a review in the University of North Carolina’s Carolina Review.

Click on A Response to Daniel Golden for a lame attempt at rebuttal in the Brown University Spectator.

I don’t think anything has changed since Golden wrote his book (which I haven’t read).  The moral I draw from these figures is that graduating from an elite university is not a guarantee of superior intellect.

I don’t favor the government interfering with admissions policies at private universities, except to forbid them to exclude people on the basis of race, religion or national origin.  I do favor restoring the state university systems so they once again can provide a good and affordable college education to anyone capable of doing college work, while rejecting the myth that you need a college education in order to be qualified for a decent job.

Hat tip to Christopher Hayes in his article Why Elites Fail.

Edited for clarity 7/9/12.