Friday, October 29, 2010

The “New Elite” Defined

Charles Murray is a controversial libertarian at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. Murray believes IQ has divided America in a potentially dangerous way. Murray has been in hot water since publication of his Bell Curve in 1994, because two data-laden chapters in the book suggest, with appropriate qualifiers, that African-Americans may have lower IQs. (As Jimmie Walker would say, “Dyn-O-Mite!”)

Here’s what Murray currently says about what he calls “the New Elite”:

➢ That a New Elite has emerged over the past 30 years is not really controversial. That its members differ from former elites is not controversial.

➢ the New Elite [accepted acknowledgement of their high status] back in 1991, when Robert Reich said we had a new class of symbolic analysts in his book The Work of Nations. . . in 2000 when David Brooks took an anthropologist's eye to their exotic tribe and labeled them bourgeois bohemians in Bobos in Paradise [a]nd . . . when Richard Florida celebrated their wonderfulness in his 2002 work, The Rise of the Creative Class.

But Murray does take issue with some characterizations commonly attributed to the “New Elite”:

➢ start with the principal gateway to membership in the New Elite, the nation's most prestigious colleges and universities. In the idealized view of the meritocrats, those schools were once the bastion of the Northeastern Establishment, favoring bluebloods and the wealthy, but now they are peopled by youth from all backgrounds who have gained admittance through talent, pluck and hard work.

➢ [While o]ver the past several decades, elite schools have indeed sought out academically talented students from all backgrounds [and c]ompared with 50 years ago, the proportion of students coming from old-money families and exclusive prep schools has dropped [as] the representation of African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans has increased[,] about four out of five students in the top tier of colleges have parents whose income, education and occupations put them in the top quarter of American families (see Joseph Soares, The Power of Privilege: Yale and America's Elite Colleges). Only about one out of 20 such students come from the bottom half of families. [emphasis added]

➢ Students who have a parent with a college degree accounted for only 55% of SAT-takers this year but got 87% of all the verbal and math scores above 700. . . a function of [their] ability . . .to do well in a challenging academic setting.

Murray says these upper middle class “brainiacs”

➢ spend school with people who are mostly just like them -- . . . ensconced in affluent suburbs from birth . . . never . . . outside the bubble of privilege. . . When they leave college, the New Elite remain in the bubble. Harvard seniors surveyed in 2007 were headed toward a small number of elite graduate schools (Harvard and Cambridge in the lead) and a small number of elite professional fields (finance and consulting were tied for top choice).

➢ [Later, their marriage announcements in the New York Times look like] the mergers of fabulous résumés. . .[C]ombining their large incomes and genius genes, [they] then produce offspring who get the benefit of both.

The deepening stratification between the New Elite and the rest of us has concerned Murray since he wrote The Bell Curve:
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 . . . becomes a class unto itself. It is by no means a closed club, as Barack Obama's example proves. But the credentials for admission are increasingly held by the children of those who are already members. An elite that passes only money to the next generation [can go] “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations” . . . [but a]n elite that also passes on ability is more tenacious, and the chasm between it and the rest of society widens.
Murray points out the “New Elite” clusters in a small number of cities and in selected neighborhoods in those cities--Washington, New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley and San Francisco, as well as university cities with ancillary high-tech jobs, such as Austin and the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill triangle. And with geographical clustering goes cultural clustering.-- "Mad Men", yoga, pilates, skiing, mountain biking, backpacking in the Sierra Nevadas, an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor, a small ship going to the Galapagos.

Murray’s “New Elite” live in a world that doesn't intersect with mainstream America in many important ways. Jobs in businesses that provide bread-and-butter goods and services to individual Americans, which make up the overwhelming majority of entry-level openings for aspiring managers, attract, for example, just 1.7% of the Harvard students who go to work after graduation.

In his conclusion, Murray sends a neat right hook to the jaws of folks like me—and Murray himself—who think we are exempt from “New Elite” designation:
I doubt if there is much to differentiate the staff of the conservative Weekly Standard from that of the liberal New Republic, or the scholars at the American Enterprise Institute from those of the Brookings Institution, or Republican senators from Democratic ones. The bubble that encases the New Elite crosses ideological lines and includes far too many of the people who have influence, great or small, on the course of the nation. They . . . may love America, but, increasingly, they are not of it.

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