Lewis Lapham: Mike was still having trouble with the different meanings of the word class. Despite having gone to Yale, he suffered the pangs of social inadequacy. He associated the word class with New England ancestors, very old money, and the characters in a tale told by F. Scott Fitzgerald. But, he was willing to correct his examination paper.
Mike: Have the old families, I mean the WASPs, really disappeared, or are they just keeping their heads down?
Mike: How do you think that wealth, power is structured anymore?
Samuel Peabody: Well in my case, our case, wealth was rather dissipated by the time it got to my father, who was a clergyman. Groton was, as you know, founded by my grandfather. Much of the leadership of the country, especially in the 30s, were Groton graduates. I don't see that happening today. Isn't it interesting? Where does the leadership come from today? For my money, we're wandering. Where are we going? I don't know. Thinking about it I thought that after the Marshall Plan this country was at its peak. This was the finest moment. After that we've been going bump, bump, bump.
Lewis Lapham: If the country's wealth no longer rests in the exclusive hands of the Protestant social establishment, where then does one look for America's Class A stock? It occurred to me that Mike would profit from a meeting with a well-connected hedge fund manager.
Jack: But I'm still troubled by you calling it a ruling class. I mean, this is America, it's a democracy. People get where they're going based on merit.
Lewis Lapham: All ruling classes are based on merit, Jack. The principle was as true of Nazi Germany as it was of Louis XIV's France. The question is, how do you define merit? Of what does merit consist?
Mike: Right, because in the old monarchies, merit was born in the blood. The question is, where is it born in America?
On our "manufactured" elite:
Mike: I think I'm beginning to understand. The ruling class is still mostly male and mostly white; but outside of those few restrictions, just about anybody can make the grade.
Lewis Lapham: Americans are an inventive people, Mike. We manufacture our ruling elites, what we like to call the meritocracy, in the same way that we build SUVs or 747s. The members come and go, in power for a season or a generation, then replaced by new technology, fresh money.
Or, to plagiarize myself: If we're speaking of Davos types -- high-level politicians and bureaucrats, and upper management of large companies -- these people are predominantly drawn from middle/working class backgrounds. For the most part, they circulate into and out of this elite during their lifetimes. These types are frequently contemptible for sure, but blame the (as it happens, highly-democratized) system that trained and selected them for that, not "upper-class whites", which present international elites for the most part aren't.
Besides intelligence (which probably pretty much every elite in history has been selected on to one degree or another), present elites are selected for rootlessness, conformity, low fertility, etc.
So it's clear where I'm coming from: there will always be hierarchy and there will always be social mobility. But some forms of social organization will be better and some will be worse. The particular "meritocratic" system of selecting elites that grew up after WWII has been a disaster for America's ethnic core. Blame of "WASPs" or the "upper class" typically is misplaced.
Goodhart's Law: ' When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure'. Universities optimise for grades instead of knowledge. Politicians seek popularity, not the public good. Tomatoes are bred into heavy, flavorless sacks of water. Soviet Nail factories, when instructed to produce a certain number of nails per month, produced tiny, useless nails. Science is no different.Description of the documentary: