Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Saturday, November 19, 2011

People Of Merit

Megan McArdle would like to remind us that America is a meritocracy and if the elite exclude everyone else it's just because they are far too busy running the world to spend time sifting through the rabble.
The hardest thing about the meritocracy's tyranny is that they're not necessarily doing it on purpose. It's just a convenient shorthand for a group of people who are really busy.
          (yap yap)
The Ivy League is full of smart, interesting people. But it is not full of all of the smart, interesting people in the country, or even a majority of them. And given the resumes required to get there, it produces a group of people who are narrow in certain predictible [sic] ways. (I include myself in this: just because I can see it operating doesn't mean I can escape it.)
The problem is that actually seeking out a wide variety of graduates would be much more expensive and time consuming. Why spend the effort searching for "best" when you can easily access "very, very good"?
After years of telling us that CEOs are irreplaceable, the Best and Brightest, it seems they are now the Good Enough. McArdle says that the elite merely are saving time by hiring only from the Ivy League, which their money has stuffed with their own progeny and the children of the fellow elite. Naturally when their children graduate the elite will give them a good job, which is no less than they merit in our meritocratic times.

 It would be nice if Megan McArdle read her own magazine; namely, 68% of the Sons of the 1% Work at Their Dad's Company by Dino Grandoni. The more elite a graduate is, the greater the chance that he will get his job from his father.
Nepotism and wealth go together according to a study published in the Journal of Labor Economics. The researchers found that 68 percent of the sons of top-percentile income earners have at some point by the time they're age 33 taken a job at a firm their father also worked. That's significantly higher than the 55 percent rate for the sons of the second-highest percentile of earners and the 40 percent average for all income levels. Though the data was limited to Canadian males, the researchers were able to point to several factors that could be at play, some nepotistic and some not. While high earners tend to be self-employed or at least tend to hold sway over hiring decisions at their companies, the pattern could also involve "the formation of values and preferences" -- basically, that fathers tend to raise kids who would fit into their companies well. Whichever hypotheses turn out to be the most important, one of the study's authors, Miles Corak of the University of Ottawa, thinks it proves that something other than meritocracy is at work. He writes on his blog:

If the members of the top 1 percent are there because of connections or political power—rather than by the force of their talent, energy, and motivation—then we should be rightly critical about claims that they merit their fortunes, and question the contribution they make to economic productivity.

While she will be one of the first to support such income inequality, McArdle does manage to have just the tiniest bit of sympathy for the little people if she knows one personally.
Forget about the effects on society, though; this is terrible for organizations. You see this in Washington all the time--a friend who went to a lesser-known state school said he could always tell the people he wasn't going to like when he met them at cocktail parties, because the minute he told them where he'd gone to school, they became extremely interested in going to get another drink or find the cheese dip. This is one of the smartest, most consistently interesting and original, most talented writers I know. Having actually attended one of those elite schools that apparently make you fascinating, I can attest firsthand that statistically, the elitists were vanishingly unlikely to be as interesting as the person they abandoned because he'd gone to a state college.

McArdle has related this anecdote before. One wonders who is this extraordinarily talented young person, whom McArdle is so passionate in defending while supporting his detractors. Sorry, anonymous person. You just didn't make the cut because your parents couldn't get you into the Ivy League, and someone who knows you and cares about you shrugs her shoulders at the injustice and snobbery. Not all of us have enough merit to rise to the top.

Maybe this extremely talented young man will find a job with a billionaire who needs great writers to support his deregulation plans. Re-reading your favorite passages of Atlas Shrugged will only cheer you up so many times before you need to find someone who will give you what you deserve.


zombie rotten mcdonald said...

I would subscribe to the Atlantic on the condition that they hire a full-time person to stand behind Monster NcCardle to whack her in the head with a badminton racket every time she starts to rattle on about the meritocracy.

McCardle. Douthat. Meritocracy; you're doing it RONG.

Kathy said...

She genuinely believes that she is a deserving part of the meritocracy!

Her employment is strong evidence that "excellence" or brilliance is just about the last thing the MFOTUs want from their underlings. Who'd want a servant smarter and better than you?

Of course it leads to inevitable decline, but they won't be around when the oceans rise and the droughts, famines, wars and plagues appear, that their stupidity and greed caused. The future of Humanity means nothing to them.

No imagination, no empathy, no brains.

Ken Houghton said...

As I said somewhere else, Miles Corak presented an earlier version of that paper while I was at McGill. I noted to him then that, if anything, he is understating the linkages, since he was only considering same firm.

Many of the financial firms have a policy of not hiring children of employees. But that means that the GS Employee and the MS employee introduce each other to each other's sons and, voila, two internships are filled. And they wouldn't show up in the Corak data.

There are good and right reasons for not expanding the search to NAICS code or similar, but if anything 68% understates the relationship.

Mr. Wonderful said...

OT, but relevant to this site: If you want to read the authoritarian man-in-the-street's take on the relationship between peaceful protest in a public venue, and unprovoked police brutality, look no further than the comments (34,000 and rising) to the Huff Po cover story about the pepper spraying of a bunch of kids sitting on the ground at UC Davis.

It's all there: the imbecilic "arguments" consisting of "you libs would cheer if the cops sprayed pro-gun protesters," the self-righteous "go back to your dorms and study" clowns, and my personal favorite (possibly deleted by now), "one week in an African diamond mine and those kids would be begging to come back to America."

These are the Internet shock troops of the Moron Right, so to speak. It takes a calmer, better person than I to reply to them with measured reason.

Sorry to interrupt. Carry on. (But seriously, Mr. Wizard: Why are there so many fuckheads in the world?)

Batocchio said...

That study is fascinating, and as Ken says, if anything, it probably understates the situation.

It's cute the way McMegan pretends to care about the lower orders even as she name-drops about her pedigree.

Pete said...

So our lords only employ Ivy League grads, and send their kids to the Ivy League, and make it really difficult for anyone else to get into the Ivy League, on the grounds that's it's convenient, and McM knows this because she is part of the self-chosen inner circle, which survives because its members, while not spectacularly brilliant, are good enough. Do I have that right?

Did this column end "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche"?

Kathy said...

My niece in England went to OXFORD! So there Miss snooty ArgleBargle! So proud of your crappy grades in a so-so-school, that earned you a job demonstrating your dunceness every day.

Pay sounds good, though.

Pete said...

The clever men at Oxford
Know all there is to be knowed.
But none of them know half as much
As intelligent Mr. Toad!

(I went there; it's true.)

Lurking Canadian said...

I have absolutely no patience for Ivy League elitism. Full disclosure: I have a PhD from an Ivy. So, not only do I know precisely what an Ivy PhD means, as a TA I got to see what an Ivy undergraduate looks like. Some of them are exceptional. Some students at every school are exceptional.

The rest, like everywhere, are a bunch of lazy slackers who do the minimum necessary amount of work while focusing on getting drunk, high or laid as much as possible. Just like the majority of university students since the founding if the Sorbonne.

You want to impress me? Show me your damn CV. Don't tell me where you did your undergrad like you think it means something.

Downpuppy said...

It's a fairly tricky post. If Megan had gone the next step & fessed up that half the Ivy admissions are based on family connections, it would have been clear that what she's talking about is aristocracy pretending to be meritocracy. As is, a couple of her commenters caught on, but in general they're so much in love with their own specialness that they missed it.
Somehow, Megan has stepped up her game. Must be someone looking over her shoulder.

Susan of Texas said...

I noticed the same thing. She is being more subtle, less overtly hostile, and trying to distance herself from both sides. She's also been a little more diligent in her work.

She has written at least a dozen posts on Solyndra so we know that she still has the same goals, it's just her method that is adjusting for these interesting times. She is very good at calculating which way the wind is blowing and using everything amd everyone to her own advantage.

Kathy said...

Back in the early 90's when I lived in Silicon Valley, various managers told me they often viewed or tossed out out CVs based only on what college the job applicant attended. And that was usually the college they attended- usually Berkeley or Stanford.

Granted, they received a thousand or so applications at a time. Situation probably much
worse now.

PS: Niece is a relation of my husband...I scarcely know her. Still, I sometimes use her as a good example to my daughter, who got an "F" in English, of all subjects.

Anonymous said...

miles corak = myles