Does a socioeconomic elite class have value to people who aren't in it?

Follow-up/zombification-alternative to this thread from 2006. In light of this and this, I think it is timely to raise the question again.


I omitted mention of the elite as “job creators” because that, insofar as it is real and applicable, is really more of an institutional-elite thing than a social-class thing. From The Next American Nation, by Michael Lind:

Are you talking about an “institutional elite” or a fixed socioeconomic aristocracy.

I think the answer is “depends”. I am a firm believer in that the person who founds a company and turns it into a multi-million or multi-billion dollar empire should get compensated a lot more than the person who sweeps it’s floors. There is a societal value in a degree from Harvard being worth more than a degree from Rutgers. And people who are willing to work longer hours or look for ways to add value should be sought after more than people who only want to work 9 to 5 and do exactly what their job description says. We should strive to have an institutional elite selected from the best and brightest and hardest working.
That said, I don’t believe there should be an INSTITUTIONALIZED elite. That is to say a de facto hereditary aristocracy where the top positions tend to go to the children of the top leaders or where only the wealthy can afford to educate their children at the top schools. That creates a ruling class which tends to disassociate itself from the rest of society. They tend to develop a sense of entitlement that through their “refined manner” they are inherently superior to the common people.

The good folks over at The Daily Kos* could use a lesson in what “science” actually is. It was difficult enough to get past the claim of being “the reality based community”, but once I did, was rewarded more with confirmation bias than science.

*The third link in the OP

The answer to the question doesn’t really depend on whether the elite is institutionalized or not. I’d have to say yes, assuming that those in it use their excess wealth for things that could be of benefit. Libraries might be better handled by government, but I’d content that the support of art needs both private and governmental support. It is hard for a government consisting of elected representatives to support anything controversial.

I’d say that a non-institutionalized elite (high inheritance taxes, for example) might be better for others because they’d be encourage to spend more immediately.

One can imagine it, but has any such place ever existed? Countries such as France generally have a much more snobbish institutional elite than the USA days, and it’s much harder for outsiders to break in.

BrainGlutton: Absolutely no one in the world is interested in reading/watching gossip about me, and I doubt if there are all that many who are interested in reading/watching gossip about you (except Dopers) but there are massive numbers who are interested in reading/watching gossip about the elite. There has to be an elite to titillate the masses with their indiscretions.

Tell us, BG, what you think of Paul Simon being arrested for disorderly conduct–apparently a case of domestic violence? Isn’t this shocking?

I guess if you completely ignore run of the mill gossip and focus on tabloid newspapers, that might seem like a reasonable position. But it’s not.

The latter, which need not be “fixed” to exist and matter. As Michael Lind wrote in another book, from memory: “For centuries upwardly mobile men have been joining the British aristocracy just as younger sons have fallen out of it; that does not mean there is no British aristocracy.”

But that is a completely different question.

And so is that.


Likewise. Our present institutional elite might be like that, but is also and significantly at least quasi-hereditary in being mostly recruited from overclass families.

That is exactly what we have now, “institutionalized” or not.

Try the study itself, if you prefer. Of course over at Kos they’re journalists, not scientists.

Relevant Elections thread.

No, they are interested in gossip about celebrities. Very different thing. Most of the elite/overclass are people you will never hear of, including those who actually make it into the institutional elite. And most celebrities, however rich or famous, will never be part of the overclass. I recall a black comic expounding on the distinction between “money” and “wealth” (the distinction being that the latter is much harder to lose).

I myself would like to live on an island far away in a community where everyone is tolerated and/or accepted as long as they don’t do the bad stuff to others. The system as it is has little appeal to me - could be because I’m a loser but I can’t say for sure; I kind of tend to feel bad either way, I get uncomfortable thinking I have advantages others don’t at the same time I don’t particuclarly like having less than others. Pretty much a lose lose situation this hierarchy of socialeconomic stuff this is for me. I just really have no interest in being better than anyone or feeling inferior to anyone.

That being said, I thought the whole Occupy Wall Street thing would be more fun than it was. Right up my alley I thought in the beginning - help the poor, everyone matters, we’re all in this together woohoo. It took no more than 3 weeks for everything to descend into petty bickering and power struggles. At the end of it all, I was certainly glad to have the slimy bankers, politicians, and monied elite in charge of things; for all their faults they are way more reasonable than the Occupy folks would be if given any power or status IMHO, so what if I’m a bottom feeder in this system - someone’s gotta do it.

BTW: I think the comedian is Chris Rock - the bit goes something like this: Oprah, she’s rich; but the owner of the TV station, now he’s wealthy. I heard it second hand in an econ class used to describe something to do with how the wealthy hold on to their money/power over many generations.

I quite agree. I’m sure then that you agree with me that there should be very high inheritance taxes to help keep the children of the wealth from becoming de facto members of the elite by birth.

Do you doubt that it is easier for the children of the elite to get into these schools today?
However none of this has much to do with the OP, unless you doubt that the elite exist.

This type of discussion often seems to be framed in this either/or sort of proposition:

Either you can have Commmmmmunizm with everyone given exactly the same handout by the State—and we all know how well that has worked out!—or you can have the system we have now, in which the hardest-working are rewarded richly!

The trouble with this common claim is twofold: one, the system we have now does NOT necessarily reward the hardest-working; and two, this isn’t a dichotomy. It is not the case that we have to choose either Commmmmunizm or Medieval-World.

The ideal system from the point of view of productivity and technological advances would be a genuine meritocracy, with 100% efficient social mobility. But humans hate meritocracies; we fight with all our might and main to turn them into entrenched class systems with 0% social mobility.

Because 'I got mine, Jack!’ and ‘my boy will inherit it all and give me immortality!’ and other deeply, unchangeably human distortions of thought.

(We’re still better off *as a species *if we can find a way to fight the tendency to entrench and enshrine inherited privilege.)

How would a meritocracy not evolve into an entrenched class system? If you give rewards to the best and brightest they will use that to secure advantages for their own family whether or not they are the best and brightest themselves. I also think that humans have a wide variety of traits due to the ever changing environment humans have experienced over many years. Right now, with new technology, certain traits are very valuable but who’s to say if those traits will be as advantageous in 100 years? When you start going down this meritocratous road you also can neglect to reward people for soft skills; maybe someone makes a good parent, or a good teacher etc. Those skills are hard to measure, but they are also what develops greatness in others. In that sense, I do not believe meritocracy is fair, or good, or ideal.

Well, before corporations, socioeconomic elites were necessary for the accumulation of wealth for large projects.

That’s precisely what I was saying here:

This isn’t “because meritocracy,” though. It’s “because human.” Any system we think up will be distorted by our desire to protect our own privileges and the privileges we hope to gain for our offspring. This is a feature of human existence that can never be legislated away; it can only be guarded against by smart social engineering. In other words, we need to be on to ourselves.

Recall that my post mentioned as ideal “a genuine meritocracy, with 100% efficient social mobility.” That implies that those at the top would not be able to game the system to benefit their own offspring (and shut out the offspring of others). This would permit the situation we often laud–rewards for hard work and for intelligence and for creativity–to prevail, generation after generation.

But to set up such a system–one that couldn’t be bent by those at the top to benefit themselves and their offspring by shutting off access to others–would not be easy.

That’s precisely why entrenched class (aka 0% social mobility) is a bad idea for the species. It harms us collectively (even if it benefits a few individuals).

I’m not understanding the message you were trying to get across in this paragraph; can you expand on it?

That could be the case, and still would not solve the problem that the Chief’s family has a lock on the supply of coconuts, and you have to slave for them to get enough coconuts to barely starve on even if your job is to pick them.


I must be getting tired; I tried my best to write a coherent response to what you wrote, but I came up with this instead; it sort of makes sense I think - or maybe it doesn’t.

Really I’m just not into pyramid, hierarchical stratification based on anything. You think a hierarchy of intelligent, hardworking people would be best, because they deserve it.

I think I’m having trouble understanding your scenario of 100% efficient mobility. means far greater access to resources than is currently available now; a large part of why some people succeed or fail has to do with their material circumstances. For example, as per the 2010 census, about 22% of children in the US live in poverty . For 100% efficiency, there would have to be a lot of redistribution of wealth first and foremost.

I think the Scandanavians have a more ideal type of system, the wealth of the nation is spread out fairly broadly, but there is some stratification. I also believe in conscritption. Conscription would be much more in line with fairness than a meritocracy to me. Some people need to fight those battles for the benefit of everyone. I think someone getting shot at in a desert works harder than pretty much anyone else.

The whole self-man type of thinking rings hollow with me. There is no such thing as a hermit living on an island since birth that has any amount of wealth compared to the man living in society. Any person who has wealth would derive no benefit from this wealth without strong protection. Ultimately it would appear to me that anyone’s ability to achieve is the result of interdependence upon others. I think the attitudes and rewards of society should reflect this reality.

It is my belief that a better society is one that encourages people to achieve for reasons other than vanity, and one in which those who are intelligent and hardworking are not placed upon a pedestal and do not need to be.

Could an aristocratic class provide a reward to help people keep their noses to the grindstone? A monied class full of sex, drugs, leisure time, etc. could motivate people to try to enter the class. Granted, entry into the class comes from being the child of someone who created a valuable product or company, and not from people who worked hard at salaried jobs. But I don’t know if that hangup is going to stop people from dreaming.

Aside from that, I don’t think there is any real value.

So how do we keep ending up with an aristocracy? Do they just naturally take over the levers of power in a society like the media, political system, military, police in an effort to concentrate wealth and power?