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

I grew up in the same country as Bill Gates, but he is rich and I’m not. Clearly being born in this country is not sufficient to enjoy the kind of success he has. It seems that since whatever caused the differences in our station is intrinsic to him that it makes sense for him to be entitled to what he has earned.

Okay, I’ll play the devil’s advocate. I’ll argue that an aristocratic class is good for society.

A society is mostly composed of people who are looking out for their own short-term self-interests. They are working to take care of themselves and their families with no real interest in the good of the larger society they live in.

But they need a working society in order to have a place to live in. And society needs some people who are doing the work of keeping it functioning.

And that’s the role of the aristocracy. Because they are born in a position of automatic wealth, members of the aristocracy do not need to work on taking care of themselves. So they are able to devote their efforts to taking care of society in general. They can afford to live a life of public service.

And as people who are the recipients of a higher level of benefits, they are naturally inclined to want to work for the maintenance of society. The social order has been good to them and so they will want to preserve that social order.

Knowing that this is their place in society, individuals in the aristocratic class can be brought up in this tradition of working for the good of society. They don’t need to be trained for money-making occupations so they can devote themselves to learning skills needed for public service. And then step into the roles of public service as they become ready.

You can look at families like the Kennedys or the Roosevelts for examples of how this system can work.

Well, yes. And they don’t always even know they’re doing it. In Lind’s Up From Conservatism, he emphasizes that his class theory is not a conspiracy theory. Rather, when a large class of influential people have a chance to act in their own class interests, they do, even if there is no conscious conspiracy or coordination; it’s more a matter of most of them, on their own initiative, pulling in roughly the same direction. But the effect is the same.

The non-elite prefer the elite to be in charge. Most people prefer being sheep to being shepherds.

Gates had a rich father. (Not nearly as rich as he is, but still fairly well off.) He could both go to Harvard and drop out of Harvard without fearing starvation. Gates also got lucky, in having acquired an operating system just when IBM needed one. I used Microsoft Basic, it was pretty good, but it wasn’t going to make him rich.
Gates was indeed brilliant in seeing how this gave him near monopoly power and leveraging that power much better than IBM did. But how much of that is a contribution to society which deserves that gigantic reward?

And Gates at least developed something, which is more than we can say for lots of the 1%.

The social value of the individual entrepreneur (for which, if you think carefully, you are not actually making any argument anyway) is irrelevant to a discussion of the social value of an elite social class.

This is one of the more interesting threads I’ve seen. It seems to me that Mr. Nylock is the only one who is proposing a real solution to the problem. Most of you seem to be saying, “I don’t like the idea of a hereditary elite at all, an elite should be a meritocracy of the most innovative, hard-working, sincere people out there, in short, people like me!”

Well, as has been pointed out, people like you are going to want to ensure the best for their children, even if they are not quite so bright and gifted as I (for the same of argument) assume you to be. So ultimately, you’re just advocating replacing one hierarchy with another, with a short term benefit as the actual gifted people take over, but back to hereditary elite in the not-so-long term. Color me uninterested.

As Mr. Sherrerd says, “we need to be on to ourselves” in that regard.

I just do not know of any system that has ever been proposed that has made any useful attempt to let us be “on to ourselves” in that regard other than the Turkish sultanate’s janissaries, and I think castration may be regarded as extreme in these modern times, and I’m pretty sure the janissaries didn’t hold a lot of political power, either. Still, the idea of castrating Congressmen and financial leaders is entertaining at the very least.

Mr. Nylock also points out correctly that meritocracies tend to overvalue some skills and undervalue others. He’s right. Of course, our capitalist friends enjoy pointing out that the marketplace is a very efficient mechanism for valuing skills, and for them I have this.

Even if we assume the possibility of a truly meritocratic hierarchy, the value of such a thing is not a thing we should automatically assume, as many in this thread appear to be doing.

“The Scourge of Meritocracy: An elite based on merit could be more impenetrable than one based on nepotism.”

“Why Elites Fail: They’re hyper-educated, ambitious and well rewarded. So why are our elites so incompetent?”

Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, by Christopher Hayes.

With all due respect, I believe you are completely failing to follow the line of logic. The nuances of this discussion can be somewhat unclear for certain and your example of Bill Gates is somewhat tangential. Bill Gates had a massive advantage from a very young age, he is from an extremely wealthy family which allowed him to have access to technology that most of the population did not have access to. He started out with an advantage and through hard work and ability created a hugely profitable company. He is an example of tremendous advantages and tremendous ability acting together.

The example touches on other points I am making as well. He may be brilliant and hardworking, but that alone would not allow him to amass such a large fortune. The only way he can amass such a fortune is through enforcement of patent law, which ultimately must be backed by force to have any meaning - which gets back to my tangent about conscription. Furthermore, without access to the publicly funded University of Washington’s computers he also would not have gotten so far. So, what you have is 3 things that allow one man to amass such wealth - I think no two people would agree which component is most important, but to completely disregard any of them is not accurate.

Getting back to the meat of the OP, I think the elite we have happen to be very reasonable people at times, here’s a quote from Gates,

“I’m certainly well taken care of in terms of food and clothes,” he says, redundantly. “Money has no utility to me beyond a certain point. Its utility is entirely in building an organisation and getting the resources out to the poorest in the world.”

He’s truly a man after my own heart.

What you are missing is that the advantages Gates had were not given to him by society. His father was rich because he started a law firm. My father grew up in America but started zero law firms. The point is not that Gates had no advantages but that he had no special advantages that were given him by society. I live in a society with patent laws but have not founded any software companies.
If you look at the margin, then you see what each individual’s contribution is. Society plus me equals a decent living while society plus Bill Gates equals Microsoft. Thus the difference in value created between myself and Bill Gates is due to him and not to society. Thus we both owe the same thing to society. I would never say that Bill Gates should not pay taxes or serve on jury duty but it would be equally wrong to say that because Gates could not have become rich without society he owes society anything more than anyone else.

Due to IBM, you mean - because without IBM Gates would be nothing. Intel’s great success was similarly due to IBM, which they admit in the Intel Museum exhibit that was up when I worked there. (And might still be for all I know.)
Or is IBM not a part of society?

IBM is part of society and they were in a business agreement with Microsoft which they freely entered into, believing it was in their best financial interests.
We are all interdependent and our standard of living is dependent on so many others. No one denies this but when people say “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 diminishes what people have built and what people have achieved. Then the next step is since they didn’t really earn it then it becomes okay for the government to take it.
If someone builds something and makes a success of themselves they are entitled to the rewards of that success.

How much reward? All that he can grab, no matter what? Did you ever read “Microserfs”? This billionaire shit is getting to be more like Lotto than real economics. Time to scale it back down.

No. That’s not the message I intended to convey.

I believe some degree of hierarchy is inevitable in human societies. If it’s true that we must have hierarchy, then I think we are best off with rules in place to counteract our tendencies to enshrine our own privileges (and those of our offspring).

For example: our self-interest as individuals leads us to try to eliminate competition–but competition leads to better outcomes for us as a species. Therefore, if we are wise, we put in place laws that limit monopolies and other market distortions. (Of course the USA, in recent decades, has been busy dismantling the laws put in place in earlier decades–to our great economic detriment. But then a government-for-sale has consequences.)

I’m not a fan of putting people on pedestals.

And by “100% efficient social mobility” I meant a system in which the child born in poverty truly does have the exact same chance at a first-rate education (through university) as does a child born to wealth.

We certainly don’t have that in the USA. And by some accounts, we’re moving more and more rapidly toward an inflexibly hereditary class system. That sort of system leads to social and economic stagnation, of course–but those at the top will always work toward establishing such a system if they are permitted so to do. It’s the way our brains work.

BrainGlutton’s question: ***Does a socioeconomic elite class have value to people who aren’t in it? ***

I may have been mistaken in assuming that this question does NOT necessarily entail or include ‘hereditary privilege’ as a fundamental aspect.

Instead, I assumed that the question could refer to the fact that some inequality of wealth is valuable to a society (including those members of the society who aren’t members of the elite). If that meaning is allowed–if an “elite class” can be something other than hereditary–then what I’m suggesting is this:

If those who are smart, creative, and hard-working manage to acquire assets that are admired by those who have less, then those who have less may benefit from the consequences of having aspirations. (Those consequences being, perhaps, more determination to give their children chances to succeed. Again, I’m assuming that this sort of mobility IS possible.)

If an elite class is fully accessible to all who demonstrate personal qualities of a certain kind (hard work, etc.), then its existence can be a good motivator.

They may not NEED to work on taking care of themselves. But that’s no guarantee that they would NOT prioritize taking care of themselves.

I’m not buying the ‘aristocratic class will be altruistic because they don’t need to work’ theory. Some members of any aristocratic class may turn out to be fairly altruistic in their views and actions (we can all cite a few such people). But you can’t really assume that more than a tiny fraction would have that sort of orientation.

Most would work–not for the Public Good–but instead to consolidate and increase their own power and wealth.

Humans is humans.

What you are describing is the role of governments, NGOs and companies which have an (intentional or unintentional) pro-social agenda. I don’t think an aristocracy can be argued tends to act like this.

Many people who want to contribute to keeping society functioning are able to earn a living. There are millions of people working in NGOs, for profit companies that are making society better, government organizations, etc.

Microserfs? Did you know that Microsoft has created an estimated 12,000 millionaires from employee stock ownership. The rest of your post makes no sense.

I must be on everyone’s ignore list. I gave the answer. None of you have addressed this. Unless you can disprove this the rest of your arguments are pointless.

It does in the sense that hereditary/quasi-hereditary membership is part of the definition of a social class (as distinct from an institutional elite).

But, see post #28.

If someone builds something and makes a success of themselves they are entitled to the rewards of that success.[/QUOTE]

So are lottery winners. But since success is not due only to their great skills, they need to share some of the fruits of that success with others. Gates, to his credit, agrees with this.
And of course for everyone like Gates who did actually contribute something, there are 10 big execs who get tens of millions of bucks for doing nothing or for getting fired for screwing up. What should they be entitled to? (In these discussions you think the top 0.1% consisted of Bill Gates and Bill Gates clones.)