Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Elites vs. elites
Tom Smith

Bainbridge on those revolting elites here.  It rather appalling that elite universities practice so much discrimination against intelligent but socially unhooked up applicants (read "Asians").  OTOH a school such as Duke presumably has the right or should to practice any admissions policy it sees fit, though it is ironic that as such an infamously PC institution, they should rank as one of the worst offenders for preferring jocks and rich kids to Asians with stratospheric SAT scores.  Or maybe I misunderstand what is PC -- probably I do.

But surely in the long run institutions that prefer social or monetary cachet to brains will pay a price.  In a market economy, I also don't think a fancy BA gets you that far if you are not smart and hard-working.  A law degree from Harvard or Yale may get you hired at a big firm, but if you don't work as hard or as well as the guy from the third tier school, nobody is going to care when bonus and partnership decisions are made.

What worries me about elitism that is not meritocracy is that as the state controls more and more of the economy for political ends, those with political connections will benefit rather than those with something valuable to sell.  Elitism here stands in for something like rule by Euro-style technocrats.


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Tom Smith


The word "elite" lets me pretend that this is relevant - but anyway I think it may interest you.

Posted by: dearieme | Apr 20, 2010 10:38:17 AM

Prof. Smith, is there any particular reason you single out Duke as your only example of an undergraduate institution that advantages "jocks and rich kids to Asians with stratospheric SAT scores"? Neither Prof. Arend nor Prof. Bainbridge mentioned Duke in the posts to which you linked.

Posted by: Pub Editor | Apr 20, 2010 11:35:49 AM

This society does not reward brains. Partly for this reason you will find nobody of SCOTUS or POTUS, and only a handful of COTUS, who has majored in anything but wishy-washy subjects like English, History, Philosophy, Political Science, Education and International Studies.

Real brainy types, like physicists and mathematicians don't stand a chance. Nor does anybody with advanced training in economics. There are countries who elect real elite types like Thatcher and Merkel.

Posted by: jimbino | Apr 20, 2010 11:35:51 AM

Re Duke, if you click through to the Amazon listing of the book and read about it, according to the author Duke is the worst of the elite schools (or nearly so) in setting aside places for people with "hooks" i.e. athletic prowess, alumni connections, etc. Also other interesting examples -- apparently Hollywood money really helps at Brown for example. I have no idea really if these claims are true. I thought it was just grades and test scores.

Posted by: Tom Smith | Apr 20, 2010 12:01:00 PM

Re Duke. How do you think they keep winning in basketball?

Posted by: pchuck | Apr 20, 2010 12:15:51 PM

Thank you for the explanation.

Posted by: Pub Editor | Apr 20, 2010 12:36:31 PM

Jimbino, I would object to including philosophy at least if it's at a school with a standard anglo-american faculty in the (for lack of a better word) analytical tradition. If it's chock full of continentalists going on about the phallic hegemony of authors then I have to agree.

Posted by: john knox | Apr 20, 2010 1:19:47 PM

Jimbino, do you really imagine that the country would be so much better run if economists, to use one of your examples, were represented in greater numbers in legislatures and courts? Paul Krugman has sterling credentials of the sort that you seem to prefer and would appear to be fairly accomplished in his field; yet, if his tenure at the New York Times is any indication, he would offer little or no more than what we already have if he managed to add the title "Congressman" or "Senator" to his resume. Moreover, to use but one small example, every President is advised by the Council of Economic Advisors, which is staffed by folks with the very sort of economics-related credentials that you laud (e.g., it is presently chaired by Christina Romer, formerly a professor of economics at U.C.-Berkeley). And, still, here we are.

Posted by: The Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk | Apr 20, 2010 2:02:31 PM

The book is as portrayed in the Economist column. As noted upthread, Duke is one of Golden's examples. Different schools serve as different examples of hooked applicants. Notre Dame, for example, takes roughly one-half of its freshman class as legacies, which it defines extraordinarily narrowly as children and siblings of alumni. Duke, beginning in the 1970's, made a concerted effort to attract more children of the mega-rich, a niche previously (and still) occupied prominently by Brown. There's an estimate in the book, IIRC by Marilee Jones, that roughly 40% of the spots at any Ivy League school are available for un-hooked applicants.

Golden is, unsurprisingly, on the left side of the US political spectrum, and the quotes on the book are from people I normally hold no affection for, but he does at least avoid partisan rhetoric. I particularly enjoy the cite to Justice Thomas's opinion in the Michigan law school affirmative action case, where he writes that striking down affirmative action may lead to the questioning of other preference actions such as legacies, "a fact not lost on the institutional elites supporting the law school in this case" (quote approximate).

Posted by: Tom | Apr 20, 2010 3:01:35 PM

Well if you suppose there will be an elite, then that elite has to be picked somehow. The ivy's will as always pick enough genuinely talented minds to be a reliable supply of intelligent people and enough connected people to be a reliable supply of those. If I ran Harvard the rest of the slots would be auctioned, but Harvard takes itself to seriously for that.

Posted by: wotan | Apr 20, 2010 9:09:31 PM


Do you think the country is well run by a POTUS, SCOTUS and COTUS replete with lawyers who avoided all the hard classes in college?

Posted by: jimbino | Apr 21, 2010 2:22:59 PM

So did Bill Gates

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