THE DECLINE OF AMERICA’S MERITOCRACY
Peter Baum: “In case anyone thinks America is the best at everything, let me tell you that there’s nothing close to the ‘rest and relax’ area of the airport at Seoul (where I am now). Free beds, internet, wifi, showers (!), and a guy playing piano at the moment. But I digress. I somewhat agree with Chris Hayes about meritocracy, but I don’t see things being as bad as he paints them. I feel I’ve got a good vantage point on this as an SAT tutor to the very well-to-do in Silicon Valley. There is not the slightest question that the game has been rigged toward the wealthy. They assume that if a kid is smart and works hard, the kid will go to a top-flight university. Of course, there are way more kids fitting this description than there are slots at top universities. Yet as our system is set up, their kids generally do get all the slots they need — and the parents’ lack of awareness of this situation and sense of entitlement sometimes drives me crazy. But let me note: these kids work really hard. They play sports passionately (at a much higher level than we did), they take their studies seriously (far more than I did), and they volunteer for the community (which I never did). I point this out to contrast with elites from other countries with a very different ethos. I had a kid flown in from Pakistan just to be tutored for the SAT, and he was astonished that I expected him to work during the sessions. He was incredulous that he actually had to do the homework that had been assigned. And he felt he could do no wrong: Me (after he’d missed a math problem): ‘Take a look at the arithmetic there.’ Him: ‘So?’ Me: ‘Well, 3 x 9 is 27, not 24.’ Him: ‘Are you sure?’ I made him draw out sticks in bundles of three and count them. The point is: we must do everything we can to create equality of opportunity but should be aware that we’re only halfway on the slope to nepotism, corruption, and intractable problems.”
From Congressman Barney Frank last week:
Dear Mr. Attorney General:
I note several instances recently in which Administration officials have proceeded civilly against blatant violators of our important financial laws, in part because of the difficulty of approving cases beyond a reasonable doubt, especially where the law may have been somewhat uncertain, but also because of a concern that the criminal conviction – and even indictment – of a major financial institution could have a destabilizing effect. This latter consideration does not apply, similarly, to individuals. It is, of course, the case that no corporation can have engaged in wrongdoing without the active decision of individual officers of that entity. I believe it is also the case that prosecuting individuals has more of a deterrent effect than prosecuting corporations.
I am writing to you as well as to financial regulators, understanding that the decision to pursue criminal prosecutions rests with the Justice Department, so I ask that there be a series of consultations involving law-enforcement officials and regulators with the goal of increasing prosecution of culpable individuals as an important step in seeing that the laws that protect the stability and integrity of our financial system are better observed.
This makes so much sense.
Professor William Black, who knows whereof he speaks, elaborates, with a passion.
I don’t know whether the election was an inhibiting factor, but with the election behind us, it’s high time to get moving.
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History is a vast early warning system.~Norman Cousins
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