Friday, February 22, 2013

Equal Elite?

In every society, there is a group of people who lead it. There may be a king, a parliament or a even a democracy. The reality is that only a few people have the power to make things happen. Let's call these people 'the elite'.  They are not a conspiracy, rather a group of people, often men, who have the reigns.

The Kennedy brothers had special advantages.
The great political theorists of history, Plato, Hobbes, Locke, Nietzsche, and even Lenin, acknowledged that society has elites of one kind or another. The United States is no different from any other human society that has existed.

Launching Point

Before World War II, Ivy league schools (Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth, MIT, Columbia, etc.) publicly admitted that their students were largely from the New England elites. Names of graduates from these schools fill positions of power through out our society, (Kennedy, Bush, Rockefeller, Roosevelt, Murdoch, Clinton, Adams, Proctor, Gates, Merck, Dole, Heinz, du Pont, Sachs) reading like a who's who of power and wealth in the country.

Poison "Ivy League"?
Probably not.
Before the world war, chiefly the old family elite were permitted entrance to the training that would give them positions of power. After the war, this started to change and a new kind of merit admittance started. The path has remained the same, but the pool of eligibility has gradually widened.  It is still highly limited, not many gain access to the pathways to power.

We all know the story, go to a top school secure a job in one of a few companies and rise up to the crest of society. Rarely do we see the people who take positions of power not come from the Ivy League.  These schools are the 'elite manufacturing centers' of our nation. Tuition is high and access to the education provided is controlled. Opportunities abound for only a few.

Web of Power

Some of these people are truly the best and brightest. Many others are there by family or fortune. Building networks amongst people with power is more important than excelling at a field through brilliance of mind, action, or will.

Belonging to the same fraternities and societies within these schools like the Skull and Bones, the Scroll and Key, or Wolf's Head, gives one access to families and people already in power.

Kerry and Bush both belonged to the
Skull and Bones society.
The elites fill the ranks of both political parties, Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative alike. The top non-elected positions in government, from the Cabinet level on down, are populated with these elites.  The Federal Reserve, the top military brass, the Supreme Court and more come from these same institutions.

Sitting on the boards of long established corporations or even leading them is another path taken by the elites. Many hold multiple seats as directors on Fortune 500 companies. They are a web of familiar faces that make decisions across industries and borders. The median is that single person will be a director for 7 different Fortune 500 firms.  A small number of elites control the wealth of the nation.

Conspiracies are fun to imagine,
but too complex to pull off.
Not a Conspiracy

Having similar educations, these members of the elites tend to think alike. There is a homogeneity to what they are exposed to and therefore who they can become.

Human nature is to seek out people like ourselves. Those who think like us and act like us, attract us.

There need be no secret conspiracy of power for an elite to form. It is just the way humans are.

Leveraging family, contacts and existing wealth by individuals tend to build a cadre of elites.  If you could, wouldn't you give your children this opportunity by tilting the scales of opportunity in their favor?

Ethical Entitlement

Rockefeller boys with their father.
All inherited great wealth.
The Untied States envisions itself as a place where you can rise to the top though hard work. This Protestant Work Ethic tells us that frugality and effort will lead us to prosperity. Some even think it is a sign of God's blessing when we achieve success in this way.

This ethic also tells us that once you have 'made it' you deserve to be there. Your wealth and power are an indication of your personal superiority. The people who did not make it, failed due to their own personal limitations.

Any head start you may have been given is taken as inconsequential. There are very, very few who make it own their own, yet they are held up as the examples of all of those in power. There many more who came from a few families in these groups of power than those who made it on their own. Yet we take people like Abe Lincoln or Steve Jobs as the standard by which all climb to powerful positions.

Surrounding themselves with people like themselves, they live in an echo chamber that reflects back their own merit and entitlement to their power. The elite tend to not understand the issues, struggles or inequalities suffered by 'the little people'. These failed little people are thought simply not good enough to make the 'big time'.


Look around at the people you know. We each could name a dozen or more people that have worked hard, been frugal, and have done their best. We can also name several who did not work hard, were lazy and failed.

Hard worker with
little opportunity.
The non-elites are the ones who design the software, work in the factory, administer the medicine, and coach the little league team. They are good people who do the best they can with what they have.

The difference between the elite and those we know who worked hard is not one of effort. The difference is the resource of opportunity. Most of the elite do not start off poor. Most of the elite do not come from broken homes. Most of the elite do not have to work two jobs to support an ailing family member or face unemployment when the local factory shuts down.

The non-elite do not attend private schools with great educations. They pay off student loans over 20 years. The non-elite do not get inside knowledge on the next big economic opportunity, they are at the whim of the big company's plans. The non-elite can not martial the capital, resources, lawyers, or political power to realize their potential and accomplish their goals.

The difference between the 'little guy' who works hard and the 'little guy' who is lazy pales in comparison to the lazy and hard-working elite. The elite have huge advantages in money, education, and resources. These advantages are the true source of their power, generation after generation.

The people who call themselves the 'job creators' are actually often the elite in a new mask. Believing they 'know better' they demand a greater share of the common resources, pay less taxes, and make decisions that effect all our lives with out our input.


We will always have an elite in our society. It's just the way things are.

The elite should not forget their advantage and spread the knowledge and resources so that more have opportunity.  

More people of merit should be allowed to become elites, especially by non-traditional means.

The non-elite need to setup infrastructure and institutions that will enable more of the little people to rise to positions of power.

If both the elite and non-elite fail at these tasks, in a few generations we will all become weaker.


  1. Elitism a fact of life. I'm better than you. Very British! Royalty, heredity, bloodlines, crusty. A dying breed. Makes life interesting for the tabloids. It only takes a few.

  2. Hay Mark a powerful thoughtful read. Is it fair to say that some people are born to lead and others follow? My thinking is that the elite tend to be leaders?

  3. Thanks. I do not think being elite is strictly a genetic predisposition. The best and brightest of occasionally become elites. Our society is structured to give preference to the sons of wealth.