Sunday, November 07, 2010

The New Elite (The Tea Party is Right About Something?)

I happened upon this Wash Post article plugged on the great Arts & Letters site. At first I thought it's reference to "new elites" was a more journalistic argument supporting my claims about a new kind of authoritative source in the convergence of new media/old media news-making. Actually, it's about a sociologically observable new class of social and political elites in the U.S. and how the Tea Party at least have that right. That old chestnut? "Ordinary" Americans have for quite a long time been complaining about the bankers and fat cats, usually in a couple of metropoles and areas on the East Coast, usually whipped up by some populist orator and with common doses of bigotry in addition. One of my friends who grew up in rural Utah (yes, coastals, go ahead and prove the point of the article: "that's like saying "rural Kansas or Nebraska"--redundant!) tells of a sign on the main highway. In one direction, Los Angeles and the number of miles to it; in the other, New York and "not far enough!"

The thing is, as author and political scientist Charles Murray points out in the article, that this "provinci
alism" is as common in suburban Massachussets and Connecticut (insert joke about redundancy) as it is in rural Utah and Kansas.

So, here's what Murray has to say (I'm not saying it justifies the Tea Party, but...):

That a New Elite has emerged over the past 30 years is not really controversial. That its members differ from former elites is not controversial. What sets the tea party apart from other observers of the New Elite is its hostility, rooted in the charge that elites are isolated from mainstream America and ignorant about the lives of ordinary Americans.


On the surface, it looks as if things have changed. Compared with 50 years ago, the proportion of students coming from old-money families and exclusive prep schools has dropped. The representation of African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans has increased. Yet the student bodies of the elite colleges are still drawn overwhelmingly from the upper middle class. According to sociologist Joseph Soares's book "The Power of Privilege: Yale and America's Elite Colleges," about four out of five students in the top tier of colleges have parents whose income, education and occupations put them in the top quarter of American families, according to Soares's measure of socioeconomic status. Only about one out of 20 such students come from the bottom half of families.


Far from spending their college years in a meritocratic melting pot, the New Elite spend school with people who are mostly just like them -- which might not be so bad, except that so many of them have been ensconced in affluent suburbs from birth and have never been outside the bubble of privilege. Few of them grew up in the small cities, towns or rural areas where more than a third of all Americans still live.

Let me propose that those allegations have merit. Read on

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