Monday, January 04, 2010

Meritocracy


(fm the BC thread "Droning on")

Sergey,
You conflate the old priestly hierarchy from Temple times with the rabbinic tradition of the last 2,000 years. While there is some residual social cachet to being descended from priests, they get to read the prayers first and once a year perform a blessing, the hereditary categories have no serious links to recent achievement. It is more accurate to say that the tradition of universal education for boys in the yeshiva, which encouraged disputation as well as memorization, combined with the talmudic methodology of analysis created a broad base with the skills both commercial and academic needed to thrive in the modern world. The jews achieved what the the protestants aimed for, a "Priesthood of all Believers." Einstein's father was an unsuccessful engineer and his family were mattress merchants. Samuel Goldfish started out a glove merchant before he founded MGM. In America the children of shoe merchants really do achieve great things.

The surprise is that inherited wealth and power doesn't result in a more effective control over the transmission of critical academic and entrepreneurial skills. All to often a fortune is accumulated, universities are endowed and a few generations later you end up with John Forbes Kerrey. Obama is the outlier as the descendant from two old elites, one from the Lou tribe hereditary aristocracy and the other a very traditional farm/ banking/ elite education Protestant ascendancy. He started with a silver spoon and got helped all along the way through the best schools and he still doesn't amount to much.

It would be interesting to find out if the Indian students are descended from Brahmins or other caste groups and if the Chinese students had Great-great-grandfathers in the Imperial civil service/Landlord class.

-------
Stephen,
...POTUS. This has been the highest objective standard...

Not even close. The owner of the hardware store I worked in when I was 19 was a man of substance. Roland Burris and Charlie Rangel despite their subsequent failings are people with compelling personal stories of achievement. Obama is just an over promoted empty suit. He could issue a press release saying that he is now Pope or Grand Exarch of the United Federation of Planets, it would not matter. He reduces the importance of any office that he occupies. As far as occupancy of the office being the "standard of achievement" I dispute it as a fact in America and would disagree with it in principle. People who produced in Industry (Edison, Gates, Rockefeller), athletics (Ruth "He had a better year," Manning), or the Arts often matter more. What should matter anyway is what is done to earn the accolade not the title on door. Jack Welch commands our attention, even when we disagree with him, because he worked his way up and then performed in a way that could be evaluated when he ran GE. He does not gain my attention by waving his old name plate and gold watch around.

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