Same Facts: The Power Elite
A recent David Brooks column had an interesting analysis of the new power elite. He claims they are more diverse, meritocratic, and talented than ever, but at the same time less trusted and perhaps less successful than ever.
Are government, finance, and journalism really run no better than they were 50 years ago? It is hard to say, or even to come up with a good metric to judge this by. But society is much richer than it was 50 years ago, and these institutions may have had something to do with that.
Brooks continues, “To leave a mark in a fast, competitive world, leaders seek to hit grandiose home runs. Clinton tried to transform health care. Bush tried to transform the Middle East. Obama has tried to transform health care, energy and much more.” But most 20th-century presidents attempted major transformations. The attempts of recent presidents are a dim shadow of the breadth and speed of transformations brought about by Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, members of the old-style elite.
This seems more on target to me: “Third, leadership-class solidarity is weaker. The Protestant Establishment was inbred. On the other hand, those social connections placed informal limits on strife. Personal scandals were hushed up. Now members of the leadership class are engaged in a perpetual state of war. Each side seeks daily advantage in ways that poison the long-term reputations of everybody involved.”
But again, do I really know how dirty and competitive politics was 50 years ago compared to now? No. It is easy to go astray when we rely on vague impressions, especially about the past since the “other side” isn’t around to correct us. Most good datasets do not go back beyond the 70’s, but there must be some adequate proxies available.