Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Vast Mobility

David Brooks writes:
One of the most entertaining spectacles of the Age of Obama in this second act is going to be the gigantic pro wrestling match over inequality in our society, between Nature in the form of meritocracy and Artifice in the form of government. Because meritocracy, the market-driven process that lifts some of us out of the equality in which we were all born to float to the top like the oil in a vinaigrette, is in direct conflict with the collectivism of the Obama government, which aims to leave us all the same, in cheap black suits with no lapels and a Little Red Book to wave in the air as the president drives by in his limousine. Who do you think is going to win? 
We are all born equal, of course, each in his or her appropriate station in life, and then certain things happen to make us less equal. The first thing is our education system, a gigantic crane claw machine that our colleges and universities use to pluck high school kids out of our towns and villages, but at different levels of skill and resources, so that Harvard, with an unlimited supply of quarters, gets all the teddy bears, while Arizona State has to be satisfied with plastic key rings.
From Lindsay and Christian's wedding at the Rockefeller Chapel.
The smart kids from Leipzig, Pennsylvania, Elbow, Nevada, and West New York, New Jersey who make it into the top schools, coming from a situation of happy equality, now find themselves in tooth-and-claw competition with graduates of ivy-covered boarding schools and Montessori programs who have spent the last twelve years taking lessons in getting themselves noticed, acquiring distinctive accomplishments, attitudes, and manners. Used to a social scene that values roots, they are plunged into one in which mobility is what counts, people flitting like hummingbirds from culture to culture and taking just a sip from each, rootless cosmopolitans concerned only with self-fulfillment. Raised to sweep off their caps and tug their forelocks in the presence of the great, now they encounter the great as their slovenly roommates, leaving the dishes in the sink and the underwear on the floor, careless and supremely confident. 
What's amazing is that this works, turning our slum kids and peasant children into elegant young members of the ruling class. Of course they can't go home again, if only because there's nobody there who could afford to employ them, but there are enclaves all over, from Hoboken to Palo Alto, that serve as magnets where they can live with their kind, with a sufficiency of coffee bars, yoga studios, and Korean restaurants. Or they could get a Ph.D. in political science and get a teaching job, because it turns out a degree from one of those same ten or eleven schools is the main thing you need to get a political science teaching job, according to Robert Oprisko (and a good thing too! though Oprisko, for some reason, seems to think graduates of other places might be able to handle the work).
Barack and Michelle Obama come out of these hothouses of aristocracy, as do most of the members of the administration, most of us writers at the Times, and many of our readers—imagine trying to follow my sophisticated prose if you did your lit classes in Austin or Buffalo! And yet they are doing their best to undo the effects of the system, by redistributing money from high to low. The health care bill alone takes $20,000 from the average member of the 1% and divvies it up among between 25 and 50 more or less indigent families.
University of Chicago women's soccer.
In the first place, this is not enough to make a difference: it's like dividing up a spoonful of caviar ("Care for an egg, dear?"). And then it's going to people in places like the San Joaquin valley, where most don't even have high school degrees, and to make matters worse, they have to spend it on health insurance so they don't even have a chance of spending it where it counts, on tuition at Brown or Williams, or getting a pied-à-terre in Dumbo. 
Obama's relentless focus on redistribution ignores the reality that inequality in our country is caused by the fact that there just aren't enough really good schools to take care of everybody. And centralizing all the decision-making in Washington isn't going to stop the Georgetown graduates from staying there instead of moving back to Iowa and Nebraska to teach their cousins how to make a macchiato and wear those little fedoras. It will just mean more of a division than ever between people who know how to use the lobster fork and people who eat at Red Lobster. 
And I'm not saying Republicans have a better plan for dealing with this. In the first place, Republicans don't think it needs to be dealt with. All I'm saying is, there ought to be a second place here somewhere, but Obama doesn't know what it is any more than I do.
If only he'd written the dissertation instead of that book, he could have had a respectable job


  1. I'm sorry about this. These posts are meant to express the true venomous opinions and vast insecurities of David Brooks. They are snark. The main target here is Brooks's belief that the graduates of those schools really are better than anybody else, so that when he read the article about your article he didn't stop to think that there might be anything wrong with the nation making all its political science faculty hires from one tiny pool of self-regarding elites. Of course he wouldn't give you a job if you went to Purdue, or me (Buffalo).

    I've tried to repoint the gag with your name in it. It's still not funny, alas, but at least it's not offensive to you, I hope, because that is not what I meant at all.

    1. This was in reply to a comment by Robert Oprisko which I unfortunately deleted:

      "I'm uncertain how to reply to this post. However, thank you for reading an article written about my article, even if you didn't bother to dig deeper. If you'd like to see the data you think I probably faked, I'm happy to send you a copy. Your desire not to employ me is noted - I will remember not to bother applying."