Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The New American Ruling Class

Last night Bill O’Reilly asked how America had, in the thirty years, gone from electing Ronald Reagan to electing Barack Obama.

After all, he mused, Americans loved Ronald Reagan. They recognized him as a great success. Yet, many Americans have now happily embraced Obama, ignoring the fact that the two men are not only at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but see two different Americas.

Reagan rejoiced in American greatness; Obama constantly finds fault with the nation. The one was uplifting; the other is demoralizing. How did we get from there to here?

The easy answer is: it's not the same America; it is surely not the same American mind.

A few days ago Joel Kotkin addressed a similar question in an excellent article. He noted that Obama’s ascendance manifests a new economic reality. The old economy based on making and doing has been replaced by a new economy based on information and thinking.

We are no longer ruled by the productive class; we are now being ruled by the thinking class.

An Obama, Kotkin avers, sees good capitalists and bad capitalists:

… the administration is quite comfortable with such capitalist sectors as entertainment, the news media and the software side of the technology industry, particularly social media. The big difference is these firms derive their fortunes not from the soil and locally crafted manufacturers, but from the manipulation of ideas, concepts and images.

Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft are far from “the workers of the world,” but closer to modern-day robber barons. Through their own ingenuity, access to capital and often oligopolistic hold on lucrative markets, they have enjoyed one of the greatest accumulations of wealth in recent economic history, even amidst generally declining earnings, rising poverty and inequality among their fellow Americans.

These “tech oligarchs” are invariably liberal Democrats. Their interests are significantly different from those of small business owners, farmers and industrialists.

These new “robber barons” need to lobby government to protect their outsized wealth. And they need to control the media in order to ensure that they retain a pristine public image. It would do do for the nation to start seeing them as “robber barons.”

Bad press is toxic for huge fortunes.

Kotkins then adds two other groups that belong to the new ruling class: government bureaucrats and academics.

Neither of these groups, Kotkin notes astutely, depends on marketplace participation. Neither can be held accountable by the market.

Both have profited handsomely during the hard times of the first Obama administration:

Even in tough times, high-level academics enjoy tenure and have been largely spared from job cuts. Between late 2007 and mid-2009, the number of U.S. federal workers earning more than $150,000 more than doubled, even as the economy fell into a deep recession. Even as the private sector, and state government employment has fallen, the ranks of federal nomenklatura have swelled so much that Washington, D.C., has replaced New York as the wealthiest region in the country.

Along with the elite media, bureaucrats and academics make up what Kotkin calls a new “clerisy.” They constitute a class of clerics, of high priests who do not participate in the marketplace but who believe that they possess superior wisdom and that they are duty bound to impose it on everyone else. 

The notion that large number of people participating freely in an open market can produce a functioning economy makes no sense to them.

Kotkin emphasizes a point that I and many others have often noted. American academics suffer from a case of chronic groupthink. For evidence Kotkin notes, in amazement, the extent of academic financial support for the Obama campaign.

Indeed the clerisy accounted for five of the top eight sources of Obama’s campaign funding, led by the University of California, the federal workforce, Harvard , Columbia and Stanford. Academic support for Obama was remarkably lock-step: a remarkable 96% of all donations from the Ivy League went to the president, something more reminiscent of Soviet Russia than a properly functioning pluralistic academy.

Kotkin is not suggesting that American academics are Communists. He is pointing out that there is something radically wrong with a group of supposedly free-thinking intellectuals who all think exactly the same thing.

Apparently, leftist culture warriors have found a way to enforce ideological orthodoxy and to indoctrinate student minds with perfect impunity.

Republican businessmen and women who fund these institutions have been duped into funding an educational system that abhors everything that they stand for. They should not be proud of themselves.

Of course, the American educational establishment has long since abandoned the notion that they have a duty to educate children. They have happily embraced their new role, to indoctrinate students in  politically correct ideology.

In Kotkin’s words:

… today’s clerisy attempts to impart on the masses today’s distinctly secular “truths,” on issues ranging from the nature of justice, race and gender to the environment. Academics, for example, increasingly regulate speech along politically correct lines, and indoctrinate the young while the media shape their perceptions of reality.

Most distinctive about the clerisy is their unanimity of views. On campus today, there is broad agreement on a host of issues from gay marriage, affirmative action and what are perceived as “women’s” issues to an almost religious environmentalism that is contemptuous toward traditional industry and anything that smacks of traditional middle class suburban values. These views have shaped many of the perceptions of the current millennial generation, whose conversion to the clerical orthodoxy has caught most traditional conservatives utterly flat-footed.

Educators have in large part succeeded in gaining monopoly control over the marketplace of ideas. They and their fellow clerics want to exercise the same monopoly control over the American media.

Leftists are not satisfied to control major media outlets. They are not content to determine what is and is not acceptable opinion. They are sorely offended that conservatives are allowed a voice at all, especially Fox News. They are even more horrified that Fox News is highly profitable while the mainstream media, for all of its influence, is floundering financially.

I suspect that the mainstream media barons foresee a time when they will have to become wards of the state, like NPR and the BBC. They are trying to stay on good terms with their future masters, and at the same time trying to forestall their worst nightmare: a Republican  takeover that would defund NPR.

As for Bill O’Reilly’s question, the nation has changed from Reagan’s nation to Obama’s nation because the media educational complex has succeeded in indoctrinating a significant number of Americans.


n.n said...

Corruption, by virtue of its evolutionary nature, is neither a deterministic nor monotonic process. It is characterized by both negative and positive progress. It is a chaotic process, bounded with an intermediate behavior reasonably modeled as a stochastic process. Perhaps this is why people fail to take notice until the consequences are undeniable and unavoidable.

It is the paradox of civilization. A decadent state of living causes a progressive dissociation of risk.

It seems that human behavior can be modeled by physical laws.

Newton’s Three Laws of Motion

1. Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

The object is people. The state of motion is corruption.

Progressive corruption will become conclusive corruption unless acted upon by morality, which in human society is enforced through competing interests (ultimately individuals).

2. F = ma

Corruption will increase directly proportionate to increasing number people or dysfunctional behaviors.

3. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

This assumes a balance between corrupt and moral individuals. This assumption is increasingly unwarranted as we normalize behaviors which are either marginally or strictly dysfunctional.

Nature provides insight into our seemingly nebulous human problems.

It is dissociation of risk which causes corruption. It is dreams of instant (or immediate) gratification which motivates its progress.

Our “good” intentions have accelerated reaching critical mass.

Progressive corruption becomes conclusive corruption.

With respect to our society, the most vocal supporters of MLK's "dream" have failed to appreciate his traditional wisdom. The supporters of welfare, rather than rehabilitation, fail to consider that they sponsor corruption of individuals and institutions. They are advocates and defenders of fundamental corruption, which obscures and provides for the progress of exceptional (i.e. individual) corruption. The supporters of pro-choice/abortion fail to comprehend that normalization serves to devalue human life.

David Foster said...

I think the changes in the employment mix also have something to do with the increasing hostility toward free speech.

If you're a farmer or a machinist or even an electrical engineer, the difference between "speech" and "action" is pretty clear. But if you're a lawyer or an advertising copywriter or a professor (outside the hard sciences), then the distinction is much more muddled...in your professional life, speech IS your form of action.

n.n said...

David Foster:

That would depend on what the meaning of "is" is. Sometimes it is a means for rhetorical evasion. Sometimes it is exploited to manipulate perception. While other times it is a verb expressing intent.

Sorry, "is" is also an invitation to mock "great" men.

DeNihilist said...

In my part of the world, a high school english teacher is allowed to have a class on "rights" for credit. The past classes have taken on projects like raising awareness about Darfur. This project is how they pass. This year it is womans'issues. The class spent last Saturday in front of a strip club, trying to sign up petitioners to close down said club. Of course, not once during the year has he allowed a stripper to talk to the class. I mean she would not know that she is being violated - at 1000.00 a night!

And of course, being an adult, these woman should never be allowed to decide for themselves how to live their own lives!

DeNihilist said...

Wow! if this is true, ole Bill is gonna get his head handed to him on a platter!


Indian Divorcee said...

I don't see why anyone would think Reagan is so great. Just see his history with gun control via the Black Panthers while governor of California and then his whole "war on drugs" as President that cost tax payers billions of dollars.

DeNihilist said...

OMG Stuart, there is a cookbook out with MILF in the title. I am AGHAST I tell you, AGHAST!!!


Stuart Schneiderman said...

How did you ever find that? At first, it looks like a parody, but I am afraid it isn't.

DeNihilist said...

It seems that the only way to get noticed in the "new" media is to be outrageous, or act outrageous, or have an outrageous title for your book.

I so pine for when I can retire and move to my acreage in a town of 3200 people and ignore all of this BS.

Oh yeah, I read a lot of different sources. Wouldn't want to be pigeon-holed ya know!

Anonymous said...


"The New American Ruling Class" is a great post.

I have been concerned about the collusion of all these groups for some time. I applaud Kotkin for putting it all together so clearly.

So, this begs the question: are we living through our own "Gilded Age?" Is this when the robber barons and their government connections are the new "trusts?" Do we look to the late 1800s as our indication for how things will develop? Will someone write a new "Wizard of Oz" with a new allegory for all this corruption???

I still would like for someone to come up with the best way to get around the media-bureaucratic-academic-technobaron complex. Even this blog is owned by Google.

Thanks. Keep writing!


From India said...

"Of course, not once during the year has he allowed a stripper to talk to the class. "

Why should he? Don't tell me you'd want your kids to believe stripping is viable career track?