By Arnold Kling
I need to stop this. I don’t want to turn into the Paul Krugman of the right.You will recall that on the list of books that influenced me, number one was David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest. Halberstam describes Senator Joe McCarthy as a serial liar. Before the press could investigate one of his accusations, McCarthy would have made the issue moot by making an even more outrageous charge.
That is how our ruling class operates today. Don Boudreaux reminds us that when the stimulus was sold it was with a promise that 90 percent of the jobs created or saved would be in the private sector. Before anyone can focus on the outlandish claims made for the stimulus, we now have the outlandish claims made for the health bill. No doubt we are about to hear outlandish claims for the financial regulation bill and whatever new initiatives the ruling class wishes to impose on the country.
I’ve been thinking about the ruling class in terms of the following matrix, which sorts people by college attainment and skill level, giving sample occupations for each category.
|not college educated||college educated|
|unskilled||manual laborer||public school teacher*|
*I am not saying that teachers are incompetent. What I would claim is that the preparation that they receive from taking education classes has little or no impact on their classroom effectiveness.
My theory of the ruling class is that it comes from the lower right quadrant. That is, people who are highly educated but lacking in useful skills. If you will, the suits are in the lower-right quadrant and the geeks are in the upper-right quadrant.
My theory is that the ruling class gets its strongest support from people in the lower-right quadrant. They identify strongly with the ruling class. Placing an artificially high value on educational credentials is in the interest of the ruling class and everyone else in the lower-right quadrant. If it were not for the protection provided by credentialism and government employment, my guess is that many of those in the lower-right quadrant would have incomes no higher than those of people who are not college educated.
The challenge for the ruling class is to keep the other three quadrants from uniting in opposition to the ruling class. To try to retain support among the highly-educated who are skilled, the ruling class tries to blur the distinction between the upper-right quadrant and the lower-right quadrant. The ruling class would prefer to lump them all together into “the educated elite,” or “technocrats.” I fell for that one for a long time, but just recently the light bulb came on–hence the matrix.
Relative to the non-college educated, one tactic is to keep them sharply divided along ethnic lines. If people on the left side of the matrix think that their main threat comes from people of different skin color, then they will not unite against the ruling class.