Why Meritocracies and Great Societies Have Never Been Long-Lived
The founders of the United States had a deep understanding of the dangers and abuses of rule by an aristocracy. It was so clear to them that they decided to put everything they had on the line to fight a long and bloody war to overthrow the British colonizers. They also understood how important it would be to put in place the means to prevent any new aristocracy from ever seizing power again. They wrote volumes on that subject during that pivotal era including countless, wisely thought out and debated safeguards against such an event with which they armed our Constitution. Problem is budding aristocrats don’t play fair. Our Constitution has been ignored, violated, and even publically held up to ridicule in the past few decades, and the violations of even our most important constitutional rights and freedoms have increased to outrageous levels, without so much as the blink of an eye by most of our “lawmakers” and Supreme Court Justices.
The founders also understood that any nation desiring to remain a free and just nation must establish conditions which will allow for and encourage free-flowing and fair social mobility, in which the best and brightest in any field will rise to the top and the rest will take their positions according to their abilities — as is the natural state of affairs. This kind of society is called a meritocracy, or what I would also term a “true aristocracy.” This was far from the case in the aristocracies of Europe in 1776.
There is a contradiction in the meaning of the term “aristocracy” as it was and is still applied to the ruling class of Europe at that time. The term ultimately comes from the Greek aristos- the best, and -kratia rule by, meaning “rule by the best.” This suggests that the best and brightest in the field of government will rise to and occupy the highest positions of government. This arrangement, it follows, would produce the best society, as well. since it seems reasonable to assume that such “best” rulers would create and maintain conditions which would encourage free-flowing and fair social mobility so that the best would rise to the top of every field — and rule in their respective fields.
In the aristocracies of Europe in the late 1700s, there was very little freedom or fairness in their social mobility — in fact, there was very little social mobility. Further, the best and brightest were not seated in the highest positions in those governments. Those societies were actually oligarchies (Greek oligo- few + árchein to command; so rule by a few) or plutocracies (Greek plutos- wealth + -kratia rule by; so, rule by the wealthy).
Imagine, on the contrary, a democratic, free, and fair society. And imagine that in this society, a majority of the people have been taught to respect certain principles and laws based on their usefulness and fairness. In such an ideal society, the best and brightest in any field — including government — will rise to the top, and the others will occupy the lower levels according to their ability. Such societies can and have been established by free, enlightened, and just peoples throughout history. There has never been a perfect meritocracy, as there have always been such restraints and injustices as slavery and gender, racial, and religious discrimination. However, there have been many somewhat true meritocracies. The Golden Ages of Greece and Rome were likely preceded by true meritocracies.
Now imagine that, in such a society, the people wisely create laws and institutions that will ensure that their society will remain a meritocracy. The U.S. Constitution with amendments comes close to perfect in its theoretical ability to maintain just such conditions — that is, provided it is supported and upheld, which it is not at this time, but has been to different extents for most of our history.
The fact is that true meritocracies and the great societies they create have never been long-lived. This is because of certain characteristics of human nature which manifest themselves in the larger society. The main internal forces that destroy meritocracies and the great societies they create are: greed, corruption, nepotism, and repression — and they all stem from greed. These four forces work hand in hand to chip away at and ultimately destroy democracy, freedom, and fairness — all of which are necessary for maintaining a meritocracy.
In every field of endeavor, including government, there will always be people who possess a more greedy nature than others. Their greed goes far beyond the advantageous and benign characteristic of ambition, which people can use beneficially to reap the rewards of their hard work to benefit themselves and others. This “greedy class” of people have little or no respect for the principles and laws which others have — principles such as fairness, cooperation, and charitableness.
As an aside, greed is commonly classified with six other undesirable human traits in what are referred to as “The Seven Deadly Sins.” The other six are: Pride, Jealousy, Wrath, Lust, Gluttony, Sloth. These other six traits, and their effects, are much more difficult to track and document. For this reason, they have not received the same level of research as that of greed, especially on the societal level. The effects of the other six traits on societies and economies are, no doubt, monumental. It would be beneficial if methods for researching these traits and their effects could, one day, be discovered.
On their way up to and once at the top of their fields, the greedy class will work obsessively to acquire as much money as they can within the confines of a democratic, free, and fair society, as in the case of a meritocracy. However, at some point, they will start using their greater share of wealth to change the laws and regulations of their government to favor themselves — so they can acquire even more wealth. Typically, they will search out and find ways to influence lawmakers to pass laws that unfairly favor them and their businesses. They will break the rules by secretly bribing elected and appointed officials — officials who are bound by the law to represent and serve all of their constituents equally and impartially — to get laws passed that will give them unfair advantages. At such point, they will have now corrupted their democratic, free, and fair society by making it a little less democratic, free, and fair.
In this slightly corrupt, or slightly rigged, society, the greedy class will now be able to acquire an even greater share of the wealth. And of course, with more wealth comes more power. As can be expected, they will continue to act according to their nature and use their now even greater share of wealth to continue to influence the lawmakers to rig the laws in their favor. The obsession with acquiring more and more wealth on the part of the greedy class is the reason that a meritocracy (or a somewhat true meritocracy) and the great society it has created has never been long-lived in all of human history.
A recent example of how this process works in the U.S. is the way in which the billionaire, fossil fuel tycoons, the Koch brothers (David and Charles Koch; David Koch died recently), spent $20 million on a political “campaign” to get massive, deficit busting tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Trump in 2018. In return for their “investment,” the Koch brothers personally reaped tax cuts of between $1 billion and $1.4 billion — a hefty return by any standards. Add to this obvious form of unfairness and rigging the fact that the tax cuts were strongly opposed by the vast majority of Americans.
An even more outrageous example of rigging can be found in the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. The FEC. It took decades to get this jewel of a “favor” from the Supreme Court, starting with President Richard Nixon’s appointment of Lewis Powell to the Supreme Court in 1971. Powell was one of the masterminds of the movement on the part of the ultra-rich to take over our government — and every other important institution. Powell wrote the infamous “Powell Memo,” or “Powell Manifesto,” which outlined strategies by which the ultra-wealthy would be able to take over the U.S. government by gradually but persistently using their wealth and power to chip away at the laws and democratic institutions (mainly our government, industries, media — our “free press” — and educational institutions).
The effect of the Citizens United decision was to allow rich corporations (or in reality, the billionaire class who own and control them) to contribute virtually unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns — in effect, allowing them the power to determine, or rig, our “democratic” elections. In this way, they were given the power not only to determine the outcomes of elections, initiatives, and referendums, but to “buy” candidates in order to use them to rig the laws in just the ways they want them to be rigged. This task elected officials would loyally perform or face losing their next election campaign for lack of campaign contributions. As the U.S. Congress and the courts have allowed greater and greater amounts of money to be contributed to political campaigns by individuals and corporations, election campaigns have become more and more expensive to run. While running for president, John F. Kennedy warned of the corrupting influence of money in election campaigns.
The cycle of the greedy class using their ever-increasing wealth to further corrupt our government in order to acquire yet more wealth will continue until at some point, the people revolt against the corruption. The process seems to be inevitable. It has been repeated countless times in human history and has caused incalculable instability, violence, and suffering. It appears that because of the compulsive nature of the greedy class, they simply cannot stop themselves from doing everything they can to acquire more and more wealth.
In this seemingly never-ending cycle, there are always periods when it becomes clear to the greedy class and their advisors that the people are getting ready to revolt and force changes if concessions are not made to restore some democratic rights, freedom, and fairness. Such times as these provide the greedy class with opportunities to avert revolution. They provide them with time to make some concessions and hold onto the vast majority of their outrageous levels of wealth and power. But this is never acceptable to them. They simply cannot, at least not for long or in any significant way, accept the idea of making concessions to the rest of the people — concessions that are long overdue. Their obsession is to constantly be acquiring more wealth and more power. In many cases, the greedy class may go one step back and two steps forward in their quest for more and always more. But they simply cannot, even to save their cherished wealth and power, concede enough wealth and power to prevent an all-out revolution. Ultimately, this is exactly what happens, and the people reestablish democracy, freedom, and fairness.
There is a second phenomenon that works to erode a meritocracy. Somewhere in the process, very early on, those who have wrested more than their fair share of wealth and power will begin to practice nepotism, in a big way — because they now have the means. They naturally desire to see their children (and siblings, nieces and nephews, etc.) do well, and will do all they can to help them to achieve this. It is human nature for us to love our children and relatives, and to give them all the support we can to see them succeed and do as well as they can in life. A little leg-up here and there — isn’t that what family does for family?
In the case of the greedy class, the tendency is much greater than in others. They possess a kind of “familial greed” — the desire to see their family members get as much wealth and power as possible, no matter what the cost to others. And of course, they possess quite great financial, legal, and social means to support their family members in their educational and career paths. So, they work to corrupt the society in a second way: by raising their family members up to higher levels in their respective careers than they would have achieved naturally and fairly as a result of their own efforts and abilities.
There are two major problems with this. The first is that the children of the ultra-wealthy are usually spoiled by their parents and possess a false sense of entitlement and superiority. These traits tend to become more and more exaggerated with each new generation of the greedy class, as the opportunities for spoiling increase. At the extreme, the children of the greedy class are so spoiled that they are intolerably selfish, cold-hearted, and arrogant. When such a point is reached, they fit the profile of the pathologically narcissistic and sociopathic. They are truly and pathetically unable to empathize with the suffering of others because they have never had to suffer to any serious degree from either pain or want. Further, they lack the ability to respect others for their achievements because they have never had to struggle or work hard for anything. This greedy class of people, by the third generation, can be very dangerous, and the society is now faced with having narcissistic sociopaths in most of the top positions in government and every other field from the military to banking to education to medicine to agriculture to the environment, and all fields in between.
This greedy class of overseers will constantly be making decisions that will compromise the well-being of others. Apart from being incompetent to be running any kind of large operation, the motives of the greedy class are not good. They don’t desire to see others do well or to reduce human want and suffering. On the contrary, these things actually are undesirable to them because they cost money and resources and they don’t want to give up any of their wealth to help others. Furthermore, seeing others do better is actually undesirable to them because of their narcissism and sociopathy, which make them actually enjoy seeing others do poorly or at least less well than they are doing.
The second effect of nepotism is that, as each generation of the greedy class gives their children a bigger and bigger leg-up, the children naturally become less and less competent at the high positions they occupy. Also, as each generation of the greedy class becomes more spoiled, they become less hardworking. All of this bodes badly for the society as a whole as more and more top positions are filled by the incompetent children and relatives of the greedy class. This predicament will inevitably result in decreases in efficiency and innovation in the economy. Advisors and assistants can take up the slack to a great extent, but not completely — especially in the key area of decision-making.
An excellent example of nepotism is President Trump’s giving his children key positions in his administration, no matter that they lack the education, training, and skills necessary for such positions. President Trump’s impulse to advance his daughter Ivanka’s career by bringing her with him to the 2019 G20 Summit was disastrous. Trump included Ivanka in many of the ceremonies, meetings, and photo sessions. One journalist noted during one of the social events:
In a now-viral video of the event, released by the French government, French president Emmanuel Macron, British prime minister Theresa May, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, and International Monetary Fund director Christine Lagarde — real world leaders — are shown having an indecipherable conversation. And there, hovering outside the circle, is Ivanka, who awkwardly attempts to butt into the conversation, uttering a line about something being “male-dominated.” One thing is clear: She certainly wasn’t a welcome participant.
As Ivanka spoke, Macron, who was standing next to the Trump administration’s most famous nepotism hire, slowly turned away. May, the next person to say something, ignored whatever words had left the First Daughter’s mouth and made a comment directed at Macron. Lagarde, throughout the exchange, made no attempt to conceal the perplexed, impatient look on her face.
“How Much Did Ivanka Embarrass Herself at the G20 Summit?” By Amanda Arnold, The Cut, July 1, 2019.
More recently, there is the case of actress Felicity Huffman of the TV series Desperate Housewives, who was found guilty of bribing academic test officials to change her daughter’s SAT scores so she could gain acceptance to a prestigious college. Huffman was sentenced to only 14 days in prison, one year of “supervised release,” a $30,000 fine, and 250 hours of community service. She is the first of more than 30 wealthy parents to be sentenced in the scandal. This is in sharp contrast to the devastating sentences being unloaded upon poor, minority parents who have been found guilty of the much less serious “crime” of lying about their addresses so their children could escape attending low-quality schools and attend decent quality, nearby schools.
@sasha_author #CollegeCheatingScandal let’s not forget that there are black & brown parents in PRISON because they listed a relative’s address as their own for the chance of *their* child receiving an adequate public school education.
— Sydney (@SydHast) March 14, 2019
Thinking about all the black, brown, & low-income students who arrive at college & who are made to feel as if they don’t deserve to be there, while so many wealthy students have their parents essentially buy their way into these schools & rarely experience the same skepticism.
— Clint Smith (@ClintSmithIII) March 12, 2019
Ivanka Trump’s husband Jared Kushner got into Harvard after his father made a hefty donation to the elite school. Ohio Mom Kelly Williams-Bo is jailed for sending her kids to a better school. #America , is this justice? https://t.co/R6I0jquEiy
— Theater of the Absurd (@KarlShatterhand) March 14, 2019
Falsifying a residential address so your kids can go to a better elementary or high school is not at all the same thing as bribing admissions counselors and coaches with half a million dollars to let your mediocre kids have a shot at getting into a well-known university for a sport they’ve likely never even watched, let alone participated in.
Falsifying a residential address is not at all the same thing as paying tens of thousands of dollars to make your daughter fake a learning disability in order to get special SAT treatment for a better shot at getting into an elite university.
The school district that eventually caught Williams-Bolar hired a private investigator to look into the matter. Once she was caught, the district ordered her to pay $30,000 back in tuition. When she didn’t comply with their request, she was indicted on felony charges and then sentenced. — Theater of the Absurd (@KarlShatterhand) March 14, 2019
“This Mom Was Sent To Jail For Trying To Get Her Kids Into A Better Public Grade School.” Cassandra Stone. Scary Mommy. https://www.scarymommy.com/kelley-williams-bolar-jailed-college-scandal/
A pervasively corrupt government and society, such as exists in the U.S. today, may continue to grow more wealthy and powerful. However, the wealth will be spread out less and less equally and fairly. Social mobility will continue to decline. As a result, the society, as a whole, will not be able to come close to achieving its potential. Inevitably, it will become less wealthy and less successful and powerful as the corruption and nepotism eat away at the potential of each individual in the society, and each achieves less. Overall, efficiency and innovation will be sacrificed in the pursuit of more and always more by the greedy class.
First of all, there will be less and less free-flowing and fair social mobility. Secondly, there will be less and less production and flow of products, capital, and property, according to the laws of supply and demand. If we look at the economy as a circulatory system, it now has countless blockages. Whole capillaries, veins, and arteries have been blocked, damaged, or destroyed. The economy will increasingly have gluts in some areas and shortages in others. Even what appears to be a robust and wealthy society, if plagued by rampant corruption and nepotism, will only realize a fraction of its potential wealth and progress because these are simply an aggregate of its men’s and women’s individual wealth and accomplishments. The society’s abilities are simply an aggregate of their education, knowledge, creativity, and skills. If the avenues that lead to success in every field are blocked by artificial hurdles, mazes, and dead-ends, then how can the people, as a whole, ever achieve their potential? Let’s not forget that for every child of a wealthy parent who is committing bribery to get their child into a prestigious college they don’t qualify for, there are 10 children in line for that spot who are qualified.
As the practice of nepotism and its effects grow in a society, so does mediocrity, till at its extreme, the highest positions in every field are held by incompetents, posers, and wannabes. This is one of the main reasons for the decline and fall of great civilizations. The entire society suffers because of nepotism and is the lesser for it. The corruption and nepotism of the greedy class downgrade a society’s great destiny by restraining and suffocating it till it is a shell of what it could have been.
As a society becomes less and less democratic, free, and fair — and moves farther and farther away from meritocracy — the people’s suffering increases. At some point, they will start to resist the greedy class in their efforts to rig the laws and the society against them. This will set into motion a new cycle of events in which the greedy class will use their wealth and power to cause the government to become more and more repressive in order to put down the resistance. At this point, the society is now suffering from not only the destructive forces of corruption and nepotism, but also repression.
There have been numerous state and federal laws passed recently in the U.S. that make protesting a felony, not to mention that many protestors have recently received harsh prison sentences. In a late-stage, repressive oligarchy/plutocracy, many of the best and brightest among the have-nots will end up in jail or prison instead of college and the professions because of their efforts to fight for their rights or because they have given up on the trying to get ahead in a society riddled with dead ends and roadblocks and have turned to illegal means.
Under such conditions, a silent civil war is being waged by the poor against the greedy class and by the greedy class against the poor. Such a situation is the equivalent of a cold class-war. The repression will increase as deemed “necessary” to hold back the resistance of the people as it increases in order to ensure that the greedy class retains the outrageously unfair levels of wealth and power which they have amassed.
Some may argue that many leaders in history who were of the greedy class and who ruled over a repressive oligarchic or plutocratic regime accomplished great things. However, history has also shown that ever-increasing wealth and power concentrated in fewer and fewer hands has never led to greatness, but only to decay, waste, and suffering. Ultimately, such vastly unjust, unequal, and repressive societies have always degenerated and decayed till they were overthrown. This is because at some point, among the people, there always develops a consensus that they must revolt against and overthrow the unjust and tyrannical dictatorship. The American and French Revolutions were two such periods of consensus and revolution.
The people coming to a consensus in their absolute opposition to the corruption and oppression is the one thing the current oligarchs, or plutocrats, of the United States fear the most because it spells the beginning of the end of their unjust and outrageous wealth and power. It is for this reason that the greedy class, since the early 1980s, have been consolidating their ownership and control of the U.S. media, from newspapers to TV networks to film production companies — our “press,” as it is referred to in the Constitution. Of course, this is in violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution.
More recently, they have “repealed” net neutrality, or more accurately, legalized censorship of our Internet communications — the most important means of our speech and expression. However, despite all the power and wealth the greedy class have amassed, all means of repression at their disposal will fail, as they have always failed. History bears witness to the timeless truth that the forces that work against and degrade democracy, freedom, and fairness in a society, which also maintain conditions of meritocracy — those of greed, corruption, nepotism, and repression — have always been vanquished by revolution.
This brings up an important point. It would be a great development for all humanity if people were to find more effective ways to prevent the rise of the greedy class — and of the oligarchies and plutocracies they create. Such a development would save humanity the incalculable suffering and waste of the seemingly endless cycle of the rise and fall of civilizations. The U.S. Constitution is a good start, if it were being supported and upheld. I can think of a few fixes to it that would help further the cause.
One definite improvement would be to ensure that all people of voting age would vote and that their votes would be accurately counted. We could accomplish this by making voting easier and more secure, such as through automatic voter registration and mail-in voting with paper ballots which were stored. Another would be to develop an Internet database of ballots so people could privately access their ballots to double-check that their votes had not been changed. Still another would be to get big money out of elections and lobbying by creating a system of public funding of elections and greater restrictions on campaign contributions and lobbying. Eliminating the Electoral College would be helpful. It would also help if to eliminate or considerably downgrade the power of the U.S. Senate, which is a hugely undemocratic and outdated institution because it apportions the same political power — in the form of two senators representing them in the U.S. Senate — to the states with tiny populations, such as Rhode Island and Wyoming, as it does to the states with extremely large populations, such as New York, California, and Texas.
There are many other fixes we could and should implement. And if history is any guide, we will, and the sooner the better, in order to further the cause of restoring democracy, freedom, and fairness. From the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security….