Unz on Meritocracy: David Brooks’ Sidney Award and Other Reactions

Late Monday night I received a most remarkable and unexpected Christmas present delivered straight from august offices of the New York Times, as David Brooks, one of America’s most prominent center-right journalists, named my recent piece “The Myth of American Meritocracy” as one of the winners of his annual Sidney Awards for outstanding articles of 2012.

Just days earlier, the New York Times had run a major op-ed by Prof. Carolyn Chen of Northwestern calling attention to evidence of racial discrimination against Asian-Americans in elite admissions and a six-sided forum discussing the same topic, with the former ranking as the #1 most emailed Times article of the day and the latter having already attracted nearly 800 comments. It does appear that the Great Gray Lady of New York City is now turning a highly skeptical gaze to the selection policies of America’s leading universities, and I suspect that many Ivy League admissions departments may have a busy holiday season beginning to answer the worried questions of their various presidents and provosts.

Over the last couple of weeks, other prominent publication such as Forbes, The Atlantic, The Washington Monthly, and Business Insider have also focused their attention on the strong statistical evidence I found for the existence of “Asian Quotas” across the Ivy League, as did AEI’s Charles Murray, and quite a number of individual bloggers and pundits.


Reactions to the broader range of issues I had raised in my lengthy original piece included a wide spectrum of responses. A brief, early posting by free market economist Tyler Cowen provoked an astonishing 365 comments, hotly debating almost all aspects of the article, and several postings by blogger Steve Sailer similarly unleashed many hundreds of additional agitated or angry comments. Meanwhile, Arthur Kling, another prominent free market economist, had a couple of long and thoughtful columns, somewhat foreshadowing the focus of David Brooks’ column.

Other reactions have been much more surprising. For example, an Ivy League graduate named Daniel Luzer published a review under the title “Elite College Admissions Are Unfair, Sure…We Still Shouldn’t Care”, arguing against any concern with “who goes to Yale or Dartmouth” since “admission to the elite is necessarily unfair.” According to his analysis, although “It’s true that a Yale degree might help a great deal with securing a good job at Goldman Sachs…all we need to worry about from a policy perspective is what you need to be a bank branch manager in suburban Atlanta.” He even termed it “ridiculous” to believe that “If admission to elite colleges are unfair…changing that admissions process will make society more equitable” since “Entrance into a tiny group that controls a disproportionate amount of wealth and political power can never be just” and “Admission to the upper class is, for all societies and throughout all time, unfair.”

Such equanimity with a totally unjust social system for allocating opportunities to reach the commanding heights of Goldman Sachs might seem implausibly arrogant and obtuse if it published in the most reactionary of conservative journals.  But the author is actually an editor at the liberal Washington Monthly and his views appeared in the purportedly progressive Huffington Post. It seems that these days “establishment neo-liberalism” sometimes bears an uncanny resemblence to the privileged musings once found at the royal court of Louis XVI.

These views become particularly bizarre when we consider that over the last few years, the average American family has lost some 47% of its accumulated net wealth, now being poorer in real terms than at any time since the late 1960s. And at least a portion of this economic disaster has clearly been due to the machinations of Luzer’s former classmates now ensconced, fairly or not, at Goldman Sachs.

As I have been telling my friends for years now, American elite misbehavior has reached such absurdly egregrious levels that I easily foresee the possibility of a sharp “discontinuity” in our immediate national future, perhaps one of a very unfortunate character. The unabashed public views of individual DC “progressives” such as Daniel Luzer certainly do not soften that stark opinion.



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