Charles Murray, American Electorate & Affirmative Education

Last week, we wondered whether the increasing separation of America’s educational haves from the  educational have-nots can be best explained in terms of the birth of a new “elite” caste in America. The more we think about this issue, the more convinced we become that the caste concept is the right way to analyze the problem. Charles Murray wrote in his New York Times Op-Ed:

  • “The haves in our society are increasingly cocooned in a system that makes it easy for their children to be haves.”

Elite castes tend to live in systematized cocoons. David Brooks wrote in his New York Times article:

  • “Affluent, intelligent people are now more likely to marry other energetic, intelligent people. They raise energetic, intelligent kids in self-segregated, cultural ghettoes where they know little about and have less influence upon people who do not share their blessings.”

As we wrote last week, a class turns into a caste when people in the caste end up marrying within that caste as a standard practice.

The above combination of elite residential cocoons and the resultant favored access to elite education was described eloquently by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the Financial Times:

  • “Our talent has historically come from every part of American society, without regard to class and economic circumstance. But when a child’s zip code determines whether she will get a good education, we are losing generations to poverty and despair. The crisis in US education is the greatest single threat to our national strength and cohesion.”

Her last point is the most damaging consequence of a caste system on society. That all human beings are created equal is self-evident. As a corollary, talent is born without any regard to ethnicity or national origin. This is why societies that structurally create opportunities for talent and and welcome talented immigrants succeed. In stark contrast, societies that restrict opportunities based on caste, social strata or national origin end up as losers in the global game.

So far, so good. But what can be done to solve this problem? Not much according to Charles Murray:

  • Solutions that are remotely practicable right now would not do much good.

But a problem of this magnitude, a problem that might relegate the majority of American society to a permanent secondary status will not remain unaddressed.

This may be a new problem for Charles Murray, Robert Putnam, David Brooks and their European-American peers. They have never lived in an environment where a solution to this problem was developed organically. We have. We have seen how economics and demographics create a caste problem as well as develop solutions to take away the privileges of elite minority castes.

The American Middle Class

The desire to get back to America’s Happy Days is universal. The labor unions on the left and the Lou Dobbs-Pat Buchanan right are united in their praise of that period. Naturally so. The post WWII period was great for America. The American Middle Class was born in that period. It was possible for  high school graduates to get well paying jobs in a factory, marry their sweethearts and live a happy life.

Social thinkers have hailed this phenomenon as a quintessentially American achievement, an institutional development that should have remained permanent. Economic historians like James Wood take a different view: 

  • When World War II ended, the United States was the only major world
    economy that was left intact by the war. Not one bomb fell in the
    mainland US. The manufacturing capacity of virtually every other major
    power was seriously damaged if not destroyed. This reality provided the
    US for several decades of easy growth that permitted a high school
    graduate to work in a car factory and be a member of the middle class in
    economic terms.
  • By the 1990´s, the world recovered much of their manufacturing capacity
    and had state-of-the-art plants with much lower cost salaries for their
    employees in the factory than the US….The ensuing economic decline in the last 15 years was caused by this
    increasing lack of competitiveness. This is simply the way competition
    works….The US did not have competition in the 1950’s
    through 1970´s. Today the US has competition everywhere.

The events of the 1970s were traumatic for America’s economy and the American Middle Class. It was a different American economy that came out in the 1980s. That boom was driven first by finance and then by finance-backed high technology. The blue-collar American Middle Class was ill-equipped to deal with this change. As a result, they fell further and further behind while the college-educated class moved to greater heights of prosperity.

What will happen in the next recovery? Will manufacturing come back to America? Will it create jobs and opportunities for America’s non-college class? Yes, manufacturing will return to America but in a different form. That automated manufacturing will not benefit America’s non-college class. James Wood writes:

  •  “In a few years, the “reset” will be complete and economic growth will
    start again but with a new balance of the US vs. the rest of the world.
    Manufacturing will continue to be a low percentage of total employment.
    Natural US strengths will grow in banking, high technology,
    manufacturing automation to regain manufacturing competitiveness.
    Probably farming and natural gas will play important roles in the
    “reset” US.” 
  • “For the middle class and wealthy, the US will continue to be
    one of the most desirable places to be. For people with low skills and
    education levels, the US will be a hard place to live with employment
    providing low salaries compared to the cost of living.”

In other words, the new elite-education caste will continue to win in the ‘reset’ American economy.

The New American Electorate

Economics is not the only force driving change in America. There is another force that is just as strong, one that is neither transient nor cyclical. That is demographics. America is a vibrant electocracy where power is obtained, maintained and enhanced via free and fair elections.

Much has been written about the economic strata and divisions in American society. Far less has been written about the different strata and divisions in the American electorate. Today, half of the American people do not pay federal income taxes. This has been the biggest and most unheralded change in America’s electorate. It is more important than race, ethnicity or national origin. Barack Obama was the first President of this electorate. He will be prove to be the first of many.

If you add the low-income segment to the non-taxpayer segment, then you get a majority in today’s America. This bloc will become a dominant majority in the next decade especially if the coming economic recovery continues to favor the college-educated class.

Free voters everywhere will always vote their self-interests. We consider this truth to be self-evident. And nothing motivates a father, a mother than the future of their children. So if college-education proves to be a barrier for their children, we expect American voters to demand and get greater access to both college-education and to jobs. Not just access but affordable or free access. And eventually not just access but a right to jobs.

Social thinkers in America don’t get this yet. Look at the Charles Murray statement below:

  • “Another step would replace ethnic affirmative action with socioeconomic affirmative action. This is a no-brainer. It is absurd, in 2012, to give the son of a black lawyer an advantage in college admissions but not do the same for the son of a white plumber.”

With respect, Charles Murray doesn’t get it. By his own analysis, “white” plumbers, non-union factory workers, low-paid service sector employees are already isolated from America’s “white” college-educated caste. And his “black” lawyer, in our opinion, remembers vividly the struggle he or she waged to become a successful lawyer in America. That lawyer will do everything possible to help his or her children benefit from ethnic affirmative action the way he or she did.

Electocracy is a game of addition not subtraction. So we expect supporters of ethnic affirmative action to team up with supporters of socioeconomic affirmative action to build a cohesive voting majority. This is how a free electocracy traditionally responds to the power of a minority caste.  

A Solution for America’s E-challenged Majority

This majority will consist of a union of the Three Es – of the Economically challenged, Educationally challenged and Ethnically challenged sections of the American electorate. A student will be considered “educationally” challenged if the student is the first or “almost” first in his or her family without a college degree. For simplicity, we shall refer to a student in any of the above categories as a “E-challenged” student.

The solution we envisage will take effect in stages. If the early steps do not yield the desired results, then the next steps would be taken.

Access to college could be assisted or guaranteed, if necessary, via affirmative education laws:

  • All government assisted colleges and universities will be actively encouraged to increase the enrollment of E-challenged students with tuition waivers and low-cost, long-duration loans. This enrollment will be greater in programs like engineering and sciences that deliver jobs.  
  • If encouragement does not adequately help, then  laws will be written to mandate a quota for admissions of E-challenged students in government-assisted colleges and universities.
  • Private colleges, including richly-endowed Ivy League universities, will be encouraged to follow the above practices voluntarily. If not, they will be excluded from all Government programs and possibly ostracized. Today’s revolving door between positions in government and elite academia will be shut. 

The moral pressure will complement legal remedies. No college will be willing to be tarred with an “Educational Apartheid” label. But education is but the first step. As every college student and parent knows today, an education without a job is a tragedy.  So laws will be written to reserve jobs for E-challenged college graduates:

  • Every company that gets government contracts or sells any services to Federal, State and Local governments will have to demonstrate its commitment to hiring E-challenged students.
  • Again, if encouragement does not work, then policies will be written that mandate a E-hiring quota in all companies that sell to the government sector.

Consider the scope of the above. Every Wall Street firm that is a primary dealer for U.S. Treasuries, that underwrites municipal bonds will fall under the above mandate. Elite management consultancy firms like McKinsey, Bain and their peers, with lucrative government consulting practices, will fall under this mandate. Aerospace & Defense companies will obviously fall under this mandate. High Technology companies like Intel, Microsoft, Cisco will fall under this mandate. So every sector  that is the mainstay of employment for the “elite-education” caste will be covered under the above mandate.

By the way, every Television Network & Station, every major News Organization will also be covered under this mandate. Which TV network will dare risk a cut off from White House coverage or Congressional Access? So the entire US media will be forced to staff its on-air talent and production management with E-challenged hires. These hires will then influence the national debate and further solidify the E-challenged American majority.

Why will this work when the current Affirmative Action initiatives have not. Because race-based or ethnicity-based policies essentially exclude the majority, an utter no-no in the electoral calculus. The EEE coalition of E< /b>conomically challenged, Educationally challenged (a group that includes small business owners who didn’t need college) and the Ethnically challenged will be an inclusive proposition.

Just look at this coalition. It encompasses the viewership of Fox News and MSNBC. And if it unites Fox and MSNBC into a common cause, it will unite America. A coalition is also described by what or whom it excludes. And this coalition will categorically exclude much of the CNN crowd, especially the Fareed Zakaria viewership type, the crowd that deems itself to be intellectually elite and superior to core America. 

The coalition we describe will not develop overnight. It will take years if not longer. This development will depend on the paths America offers to its electorate, paths for economic success and social mobility. If American society continues to follow the trend identified by Charles Murray, then the above coalition or something similar to it will create itself.

To deny that possibility is to deny the basic human truth behind the concept of free electocracy – that free people will vote their own self-interests and rebel against dominance of an elite minority. 

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