The winds of change of our generation could be best exemplified in the 1983 film “Risky Business,” where a group of wealthy kids from the elite Chicago ‘burbs sit around discussing college and their futures. Their goal: “Make a lot of money.” And so the greatest meritocratic goal is revealed for kids headed to the “elite” colleges and who would get the “elite” jobs. Get those tony credentials and make some cash!
Fast forward to 2008 and the financial crash. This was caused, almost exclusively, by self interest taken to the most ridiculous and self-destructive extremes: Make a lot of money indeed, even at the peril of the nation’s economy and well being.
That’s our legacy, because it was (mostly) our generation’s elite who ran or managed at most levels the banks and investment houses, lending institutions, hyper-lax government regulatory agencies, et al. And how many were on the buying side trying to make a quick buck turning over McMansions they couldn’t afford? How many were personally and professionally leveraged with other people’s money to live “the good life”? Our generation’s meritocratic elite’s twisted and amoral values led to this.
Maybe at the base level the value system is what’s wrong in elite education. Such concepts like self sacrifice, noblesse oblige, egalitarianism, good citizenship…are these values taught along with scientific management, numbers crunching, and maximizing value and profit? Do they factor these things into their B school case studies? Do they really teach real ethics, or just the quasi-ethical means and ways not to get caught or convicted–how to manipulate the system by toeing the legal, ethical, and moral boundaries? I wonder, because the record from the last 30 years sure seems to indicate the answer is no.
I think the biggest failure in the country’s elite education system has been the failure of our elite to feel any connection with the greater whole of the citizenry. The meritocracy enriches itself without any regard to how this affects the non-elite. They hoard all the rewards, then entrench themselves in techno burbs far removed from the lower classes. And then the elite blames the lower classes for being lower class, as if the only hard work any more comes from the accumulation of lofty credentials and personal wealth.
I’m not painting all this with a broad brush. Not everyone is to blame. But I think it is fair to say the elite’s, in general, lack of a moral and ethical compass, coupled with its disdain for its role as good citizens in favor of unbridled self interest, has most certainly contributed greatly to this “distortion” of our economy, governance, and social structure.
How about we just teach people to be good citizens again as a major goal? To know and understand that part of the role of the elite in a democracy is to lead–rationally, ethically, and morally-and not just satiate the whims and fancies of grandiose, solipsistic, and monomaniacal self interest? Doing what’s right for the greater good, subservient to what gets one the greatest personal rewards?
Just a thought.