Ross Douthat talks about how our meritocracy has done its job in allowing the smartest kids in the room to rise to the very top. And these people have brought us to ruin. Think of the “best and the brightest” getting us into Vietnam. Think of Greenspan, Rubin, and Summers paving the way for the Wall Street crash. Think of all the quants on Wall Street. Et cetera.
What you see in today’s Republican primary campaign is a reaction to exactly these kinds of follies — a revolt against the ruling class that our meritocracy has forged, and a search for outsiders with thinner résumés but better instincts.
But from Michele Bachmann to Herman Cain, the outsiders haven’t risen to the challenge. It will do America no good to replace the arrogant with the ignorant, the overconfident with the incompetent.
In place of reckless meritocrats, we don’t need feckless know-nothings. We need intelligent leaders with a sense of their own limits, experienced people whose lives have taught them caution. We still need the best and brightest, but we need them to have somehow learned humility along the way.
How do you learn humility when everything you’ve done up till now has delivered you into the power and financial elite? You think you can’t fail. I was having a conversation earlier today with a friend who works for one of the NYC-DC-Davos power elites, someone whose name you would all know. Friend said his boss is driving the business into the ground, but cannot be talked to. Because boss knows everybody (or rather, everybody worth knowing among the power elite), boss thinks boss knows everything.