Ameritocracy: preferences and performance

[An earlier article on the subject of meritocracy in American appeared here — editor]

President Bush is criticized by many in the media for, among other things, cronyism and relying on family connections to get ahead. If you think about it, they say, he hired Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Powell because they were part of his dad's network. They hate him for his Texas mafia: hiring people because he already knew them.

Yet, Hollywood and media people ironically and hypocritically, are often huge beneficiaries of nepotism: the ultimate who—you—know phenomenon. Who are they to criticize Bush for purportedly using family connections to get ahead? At least voters voted him in.

One of the ringleaders of the anti—Bush forces in Hollywood is George Clooney: son of TV personality Nick Clooney and nephew of legendary singer Rosemary Clooney. Pinch Sulzberger always had a berth waiting for him at the New York Times; and because the Times often sets the public agenda and works hand —in—hand with the Democratic Party, we can say that cronysim there affects public policy. People can't vote him out: shareholder apathy and family control of the Times prevent that. 

The Sulzberger family has long used a very anti—democratic method of solidifying family control of the papers their company controls: two classes of stock. One class had supervoting rights and is owned by the family. The other class was a second—class stock with lesser rights and is held by the "commoners."

Actually, the commoners have been indirectly voting in the last few years by selling the stock. Shares are down over 40% in value from their peak in 2002, while overall stock market values have soared. Subscriptions and circulation have not been growing as expected, and in its home market of New York have been dropping seriously.Yet Sulzberger seems to  feel little compunction to accept responsibility for the troubles at the Times. He survived Jayson Blair, Howell Raines, Rathergate, fake news stories about arms caches being ransacked in Iraq after Hussein was defeated, and a stock price collapse. Apparently, coddled and protected by his family, he will continue his reign over the paper as others suffer from the problems (most notably, shareholders and the hundreds of people just laid off, but also the state of American journalism).
 
It is laughable that the Times, which never looks in the mirror and almost never admits mistakes or examples of ill—judgment on their own part, hypocritically ran a series on "Class in America." The principal points could have come straight from the Democratic Party. The downtrodden middle and lower class are unable to see their aspirations fulfilled because wealthy people control society and selfishly restrict opportunities for others to rise. This is absurd, especially coming from the Times.

Not only is Pinch the fortunate great—grandson, but much of the paper is geared towards appealing to rich people, many of whom achieved their wealth through the old—fashioned way: inheriting it. The Sunday marriage announcements read more like merger announcements than run—of—the mill marriage stories (paraphrasing David Brooks, one of their only sane columnists).  They often look like the Gilded Age updated for the twenty—first century (Mrs. Astor would be proud). The list is littered with people who work at such and such investment bank or museum (or who  busy themselves with some boutique, hobby or pet charity). More telling is their parentage or grandparentage: the family trees look like the House of Lords. Do you suppose that these people, like Pinch, benefited from a dollop or two of cronyism?
 
Donald Graham at the Washington Post has likewise been a beneficiary of family ties. His grandfather bought the paper when it was struggling; his father and then his mother built it into a force to be reckoned with on a national level. Now Donald wields control by virtue of his genetic good fortune and various trusts. Has the Post suffered from family ownership? Well, are we really to assume that journalistic talent is genetically—based? If so, we should not carp about Larry Summers and his commentary about the possibility of women not being as genetically predisposed as men are to deal with math and science.
 
The family control of major media, and thus family control of the creation of public policy issues, poses dangers. People in control have not really learned to appeal to the real people. They choose causes that do not resonate with the majority of people and then force their journalists and editorial pages to toe the ideological line. Major newspapers become ossified because they are often run by people who occupy their positions, not because they have learned the way the real world works, but because of inheritance. They make stupid decisions or refuse to consider smart decisions because they have become lazy and complacent.

There are other chains where the descendants of he founding families have graciously accepted a more hands—off role, leaving it to professional journalists who have worked their way up from the ranks to manage the operations. The McClatchy chain allows a fair degree of editorial and other control to locals; the Newhouse chain has been legendary for allowing its stable of independent newspapers to be run very independently of family control. The Bancroft sisters are heirs of one of the founders of Dow Jones (owners of the Wall Street Journal and  Barron's) and have been exemplary in their non—interference policy

A huge audience, middle of the road or conservative, was not considered worthy of attention by the scions in the media world.  Entrepreneurs on the internet (bloggers), talk radio (Rush Limbaugh) and cable (Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch) have capitalized on this failure. Holes in coverage were large enough to drive an insurgent TV news network through (Fox News) and lead to the long—running reign of Rush Limbaugh as the king of talk radio.
 
Hollywood: The Capital of Cronyism
 
Hollywood, with some brave exceptions, has been monolithically anti—Bush since before the beginning of his Presidency. While much of this animus would be directed against anyone who was Republican (with the possible exception of Arnold Schwarzenegger) some of it  derives from the fact that he was seen as a daddy's boy, incapable of making it on his own. This cricism ignored Al Gore's father, a long—time powerful US Senator.

More hypocritically, Hollywood is a true hereditary aristocracy. Gwyneth Paltrow (who recently expressed her dream of not living in America) is the daughter of a Hollywood producer and movie—star mother. Did she really deserve an Oscar (or a career for that matter—since films in which she is a star have a habit of being financial failures)? Sean Penn is the son of a famed director (and leftist martyr) who clearly paved the way for his son's success in films. Michael Douglas is the son of Kirk Douglas. Kate Hudson is the daughter of goofy Goldie Hawn. Angelina Jolie is the daughter of Jon Voight. Mira Sorvino is the daughter of Paul Sorvino. Christian Slater is the son of a stage actor and movie casting mother. The Sheen brothers, the Carradines, the Coppolas (and Nicholas Cage), arch—1960s hangover and Cindy Sheehan promoter Jane Fonda — the list goes on and on, ad nauseum.

No wonder movies are so awful: there is no meritocracy in Hollywood. Unsurprisingly, people have responded; they have left the movie theatres in droves. In a delicious irony studios have responded by severely cutting back on placing movie ads in newspapers. There is a God.
 
Yet, by virtue of their positions, the hereditary Hollywood elite and their hangers—on have been able to articulate anti—American and anti—business themes in their movies, and have used their fame to demean the President. They are enormous fundraisers for the Democratic Party and routinely disparage George Bush as a talentless nobody who used his family connections to  somehow hoodwink the American people and become President. Yet Hollywood people — so anti—American, so anti—business, so anti—Bush — would never enjoy the wealth and power to influence people's opinions but for cronyism. Where would most of them be without their parents pulling strings and pushing levers for these—the ultimate marionettes?
 
It is also ironic that some of the harshest critics of George Bush's hiring practices are black. This animus could find its origin in the belief that blacks do not have the old—buddy network to rely upon to give them unfair breaks. This perception ignores the fact that George Bush has promoted and hired black Americans to positions of power and influence never before held by African—Americans in Washington (Condi Rice and Colin Powell are just the most prominent examples).Black columnist and speakers have roundly attacked the "hacks" and "cronies" (or even worse, the 'Uncle Toms') hired by George Bush. 
 
Boston Globe columnist Derrick Jackson wrote a column titled "Bush's Hacks"  which was a bitter denunciation of the practice he saw in the Bush Administration of hiring friends and friends of friends for positions. He clearly seems to believe that merit should be the only guide towards hiring people — not whom you know or who you are. If this is the case, how does he feel about affirmative action which is based on the principle of who you are and not how well—qualified you are?

Some critics believe that affirmative action can weaken our economy, by substituting less qualified people for more qualified people in critical positions. They can point to Zimbabwe, where white farmers have been driven of the land to be replaced by formerly oppressed blacks, especially those connected with the regime. The result has been mass starvation. Uganda under Idi Amin similarly drove out ethnic Indians from its economy, to be replaced, in theory, by more deserving blacks. The result there was chaos. But Malaysia stands as a counter—example, where ethnic Malays have been granted preferences in university admissions and business at the expense of ethnic Chinese. The economy of Malaysia has not collapsed as a result, though Malaysia also enjoys substantial oil wealth, so it is impossible to know what its economic performance would have been without ethnic preferences being used.
 
The Future:Looking Back to the Past:
 
Cronyism should be minimized wherever possible: the government, the media, Hollywood, and in every sphere important to our nation. Pointing fingers at George Bush while remaining blissfully untroubled by your own failings in this regard is the height of hypocrisy.
 
One of the reasons America became so powerful after World War Two is that merit became increasingly important in our nation.  As the struggle against fascism in Europe, Japanese imperialism, and then Cold War communism became more challenging, it became of paramount importance to promote people of merit. Admission policies at elite universities which held back well—qualified people because they were not WASP were reformed; standardized tests became routine as a means to objectively measure potential.

Hiring practices were overhauled and the increasing number of publicly—held companies were valued on a real—time basis on the stock market. If they did not outperform, neither did their stocks, and management could face ouster or the business could face bankruptcy.

Capitalism may be disparaged as a rule of the jungle but it is also an evolutionary force of unparalleled strength (and operates at a much faster pace than nature) because it  rewards merit and makes it a more powerful principle. One of the reasons America continues to prosper is that we have become a haven, a sanctuary, for ambitious people from around the world.

Ambitious Europeans today face a wall of regulations and indifference from their neighbors, Asians and Hispanics have to contend with socialism or stultifying family networks: these "aspirational" people have found a welcoming home here in America. Many of our high tech giants were founded by entrepreneurial Asians, for example. Hispanics have headed giant corporations (Coke, Kellogg) because they have relied on their own talents and energy.

We must continue to provide a level—playing field for them and for us because only a level playing field makes the beacon of success more visible. A level—playing field allows people to run faster and see farther ahead as they sprint towards their goalines. America should become more of a meritocracy, not less. We owe it to ourselves and to our heirs.

[An earlier article on the subject of meritocracy in American appeared here — editor]

President Bush is criticized by many in the media for, among other things, cronyism and relying on family connections to get ahead. If you think about it, they say, he hired Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Powell because they were part of his dad's network. They hate him for his Texas mafia: hiring people because he already knew them.

Yet, Hollywood and media people ironically and hypocritically, are often huge beneficiaries of nepotism: the ultimate who—you—know phenomenon. Who are they to criticize Bush for purportedly using family connections to get ahead? At least voters voted him in.

One of the ringleaders of the anti—Bush forces in Hollywood is George Clooney: son of TV personality Nick Clooney and nephew of legendary singer Rosemary Clooney. Pinch Sulzberger always had a berth waiting for him at the New York Times; and because the Times often sets the public agenda and works hand —in—hand with the Democratic Party, we can say that cronysim there affects public policy. People can't vote him out: shareholder apathy and family control of the Times prevent that. 

The Sulzberger family has long used a very anti—democratic method of solidifying family control of the papers their company controls: two classes of stock. One class had supervoting rights and is owned by the family. The other class was a second—class stock with lesser rights and is held by the "commoners."

Actually, the commoners have been indirectly voting in the last few years by selling the stock. Shares are down over 40% in value from their peak in 2002, while overall stock market values have soared. Subscriptions and circulation have not been growing as expected, and in its home market of New York have been dropping seriously.Yet Sulzberger seems to  feel little compunction to accept responsibility for the troubles at the Times. He survived Jayson Blair, Howell Raines, Rathergate, fake news stories about arms caches being ransacked in Iraq after Hussein was defeated, and a stock price collapse. Apparently, coddled and protected by his family, he will continue his reign over the paper as others suffer from the problems (most notably, shareholders and the hundreds of people just laid off, but also the state of American journalism).
 
It is laughable that the Times, which never looks in the mirror and almost never admits mistakes or examples of ill—judgment on their own part, hypocritically ran a series on "Class in America." The principal points could have come straight from the Democratic Party. The downtrodden middle and lower class are unable to see their aspirations fulfilled because wealthy people control society and selfishly restrict opportunities for others to rise. This is absurd, especially coming from the Times.

Not only is Pinch the fortunate great—grandson, but much of the paper is geared towards appealing to rich people, many of whom achieved their wealth through the old—fashioned way: inheriting it. The Sunday marriage announcements read more like merger announcements than run—of—the mill marriage stories (paraphrasing David Brooks, one of their only sane columnists).  They often look like the Gilded Age updated for the twenty—first century (Mrs. Astor would be proud). The list is littered with people who work at such and such investment bank or museum (or who  busy themselves with some boutique, hobby or pet charity). More telling is their parentage or grandparentage: the family trees look like the House of Lords. Do you suppose that these people, like Pinch, benefited from a dollop or two of cronyism?
 
Donald Graham at the Washington Post has likewise been a beneficiary of family ties. His grandfather bought the paper when it was struggling; his father and then his mother built it into a force to be reckoned with on a national level. Now Donald wields control by virtue of his genetic good fortune and various trusts. Has the Post suffered from family ownership? Well, are we really to assume that journalistic talent is genetically—based? If so, we should not carp about Larry Summers and his commentary about the possibility of women not being as genetically predisposed as men are to deal with math and science.
 
The family control of major media, and thus family control of the creation of public policy issues, poses dangers. People in control have not really learned to appeal to the real people. They choose causes that do not resonate with the majority of people and then force their journalists and editorial pages to toe the ideological line. Major newspapers become ossified because they are often run by people who occupy their positions, not because they have learned the way the real world works, but because of inheritance. They make stupid decisions or refuse to consider smart decisions because they have become lazy and complacent.

There are other chains where the descendants of he founding families have graciously accepted a more hands—off role, leaving it to professional journalists who have worked their way up from the ranks to manage the operations. The McClatchy chain allows a fair degree of editorial and other control to locals; the Newhouse chain has been legendary for allowing its stable of independent newspapers to be run very independently of family control. The Bancroft sisters are heirs of one of the founders of Dow Jones (owners of the Wall Street Journal and  Barron's) and have been exemplary in their non—interference policy

A huge audience, middle of the road or conservative, was not considered worthy of attention by the scions in the media world.  Entrepreneurs on the internet (bloggers), talk radio (Rush Limbaugh) and cable (Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch) have capitalized on this failure. Holes in coverage were large enough to drive an insurgent TV news network through (Fox News) and lead to the long—running reign of Rush Limbaugh as the king of talk radio.
 
Hollywood: The Capital of Cronyism
 
Hollywood, with some brave exceptions, has been monolithically anti—Bush since before the beginning of his Presidency. While much of this animus would be directed against anyone who was Republican (with the possible exception of Arnold Schwarzenegger) some of it  derives from the fact that he was seen as a daddy's boy, incapable of making it on his own. This cricism ignored Al Gore's father, a long—time powerful US Senator.

More hypocritically, Hollywood is a true hereditary aristocracy. Gwyneth Paltrow (who recently expressed her dream of not living in America) is the daughter of a Hollywood producer and movie—star mother. Did she really deserve an Oscar (or a career for that matter—since films in which she is a star have a habit of being financial failures)? Sean Penn is the son of a famed director (and leftist martyr) who clearly paved the way for his son's success in films. Michael Douglas is the son of Kirk Douglas. Kate Hudson is the daughter of goofy Goldie Hawn. Angelina Jolie is the daughter of Jon Voight. Mira Sorvino is the daughter of Paul Sorvino. Christian Slater is the son of a stage actor and movie casting mother. The Sheen brothers, the Carradines, the Coppolas (and Nicholas Cage), arch—1960s hangover and Cindy Sheehan promoter Jane Fonda — the list goes on and on, ad nauseum.

No wonder movies are so awful: there is no meritocracy in Hollywood. Unsurprisingly, people have responded; they have left the movie theatres in droves. In a delicious irony studios have responded by severely cutting back on placing movie ads in newspapers. There is a God.
 
Yet, by virtue of their positions, the hereditary Hollywood elite and their hangers—on have been able to articulate anti—American and anti—business themes in their movies, and have used their fame to demean the President. They are enormous fundraisers for the Democratic Party and routinely disparage George Bush as a talentless nobody who used his family connections to  somehow hoodwink the American people and become President. Yet Hollywood people — so anti—American, so anti—business, so anti—Bush — would never enjoy the wealth and power to influence people's opinions but for cronyism. Where would most of them be without their parents pulling strings and pushing levers for these—the ultimate marionettes?
 
It is also ironic that some of the harshest critics of George Bush's hiring practices are black. This animus could find its origin in the belief that blacks do not have the old—buddy network to rely upon to give them unfair breaks. This perception ignores the fact that George Bush has promoted and hired black Americans to positions of power and influence never before held by African—Americans in Washington (Condi Rice and Colin Powell are just the most prominent examples).Black columnist and speakers have roundly attacked the "hacks" and "cronies" (or even worse, the 'Uncle Toms') hired by George Bush. 
 
Boston Globe columnist Derrick Jackson wrote a column titled "Bush's Hacks"  which was a bitter denunciation of the practice he saw in the Bush Administration of hiring friends and friends of friends for positions. He clearly seems to believe that merit should be the only guide towards hiring people — not whom you know or who you are. If this is the case, how does he feel about affirmative action which is based on the principle of who you are and not how well—qualified you are?

Some critics believe that affirmative action can weaken our economy, by substituting less qualified people for more qualified people in critical positions. They can point to Zimbabwe, where white farmers have been driven of the land to be replaced by formerly oppressed blacks, especially those connected with the regime. The result has been mass starvation. Uganda under Idi Amin similarly drove out ethnic Indians from its economy, to be replaced, in theory, by more deserving blacks. The result there was chaos. But Malaysia stands as a counter—example, where ethnic Malays have been granted preferences in university admissions and business at the expense of ethnic Chinese. The economy of Malaysia has not collapsed as a result, though Malaysia also enjoys substantial oil wealth, so it is impossible to know what its economic performance would have been without ethnic preferences being used.
 
The Future:Looking Back to the Past:
 
Cronyism should be minimized wherever possible: the government, the media, Hollywood, and in every sphere important to our nation. Pointing fingers at George Bush while remaining blissfully untroubled by your own failings in this regard is the height of hypocrisy.
 
One of the reasons America became so powerful after World War Two is that merit became increasingly important in our nation.  As the struggle against fascism in Europe, Japanese imperialism, and then Cold War communism became more challenging, it became of paramount importance to promote people of merit. Admission policies at elite universities which held back well—qualified people because they were not WASP were reformed; standardized tests became routine as a means to objectively measure potential.

Hiring practices were overhauled and the increasing number of publicly—held companies were valued on a real—time basis on the stock market. If they did not outperform, neither did their stocks, and management could face ouster or the business could face bankruptcy.

Capitalism may be disparaged as a rule of the jungle but it is also an evolutionary force of unparalleled strength (and operates at a much faster pace than nature) because it  rewards merit and makes it a more powerful principle. One of the reasons America continues to prosper is that we have become a haven, a sanctuary, for ambitious people from around the world.

Ambitious Europeans today face a wall of regulations and indifference from their neighbors, Asians and Hispanics have to contend with socialism or stultifying family networks: these "aspirational" people have found a welcoming home here in America. Many of our high tech giants were founded by entrepreneurial Asians, for example. Hispanics have headed giant corporations (Coke, Kellogg) because they have relied on their own talents and energy.

We must continue to provide a level—playing field for them and for us because only a level playing field makes the beacon of success more visible. A level—playing field allows people to run faster and see farther ahead as they sprint towards their goalines. America should become more of a meritocracy, not less. We owe it to ourselves and to our heirs.