Firstly an admission – I am bogged down in writing part 2 of my response to Sandel’s ‘meritocracy’ discourse because it encompasses three large areas which I had intended to write individual posts on and for which I had developed extensive notes. That highlights how important that response is to me, but it also means that I need to take my time to formulate my ideas and explain them with some degree of coherence.
So I am taking time out when ideas or events arise to write briefer posts. This is one that I have had in mind for a while. In reality I have been formulating my ideas on this for at least 20 years, but it is foremost in my mind when I write many articles on MacroEdgo or elsewhere where I mention ‘elites’.
I cannot deny that most of the times when I use the term ‘elites’ it is not in a positive way. It typically denotes a mindset of elitism, of being atop the ‘meritocracy pile’, irrespective of how much genuine merit went into that, enjoying that privilege and using it to broaden and embed that privilege for themselves and their heirs.
Yet I have been clear, also, in my writing that there are many ‘elites’ whom I respect and know I would like if circumstances arose. These people are ‘elites’ by virtue of the privilege that they enjoy within society because of their status and/or wealth, but their actions do not accord with the above. They are the people with humanility, understanding and respectful of the various pieces of fortune and the people that have acted in their lives and were pivotal in them reaching their privileged position. As a consequence, usually these ‘elites’ are relatively busy ‘giving back’ to humanity in various forms which do not involve personal gain or vanity (as opposed to the ‘elites’ who just seek to take more from humanity).
Perhaps there is a third group that enjoys their privilege, and while they do not negatively impact others with that privilege by seeking to broaden that advantage, neither do they seek to ‘give back’ to humanity and society in any form or when they do they are mostly vanity projects that cause no harm. I am inclined to agree that, too, is not good enough – but in “How Might Milton Friedman Respond To The COVID-19 Pandemic?” I explained it is my belief that it is incumbent on all to give to others as in my travels I have seen even the poorest give, even their energy and goodwill to smile and be friendly when their existence was so much more challenged than mine.
I spell this out because I do wish to draw a distinction between myself and those on the extreme left that consider wealth obscene or abhorrent. I could go on here with further qualifications and a discussion on monetary and other rewards being commensurate with the roles we play in society, and that being truly representative of broad societies’ views rather than being increasingly skewed by the political advantage that the privileged ‘elites’ enjoy to produce our contemporary extreme inequality and which has resulted in executive salaries increasing at rates a factor higher than for the majority of workers. But that is not the point of this post.
What I really want to discuss is people, as individuals and not as tribes, nor with tags attached such as ‘elites’.
Earlier I said that I had developed thoughts on this 20 years ago. When I worked for Biosecurity Australia I developed a strong view, from my personal experience, that much political influence occurs in decisions on what biosecurity risks are acceptable when importing animal and plant products into Australia. A lot of that political interference acts to prevent trade in products from low-income nations because they are disadvantaged in their ability to fight cases in the WTO arbitration processes. Moreover, they are also dependent on developed nations in a number of critical areas and so are vulnerable to accepting unfair decision and ‘trading away’ issues for others which are even more critical to them.
I have been clear in my earlier writing at MacroEdgo about this period and specifically the pressure that was placed on me to alter my scientific advice to a position that was satisfactory to the Minister who was under pressure from Australian groups that wanted to stop trade in certain products. I was under so much pressure that likely I would have either been sacked or removed from certain projects if I was not fortunate to receive a timely research fellowship to move on to (in France).
For a while I was quite annoyed with all of my colleagues for being more accommodating to those political masters. Then the penny dropped. I knew these people and I knew they are good people doing their best in a difficult position. Many, especially in the plant biosecurity area, were from minority backgrounds and were sensitive to the broader issues of fairness and equality.
I also wrote specifically about my former boss, whom I thought very highly of, and I often wondered why he agreed to play that role when it was fairly clear to me that he, himself, most of the time appeared uncomfortable with the political element of the job.
What I realised is that these are the exact people that we want in these positions. It is true that these positions will be held by someone if not them, as I discussed in “The Authenticity Piece For Leadership Is Right In My Wheelhouse“, and that person may well be one of those sociopathic/psychopathic types that will do anything asked of them by the politicians without any pushback, and without even a fleeting moment of reflection of the consequences or impacts on others, in order to get themselves ahead.
I am certain that if we look across the roles in society, those tough jobs that you or I would not like to do, or are not capable of doing, there will be a lot of good people doing their best to balance the pressures that they face.
That also includes a good slice of the people whom some of us might collectively tag as ‘elites’, like a central banker, or a hedge fund manager, or even many contemporary titans of commerce and industry including the head of an airline or of an integrated energy giant.
That is something that we all need to keep in mind at all times, and that is the basis of one of my most important essays, “The Great Reset: Building the bridge“.
The other element of this, of course, is that it is up to all of us – the broader community – to collectively act to provide the background support for these good people in tough positions to do right by humanity. That is what I am especially optimistic about now that we have entered the Great Reset era.
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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2021