Last month, The Atlantic’s Megan McArdle published a piece on elite recruiting. The gist of her article, was looking at how early elite institutions accelerate careers–top consulting firms and banks receive massive numbers of applicants, and they use other elite institutions (primarily universities) as a filter for basically smart candidates.
Megan adroitly noted that:
The hardest thing about the meritocracy’s tyranny is that they’re not necessarily doing it on purpose. It’s just a convenient shorthand for a group of people who are really busy.
A fair assessment, from anyone I knew at McKinsey.
I find this assessment particularly interesting as a Swarthmore alum, as the Swarthmore and McKinsey networks don’t overlap much:
This is a great chart from LinkedIn’s inMaps tool, showing my network. The vast blob on the left are most of my Swarthmore contacts, spread out over the years. To the right, McKinsey. I’m regularly struck at how little interaction there is between those two worlds, and it reinforces Swarthmore’s reputation for PhDs and non-profits.
But I wonder what this means in the long-term for Swarthmore, if the divide remains. It probably means relatively smaller alumni donations. It probably means an increasingly strong academic reputation because, if nothing else, it is in the interest of Swarthmore alumni in academia to perpetuate the reputation. And it also means that a lot of really interesting, smart, people are cut off from each other.
Last week, I drove some 2,000 miles around the south west. I dashed through las Vegas, Zion National Park, and Yosemite. It was a whirlwind tour, cut short by heavy snows in Utah.
Of the whole trip, the most impressive part was central Nevada, since it most defied my expectations and drove home a few points:
We have an enormous amount of open space. In all my travels, even in the most remote corners of the Himalayas, I saw nothing like central Nevada–vast swathes of terrain utterly devoid of humans, populated by a few itinerant cows.
Despite this vastness of space, we have amazing infrastructure here. I was driving across smooth and well-maintained highways…and Iw as the only car within a hundred miles, at times. Every now and then I’d pass massive reservoirs tucked into the hills, or isolated towns that, despite their isolation, were well served with cell-phone towers, paved streets, and electricity.
I can understand how people who live in these vast and isolated spaces feel independent. The government–even state governments–are far away. There were few signs of law enforcement, and I suspect regulations are enforced erratically, at best. And growing up in these vast spaces would likely mean limited schooling, limited jobs, and limited cultural exposure, so the people in the cities and the government truly are a different folk. But …
I think the sense of detachment is a facade. Who builds the roads or supplies the electricity? Where are the beef consumers? Where are the passing truckers heading? Maintaining modern life and an economy in these remote corners is hard. The facilitator is, of course, the government. The rugged and legendary Western independence strikes me as mythology, instead of reality.
Andrew Sullivan pulls out some key excerpts from an essay by Freddie deBoer.
My take: The Occupy Wall Street movement appears like it might be getting taken over by people who think that they should be in a better situation because they played by the rules, and want their position in society restored/provided–instead of being led by people who think the rules themselves are the heart of the issue.
I guess that’s a key question. Is ‘success’ from occupy wall street increased employment, and a society where there is a clear path to the middle class (like we used to have–college -> law or whatever), or is it a complete re-imagination of our society? The former is a bit underwhelming.