By: Philipp Ager (Universitat Pompeu Fabra)
Wealthy elites may end up retarding economic development for their own interests. This paper examines how the historical planter elite of the Southern US affected economic development at the county level between 1840 and 1960. To capture the planter elite’s potential to exercise de facto power, I construct a new dataset on the personal wealth of the richest Southern planters before the American Civil War. I find that counties with a relatively wealthier planter elite before the Civil War performed significantly worse in the post-war decades and even after World War II. I argue that this is the likely consequence of the planter elite’s lack of support for mass schooling. My results suggest that when during Reconstruction the US government abolished slavery and enfranchised the freedmen, the planter elite used their de facto power to maintain their influence over the political system and preserve a plantation economy based on low-skilled labor. In fact, I find that the planter elite was better able to sustain land prices and the production of plantation crops during Reconstruction in counties where they had more de facto power.
A Spectre is Haunting Australia: the spectre of Corporatism.
Australia needs intellectuals, says Nick Cater. In his new book The Lucky Culture he writes:
A nation is entitled to look to its intellectuals to articulate its common purpose, to pull together loose strands and write a narrative that says where it has come from and where it is going. Only they have the skills of abstraction and gift of eloquence to capture shared emotions, to explain the past, frame the present and embrace its destiny.
Cater argues that Australia’s intellectuals have failed to deliver. On the one hand is a new Knowledge Class that disparages ordinary people’s moral emotions and sense of common purpose. And on the other is a cowardly rump of conservative thinkers who have failed to champion the nation’s culture and defend it against attack.
"If a charge of intellectual cowardice were to be brought against conservative thinkers, the National Museum would be Exhibit One", writes Cater. A initiative of the Howard government, the museum came under the control of the became "an assault on the very idea of nationhood."
In Cater’s account the conservatives’ defence of nationhood was half-hearted. They failed to challenge Knowledge Class doctrines like diversity, historical injustice and compassion – "ideas that subvert the democratic principles of an ordered society."
It’s always been hard to pin down who ‘the elites’ are why we are supposed reject them as un-Australian. A new book review by Tony Abbott offers some clues. It also hints at why attacks on ‘the elites’ are likely to backfire for conservatives.
In the Spectator Australia, Abbott reviews Nick Cater’s The Lucky Culture and the Rise of an Australian Ruling Class. He writes:
As Cater sees it, there’s a powerful new commentariat, dominant in the media, academia and public administration, that is every bit as condescending as the aristocracy he left behind in Britain. In contemporary Australia, the worst snobbery is not directed towards people of lower status, he says, but towards people of different opinions. He thinks that this ‘my opinion must be better than yours’ conceit is putting at risk the egalitarianism that’s at the heart of Australians’ sense of self.
What distinguishes this group from every other influential sector of society is its unshakeable conviction in its moral superiority. Everyone who disputes its thinking is not just wrong, but inferior. Critics of the politically correct consensus are not just bad thinkers but verge on being bad people, as those who are cautious about gay marriage are starting to discover.
Comparing the new commentariat to the British aristocracy makes it sound as if this is a problem of status. Like a bunch of obnoxious Old Etonians, the elites are snobs who consider their manners and way of life to be superior to those of ordinary people. But what made the snobbery of Britain’s upper class oppressive rather than ridiculous was that it was the snobbery of a ruling class. Without power, the snobbery of our elites would be no more threatening than the snobbery of a bunch of undergraduate hipsters.
Imagine yourself to be in the mythical Land of Beyond where you need minions to do a dirty job that men with honour would refuse to do. A classic trick in this situation is to pick people despised by the rest of society who are thus dependent on protection and will simply do what is asked for.
The Chinese emperors hit upon this truth when they started to surround themselves with eunuchs, despised by the rest of Chinese society and thus fiercely loyal to their protector, the Emperor. The roman emperors, similarly, made a habit of surrounding themselves with freed slaved who were despised by other Romans, as well as by a dedicated palace guard (the Praetorians) who were the only militia allowed in the vicinity of Rome.
The European colonialists too used this basic ‘dirty dozen’ technique when it came to keeping a large population in check with minimal own presence, particularly in Africa, by elevating some small despised group (ethnic or religious minorities) as the preferred club from whom the senior administrators came. This small favoured group would get personal benefits (riches and influence) but in return they would do whatever the colonizers wanted.
To see the relevance of this for university cuts in the Land of Beyond, you first need to step back a level and imagine yourself to be the Vice Chancellor of a second-rate university that brings in, say, a billion ‘Beyond’ dollars a year out of which some 300 million is money you dont really need to generate that 1 billion. It is ‘potential profit’ if you like. Continue reading