The elite are criticized for being out of touch from the rest of us, but they are rarely defined. I am guilty of criticizing ‘elitist’ policies.
The Tea Party and other populist groups from both sides of the isle have demonized the elites. There are some complicated functions of government that require some high degree of knowledge. Economists who work for the fed must be highly educated. Regulators must have high levels of education in legal and accounting matters, and often in specialized scientific fields such as geology if they do the work of the EPA.
Populists criticize problems created by the government often by the very educated in their service. But just because a problem was created by the intelligent doesn’t mean it can be solved by the ignorant.
I do not consider someone an elitist just because they are highly educated. We need educated people. But education alone does not create infallibility. And credentials in one field does not translate into expertise in another.
Nor do I consider someone an elitist just because they are wealthy. There are plenty of wealthy people who could buy and sell me 100 times over that still put on their pants one leg at a time and are otherwise indistinguishable from most of us.
Being wealthy or educated does not make one an elitist. I don’t even care of they are out of touch from the rest of America. It is when they try to control others that the resentment comes.
Star Trek’s Spock noted that knowledge is only the first step towards wisdom. Wisdom is some combination of knowledge, perspective, and humility. It is knowing that not only are there areas we do not know, there are even areas we do not know we don’t know. Sometimes it takes a good bit of knowledge just to be ignorant.
As Thomas Sowell noted, there are a some ideas so foolish only an academic could believe them. The very intelligent can often rationalize anything. This does not mean intelligence is bad, only that it is incomplete in understanding our world and particularly in prescribing solutions in the uncertainty of the social realm.
In a similar vein wealth is neither good or bad in itself. Many of the successful have underestimated the role of probability and overestimated the role of intelligence in their success. But this does not mean that the pursuit of wealth within moral limits is a bad thing. Since success is dominantly achieved in the pursuit of making other people’s lives better this is a good thing.
My problem with the elite comes when the educated and the wealthy view their status as not merely the ability to run your life better than you but the right to do so.
The educated and the wealthy make our life better; the elite extends their elevated status into either directing our individual lives as they see fit or relegating our lives into a subservient role that serves their ends or utopian visions.
If we do not reach this clarification our criticism of elites risks degenerating into an attack of knowledge, education and wealth.