February 17, 2012

KEN ANDERSON TAKES MY WSJ COLUMN AS A JUMPING OFF PLACE, and makes a much more important point:

Strange as one might find it, I would put risk aversion as the primary behavior distinguishing today’s elites – in the college placement process, the university, the migration of top tier students to Wall Street jobs where they make good money but risk OPM, the assortative mating market that is quite possibly (as I remarked tongue in cheek at Valentine’s ) the raison d’être of the physical elite university, the intense reward of strategic behavior that is aimed less at maximizing gains than minimizing possible losses … today’s elites are well schooled in strategic behavior, but that strategic behavior is mostly about avoiding any error, and to the extent that our elites take risks, it is only with other people’s futures. . . .

All of this is very difficult for our elites to take up reflectively, for obvious reasons – conflicts of class interest, as well as in difficulty in confronting one’s own risk aversion as a social pathology, given how much success it has brought you. But, even more importantly, the master intellectual method that currently predominates in elite training and formation, economics, is remarkably ill-equipped even to see the issue, because its assumptions make it very difficult to see the “social” as an irreducible analytic category, rather than simply congeries of individuals. Until there is a recovery of social theory – and the conflict tradition in social theory in particular – and a greater willingness to see the discipline of economics within a centuries’ long trajectory of intellectual history, we will not have the tools by which to analyze the New Class in America.

Read the whole thing.

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