Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Variety of Perspectives (but only wealthy-elite perspectives)

In last week's chapters we were first introduced to Hayek's views on the skills of moneyed elites. Hayek wrote:

"What reason can there be for believing that a desirable quality in a person is less valuable to society if it has been the result of family background than if it has not. There is, indeed, good reason to think that there are some socially valuable qualities which will be rarely acquired in a single generation but which will generally be formed only by the continuous efforts of two or three."

During this reading I immediately recalled my historical inspirations, the people whose lives followed patterns I hope to emulate. "There has never yet been a man in our history who led a life of ease whose name is worth remembering." wrote Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt came from a very wealthy family, and as such could have chosen any number of paths for his life. This quote sums up the rational for his adventurous life. Can we then expect this as a rule? Are the wealthy likely to improve upon their society in a manner greater than if they were "coerced" to contribute to the improvement of all society?

No. I believe a person's behavior is often like water, flowing through a path of least resistance. I believe that exceptions to this behavior are more often seen in families of continuous wealth, but only because these families are more aware of the opportunities that come with diverse skill sets. We see it more often with the wealthy because the families are more aware of positive qualities and may devote more time to developing these advantageous qualities in their children.

Now, if the wealthy possess beneficial qualities due to their advantaged upbringing, why would the less wealthy not similarly benefit? Any parent should be able to raise their child to be educated and capable, and it behooves society to provide the opportunity. Such an action would open society to a much broader perspective than would be possible otherwise. It is only rational that society would benefit from as many perspectives as possible. If there are not mechanisms in place to allow social mobility, how might the full range of perspectives be applied to generation of new ideas and improvements in society?

I know this last statement is bold. The only way to create these opportunities is to take some opportunities from someone else. And thus, for the first time this semester, I find myself disagreeing with Hayek. While certainly some innovation is attributable to the wealthy elite, how is it reasonable that the experiences of non-elite classes could not contribute to new ideas and advances in society? In fact, greater benefits are available when the poor are given resources to improve their standing. If the poor can improve their standing without support, what would be possible with some minimum level of support? When progress depends on imaginative new ideas, the participants must come from a more diverse background than perpetually wealthy families.

In this defense of a permanent wealthy segment of the population, Hayek has glossed over the possibilities open when all of society holds the resources to offer their perspectives.

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