So Felicity Huffman reported to prison this week to serve 14 days for paying a nationwide scammer $15,000 to have someone correct her daughter’s SAT scores to get her into University of Southern California, Stanford or wherever.
Huffman took part in the test cheating portion of the scandal; those who paid substantially more to get their kids admitted to premier colleges as “student athletes” can expect greater prison time than two weeks.
Of course everyone was just wringing their hands in feigned abject horror at the thought that rich parents make sure that their kids, smart or dumb as a post, have all of the advantages of life.
A few days ago I read an article on one Zach Dell.
“Dell launched a dating app called Thread. It was nearly identical to Tinder: Users created a profile, uploaded photos and swiped through potential matches.
The only twist on the formula was that Thread was restricted to university students and explicitly designed to produce relationships rather than hookups. The app’s tagline was “Stay Classy.”
Zach Dell is the son of billionaire tech magnate Michael Dell. Though he told reporters that he wasn’t relying on family money, Thread’s early investors included a number of his father’s friends, including Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.
The app failed almost instantly. Perhaps the number of monogamy-seeking students just wasn’t large enough, or capping users at 10 matches per day limited the app’s addictiveness. It could also have been the mismatch between Thread’s chaste motto and its user intentions. Users got just 70 characters to describe themselves on their profiles. Most of them resorted to catchphrases like “Hook ’em” and “Netflix is life.”
After Thread went bust, Zach moved on to philanthropy – and went no where.
“And yet, despite helming two failed ventures and having little work experience beyond an internship at the financial services company created to manage his father’s fortune, things seem to be working out for Zach Dell. According to his LinkedIn profile, he is now an analyst for the private equity firm Blackstone. He is 22. Think his name and family wealth had anything to do with it?
Try, just try to get a job at Blackstone. As one who spent his entire career in banking and finance, I know.
America has a social mobility problem. Not only is it much harder to move up – the children of the rich, regardless of intelligence, are more likely to stay rich. The children of the rich don’t move down – even if they are incapable dolts. There’s a lot of talent being wasted because it’s not able to rise, but there’s also a lot of relatively untalented people who aren’t falling and end up occupying positions they shouldn’t.
This phenomenon has taken on a new political urgency. Over the last two years, Donald Trump has put his family members in charge of child care policy and Middle East peace. And while I like Hunter Biden and there is no evidence he has done anything wrong, I ask myself what is he doing sitting on the Board of a Ukrainian gas company earning $50,000 a month? He is not an oil and gas man, doesn’t speak Ukrainian or have family ties there.
So what’s up. We all know what’s up. He is the son of the former Vice President.
But scions of billionaires are only a tiny fraction of the problem. Every institution of social mobility, from education, to work, to government spending is tilted to ensure that the billionaire class maintains a firm grip on the highest rung, no matter their mediocrity.
Our “meritocracy” is skewed by money which is resulting in a hereditary meritocracy. And the more institutions the rich control, the more their kids will be running this country.
Last month, a Duke University study revealed that 43% of white Harvard students were not admitted on merit. They were children of alumni / donors: recruited athletes, legacies, students on the dean’s interest list, and children of faculty and staff. The “dean’s interest list” is a roster of applicants with ties to wealthy donors.
The study demonstrated the extent to which elite universities concentrate the privilege of their already-privileged students. To pick just a few representative statistics, children from the top 1% of the income distribution are 77 times more likely to attend Ivy League schools than the poorest 20%. Harvard’s class of 2022 includes more legacy students than African American students.
But when it comes to social mobility, the outsized scrutiny of the top-tier colleges conceals a much larger problem. Harvard, Stanford, Yale and Princeton admit only a tiny number of students each. The more important engine of elite entrenchment is the group of selective colleges that sit one rung lower in the rankings. More than half the children of the top 0.1% of income earners attend these schools, compared with fewer than 1 in 50 poor children.
Over the last 20 years, selective universities have become just as dominated by the wealthy as the elite colleges — while receiving a fraction of the attention. Notre Dame, the University of North Carolina and the University of Southern California, for example, admit higher percentages of legacy students than Princeton. Thirty-eight colleges — including upper-crust mainstays Colgate and Tufts — admit more students from the top 1% than from the bottom 60%. At Washington University in St. Louis, the worst offender, the ratio is 3-to-1.
“These aren’t just elite institutions, they’re elitist institutions. They end up serving the children of today’s elite rather than preparing tomorrow’s elite.”
Public colleges are subject to the same trend. In 2017, University of Georgia students had a median family income of $129,800. Two-thirds of the students at the University of Michigan came from the richest fifth of the income distribution; just 1 in 30 came from the poorest fifth.
These policies are not only leaving talented low-income students behind; they are lifting well off mediocre talents up. Many scions of the rich bought credentials they would not have been able to acquire on their own without their name, children of alumni status or wealthy/fabulously wealthy donor parents.
So this week we witnessed the spectacle – a wealthy Hollywood couple – knowing full well that their daughter, in spite of her name and upbringing, could not get into USC on her own merits – paid to rig her test scores. Momma now has a record.
There are many more wealthy accused of similar actions.
But you really aren’t shocked or surprised by all of this, are you?
No. Don’t tell me you are that naive. Did you really think hard work, good grades and character would be enough? Rich people know better.