I was talking to Mark, and he noted that the elites in a lot of areas come from a surprisingly narrow background. They all went to top schools and/or lived in key places. We were discussing what this meant, and to me it is a symptom of something we mostly get wrong as a society.
There is a tendency to talk of there being a shortage of people, for example as a way to justify high CEO pay. And maybe there is some shortage of good people with the "right background" but this sort of background homogeneity is much more aligned with elite overproduction.
Let me give what I think is a good example of elite underproduction:Union officers in the Civil War. It is pretty clear that West Point was dominated by the Southern elite at the time of the Civil War, leaving the Union with a serious deficit of competent officers. So look at some of the people who become important officers: a college professor and a person struggling with alcoholism. It is a good marker of a shortage of people with the key skills when you see people from a wide variety of backgrounds being given a chance. Mark talked about the US job market in 1997, when people from a wide range of backgrounds could get jobs just by showing interest and competence -- so you would see people in jobs quite unrelated to what they were trained in or from very diverse backgrounds.
If there really was a critical shortage of CEOs, you'd see high school teachers taking on business careers and nobody would care what school your MBA came from.
Instead, what you have are 10 trained people for every job. This has long been true for much of the academic world. Being from a top school, for example, becomes a lot more important as a way of winnowing the field once it is flooded with competent people. Look at how unusual it was for Elizabeth Warren to be at Harvard:
Former Harvard colleagues say Warren’s background stood out at the institution, where graduates routinely clerk for Supreme Court justices. For years, she was the only tenured professor on the law faculty who had attended a public law school in the U.S.That is a sign of there being too many competent people, so that schools can afford narrow recruitment criterion and still get top people.
Now, where this matter is public policy. We should be asking about how to respond to elite overproduction (often something that causes much social tension) and about how to equalize opportunity. But I think the idea that we are short of good people for top employment opportunities (in general, small exceptions may exist) is daft.