Where You Went To School Isn't the Source of Your Incompetence
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“The doctrine of noblesse oblige became discredited, dismissed as corrupt and ‘elitist.’” Lance Morrow wrote the latter in the Wall Street Journal last Friday about Vietnam's aftermath. Morrow is generally excellent, which was why his column, “Biden, Trump and American Vanity,” was so disappointing.

Going back to David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest (referenced by Morrow in his opinion piece), but surely before that, writers have relentlessly tried to attach bigger meaning to the political careers of the well-born, and well-educated. Paraphrasing a line from the brilliant Tina Fey’s movie Mean Girls, they need to stop trying to make fetch happen. There’s no there to this endlessly written about there.  

What’s the there? It can be found in Morrow’s description of Halberstam’s book, that it “added up to an indictment of the overconfident men, products of Groton and Harvard and Yale, scions of the old WASP establishment, who presided over the American venture into Vietnam and the long debacle that followed.” Non sequitur doesn’t do justice to Morrow’s (and so many before him) attempts to tie the tragedy of Vietnam to overconfident elites. Such a view implies that attendance at exclusive schools, attendance that logically followed an elite upbringing, has long imbued those of certain blood lines with blind spots that those from the outside looking in perhaps lack?

About the above characterization, it’s difficult to know if it describes what Morrow aims to describe. And it is because it’s difficult to not wonder if even Morrow buys his own connection between Groton, Harvard, and bad decisions made in government.

The view here is that the two have nothing to do with each other. The reality, one no doubt well understood by Morrow, is that wars are a tragically immutable part of life. Lest we forget, it was the endless wars in Europe that helped instigate what became the United States. The separation of the U.S. from Europe by thousands of miles would free arrivals to the new world from all the warring that defined the old. Except that it didn’t.

Morrow observed that the “old WASP elites often had terrible judgement, but we should miss their ideals of leadership and service.” What an odd thing to write. If you believe as Morrow seemingly does, that WASP elites authored a foreign policy debacle that exterminated over 50,000 Americans, what could you possibly miss about the alleged “ideals of leadership and service” that they supposedly brought to work before ruining so many lives? I’ll take Trump, Biden, or Bernie Sanders any day of the week over obnoxious conceit that has a body count.

Of course, the view here is that there’s no connection where Morrow is trying to make one. War is once again an awful fact of life, plus how would Vietnam have been different if a bunch of State U. grads had overseen it versus the well-born scions of old families? Missed by Morrow is that the tragedy of Vietnam was Vietnam, not who oversaw it. Sorry, but government is an ass. Always and everywhere.

The above shouldn't be misconstrued as a Trump-ian line as much as it’s a comment that a war meant to stop the spread of communism in south Asia is a central plan (with all the warts that central planning entails) every bit as flawed as the war that Donald Trump oversaw to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Government is inept simply because its actions aren’t informed by the powerfully correcting market signals that inform all other aspects of life. In other words, central planning always fails. That’s why the American founders wanted the vast majority of legislation to take place in cities and states. Place fences around ineptitude.  

All of this is important, mainly because Morrow is trying to make Fetch happen twice. Not only is he tying the Vietnam tragedy to education and bloodlines, he’s wondering if the political present of Trump and Biden “can be traced in part to the country’s overlearning the negative lessons of Vietnam” whereby voters “too hastily discarded the old standards of distinction, and the ethics of selfless public service.” They have nothing to do with each other. If we ignore that “selfless” anything is an expression of selfishness, the speculation here is that Americans aren’t disdaining an old WASP elite simply because most Americans happily don’t know what Morrow is talking about, and have probably never heard of David Halberstam’s book.

Instead, Americans loathe incompetence, which means they to a high degree loathe government. In case Morrow has forgotten, vulgarian-loving voters chose not to re-elect Trump after he foisted central planning on them much as they would have voted out vulgarian LBJ over Vietnam. Groton, Harvard and Yale had nothing do with these voting patterns, while the inevitable failure of government planning did, and does.

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, President of the Parkview Institute, a senior fellow at the Market Institute, and a senior economic adviser to Applied Finance Advisors (www.appliedfinance.com). His latest book, set for release in April of 2024 and co-authored with Jack Ryan, is Bringing Adam Smith Into the American Home: A Case Against Homeownership

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