This is What Meritocracy Looks Like

As a Stanford alum, I feel obliged to defend my alma mater in light of the recent college admissions scandal. Yesterday, 50 people were charged in a racketeering conspiracy where wealthy parents paid million-dollar bribes to get their kids into fancy schools.

People are pissed because the revelation squashes any notion of college meritocracy. But…does it really? These backdoor students are, quite arguably, the very embodiment of what it means to be an Ivy League admit. Not only did the parents bribe their way around the admissions process, they deducted the bribes as charitable contributions. In doing so, these kids demonstrated the most important life skill of all: The ability to work the system.

Exploiting the system is what American meritocracy is all about! Examples abound on Wall Street and in DC, and this is even true in Silicon Valley. The Y-Combinator application specifically asks founders to describe a non-computer system they have successfully hacked. One notable YC founder wrote about his adventures in shoplifting, and his company went on to receive $72 million in funding. Incidentally, this guy is a graduate of both Yale and Stanford Law School.

So here’s what’s gonna happen to the parents accused of exchanging bribes for admissions. They’ll hire some white-shoe law firm, settle without admission of wrongdoing, and the students will go on to graduate with inflated GPAs and privilege intact. The best measure of merit is money.

(Don’t tell the plebes though. We need to keep them busy fighting for scholastic aptitude scraps so they won’t notice while the privileged elite pillage the world.)

Edit (14-March 2019): Here are some fun Ivy League admission stats. Between 10 and 15% of admitted students are recruited athletes, and up to 25% are legacy admits. I don’t see what all the bribery brouhaha is about — undeserving rich kids stealing spots from other undeserving rich kids.

6 thoughts on “This is What Meritocracy Looks Like

  1. Interesting. I thought you were going to go in a different direction. I thought you might argue that the fact that these wealthy people needed to bribe their way in means at the core of the system is a meritocracy. It doesn’t seem like those who bribed their way in make up a significant percent of the student body. Maybe further investigation will show otherwise.

    1. Ivy Leagues reserve 15% of their admits for athletic admissions. Then about another 20% of admits are legacy (parents were alumni or donors). I don’t know what percentage is reserved for affirmative action quotas, but the effect is that a significant fraction of the student body uses some sort of side door, even if it isn’t bribes.

  2. It’s not only in college admissions; it’s in everything. Why do you think Saturday Night Live is no longer funny? Because the current crop of “comedians” were chosen because their parents were Hollywood insiders. Why do most movies stink? Because the children of Hollywood insiders got to make the movies.The list goes on and on.

    1. Holy crap. I’ve always wondered why Hollywood is so exclusive when any idiot can act. But you’re right, it’s just another dynasty! THAT’S the real reason people were so outraged about Harvey Weinstein! Because a group of outsiders found a side door into the system!!

      It’s monday morning and my mind is blown.

Leave a Reply to Steve Cancel reply