What do we do without an Establishment?

Reflections after attending David Ginsburg’s memorial service.

Just back from the memorial service for David Ginsburg, who joined the SEC in 1934, was the first law clerk for Justice Douglas, was general counsel for the War Stabilization Board as it evolved into the Office of Price Administration, was involved in the economic administration of Germany after the war and in the negotiations over the status of Austria, helped found the Americans for Democratic Action, labored mightily over U.S. recognition of Israel and the creation of the Weitzman Institute, helped found the German Marshall Fund, wrote the Kerner Commission report, protected Henry Kissinger’s misdeeds from public scrutiny, etc., etc.

It made me wonder how the country is going to function without a working Establishment. There aren’t enough important 65-year-olds in Washington and New York who will do what a President needs done without asking “What’s in it for me?”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

8 thoughts on “What do we do without an Establishment?”

  1. "There aren’t enough important 65-year-olds in Washington and New York who will do what a President needs done without asking “What’s in it for me?” "

    Oh? We got a nice GOP establishment, which grants wingnut welfare to those who obey.

  2. I suspect Mark is using the term more specifically. The Establishment was a particular group of elites, mostly in the Northeast (Ginsburg was from West Virginia), who have largely passed into history; David Brooks is one person who has tried to analyze why in some of his writings. They were fairly non-partisan. John Gardner is the pluperfect example, a Republican New Yorker to whom the Democratic Party offered Robert Kennedy's Senate seat after the assassination (can you IMAGINE this today?), and whom LBJ put in the cabinet not bothering to check Gardner's party because he didn't care, he knew Gardner was good so he hired him. Gardner later founded Common Cause. The members of the Establishment lived in an era that was less cynical and people used terms like patriotism, public service, duty and honor without irony and without invoking skeptical responses from others. They shared the post-war consensus that democracy was better than communism, that America was a great country, and they had a concept of noblesse oblige that sounds paternalistic to modern ears but did contain a strong element of sincere service to the country driven by the idea that the privileged owe something to the underprivileged (The irresponsible wealth of today would have revolted them). Diverse they were not (almost all white males), which may have made coming to a consensus around a particular view of government easier. And they were in general simply good at making policy work and tended to work with people in both parties, because fundamentally to them it was about the country. This is the greatest loss I think…there are a zillion 65 year olds ready to take political jobs not to serve the public but to have a perch from which to prosecute the partisan warfare they have been fighting all their lives.

  3. I once heard Elliott Richardson tell the story that in the late fifties he was briefly a junior partner at, I believe, Hale and Dorr. He left to become U.S. Attorney in Boston. One of his reasons was that the salary was higher. I just looked this up: with his clerk ships and such, his starting salary as U.S. Attorney today would be, as a GS 13, $87,000. What

  4. Part of it, of course, is that you could have a damn good life being part of that establishment: take reasonable vacations, send your kids to ivy league universities and expect them to have decent careers, all without having to get your hands dirty scrambling for filthy lucre. Now government and pseudogovernment salaries don't go nearly as far, the out-of-office sinecures are way tilted toward a narrow political/policy cadre, and the cost of being in genteel "poverty" is much higher. There are also far more of the super-rich who will look down on the merely comfortable, bully them and get them fired when necessary, and generally treat non-rich "establishment" types like servants. It's not as fun as it used to be.

    (Disclosure: my parents were of that generation: he was sometimes a college professor, sometimes white house staff (Eisenhower), sometimes a government consultant, sometimes on the board of a quango. He definitely felt he owed the country his services when they were wanted, and family income dropped by about half the second time we moved to washington. Friends of later generations, in contrast, couldn't make a secure living with that kind of career path unless they were willing to go into lobbying in the off years.)

  5. Protecting Kissinger a good thing? Obviously not, in my view. But it, too, was typical Establishment behavior, and I included it in the interests of full disclosure.

  6. Of course, "the Establishment" as we knew it was a product of the Great Depression and World War II, and especially of the Great Compression in income distribution, which occurred during WWII, and persisted into the 1970s. The rapid rise, especially, in CEO compensation, which accelerated in the 1980s with the reduction in top marginal rates of income taxation and with the "greed is good" norms of the Reagan Revolution, meant that the corporate promotion tournaments increasingly dominated the selection of our elite. Of course, compensation among elite lawyers and financial sector players also rose precipitously. And, it also meant that psychopaths increasingly dominate our elite.

    This last point is too little recognized. It isn't just that a CEO or a top corporate lawyer or a hedge fund manager is paid so much, much more, but the processes for 1.) selecting the person for those positions, and 2.) the processes for generating the cash to fund the compensation, both tend to bias the selection of the winners toward psychopathy, and — and this may be just as important — to bias the selection of supporting players toward sycophants.

    Every society has an elite. We won't be without one. Our problem is that we have chosen methods of selecting and funding our elite that ensure that we will be ruled by vicious sociopaths and the feckless fops, who assist them. And, that our society and economy will be bled dry by these parasites.

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