Posted by: malstott | May 18, 2017

My Aristocratic Responsibility

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French Aristocrats, c1774

You might not have acres of land or be of noble birth, but if you have a college degree today you are an aristocrat. We are a privileged, powerful few who rule most of the assets in this country. We have access to jobs and opportunities.  We typically make more money and are in higher positions of power. The top 10% of US earners made more than $133K in 2016. If you look at it in terms of assets, the top 10% own 76% of the wealth in the US. What enables this kind of income? EDUCATION. It is no surprise that families run by adults with college degrees, had a median wealth of $202,000, which is four times that of families headed by someone who only had a high school diploma.

In many cases having a college degree has little to do with our intelligence. It has to do with our privilege passed down from our parents. We were born into wealth and thus we had good nutrition, top notch schooling and then money for college. How is this so different from the aristocratic world of 18th century France? We have what we haven’t altogether earned and are in a position of privilege and power. And we must decide what to do with that power.

I hear protests. “But we have a democratic system that puts the voting power in the hands of the masses.” “Everyone can get an education if they want it enough.” “I had to work very hard to get to where I am.” Yes, yes and yes…but that doesn’t change the weight of the problem. We have a system that is swayed by money and we have such a great societal divide that getting an education isn’t just a struggle, it is an impossible dream for many.

Our privilege puts us in a position to either enable others or to take advantage of our station in life without regard to those around us. We are modern aristocrats. Here are a few thoughts on how to make a difference:

  • Invest in higher education for others. Endow scholarships, vote for bonds for the community colleges, donate your time or money to make higher education more accessible.
  • Invest in the educational structure in your local community. Read to kids. Vote for bond measures to pay teachers more, build more schools, pay for technology. Donate useful equipment to high schools so that they can teach shop classes, programming classes, robot automation classes. Do this even if you don’t have any children.
  • Influence policy in your company, train your people. Train them for the new work. Hire people with aptitude and train them to fix machines, program robots and design IT systems. Don’t stop this if they leave after getting trained. Consider this an investment in the future of the country.
  • Take a risk on building product in the US. Find a partner to work with if you don’t have internal manufacturing. Or, better yet, build your own plant. Figure out how to make the numbers work by building in the right places with the right processes.
  • Encourage your employees to go back to school for more education. Help them with the cost and the time.
  • Embrace a variety of educational backgrounds as you hire. An education in the Navy is valuable. A two year hands-on degree has great practical value.

Purdue University made a bold move recently to buy Kaplan University, an online university that has 15 campuses and learning centers and 32,000 students. Adding this capacity and capability expands the reach of post-secondary education to working adults and others unable to participate in traditional campus study. This decision comes on top of a measured decision to increase enrollment at Purdue while keeping tuition fixed at 2012 levels through the 2018-19 academic year.  This will be a run of six straight years of flat tuition after 36 years of increases. (Full disclosure: I am a Purdue graduate.) I have high respect for these decisions and their aim. This kind of progress and purposeful decision-making will open doors to many more people and will start to make a difference.

It is very difficult to move the needle in the imbalance in wealth and education that we are currently experiencing. But we should be on a mission to try as good aristocrats. We have an obligation.

Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.
Mark Twain



  1. This was soooo good, Marcy. As I wrote, I was very inspired by the President of Purdue’s speech you posted. He was right on about humility for privileges of higher education many of us have had. I’ve always thought that about many of my Pittsfield childhood friends. Mother and Daddy were always aware of their educa. advantages-therefore owing alot to others. Jim wrote a very interesting paper in W.F.Bay about so many wealthy, well educated dwellers producing families with identical expectations. He didn’t like the pressure. Thanks for an interesting topic. love, mom xo

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