Richard Herriott at DrivenToWrite has a mildly caustic piece up regarding FCA’s — that’s FIAT’s to you non-automotive-space normies — decision to abandon its traditional focus on small cars. Citing fears that small cars are becoming “commoditized”, FCA will shift the majority of its development, engineering, and production efforts to vehicles from brands like Maserati and Alfa Romeo, which face no danger of commoditization because traditionally commodities are known to be in more or less constant demand.
Mr. Herriott worries that FCA is going to lose what we’d call a “customer pipeline” as a result of this. He points out, quite rightly, that buyers are statistically loyal to the last brand they’ve purchased and that FCA’s lack of small-car development will cost it customers for its large-car lineup. Twenty years ago, or even ten years ago, I would have agreed with him. Today, however, we live in the world of the 9.9 percent.
“In America, the game is half over once you’ve selected your parents.” The Atlantic is catching flak and praise in nearly equal measure for a new piece on the 9.9 percent. It’s a catchy way of saying “top ten percent”, but it’s also a way to signify that the game has changed. Today’s 9.9 percent is remarkably wealthy; you’d need over $1.2 million in net worth to make it in. Admittedly, that includes both home equity and the “401(k) millionaires”; if I had bought a house, any house, in California back in 2001 rather than put down roots in Ohio, I’d be comfortably above the cutoff for this exclusive club. Still, it’s sobering to think that one out of ten Americans is somewhat more than a millionaire.
Today’s 9.9 Percent have institutionalized the process of handing down their status to their children and grandchildren. In Matthew Stewart’s article, he humblebrags about spending ten thousand dollars — almost exactly the median net worth of African-American families — on a college counselor. He discusses the fabled “SAT whisperer” who can make your sprog’s dreams of a Yale admission come true.
We 9.9 percenters live in safer neighborhoods, go to better schools, have shorter commutes, receive higher-quality health care, and, when circumstances require, serve time in better prisons. We also have more friends—the kind of friends who will introduce us to new clients or line up great internships for our kids.
These special forms of wealth offer the further advantages that they are both harder to emulate and safer to brag about than high income alone. Our class walks around in the jeans and T‑shirts inherited from our supposedly humble beginnings. We prefer to signal our status by talking about our organically nourished bodies, the awe-inspiring feats of our offspring, and the ecological correctness of our neighborhoods. We have figured out how to launder our money through higher virtues.
Most important of all, we have learned how to pass all of these advantages down to our children. In America today, the single best predictor of whether an individual will get married, stay married, pursue advanced education, live in a good neighborhood, have an extensive social network, and experience good health is the performance of his or her parents on those same metrics.
Most critically, the 9.9 Percent feels itself to be the result of a meritocracy. They didn’t merely inherit their wealth in the manner of the rakish figures found in the pages of Victorian novels. No, they earned it. True, they might have earned it because they were legacy-admitted into a prestigious university then offered an internship at Goldman Sachs by their father’s weekend doubles partner — but they earned it nonetheless.
Now here’s where it gets fascinating. You won’t find this assertion in the pages of The Atlantic, but it’s deeply, thoroughly, and offensively true: The 9.9 Percent has assured its perpetuity through the deliberate destruction of America’s true and authentic meritocracy. Consider, if you will, the plight of the Asian-American student:
Asian-Americans have the lowest acceptance rate for each SAT test score bracket, having to score on average approximately 140 point higher than a White student, 270 points higher than a Hispanic student and 450 points higher than a Black student on the SAT.
Keep in mind that the 75th percentile SAT score for Harvard is 1600, which is a perfect score. It has been shown again and again that Harvard, and other schools, practice active racial discrimination by purposely denying Asian-Americans admission in order to admit more Black and Hispanic students.
This discrimination also hurts white kids, but the 9.9 Percent, who are overwhelmingly white, have other methods to get their kids through the door. Legacies, SAT whisperers, fearsome high school resumes built through privately awarded internships and five-figure-cost extra-curriculars. The only white kids who are kept out of Harvard by race discrimination are lower-class and middle-class white kids who don’t have any connections.
“Jack, you idiot.” I can hear you now. “The 9.9 Percent aren’t solidifying their position by forcibly diversifying college admissions — they are just inviting a more diverse group to their party!” Alright, I see where you’re coming from. The only problem is that you’re wrong. SAT scores are an ironclad predictor of future success and there is no adjustment for race in the results. Which is to say that there is no evidence that white kids with a 1400 SAT do as well after college as Asian kids with a 1550 SAT. Rather, they tend to perform like Asian kids with a 1400 SAT.
If American colleges today did their admissions in a truly merit-based fashion, the top schools would be overwhelmingly composed of Asian-Americans and white people outside the 9.9 Percent. The graduates of those schools would then force their way into the 9.9 Percent, displacing the current memebers. After all, that’s how those current members got where they are today. It’s no accident that the racial and socio-economic composition of the 9.9 Percent today looks suspiciously like the racial and socio-economic composition of Harvard’s Baby Boomer classes. Those people figured out how to rig the game for their kids, who are now rigging it even further on behalf of their kids.
In other words, today’s top colleges consist of three kinds of people:
* The children of the 9.9 Percent;
* A carefully curated selection of people who are statistically unlikely to threaten the existing composition of the 9.9 Percent;
* The minimum possible number of threatening outgroup achievers, regardless of race.
Maybe you’d like to see it in a graphic or three:
Isn’t there something creepy about the way all of the Ivy League admissions rates for Asian-American students have settled at a single level, regardless of student population? It looks like collusion to me — or maybe it’s just a situation where everybody looked at the numbers separately and happened to come to identical conclusions.
The game is rigged to ensure that the children of the 9.9 Percent don’t have to face unfettered competition from students who are far brighter and more accomplished than they are. The SAT scores, and the academic qualifications, of the non-legacy students are deliberately reduced to match those of the legacy students. This prevents young William and Ashley from having to sit in a classroom with a bunch of ultra-bright Asian-American kids. It is handicapping Harrison Bergeron style. We pretend that we are offering a “hand up” to people who have suffered discrimination, but the real purpose is to enshrine the existing order of things.
What happens to all those outstanding kids, be they Asian-American or not, who are bounced out of the Ivy League so as not to make their betters uncomfortable? They go to state schools, to safety schools, and so on, and so forth. And when they get out of school, they are handicapped by their second-rate degree and lack of connections. They take whatever jobs they can get. A few of them will rise to join the 9.9 Percent, but not nearly as many as you would have if schools didn’t practice racial discrimination.
It’s institutional molasses poured into the gears of social mobility. And what happens to all of those minorities who are admitted into the Ivy League even though they are 450 SAT points down on the Asian-American kids? The answer is back in the Atlantic piece:
According to a Pew Research Center analysis, African Americans represent 1.9 percent of the top 10th of households in wealth; Hispanics, 2.4 percent; and all other minorities, including Asian and multiracial individuals, 8.8 percent—even though those groups together account for 35 percent of the total population.
In other words, even though the Ivy League has been practicing race-based admissions for more than fifty years, only one in twenty 9.9 Percenters is Black or Hispanic. This year’s Harvard class is “majority-minority”. Will the 9.9 Percent of the year 2060 be “majority-minority”? You know the answer to that. The system is working exactly the way it was designed to work. Having climbed their way to the top, the 9.9 Percent are pulling up the ladders behind them. It will become harder and harder to join their ranks.
You’ve suffered along with this class-war diatribe for 1,450 words. What does it have to do with small cars? Why, it’s obvious, to me at least. Sergio Marchionne is right. The market for small cars is going to vanish. The reason is simple. A society with zero socio-economic mobility doesn’t need small cars, particularly not when a raft of legislative and business decisions has made them almost as expensive as their larger siblings. The 9.9 Percent will buy the new cars; they’re almost the only people who buy new cars now. The 90.1 Percent will buy those cars once their superiors are done with them. Seriously. If you live in an area where it’s possible to look at poor people, look at what they’re driving. They aren’t in new Sonics or Accents. They are driving used Explorers and Odysseys, which were the chosen vehicles of the 9.9 Percent at the time. That’s the future. More of that.
By the same token, the idea of “keeping the customer his whole life” through a broad model range is ridiculous in a world where people don’t “grow” financially through a brand. The child of the 9.9 Percent goes directly from driving his mother’s old Lexus RX350 to driving a new Lexus RX350 of his own. He isn’t launched into the world on his own to survive on his wits. He is stage-managed into success by his parents.
You can look at my own family for a modern example of this. We are far from wealthy, but when my son turns 16 he’ll probably be the owner of an old Accord Coupe (for everyday use) and a Porsche 911 (for those special occasions). The Accord will carry him through college or welding school or whatever he wants to do career-wise, at which point I’ll probably have another car to give him. When he’s thirty, he will be able to buy himself a new car. At no point in this story is he a customer for a small Fiat that would lead him into bigger Fiats.
His East Coast cousins, who are very much a part of the 9.9 Percent, will have similar experiences only it will be with Mercedes S-Classes and GL-Class wagons. And they have legacy admissions set up for major schools, with generous financial endowments to accompany their arrivals.
The children of our neighbors, who are generally just white kids of middling accomplishment? They’ll go to state schools and buy used cars their whole lives, the same way their parents did and do. None of them would be likely to score a 1600 SAT, and even if they did, where’s the place for them in Ivy League classes that have no slots for white Midwestern kids period point blank?
Some of you will point out that you know exceptions to these rules, but that’s all they are — exceptions. “Last year, Penn and Duke rejected 60 percent of the class valedictorians who applied.” Duke took two students from West Virginia last year. They took 166 from New York and 144 from California. Go look at a map of the United States and tell me where Duke is.
The brand-new small car is, and always has been, a product aimed at the middle class. It’s a product based on hope. You buy a new Cavalier or Civic because your prospects are moderately bright now and likely to become brighter later. Once the middle class disappears, it will be time for the small car to ride away into the sunset. FCA’s famous sweater-wearing leader is right. He’s placing his bets on the 9.9 Percent. He’s right to do so. They are going to win. Because the game is rigged. They know the game is rigged. They’re the ones who rigged it.