Recently the college admissions scandal becomes the spotlight of public attention. A number of parents of college applicants are accused of paying more than $25 million for bribery in order to get their kids to elite schools. The prosecutor called the case “the largest college admissions scam uncovered in U.S. history”. College education, especially elite school entrance has always been the stepping stone for high pay jobs and social advancement. In this case, the accused are purchasing elite school education for their kids in essence. And if we allow this situation to continue, of course, the gap between the rich and the poor will inevitably enlarging. It is encouraging seeing that our society comes to realize the issue of equal opportunity for education as one of the root cause of social inequality.
The situation naturally draw me to a comparison of The Imperial Examination System of China （中国科举制度）in its over a thousand years of practice since Tang Dynasty. In all fairness, China’s feudalist society had many lagging problems, but its system to select talent is one of the most advanced and rational in the world. The system is also implemented with the most strict pungent punishment for the abusers, we are not only talking about death penalty, but the most cruel pungent one for anyone involved in the fraud practice. There are many impressive stories of such account. Only when a dynasty is about the end, when the ruling class is extremely corrupted, you see the occurrence of open bribery for social positions.
An article from Bloomberg Opinion, columnist Noah Smith reported the research of several economists into the white southerners after the Civil War. Using detailed Census records, Ager et al. measure the effect of the war on the wealth of slaveholders and their sons. This is an interesting question, because it asks: When the government takes away some of your wealth, how quickly can you bounce back? The answer is very – within one gneration.
“How did the sons bounce back? One way was by marrying into wealthy families, which they tended to do. The authors see this as evidence that former slaveowners retained social status and connections that gave them advantages in postbellum Southern society. Those connections could have allowed them to get good jobs or raise money to start businesses.” The author concluded by say: “Thus, evening out the wealth distribution will require more than just transfers. It will require getting more poor and minority kids into good colleges, enforcing the Fair Housing Act to help neighborhoods desegregate faster, and other measures to help the children of the rich form strong social bonds with the children of the poor. Unless the basic shape of society is changed, the U.S. can probably expect wealth redistribution to produce the same fleeting results found in the history books.”
Another article by Mark Niquette, entitled, Dalio Says Capitalism’s Income Inequality Is National Emergency, Hedge Fund Bridgewater founder Dalio spoke in a ’60 Minutes’ interview, that “The American dream is lost,” he said. “For the most part we don’t even talk about what is the American dream. And it’s very different from when I was growing up.” In Dalio’s view, “Disparity in wealth, especially when accompanied by disparity in values, leads to increasing conflict and, in the government, that manifests itself in the form of populism of the left and populism of the right and often in revolutions of one sort or another.”
So we know the long-term negative social effect of allowing the riches and powerful to have backdoor access into elite colleges. If I am not mistaken, a similar scenario quite common in our society this day, although not to the extreme of bribery, is most elite universities have the leeway of taking students base on their family donation. Food for the thought is: shall the backdoor be completely shut close?