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Friday, January 20, 2017

Comparing Cabinets and Classes: Harding, Obama, and Trump

In his 1922 book, American Individualism, Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce in the Harding administration, wrote of his cabinet colleagues:

That our system has avoided the establishment and domination of class has a significant proof in the present Administration in Washington, Of the twelve men comprising the President, Vice-President, and Cabinet, nine have earned their own way in life without economic inheritance, and eight of them started with manual labor.

In my December 2016 review of Hoover's book, I compared the cabinet in which Hoover served with the Obama cabinet at the time as follows.

Let's see how that has held up, almost a century later. Taking the 17 people in equivalent positions at the end of the Obama administration in 2016 (President, Vice President, and heads of the 15 executive departments), we find that only 1 of the 17 inherited wealth (I'm inferring from the description of parents in their biographies) but that precisely zero had any experience with manual labour. If attending an Ivy League university can be taken as a modern badge of membership in a ruling class, 11 of the 17—65%, meet this test (if you consider Stanford a member of an "extended Ivy League", the figure rises to 70%).

Now that all appointments to the Trump cabinet have been made, and on the assumption all will be confirmed, how will that group compare by Hoover's standard?

Again, we have a total of 17 people: President, Vice President, and heads of the 15 executive departments. As before, I infer inheritance from the description of an appointee's parents and early life; if a parent is described as a “billionaire” and their child attended a private school, I put them down as having inherited wealth. Enlisted military service or membership in a special operations unit was deemed manual labour. Either an undergraduate or graduate degree from an Ivy counted. The results are:

Compared to the Obama cabinet, there is more inherited wealth (one of these is, of course, the President), more with experience with manual labour, and fewer with an Ivy League background. This is still a much more élite group than Harding's cabinet.

Posted at January 20, 2017 16:15