Last night at Grendel's Den in Harvard Square, I overheard, as one does, some Harvard-connected people having some Harvard-connected conversation. Apparently, one of them knows an undergraduate busted for possession of cocaine with intent to sell. Pretty serious stuff. My fellow restaurant patron was commenting on how this undergrad was going to get off with a slap on the wrist, which is terribly unfair, he said, since a teenager from East Cambridge in the same situation would almost certainly face harsher penalties. (FYI for my non-Cantabridgian readers: "A teenager from East Cambridge" is a euphemism for "a local black or latino teenager" who would be in the same jurisdiction as our friend the Harvard kid.)
"Of course," said the dude telling the story of the Ivy League coke dealer, "this guy will be scared straight and then become a productive member of society." Implying, perhaps unintentionally, that the East Cambridge drug dealer SHOULD have the book thrown at him, because he's demographically incapable of being scared straight or becoming a productive member of society.
A productive member of society. Interesting. An entitled young man with enough criminal connections to have a quantity of cocaine intended for resale distribution who gets a slap on the wrist when busted at Harvard is somehow sure to be both "scared straight" and converted into a "productive member of society."
I was so mad I almost butted in. Had I done so, I would have said this:
"Hello, excuse me, hi, I was just wondering, what the hell about the current horrifying idiotic global economic shitshow indicates that overconfident Ivy League dudes who've gotten away with pretty much everything they've ever done wrong suddenly become these awesomely 'productive' members of society?"
If you take a look at this commentary, you'll find some stats at how disproportionately Ivy Leaguey Wall Street had become in the couple of decades leading up to the financial-products-induced meltdown. If you look at the trajectory of these financial firms over the past decade, it's easy to see that the individuals working in the sector were either massively delusional or directly negligent (or worse) in everything from their entanglement with CDSs to their deliberately inflated and conflict-of-interest-laden ratings systems. They thought they could make lots and lots of money out of pretty much nothing. Instead, they broke their balance sheets. They screwed everything up. Real, real, real bad.
Now, I'm not saying that every Ivy Leaguer is a narcissistic delusional planet-destroying douche. Far from it. But if you were already getting away with selling cocaine (which we all know is a drug that appeals to a very specific undergraduate demographic: rich, white, rich, mildly disaffected, extremely rich) at Harvard, what kind of Ivy League alum are you most likely to become? If you said "narcissistic delusional planet-destroying douche," you win a half-price entree from 5 to 7:30 pm!
And what are the consequences of the "products" of these particular members of society? According to (my hero) Kristof's column today, "the global economic crisis will cause an additional 22 children to die per hour, throughout all of 2009."