|(c) The Economist|
This week, the Economist's cover story deals with the inheritance of " brain capital" which proves to be much more difficult to tax than financial wealth when transferred in generations. When Thomas Jefferson (a lawyer and president of the United Statesfrom 1801 to 1809) pondered about the difference of a "natural aristocracy of the virtuous and talented" and called it a blessing to a nation and an "artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth" which would slowly strangle it, he could not have foreseen that this meritocratic country by origin nowadays produces elites that reproduce themselves. Today's better-off-parents transfer a highly intangible asset than money: brain, the currency of the knowledge industry combined with networks from the colleges ("contacts mean contracts") and a intercultural savvy that sets them far apart from children who have not benefited from these opportunities.
The challenging question for each modern western and open society in Karl Popper's sense will need to find an answer on how to keep the promise of opportunities for social advancement on a meritocratic basis, be it in politics or the economy - otherwise the erosion of society and social cohesion will threaten any "contrat social".