The concept of a political elite is much in vogue recently. I find it difficult to cope with the recency, because the existence of a group of people above others is older than Britain: the term “privilege” is derived from “privilegium”, a private law. The British class structure which Thatcherism was supposed to overthrow had existed for centuries, and in turn dates back to divisions between clergy, nobility, landowners, etc. We could spend a lively time talking about how this structure grew and evolved over time, with reference to later subdivisions like the professional classes. But I think that’s not relevant here.

We’ve all grown up under the neoliberal consensus that started in about 1979: in Britain the Thatcher/Blair period, in the US the Sixth Party System. But I reckon that ended in the last decade and the rules have changed and so have the elites. It’s the 2020s now and we have to ask: what do we mean by “the elite” today?


PB user @Malmesbury popularised the concept of the New 10K, sometimes stylised as the “Nu10K” like it was a 1980’s compilation album: “Now that’s what I call Corrupt Cliquism”. The British State currently consists of a Prime Minster and a Cabinet who take all the blame, and a network of central and local government, quangos, charities, pressure groups, support structures, third sector orgs, etc who make all the decisions. Google the “principal-agent problem”. This is unavoidable without considerable change and those who agitate against it just end up replacing it, so this isn’t an anti-Blob speech so much a simple statement of existence. But this new upper layer of about ten thousand people are characterised by i) high-paid administrative positions, ii) rarely fired for incompetence, and iii) when fired for incompetence are rapidly reemployed at the same or higher wage.


Matthew Goodwin, who needs no introduction to PB, has focussed on the new elite which he calls the New Elite. Contemporaneous with other work by David Goodhart in “The Road to Somewhere” and “Head, Hand, Heart”, and moving thru his earlier work with Roger Eatwell on National Populism (reviewed earlier on PB, see https://www2.politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2019/10/06/national-populism-the-revolt-against-liberal-democracy-a-review/ ), he has refined his ideas on the New Elite in his book “Values, Voice and Virtue”. He defines the New Elite as Oxbridge/Russell Group graduates in managerial jobs with liberal cosmopolitan values who are overrepresented in decision-making and represent about a quarter of the population. He is frequently criticised by others but I think his central idea is sound, although I disagree with his theories about the origin.


Peter Zeihan is a geopolitical analyst whose earlier works such as “The Accidental Superpower” are seen as prescient, resulting in demand for keynote speeches which in turn provide greater engagement via YouTube. He describes the elites in US and RUS as those people who can assume the Presidency, a deceptively simple concept that can be handled numerically (bless you sir). In the US this is a surprisingly large number – bear in mind President Trump was a property developer and reality show host – as anybody who can raise enough money can take part and possibly win. In the Russian Federation this is considerably more restricted, limited to the membership of the oligarchs/siloviki, the top level of which is measured in the tens or hundreds


Goodwin is good but I think hamstrung by his position in space and time. Peter Turchin isn’t. Turchin is a complexity scientist who uses cliodynamics, a technique whereby past events can be reduced to variables, the values of those variables extracted, then mathematical techniques used to identify the important ones, build models to attach outcomes to those variables, and hence postdict past events and possibly predict future ones. His work is fascinating and outside the scope of PB, but the salient point here is not the elites but his concept of “elite overproduction”: the creation of people who have sufficient time and money and intelligence to wield power but who are stymied by the lack of posts. In the UK this is ameliorated by the various layers of central, local and devolved Government but expansion in population and University education means that there are more elite wannabes than elite positions, hence social unrest.


So here’s the Tom Scott bit, albeit in the wrong order: Goodwin spotted the problem, Zeihan generalised it in space, Turchin generalised it time, and Malmesbury gave it a name: the New 10K. It should be the New British 10K because it is geographically specific, but we don’t put the country on the stamps either and as we have centuries of experience with disconnected elites I think we can own it.



This is the latest in the Measurement series because Leon tasked me Joachim, he tasked me. This series is written off-the-cuff and is less fact-checked than the previous series so apologies in advance for errors and misunderstandings, especially to Messrs Goodwin, Zeihan and Turchin: I hope more people buy their books. Possibly relevant work by John Keane and Monitory Democracy has been omitted, because of the speed of production but mostly because I haven’t read the book yet. The next entry is on political parties. Honest.


  • https://www.waterstones.com/author/matthew-goodwin/674929
  • https://peterturchin.com/books/
  • https://zeihan.com/books/
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