There Is No Meritocracy

Photo: Getty

Many stories about the rich do a good job of demonstrating how undeserved their wealth is, but we have a real cracker today: Dozens of people, including two Hollywood actresses, were indicted today in a scheme to cheat and pay their way into obtaining admission to selective colleges for their kids.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling called the parents charged in the case “a catalog of wealth and privilege.” The schemes involved paying better students to take the SAT or ACT on the rich kids’ behalf, straight-up changing answers on the tests after the kids took them, having therapists help them get extra time on their exams, and even bribing university athletics’ coaches to pretend the students were athletic recruits. Many of the students were unaware their parents were cheating on the tests for them, the FBI said. The payments were made through a non-profit and disguised as charitable donations. According to the FBI, some parents paid up to $6.5 million for “guaranteed admission” to colleges.

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What this case shows us is how different these things are for the rich. Regular people see college as their chance of having a decent career and earning enough money, even with the burden of student loans, to survive in a society where the minimum wage won’t cover the rent anywhere—as well as, you know, a place to learn things about the world. Regular people have to work very hard to get into college and to pay for it, often for the rest of their lives. Rich people, on the other hand, see college as yet another way to pay their way into privilege—the privilege of having been to a good school, because people still insist on assuming you’re smart if you went to an elite school.

Take Olivia Giannulli, the daughter of actress Lori Laughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli, who are both named in the case. According to the complaint, the couple paid “bribes totaling $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the [University of Southern California] crew team, despite the fact that they did not participate in crew.” The fraud could not be more blatant. And why did she want to go to USC? To party, she said in a video on her YouTube channel. Per Yahoo:

“I don’t know how much of school I’m gonna attend,” she shared with her nearly 2 million subscribers, after explaining her extensive work schedule. “But I’m gonna go in and talk to my deans and everyone, and hope that I can try and balance it all. But I do want the experience of like game days, partying…I don’t really care about school, as you guys all know.”

I don’t really blame a 19-year-old for not caring about school and being more excited about the parties. The difference is that a rich kid doesn’t have to care about school to be ushered in by her wealthy parents, whereas a poor or even middle-class kid has to work very hard and usually take on years of post-graduation debt to get to the same position. Imagine a regular person taking on $75,000 a year of debt to go to USC and then saying “I don’t know how much of school I’m gonna attend.” But Olivia Giannulli can happily see USC as a fun place to go to parties and do more vlogs, and there are probably plenty of other rich kids doing the same thing there who she’d get on with. For her, there are no real consequences or stakes. She’ll be fine if she doesn’t get a degree or a good GPA, and the money burned on tuition—and on allegedly getting her in in the first place—won’t really matter.

College admissions are openly corrupt; this case doesn’t even touch on the kind of routine, legalized fraud of rich people donating to a college in return for their child’s admission. There is no meritocracy. Just remember that the next time someone tries to sell you on any vision of America’s future that includes a supposedly benevolent and productive wealthy class, instead of just taxing them on the money they clearly have no idea how to spend.

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About the author

Libby Watson

Splinter politics writer. libby.watson@splinternews.com