A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that the microblogging service Twitter proved Vilfredo Pareto's "law of the vital few" because most of us are followers on Twitter while only a tiny handful of us are being followed. Take, for example, the case of the American television journalist Anderson Cooper, the presenter of CNN"s AC360 news show. Cooper now has a Twitter update which allows followers like myself to keep up with his work. On this page, Cooper has 3,447 followers, but is only following 7 other Twits. If I've done the math right, that's almost 500 followers for each opinion leader. Those are fascist rather than democratic ratios and it proves that the much maligned Pareto -- who was adored by Mussolini (the amore wasn't reciprocated) -- might have been onto something with his much vilified law of the vital few.
Cooper, I think, proves another of Pareto's famous principles, this one from his 1901 essay The Rise and Fall of Elites. The reason I went to Anderson Cooper's Twitter page was to check up on the work he is doing to expose the ten most wanted culprits of the financial crash. This interests me not because of Cooper (who, like most CNN journalists, is simply a follower of public opinion), but rather: a) because of the public mood of violent hostility toward the Richard Fulds and Alan Greenspans of the American financial elite, and b) because of the failure of these these elites to aggressively defend themselves against public ridicule. CNN's witch hunt against Wall Street elites, then, tells us more about the weakness of these elites than about either CNN or democratic opinion.
So is Wall Street's financial elite in decline? Are we at one of those grand historical junctures in which one dominant elite seizes power from another? And that's where Pareto is once again helpful. In "The Rise and Fall of Elites", Pareto makes the following general observations about elites in decline:
When an elite declines, we can generally observe two signs which manifest themselves simultaneously:
1. The declining elite becomes softer, milder, more humane and less apt to defend its own power.
2. On the other hand, it does not lose its rapacity and greed for the goods of others, but rather tends as much as possible to increase its unlawful appropriations and to indulge in major usurpations of the national patrimony.
Certainly Wall Street's elite hasn't lost its "rapacity and greed". More interesting, though, is this financial elite's failure to defend its own power against the attacks by mainstream journalists like Anderson Cooper. The interesting question is whether these attacks are part of a long-term collapse of the legitimacy of America's financial elite, or whether this is a media sideshow which will quickly run out of steam when the American public gets bored with the daily gyrations on Wall Street.
Anyway, I've signed up as a dedicated follower of fashionable Anderson Cooper on Twitter. That's because I want to be amongst the first 3,447 to get the news about the death of the American financial elite.