For those who don’t know, Elite overproduction is a phenomenon first described by Peter Turchin, basically talking about a situation in which a society produces excess numbers of “elite aspirants” who have ambitions of entering the ruling elite, mostly through different organs of government. This creates a grave problem for any political system, because even as the total number elite positions may remain stagnant or rise marginally, the contenders vying for them tend to vastly increase.
This would mean there would be massively more elite aspirants who would lose and will build up resentment against the State. Looking at India, we can take for example the civil services as one section of our ruling elite. In 2010, 2,69,036 candidates appeared for the civil service exam prelims, competing for 1,043 vacancies. In 2018, 4,93,972 candidates appeared competing for just 759 vacancies.
This is just one statistic which goes to show just how rapidly competition has grown for very limited elite vacancies. Similar trends are taking hold of critical areas law, academia and the media, all fields which have very high concentrations of elite aspirants. Top law firm salaries in India for freshers only went up from around 10-12 lakhs (1-1.2 million rupees) in 2008 to 15-18 lakhs (1.5-1.8 million rupees) by 2019. While at first glance this may look like a big jump, you have to realise that this doesn’t even take into account inflation, which during the worst years of UPA-2 was in double digits!
So why have top law firm salaries remained so stagnant? The reason is simple, between 2008 and 2019, the number of National Law Universities (which are kind of the IIT equivalent in law) have more than doubled from 11 to 23. What’s more, batch sizes in older NLUs have also been massively increased to cater to increasing numbers of applicants to these universities.
The number of graduates being turned out by elite law schools may have tripled or so in a decade, but have Tier-1 law firm vacancies tripled? Have vacancies in the lower judiciary tripled? Have positions in the chambers of senior counsels in the Supreme Court tripled? I seriously doubt it. What is happening in the country right now is that we have a population which is much more educated and ambitious than any previous generation, but has the worst possible odds of fulfilling those ambitions. Widespread discontent and a burning desire to seek retribution against the system has led to the rapid rise of the far left and far right, both of a which in their hearts want a societal reset.
Lawyers turning into far-left Social Justice Warriors, journalists turning into political ideologues, academics turning into campus comissars: all of these are but the symptom of a broader society-wide malaise. The same phenomenon is also leading to the quick growth and proliferation of the as of yet, still nascent reactionary and traditionalist sections of the right in India.
It will be interesting to see in the coming years how bigger and bolder challenges to establishment authority play out, and what sort of response does the State use to defend its grip on power.