Today's elite is more talented and open but lacks a self-conscious leadership code. The language of meritocracy (how to succeed) has eclipsed the language of morality (how to be virtuous). Wall Street firms, for example, now hire on the basis of youth and brains, not experience and character. Most of their problems can be traced to this.

If you read the e-mails from the Libor scandal you get the same sensation you get from reading the e-mails in so many recent scandals: these people are brats; they have no sense that they are guardians for an institution the world depends on; they have no consciousness of their larger social role.

We're not sure about this argument, unless one includes in it the clause that the regulatory complex is corrupted by the same forces and urges that give rise to the wrongdoing. And that may be, but the bigger question is why, in a democratic society, the electorate itself has not used the tools at its disposal to force accountability. And that probably has more to do with "buying the people off" with credit.

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