An acquaintance of mine, a very bright historian, just gave a TED Talk.
I think his conclusion sheds some light on the discussion between George N. Romney and Bill Kamps in the What Changed Us article.
Professor Vlahos concludes that elites (which he defines more broadly than "the One Percent") are acting to their own advantage, as elites have done in other times moving towards the point when things fell apart (for example, at the end of Classical times in 6th through the 8th Centuries or after the Black Death in the 14th Century or after the World Wars in the 20th Century).
He further thinks that over what could be a long period of time our current elites have set the stage, by monopolizing resources, for a catastrophic event (perhaps climate change) to change how the cards are dealt.
Professor Vlahos came to that conclusion while teaching graduate courses on how global systems subside. He states that he initially focused on climate change, but came to see such events (like the, probably climate related, Plague of Justinian in the 6th Century) as being a trigger for a course of events that were already in trail.
There have been thinkers who have considered these matters before.
In 1930, the Spanish philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, published a book called The Revolt of the Masses, which dealt with the "mass-ification" of society, which included "señorito satisfecho" ("Little Mr. Satisfied" or the bureaucrat).
In 1995, the late historian, Christopher Lasch, wrote a book called The Revolt of the Elites, which presciently predicted the perception on the part of many Americans that elites were "'dangerously isolated' from the rest of the country" mind set and lacked a sense of "noblesse oblige."
I am vastly less qualified than the people I have cited, but let me offer my own opinion.
The world of "mass man" that Ortega y Gasset wrote about began to collapse during the 1970s with "Stagflation."
Productivity in the developed world, certainly in the Anglosphere, was no longer able to support the social bargain of a welfare state and almost full employment. There were too many legal and regulatory barriers to the needed levels of productivity.
The former elites, like business-statesman Reg Jones of GE, began to cede their positions to scrappy up-starts like Jack Welsh. (However, that succession was engineered by Reg Jones himself, which caused management gaon Peter Drucker to name Jones as the greatest CEO he had ever worked with.) That period also included the early rise of brilliant entrepreneurial leaders, like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
Arguably, the thinkers who most obviously perceived these trends at the time they were occurring were Alvin and Heidi Toffler in their 1980 book, The Third Wave. This accurately forecast a de-"massified," post-Westphalian Nation State world, driven by talent.
During this period, the entire economy began to be predicated on talent, as only the arts and sports had been before.
Steve Jobs was not as important a technologist as Edison, but he had an insight about the interplay of technology and aesthetics that profoundly impacted how technological products were developed and marketed. Where Edison had relied on leveraging effort, "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration" (with acres of scientists and engineers in Menlo Park laboriously providing the "perspiration" by trying to get things to work until they did, a concrete example of the Ortega hypothosis), Jobs leveraged 'A Players" to create new approaches, a practical application of the cult of talent. It was the kind of approach that brought new life to telecomm (dominated by entities like ITT and the Bell System) and computers (dominated by IBM's main frames) that were then-perceived as fairly mature industries, along with de-regulation.
Not all new approaches worked. Michael Milken's attempt to use High Yield (or "Junk Bonds") to create a new class of owner managers, disciplined by debt-service, was conspicuously unsuccessful. (However it led people like Mitt Romney to perfect East Coast M&A, where if the turnaround failed, you could still profit by selling off the PP&E.)
As with the end of the Roman Empire, this change occurred because a group of elites saw no value to them in the current dispensation. Odoacer was, for example, a Roman Officer and a vassal of the Emperor Julius Nepos and he ruled with the concurrence of the Roman Senate and among his advisers was the father of Boethius. This has been a common theme in times of change. Lord Keynes, one of the fathers of the post-World War system, was by any sense an elite.
The stage was set for this change in the 1970s by two factors: 1) the establishment of the Collage Board in 1946, providing an empirical basis for the meritocracy; and 2) the writings of Ayn Rand in the 1940s and 1950s, which popularized the idea of free-market capitalism as the best system for best utilizing the talents of that meritocracy. Steve Jobs, despite his Buddhist principals and general liberalism, was strongly influenced by Rand's romantic world view of visionaries creating technology as a form of art, if not her particular philosophy.
If Lasch and the Toefflers are right about the decline of the nation-state, then what result for less talented individuals like myself who are, by definition, more tied the nation-state?
Well the historical precedents are fairly dire. In late Roman times, the urban poor, fleeing chaos in the cities and the end to the "Bread and Circuses" system, found themselves legally bound to the soil.
But . . . .
If de-massification has damaged the lot of the less talented, it also provides opportunity. If government and employers are exiting the provision of health benefits, for example, then groups of individuals can join together to do this, as Sara Horowtz has been trying to do with The Freelancers' Union.
If a Federal system of social welfare is unacceptable due to its high costs and mediocre results, then state-charitable systems of social welfare (as in Utah), that are far cheaper and more effective may become the new model.
In short, while the shift to an individualistic world, predicated on talent may disproportionally hurt the less talented, it may also offer them an opportunity to discover their talents.