Friday, March 25, 2011

Reynold's Law and Christchurch

Reynold's law (bolded in the quote below) is one of those delightful discoveries that one stumbles across. Reynolds argued that societies often fail to understand the drivers of success and conflate its accidents with its essence. So when they want more of the essence they invest in more of the accidents.

The government decides to try to increase the middle class by subsidizing things that middle class people have: If middle-class people go to college and own homes, then surely if more people go to college and own homes, we’ll have more middle-class people. But homeownership and college aren’t causes of middle-class status, they’re markers for possessing the kinds of traits — self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, etc. — that let you enter, and stay, in the middle class. Subsidizing the markers doesn’t produce the traits; if anything, it undermines them.

One hopes against hope that, in rebuilding Christchurch, Reynold's Law is duly observed. After all, it's not hard to guess that, in order to rebuild in the first place, the efforts of builders, quarrymen, drivers, surveyors, engineers, geologists, welders, foundrymen, miners and roofers, are going to count just a tad more than those of aromatherapists, journalists, garage bands, kapa haka morris dancers, or barista.

But a glance at what's being churned out of our Places of Higher Learning, at great unit cost and a swingeing student loan burden to add to the frisson, and one must temper one's hopes with reality. As another of Reynolds' pithy references has it, the Higher Education Bubble is in full swing.
"...setting aside the technical professions (medicine, engineering, etc.) the cost of a bachelor’s degree is exploding just as its value in the marketplace is declining"

And a more sobering appraisal here...

Because, talking of subsidizing markers rather than building traits, our glorious Christchurch City Council has had an excellent track record of subsidizing stadia, community development advisers, flower festivals, and assorted other accidents.

One hopes aginst hope that Learning will Occur.

But the CCC tends to an Absence of Essence.