Tuesday, June 14, 2011

In Defense of Trickle Down Policy

Milton Friedman noted the perverse change in direction in his lifetime:

I was able to go to [college in the 1930s] because . . . The state of New Jersey at that time offered scholarships on a competitive basis. Had a series of exams, and the people who succeeded in those exams and who could demonstrate financial need received free tuition at Rutgers . . . The tragedy is that the state of New Jersey in their new incarnation now has a similar program, but the qualification for getting a scholarship is below average academic quality . . . It typifies what's happened in our society. Instead of emphasizing strengthening the opportunities open to the able, we have tended increasingly to shift into a state of victims in which the emphasis is on raising the people at the bottom. Now, no social progress has ever come from the bottom up. It's always come from the top small number pulling up the society as a whole and raising it.

This from EducationNews, which has a nice timeline of the mortgage crisis, how it started with such good intentions, and many little milestones. Reversing the rewards structure to help those at the bottom hurts incentives, and doesn't help those at the bottom any more than my kid's 'participation trophies' help them gain self-esteem. It just encourages ever more intrusive policy on the theory that it merely wasn't sufficient.


John said...

I hate those participation trophies. When my kids cleaned out their rooms, they threw out awards they didn't work for and kept the ones that were competitive. I'm proud of them for knowing the difference. I just wish my wife and I could get back the portion of our fees that went for the participation trophies.

More to your point, the analog of participation trophies in higher education is no better.

Clarance Thomas complains bitterly in his autobiography about the low value of his Yale law degree. He says the degree was worthless to him because others assumed he was given it as an affirmative action participation trophy.

Patrick R. Sullivan said...

For want of a nail, a shoe was lost....

Steve Johnson said...

Ah, but if you're already well connected then reversing this policy is a great idea - fewer of those pesky intelligent but non-connected kids can compete with your own and as a bonus you get to sound "socially aware" or whatever the jargon is.

Pat Shuff said...

It's always come from the top small number pulling up the society as a whole and raising it.


Smart Fraction Theory