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  • Summer Rerun: Jousting with a Phantom

    Posted by David Foster on July 19th, 2017 (All posts by )

    (Victor Davis Hanson’s recent piece, The Fifth American War, reminded me of this post.  I think it is crucially important to understand that many of those calling for ‘equality’ do not themselves have any interest in being merely equal, any more than Napoleon the Pig did in Orwell’s novel ‘Animal Farm’)

    Those people who call themselves “progressives” are talking a lot about equality and inequality these days. And conservatives/libertarians, in response, attempt to explain why “equality of outcomes” is infeasible and unwise.

    To a substantial degree, though, they/we are jousting with a phantom. Because leading “progressives” don’t really believe in anything resembling equality—indeed, quite the contrary.

    Consider, for example: Many people in “progressive” leadership positions are graduates of the Harvard Law School. Do you think these people want to see a society in which the career, status, and income prospects for an HLS grad are no better than those for a graduate of a lesser-known, lower-status (but still very good) law school? C’mon.

    Quite a few “progressive” leaders are members of prominent families. Do you think Teddy Kennedy would have liked to see an environment in which he and certain other members of his family would have had to answer for their actions in the criminal courts in the same way that ordinary individuals would, without benefit from connections, media influence, and expensive lawyers?

    The prevalence of “progressivism” among tenured professors is quite high. How many of these professors would be eager to agree to employment conditions in which their job security and employee benefits were no better than those enjoyed by average Americans? How many of them would take a salary cut in order to provide higher incomes for the poorly-paid adjunct professors at their universities? How many would like to see PhD requirements eliminated so that a wider pool of talented and knowledgeable individuals can participate in university teaching?

    There are a lot of “progressives” among the graduates of Ivy League universities. How many of them would be in favor of legally eliminating alumni preferences and the influence of “contributions” and have their children considered for admission–or not–on the same basis as everyone else’s kids? Yet an alumni preference is an intergenerational asset in the same way that a small businessman’s store or factory is.

    The reality is that “progressivism” is not in any way about equality, it is rather about shifting the distribution of power and wealth in a way that benefits those with certain kinds of educational credentials and certain kinds of connections. And remember, power and connections are always transmutable into wealth. Sometimes that wealth is directly dollar-denominated, as in the millions of dollars that former president Bill Clinton has been paid in speaking fees, or the money made by a former government official who leverages his contacts into an executive job with a “green” energy company–even though he may have minimal knowledge of either energy or business. And sometimes the wealth takes the form of in-kind benefits, like a university president’s mansion. (Those who lived in the old Soviet Union and Eastern Europe can tell you all about in-kind benefits for nominally low-paid officials.) And, almost always, today’s “progressivism” is about the transfer of power from individuals to credentialed “experts” who will coerce or “nudge” people to do with those experts have decided would be best.

    To a very substantial extent, the talk about “equality” is a smokescreen, conscious or unconscious, behind which “progressives” pursue their own economic, status, and ego agendas.

    Writing in 1969, Peter Drucker–who was born in Austria and had lived in several European countries–wrote about what he saw as a key American economic advantage: the much less-dominant role played by “elite” educational institutions:

    One thing it (modern society) cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain. A main reason for the technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale. These elite institutions may do a magnificent job of education, but only their graduates normally get into the command positions. Only their faculties “matter.” This restricts and impoverishes the whole society…The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim…
It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the strength of American higher education lies in this absence of schools for leaders and schools for followers.

    The “unwillingness of American society to accept this claim”…the claim of elite education as the primary gateway to power and wealth…has been greatly undercut since Drucker wrote. And “progressives” have been among the main under-cutters and the leading advocates for further movement in that direction.

    Related: Paying higher taxes can be very profitable.

     

    19 Responses to “Summer Rerun: Jousting with a Phantom”

    1. PenGun Says:

      “How many would like to see PhD requirements eliminated so that a wider pool of talented and knowledgeable individuals can participate in university teaching?”

      Good lord. Not me! Anti intellectuals are not what I learn from.

      If you can’t get a PhD then you teach and teach assist at the bachelor level. At least a Master’s degree is required to teach regular university and PhDs teach post grad.

      You want university to become a place you can teach _your_ political views. All I can say, and I’ve been avoiding this:

      “Small mammals that ate their eggs”.

    2. Dave Tufte Says:

      So if the “equality of outcomes” argument is not useful, what do you suggest?

    3. David Foster Says:

      Pen…are you now saying that absence of PhD makes on anti-intellectual?

      “At least a Master’s degree is required to teach regular university and PhDs teach post grad”…and do you think there is an array of evidence suggesting that those with Master’s and PhD are always or almost always better teachers than those without?

      I knew a guy who was an electrical engineer, who had been involved in several interesting & significant projects, who said he would like to teach college after retiring from his corporate engineering job, but was pretty sure he would not be allowed to do so given his lack of academic credentials. (Maybe he could have gotten some kind of minimum-wage adjunct type job, but doubt the typical university would have treated him with the respect his accomplishments deserved.) Indeed, he could not have even taught at most US public high schools…the operative credential in this case being an ed school degree rather than a PhD.

      Some years back Business Week reported on a shortage of doctorate-holding B-school faculty, resulting in the terrifying proposition that *actual experienced businesspeople* would have to be hired to teach in these places. “Some educators say that quality will suffer if schools lean too heavily on “clinical” faculty; the practicing managers who give lectures to MBA students and undergraduates but generally offer little in the way of academic rigor…the practice could dilute the value of a business degree, essentially creating two classes of faculty–those who research and those who teach. Ultimately, it could attract the ire of Corporate America.”

      (yeah, right)

      Warren Bennis and James O’Toole pointed out that practical business experience is not highly valued in today’s B-school environment. While once, many years ago, the course in production management at MIT was taught by the manager of a nearby General Motors assembly plant, “Virtually none of today’s top-ranked business schools would hire, let alone promote, a tenure track professor whose primary qualification is managing an assembly plant, no matter how distinguished his or her performance.” Indeed, they remark that “Today it is posible to find tenured professors of management who have never set foot inside a real business, except at customers.”

      None of this has much to do with the political argument being made by Pen.

    4. PenGun Says:

      It’s not a political argument. There are all kinds of schools, universities are at the top of the academic path. There are colleges that fulfill more direct teaching of various specialties and trade schools that teach trades.

      A serious university will be respected world wide and their credentials, simply passing exams really, are also accepted world wide. I understand you don’t like credentials, I do. You will find the talented people in any field just accumulate them as they go. The less talented have to work a little harder. Those that cannot gain them should probably not teach.

      To need universities to drop their standards to fulfill your political aims is a dinosaur move.

    5. David Foster Says:

      Pen…”I understand you don’t like credentials, I do. You will find the talented people in any field just accumulate them as they go.”

      I have a great deal of practical experience in hiring and managing talented people across a wide range of disciplines. Some are highly-credentialed, some are not. Most top-quality people are not credential-obsessed, although they may be forced to obtain such credentials by the pressures in their field, which are much stronger in some fields than in others.

      I recommend reading the education-related parts of Taleb’s ‘Antifragile’.

    6. Brian Says:

      “The PhD Octopus” by William James is the relevant text for this discussion:
      https://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Pajares/octopus.html

      “Some years ago, we had at our Harvard Graduate School a very brilliant student of Philosophy, who, after leaving us and supporting himself by literary labor for three years, received an appointment to teach English Literature at a sister-institution of learning. The governors of this institution, however, had no sooner communicated the appointment than they made the awful discovery that they had enrolled upon their staff a person who was unprovided with the Ph.D. degree. The man in question had been satisfied to work at Philosophy for her own sweet (or bitter) sake, and had disdained to consider that an academic bauble should be his reward.

      His appointment had thus been made under a misunderstanding. He was not the proper man; and there was nothing to do but inform him of the fact. It was notified to him by his new President that his appointment must be revoked, or that a Harvard doctor’s degree must forthwith be procured.”

    7. Brian Says:

      “I understand you don’t like credentials, I do. You will find the talented people in any field just accumulate them as they go. The less talented have to work a little harder. Those that cannot gain them should probably not teach.”

      Spoken like someone completely and entirely unfamiliar with the modern academy. Possessing a PhD merely means that you completed a doctoral program. Sure, you must have cleared some lower bounds on competency, intelligence, etc., but you can establish that someone does the same through a 5 minute conversation. It really just means you were persistent enough and fortunate enough to finish your dissertation, and that’s it.

    8. PenGun Says:

      “It really just means you were persistent enough and fortunate enough to finish your dissertation, and that’s it.”

      That’s a problem for you? That you might have to finish what you started. I think that’s a fine filter for those who will teach.

    9. Brian Says:

      You are very ignorant.

      I actually have a PhD. I know many people who do not, often because their advisors were psychopaths, or other issues that have nothing to do with their desire or ability to finish what they started.

      You are a silly foolish nothing.

    10. David Foster Says:

      DaveT…”So if the “equality of outcomes” argument is not useful, what do you suggest?”

      To solve what problem?

      Do you know anybody that *really* believes in full “equality of outcome?”…the same income and the same status, the same desirability of mate, *regardless* of level of effort or actual accomplishments?

    11. Mike K Says:

      PenGun has been given excessive deference in this comment thread. Ignoring him is best.

      “what he saw as a key American economic advantage: the much less-dominant role played by “elite” educational institutions:”

      This is exactly what Charles Murray has been writing about, if any students in left wing colleges would listen.

      His concerns about “assortive mating” has to do with “elite schools’ that have become coed and the graduates marry each other and practice typical Bourgeois virtues while advising the poor to do otherwise.

      I don’t know what to do about it as fake credentials like PhDs in “Gender Studies” are no doubt great indicators of competence to Pennie.

    12. David Foster Says:

      Speaking of mating, assortive and otherwise….a few years ago, CB commenter and occasional author Margaret excerpted one of Kipling’s lesser-known poems….the context of the poem being a proposal (circa 1890) by the then-new German Kaiser for an expanded social-welfare system, ideally to encompass other European countries in addition to Germany and to limit “destructive competition” in industry while leveling-out wages and thereby help the poorest of the working classes.

      Here’s the whole poem:

      Link

      “You can lighten the curse of Adam when you’ve lifted the curse of Eve”…

      Translated into modern and unpoetic terminology, Kipling seems to be saying that female hypergamy drives male competitiveness, and you can’t level out the second unless you somehow eliminate the first.

    13. PenGun Says:

      “You are a silly foolish nothing.”

      Indeed! But I do understand this fact, while most believe they are some kind of hero.

    14. Mike K Says:

      PenGun is a classic troll. Since I have been reading this blog he has gone from garbage collector to a computer programmer.

      Fantasy is not reality.

    15. PenGun Says:

      Well hardly computer programmer. I can write C but poorly. My website, click on my name is entirely written by me though. You can go look at it and laugh if you want. It’s actually there. ;)

    16. Anonymous Says:

      Pass. No PhD.

      Death6

    17. PenGun Says:

      My specialty was backends. My front end stuff is amateur. A simple CCS based vanity site is all it is.

    18. Brian Says:

      Haha. You mean CSS, perfesser.

    19. PenGun Says:

      LOL.