By Arnold Kling
Here is an idea I am playing with. It is about two systems for obtaining, retaining, and enforcing status. I need to come up with names for the systems.
|How Status is||System A||System B|
This table is inspired by thinking about the question of why academics tend to lean left. What occurred to me is that they live in a system that is similar to the political system and different from the business system.
In the business system, your status comes from market acceptance. If the market likes your offering, you have high status. To hold onto that status, you must deal with competition. Ultimately, you have to accept the choices that consumers make.
In the other system, which applies to permanent government employees, teachers, and professors, status comes from credentials. You automatically get more money if you have a higher degree. You can acquire tenure, which insulates you from job loss. (During the recent recession, compare the rate of job loss among people in system A with that in system B.) Finally, you operate on the basis of authority. In government, you can force people to obey your edicts. In education, you can force students to take your courses–or, better yet, to pay your salary even though hardly any students enroll in your courses.
Health care has many System B characteristics. The leading Wall Street firms have a bit of System B going for them (I would not push this notion too hard). That is, they seem to value credentials (Ivy League graduates, former government officials), and they may enjoy government backing that insulates them from competition and choice to some degree.
System B is sometimes justified as appropriate for science. Supposedly, we want scientists to have credentials, to enjoy tenure, and to have their authority respected. Extend this thinking to “social science” and you have a justification for System B government, with rule by social science elites. However, science is not well served by System B (see William Byers’ The Blind Spot on the science of wonder vs. the science of certainty). And there is still a big difference between the physical sciences and the social sciences.
If you are a fan of System A, you face an issue with respect to System B. Do you try to work within that system, or do you try to remain outside of that system? One can make the case either way. However, my own inclination is to try to make government and education operate under System A. Hence, as skeptical as I am about something like Seasteading, I root for its success. I also root for entrepreneurial education efforts like the Khan Academy.