Cargo Cult Social Engineering

Glen Reynolds has a great observation on government social engineering.  I hadn't thought about it this way before, but in many ways government drives for things like home ownership are like a cargo cult

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


  1. Foxfier:

    Heh, a friend on facebook made a similar point-- calls it "sympathetic magic theories of education."

    Kids with goals do better? Let's make all the kids "set goals"-- see, we blocked out an hour to force them to sit down and tell us where they want to be in ten years! (I don't remember what I put, since my goal was to be a wife and mother, and they wouldn't accept that. Probably "teacher" or something.)

    Ten years later: gee, "kids" aren't fulfilling their goals! Gee, they're not doing the things they need to do to reach them-- let's set up annual checkups to make sure they're doing what they need to reach those goals!

  2. CTD:

    I swear I read the Reynolds post and immediately thought of Coyote.