Saturday, February 23, 2013

Working for the Mandarin

By Robert H.

Oh boy, more misuse of historical analogy:

But I think that we are looking at something even deeper than that: the Mandarinization of America.  The Chinese imperial bureaucracy was immensely powerful. Entrance was theoretically open to anyone, from any walk of society—as long as they could pass a very tough examination. The number of passes was tightly restricted to keep the bureaucracy at optimal size.  Passing the tests and becoming a “scholar official” was a ticket to a very good, very secure life. And there is something to like about a system like this ... especially if you happen to be good at exams. Of course, once you gave the imperial bureaucracy a lot of power, and made entrance into said bureaucracy conditional on passing a tough exam, what you have is ... a country run by people who think that being good at exams is the most important thing on earth. Sound familiar?The people who pass these sorts of admissions tests are very clever. But they're also, as time goes on, increasingly narrow. The way to pass a series of highly competitive exams is to focus every fiber of your being on learning what the authorities want, and giving it to them. To the extent that the "Tiger Mom" phenomenon is actually real, it's arguably the cultural legacy of the Mandarin system.

To the state the obvious, there is a big difference between the ancient Chinese system, where the government selects elites by examination, and the American system, where the government and free market actors select elites by examination.  Most journalists are employeed by for profit organizations.  If all those organizations are hiring driven, smart grads from top universities, maybe those people make good employees.

Two caveats:

1.  Yes, via occupational licensing the government often requires that people have certain educational requirements, and that probably leads to over investment in education.  Maybe less than you would think, though: even in states that offer the traditional "go get on the job training" route to becoming a lawyer (California, for example), top law jobs are still staffed by top graduates from top schools.

2.  The basic point of that article is right, it *is* a real concern that low income children have difficulty cultivating the habits and resources needed to excel at these institutions.  But the solution is to subsidize and help them, not rail against institutions that seem to be providing an important market service.    Investing in future generations based on which children rich people love is a market failure, hiring Harvard grads is not.  Articles like this, which pretend that elite education is a scam foisted on America to create a ruling class, are stupid.

P.S.  Hat tip to Arnold Kling for the links.
P.P.S. Note that the second article exists firmly in the "we are obviously right, but we keep losing elections, therefor democracy is flawed" school of libertarian discourse.  It rails against one man one vote and, at the same time claims, our system is too oligarchic.  Awesome!  Fascist libertarians for the win!

No comments:

Post a Comment