Reynolds’ Law explains why we should not subsidize college for all

by Grace

“Subsidizing the markers of status doesn’t produce the character traits that result in that status; it undermines them.”


Glenn Reynolds explains why taxpayer-subsidized college education (and home ownership) for all is not a good use of our money.

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.

Megan Mcardle expresses a similar sentiment.

 “it’s all too common for well-meaning middle class people to think that if the poor just had the same stuff we do, they wouldn’t be poor any more (where ‘stuff’ includes anything from a college education to a marriage license to a home). But this is not true. . . . If poor people did the stuff that middle class people do, it’s possible–maybe probable–that they wouldn’t be poor. But this is much harder than it sounds.”

In a previous post I noted that it is not the college degree in and of itself that causes college-educated women to marry at higher rates.

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3 Responses to “Reynolds’ Law explains why we should not subsidize college for all”

  1. I didn’t see his argument being that there should be no subsidies, just more selective. Giving all this taxpayer money to individuals unprepared for higher education doesn’t make sense, and I agree that it ends up undermining the lofty objectives.

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  2. So maybe we need to be able to discern better which students have the traits to succeed and only subsidize them. I do think there should be some screening beyond what’s already done (almost none) before aid is given.

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