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.

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.


  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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