I see that Glenn Reynolds has restated “Reynolds’s Law” today, and I immediately thought of the out-of-control party culture that marks many public (and private) universities. For the uninitiated, Reynolds’s Law, succinctly stated, is: “Subsidizing the markers of status doesn’t produce the character traits that result in that status; it undermines them.” In other words:
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.
When you believe, simplistically, that college somehow equals success, then vacuuming more people into college just makes sense. Yet you’re vacuuming in real people, not stimulus-response lab rats. And many of these real people are quite unprepared for traditional workloads, unused to academic discipline, and — worst of all — almost completely uninterested in the pursuit of knowledge. So you dumb down standards to keep them in, ramp up their free time, and voila, you end up with testimonials like a parent told me about her child in a freshman dorm at a certain unnamed SEC school (hint: Roll Tide!): “She sometimes dodges puddles of vomit on her way to the bathroom and about half the nights can’t even stay in her own room because her roommate is entertaining any one of her various hook-ups.”
It’s hard to think of a better way to undermine values than pack thousands of young people in a small geographic area, place no meaningful study or work demands on their lives, teach them that traditional values imprison them, and then provide oceans of easy credit or taxpayer-provided grants. Laissez les bon temps rouler!