Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The compulsorary community.

This entry is a response to the Ross Gittins article "Let's not turn unis into shopping centres"

"Well we could start with the question of whether a university constitutes a 'community' with obligations to correct disadvantage for particular members - we could but we're not going to appearantly. In your entire article you don't provide a single iota of evidence that universities in general or in a particular case are, were or ought to be communities with such obligations. Since the implication they should is a large part of your article this ommission is either stupid or dishonest and you're not stupid. In fact there are several reasons why they shouldn't be.

1) Very few people in universities are related by blood, adoption or even marriage so one powerful aid to strong communities is missing.
2) Secondly universities have high turnover rates and thus few people with the ability to form long term relationships and trust neccessary for communities to function. It's true that relationships formed in university can last for decades and help form a community, but it's one that forms _outside_ the university.
3) Thirdly university students don't live in the same place thus making it harder to organise community events.
4) Universities have far more people in them than an individual could know. Even with an excellent memory and social skills one could have a moderately close relationship with only small percentage of the university staff and students.
5) Students already have large demands on their time and resources because they are heavily investing in human capital and thus have little left either to form a community or to provide for the "disadvantaged". Universities are supposed to encourage diversity because differing viewpoints are vital to developing new ideas and differing backgrounds help provide this. This diversity makes it harder to form relationships and agreements or get people to help each other since people are both more willing to and better at helping people like themselves. For agreements where diversity is sought the additional difficulty is a worthwhile expense. But I don't see any evidence that childcare is one of those, nor counselling. For I could not advise a Catholic who was having a crisis of faith, because I have no idea what a crisis of religious faith implies. I could learn but why should I when there are plenty of catholics who already know and are both willing and able to help? It's a bad use of resources even though the goal is worthwhile.
6) Universities are engaged in a complex task requiring specialist skills. Such tasks are usually best handled by organisations dedicated to those tasks alone to allow division of labour. This is not always the case but often. Pediatric Cardic units don't generally also perform earthquake relief.
7) The biggest argument against regarding universtities as being "communities" in your sense is the simpliest one, if they had to pay for it, people wouldn't do it. I;m not arguing that people won't provide counselling or child-care to the "disadvantaged" if given the choice, I'm arguing that they wouldn't do it through their universtity. Free market economics applies just as much to the production of communities as it does to the production of cheese, Nintendo machines, economics articles in the Sydney Morning Herald. If people want a community they are more than capable of constructing one without government coercion. Why it should suddenly be neccesary to give them free tertiary education to get them to do something they did for free for 5,000 years is beyond me. As is why a free counselling service availible only to students would have a comparative advantage over other free counselling services. Why discriminate on the basis of university entrance? From the point of view of "helping the disadvantaged" this doesn't make a lot of sense. The most in need of counselling are farmers and other people in professions with a high risk of suicide. It should be noted they are mostly male and university students mostly female. I don't say this is evidence of sexism in the provision of counselling services, but reading "The myth of male power" got me thinking in that direction.

You stated that "We happily define countries, states and council areas as communities and give them the power to tax.". Everything in that sentence is untrue. First of all I hate to speak for a minority I'm not a member of but "Who's we white man?". Before Australia was "defined as a community" there were plenty of people quite happily living in the communities they defined. They were far from happy with being included in the new institution without their foreknowledge or consent. By the way the institution is a nation-state not a community. There's an easy test, if a group is formed and maintained by violence then it's a State (capital s) if it's formed and maintained by consent it's a community. I would not be at all happy to define something as a State even if I had the opportunity (which neither I nor anyone I know ever will). Drawing a line on one side of which one group of thugs rules and on the other another is not work for which I have the talent or taste. Of course since the State was defined decades prior to my birth the point is moot. Then there's the phrase "give them the power to tax". It was given? That's strange I thought William the Bastard and his heirs and successors just took the damn thing. My memory of history is vague but I'm pretty sure it wasn't the Consultation of Hastings in 1066.

You ask if what universities do is "all that different" from what employers do. It is. Employers don't do it with my money but with their own. Employers bear the economic consequences of their economic decisions. Universities bear the economy consequences of the governments political decisions. Students don't choose universities on the basis of the student union but on how good the taxpayer funded education is. In effect taxpayers who never set foot in the universtity subsidise student union activities over which they have zero democratic control. Students not taxpayers in general decide how much is spent on maintaining "campus life" but taxpayers fund the benefit sold below cost to provide it. If government wants to fund some bizare, amoral, wasteful, homicidal and/or counterproductive enterprise* I can vote against them next election (and that's the plan). I cannot do the same for student unions.

You argue for "Ramsey pricing" but that's not what universities are doing.
The claim that voluntary student unionism will push up costs assumes that, by some economic miracle unknown in the history of the science government policy hit on exactly the right economics of scale. We don't and can't know what the results of free choice are. If we could we'd have exploited it and be millionaires, until we tried to do it again and stuffed up. As for reducing the choices availible that's what all taxes do. The difference between what is seen and unseen is that while the decrease in choice due to tax is invisible in this context the choices provided by the tax are not. To assert that there is a net loss of positive externalities is simply to assume away theose that would arise from students persuing the same goals different ways. Why is it that only goals persued with other people's money are said to have positive externalities? The arguement "the market will always undersupply positive externailities" is irrevelent unless someone else will do a better job of supplying them. It's also hardly a proven point. Markets have plenty of ways of supplying positive externalities, for instance mutual societies, charities, social pressure, business sponsorship of sporting teams etc. To argue that the market "always" undersupplies them is brave. Want to bet I can find a case where they don't? It is the statists who have a primitive, reductionist economic theory that ignores how positive externalities operate. In any case if university administrators believed that funding such activities would provide more benefits to their students or attract more full fee payers they can continue to fund them out of general revenue. This opposed by students because they have little faith that the benefits really justify the cost.

The arguement that universtities ought to be centres of "informal" learning is perhaps the weakest argument for CSU. Everywhere ought to be a centre for infromal learning, that doesn''t mean that taking money from another accomplishes that goal. In fact the net effect of subsiding such activiteis is to take away time (from people who have to workharder to pay taxes ) and people who are interested in these activities from the non-university sector. These are the two things most needed for informal learning. You haven't shown any increase in "informal learning" merely a transfer of such learning from most people to university students.

This explains why so many are fighting so that government by the uni students, of the uni students, for the uni students shall not perish from this land. It's an elitist fantasy that what is good for the chosen few benefit all. It's another that only people with degrees have something to contribute. Centreing the informal learning in university student societies feeds both myths and they feed it and all feed an elitist and centralist agenda. It is no coincidence that student societies are generally pro-centralisation. Even the so called "free market" advocates are the sort that suggest a freer market can best achieve government goals. Ironically however if I were to believe your contentions that a) university students gain most from extraciricula activities and b) most won't fund them I would have to believe they were kinda thick. Which demolishes the idea that it's a good thing to spend money teaching them anything. I do not believe that this is true (in general).

Of course the idea that we should thank CSU for all the poiticians, activists and sports stars depends on their services being worth of thanks. In the case of sports stars (you thought I was going for politicians didn't you?) I say it sin't. National sporting success creates national unity and identity, very bad and dangerous things. A collection of honest rational people is neither identical nor unified. Such qualities are only useful to tie us all to the same yoke. If you truly love your country you must prey for the defeat of it's athletes not just it's soldiers. If however you just like your sport then arranging sponsorship is (as I said previously) not hard.

The results of newspapermen being disproportionately from universities might be even more dangerous. Diversity of opinon is vital to democracy, so how many of these student editors or journos will come out for VSU? Or anything that tends to undermine the power of universities? Please don't misunderstand me, I suggest no conspiracy. I just think they (you) will act to secure that which helped them (you) , thinking that since it helped them it is generally helpful. It is impossible to know if it is without knowing what use would have been made of resources if they didn't go to universities. That which is seen and unseen agains comes into view.
The same thing that I've said about journos goes for actiivists and politicians too. Having them disproportionately come from taxpayer funded institutions distorts the debate on those institutions and probably all other taxpayer funded institutions as well.

There is a myth invented by arrogant thugs to perpetuate their rule that communities needs government help. In fact it's not even clear they need a government to exist. The ide athat the individualist philosophy is a threat to community ignores the fact that individuals created the communities in the first place for individualistic purposes. What these purposes is hazy, varied and diverse, but they had goals best satsified by the creation of a community so they made one. Groups formed by government don't tend to become communities to any great extent. Walk through a housing estate if you doubt me. To limit individual freedom for the sake of the community is self-defeating because the community interest is only a collection of private itnerests so limiting the freedom of members arbitrarily cannot serve it. It is of course possible for a net benefit to arise out of some limitations (e.g. prohibitions on alcohol in muslim communities or "dry camps", prohibitions on having girlfriends in a monastry). There is no reason to expect that government or other outside planners are better at spotting such opportunites than the community members themselves. They certainly has less motive to do so. The free market is better at creating communities just like it's better at creating for-profit firms, and for the same reason. We are better at judging our own interests than government.

* I am not refering here to the war in Iraq. Why would you think I was?

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