Arnold Kling  

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Ben Casnocha dug up a James Fallows piece from 1985 on entrepreneurialism vs. credentialism. Fallows writes,


Nowhere is the tension between the two cultures, the entrepreneurial and the professional, more evident at the moment than in American business. At just the time when American business is said to need the flexibility and the lack of hierarchy that an entrepreneurial climate can create, more and more businessmen seem to feel that their chances for personal success will be greatest if they become not entrepreneurs but professionals, with advanced educational degrees...

For the middling rank of dislocated merchants, craftsmen, and semi-professionals, the most promising route to security was to enhance the prestige of their occupations. Through the nineteenth century "anyone with a bag of pills and a bottle of syrup could pass for a doctor," as Wiebe put it; many doctors were socially ill-regarded beings, with earnings that fluctuated wildly and were chronically below those of businessmen. Lawyers, teachers, and engineers had similar problems. But a more complicated society had more demand for technical skills, and in the decades after the civil War nearly every group now thought of as "professional," from lawyers to librarians to accountants to mechanical engineers, organized itself in an attempt to raise its standards and its status.

On another topic, and in a much more recent article, Terry Michael writes,

Democrats need to free themselves from the AFL-CIO, K Street, DuPont Circle, share-the-wealth wing of the party and run to the center on money matters, while passionately playing to their base on social issues and vigorously pursuing a non-interventionist foreign policy.

That is precisely the opposite of what happened in the first year of the Obama administration.

Of course, Michael is a libertarian arguing that the Democratic Party needs to be more libertarian. I think that the anti-libertarian bias among Democrats runs much deeper than a few interest groups. I think that the intellectual core of the Democratic Party is the Progressive movement, with its belief in social science and expertise as tools for making public policy. How can you trust the market, when your economic science tells you that there are market failures everywhere, and technocratic expertise can fix them?


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COMMENTS (4 to date)
W.M. writes:

How can you trust the government, when your economic science tells you that there are technocratic failures everywhere, and market mechanisms can fix them?

manuelg writes:

W.M.:

> How can you trust the government, when your economic science tells you that there are technocratic failures everywhere, and market mechanisms can fix them?

That is bad form, W.M. Didn't you get the memo? We redefined "market failure" into being a subset of governance failure.

http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2010/01/market_failure_4.html

In a related note, I am unilaterally redefining martial infidelity with the babysitter into being a subset of forgetting to buy items on my wife's grocery shopping list.

hhoran writes:

This is a fundamentally flawed political analysis.

"the AFL-CIO, K Street, DuPont Circle" crowd is the Corporatist wing of the Democratic party, it is not the "social-democratic" or "progressive" wing.

There is no "progressive intellectual core" of the Democratic party, any more than there is a "libertarian intellectual core" to the Republicans. Both parties are totally controlled by their Corporatist core constituencies while the fringe wings come along for historical and tribal reasons or simple inertia. The progressive Dems and libertarian GOPers who think they can seize control of their party's agenda are deluded, and are only entrenching the Corporatists.

GU writes:
"For the middling rank of dislocated merchants, craftsmen, and semi-professionals, the most promising route to security was to enhance the prestige of their occupations. . . Lawyers . . . had similar problems."

Mr. Fallows is not quite correct re: lawyers. Most of this country's Founders were both prestigious and lawyers. It was common for rich, well-educated men to be lawyers at the time of the country's founding. The U.S. inherited its legal system from England. Lawyers in England (Barristers, at least) were entitled to the rank of Esquire. Sure, there were bad, nonprestigious lawyers in the U.S., but overall law has always been—until recently—a prestigious profession.

Fallows notes that most states did not require lawyers to attend law school until around WWI. While technically true, almost all lawyers worked as apprentices to other lawyers for years before striking off on their own as "real" lawyers. Law school as prerequisite to bar membership made lawyer's formative years more uniform, but the idea that in the past, one day a person could decide to be a lawyer, and was able to do so in most places, is false.

But Fallows' point about credentailism is valid. In law, credentials are everything—especially since the client can rarely judge the lawyer's performance on the legal merits.

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