Arnold Kling  


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One of the issues that I have been thinking about since reading Coming Apart is segregation.

1. Where Bryan sees college as a useful signaling device for those who are cognitively gifted, I see it as a useful segregation device for the Vickies.

2. The segregation model predicts that as the society gets wealthier, the dollar cost of college will get higher. The signaling model would not necessarily predict that. In fact, it would predict that the market would try to find less expensive signals.

3. The segregation model predicts the emergence of institutions like Boston University and George Washington University, which require much more money than brains to attend, and yet which have fairly high prestige, considering.

4. I think that if either the utilitarian model or the signaling model of higher education were correct, I would be sure to collect on any bet I make with Bryan about the demise of colleges. If college as we know it manages to persist for another two decades, it will be thanks to the segregation model.

5. Vickies historically have needed thetes in order to have military power. Drone warfare might change that, which could make segregation even more viable.

6. Segregation sounds bad, but both Vickies and thetes may find it preferable. Maybe instead of "the American project" we will have the Vicky project and the thete project and, contra Murray, we will be none the worse for it. Integration would be more stressful.

7. In the world as a whole (but not necessarily in America), there will be plenty of upward mobility. There will be plenty of global Vickies with whom America's Vickies can affiliate.

8. Perhaps Mitt Romney's gaffe is actually an omen for the future.

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COMMENTS (6 to date)
chipotle writes:

Arnold, would it be possible for you to have a link back to a definition for "vickies?" I am an occasional Econlog reader--so I know that it refers to a book or a movie--but I forgot which one, so the point is lost on me.

I recall that I had not read the book or movie. Otherwise the post is very interesting!

David W writes:

If college is a segregation device for people of a work ethic, sexual control, self-restraint, thrift - why the heck does it cost so much and resemble a bacchanal? Wouldn't the old model college make a lot more sense for that purpose - directly testing your powers of thrift, self-control, and work ethic?

J Storrs Hall writes:

The new Aristoi (my term, not Murray's) differ from Victorians in one essential that I think is crucial to Murray's analysis. Victorians deployed stigma in massive force to nudge the lower classes toward their (own) virtues. Murray criticizes the Aristoi for failing to do so.

It seems likely that this is hypocrisy on the part of the Aristoi; they really do seem to look down on Fishtowners for things like smoking and being insufficiently green. Whether this develops into a new Victorian morality remains to be seen.

One thing that Murray fails to establish is whether the Aristoi are practicing the virtues as virtues or simply from superior individual foresight and self-control (i.e. simply because they are, by stipulation, cognitively superior). An Occam's-razor reading would hold that they do not in fact believe in the virtues as virtuous.

The next question is whether they believe in the PC virtues, the ones they do actually preach? Their revealed preference for segregation argues against it in at least that case. In other cases, the results (e.g. opportunity for women) is more in line with the talk.

H.G. Wells' Eloi were a caricature of the idle rich and the remains of the aristocracy of his day; but the degeneration of "human intelligence and vigour" due to being provided for without one's own effort appears to fit the new underclass better. To the extent this is true, there will not be a "thete project." Society will simply revert to the old 2-class model, with nobles and serfs.

Serfs were not militarily useful in this model -- the nobles were knights, and their function was fighting. The gun and the citizen army changed that, but technology can change again and it appears to be doing so.

Interesting times ahead.

J Storrs Hall writes:


Vickies and thetes both are from Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age.

Roger Sweeny writes:

I'm not sure quite how this relates ...

Thinking in Marxian terms, schooling seems to be a mechanism of social control in an interesting way. Most everybody in America gets the message that merit is directly related to schooling, I mean, education. Those with more schooling deserve, and should expect, better paying and more interesting jobs than people with less. At the low end of the scale, people who drop out of high school should be content with just about anything legal.

Thus, a leftie who cares about the poor can still feel good that she makes so much more than any of them if she has a college degree. At the same time, most people without college degrees will not think it is unfair to see job listings that say "college degree required" even if the job does not require anything specifically college-related.

This yoking of schooling and merit/deservedness is one reason well-off lefties are so emotional about affirmative action. At present, poor people and people of color are very underrepresented among people with diplomas. This lack of diplomas then keeps them from advancing economically. If you are a leftie who cares about the poor, that is awful. But if you can say, "We are making special efforts to get those people into college," your conscience can feel a lot better.

Roger Sweeny writes:


As it relates to Charles Murray's Coming Apart, Vickies are people who live by (even if they don't publicly espouse) certain Victorian virtues: consider, plan for, and work toward a future, deferring immediate gratification for future gain; work hard; don't get pregnant outside of marriage; provide for you kids by having a job, and teach them to also work hard, etc.

Bryan Caplan had an interesting post on this:

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