Word of the Day – Reynolds’ Law and Murray’s Third Law
August 31, 2013 1 Comment
I havenâ€™t been blogging much lately, because I havenâ€™t had many thoughts that havenâ€™t been better expressed elsewhere. But I have to draw attention to a remark of Glenn Reynolds, which seems to me to express an important and little-noticed point:
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, weâ€™ll have more middle-class people. But homeownership and college arenâ€™t causes of middle-class status, theyâ€™re markers for possessing the kinds of traits â€” self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, etc. â€” that let you enter, and stay, in the middle class. Subsidizing the markers doesnâ€™t produce the traits; if anything, it undermines them.
I dub this Reynoldsâ€™ Law: â€œSubsidizing the markers of status doesnâ€™t produce the character traits that result in that status; it undermines them.â€ Itâ€™s easy to see why. If people donâ€™t need to defer gratification, work hard, etc., in order to achieve the status they desire, theyâ€™ll be less inclined to do those things. The greater the government subsidy, the greater the effect, and the more net harm produced.
This law is thus a relative to Murrayâ€™s third law in Losing Ground, the Law of Net Harm: â€œThe less likely it is that the unwanted behavior will change voluntarily, the more likely it is that a program to induce change will cause net harm.â€ But Reynoldsâ€™ Law rests on a different and more secure foundation. It focuses on character as fundamental.
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