creeping institutionalization

Socialization is something homeschoolers like to talk about.  And it is always an interesting topic. It is a big and impersonal word for a process that was face-to-face and observable in traditional societies.

The Fact of Groupthink
I had a chance to re-read Elizabeth Warren's wonderful post What is a Fact? - Credit Slips, widely circulated within the blogosphere.  I am a Warren fan; I really liked her books and I am always happy to see mother-daughter teams (Warren and her daughter worked on the The Trap of the Two-Income Family, a book that caught my eye as a homeschooling mom.) From the post, an account of a classroom experience teaching law students at Harvard:
They were smart and sophisticated in their arguments, but the bottom line was that they "proved" the fact of lower costs deductively by appyling what they saw as immutable economic principles. ...

What struck me, and the reason I bring it to this group, is how these very bright students seemed to believe that deductive logic produced a "fact" that they could not or would not challenge. Perhaps my class was abberational, but it made me wonder about how we are educating our students, both before and during law school. Is it all about deduction, with nothing left over for reality?

I speculate that my contracts class includes several future law teachers and future policy makers, many future community leaders and a lot of future voters. If the deductive logic of economics is all-controling, then empirical work--indeed, empirical questions--will always remain at the intellectual and political margins.The class reminded me that empirical scholarship is important, but empirical teaching may be more important. These students are our future.
But re-reading this post recently, I thought that the lack of empiricism she discusses might be an effect of excessive institutionalization or too much time in large, artificial social settings. As the number of years of schooling has increased, the activities and practices that tied young people to the real world have also declined. When compulsory attendance laws were first put in place, the majority of Americans lived on farms and the years in school were far shorter. Now we spend many, many years in institutional settings and young people have far less experience with realities outside the literacy-focused factories.

Manipulation by Incentives
I also read a short piece by James Kwak on health care incentives that don't work and it seemed as though the same effect as that identified in Warren's class was at work.  There has been a reliance on beliefs about what makes policies and people work rather than an insistence on the fieldwork of  gathering data and looking at what actually could be done.
Another way of looking at the problem is to note that there is no one who is trying to brings costs down directly. Sure, insurers try to do it, but they do it through the types of monetary incentives that economists love: higher copays, lower payments for various procedures, etc. But that’s not actually what most companies do when they have a cost problem. If you run an auto company and it’s costing too much to build a car, you don’t lower the transfer price that you pay to that factory and let incentives solve the problem. You go and figure out what the problem is and you engineer a solution, whether by redesigning the manufacturing process, reengineering the product to use cheaper parts, negotiating lower wage costs, negotiating lower input costs, or something else. That’s how you solve most problems in the business world — not by tweaking some clever incentive scheme.
Incentive schemes are manipulations of people of a rather low-level that oversimplify problems and oversimplify people.  Incentives seem to be remote methods of exercising control as opposed to actual problem solving and direct intervention. This one might stem from too much time spent assuming the nonsense of grading is somehow meaningful.  After all, every child is exposed to grading for a very long time now.

Both of these issues -- over-reliance on deductive half-truths and belief in a reward system -- are accompanied by an unwillingness to directly interact or intervene that could be attributed to the social impact of mass, coerced schooling that extends now 12-16+ years.  That experience will affect us somehow no matter what grades we get or what classes we take.  And because it is all so similar, the factory model is universal, there should be some pretty big effects felt across the board.

Do students like Warren's become the regulators Kwak discusses?

Who Knew?
Incentives derive their contemporary meaning from the Second World War:
incentive  
early 15c., from L.L. incentivum , noun use of neut. L. adj.incentivus "setting the tune" (in L.L. "inciting"), from stem ofincinere "strike up," from in- "in, into" + canere "sing" (see chant). Sense influenced by association with incendere "to kindle." The adjective use, in reference to a system of rewards meant to encourage harder work, first attested 1943 in jargon of the U.S.war economy; as a noun, in this sense, from 1948.  American Psychological Association (APA):  incentive. (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved March 25, 2011, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/incentive

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