We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Ideas have consequences

My favourite bit in the Eagleton piece that Natalie links to below is this:

British universities, plundered of resources by the bankers and financiers they educated, …

Does it not occur to Eagleton that perhaps the British universities that all these wicked bankers and financiers attended educated them rather badly? While at university, Britain’s future financial elite were taught to accept a false view of the economic world. Now this elite “plunders” (as in “cuts the government grants of”) its educators.

The educators educated the elite. The elite screwed up horribly, and now the educators are getting screwed themselves. The educators are appalled at this terrible ingratitude, this horrible injustice. What have they done to deserve this? I say: quite a lot. You teach financially ruinous ideas. The people you taught them to turn round and ruin you. I say: it serves you right. I say: that’s just about the most perfect punishment there could be for what you have been doing.

My only worry is that things are actually not as bad as Eagleton says, and that Britain’s universities are in fact not being punished nearly enough for the financial ruin that they did so much to unleash upon the rest of us.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VK

9 comments to Ideas have consequences

  • In my experience as someone who attended one of Britain’s elite universities, my experience is that the universities are still devoting a lot of time into attempting to shame the bankers and financiers that remain into giving them money.

    The issue though isn’t the financial resources but the intellectual resources. The generally left wing academics openly invited government to come and nationalise the ancient universities, essentially. This happened, and with it came a lot of modern management speak, top-down management by non-academics, and immense amounts of bureaucracy. The academics have since then complained endlessly about all this stuff (and as with all government interference and bureaucracy, it got way worse under Labour) without seeming to understand that this is just what government does: the problem is the government funding and the control that comes with it per se. And of course, it leads to the temptation for researchers to play government politics as ways of advancing their careers, which corrupts some research. (There is still much good non-corrupted research done in British universities, but the trend is in the wrong direction).

    If there were massive cuts to university related bureaucracy, this would be good, but this isn’t how it happens. The cuts are done be other bureaucrats, and they protect their own.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Finally, the teachers learn what their ex-students really think of them! They were not uninformed about the consequences at all- they just hate their old universities!

  • Paul Marks

    The academics signing up for this new college are a mixed bag – some good, some bad.

    However, I predict that the old rule will apply (I say “old rule” because I once mistakingly thought it was invented by Ann Coulter – only to have it pointed out to me that it had been said by various people before this lady was even born) “any institution not explicitly supportive of private property and rolling back the state will end up under the control of the collectivists”.

    In short – if both sides are involved in something, their side will win control (they are just better at committee work and general “office politics” than we are – and this is not an accident, although I am not going to go into the details about why this is so).

    Of course, in this case, the above is a very safe prediction – as the lead man in the enterprise is a leading leftist (and he will certainly have no problems with taking control – after all he is admirer of the American “Pragmatist” school of philosophy which held/holds that there is no such thing as objective truth, and that any means are justified to achieve one’s objectives).

    People who cooperate with such a man almost deserve what the shafting they are going to get.

    It will indeed be a British version of an Ivy League college – with the same political agenda (foster a wealthy elite – but make sure they have collectivist political opinions) since the days when such men as Richard Ely (not an Ivy League man for most of his life – before someone points that out) and Woodrow Wilson first started to take over American higher education – with their objective of making their students “as unlike their fathers as possible” and turning America into a version of Imperial Gemany – accept without any of the traditional limits and bars on Progressive development that pre 1914 Germany still had.

    Still it is nice to see one leftist (Prof E.) slag off another leftist (Prof G.).

  • RAB

    My A levels were History, Economics and English. There were only 9 of us in the Economics class and our teacher an exceptionally able man. We were taught what was, and still is, the authodoxy, Keynesianism.

    But like I said, our teacher was a very good man, so he taught us about the Austrian School too, but , almost looking over his shoulder whilst doing so, in case anyone was listening, he said…

    For Christ’s sake don’t put any of this in your exam paper boys, or they’ll fail you!

  • CayleyGraph

    This sort of thing makes me ashamed to teach calculus at a college level.

    OK, that looks like a bit of a change in topics. Let me explain why I connect the topics:

    It is my understanding that Keynesian economics relies heavily on mathematical and statistical models which are logically consistent, but which do not describe the phenomena they are purported to describe. So, making decisions about an economy based on Keynesian economics would be like making decisions about a battlefield based on tactics derived from playing Dungeons and Dragons.

    In any useful study of mathematical modeling, one has to consider the question, “Given a sentence describing elements or sets in the model, is the truth of that sentence equal to the truth of the same sentence applied to the real-world phenomenon?” at some point. However, most of the time the answer to that question is either “more-or-less” or “yes, but…” because of various inherent properties of mathematical models. I’d love to see somebody discuss how the “knowledge problem” mentioned by various libertarian philosophers is related to Rice’s Theorem in computable model theory.

    The problem comes when people take conclusions based on models which aren’t perfect analogues of the phenomena they’re supposed to be modeling, and then act as if these conclusions have the full truth of mathematics and logic behind them. If the problems with the model aren’t yet apparent, people are convinced that potentially false conclusions are true. Once the problems with the model become apparent, people think that mathematics or logic are irrelevant to the question.

    There are at least two reasons why calculus teachers like myself are part of the problem.

    The first is the fact that in many cases, the disconnect between the models and the phenomena isn’t obvious at first. So, we’re happy to use them as examples to try to get students to learn about the properties of the models by comparing them to naive ideas they have about the phenomena. Pointing out all of the technical problems with the models would add a lot of time to the lecture, creating more material that the teacher has to prepare and more material that the student has to understand. The fact that we hope that students will be more interested in the models if they can be connected to phenomena the students already like is also part of this.

    The second problem is that just about every logical model you can think of can be embedded into statements about the real numbers, but very few of the properties covered in calculus will apply to those models. The standard example is that stock prices aren’t really continuous as a function of time — I recall seeing a quote like, “Any financial strategy that assumes that, if a stock is currently priced at $600 and is going to fall to $400, then the stock will at some point be priced at $500, will fail” — but there are all sorts of properties assumed of the functions and sets studied in calculus that aren’t true for general functions and sets of real numbers. Despite this, it is my understanding that most people who study phenomena using mathematical models don’t take classes that cover the pathologies of the models themselves.

    I realize that there’s a lot of assumptions stuffed into the things I’ve said above, so perhaps it’s not as bad as I think. After all, I haven’t been teaching calculus for very long, so I don’t have a broad view of the field.

  • Laird

    “So, making decisions about an economy based on Keynesian economics would be like making decisions about a battlefield based on tactics derived from playing Dungeons and Dragons.”

    Wonderful line, CayleyGraph, I may “borrow” it sometime!

    I don’t really disagree with the rest of your post, but I think you’re overly hung up on “errors” in the model when the real problem is that an economy just isn’t susceptible to meaningful modelling, period. It’s far too complicated, there are far too many unknowns (actually, “unknowables”), and any mathematical model necessarily makes so many simplifying assumptions as to render it useless for any real-world application. While such a model might be a useful tool for helping to understand tiny, discrete pieces of economic activity (in an introductory undergraduate economics course, for instance) it cannot ever stand for an entire economy.

    And that’s the problem not merely with Keynesiansm but with modern economics as a whole. They have attempted to quantify it, to reduce it to precise and comprehensible mathematical formulae; in short, to make economics into a hard science. Which it is not, and cannot ever be. Economics is a branch of human psychology which studies behavior under certain types of circumstances. Economics is a “social science” and hence fundamentally nonquantifiable.

  • RAB

    Spot on Laird. Economics is described as the dismal science, and as such barely scientific at all. I loved the theory and kinda thought of doing it as a degree, but was advised by our teacher that at degree level it had become very maths and statistics driven, so as my Maths was average at best, I decided to do Law instead.

    Heh, I remember one of our earliest lessons when the fictional “Perfect Market” had been described and then we moved on to Monopoly and how bad it was.

    Well I put my hand up and said…

    Sir, last week you described the perfect market that doesn’t really exist except for a kind of basic theorem, now you are telling us that monopolies are really bad for competition, productivity and prices… Well sir arn’t Nationalised industries, which are obviously monopolies, very very bad for the country?

    He stared at me for a minute( this was occuring in The Socialist Republic of South Wales circa 1969) then chuckled and said…

    I have a feeling you are going to do well at this subject boy!

  • CayleyGraph

    I’m glad you liked the quote, Laird. Use it however you like.

    I actually think there is a meaningful way to approach human psychology with mathematical methods, albeit one that’s not yet developed. The methods that I expect to be invented would be based on those used for studying non-computable functions and sets. It’s a fascinating subject, which I recommend to anybody who accepts the Church-Turing Thesis and believes that artificial intelligence is possible.

  • To sum it all up, the logic is fine, it’s the premises that are wrong.