Credentialism

A couple of articles have stuck in my mind recently. This one argues that safety-first playgrounds are counter-productive.

The research also suggested that claims (made by the manufacturers who had lobbied for stricter safety standards in the first place) that injuries had decreased overall thanks to the new play equipment may have been incorrect and that total injuries may have actually risen due to the illusory perception of a danger-free zone. Either way, researchers agreed that mastering challenges, negotiating risks, and overcoming fears were critical to healthy play.

It seems to me that a lot of organisational processes can be like this, where there are feedback loops that incentivise over-regulation.

I’ve long felt this has applied in the world of education. Death by degrees is a great polemic on the subject.

…systems of accreditation do not assess merit; merit is a fiction created by systems of accreditation. Like the market for skin care products, the market for credentials is inexhaustible: as the bachelor’s degree becomes democratized, the master’s degree becomes mandatory for advancement. Our elaborate, expensive system of higher education is first and foremost a system of stratification, and only secondly?—?and very dimly?—?a system for imparting knowledge.

It goes on to look at the flows of money this sets up in the US:

Student debt in the United States now exceeds $1 trillion. Like cigarette duties or state lotteries, debt-financed accreditation functions as a tax on the poor. But whereas sin taxes at least subsidize social spending, the “graduation tax” is doubly regressive, transferring funds from the young and poor to the old and affluent. The accreditors do well, and the creditors do even better. Student-loan asset-backed securities are far safer than their more famous cousins in the mortgage market: the government guarantees most of the liability, and, crucially, student loans cannot be erased by declaring bankruptcy.

Bonus link: Bill Zimmerman argues that we’re heading for a tipping point on this one

Will 400,000 unemployed college graduates all meekly accept unpaid internships or flip hamburgers at minimum wage to pay off impossibly burdensome debt? No.

Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan

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