Archive for August 15, 2012

Saving Dysfunctional Institutions is an Impediment to Substantive Reform

August 15, 2012 2 comments

In some of my previous posts, I have pointed out that most of the so-called “pillars of modern society” from schools, universities, healthcare systems, legal systems, law and order apparatus, elections etc have become pretty dysfunctional and full of perverse incentives. It certainly does not help that they seem to become more dysfunctional with each passing day. Now, I am not suggesting that these institutions had a golden past or were full of upright people, because they were always sorta sketchy. However they were not widely perceived as predominately predatory in nature.

Today a significant minority of people perceive these institutions to be predominantly predatory in nature. Whether this change in perception is driven by more transparency, better communication or an increase in their predatory activities is largely inconsequential. The far more important issue concerns their ability to retain legitimacy in the minds of people.

Institutions that have lost legitimacy in the minds of more than a small percentage of the population are doomed.

While the speed of demise of any particular institution can vary considerably depending on a host of known and unknown factors, the end result is the same. When faced with increasing institutional dysfunction most people call for, and support, reforms to fix the problems. However history suggests that the vast majority of institutional reforms turn out to be ineffective or make the original problem worse. People usually blame nebulous things such as ‘human nature’ or the ‘decay of morality’ for reform failures. In my opinion, the real reasons are far more mundane but usually not discussed in ‘polite’ society.

Most human institutions, including the ‘noblest’ ones, are meant to benefit insiders at the expense of outsiders.

Most teachers have no interest in helping their students learn better or understand the subject being taught. They exist to carry out orders “from above” about what to teach, how to teach and how to test so they can continue to receive their bi-monthly paychecks. Universities do not exist to educate their students or encourage critical thinking. They exist so that an increasing number of administrators who pretend to increase efficiency can be gainfully employed, often at the expense of those who actually do actually educate. They increasingly sell an expensive and fraudulent dream to pump up their balance-sheets even if doing so requires scamming millions of people. Few people enter the medical profession for anything other than making loads of money and showing others that they are clever. They have no interest in providing affordable and beneficial care to their patients as doing so is against their interests. You can make far more money of a dying old person who suffers tons of treatment and misdiagnosed induced complications than you could ever make by acting in the best interest of their patient. The legal profession is seldom concerned with protecting the exploited from the exploiters as there is far more money teaming up with the exploiter to help him exploit other more systematically. Law and order has little interest in helping the average person as doing so more than occasionally carries little financial perks. Acting as the hired goons of ‘elites’ and helping support and enforce laws that incarcerate more people is however far more lucrative. Many people who live in democracies express some surprise when they hear about elected officials acting in the interest of their corporate masters, but what else can one expect from small-time sociopaths who get off on some power and crave money?

The reality is that many institutions in our society from school and universities to the medical and legal profession are not reformable because any significant degree of reform would destroy a very profitable business model. Similarly, expecting cops and politicians to do what they are supposed to do runs contrary to the real reason for their existence. That is not to say we cannot have far less dysfunctional versions of these institutions. However doing so requires dismantling the current version and business model of such institutions, and such efforts will be vigorous resisted by those who profit from them. Then again, there is a reason why wars and genocides often make things better in the medium to long run.

What do you think? Comments?