Wednesday, June 17, 2009

what my Ivy education means to me -- III

I don't understand the piling on about this program, through which wealthy Harvard alums make interest-free micro-loans to current students.

In particular, I'm befuddled by the fuss about the dining hall comment. Some kids might not think that the dining hall job is as worthwhile a use of their time as other pursuits. Who am I to tell them that it isn't? Presumably Harvard students are as capable of making rational choices as anyone? Besides, some of the angry commenters seem to overlook the point that the recipients will have to pay the money back (even if they're not paying interest on the loan.) So they have every incentive not to borrow money for frivolous pursuits and only for more important goals. Maybe I'm unduly fiscally conservative, but I would have been deeply hesitant to borrow to finance anything that I wouldn't have considered truly worthwhile years down the line.

Not an economist here, but didn't Milton Friedman write something interesting on the efficiencies of under-consumption by the young? His argument was something to the effect of why you shouldn't save too much, but should instead make spending decisions in line with what your permanent income will be. Many Harvard undergrads have low current income, but can expect much higher permanent incomes. Isn't the loan scheme just responding to an inefficiency by letting these students live lives more in line with the permanent incomes they can expect?

Also, I admit I've never seen the alleged value of working in low-status jobs while young. I was a salesclerk in high school and in early college; I did hate being yelled at by customers and/or being called incompetent, lazy or stupid. Ditto listening to pontifications about what my lack of intelligence foretold about this country's future. What I took away from all of this was how to follow basic norms of not being a jerk to people, which I thought I'd mostly internalized anyway. Was there something else I was supposed to get out of the whole thing? Ditto community service, which I found similarly useless and uninspiring.

I may contradict what I wrote earlier today Very well then; I'll name check Whitman and say that I contain multitudes. I do tend to wonder if I got lucky because the city where I grew up was small enough that it's hard to pull off economic self-segregation. I wonder if abolishing zoning laws would go a long way toward making people interact more with people of different socioeconomic classes. And if replacing public schools with universal vouchers would encourage teenagers to interact more with people from different backgrounds and thus stop acting like entitled twits.

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