On Reynolds’ Law


Philo of Alexandria has a thoughtful post up on Reynolds’ Law (yes, that Reynolds). For those Gentle Readers unfamiliar with it, here is Reynolds’ Law.

The government decides to try to increase the middle class by subsidizing things that middle class people have: If middle-class people go to college and own homes, then surely if more people go to college and own homes, we’ll have more middle-class people. But homeownership and college aren’t causes of middle-class status, they’re markers for possessing the kinds of traits — self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, etc. — that let you enter, and stay, in the middle class. Subsidizing the markers doesn’t produce the traits; if anything, it undermines them.

Philo notes this:

Reynolds’ Law thus strikes at the heart of progressivism as a political ideology. Progressivism can’t deliver on its central promise. In fact, it’s guaranteed to make things worse in exactly that respect. It’s not that it sacrifices some degree of one good (liberty or prosperity, say) to achieve a greater degree of another (equality). That suggests that the choice between conservatism and progressivism is a matter of tradeoffs, balances, and maybe even taste. Reynolds’ Law implies that progressivism sacrifices some (actually considerable) degrees of liberty and prosperity to move us away from equality by undermining the characters and thus behavior patterns of those they promise to help.

Read the whole thing, but before you go, let me add a comment of two.

The Progressive approach stems from an ideology that can trace its ancestry back through the Enlightenment back to the Greek philosophers. Part of the foundation of this stream of thought is the idea that if one learns to think the right way then one will begin to act the right way.

Of course, Western civilization is deeply indebted to the ancient Greeks, but there is another ancient people to whom we own a similar debt for their foundational effect on Western Civ, the Jews, and there is a significant difference between the Hellenistic and Hebraic approaches to knowledge. While the ancient Greeks would advocate thinking our way to acting properly, the ancient Jews would tell us to start acting properly and that would, over time, lead to correct thinking. Practice self-discipline. Defer gratification. Save. Invest. Work.

Owning a trumpet didn’t make me a musician. Years of practice did.

4 thoughts on “On Reynolds’ Law

  1. I feel like this oversimplifies Greek thinking to a point. I’m fond of saying “I used to be a Liberal (or sometimes SoCon) until I read Aristotle.”
    The point there is that, Aristotle made a good argument that virtue has to be lived, if you reduce it down to mere laws and duties (as in Kant) it no longer is virtue, but instead fear of punishment.
    The outcome in these two cases is markedly different. In the former (virtue) people are always working towards self-betterment (to achieve the goal of the ideal person) in the latter people are busy trying to to make sure they mearly adhere to the law and avoid punishment (and stagnation becomes inevitable.)
    Now granted this is an oversimplification of things, but it’s a point Alasdair MacIntyre makes in “After Virtue.” (He argues that once you reject Aristotle’s premises the only thing left is the inevitable collapse of morality into Nietschzism.)

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