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This blog is primarily for me to blog my responses to books that I'm reading. Sometimes I blog about other stuff too, though.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The scribbling classes

I just finished a chapter titled "Scribe, Writer, and Rebel", in which Hoffer observes that writing pre-dated literature by centuries in most societies.  The first writings that archaeologists have found were generally commercial or administrative in nature--ledgers of accounts and taxes and harvests and whatnot.  Essays and literature came later.  His argument is that the literate classes were happy to serve as functionaries of government and business, without seeking creative outlets (at least in written form) until later.  He also notes that early outpourings of literature seem to coincide with times of political upheaval.  Not being familiar with the historical record on this, I am going to take him at his word for the sake or argument, and explore the sociological point that he makes.

Near the end of the chapter, he argues that producing a mass of scribes (or people with the modern equivalent in formal academic training) without prospects for employment suited to their credentials (which are distinct from their talent) is bad for social stability.  I think I agree with that.  He also argues that since historically the educated classes were involved in keeping ledgers and records, the expansion of planning bureaucracies is a natural consequence of a surplus of educated people.  I think that is a very tempting explanation for the explosion of administrivia in many aspects of modern life, particularly in state-subsidized sectors like medicine and education.  I particularly like this line:
Obviously, a high ratio between the supervisory and the productive force spells economic inefficiency.  Yet where social stability is an overriding need, the economic waste involved in providing suitable positions for the educated might be an element of social efficiency.
There's so much I could say about bureaucratic fluff jobs at a university, and the need to absorb people...

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