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Friday, April 09, 2010

The Shirky Principle

Clay Shirky (whose last book was great and whose next book looks fascinating) has a pithy saying that explains a lot about our world:

Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.

One part of his point is that as amateurs displace expert-run institutions and the frightened experts lash out, it often becomes clear that the experts have defined their own jobs in a way that makes it clear they will never actually fix the underlying issue. Generals win more medals by fighting wars than avoiding them, cable news journalists find it easier to invent muck than to rake it, drug companies would rather sell you a daily pill for life than one that cures you outright. When I saw Kevin Kelly's blog post on what he dubbed "the Shirky Principle," I knew he was on to something, and my mind started immediately turning to institutions closer to home. U.S. News, anyone? Legal education more generally?

What other institutions do we live with that are trapped in a codependent relationship with the problems they solve?

Posted by James Grimmelmann on April 9, 2010 at 09:53 AM in Culture | Permalink


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Placement in student-run law journals as a measure of scholarly quality?

Posted by: Scott Boone | Apr 9, 2010 11:15:18 AM

Ivan Illich said the same thing - perhaps not quite as pithily - nearly forty years ago in Deschooling Society.

Posted by: Bruce H. | Apr 9, 2010 1:04:29 PM

Casebook publishers.

Posted by: John Mayer | Apr 9, 2010 1:28:26 PM

All congressional committees.

Posted by: Anon | Apr 10, 2010 10:09:23 PM

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