Poverty Versus "Control"..........

John A. Quayle blueoval57 at VERIZON.NET
Thu Oct 25 00:15:31 MDT 2007

Is Society Controllable?
Thomas B. Fowler, SC.D.


         Catholic social teachings stress the 
need for society to defend and succor the poor, 
the weak, and all who, through no fault of their 
own, need help to live. Traditionally, this 
injunction has fallen to the Church, and has been 
carried out through the dedicated efforts of 
priests, nuns, members of religious orders, and 
lay men and women, through hospitals, churches, 
schools, hospices, and many other organizations. 
Emphasis has always been on person-person effort, 
with the caregivers ever mindful that they were 
helping individual people in a spirit of 
Christian giving, not functioning as cogs in some 
monolithic social welfare system. A guiding 
principle was to instill Christian values and 
attitudes into all people, whether in need or 
not, so as to give them a true sense of their own 
worth and their place in the world. If 
governmental intervention becomes necessary to 
correct injustice and secure the common good, as 
it sometimes does, [1] there must be no mistaking 
the ultimate goal: not materialism, but man's spiritual good. [2]

         This approach worked well when the 
Church was the dominant social force in society, 
or in that portion of it composed of Catholic 
Christians. Modern secular democracies, however, 
have not opted to work through religious 
channels, and instead have embarked upon a 
different course to deal with the "social 
problems" of poverty, drug abuse, crime, medical 
care, and education, as well as other areas where 
behavior of the citizens leads to problems, such 
as perceived excessive energy consumption. The 
new approach involves legislation and the 
creation of social welfare "systems" to deal with 
social problems, staffed by bureaucracies 
composed of social science "professionals," who 
cannot or choose not to place any emphasis on 
religious instruction or the religious foundation 
of morality. What are the assumptions behind this 
approach, and can it be expected to work better 
or even as well as the Church's traditional methods?

         In America, for example, we have 
committed ourselves to many large-scale social 
projects, and lavished considerable resources 
upon them, especially over the last thirty years. 
The goals of these projects are varied, but 
include improvement of economic conditions for 
the poor, elimination of racial imbalances, and 
reduction of crime. A typical program of this 
genre is Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, begun 
in 1964. [3] Since 1965, approximately $3.5 
trillion has been spent on this and other welfare 
programs (more than the cost of World War II), 
with the amount increasing almost every year. [4] 
It is clear that the 'War' has not been won; and 
given the current state of the urban poor, it is 
questionable whether significant progress has 
been made. [5] Since the money, good will, and in 
many cases dedication of the people involved 
cannot be faulted, the following question 
naturally arises: Is there some fundamental 
reason why many social programs fail to achieve their objectives?

         May it not be the case, here as 
elsewhere, that if action is taken based on 
incorrect assumptions, the proposed solutions 
could exacerbate the situation by creating worse 
problems than those they were intended to solve? 
[6] This question must be addressed in light of 
the devastation that three decades of Great 
Society programs have wrought on poor 
communities, families, and church membership, all 
reflected in the physical destruction of large 
parts of Los Angeles during May, 1992. Fifty 
years ago, in his famous and remarkably prescient 
Gifford Lectures Religion and the Rise of Western 
Culture, Christopher Dawson observed:

         Our generation has been forced to 
realize how fragile and unsubstantial are the 
barriers that separate civilization from the 
forces of destruction. We have learnt that 
barbarism is not a picturesque myth or a 
half-forgotten memory of a long-passed stage of 
history, but an ugly underlying reality which may 
erupt with shattering force whenever the moral 
authority of a civilization loses its control. 
[7] It is important to stress at the outset that 
this study does not seek to impugn the goals of 
any social programs, many of which derive from 
society's Judeo-Christian roots; rather, it 
examines the question of whether government 
action can realize those goals through the 
vehicles available to it: use of legislation 
(laws, prison sentences), economic coercion 
(fines, taxation), economic incentives 
(entitlements, credits), and to some extent, 
education (curriculum). In short, it questions 
the received wisdom that, in response to every 
problem, real or imagined, "There ought to be a government program!"

         To be specific, some issues which must 
be raised include the following:

         * Can any set of laws, prisons, and 
secular education, or drug interdiction 
activities, stem the tide of drug abuse and decay 
in our inner cities (as opposed to, say, 
Judeo-Christian moral training and inculcation of 
the worth of each person in God's sight)?

         * Does a secular social welfare "system" 
have the capability to instill the values needed 
to enable recipients to lead fulfilling lives and break the cycle of poverty?

         * Can a secular education system gut its 
Western heritage, replacing it with vague 
multi-cultural generalizations, and expect that 
there will be only benign consequences?

         * Can laws and punishments alone achieve 
racial harmony and integration?

         Definitive answers to all of these 
questions are beyond the scope of the present 
study; but hopefully it lays some key groundwork 
for answering them. The motivation for the study 
is that the time has come to carefully analyze 
the heretofore unasked question, "How do we know 
that the government can do it?", with respect to 
both traditional concerns of the Church toward 
the poor and oppressed, and other problems 
affecting our society. The study is based 
squarely on the realistic assumption that 
resources, both human and financial, are limited, 
and therefore that portion of them devoted to 
social action must actually be expected to solve 
or improve the problem addressed; programs that 
simply make their creators and supporters "feel 
good" are not and never have been acceptable as Catholic social action.

         Indeed, enthusiasm and good intentions 
are never enough if one's basic ideas about human 
nature are incorrect (perfectible vs. fallen). In 
the heady days of the Great Society, however, 
this fact was overlooked by the zealots of the time:

         The recountings have the flavor of war 
stories - of all-night sessions preparing for 
crucial Senate hearings; of small, sweaty working 
groups designing new programs on impossibly short 
schedules; of meetings in Newark or Chicago or 
Biloxi where the people across the table were not 
mayors and city planners, but heads of tenants' 
associations and ghetto churches and street 
gangs. . . . Such [staff] people . . . had no 
serious doubts that they would have an impact on 
the poverty problem. It seemed obvious to them 
(as it did to many observers at the time) that 
the only reason we continued to have poverty was 
that nobody had really been trying to get rid of 
it. Once the effort was made, so their assumption 
went, progress would surely follow. [8]

         But is this in fact enough? From a 
strict engineering standpoint, the Great Society 
"social engineering" programs were very 
problematic because no one could claim to have 
knowledge of the dynamics of the relevant social 
systems, and hence no solution could be 
"engineered" in any sense in which that word is 
understood by the technical community. However 
great one's enthusiasm and confidence may be, 
they cannot contravene constraints arising from 
inherent system dynamics: a jet cannot fly to the 
moon, no matter how hard the pilot may try. [9]

         The approach of the present study is to 
document the problems and pitfalls associated 
with any effort to transform or control social 
systems by means of legal, economic, and the 
other relatively imprecise tools at the disposal 
of the government, i.e., the secular solution 
methods. The key point is that in most cases, the 
desired high-level change (poverty reduction, 
elimination of injustice, etc.) must stem from or 
be accompanied by changes at the level of moral 
beliefs, from, if one wishes to use a New 
Testament term, (metanoia). Attempts to make the 
high-level changes in other ways which ignore 
moral beliefs are frequently destined to fail, 
sometimes in quite predictable ways which are discussed below.

Background and Terminology

         The secular, liberal approach to social 
problems appears to assume that society is 
amorphous and can be moulded and manipulated at 
will. In fact, societies are extremely complex 
systems, with highly structured legal and 
property constraints, as well as human 
interaction protocols and a history which 
influences overall behavior. Collectively, these 
constitute the dynamics of the system, and in 
large measure determine the behavior which the 
system can display. These dynamics must be 
understood and taken into account when any social 
action is contemplated; yet this is rarely if 
ever done. In particular, government social 
programs have always assumed that society is 
(controllable) by government actions. To make the 
discussion of this assumption and its 
implications precise, some terminology and concepts need to be explained.

         Consider, for a moment, the problem of 
driving an automobile. The reader is no doubt 
familiar with the basic operations required to 
control such a vehicle:  accelerator to speed up, 
brakes to slow down and stop, steering wheel to 
turn. In engineering parlance, such a mechanism 
is said to be controllable,[10] which means 
loosely that the automobile can be made to behave 
in a manner desired by the driver. Now assume 
that a new automobile is presented in which the 
steering mechanism, regardless of how hard one 
turns on the wheel, only permits turns of 10º. 
Clearly such a vehicle would not be considered 
controllable by most drivers because they could 
not make it go where they might want. In more 
technical language, the automobile in the second 
case is said to be uncontrollable because the 
possible control inputs to it, i.e., the set of 
actions that can be taken to influence its 
behavior, cannot make it behave in the desired manner.

         Before embarking on a further discussion 
of controllability with respect to social 
systems, it is necessary to examine several 
characteristics which any real system may 
possess, and which affect its behavior in a 
critical way. These characteristics apply to 
man-made systems such as spacecraft, as well as 
to natural systems, including social systems. These characteristics include:

(1) Simple, controllable behavior;
(2) Feedback stabilization;
(3) Self-organization;
(4) Hierarchical organization; and
(5) Systemic failure.

Simple, controllable behavior

         Systems such as automobiles and 
spacecraft are what might be termed "simple, 
controllable" systems; that is, their behavior or 
output is some fairly predictable function of 
their steering or input.  This behavior is not in 
general dependent on the previous history of 
inputs: when the steering wheel is turned to the 
left by a certain degree, the auto moves to the 
left by that degree which the driver soon learns 
to anticipate. There are indeed many such systems 
which one encounters in daily life: rotation of 
the hot water knob to control water temperature 
from the shower; force exerted on a door to 
control its speed of closing; and depression of 
the accelerator to control the speed of a car. In 
general, these systems have fixed dynamics, and 
under normal circumstances, they are completely 
controllable. (When normal circumstances do not 
exist, this may not be so, e.g., when the road is 
icy and normal turning of the steering wheel 
produces little or no effect, an auto is much 
more difficult if not impossible to control.)  If 
in addition the systems are linear, then the 
effect produced by some control action is 
proportional to the strength of that action. This 
makes such systems quite easy to use. Clearly, if 
all systems in the world were of this type, 
including social systems, life, including 
politics, would be much simpler. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Feedback stabilized systems

         Feedback stabilization is a common 
technique used to regulate all types of 
systems:  man-made, natural, and economic. It can 
be very effective and is quite common. In such 
systems, the product or output of the system is 
measured and this measurement is then used to 
control the operation of the system so that a 
desired output level is maintained. Probably the 
most familiar example of feedback stabilization 
is the heating system found in homes and offices. 
The thermostat is set to a desired temperature, 
and a mechanism in the thermostat senses the 
actual room temperature. When that temperature is 
below the desired temperature, the furnace is 
turned on. Heat from the furnace causes air 
temperature to rise, and when that temperature 
reaches the desired value, a mechanism in the 
thermostat switches the furnace off. Someone who 
tried to lower the temperature in a house by, 
say, setting blocks of dry ice in each room, 
would find that the feedback stabilization in the 
heating system would largely defeat his efforts; 
someone else who wanted to cool the house, and 
had access to the thermostat, would succeed. If 
one does not have access to the control mechanism 
(the thermostat in this case), feedback 
stabilized systems can be difficult or impossible to control.


         Self-organizing systems were first 
studied in connection with chemical and 
biological processes by the Belgian physical 
chemist Ilya Prigogine, who received the Nobel 
Prize in 1977 for his work. [11]  Current 
research indicates that such systems are 
essential for life itself. [12] The behavior of 
systems exhibiting self-organization is 
significantly different and more complex than 
that of the simple controllable systems. 
Self-organizing systems change their internal 
dynamics or structure in response to inputs, so 
that the effect of a given input cannot always be 
predicted; indeed, the system may change its 
internal structure in such a way as to counteract 
or effectively neutralize the input. Or the input 
may change the system's behavior in totally 
unanticipated (and often undesirable) ways. A 
simple example is a bacterial colony, whose 
members over several generations are able to 
mutate in such a way as to counteract drugs 
intended to destroy it. Human societies 
frequently exhibit self-organizing behavior, and 
an example is worth considering here.

         In the case of transportation systems, 
the following situation has been studied, [13] 
though it will doubtless be familiar to suburban 
residents of most large cities: Politicians and 
transportation planners are faced with traffic 
congestion on a particular road, say some 
superhighway. This congestion causes long commute 
times and prompts complaints from constituents. 
The politicians and planners assume a system with 
fixed dynamics, and take the obvious remedial 
action: widen the road. For a short time, this 
alleviates the congestion problem. But then the 
self-organizing behavior begins to manifest 
itself. Other people observe that the road is 
better, so they are willing to move further out 
in the suburbs since their overall commute time 
will not change as compared to what it was with 
the old road. Soon, there are more commuters 
using the road, which then becomes just as 
congested as before. Furthermore, merchants and 
businessmen observe the additional traffic, and 
decided to take advantage of the increased 
presence of potential customers by erecting a new 
shopping center and office park in the vicinity 
of the road. The net effect of widening the road, 
then, turns out not to be reduced congestion but 
changed land use in the vicinity of the road - a 
totally different effect than that which was 
intended. As with feedback stabilization, systems 
which exhibit self-organizing behavior can be extremely difficult to control.

Hierarchical organization

         Complex systems are usually organized 
hierarchically for the reason that it is 
difficult to assure their stability otherwise. 
[14] Hierarchical organization can be found in 
living things, which comprise components 
organized into cells (ganglion, dendrite), cells 
organized into tissues (nerve, muscles, 
epidermal), tissues into organs (heart, stomach, 
liver), organs into subsystems (circulation, 
digestive), and these subsystems finally into the 
total living being. Each of these levels can, in 
turn, be broken down further. Society is also 
organized hierarchically, both politically and 
socially. For example, there are individual 
people comprising local political entities such 
as wards, districts, and precincts, which make up 
cities and/or counties, and these in turn make up 
states, and the states constitute a nation. 
Action or responsibility appropriate at one 
political level, such as maintenance of an army 
for national defense at the national level, would 
be unsuitable at a lower level, such as the 
county or city level. On the other hand, many 
responsibilities are much better handled locally, 
such as organizing snow removal crews, where 
detailed knowledge of the local environment and 
needs is paramount. Control of a hierarchically 
organized system must take into account the fact 
that certain types of control inputs are only 
appropriate at certain levels; and if the range 
of control inputs is limited, the system may be 
partially or totally uncontrollable.

         The problems which may arise from 
attempting to control a hierarchically organized 
system at the wrong level are rather graphically 
illustrated by a piece of medical history. Prior 
to development of the germ theory of disease by 
Pasteur and others, there were many hypotheses as 
to the origin and causes of disease; [15] it was 
regarded physiologically as an imbalance of 
humors, thickening of the blood, or an effect of 
"epidemic constitutions" in the air, among 
others. The treatments prescribed included 
administration of various potions, bleeding the 
patient, purging, and scalding hot baths. In the 
case of bacterial or viral infections, none of 
them worked well, nor could they, since the 
problem lay several levels below that at which 
any of these methods could act, at the cellular 
and sub-cellular level. And until a theory was 
developed which recognized the need to attack the 
problem at the cellular level, little progress 
could be made. Once the germ theory had been 
developed and verified, however, the development 
of drugs such as antibiotics was just a matter of 
time since the theoretical basis for their action 
was understood. Curiously, in Pasteur's time, 
many rejected the germ theory because they did 
not believe that something as small as a 
microorganism could kill a man. That is, they did 
not recognize that a hierarchically organized 
system can be de-stabilized by actions occurring 
at the lowest levels. There may be a possible 
analogy today, in view of government policies for 
the last thirty years, which have favored 
transfer payments as a means to improve the 
condition of the poor. Many policy makers do not 
seem to believe that something like a set of 
moral beliefs (or the lack of them), at the 
lowest level of society - individual people - can 
make a critical difference to the behavior of the society as a whole.

         In fairness to those who advocated the 
Great Society programs, it should be stated that 
they seemed to be animated by a great moral 
imperative - to reform society and root out 
injustice and inequality. But this moral 
imperative, often flaunted as moral superiority, 
traded on the guilt of a basically Christian 
society. Their moral imperative, such as it was, 
functioned as a type of latter-day Confucianism - 
an ethical system with vague religious overtones. 
Perhaps the secular liberals thought that their 
vision could transform enough lives to assure the 
triumph of their ideals. But Confucianism or any 
similar ethical system is not a religious system; 
as such, it cannot tap the deep moral and 
spiritual roots accessible to the great 
monotheistic religions, for example. Moreover, 
Confucianism has never found a wide audience 
outside of China, and few if any other 
non-religious ethical systems have been notably 
successful in directing the conduct of large 
populations over extended time periods. Hence, to 
assume that some such ethical system could really 
substitute for a true religious value system was, 
at best, highly problematic; and when the stakes 
are considered, it was a foolhardy if not criminal gamble. [16]

Systemic Failure

         "Systemic failure" is a system theory 
term used to describe the following state of 
affairs: all parts of a system are functioning 
properly, or in accordance with specifications, 
but the overall products or behavior of the 
system are poor, inadequate, or failing. As an 
example, consider the case of an entrepreneur who 
sets up a factory to make 1950's type 
black-and-white television sets. His sets - 
complete with vacuum tubes - might function 
exactly according to the specifications for 
television sets of that age, and his factory 
might work as well as the best of those days, 
with every worker doing the best possible job. 
But the venture would fail because no one would 
want to buy the sets: their price would be 
extremely high, and their performance hopelessly 
inadequate by 1990's standards. This example may 
seem laughable, because the problem is rather 
obvious: obsolete technology. But systemic 
failure is widespread and often not recognized 
just because all individual parts of the overall 
system appear to be functioning perfectly, or as 
well as can be expected. A prime example is the 
U.S. education system, which will be discussed 
further below. The collapse of communism in 
Eastern Europe (and in the Soviet Union itself) 
has all the hallmarks of systemic failure as 
well, including the use of obsolete technology to 
produce products no one wants.

Why Social Systems May Fail to be Controllable

         In comparison with automobiles and 
spacecraft, social systems are extremely complex, 
involving as they do large numbers of interacting 
human beings, together with property, legal 
constraints, and a history which may influence 
system behavior, as discussed above. It cannot in 
general be assumed that such systems may be 
reduced to simple dynamical models, although that 
is sometimes possible. Nonetheless, because they 
are systems which can be acted upon and which 
have certain behavior in response to those 
actions, the notion of controllability still 
applies. In particular, the question of 
controllability becomes that of whether a social 
system can be made to behave in some desired way, 
given the means available to influence or act 
upon it. The problems which may arise and cause a 
system to be uncontrollable can be readily 
understood with reference to the foregoing 
discussion and the following examples.

Case Study: School Integration

         School integration by means of forced 
busing was one of the "social engineering" 
projects begun in the 1960's. The theory behind 
forced busing apparently was that by putting 
blacks and whites in the same classes in 
proportions reflecting local population, 
educational opportunities for blacks would become 
equal immediately, and eventually the general 
educational performance level of the blacks would 
improve to equal that of the whites. There were 
also other motivations, among them the belief 
that through working and playing together in the 
school environment, racial animosities learned 
from the culture would be dissipated or greatly 
reduced, and a new generation would emerge free 
of the biases of their parents and willing to 
live in an integrated world. Apparently it was 
believed that moral injunctions, at least of the 
traditional religious type, were unnecessary, irrelevant, or inadequate.

         To be sure, the nobility of all of these 
goals cannot be called into question; but in the 
event, they have not materialized due in large 
measure to the fact that society is not the 
simple, controllable system the legislators and 
judges implicitly assumed. [17]  Rather, we have 
a classic case of self-organization acting to 
thwart government efforts to control an aspect of society's behavior.

         What happened in many cities is so well 
known that it has a name: "white flight." [18] 
The majority of parents of children in cities 
with substantial black populations - or at least 
those who could afford to do so - simply packed 
up and moved their families to the suburbs, where 
there were few blacks. Others took their children 
out of public schools and put them into private 
schools. That is, the social system reorganized 
itself to neutralize the intended control. The 
net result was that schools became more 
segregated, and in many cases, educational 
quality deteriorated - exactly the opposite of 
the intended effect. The statistics in Table 119, 
for Washington, DC schools, tell the story. Thus 
we have the first reason society may be 
uncontrollable by means at the disposal of 
secular governments: self-organization acting to neutralize attempted control.

Case Study:  The Drug Problem

         The War on Drugs is a national effort 
incorporating action in diverse areas such as 
stepped-up enforcement, treatment of addicts, 
prevention programs, and education. The primary 
expenditure in this effort, and the most visible 
one, is drug interdiction. The theory behind this effort appears to be that
increased interdiction will reduce availability 
of drugs on the street, thus encouraging addicts 
to seek treatment and discouraging others from 
adopting the drug habit. That is, the government 
seeks to control an undesirable behavior - drug 
addiction - by one method at its disposal, use of 
force to thwart and/or capture drug smugglers.

         Is this action likely to yield the 
desired goal, as opposed to, say, instilling 
moral and spiritual values in ghetto children, 
and others affected? The author has analyzed this 
question elsewhere [20] by means of a 
mathematical model of the drug "business." The 
model is based on observations and studies of 
drug manufacturing, smuggling, and distribution. 
The key observation is that drug addicts and 
users form part of a feedback system which spans 
continents and involves large quantities of both 
substances (drugs) and money. Drug barons in 
Columbia and elsewhere must move the amount of 
drugs necessary to supply users, and to do this 
they hire smugglers who use planes, ships, and 
other means to get the drugs into the United 
States. A certain portion is interdicted; the 
remainder is distributed by regional and local 
groups to the end users, who pay a "street price" 
for the drugs. The various distributors receive a 
portion of the proceeds for their efforts; the 
remainder of the money flows back to the drug barons.

         The operation of the model may be 
envisioned as follows: Demand on the part of drug 
users can be assumed to be fairly inelastic, at 
least for the highly addictive drugs of interest. 
Hence if there is increased interdiction, street 
price goes up sharply due to reduced supply, to 
the point that drug barons have more net money 
and can then pay more to hire additional 
smugglers so that more drugs will be imported, 
thus increasing the supply and counteracting the 
increased interdiction. Under fairly general 
assumptions, it can be shown mathematically that 
this results in a tight feedback loop which tends 
to maintain constant supply and prices in the 
face of interdiction, and that in order to reduce 
street supplies of drugs appreciably, amounts of 
money will have to be spent on interdiction which 
are orders of magnitude greater than that currently appropriated.

         The War on Drugs, or at least that part 
of it devoted to interdiction, may turn out to be 
a classic case of a government program which 
fails due to the fact that internal dynamics are 
operating to effectively counteract the 
government action; i.e., the system is not 
controllable by government action due to the 
presence of a feedback loop. This constitutes the 
second reason why a system may be uncontrollable 
by high-level government action. In fact, control 
can probably be achieved only by changing the 
society dynamics, and that would mean changing 
values so as to reduce dependence on drugs - a 
task for religion rather than government.

Case Study: Reducing Street Crime Through Law Enforcement

         No one in the U.S. needs to be told 
about the epidemic of crime. This problem is 
variously attributed to poverty, racism, 
breakdown of families, poor neighborhood 
environment, and a host of other factors. The 
relevance of these factors is not of interest 
here. Rather, the question is whether a 
jurisdiction can control crime (or its symptoms, 
at least), by increasing the number of police on 
duty in crime-prone areas. Or has the situation 
been reached where the number of lawless 
individuals is so large that not enough police 
can be fielded? The answer to this question is 
not known in any theoretical sense; but in view 
of the May, 1992 Los Angeles riots, and the fact 
that the strategy has not been implemented in any 
large high-crime cities such as New York, 
Detroit, or Los Angeles, there is probably a good 
reason. And that reason may well have to do with 
the inability of the resources of the 
jurisdiction to support the required load; that 
is, a sufficiently large control (law 
enforcement) cannot be generated to reduce the level of criminal activity.

         How such a state of affairs may come 
about is readily understood: larger numbers of 
police require larger expenditures, which in turn 
entails higher taxes. Higher taxes tend to make a 
jurisdiction less affordable since they raise the 
costs of doing business and effectively lower the 
value of real estate. If real estate prices fall, 
and businesses and residents are driven out - at 
least those who pay the most taxes - the tax base 
erodes, requiring still higher tax rates to 
sustain the revenues. Thus a vicious cycle, 
technically known as a positive feedback loop, 
[21] is created. In actuality, high-crime areas 
tend to have many problems in addition to law 
enforcement which require expenditure of a 
jurisdiction's money: drug treatment, remedial 
education, public health, incarceration, and 
welfare. All of these, of course, will tend to 
exacerbate the problem of taxes and revenues.

         Thus, for financial reasons, once 
criminal activity and associated social 
pathologies reach a certain critical stage, it 
may no longer be controllable by government 
law-enforcement efforts. This, then, illustrates 
a third reason why a society may be 
uncontrollable at a high level: control cannot be 
made sufficiently powerful. Once again, the root 
of the problem, and the failure to solve it, both 
lie with the inability of government action to 
operate effectively at the level of morality and values.

Case Study: Education Reform

         George Bush (Sr.) wanted to be known as 
the "Education President," and he wanted America 
to be number one in science and mathematics by 
the end of the century, as measured by 
standardized tests. [22]  Given that American 
students currently rank near the bottom in most 
such tests administered in the developed 
countries [23], the inherent resistance to change 
of the education bureaucracy, the poor esteem in 
which educators are held, and the often poor 
attitude toward intellectual matters on the part 
of students and parents, is there any action 
which the federal government can take which will 
move society toward this goal, i.e., is 
educational performance controllable by federal government action?

         Viewing the education process as a 
system, with inputs (the students, teachers, 
instructional material), a "plant" or process 
(the sum total of activities in schools) with 
feedback (homework, etc.), and an output or 
product (the partially or mal-educated students), 
it appears that we are dealing with a systemic 
failure in that the system is functioning, i.e., 
everyone is doing his job, but the end product is 
defective. What may be the causes for this 
failure? Consider the items shown in Table 2. The 
left column contains some factors which may 
explain the failure of the education system, and 
the right column possible sources of remedial 
action. It is likely that most if not all of the 
factors are involved; there may indeed be many 
more. Determination of the precise causal 
relations between each of these factors and 
education failure would be a major research 
project; nonetheless, even a cursory examination 
shows that only for a relatively few is federal 
government action likely to be significant. [24]

         Frequently, money - or rather the lack 
of it - is cited as the primary reason for 
educational failure, and the government (local, 
state, federal) disperses the cash. [25] But if 
there is a causal connection between money spent 
and educational performance, it is not obvious; 
studies indicate that expenditure of funds may be 
uncorrelated with educational performance. [26] 
It is indeed true that many wealthy areas of the 
country, such as Montgomery and Fairfax counties 
around Washington, have education systems that 
are considered among the best; but it is by no 
means clear that the money lavished on these 
systems accounts for the relatively high level of 
achievement by students in them. That performance 
may be primarily due to the social infrastructure 
of the counties: intact families which stress the 
importance of education and reinforce good 
student behavior. If this is the case, then 
control of student educational performance will 
not be achievable by means of expenditure of 
government money; rather, the control must once 
again be done at a level or in a way not 
accessible to government action, viz. changes in 
social values, specifically, family values. One 
especially frightening thought is that the set of 
social conditions and values which the United 
States currently possesses may render a 
successful universal educational system 
impossible. In such a case, the student 
educational performance would be said to be 
partially or totally uncontrollable.

Case Study: Public Health, A Success Story

         Government action can be extremely 
successful when the type of control required is 
suited to that action. Many examples could be 
cited, but the following is of interest as one of 
the first clearly successful examples of control 
by appropriate government action. In 1854, a 
cholera epidemic was raging in London. At that 
time, of course, the physiological basis for 
cholera was not understood. Various remedies were 
tried by Londoners to stop the epidemic, 
including the splashing about of vinegar and 
nitric acid, distribution of hot bricks, and 
burning of pitch. Then an investigator, William 
Farr, began looking for statistical correlations 
between mortality rates and other factors. Such 
techniques, though common enough today, were 
virtually unknown at the time. He eventually 
discovered that incidence of cholera was 
correlated with distance from the Thames, with 
higher levels of disease associated with 
proximity to the river. A British physician, John 
Snow, related this to sources of drinking water, 
in particular a single pump, and that led to the 
discovery that polluted water from the river was 
propagating the disease (the Thames was used as 
an open sewer at the time). Government action 
forced purveyors of drinking water to use clean 
sources, and the epidemic abated. The difference 
between this case and that of the germ theory of 
disease, cited above, lies in the fact that the 
relevant changes needed in society were at a 
level directly accessible to government action 
and were readily carried out, requiring no 
knowledge of the mechanisms by which the disease 
operated. Nor was there any feedback mechanism or 
self-organization operating to thwart the government control action.

         Other examples could be cited as well: 
the success of public health efforts to eliminate 
infectious childhood diseases, for example. Such 
successes contrast with partial or total failures 
in areas complicated by moral and political 
factors, where controllability of society by 
governmental action is more problematic: 
elimination of venereal disease, AIDS, and in 
some regions of the country, infant mortality.

Summary of Reasons Why A Social System May Be 
Uncontrollable by Secular Government Action

         The reasons discussed in the foregoing 
sections may be summarized as follows:

- The system is self-organizing and can partially 
or totally neutralize government action. 
Example:  school integration by forced busing.

- The system is feedback stabilized to any 
control available to the government. Example: the drug war.

- It is not possible to use a sufficiently large 
control signal or input.  Example: control of 
street crime by use of extra police.

- The system cannot be controlled at any level 
accessible to government action. 
Example:  education reform. The other reasons may 
have their ultimate roots in this as well; but in 
the case of education reform, the problem appears 
directly as the fundamental reason for failure of control.

- The correct type or level of control is 
unknown. In addition to the education example 
given in the text, one could argue that we do not 
know how to control events so as to achieve world peace.

- System is partially or completely 
uncontrollable by any means. In addition to the 
example of education in the text, it appears that 
in totalitarian systems, it is not possible to 
control the thoughts of the people so that they 
no longer desire freedom (cf. collapse of communism in eastern Europe).

         Politicians and the public have to face 
the fact that there are constraints on what can 
be achieved given the organization and dynamics 
of their society, and that some cherished goals 
may not be attainable at all or attainable only 
with radical restructuring of society, a 
restructuring along lines other than those 
envisioned by architects of the secular welfare 
state. As George Bush remarked at the University 
of Michigan on May 4, 1991, almost a year to the 
day before the Los Angeles riots:

         "Government programs have tried to 
assume roles once reserved for families and 
schools and churches.  This is understandable, 
but dangerous. When government tries to serve as 
a parent or a teacher or a moral guide, 
individuals may be tempted to discard their own 
sense of responsibility, to argue that only 
government must help people in need. . . . 
Gradually we got to the point of equating dollars 
with commitment, and when programs failed to 
produce progress, we demanded more money." [27]

         It may be possible that by a combination 
of government actions different than those used 
to date, improvement in problems such as poverty 
and crime can be achieved. On the other hand, it 
may very well be the case that the social 
infrastructure of the people and areas involved, 
such as urban slums, may make the desired 
improvements impossible through government 
action; in that sense, the systems are 
uncontrollable. If such is indeed the case, 
changes to the social infrastructure itself will 
be required. To accomplish this, means not 
accessible to the government, such as inculcation 
of values through religious and moral training, 
will almost certainly be required.


         Characteristics of social systems, such 
as self-organization and feedback stabilization, 
may render them uncontrollable by government 
action. Attempts to treat these systems as 
simple, controllable systems may yield totally 
unexpected and quite possibly undesired outcomes. 
[28] Changing society may require control to be 
applied at levels or in ways not accessible to 
the government. In particular, it may require 
changes that can only be brought about by 
re-instilling moral and spiritual values into all 
segments of society, but especially those most 
affected by social problems, and where there has 
been the most breakdown of those values. The 
experiment of replacing church-related social 
programs and Judeo-Christian values and morality 
with secular welfare and education should be 
declared over and pronounced a failure before any more harm is done.


1 Pope Leo XIII, "Rerum Novarum", 29 (1891).

2 "Rerum Novarum", 36; Pope Pius XI, "Quadragesimo Anno" (1931).

         The following is most noteworthy in this 
context:  ". . . Man, endowed with a social 
nature, is placed here on earth in order that he 
may spend his life in society, and under an 
authority ordained by God, that he may develop 
and evolve to the full all his faculties to the 
praise and glory of his Creator; and that, by 
fulfilling faithfully the duties of his station, 
he may attain to temporal and eternal happiness. 
Socialism, on the contrary, entirely ignorant of 
or unconcerned about this sublime end of both 
individuals and society, affirms that living in 
community was instituted merely for the sake of 
advantages it brings to mankind."

3. Technically, the "War on Poverty" was not one 
program but the informal name given to a 
collection of social welfare programs that began 
with the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO).

4. Amount is constant dollars, based on data in 
"How 'Poor' are America's Poor?," No. 791, 
Heritage Foundation, Washington, DC, 1990, p. 6, 
and " 'Great Society' not so great, critics say," 
"Washington Times" May 10, 1992.  The data in the 
report comes from congressional committee reports 
and the Congressional Budget Office.

5. One can argue, of course, that matters would 
be worse than they are if the War on Poverty and 
other "Great Society" programs had not been 
implemented. And disputes rage as to just how 
many poor people there are in America. Heritage 
Foundation (see reference below) claims that the 
number of poor in America is overstated by census 
figures, and that there has in fact been a 
decline, though one Heritage seems to attribute 
to increased productivity rather than to 
government programs. But whether one agrees or 
disagrees with Charles Murray's marshalling of 
statistical evidence in his "Losing Ground" 
(Basic, 1984), the goal of eliminating or 
substantially reducing poverty as a social 
condition (as opposed to a statistical condition) 
has not been achieved. And one can argue that the 
state of the hard-core poverty areas, with their 
levels of crime, substance abuse, and family 
disintegration, may actually be worse now than in 1960.

6. Dr. J. Forrester, of MIT's Sloan School of 
Management, has studied urban planning and 
determined that one of the standard responses to 
city problems, construction of low-income 
housing, is actually the <worst> thing that can 
be done, because it encourages low-income people 
to stay in cities when in fact cities are 
nowadays very poor at creating the entry level 
jobs these people need. The land could be better 
used for other purposes which would generate 
revenue for the city rather than consume 
resources. The people in question would be better 
off if the housing were built in the suburbs, 
where factories and other job opportunities 
exist. (Lecture given at the MITRE Corporation, Bedford, Massachusetts, 1991).

7. Christopher Dawson, "Religion and the Rise of 
Western Culture" (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1950), p. 18.

8. Charles Murray, "Losing Ground" (New York:  Basic Books, 1984), p. 34.

9. The situation has been analyzed from a 
somewhat different perspective by W. L. 
Livingston in his book "The New Plague" (Bayside, 
NY:  F.E.S. Publishing, 1986). Livingston points 
out that many of the problems our society faces - 
not just in the political arena - have proved 
intractable because we train people to solve 
problems that can be understood and solved by one 
person, but not how to deal with highly complex 
problems which require coordinated efforts of 
many people interacting in the right way.

10. Formal definitions of controllability may be 
found in Ogata, "State Space Analysis of Control 
Systems" (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1967), 
p. 372, and in Kalman, Ho, and Narendra, 
"Controllability of Linear Dynamical Systems," 
"Contrib. Differential Equations", 1961, vol. 1, pp. 189-213.

11. Prigogine, "From Being to Becoming" (San 
Francisco: Freeman, 1980); Prigogine & Stengers, 
"Order Out of Chaos" (New York: Bantam, 1984).

12. Nicolis & Prigogine, "Self-Organization in 
Nonequilibrium Systems" (New York: Wiley & Sons, 1977).

13. Peter Allen, "Modelling the Self-Organization 
of Human Systems," from Proc. IFIP-WG 7/1 Working 
Conference on Global Modelling, Dubrovnik, 
Yugoslavia, 1980, "Lecture Notes in Control and 
Information Sciences", #35 (Berlin: 
Springer-Verlag, 1981), pp. 138-171, and also 
lecture by the same author presented at the MITRE Corporation, 1990.

14. Herbert Simon, "The Sciences of the 
Artificial", second edition (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981).

15. Diego Gracia, "Cuatro actitudes del hombre 
ante la enfermedad infectocontagiosa," "Estudios 
dedicados a Juan Peset Aleixandre", University of 
Valencia, 1982; H. Ackerknecht, "A Short History 
of Medicine", revised edition (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1982).

16. The environmental or "Green" movement, as it 
is sometimes called, appears to be the successor 
to the Great Society as a rallying point for 
secular liberals, and the heir to its 
quasi-religious elements.  Invocations to nature 
like "The Earth is our mother" give the game 
away, as do admissions by scientists and 
environmental activists that "the facts are irrelevant."

17. School integration has succeeded in 
eliminating most of the "de jure" segregation 
which existed prior to 1954. But resegregation 
patterns have emerged in many areas by virtue of 
demographic trends and the simple fact that 
parents have removed their children from public 
schools. See Table 1 for the Washington, DC case. 
Even Gary Orfield, who does not believe that 
busing significantly affected desegregation, 
admits that one sixth of the students in the U.S. 
are in school systems which are "de facto" 
segregated because there aren't enough white 
students in the systems to integrate them. See 
his "Public School Desegregation in the United 
States", 1968-1980, Joint Center for Political 
Studies, Washington, DC, 1983, p. 39. Some of the 
statistical data in Orfield's study do not make 
sense. In one table (20, p. 26-27), Washington, 
DC is said to have only 4% white students. In 
another table (24, p. 41), the percentage of 
whites in a school attended by a typical black 
student is given as 24.7 (data as of 1980).

18. Gerald Jaynes and Robin Williams, ed., "A 
Common Destiny, Blacks and American Society" 
(Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1989), 
pp. 83-84. Statistics quoted in this study, 
sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, 
indicate that white opposition to busing remains 
high, 75% as of 1986 (p. 128). White flight was 
also the result of desegregation efforts other 
than busing, and there were probably unrelated 
trends which contributed, including the decline 
in industry in cities and the desire for more 
affordable housing. See R. Rist and G. Orfield, 
"School Desegregation and White Flight" (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1976).

19. Adopted, with additional calculations, from 
Thornell Kenly Page, "A Study of the District of 
Columbia Public Schools Desegregation Policies", 
1954-1967, Doctoral dissertation,Virginia 
Polytechnic Institute and State University, 1978, 
p. 73; Orfield, op. cit., p. 26; "Statistical 
Abstract of the United States," 1990, p. 36.

20. Thomas Fowler, "Winning the War on Drugs: Can 
We Get There From Here?," "Journal of Social, 
Political, and Economic Studies", vol. 15, #4, pp. 403-422 (Winter, 1990).

21. This type of feedback loop, where the 
feedback is positive, behaves differently than 
the feedback discussed earlier in the article. 
That type of feedback is "negative", and such 
feedback loops tend to stabilize a quantity. The 
feedback here, being positive, leads to 
destabilization and a runaway of some quantity, 
either to a very large or very small value. In 
this case, real estate values and business would both tend to go sharply down.

22. "By the Year 2000", Federal Coordinating 
Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology 
(FCCSET), 1991. The publication boasts of 
increased federal spending to achieve the goal, 
with no explanation as to why, with all the 
current federal expenditure on education, present 
achievement levels are so low.

23. See, for example, the "Wall Street Journal" 
education supplement, 9 February 1990, p. R5.

24. Some empirical work has been done to try to 
pin down the characteristics and requirements of 
effective schools, and also why blacks and other 
minorities have experienced difficulty in the 
education area. But the kind of general research 
effort needed has not been made; and many of the 
individual projects appear to have problems of 
scope and depth. Unfortunately, the outcome of 
such a study may be at variance with the 
prevailing education paradigm, which will limit 
its effectiveness. See Jaynes and Williams, op. 
cit., p. 356 and the references therein for further information.

25. That the federal government is still 
committed to achieving Bush's goals by 
expenditure of federal money was explicitly 
stated by Energy Secretary James Watkins in an 
address to the American Association for the 
Advancement of Science on 19 February 1991.

26. "Money fails to improve education's report 
card," "Washington Times", May 3, 1990.

27. Quoted in "Getting away from the program," "Washington Times", May 8, 1992.

28. Murray (op. cit., p. 156) gives an excellent 
example of this point with his game theory 
analysis of the strategy to be followed by a 
young, poor couple in pre- and post-welfare 
reform times. However, Murray's own proposed 
remedies (p. 219) may suffer from a set of 
problems no less serious than those he has 
criticized; the fact is that we just don't know 
because the crucial analyses have not been done.

         This article was taken from the Winter 
1992 issue of "Faith & Reason". Subscriptions 
available from Christendom Press, 2101 Shenandoah 
Shores Road, Ft. Royal, VA 22630, 703-636-2900, 
Fax 703-636-1655. Published quarterly at $20.00 per year.

Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN

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