Bigger than Jesus
So, these very words, John Lennon was reported to have once said (jokingly) about the Beatles. But this article is about online religion. Reminded me — of course — about the MOOC hype and Sebastian Thrun’s line that the world only needs a few universities. This is about church services, but remember whenever anybody says it is being ‘Uberized’ or ‘Netflixed’ they are selling something — usually the vapour of their money moving across accounts.
Simply because a service can be watched by almost anyone in the world does not mean that it will be. Many are streamed; few are chosen, at least in any great numbers. The Church of England website AChurchNearYou now lists around 20,000 services and online events, but in a market freed from the constraints of geography, more famous churches—like more famous artists on Spotify—get the big audiences.
This, says Laurence Iannaccone, a specialist in the economics of religion at Chapman University in California, is not a great surprise. People, he explains, “are drawn inevitably toward the congregations—we’ll call them the suppliers…that are able to use this technology. You get a sort of superstars phenomenon.” As Dr Iannaccone puts it, if you are going to be watching religion online, “Why not go with the very best?” [emphasis added]
Ah, the money-makers, as Jesus foretold, take over the temples.
Many think a hybrid model of worship—on earth and in the ether—may become normal. What is clear is that increased competition is probably here to stay. This is not, says Mr Iannaccone, necessarily a bad thing. “The hand of God and the invisible hand sometimes seem to work wonderfully well together.”
Nice final line, though.
No need for English, then.
Umberto Eco, an Italian writer, was right when he said the language of Europe is translation.
Welfare for corporations
Such practices used to be called “honest graft.” And let’s be clear, McKinsey’s services are very expensive. Back in August, I noted that McKinsey’s competitor, the Boston Consulting Group, charges the government $33,063.75/week for the time of a recent college grad to work as a contractor. Not to be outdone, McKinsey’s pricing is much much higher, with one McKinsey “business analyst” – someone with an undergraduate degree and no experience – lent to the government priced out at $56,707/week, or $2,948,764/year.
How does McKinsey do it?
Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan is a good plan, in theory. We need to do a lot of what Biden wants to do. The problem is that every overpriced government contractor out there is gearing up to steal as much of the $2 trillion as they can. And they will try to steal it the way McKinsey has, by taking advantage of bad policy choices that turned the government into a sucker.
The land that gave us Bologna1
I lived in Italy for twenty years, give or take, and although I never worked full-time for an Italian institution, I had enough dealings with its universities to be unsurprised by the allegations of corruption in the Suárez case. To have a career in an Italian university you have to be attached to a senior professor, usually a man, usually of a certain age. These immensely powerful figures are known as baroni — ‘barons’. They can be on the left or the right. All posts and other privileges pass through the baroni. Without a barone on your side, you may as well pack it in. University posts are generally filled by means of a public competition — a concorso — which is open to anyone with the right qualifications. In practice, concorsi are usually fixed. They are designed for one person, usually an internal candidate who has been waiting for this particular concorso for years. The new researcher or lecturer owes his or her job to the barone, and will remain loyal to them. With time and luck, the new appointees might become baroni themselves. The mismatch between formal rules and their application is characteristic of Italy. These networks of power and patronage have been studied by anthropologists: in some faculties at the University of Bari, for example, networks of family and kinship relationships stretch back generations. Disputes and divisions are often focused around key baroni. In one university two separate but essentially identical departments were created around two highly powerful and influential scholars.
Gravy train? Well, yes.
In 2019, the latest year for which accounts are available, Australia’s higher education sector collected over 27 per cent of its revenue from foreign students — up from 17 per cent a decade earlier The dependence was particularly high at the biggest and most prestigious universities, such as Sydney (39 per cent), Monash (38 per cent), UNSW Sydney (36 per cent) and Melbourne and Queensland (both 31 per cent).
It comes at a cost, however. I remain deeply sceptical about economies of scale in traditional models of higher education.
- In the sense that Bolognia and Paris were the first modern european universities. For my money, Bolgnia was — in modern parlance — more student centric. ↩