Nov 3, 2009

The CSC and the folly of central planning

The purpose of the Central Societies Committee (CSC) is to secure funding from the Capitation Committee, and then distribute this to societies within Trinity College. Each year, members allocate some hundreds of thousands of euro of funding to student societies around campus.

How do they decide where to send this money? While ostensibly representative of the student body, the CSC is composed of Students’ Union (SU) and society hacks who allocate funding according to ambiguous criteria. Some societies, especially those favoured by certain CSC Officers, receive extremely generous grants. Others less favoured receive more meager grants. This is to be expected in a system which is neither transparent nor accountable.

In a perfect world, all students would have an equal say in how college funding is allocated to societies. After all, this is your money and it is being allocated for your benefit. But a CSC composed of some 15,000 members is completely unworkable and would never reach consensus. Thus, we need a central authority to decide how to spend our money.


Or do we? Consider the following suggestion. Instead of centrally planning the distribution of funding for student societies, give each student the same amount of ‘CSC dollars’ (hereafter referred to as CSCs) in advance of Freshers’ Week.

Students then choose what societies they want to give their CSCs to. These CSCs are then redeemable for cash from college. If your society receives 1000 CSCs from its members, they can exchange this for €1000. If you can’t convince students to give you any CSCs, then you do not get any funding from college.
What are the benefits of such a system? First off, it is democratic. No more privileged elites in House 6 deciding where to allocate college funding. Instead, every student has an equal say. You control the same portion of funding as everyone else, because everyone gets the same number of CSCs at the start of the year.

It will also force student societies to provide a better service before taking your hard-earned cash, and foster competition. Societies have to convince you that you will get more out of giving them your CSCs than if you gave it to any other society. Thus, individual students have the power.

Critically, students also decide what constitutes a ‘better service’. In the past, this was just the opinion of some SU hack in Front Square. But who is best placed to decide what students want? Of course, the students themselves are. With CSCs, this becomes a reality. If societies are not offering what students want, they won’t get any money. If that means they can’t spend it on the things that students are not interested in financing, that is a very good thing.

However, people are very gullible. Won’t they be tricked by false promises during Freshers’ Week? Won’t societies lie to you to get your CSCs? Firstly, this is an existing problem under the status quo with membership fees, so it is not caused by CSCs. Secondly, people are smart, and usually ask questions about the society’s track record before parting with their money. There is no reason to think that the current CSC Executive is any smarter than the average student with CSCs.

Especially since, after the introduction of CSCs, more than three quarters of money given to societies during Freshers’ Week will be directly controlled by older students who have heard all the lies before. They will not be fooled by false promises, and they know which societies will really provide a good-value service in exchange for CSCs. Thus, the CSC dollar is smart money.

There is also the problem with the current system created by membership charges. Right now, if you do not pay extra money to become a member of a society such as the Hist, you do not get any benefit from the thousands of euro they receive from the university. But this money comes from you in the form of registration fees!

With the introduction of CSCs, everyone benefits from funding to college societies. How? If you don’t want to get involved with existing college societies and don’t want to pay for other people to have fun, simply offer to sell your CSCs to one of the bigger societies at a discount. You give them 10 CSCs, and they’ll pay you €9. Everybody benefits!

The Soviet Union tried to tell its citizens what they wanted, and failed. Communism and central planning are rightly regarded today as an abomination. Yet for some reason, we tolerate it right now in Trinity College through the Central Societies Committee.

Why should society oligarchs in House 6 decide how to allocate your money? Why should you not be allowed to decide how to spend your money yourself? Abolish the Central Societies Committee. Let individual students allocate funding for societies, freely and democratically. Let the free market reign, and reap the rewards.

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