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Archive for November, 2011

The most prevalent form of degradation in academic life

[ 26 ] November 28, 2011 |

head in sand

Legal academia is very much on the defensive at the moment, which is all to the good. The mixture of outrage and pearl-clutching which greeted David Segal’s latest entry in his series in the New York Times on the state of American legal education is a sign of, if nothing else, the extent to which law school faculty and administrators are finally noticing that we are dealing with that most dreaded of things, a genuine public relations crisis. (Unlike the economic and personal disaster which has been overwhelming a growing percentage of our graduates for many years now, this is one crisis which cannot be ignored).

Given that reaction, this seems like a good time for a restatement of some fundamental points, to help avoid a deflection of the conversation into tangential issues such as the actual value of legal scholarship, how much law professors get paid, how much Socratic method nonsense still inhabits our classrooms, etc. (Many thanks to Matt Leichter’s invaluable Law School Tuition Bubble for collecting and analyzing much of the data cited below).

POINT ONE: Over the past 20 years, the share of the nation’s GDP attributable to the legal services sector has deteriorated significantly. In the late 1980s, the legal services sector represented slightly more than 2% of GDP (the same percentage as in the mid-1970s). As of 2009, that figure had declined to 1.37%. Contrary to the standard narrative within legal academia, which assumes an increasing or at least steady demand for legal services relative to overall economic growth, the demand for legal services within the American economy has been declining, relative to the rest of the economy, for the past two decades. In other words, “law” (as an economic entity) appears to be a mature industry in relative decline.

POINT TWO: The rate at which American law schools are producing aspiring lawyers far outstrips the demand for new lawyers, and this has been the case for many years now. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the economy will produce an average of approximately 24,400 new jobs for lawyers per year over the next decade. ABA-accredited law schools are producing 45,000 new graduates per year, while non-accredited schools produce several thousand more (Approximately 53,000 people pass state bar examinations each year). An important sub-point about these statistics is that the BLS estimates are not for how many jobs will be filled by new law school graduates: they are for all new legal jobs. What this means is one can’t assume, for instance, that half the 50,000 aspiring lawyers (conservatively speaking) that enter the market each year will get law jobs, since some of those new jobs are going to be taken by people already in the market for attorney jobs who were not currently employed as attorneys. Obviously, this problem gets worse over time, as the surplus of lawyers without law jobs continues to increase.

POINT THREE: The cost of law school is, in economic terms, arbitrary. Given the faith in well-functioning markets that well-functioning citizens in our society are expected to maintain, this point is extremely counter-intuitive, but it is, given points one and two, essentially undeniable. For more than twenty years now, the demand for the services of American law school graduates has been declining relative to the demand for other economic goods (not constantly, of course, but the overall trend is clearly negative). For much if not all of that same time, the output of American law schools has far exceeded the demand for that output, and now appears to be in a roughly two to one ratio. Yet since 1985, tuition at private law schools has increased by 2.5 times in real terms, while resident tuition at public law schools has increased more than fivefold, again in real terms. In other words, over the past quarter century, the relative change in the cost of acquiring a law degree has borne no rational relationship to the relative change in the value of a law degree.

POINT FOUR: There is, to this point, almost no sign that this arbitrary relationship between the change in the cost of acquiring law degrees and the change in their value is going to move toward a more orthodox economic relationship, in which the decreases in value trigger decreases in price. Law schools continue to raise tuition at far faster than the rate of inflation, and the market for the graduates of law schools — which it bears repeating has been bad relative to the rest of the economy for many years, for reasons that have nothing to do with the recession that began in 2008 — continues to deteriorate. An extrapolation of current trends into the very near future, i.e., four years from now, suggests that private law school tuition will average $50,000 per year, and will be more than $60,000 at some schools, while average resident tuition at public law schools will be as high as private law school tuition was in 2007. This means that the total cost (tuition and related expenses, plus opportunity cost) of attending law school will be approaching $300,000 for many students and will be at least $200,000 for the vast majority. Meanwhile, it appears that around half these graduates will not have real legal careers, defined as long-term employment in jobs requiring law degrees, and that indeed for a significant percentage of them acquiring a law degree will have made them less employable than they would have been otherwise (In other words, for these graduates, law school will have turned out to have been a bad investment even without regard to the direct costs and opportunity costs incurred by attending it).

POINT FIVE: These otherwise unsustainable trends are being maintained by a combination of unlimited federal educational loan money and, to a lesser extent, poor information regarding the actual relationship between the costs and benefits of acquiring a law degree. Any significant change in either of these factors, but especially the first, will lead to a massive disruption in the current economic structure of legal education in America.

Kevin Drum’s Labor Contrarianism

[ 69 ] November 28, 2011 |

Very disappointing piece from Kevin Drum supporting Alan Haus’ call for unions that only negotiate wages and nothing else. Haus, an employment lawyer, is packaging old-school company unionism in new wrapping, calling for conservatives to be OK with highly paid workers so long as management controls everything else regarding work. He wants public-sector unionism destroyed and to strip collective bargaining law of everything not concerning wages. This kind of corporate hackery is not even worth my notice.

Far more disturbing is a major progressive writer, writing for Mother Jones for Christ’s sake, supporting this drivel. Is Drum just engaging in a Slate pitch joke here? I’d like to think so. Alas, no. His logic is basically, “well, unions are dying anyway so we have to try something.” And that something else is giving up a century of struggles to get theoretical power to bargain for wages. The problems with this are legion. A couple specific points:

1. Drum seems naive enough to believe that if unions were to give up all this power, corporations would then follow through and grant their workers higher wages. Is there any reason to believe corporations would bargain in good faith? No. Glad that leading liberal writers have a real deep understanding of how corporate power works in American politics here.

2. Unions are not exclusively, or even primarily, about wages. Wage rates are a piece of what they do. Unions also provide protection from getting fired without cause, push for workplace safety, give workers a voice in fighting sexual harassment, bargain for working hours, vacation time, sick leave, etc. Unions are working-class people’s leading voice in fighting for any number of pieces of progressive legislation. What’s worse is that Drum knows this, noting that the UMWA has done far more to fight for mine safety than any corporation or government agency. But I guess that’s worth just shrugging off!

3. Company unions are far from new in American history and they consistently have served to undermine worker rights, giving employees a facade of a voice on their job while allowing corporations to consolidate control over the workplace and maximize profit. Haus calls for, without directly using the term, the return of company unions, allowing corporations to set everything outside of wage rates. How can anyone who cares for worker rights think this is a good idea?

4. The title itself gets to the laughability of this whole notion–”Can Unions Be Saved By Making Them Weaker?” Well, maybe African-Americans should give back the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to make the movement stronger again! No doubt it would work!!! And I’m sure that repealing Roe would sure put a spark in the pro-choice movement!

Does Drum remain worth reading on labor issues if he continues parroting conservative writers? I think not. Sadly, he spreads these anti-union ideas in a publication named for one of America’s true labor radicals, who no doubt is not only spinning in her grave, but in classic Mary Jones fashion, is cursing a blue streak at Drum.

Barney Frank

[ 23 ] November 28, 2011 |

…apparently not running again. He will be missed.

He’s the only prominent political figure I’ve ever had an actual conversation with, and he was just as whip-smart as you would expect.

Things I Did Not Anticpate

[ 68 ] November 28, 2011 |

A Ross Douthat column I agree with almost entirely. In particular, I agree that JFK deserves far more of the blame for Vietnam than he usually gets, and I don’t find assertions that he was going to extricate the U.S. from that quagmire remotely plausible.

And while Frank Rich is a half-step better than Oliver Stone in the sense that at least he doesn’t seem to believe that JFK was some kind of left-wing radical who threatened the establishment, he still relies on the same kind of half-assed functionalism as Stone (and Naomi Wolf.)   The fact that lots of people hated JFK doesn’t prove that this caused Oswald to assassinate him.

Obama Stole My Car Keys

[ 118 ] November 28, 2011 |

Naomi Wolf has another conspiracy theory she wishes you to consider:

In other words, for the DHS to be on a call with mayors, the logic of its chain of command and accountability implies that congressional overseers, with the blessing of the White House, told the DHS to authorise mayors to order their police forces – pumped up with millions of dollars of hardware and training from the DHS – to make war on peaceful citizens.

The implied logic seems to be as follows:

  1. Some of the local officials who cracked down on OWS and coordinated with each other contacted officials within the DHS.
  2. ?????????
  3. The attacks must have been initiated by the DHS with the approval of the White House.

Not only does the third not remotely follow from the first, but there’s not actually even any evidence for the first assertion.

It’s also worth noting that yet again there are reactionary assumptions embedded in what on the surface looks like a leftier-than-tthou conspiracy theory.   Her conduct in the Assange case involved using rape apologism to defend a whisteblower.  In this case, there seems to be an implicit states’ “rights” assumption at work — authoritarian actions could not be the result of our benevolent local overlords but must be the work of the big bad feds.    History does not provide much support for this assumption.

A Dialogue on Disappointment

[ 79 ] November 27, 2011 |

I thought that Jon Chait’s long article on leftist disappointment with Democratic Presidents was interesting, but that it succeeded in identification of such discontent without making much effort to explain it. David Atkins has a nice response with two potential explanations, first the unwillingness/inability of the last three Democratic Presidents to break from the evidently increasing economic insanity of the GOP, and second the existence and continued success of progressive-by-American-standards economic models in other OECD states.

While both of these make a lot of sense, I’m not sure they get us all the way there. For one, Atkins suggests that the primary reasons for discontent post-Carter have been economic; in this vision, although Bill Clinton’s tenure is economically successful on many metrics, it amounts mainly to pursuing GOP priorities competently rather than incompetently. The most vocal critics of Obama, however, have attacked on both the imperial executive/warmaking/etc., and socio-economic grounds (insufficiency of the ACA and the stiumlus). As has often been argued on this blog, on these former metrics Obama does fine compared to other recent Democratic Presidents.

Atkins doesn’t suggest that leftist are implicitly comparing US and European models of foreign policy and civil liberties, and it’s not hard to see why. To my mind, the difference on issues such as warmaking and aggressive foreign policy between the US and major European states is largely positional; many states joined the US in Iraq and Afghanistan, and while Germany and France sat out Iraq, it’s obviously not difficult to find examples of modern French imperialism or German amorality in foreign affairs. On civil liberties questions, I suspect that progressives would have a collective heart attack if anyone proposed London levels of state surveillance in New York City, or accorded US law enforcement many of the anti-terror tools that French and German police take for granted. The case of the intervention in Libya is particularly instructive. Obama’s liberties with the War Powers Resolution are notable only in domestic legal context; by and large, comparable European systems grant warmaking latitude to the executive sufficient to make comparison with the United States moot. Moreover, we have strong recent evidence of European executives (Berlusconi, Aznar) engaging in foreign conflict over nearly unanimous domestic opposition.

And so while I think that Atkins gets us some of the way to explaining the phenomenon that Chait identifies, there’s obviously something left unsettled. It’s hard to disagree with the conclusion that American foreign policy leftists in general are quite correct in the belief that they are effectively unrepresented by either of the two major parties, and that it has been thus for most of the twentieth century. Consistent criticism of Democratic Presidents, up to and including Obama, is from this perspective entirely to be expected, although such critiques could probably benefit from some comparative perspective. The civil liberties perspective is harder, because it doesn’t fit neatly into a left-right divide; many on the right hold views on “civil liberties” broadly conceived that are quite compatible with leftist attitudes, although generally for different reasons. There are also some inherent contradictions between pursuit of a socio-economically activist state and promotion of a strong vision of civil liberties, as the activist state inevitably tramples on some individual rights.

Hast thou seen my anointed, TEBOW?

[ 68 ] November 27, 2011 |


A reading from the Book of Comebacks, Verses 3-13

Hast thou seen my anointed, TEBOW
For verily, there is none like him.
Let the heathen rage, for my BLESSING is upon him,
And I shall smite down those who mock him
Hurling them from their high places into
A slough of despond,
Until the LAMENTATIONS of their women
Fill the air, and they shall know him in his GREATNESS.

Let not the Chief nor the Raider lay strong hands upon him
For my WRATH shall blaze up against them;
And let the Charger give way before him
So that the scribes compose paens to his glory
And the minstrels sing A NEW SONG to his reign.

Seriously, this is starting to get weird.

Thank God It’s Them Instead of You

[ 42 ] November 27, 2011 |

Not that Christmas songs done jukebox-musical style for those who find American Idol a little too edgy sounds promising in any case, but this has the potential to be a historic meeting of hacks, like Deep Blue Something covering Better Than Ezra or Joel Schumacher filming an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical (oh wait, that happened):

Those smiley, nasal “Glee” cast voices return for a second batch of Christmas songs…There are only two serious clunkers: a revival of the patronizing British benefit single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and a faithful, unadorned piano-and-voice remake of “River,” in which Lea Michele earnestly proves she’s no Joni Mitchell.

Hmm. Well, the most salient characteristics of “Do They Know it’s Christmas” are 1)its appalling aesthetic qualities and 2)its well-meaning (in a self-congratulatory way) but ultimately clunky, condescending, and offensive politics. So, actually, shouldn’t a Glee Christmas album consist of 12 versions of it?*

*On point 2 of the linked FAQ, in fairness it must be noted that the Kings of Leon were also being dicks, so Murphy had particular reason for being pissed off in that specific case.But, still, the idea that every band in the world owes it to Murphy to license their songs for the children!!!!!!!! is like a Wal-Mart manager saying that because of 9/11 his clerks should work unpaid overtime. Look, if Murphy wants to wring every last dollar out of his fans by flogging every possible shitty cover version of the most obvious pop hits on iTunes, that’s his privilege — this is America. But to pretend that selling karaoke versions of songs everyone knows is really about Educating America’s Children About the Arts, ye gods, enough of that.

Cuba Embargo: Designed to Fail

[ 13 ] November 27, 2011 |

Anya Landau French has a good comparison of the sanction policies against Burma and Cuba. Key point:

Unlike the maze of Congressionally-mandated sanctions against Cuba enacted over the last several decades, the Burma sanctions were designed to expire unless proponents make a compelling case to renew them. The sanctions only last a year, unless Congress passes a joint resolution to renew them another year. Imminent expiration of the sanctions means that Congress actually monitors and evaluates the effectiveness of its policy toward Burma every year, instead of leaving the sanctions in place indefinitely at the whim of the single most interested member or members of Congress, as in the case of the Cuba embargo… But because the Cuba sanctions are open-ended and lack meaningful oversight, Cuban officials insist they can have little confidence that the U.S. will actually take significant steps to improve the relationship even if Cuba does.

This problem was in part created by and is certainly amplified by the fact that the embargo is not designed in any meaningful sense to change the behavior of the government of Cuba. Rather, it is designed to meet the demands of a small but vocal and strategically located US voting constituency.

I was very hopeful about Obama’s Cuba policy before the election. As in many other things, Congressional intransigence and the administration’s unwillingness to press the issue have meant that gains have been measured. As French points out, however, Cuba has seen a good deal of meaningful economic and even political reform over the past few years, even in absence of any US moderation.


[ 4 ] November 27, 2011 |

Unfathomably terrible news for longtime friend of LGM James Joyner. Sincerest consolations to James and his family.

This Changes Nothing

[ 43 ] November 27, 2011 |

Again, I can’t really blame the campaign journalists for pretending that the GOP nomination race is still a going concern, but for anyone tempted to think that the Union Leader‘s endorsement of man who isn’t running for president Newt Gingrich is a big deal, let’s keep in mind that past endorsees include Steve Forbes and Pierre Pete DuPont.

The Shallower Jonah Goldberg

[ 56 ] November 27, 2011 |

Shorter Verbatim Ann Althouse: “Moody doesn’t entertain the notion that OWS might be fascist. He blithely links Miller and fascism to the conservative side of the political spectrum.”

And Althouse blithely refuses to consider that fascism in fact resides on the complacent center-right! Will she never look in the mirror? Perhaps a 500 page book will be written about this fascinating possibility.

…as the incomparable Self-Styled Siren notes via the Twitter, I shouldn’t neglect Althouse’s assertion that Ang Lee’s beautiful film version of The Ice Storm was “glossy Oscar-bait” about “boring people in the suburbs.” Of course, it was a terrific, non-glossy, remarkably well-acted film about characters that aren’t boring and that generally avoids Alan Ball-style cliches about Dreary Suburbs; perhaps she has it confused with American Beauty or something. Not coincidentally, it also got completely shut out of major Oscar nominations in a year where other best picture nominees included James Cameron’s sinking boat movie and As Good As It Gets. See, now that’s what middlebrow Oscar bait looks like.

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