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Archive for September, 2012

The iPhone 5: That Shine Comes from the Blood of Foxconn Workers

[ 34 ] September 24, 2012 |

When workers are rioting because their lives are so awful that there’s absolutely nothing to lose, it’s pretty bloody awful. Let’s just hope international pressure continues to push Apple to “work with Foxconn” to improve conditions. After all, what power does one of the world’s most influential corporations really have to dictate the conditions of work for its manufacturers??? And of course, since consumers clearly won’t pay a penny more to acquire the coolness of an Apple product, the idea of creating work conditions that would make suicide nets unnecessary is obviously impossible……


Steve Sabol, RIP

[ 4 ] September 24, 2012 |

It’s really hard to overstate the awesomeness of NFL Films. Steve Sabol was a genius. RIP.

White Nose

[ 1 ] September 24, 2012 |

Sometimes, it’s hard for me to write about environmental issues because it makes me want to cry. One example is white nose syndrome, a fungus that is devastating the bat population of the east and will quite possibly send every population of hibernating bats into extinction. But at least the Nature Conservancy is working with some universities to try and figure out what the heck is going on. That’s a sign of hope at least.


[ 19 ] September 24, 2012 |

Oh, Colonel Mustard.

And Jacobson is still keeping his 4-part series about how Warren is so un-American that she once put Sriracha rather than ketchup on an omelet under wraps, so Warren better build up a substantial lead…


Scam talk

[ 128 ] September 24, 2012 |


Here’s an interview I did with Megan McArdle in re the law school scam and my new book on the subject.

Foreign Entanglements: East China Sea

[ 4 ] September 24, 2012 |

On Foreign Entanglements, Dr. Toshi Yoshihara and I discuss rising tensions in the East China Sea:

The scandal

[ 22 ] September 24, 2012 |


If you want a glimpse into the short-term future of American legal education, take a look at what New England Law did this year with its entering class. NEL has, even by the standards of low-ranked law schools, atrocious employment statistics: only a little more than a third of the 2011 class got legal jobs (full-time long-term bar admission required; and this figure is bolstered by 15 people who listed themselves as starting solo practices), one in five graduates was completely unemployed, only four graduates out of 308 got jobs with law firms of more than 50 attorneys, and the median reported salary for the class was around $50,000, even though less than 25% of the class had a reported salary (Given these stats, it’s likely the true median salary for 2011 graduates of NEL was under $30,000.)

NEL has raised its tuition faster than almost any other private law school in the country, nearly doubling it since 2004, from $22,475 to $42,490 (these figures don’t include health insurance, which will run students close to another $2,000 if they purchase it from the school, and which they’re required to have under state law). The 2011 class had a mean reported law school debt of $120,480, but keep in mind this figure doesn’t include accrued interest, private non-government guaranteed loans, and other educational debt. Taking these factors into account, the average 2011 graduate almost certainly had at least $150,000 in educational debt, and quite possibly as much as $175,000.

The large majority of NEL grads aren’t getting legal jobs, and almost everyone who does get a legal job isn’t getting one that justifies the cost of attending the school. So what did this institution decide to do this year, given these extraordinarily dire statistics? If you guessed “raise tuition more than twice as fast as inflation and increase the size of the incoming class by 17%” you win a prize. NEL increased its incoming class from 385 to 452 students. It achieved this, while applications to law school in general were plummeting, by dropping the median LSAT score of full-time matriculants from the 53rd percentile to the 41st percentile, and that of part-time students from the 41st percentile to the 33rd (fully a quarter of the part-time admits had LSAT scores below the 26th percentile of test takers).

But we haven’t even gotten to the punch line yet, which is that the dean of this monument to catastrophic market failure is John O’Brien, who was none other than the chair of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar during the 2011-12 academic year — that is, the section of the ABA that is supposed to be regulating the conduct of accredited law schools. (O’Brien was paid $867,000 by NEL in 2010-2011).

What we have here, in other words, is the academic equivalent of what in the world of finance is known as a pump and dump operation. With an eye for the main chance that would make the likes of Whitey Bulger proud, O’Brien, who has been dean of NEL for 24 years, seems to have decided that he might as well get while the getting is good. With unlimited federal loan money there for the taking, NEL continues to jack up tuition as fast as it can, while tossing any semblance of admissions standards out the window, and not even pretending to care whether graduates are taking on life-wrecking amounts of debt in return for degrees that will rarely produce returns that justify their cost, and which indeed in many cases are going to be worse than worthless.

And while it’s true that if something can’t go on forever, it will stop, there’s still at the moment nothing to stop people like O’Brien from running educational boiler rooms. Yes the whole thing is starting to crash, but in the meantime there’s still money to be made, and lots of it. (My guess is that, as fiscal reality slowly sets in, a lot more law schools will stop trying to hold their LSAT medians, and instead admit whoever they have to admit to keep classes from shrinking even further.)

I suppose in a perverse way it’s a positive sign that a “special board” was appointed last year to make sure that O’Brien’s astronomical compensation — his salary is around three times larger than average for a law school dean — is warranted.

The only actual achievement cited by the review board is that, like a lot of bottom feeding schools, NEL has been turned into an apparently effective three-year bar review course.

NEL makes a very big deal of the fact that it spends lots of student tuition on paying SCOTUS justices to give little talks and such. There is to put it mildly zero evidence that this has produced any “elevated prestige” for the school.

As for “financial stability,” until about 15 minutes ago running a crap law school was a license to print money, and it would have taken an extraordinarily incompetent dean to fail to achieve “financial stability.”

The best part of this is citing heading the ABA Section of Legal Education as evidence that this guy is “strengthening the field” (the field, remember, being the practice of law) overall. Just imagine how bad employment stats for lawyers would have become if John O’Brien hadn’t been strengthening the field by running the Section of Legal Education.

As Michael Kinsley once observed, the scandal isn’t what’s illegal — the scandal is what’s legal.

MLA Job Leaks

[ 50 ] September 24, 2012 |

The main site can be found here. Please “Like” the Facebook page (and share with like-minded friends) if you find the site’s manifesto compelling (which you should):

  • We believe access to the jobs list should be available to all prospective faculty members, not just those with financial means.
  • We believe that a policy that publishes the list “openly” only occasionally, and gives full access to others who pay, isn’t really open.
  • We believe that the profession is better served by being transparent and accessible.
  • We believe that if other professional academic organizations can distribute their lists freely, than so can the MLA. (The MLA should be a leader, not a follower.) (American Historical Association and American Mathematical Society are both free.)
  • We believe that a policy which requires individuals to choose between paying and restricted access hurts the most disadvantaged of our community.
  • We believe that all those who are part of the MLA community should help address this problem and distribute the job list, however and whenever possible.

Anarchy in Baltimore

[ 165 ] September 23, 2012 |


Tonight’s NFL game was a nice illustration of what happens when the putative authority figures in a social situation are neither respected or feared by the people they are supposed to be regulating.

Good to see the network announcers have given up on defending this crap.

Queen City Bolsheviks Seize Machinery of the [NL Central]

[ 28 ] September 23, 2012 |

DJW and I stood witness to the Reds capture of the NL Central last night. As I wrote in March:

The Reds should be viewed as prohibitive favorites in the NL Central…

Ryan Ludwick is an impressive acquisition; there is every reason to expect 25+ home run power…

Once Baker settles Aroldis Chapman into the closer role, the bullpen should be the best in the National League…

With what I expect to be a rejuvenated Bronson Arroyo solidifying the back half of the rotation, the Reds have no worries in the rotation…

It’s not enough to say that Joey Votto is great and be done with it; this team is good enough to win the division *without* Votto…

And if only I’d hit the “Publish” button, they’d be calling me a genius.

To be sure, I did think that the Reds would win the NL Central, and I’m not surprised that they won it going away.  I had much more confidence in the rotation than did Scott (although Arroyo’s season has been remarkable), and higher expectations for Cueto than seemed common at the time. I absolutely could not have imagined that they’d miss Votto for 48 games and go 31-17. We’ll see how things work out moving forward; with Cueto and Latos they have a pair of outstanding playoff starters, plus an excellent bullpen.  Perhaps most importantly, there is no longer a temptation to start Edison Volquez in the first game of the division series…

The Unpersuasive Case For Not Taxing Capital Income

[ 286 ] September 23, 2012 |

Four points about Matt’s post defending taxing wage income at much higher rates than income derived from capital:

  • I’m confident that the assertion that there’s a consensus among economists that income derived from capital shouldn’t be taxed at all is erroneous.   (See, for example, this winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, who pretty clearly seems to think that income from capital should be taxed.)
  • While I’m not open to the idea that Mitt Romney should be paying no or almost no taxes in most years, I could perhaps be persuaded that income from capital should be taxed at somewhat lower rates.   However, both principles of equity and free market principles place a heavy burden of proof on those arguing that wage income should be taxed more heavily.
  • I assume that the economics literature tells better stories, but obviously the just-so story presented here is so tendentious as to be self-refuting. Sure, if you 1)accept the premise that reducing or eliminating capital gains taxes will result in productive infrastructure investments rather than worthless accounting tricks, 2)ignore the economic benefits created by consumption, 3)assume that significant numbers of people will forgo money for doing nothing just because the profits will be taxed , and 4)ignore the fact that in most jurisdictions consumption is also “double taxed,” then reducing capital gains taxes looks good.   But since all of these assumptions are (to put it mildly) highly contestable, it’s just question-begging.
  • Particularly in light of Matt’s recent assumptions of pure self-interest on the part of teachers, it seems to me that we should consider the possibility that countries generally tax income from capital at lower rates not because policymakers have been persuaded by empirically dubious just-so stories and have arrived at the optimal policy outcome, but rather because the economic elites who disproportionately influence public policy (as well as many policy-makers themselves) gain massive immediate tangible benefits from the policy.

Paul Ryan, Ready to Starve Those Sugar Farming Communists

[ 42 ] September 22, 2012 |

Paul Ryan once was good on an issue–stopping the idiocy of the Cuban embargo. But now, since his party needs to pander to a disappearing number of disproportionally powerful aging right-wing Cuban exiles in Miami in order to win a swing state, Ryan has “learned” that the Castro regime is the greatest evil ever known to humankind and a clear threat to American national sovereignty and world freedom. And thus the embargo must be continued in order to destabilize the Castro regime. Surely after another 50 years, it’s bound to work!

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