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Archive for January, 2014

Albany Law School to fire tenured faculty based on merit evaluations?

[ 87 ] January 31, 2014 |

Updated Below

That seems to be at least a strong possibility, from a reading of the documents made available here, by the Albany Law School chapter of the AAUP (this chapter came into existence two months ago).

In his message [Chair of the Board of Trustees Daniel] Nolan stated that “relevant financial circumstances facing the School require a headcount reduction, including faculty.” Enclosed with his message were criteria — under the headings “teaching,” “scholarship,” and “service” — that Mr. Nolan said the administration had proposed to use “in considering faculty reductions.” . . . Faculty sources have further reported that [Dean Penny Andrews has] stated both privately and publicly that terminations of faculty appointments would be effected without regard to whether the appointments were non-tenure track, probationary for tenure, or tenured.

The chapter claims both that the school has not demonstrated that it is facing a bona fide financial emergency (“exigency” in the jargon of higher ed force reductions), or that any tenured faculty should be dismissed for incompetence.

This isn’t an area that I know much about, but I’m unclear what legal relevance, if any, these arguments have. As far as I’m aware Albany isn’t under any obligation to follow AAUP standards in these matters (The AAUP takes the position that tenure-track faculty and other permanent faculty should only be fired upon the showing of a genuine financial emergency that can’t be dealt with by other means, and that, in the case of such an emergency, untenured faculty should always be let go before any tenured faculty, who should only lose their jobs either for “incompetence,” or, in the case of a financial emergency, if firing all the untenured faculty isn’t enough.)

In this case the AAUP standards seem to be merely precatory, as lawyers say, which means that the only cost Albany incurs by ignoring them is reputational, assuming of course that the school follows whatever procedures it’s contractually obligated to follow when firing employees. (Update: A three year old version of the school’s faculty handbook says tenured faculty can be fired only for cause or financial exigency. See Appendix B at 14).

But that reputational cost could be quite considerable, if the school were to go so far as to fire tenure-track and especially tenured faculty because it’s in such severe financial straits (Ex post facto rationalizations that such people were fired as a result of “merit” evaluations are likely to ring hollow).

A school is likely to go to great lengths to avoid the bad publicity such a move would produce, by firing lower-level staff, offering buyouts to senior faculty, cutting faculty salaries, and taking every step short of the most radical possible interventions, which are, in ascending order of radicalism, firing tenure track faculty, opening a Holiday Inn Express where the library used to be, and not giving top administrators greater than COL raises this year.

So just how bad are things at Albany? Here’s a quick look at the school’s financial picture.

In FY2010 the school had an operating surplus of $3.3 million on total revenues of just under $35 million. (Salary and benefits for all employees made up 52.6% of operating expenses, which is actually on the low side for a law school — this figure is typically in the 60% to 70% range).

In FY2011 the school’s operating surplus increased to nearly $4.9 million, as revenues went up by 3% while employee compensation remained flat.

In FY2012, employee compensation actually declined by more than $600,000, and revenues exceeded expenses by $3.45 million.

As of July 2012, the school reported that it had $90.46 million in assets and $24.1 million in liabilities.

This does not look like much of a financial emergency, subject to a couple of caveats:

(1) July 2012 was 19 months ago, and things have been going very badly for law schools since then.

(2) Tuition revenue declined between FY2009 and FY2012, from $30.1 million to $28.8 million, and will probably be a million or two lower than that in FY2014. This is a function of declining enrollment. After a massive run up over the previous eight years, during which time it nearly doubled, tuition increased fairly modestly from $39,050 to $43,248 over this four-year stretch. More problematically, applications to the school fell in half over the last two years.

Year Applications Matriculants

2009: 2215, 255

2010: 2572, 236

2011: 2153, 235

2012: 1771, 196

2013: 1193, 187

The school has reduced the median LSAT of the entering class from 155 in 2009 (63.9 percentile) to 152 (52.2). It has not, apparently, increased its tuition discounting practices, as slightly less than two-thirds of each class continues to pay sticker price, while around one third of the class continues to get an average of 50% off sticker tuition.

Perhaps there’s more here than meets the eye, but I’ve looked at a lot of law school budgetary situations in the last few months, and Albany’s appears to be, if anything, healthier (relatively speaking of course) than average. So why is the school apparently on the verge of firing a bunch of faculty, including, perhaps, tenured faculty? Perhaps someone inside the school can shed more light on the situation (any communications will be treated in strict confidence).

Update: A comment from ichininosan has inspired me to to look more critically at Albany’s financials. It turns out the OP’s back of the envelope calculation understates the school’s current financial problems. Thanks in large part to Kent Syverud’s efforts, the ABA Section on Legal Education now provides much more transparent data on a number of matters, including law school enrollments. Looking at this data, it’s possible to calculate quite precisely how much nominal tuition (pre discounts) Albany is getting in FY2014 from full-time JD students, part-time students, and non-JD students. The answer is $25,148,712. But we must take into account that the school is likely to have around 50 fewer students this fall, as the “normal” sized entering class of 2011 is replaced with another small class (the fact that Albany’s dean and board are acting so aggressively indicates that applications are continuing their steep recent decline). Assuming the school raises tuition by $1,000 (the average over the past five years), Albany will be down another $1.6 million in gross tuition revenue. Thus tuition revenue (pre discounts) will have fallen from just under $29 million in FY2012 to around $23.5 million in FY2015. Indeed, in constant dollars tuition revenue will have fallen by 30% between FY2009 and FY2015 — and tuition revenue represents about 85% of the school’s operating revenue. That would seem, given its current overall budget, to put the school a couple of million dollars in the red, which is obviously a problem for a free-standing institution that doesn’t have a central administration to bail it out. And of course there’s no way of knowing if the decline in demand for law school admissions has hit bottom yet.

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Assertive Use of the Bully Pulpit

[ 132 ] January 31, 2014 |

Chris Christie is about to have a Jack moment:

The former Port Authority official who personally oversaw the lane closings on the George Washington Bridge in the scandal now swirling around Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said on Friday that the governor knew about the lane closings when they were happening, and that he had the evidence to prove it.

Illogical ISA Proposal Defended Illogically

[ 24 ] January 31, 2014 |

Rob mentioned the ISA’s proposal that anyone associated with administering an ISA journal be prohibited from blogging. The president has sent an email defending it, and as you would expect, it doesn’t make any sense:

“Often the sort of ‘professional environment’ we expect our members to promote is challenged by the nature of the presentations and exchanges that often occur on blogs,” Starr wrote. “The proposed policy is one response, not to blogs per se, but to issues that can arise with people confusing the personal blogs of the editors of ISA journals with the editorial policies for their journals. This proposal is trying to address that possible confusion.”

First of all, in a narrow sense, this policy would seem to be a response to a wholly invented problem. Is there any case ever of someone associating remarks on a personal blog with a professional organization because the blogger is on the board of a journal? But clearly it’s connected to a broader point about “blogs” and the bizarre assumption that unlike other means of communication medium they might result in people saying things they regret. (I’m particularly puzzled that there would be a focus on blogs rather than Twitter, which seems much more likely to lead to regrettable comments and offers much less potential to make scholarly work available to a general audience, but clearly this hasn’t been thought through, and the whole idea of banning the use particular forms of media is silly.)

This all reminds me if of the “Ivan Tribble” incident from many moons ago. The first remarkable thing about it was that someone described a completely broken hiring process in which committees made crucial hiring decisions based on arbitrary personal trivia, only this was not done as critical exposure but expressed with apparent pride. But the more relevant dumb argument was that someone took to the Chronicle of Higher Ed to anonymously reveal the content of a hiring committees’ deliberations, and reached the conclusion that no blogger could be trusted because they might reveal secret information even if they had no history of doing so. Such self-refuting arguments setting blogs apart from other forms of writing were strange in 2005; in 2014, it’s beyond strange.

What if?

[ 18 ] January 31, 2014 |

What if Mad Men had been a 1980s sitcom?

What if Neil Young was a Mexican American woman born in East LA?

Need a third thing here but can’t think of one.

“His teammates just wanted to stand there and watch, that’s all.”

[ 36 ] January 31, 2014 |

I just fell apart while reading this. Wife thought I was having a heart attack.

Also this: “There is in fact no bowl.”

The Ballad of Two Brothers

[ 60 ] January 30, 2014 |

A very special treat for everyone tonight. Of all the right-wing anti-hippie country songs from the late 60s and early 70s, none, and I mean none, reach the magisterial bizarre glory of Autry Inman’s “The Ballad of Two Brothers.” This is very, very special.

Mittmentum

[ 154 ] January 30, 2014 |

Thing is, Mitt actually seems more electable than most of the frequently mentioned possible 2016 GOP candidates.

American Exceptionalism

[ 317 ] January 30, 2014 |

Blogging will be light for the next few days, as I’m in Montreal giving a lecture.

Since I’m back in a country that abolished the death penalty because it’s a liberal democracy that isn’t the United States, I should note that Eric Holder has announced that the DOJ will seek the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. This is wrong because the death penalty is wrong — arbitrary and inequitable at best, prone to innocent people being killed at worst — and the DOJ is not required to seek the penalty. It’s a black mark against the administration.

Musing about the CIO’s Legacy

[ 28 ] January 30, 2014 |

I’ve been reading and rereading some key books of American labor history of late and I have a few thoughts. First on the CIO, after reading Robert Zieger’s 1995’s book, The CIO, 1935-1955.

There’s a sort of popular history of the CIO in the progressive mind that might go like this: The AFL sucked and was racist and wouldn’t organize industrial workers and so John Lewis changed this by creating the CIO. Worker activism, especially with the sit-down strikes of the late 1930s in the auto industry combined with FDR’s labor law to open up mass organizing, which was largely achieved by World War II. After the war, the CIO really screwed up by jumping in bed with the companies, undermining rank and file action, and kicking out the communists. By the time of the merger with the AFL in 1955, there wasn’t much reason for the CIO to exist as a separate entity.

I wouldn’t quibble with too much of this popular history. But I think for progressives and leftists thinking about the CIO as an important point in American labor history–and more importantly thinking about the role of the labor movement, progressivism broadly conceived, radicalism, etc. in American life today–there are a few issues and facts that have to be reckoned with.

1. That the CIO worked at all is incredibly lucky. It was so contingent on a lot falling the right way and it’s amazing it more or less happened. John L. Lewis was willing to front all the new unions a ton of money that they really couldn’t pay back. Yet by the time that Lewis bailed on the CIO project in 1940, there was just enough money to keep it all going. Lewis was mostly willing to tolerate communists for just long enough to get these organizing campaigns going. The need for full mobilization during World War II was all that really stabilized the CIO financially. Without it, it’s hard to say what would have happened to most of the industrial unions.

2. For all the talk of union power, actual information about the CIO’s success in mobilizing workers outside of basic organization does not leave one optimistic. Basically, the CIO struggled motivating workers at the polls. It’s political program was largely a failure on the local level. Historians like Thomas Sugrue have shown how Detroit workers were willing to reject the UAW whenever it pushed for racial equality, voting for Republicans even in the late 30s. Its candidates often lost, even in pro-labor states like Michigan and Ohio. The CIO fought hard to support Helen Gagahan Douglas against Richard Nixon and she was crushed. There are many cases like this from the late 30s until the merger in 1955. While CIO workers tended to vote more liberally than non-CIO workers, the federation simply could not turn the tide of most elections, even in its areas of strength.

3. Even more important, the American people outside of the CIO basically hated the organization. It’s worth remembering that not only did Taft-Hartley pass and not only did Taft-Hartley pass over Truman’s veto, but that the CIO wasn’t able to do a single thing to punish the politicians involved. That’s because not only did Taft-Hartley have the overwhelming support of the American people, it had a lot of support from rank and file members of CIO unions who were never comfortable with the radicalism of some of their leaders.

4. While the CIO redbaiting the communists out of the federation certainly helped undermine the social ferment unionism that gave the federation a reason to exist outside the AFL, it’s also important to remember that the communists actually were taking their orders from Moscow. Their constant position switching to fit Stalin’s new line disgusted many, including rank and file workers. Most workers were avowed anti-communists. Because the communists had great discipline and understood the mechanism of how unions worked, they tended to have outsized influence in the unions, but when there was a non-communist alternative, most (though certainly not all) workers were happy to get rid of them. There are exceptions to this, but the larger point stands–if we think that the communists were good for the labor movement, we do have to understand that most actual workers hated them.

5a. One area where the communist unions were right on and the CIO leadership was dead wrong was on race and Operation Dixie. The CIO tried to appeal to white workers in the South, meaning it avoided any talk of integration. Some of the communist-led unions had southern locals based upon black workers. The white workers hated them precisely because of the communist line on race. But there was much white workers in the South did not like on unions. The communists strongly pushed for an integrationist line and that had a much better chance of succeeding, because southern black workers were ardently pro-union when southern white workers weren’t really pro-union anyway. Not only was this important from a moral standpoint, the failure of Operation Dixie gave northern companies even more incentive to begin a process of capital mobility to the nonunion south that continues today in the global south.

5b. The CIO was to the right of the AFL on foreign policy issues between 1945 and 1955. The AFL retained an independence from the national security state (and the state more generally) than the CIO. The CIO relied upon federal legislation to push its agenda. Part of that deal was integrating itself into the state, which meant actively supporting Cold War foreign policy. The CIO basically said that Jacobo Arbenz had too many communists in his government, lending after the fact support to the coup in Guatemala.

6. On the other hand, it was precisely this working within the state and more specifically the Democratic Party that created the modern liberal state that did more for real workers than anything else in American history. Yet the growing consumer purchasing power of CIO workers actually did separate them from the rest of the American working class and there is a lot of evidence of CIO members in the 40s and 50s opposing federal programs that would have expanded the liberal state to a larger sector of the poor, precisely out of the same spirit of jealousy that today manifests itself in today’s poor complaining about public sector workers getting benefits when they don’t have any.

7. One thing the CIO and AFL had in common was no tolerance for rank and file activism. While rank and file activism did help build the CIO, its leaders were far more comfortable operating in Washington than the shop floor. It looked to crush wildcat strikes precisely because they made the internationals look bad to government and business leaders. On the other hand, there’s not all that much evidence that most workers wanted much in the way of rank and file activism and when they did express it, it was often protesting black people getting jobs or other socially reactionary issues.

Of course as so many people on the left have done, you can just look at this and say the CIO was a corrupted organization and that we need to promote solidarity, worker militancy, and direct action. Because the IWW did promote all of these things, they would say it is far more useful organization to see as a model than the CIO. The problem with that formulation is that the IWW has never accomplished anything. We might rightfully see the CIO as a deeply flawed organization. But what it did accomplish for American workers was enormous, even with all these problems.

And these discussions of worker solidarity, democratic unionism, and militancy are often just vague dreams without much meaningful connection to what the working class actually wants, which is to watch TV and go to their kids’ soccer games. Which ultimately is what most of us want because activism is hard and TV is fun.

In other words, history is complicated and any pat narrative that says this or that model is going to transform the conditions of the world’s workers is probably wrong. And if we are going to look at any past issues or models, we need to ground them in real historical fact and complexity. It’s one thing to remember Joe Hill and Frank Little and Emma Goldman with a quick raised fist or singing of Solidarity Forever. It’s another to be serious enough about our ideas to improve the lives of the world’s poor to investigate whether they actually had much useful to offer outside of image and figure. The CIO might have screwed up in some important ways. It’s still primarily responsible for actually winning the key issues that created the American middle class.

Fast Track

[ 34 ] January 30, 2014 |

Good for Harry Reid, denying Obama’s desire to fast track free trade agreements that will send even more jobs out of the United States. And as Scott has noted about Reid before, the man rarely speaks without knowing that the Democratic Caucus is behind him.

Deadbeat elementary school kids launch first phase of Kristallnacht 2.0 by trying to steal lunch from hedge fund managers

[ 220 ] January 30, 2014 |

rand

The corndog is the gefilte fish of liberal fascism:

Up to 40 kids at Uintah Elementary in Salt Lake City picked up their lunches Tuesday, then watched as the meals were taken and thrown away because of outstanding balances on their accounts — a move that shocked and angered parents.

“It was pretty traumatic and humiliating,” said Erica Lukes, whose 11-year-old daughter had her cafeteria lunch taken from her as she stood in line Tuesday at Uintah Elementary School, 1571 E. 1300 South . . .

Jason Olsen, a Salt Lake City District spokesman, said the district’s child-nutrition department became aware that Uintah had a large number of students who owed money for lunches.

As a result, the child-nutrition manager visited the school and decided to withhold lunches to deal with the issue, he said.

But cafeteria workers weren’t able to see which children owed money until they had already received lunches, Olsen explained.

The workers then took those lunches from the students and threw them away, he said, because once food is served to one student it can’t be served to another.

Children whose lunches were taken were given milk and fruit instead.

Olsen said school officials told the district that their staffers typically tell students about any balances as they go through the lunch line and send home notifications to parents each week.

The district attempted to contact parents with balances via phone Monday and Tuesday, Olsen said, but weren’t able to reach them all before the child-nutrition manager decided to take away the students’ lunches.

1914, Niall Ferguson, and All That

[ 288 ] January 30, 2014 |

Today, I play amateur historian. I’m not a pro, of course, though I did double major as an undergrad (history & pol sci). In this respect, I have a greater academic background in history than I do in international relations, which is sort of ironic considering I teach a seminar in IR at the Masters level . . . but I digress.[*]

Niall Ferguson, one of LGM’s all time favorite British historians working at Harvard, is making the rounds today, but not for the usual hilarity we have grown to love and expect. Rather, he’s going out on a limb by arguing that perhaps British involvement in the First World War was not such a splendid idea after all. Indeed, with trademark reserve, Ferguson characterizes British involvement as “the biggest error in modern history”.

There are two ways to critique this position. First, the easiest: “biggest”. It’s not. Andrew Gelman cites several alternatives of the same genre, including Operation Barbarossa 1941, Pearl Habor 1941, the German invasion of Belgium in 1914, The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1981, and possibly even Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. I’d add in Germany’s declaration of war on the United States in December of 1941 for good measure. (Gelman’s brief piece is worth a read. It brings the funny.)

The other avenue of critique is the conception of “error” itself. Ferguson is flogging a new BBC documentary based on his 1999 book The Pity of War. With 100 years of perspective, [EDIT: i.e. knowing the consequences in blood and treasure] it’s easy seductive to conclude that Britain’s entry on the side of France and Russia was pointless. From a broad perspective, yes, that entire conflict was pointless as hell. However, from the perspective of the British political leadership between 1905 and 1914, specifically in July to August 1914, it’s not difficult (but it is painful) to understand why Britain indeed entered that war. That said, I do get the occasional bit of stick over here for America’s tardy participation in that conflict. My reply is usually something along the lines of “because we weren’t stupid” and “we didn’t have a dog in that fight”.

First, Britain, courtesy of the rapprochement with France, had a moral obligation to help her erstwhile enemy. They had a deal. The Royal Navy by and large ceded the Mediterranean Sea to France so the RN’s capital ships could be repositioned with the Home Fleet to cover the North Sea (and the rapidly expanding German High Seas Fleet). France was now predominantly responsible for protecting the critical lines of communication through the Mediterranean / Suez from any possible combination of Austria-Hungary / Italy / Turkey. The quid pro quo was that the British Army would send an expiditionary force across the Channel in the event of German aggression against France. (I believe that it wasn’t valid in the reverse scenario: French aggression against Germany, nor do I believe Belgium was included).

Second, nobody predicted that the conflict would ultimately be as costly in treasure and blood as it was. Britain got off relatively easy when contrasted with France, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, or even Turkey: the public debt increased over tenfold, and 9% of the 18-45 year old male cohort killed (around 725,000). If the major actors in August 1914 knew what their own worlds would look like in 1919, I suggest that they would not have gone forward with war at all. In other words, Ferguson’s thesis could be applied to each and every participant. While Wilhelm II was erratic, vain, restless, and perhaps a few fries short of a full happy meal, he wasn’t suicidal. His conservative harboring of the High Seas Fleet is evidence of this: he knew that the German Navy would lose a classic set-piece battle against the Grand Fleet, and he couldn’t bear to have his beloved navy destroyed. Hence, the adoption of a hit and run strategy against the Royal Navy (and development of unrestricted submarine warfare). Even if Germany had succeeded in the 1918 Spring Offensive and had knocked France out of the war, I doubt he’d have been willing to pay the price aggregated over the four years it took to get there. He certainly wouldn’t have voluntarily chosen the ultimate result: to ruin his country, abdicate, cede the High Seas Fleet to the Allies, and spend the rest of his life in exile in the Netherlands.

Ferguson makes two other arguments worth engaging. First, that a German hegemony over the continent was essentially no big deal to Britain:

“Britain could indeed have lived with a German victory. What’s more, it would have been in Britain’s interests to stay out in 1914 . . . Even if Germany had defeated France and Russia, it would have had a pretty massive challenge on its hands trying to run the new German-dominated Europe and would have remained significantly weaker than the British empire in naval and financial terms. Given the resources that Britain had available in 1914, a better strategy would have been to wait and deal with the German challenge later when Britain could respond on its own terms, taking advantage of its much greater naval and financial capability”.

What Ferguson doesn’t acknowledge here is that Britain was already in a steep relative decline. The complete economic superiority that it enjoyed during the period from 1815 and roughly 1870 had evaporated. It was losing market share abroad as its own industries weren’t keeping up with advancing technologies and processes, but rather resting on their laurels. Indeed, if it wasn’t for investment income and the finance sector (sounds familiar) the Empire would have had a net negative balance of trade. They were struggling to finance the expansion of the Royal Navy in order to maintain a semblance of the two power doctrine, even when France was explicitly removed from that two power equation. Assuming that Germany over-ran a France lacking in the help of the British Army (which while not certain remained a remarkably high probability), could this Empire in relative decline have really chosen its time to confront a continent under the control of Imperial Germany? Could the Royal Navy kept pace technologically and materially? Germany would have gained the French fleet, the channel ports, and, perhaps more critically, the Mediterranean ports. A Royal Navy that had to concentrate the overwhelming majority of its capital ships in the North Sea to keep the German fleet bottled up would find itself having to be spread perilously thin.

Rather that Britain retaining the geo-political initiative, I suggest that Imperial Germany would have had this advantage.

Simultaneous was the rapidly changing social and political context in Britain. The Liberal government under Asquith and Lloyd George had already taken steps in this direction with the People’s Budget of 1909. The power of the House of Lords was significantly eroded with the Parliament Act of 1914. A viable and vital Labour Party was just around the corner. Domestic politics was about to become a major line item in the budget, against the backdrop of declining economic hegemony. How could Britain continue to build four to six capital ships per year while simultaneously modernising the British Army in preparation for some future conflict against the continent led by Imperial Germany?

Additionally, what good would the Royal Navy have been as an offensive weapon, as Ferguson suggests above? In 1914, it was a defensive weapon. It could have prevented Britain from losing a war, but it alone could not have ensured that Britain win a war. This segues neatly into the second argument that Ferguson cites: Britain’s experience in the Napoleonic wars. Regarding the sacrosanct status of the channel ports to British strategy:

“This argument, which is very seductive, has one massive flaw in it, which is that Britain tolerated exactly that situation happening when Napoleon overran the European continent, and did not immediately send land forces to Europe. It wasn’t until the peninsular war that Britain actually deployed ground forces against Napoleon. So strategically, if Britain had not gone to war in 1914, it would still have had the option to intervene later, just as it had the option to intervene after the revolutionary wars had been under way for some time.”

The Royal Navy did not win that war. Nelson might be revered, Trafalgar a seminal moment in British history, but that battle was in 1805. Napoleon wasn’t finally defeated until 1815, and his invasion of Russia didn’t help matters much. More critically, Britain had a handful of continental allies against Napoleon. It was a land war. Yes, Britain managed to tread water in economic terms between 1805 and 1815, but there were negative effects of losing the continent as a market, and Britain vis-a-vis the entire planet was in a much better position in 1805 than it was 110 years later. Assuming Germany overran Belgium and France in 1914, then dispatched Russia (two of the three basically happened even with Britain in the war), who would join Britain against a consolidated Imperial Germany when Britain chose its time to counter in 1920 or 1930? Obviously not Austria-Hungary. Not Italy; it was a minor coup to get them to remain neutral at the beginning of the conflict.

There would not be a long queue of applicants for the position of “continental ally” with Team Britain in the struggle against Germany after Russia and France were eliminated, especially given that Britain had reneged on its deal and thrown France under the bus in 1914. How trustworthy would Britain be perceived to a continental minor power with plenty more to lose in squaring up against a Germany dominating the continent?

I’m not arguing that the First World War was a good idea. The entire enterprise was monumentally stupid, horrendous, and ruinous. I defend America’s avoidance of that conflict as long as we could. However, given the choices open to British political leadership in 1914, and what they knew to be true, it’s not obvious that entering on the side of France was “the biggest error in modern history”. They made a deal with France, so they were under a moral obligation to defend it. It’s not at all obvious that Britain would have been in a better strategic position in five or ten years to choose the time to deal with Germany. Such a future conflict would have required continental allies, who would not be willing for a variety of reasons. Britain itself was in relative economic decline. Assuming that German aggression had to be countered some how, it was probably better that it was countered in 1914 rather than some unclear time in the vague future.

Better yet, of course, is that all the principle actors in 1914 known what their world would have looked like in 1919. Of course, the world doesn’t quite work like that.

[*] The more I think about this, the less certain I am of the claim regarding relative academic backgrounds. I did take some IR at the masters and doctoral level, so its possibly balanced considering the quality and depth of those seminars, but I took a lot of history as an undergrad (obviously). None of this matters to the topic at hand, of course.

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