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Night Will Fall

[ 58 ] January 30, 2015 |

Night Will Fall is an HBO documentary about one aspect of the Holocaust. Specifically it’s a documentary about the making of another documentary: German Concentration Camps: Factual Survey. GCCFS was filmed, written, and edited — by among others Alfred Hitchcock — in the spring and summer of 1945, but then shelved for political reasons; it was only completed recently, by members of the Imperial War College. It has not yet had any general release, but hopefully Night Will Fall will help change that.

Indeed the most compelling features of Night Will Fall are a few minutes of excerpts from GCCFS, along with digitally restored footage taken for the making of the older film. A few observations:

1. One of the striking aspects of both the British and American response to the liberation of various concentration camps in Germany was that military authorities in both nations immediately mobilized considerable resources to document what their troops had found. Gen. Eisenhower in particular insisted on having a delegation of leaders of both houses of Congress visit the camps at once, even though the war in Europe was still being fought. (The report to Congress this visit generated is well worth reading, as among other things it illustrates how relatively little understanding the Allies had of the true scope and nature of the Final Solution even by the end of the war).

The Russians also brought in cameras to Auschwitz and Majdanek immediately after capturing them. The latter camp was unusually well preserved, because the rapid advance of the Red Army caught the SS by surprise, and much of the sort of evidence that was destroyed at other camps was preserved there. German Concentration Camps: Factual Survey employees some of this footage as well.

All this demonstrates how the Allies appreciated at the the time that the enormity of the Nazis’ crimes would be met with incredulity, no doubt in part because both world wars featured the use on all sides of exaggerated or wholly invented atrocity stories for propaganda purposes. In the case of the Holocaust, the atrocity stories turned out to be considerable understatements.

2. Night Will Fall isn’t an easy film to watch. The restored footage from the camps is in many cases extremely disturbing — as an Imperial War College expert who took part in the restoration notes, the tradition among those who photographed and filmed war had until then been to avoid graphic representations of war’s carnage, but this tradition was certainly not followed by the camera operators (almost all of them military men who had just learned to use their equipment) who chronicled what they found in the camps.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the images is that they make clear the extent to which the deaths in places like Dachau and Bergen-Belsen were products of brute starvation: the sheer emaciation of the corpses (and the film features thousands of corpses, including those of many women and children) is almost beyond belief. A couple of the camera operators — hardened soldiers being interviewed nearly 70 years after the fact — break down in tears when recounting their memories of their roles in the making of the original film.

3. For all the indescribable barbarity and horror of the concentration camps, these camps were in a sense peripheral to the core of the Holocaust: a point which GCCFS cannot have possibly conveyed, since this wasn’t understood at the time, but which the makers of Night Will Fall should have noted.

Although I’m far from an expert in these matters, it seems to me unfortunate that the sites that did make up the core of the Holcaust — Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor, Chelmno, and Auschwitz Birkenau — are referred to in English, following the German usage of the Nazis themselves, as “camps.” The word camp is properly applied to the forced labor prisons, designed originally for political prisoners and other “undesirables,” that are the focus of GCCFS and Night Will Fall. These concentration camps were qualitatively similar to the Soviet gulags, in that, although they ended up killing large numbers of their inmates as a consequence of extremely brutal conditions, rampant disease, starvation diets, and arbitrary executions, they were not designed to carry out bureaucratized, industrialized, carefully cataloged mass murder on a daily basis. What could more properly be called the Nazi murder factories were designed for no other purpose. Indeed these “camps” had essentially no residents, since, with the exception of a handful of inmates conscripted into the sonderkommando, the millions sent to them were murdered within a few hours of their arrival.

The word “camp,” even in the form of “extermination camp” or “death camp” can, I think, obscure what the essence of the Holocaust really was. The Nazis went to extraordinary lengths to hide the existence of these places, and indeed unlike the concentration and labor camps, the murder factories were never liberated or filmed (Auschwitz Birkenau was shut down and mostly dismantled months before the Soviets captured the territory on which it had operated, while the other murder factories were obliterated by the SS when they were abandoned, well before the lands on which they had stood were overrun by the Red Army. The one exception was Majdanek, but it was primarily a concentration camp, and it operated as an extermination center on a relatively small scale).

Holocaust denial is based almost exclusively on this fact, which once again illustrates the prescience of the Allies in doing what they could to document through film those parts of the Nazi murder machine that could not be disassembled before Allied troops swept over them.

Hopefully now that it has finally been completed, German Concentration Camps: Factual Survey will have a general theatrical release, and be made available on DVD. In the meantime, Night Will Fall is a film that ought to be seen.

The end of something

[ 161 ] January 21, 2015 |

Anyone interested in the law school crisis and the reform movements it has engendered ought to read this state of the (dis)union message from Esq. Never. Here’s a brief excerpt but you should really read the whole thing:

For years, the strategy of the law school cartel was clear: dangle the ostensible treasures afforded to the top 10% in front of prospective students and then lump toilet law proles and document review slaves into the ‘ol “Employed – JD required” bucket for reporting purposes.

The masses bought it; the mystique and prestige of the law degree was preserved while unctuous law administrators and professors feasted on the ceaseless blood money flowing from Sallie Mae and Access Group via the financial futures of so many deceived souls. . .

The jig is up. Even the slickest deans haven’t been able to spin the situation. Their previously enticing coos of prestige and prosperity sound more and more like a cacophony of used car salesmen trying to unload those jeeps from the 90’s that used to flip over. . .

With fewer prospective students, law schools only have two unpleasant choices: Reduce tuition and hack away at the scam’s raison d’être or attempt to retain the present cash flow and torpedo the prestige to which these pseudo-august institutions so jealously cling.

There really is no other choice. Bread and circuses won’t fly anymore. If prospective students are unpersuaded that there are ample legal jobs available, no amount of moot court rooms with mahogany benches and cutting edge technology is going to drive them in.

American Sniper

[ 153 ] January 20, 2015 |


[Th]he movie gives America something it’s lacked since the start of the war — a war hero on a truly national, cultural scale. Yes, we’ve learned the stories of Marcus Luttrell and others who’ve achieved great and heroic things, but with the success of this movie, Chris Kyle has entered the pantheon of American warriors — along with Alvin C. York and Audie Murphy — giving a new generation of young boys a warrior-hero to look up to, to emulate. After all, our kids’ heroes can’t be — must not be — exclusively quarterbacks, rappers, or point guards.

No one is claiming that Chris Kyle is Jesus. Every human being has flaws. And he risked no more and no less than the thousands upon thousands of anonymous soldiers and Marines who fought house-to-house during their own turns downrange, but he undeniably did his job better than any man who came before him — or any man since — and he did that job as part of his selfless service to our nation. I’m thankful that my own son counts Chris Kyle as a hero.

Leftists such as Michael Moore will rage on, and professors will judge the movie without seeing it — and all that backlash may cost the movie an Oscar — but Clint Eastwood has done something far greater than win an Oscar. He reached a great nation with a story it needed to hear.

David French, National Review

Men who shed tears if they have to kill a chicken kill on the battlefield without a qualm. They do so purely for the common good, repressing their human feeling as a painful, altruistic duty. Executioners kill a very few guilty men, parricides, forgers, and the like. Soldiers kill thousands of guiltless men, indiscriminately, blindly, with wild enthusiasm. Suppose an innocent visitor from another planet were to ask which of these two groups was shunned and despised on earth, and which was acclaimed, admired, rewarded, what would we answer? “Explain to me why the most honorable thing in the world — in the opinion of the entire human race without exception — is the right innocently to shed innocent human blood?”

Isaiah Berlin, paraphrasing and quoting Joseph de Maistre, in “Joseph de Maistre and the Origins of Fascism.”

Among the calamities of war may be justly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.

Samuel Johnson

Unfortunately, there is often a need of some concrete incident before one
can discover the real state of one’s feelings. Here is another memory
from Germany. A few hours after Stuttgart was captured by the French
army, a Belgian journalist and myself entered the town, which was still
in some disorder. The Belgian had been broadcasting throughout the war
for the European Service of the BBC, and, like nearly all Frenchmen or
Belgians, he had a very much tougher attitude towards ‘the Boche’ than an
Englishman or an American would have. All the main bridges into town had
been blown up, and we had to enter by a small footbridge which the
Germans had evidently made efforts to defend. A dead German soldier was
lying supine at the foot of the steps. His face was a waxy yellow. On his
breast someone had laid a bunch of the lilac which was blooming

The Belgian averted his face as we went past. When we were well over the
bridge he confided to me that this was the first time he had seen a dead
man. I suppose he was thirty five years old, and for four years he had
been doing war propaganda over the radio. For several days after this,
his attitude was quite different from what it had been earlier. He looked
with disgust at the bomb-wrecked town and the humiliation the Germans
were undergoing, and even on one occasion intervened to prevent a
particularly bad bit of looting. When he left, he gave the residue of the
coffee we had brought with us to the Germans on whom we were billeted. A
week earlier he would probably have been scandalized at the idea of
giving coffee to a ‘Boche’. But his feelings, he told me, had undergone a
change at the sight of ce pauvre mort beside the bridge: it had suddenly
brought home to him the meaning of war. And yet, if we had happened to
enter the town by another route, he might have been spared the experience
of seeing one corpse out of the–perhaps–twenty million that the war
has produced.

George Orwell, “Revenge is Sour”

I could not dig; I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?

Rudyard Kipling, “A Dead Statesman”

A simpler more innocent time

[ 95 ] January 14, 2015 |


JFK campaigning in 1960.

The kid with the gun looks very bored.

The “people aren’t perfect, he made a mistake” theory of criminal law

[ 83 ] January 11, 2015 |

AKA the “hasn’t he suffered enough?” defense, ably articulated this morning by California’s senior senator:

A top Senate Democrat defended David Petraeus on Sunday, saying the Justice Department erred in recommending charges against the former top Army general and Central Intelligence Agency director.

“This man has suffered enough in my view,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the former Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman, told Gloria Borger, CNN chief political analyst on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Her comments come after news that the Justice Department is recommending charges against Petraeus, first reported by The New York Times.

Feinstein called Petraeus, who led U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan under President George W. Bush and later President Barack Obama, “the four-star general of our generation” and “a very brilliant man.”

She said Petraeus’ affair with Paula Broadwell, his biographer, and his allowing her access to some classified government documents while she was with him was a mistake — but not one for which he should face criminal charges.

“It’s done, it’s over. He’s retired. He’s lost his job,” Feinstein said. “I mean, how much does government want?”

Her comments came on the heels of similar criticism by Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who called the investigation “grievously mishandled.”

Note: Defense not applicable in all cases.*

*Use this easy test to check whether you’re eligible to have your advocates employ this line of argument in the offices of the executive branch and the courts of public opinion:

If you passed classified information to your mistress, how many senators would appear on Sunday morning talk shows to talk about what a great person you are?

(a) Zero.

Stop. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $2,000,000 from Kohlberg Kravis Roberts.

(b) One.

Defense may be applicable in your case. Consult the editorial board of the Washington Post for further guidance.

(c) Two or more, at least one of which is from each major party.

Congratulations, you are a Genuine American Hero(tm), and as such outside the jurisdiction of federal criminal law. Please be sure to collect your Augusta National Golf Club membership and other complimentary gifts at the door.

George Zimmerman victim of fourth unprovoked assault in the last two years (that we know of)

[ 44 ] January 10, 2015 |

George Zimmerman, the Florida man acquitted in 2013 of the shooting death of unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin, was arrested in Florida late Friday night on charges of aggravated assault with a weapon. . .

Zimmerman is being held on $5,000 bond and has been ordered to surrender all firearms even though this incident didn’t involve one, the judge said. [So much for the 2nd amendment]

Since his high-profile acquittal, Zimmerman has had three other encounters with the Lake Mary police.

In September 2013, Zimmerman’s estranged wife, Shellie Zimmerman, called 911 to tell police he had punched her father and was threatening her with a gun. She opted not to press charges.

In the second incident, which occurred in November 2013, Zimmerman was arrested and accused of domestic violence by girlfriend Samantha Scheibe, who later said investigators had misinterpreted her statements and dropped charges.

In September 2014, Zimmerman was involved in an incident of road rage.

How much did Yale spend to educate Tom Buchanan?

[ 80 ] January 8, 2015 |

This is the first of a projected series of posts on the economics of American higher education.

“Civilization’s going to pieces,” broke out Tom violently. “I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read ‘The Rise of the Colored Empires’ by this man Goddard?”

“Why, no,” I answered, rather surprised by his tone.

“Well, it’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be — will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.”

“Tom’s getting very profound,” said Daisy, with an expression of unthoughtful sadness. “He reads deep books with long words in them. What was that word we ——”

“Well, these books are all scientific,” insisted Tom, glancing at her impatiently. “This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things.”

“We’ve got to beat them down,” whispered Daisy, winking ferociously toward the fervent sun.

“You ought to live in California —” began Miss Baker, but Tom interrupted her by shifting heavily in his chair.

“This idea is that we’re Nordics. I am, and you are, and you are, and ——” After an infinitesimal hesitation he included Daisy with a slight nod, and she winked at me again. “— And we’ve produced all the things that go to make civilization — oh, science and art, and all that. Do you see?”

Tom Buchanan and Nick Carraway were freshmen at New Haven in 1910, if I’ve got my literary math right. How much did the school spend to turn them into Yale men?

The answer can be deduced from the following:

Yale’s endowment was $12.1 million in 1910. Assuming that 4.5% of this was expendable income that year, this means Yale’s total operating budget was $1,089,000, given that, according to this, the endowment that year generated exactly half the school’s budget.

How much is that in 2014 dollars? Using standard CPI inflation calculators, the answer is about $25.3 million. Yale’s total enrollment that year in all its various schools and colleges was 3,319 students, meaning that it cost $7623 per year, in 2014 dollars to enlighten Nick and Tom. (They paid about $3,000 per year, in 2014 dollars, for tuition and room and board)

One hundred years later, how much did it cost to bring their institutional descendants into the light?

By 2010, Yale’s endowment had grown to $16.7 billion (it was $23.9 billion in June of last year). This sum generated about $751,500,000 in expendable income, which in turn provided 41% of the school’s general fund budget. $751,500,000 is 41% of roughly $1.83 billion. In 2010 Yale had a total enrollment of 11,520, which means the school was spending, in 2014 dollars, about $172,030 per student. (In comments, Mal points out that you could properly back out the nearly 20% of the total budget that represents the operations of the medical complex, as these costs have only a very tangential relation to the cost of educating the vast majority of Yale students. So you might want to reduce that $172,000 to around $140,000). Yale technically charged its students $467,000,000 in tuition, but the school actually distributed 63% of that total — $295,000,000 — back to students in grants, which means that in 2010 the average Yale student paid $14,931, or somewhere around 8% to 12% of the total cost of his or her education, depending on various budgetary assumptions.

We shook hands and I started away. Just before I reached the hedge I remembered something and turned around.

“They’re a rotten crowd,” I shouted across the lawn. “You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”

I’ve always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end. First he nodded politely, and then his face broke into that radiant and understanding smile, as if we’d been in ecstatic cahoots on that fact all the time. His gorgeous pink rag of a suit made a bright spot of color against the white steps, and I thought of the night when I first came to his ancestral home, three months before. The lawn and drive had been crowded with the faces of those who guessed at his corruption — and he had stood on those steps, concealing his incorruptible dream, as he waved them good-by.

I thanked him for his hospitality. We were always thanking him for that — I and the others.

Harvard professors will now have $20 co-pays for doctor visits. Thanks Obama!

[ 91 ] January 5, 2015 |

In Harvard’s health care enrollment guide for 2015, the university said it “must respond to the national trend of rising health care costs, including some driven by health care reform,” otherwise known as the Affordable Care Act. The guide said that Harvard faced “added costs” because of provisions in the health care law that extend coverage for children up to age 26, offer free preventive services like mammograms and colonoscopies and, starting in 2018, add a tax on high-cost insurance, known as the Cadillac tax.

Richard F. Thomas, a Harvard professor of classics and one of the world’s leading authorities on Virgil, called the changes “deplorable, deeply regressive, a sign of the corporatization of the university.”

Mary D. Lewis, a professor who specializes in the history of modern France and has led opposition to the benefit changes, said they were tantamount to a pay cut. “Moreover,” she said, “this pay cut will be timed to come at precisely the moment when you are sick, stressed or facing the challenges of being a new parent.”

The university is adopting standard features of most employer-sponsored health plans: Employees will now pay deductibles and a share of the costs, known as coinsurance, for hospitalization, surgery and certain advanced diagnostic tests. The plan has an annual deductible of $250 per individual and $750 for a family. For a doctor’s office visit, the charge is $20. For most other services, patients will pay 10 percent of the cost until they reach the out-of-pocket limit of $1,500 for an individual and $4,500 for a family.

Previously, Harvard employees paid a portion of insurance premiums and had low out-of-pocket costs when they received care.

Michael E. Chernew, a health economist and the chairman of the university benefits committee, which recommended the new approach, acknowledged that “with these changes, employees will often pay more for care at the point of service.” In part, he said, “that is intended because patient cost-sharing is proven to reduce overall spending.”

According to the AAUP, the average salary for Harvard full professors is currently $207,100, and their average total compensation (including the lousy health care plan) is $262,300.

. . . numerous commenters make the fair point that Harvard’s new plan might be quite burdensome to the large number of Harvard employees making a lot less than TT professors. The school offers some protection against high co-insurance costs to lower-paid employees, but it’s also fair to ask why an institution with a $36 billion (!) endowment can’t be more generous to its employees, especially those who aren’t near the top of the pay scale. And although Harvard’s new plan is actually a good one compared to the health care options provided by most employers, that’s just another sign of how dysfunctional the American health care system remains, despite whatever marginal improvements are provided by the ACA.

The tyranny of evil men

[ 84 ] January 3, 2015 |


A couple of days ago I noted that Jay Conison, dean of the most wretched — as measured by the admissions credentials of its victims students — of the Infilaw for-profit law schools, was debating David Frakt at The Faculty Lounge. Frakt, who was kicked out of a literal faculty lounge by Infilaw errand boy Dennis Stone when his dean candidacy presentation to the Florida Coastal faculty began to include subversive material, aka facts, was now challenging Conison to provide evidence — any evidence — for Infilaw’s contention that the unprecedentedly horrible LSAT scores of its recent entering classes weren’t going to produce abysmal bar passage rates.

This question has taken on special sharpness, given that bar passage rates for Infilaw school graduates plunged in 2014, and, as documented here, the entrance numbers for the the schools’ most recent entering classes — and Conison’s Charlotte School of Law in particular — are far lower than even the terrible numbers of the 2011 entering classes, which provided most of the graduates who failed various bar exams this summer at rates approaching 50%. (A quarter of Charlotte’s 2014 matrics have LSAT scores of 138 or below. 138 is the 9th percentile of test takers. The average LSAT score of graduates of even the worst for-profit undergraduate schools who take the test — that is, not those who apply to law school, but all those who merely take the LSAT — are much higher).

Conison has now risen to the challenge. I dare you to read that. I double dare you.

The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.

Ideology and belief

[ 47 ] January 1, 2015 |

great pumpkin

Lawyers are notoriously bad at math, and some legal academics are apparently even worse.

LGM punching bag Steve Diamond tries to criticize a WAPO piece that points out employment prospects for many new law graduates are grim:

The delay in the enrollment decline [among law schools] occurred because new college grads tried to flood into law schools from 2008-2010 in order to wait out the economic turmoil. The problem they then faced was that the recovery only took hold in 2012-13 and that meant oversupply in the market. The enrollment bubble can be seen in this chart prepared by the ABA. As the economy took off under the influence of low interest rates in 2003 enrollment steadily climbed and jumped up significantly as the credit crisis was in full swing. The peak in first year enrollment was in AY2010-2011 at 52,488. The continuing impact of that bubble period is indicated by the fact that the highest number of JD’s ever awarded in the US occurred in 2013, three years after the peak of first year enrollment.

This doesn’t even begin to make sense on its face, as Diamond argues that enrollment “steadily climbed” after 2003 because the economy was booming during the credit bubble, and then “jumped significantly” because the economy crashed, and “and new college grads tried to flood into law schools from 2008-2010.” (Diamond goes on to argue that law school enrollment has declined since 2010 in part because the opportunity cost of attending has increased due to the strengthening economy, apparently forgetting that he argued just the opposite in regard to increasing enrollment during the mid-aughts).

Leaving aside this theoretical confusion, the data Diamond cites don’t actually support his claim, and other, more relevant data flat-out contradict it. Diamond cites law school enrollment numbers, when of course the far more germane data in regard to demand for law school admission are law school applicant figures. Even the enrollment figures don’t back up Diamond’s argument, as 1L enrollment barely budged between 2003 and 2008, going from 48,867 to 49,414, which actually represents a 5.4% decline in enrollment per ABA law school (there were 187 such schools in 2003 and 200 five years later).

Enrollment did increase modestly between 2008 and 2010, to 52,488 — this 6.2% increase is Diamond’s “enrollment bubble,” which is supposedly the cause of whatever employment struggles recent graduates have faced — but what Diamond fails to note is that, far from “flooding into law schools between 2008-2010,” significantly fewer people applied to law school during the Great Recession than during the boom years immediately preceding it.

Total applicants to ABA law schools 2004-2006: 285,100

Total applicants to ABA law schools 2008-2010: 257,900

As I’ve noted elsewhere, the fact that demand for law school admission actually declined during the worst economic contraction since the 1930s should have been a warning sign to legal academia. It wasn’t, because instead law schools slashed admission standards, and managed to slightly increase total enrollment — although, again, enrollment fell per school — in the face of declining demand, leading innumerate observers like Diamond, who has a Ph.D. in political science as well as J.D., to conclude that demand was increasing. (Diamond claims that big year-end bonuses for lawyers at a handful of hyper-elite law firms means prosperity is just around the corner for the average law graduate, which is akin to arguing that Robert Axelrod’s salary is a good reason to enroll in a graduate program in political science).

Since then things have gotten much, much worse. Over at the Legal Whiteboard, Jerry Organ has a fascinating post detailing the practical collapse of admission standards since 2010 (recall that standards had already slipped a good deal between 2004 and 2010, as the percentage of law school applicants who were admitted to at least one school increased by 23.6% between those years). It’s difficult to pick out the single most hair-raising stat that Organ has assembled, but here’s a good candidate: between 2010 and 2013, the percentage of law school matriculants with sub-145 LSAT scores increased by 56.8%. And that percentage almost certainly grew again this fall, as ABA law schools collectively admitted an astounding 80% of all applicants.

A few days ago, The Faculty Lounge featured an amusing exchange between David Frakt, the dean candidate at Florida Coastal who got kicked out of his presentation to the faculty because that presentation featured too many unpleasant facts about the school’s situation, and Jay Conison, dean of another of Infilaw’s egregious diploma mills. Conison blustered at length about the supposed success the Infilaw schools have had in getting matriculants with bad LSAT scores to pass the bar, but tellingly he provided no data to back up these claims, even after Frakt challenged him explicitly to do so. (This exchange took place three months after my Atlantic piece accusing the Infilaw schools of admitting large numbers of students who have no realistic chance of passing the bar, let alone actually becoming lawyers, so Dean Conison has had plenty of time to assemble a rebuttal. That none has been forthcoming speaks volumes).

The question that interests me, in a somewhat morbid way, regarding Diamond, Conison, and their ilk throughout American legal academia in this the year 2015 of the Christian Era, is the extent to which they actually believe what they say.

The lawyer and sociologist David Riesman described ideology as the kind of sincere mental state that allows a man to habitually believe his own propaganda. American legal academia apparently remains a very sincere place.

A brief history of college football coaching salaries in the context of the new Gilded Age

[ 41 ] December 30, 2014 |

Jim Harbaugh is being introduced as the University of Michigan’s new head football coach today. Harbaugh has signed a contract worth a reported $48 million over six years. It’s unclear whether that figure, if accurate, includes potential bonus payments for winning conference and national titles, curing cancer etc., or merely represents his base pay (Some reports suggest that bonus incentives could potentially push Harbaugh’s compensation closer to ten million dollars per year).

Update: The terms of Harbaugh’s contract are apparently somewhat fluid. He will be paid $7 million this year, which includes a $2 million signing bonus. After this year the AD will make a determination about appropriate deferred compensation and the like. The contract also includes unspecified performance bonuses. The minimum value of the contract, with no performance bonuses or deferred compensation, is $40.1 million over seven years. (This looks like a pretty slick move by Michigan’s AD Jim Hackett. By leaving deferred comp out of the original contract he holds down the up front annual salary number, and the potential backlash. Next year at this time they could up the total value of the contract to $8 million per year and it’s a small story, even locally).

Since it will take a few weeks to FOIA the documents let’s assume for now that his compensation will be $8 million per year.

Now on one hand this is obviously deplorable. Current average salaries at the University of Michigan outside the athletic department (which, unlike almost all college athletic departments in the USA is actually self-funded) look like this:

Administrative poohbahs (president, deans etc.): Several hundred thousand dollars per year

Full professors: $167,000

Associate professors: $114,000

Assistant professors: $101,000

People who make the wheels go round (clerical staff, food service workers, janitors etc): $20,000-$40,000 generally.

Adjunct instructors, aka the people who do the majority of the actual teaching at the institution: A petrified starfish and a bowl of potpourri (parking passes may be provided on a case by case basis).

You can look up salary data at the school here.

So Jim Harbaugh is going to get paid as much per year as 70 University of Michigan professors, or 250 clerical employees, or a nearly infinite number of adjuncts. This seems . . . disturbing.

On the other hand, hiring him is quite likely going to end up being a big net positive for the coffers of the athletic department and even the university generally, so let’s hear it for “the market.” (For example, real estate developer and Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross is a big Michigan football fan, and he’s expressed his affection for the program and the school by giving $100 million to the AD and another $100 million to the business school. He’s also rumored to be picking up part of Harbaugh’s compensation package).

On a yet a third hand, the university can pay Harbaugh more than any other football coach in the known universe and still make a tidy profit on the deal only because college football in America is a multi-billion dollar industry that doesn’t really pay its primary labor force (in this regard, big-time football reflects the economic structure of the contemporary universities which host it).

So — how did we get here?

Something to keep in mind is that big-time college football has been an extremely popular sport in America for more than a century (Indeed, until the 1960s it was more popular than the NFL). And debates about the exploitative economic structure of the game are nearly as old: I recently found a book published by Princeton and Michigan coach Fritz Crisler in 1934, and re-issued in 1948, in which Crisler addresses the apparently lively debate at the time regarding whether college football players should be paid overt wages, since, according to him, many were being paid covertly back in that simpler more innocent time (On an unrelated but fascinating side note, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s habit of regaling Crisler with alcohol-fueled late night phone calls featuring Fitzgerald’s creative ideas for helping the Princeton football team may actually have inspired the genesis of modern two-platoon football).

Therefore big-time college football coaches have been very well paid, relatively speaking, for a very long time. But “relatively” is the key term here: (All dollar figures below are in constant 2014 dollars).

Woody Hayes, Ohio State, 1951: $113,534. Hayes was a 38-year-old first-year coach at football-crazed OSU in 1951, and his salary represented a whole lot of money back then. He was making 63% more than what was then the 95th percentile of family income, which means the hard-charging young coach was in at least the 98th and probably the 99th percentile of income in the country at the time (63% more than the 95th percentile of household income today puts a household well into the 98th percentile, and household income distribution was a good deal flatter during the socialist regimes of Presidents Truman and Eisenhower).

Bear Bryant, Alabama, 1958 (Bryant had just become Alabama’s athletic director as well as its football coach): $142,998. Bryant remained Alabama’s coach until 1982. He is reputed to have insisted throughout his career that his salary should always be at least one dollar less than that of the university’s president.

Hayden Fry, Southern Methodist, 1962: $101,654. Fry was Arkansas’ offensive coordinator when he took a phone call from Lamar Hunt, of the Dallas Hunt brothers, during warmups for the 1962 Orange Bowl, offering Fry the SMU job. He accepted without asking about the salary, and later discovered he was taking a pay cut from what he had been getting as the Razorbacks’ OC (Fry, by the way, played an important and courageous role in integrating college football in the south).

Bo Schembechler, Michigan, 1969: $135,127. Schembechler in 1969 was almost the same coach as Hayes had been 1951 (One year older, in his first season, coming, as Hayes had, from Miami of Ohio). His salary was only 15% higher than Hayes’ had been, despite the enormous increase in national wealth over the intervening 18 years (GDP exactly doubled in constant dollars over this time).

College football coaching salaries began to increase rapidly in the 1970s. TV money was beginning to pour into the game, although it was still a trickle relative to what it would become. A major change in the compensation structure for coaches took hold in this decade, which is that universities began to divide that compensation into an official university salary, and another sum, with the latter representing pay for ancillary activities, such as hosting a television show, putatively running a football camp associated with the school, and so forth.

So for example by 1981, Schembechler, who had the highest winning percentage of any coach during the 1970s, was being paid a little more than $155,000 in university salary and $130,000 for other contractual obligations, making his total compensation $285,771 (again in 2014 dollars).

Then in January 1982, Texas A&M, awash in oil money and eager to challenge the University of Texas for football supremacy in the Lone Star State, stunned the college football world by offering Schembechler the then-staggering sum of $250,000 per year in 1982 dollars, which would have more than doubled his salary. (This was equivalent to $611,790 in 2014 dollars).

Schembechler turned TAMU down (Domino’s Pizza king Tom Monaghan gave him a Columbus, Ohio franchise), but Pittsburgh coach Jackie Sherrill didn’t, inspiring this amusingly quaint article in the New York Times, which wrestles with the incredible proposition that any employee of a university could be paid a quarter million dollars per year. (Of course today even some non-sports-related university employees make millions).

From there it was off to the races. Nominal coaching salary milestones, with inflation adjustments:

Bobby Bowden: Florida State 1996: $1,000,000 ( $1,505,105 2014$)

Steve Spurrier: Florida 2001:
$2,100,000 ($2,800,209 2014$)

Bob Stoops: Oklahoma 2006: $3,000,000 ($3,154,152 2014$)

Nick Saban: Alabama 2007: $4,000,000 ($4,555,777 2014$)

Nick Saban: Alabama 2014: $7,000,000

And now we apparently have an eight to ten million dollar man (I should add that as a Michigan football fan I heartily approve of this particular development, while sincerely deploring the overall system that has brought it about).

A potential irony in all this is that the entertainment industry in general, and sports in particular, is one of the very few areas of the economy where it may actually be possible to to construct an efficiency-regarding justification for gargantuan salaries (In the context of college sports, of course, this ignores the grotesque spectacle of the players receiving salaries of zero). It’s a whole lot easier to explain why it makes sense to pay Tom Brady $15 million per year than it is to make a similar argument for why last year a couple of dozen hedge fund managers should have pulled down average compensation packages 60 times larger than that.

Of course efficiency is one thing — and let’s not forget the little detail that Harbaugh’s players won’t be paid anything for their part in this multi-billion dollar annual extravaganza — and justice is another. I suggest it is or ought to be a basic tenet of any even vaguely left or progressive political perspective that any social system in which some people have salaries hundreds — let alone thousands and tens of thousands — of times larger than those of other people* is in need of basic reform.

*Let alone people in the same institution, let alone people in the same non-profit tax-supported educational institution!

A cultural history of inflation in America

[ 58 ] December 25, 2014 |

The title of this post is more in the way of a question regarding whether such a thing exists. The reason I’m asking is that, in the course of researching higher education costs in America back to the middle of the 19th century, I discovered something that flew in the face of what I had always assumed about how inflation works in a money economy. What I assumed was that a moderate amount of price inflation is normal — that is, continual rather than episodic — in such economies, and that deflation is rare. Furthermore, I thought (to the extent that unexamined assumptions can be called thinking) any significant or prolonged deflation is an economic disaster, and is something to be feared and avoided even more than hyper-inflation.

Again, these beliefs were the product of nothing more than the fact that this is how things have “always” been as long as I can remember, and that my extremely limited historical knowledge of the subject stretched back no further than the Great Depression, when deflation did help wreak havoc on both the American and world economy.

As many readers no doubt already know, this historical view of inflation and deflation in America — which I suspect, based on my study featuring an N = 1, is quite widespread — is totally wrong.

In fact until about 75 years ago, deflation had been as a historical matter as common in America as inflation. This fact produced what were to me some shocking revelations, including:

(1) Overall prices in the American economy were about the same at the beginning of FDR’s presidency as they had been at the end of George Washington’s second term.

(2) Prices were nearly 25% lower in 1900 than they were in 1800 — that is, on net the 19th century was deflationary.

(3) Prior to the middle of the 20th century, significant inflation, rather than being seen as a normal thing, was very closely associated with, and clearly caused by, war. Indeed, prices would have been very strongly deflationary over a 200-year period if not for bouts of severe inflation during the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War I.

(4) If we consider American economic history from colonial times to the present, the last 75 years have been an almost freakish exception to the normal course of events, in which prices are as apt to fall as they are to rise.

I suspect the last point has had some important cultural and political effects — hence the title of this post. What are the consequences of a generalized sense that prices always rise? Let me suggest just one of many possibilities: people may become relatively desensitized to real as opposed to nominal price increases, because over the long run nominal price increases become so extreme.*

In other words, a general sense that “things cost so much more today than they did back in X” may tend to blur distinctions between different sorts of things, some of which haven’t actually become more expensive in real terms (or have become much cheaper), and some of which very much have.

This of course is just one of many possibilities. In any case, I’m curious about the extent to which the historical anomaly of continual inflation since the end of the Great Depression has been written about, especially in regard to its possible cultural effects.

*I now understand something that puzzled me when I first read Keynes’ “Economic Possibilities For Our Grandchildren,” which was his statement of money values in nominal terms when he compared the the 18th century with the early 20th century. Habituated as we are to a world in which prices always rise, I naturally assumed that nominal prices in the former and latter periods had nothing to do with comparative real prices, just as looking at, for example, the nominal price of a car in 1950 tells you nothing about the real price of car then relative to now. But it turns out that, until the last few decades, economists could treat even 200-year stretches of time as featuring relatively stable prices in the long run!

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