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Hillary Clinton, Public and Private (selections from the unredacted transcript)

[ 99 ] June 9, 2014 |


Sawyer: Let’s talk about your family’s income after the two of you left the White House. Your husband has been paid more than $100 million to give speeches, and you’ve received two multimillion dollar book advances, as well as being paid $200,000 per speech. Does this seem . . . I’m searching for the right word here . . .

Clinton: Wrong?

Sawyer: Well not wrong, exactly, and of course certainly not illegal, but some might say it’s unseemly for public officials to profit from their time in office in this way.

Clinton: No, I’m pretty much going to go with wrong. It’s wrong, first, because it’s completely obscene that we have an economic system in which some people “earn” one thousand or ten thousand times as much income as other people. Second, while this would be wrong under any circumstances, it’s especially wrong because the people who earn $12,000 per year are usually doing something that has obvious social value, like taking care of children, or cooking food, or cleaning things that need cleaning, while the people making $12,000,000 or $120,000,000,000 per year are usually doing things like speculating in the financial markets, or giving banal speeches to people who speculate in financial markets — two activities that have no apparent social value whatsoever.

Or, to choose another example at random, perhaps they’re doing interviews like this one, in which a celebrity journalist who is paid $12,000,000 per year asks a celebrity politician questions written by someone else about the celebrity politician’s basically fake “book” — also written by someone else, needless to say.

Sawyer: This all sounds very radical, and not appropriate for a network audience. Why do you take the money if you feel this way?

Clinton: I don’t know — why do you take the money? Oh wait, I think I know the answer to my own question: because it’s there! But “because it’s there” doesn’t mean that it’s right that it’s there. It shouldn’t be “there” in the first place. Or if it’s going to be there, 70% or 80% of it should go to the government, just like back when the American Communist Party managed to get Dwight Eisenhower elected president.

Sawyer: Doesn’t saying things like this open you to charges of hypocrisy?

Clinton: Diane, we’re both part of the same hypocrisy.

Consumer fraud

[ 80 ] June 4, 2014 |

Ticketmaster has, pending final approval, settled a class action suit, brought on behalf of people who paid fees that, according to the plaintiffs’ allegations, were categorized in a fashion that made them appear to be actual transaction costs rather than profit to Ticketmaster.

On paper, the settlement is supposedly going to cost Ticketmaster around $400 million; in reality, it will cost the firm perhaps $20 million and maybe less than that. (Ticketmaster enjoyed profits of nearly $300 million last year, on revenues of $1.37 billion).

The settlement works like this: if you bought a ticket via Ticketmaster between 1999 and early 2013, you’re eligible to use a $2.25 discount code on your next purchase of a ticket via the firm. You get one discount for every ticket you bought, up to a limit of 17, so in theory you could receive as much as $38.25 in “damages.” The quotation marks indicate that these types of damages are pretty tricky entities, in economic terms.

The discount codes are in effect in-store coupons, which means that to collect your damages you have to buy more of what Ticketmaster is selling. Ticketmaster processing fees vary a great deal; a check of the Denver web site indicates that they can run anywhere from $7 to $19.95 per ticket. On average, a $2.25 discount appears to represent around a 20% savings on processing fees.

When you think about it, which needless to say everyone making money off this litigation strongly encourages you not to do, it’s quite unclear whether those discount codes that will be redeemed (which will end up being a small percentage of potential theoretical total, since most eligible class members won’t bother, either out of ignorance of this great “deal,” or unwillingness to invest time and effort to cash in on it) will cost Ticketmaster anything at all. The marginal cost to Ticketmaster of issuing another ticket to A Night With Lionel Ritchie must surely be close to zero, which means that lopping 20% off what it charges for that sale merely reduces the profit on the transaction — that is, assuming the transaction would have taken place anyway.

If on the other hand the availability of the discount code is what causes the purchaser to decide to buy the ticket, offering the discount code is increasing Ticketmaster’s profits in that instance. In other words, the plaintiffs in this case are to a significant extent actually paying for the “damages” they are putatively collecting, which means that the $400 million this is supposedly costing Ticketmaster is largely an illusion. Even on paper, the settlement only contemplates that Ticketmaster will end up issuing around $35 million in discount codes, and again, to a significant extent the codes Ticketmaster does issue will end up making rather than costing the firm money.

So who (besides, oddly enough, the defendant) is making money off this litigation?

(1) The plaintiffs’ attorneys, who are slated to collect around $15 million in fees, as well as a couple of million in litigation costs.

(2) Greenberg Traurig, which represented Ticketmaster.

(3) UC-Irvine’s new, wildly expensive, and totally superfluous law school, which is getting $3 million for — this is the kind of thing you could never put in a novel — its Consumer Fraud clinic. The $3 million represents a quasi-charitable cy pres donation by Ticketmaster, given to a deserving entity chosen by the judge. It would be fascinating to know how Judge Kenneth Freeman hit upon the idea of making UC-Irvine the object of his judicial bounty. (Here’s Dean Erwin Chemerinsky’s sworn declaration explaining why his institution should be allowed to wet its beak a little).

What the Onion is up against these days

[ 254 ] June 3, 2014 |


If I were to make a Borat-style mockumentary about the absurdities of the modern university, its star would be a critical theorist from some central European country with a name featuring several diacritical marks who gets paid vast sums by various institutions to churn out obscurantist arcana featuring many citations to Lacan etc. while making it clear to his adoring acolytes that he hates them even more than he hates humanity in general.

Also, he would have a cat on his lap during interviews, like Dr. Evil.

And he would say things like this:

“I hate giving classes,” Zizek said, citing office hours and grading papers as his two biggest peeves.

“I did teach a class here [at the University of Cincinnati] and all of the grading was pure bluff,” he continues. “I even told students at the New School for example… if you don’t give me any of your shitty papers, you get an A. If you give me a paper I may read it and not like it and you can get a lower grade.” He received no papers that semester.

But it’s office hours that are the main reason he does not want to teach.

“I can’t imagine a worse experience than some idiot comes there and starts to ask you questions, which is still tolerable. The problem is that here in the United States students tend to be so open that sooner or later, if you’re kind to them, they even start to ask you personal questions [about] private problems… What should I tell them?”

“I don’t care,” he continued. “Kill yourself. It’s not my problem.”

(I don’t know anything about Zizek, who may well be a world-transforming genius of a thinker for all I know, but as Ezra Pound said of Finnegans Wake, “Nothing so far as I can make out, nothing short of divine vision or a new cure for the clapp can possibly be worth all that circumambient peripherization.”)

via taxprof

Stairway to Freebird, RNC edition

[ 135 ] June 2, 2014 |

I’m on the RNC’s blast email distribution list, so I get an involuntary daily glimpse into the workings of The Scream Machine (I rarely read the emails themselves, but the subject lines are invariably masterworks of terse meaning, much in the way the title “Snakes On a Plane” tells you all you need to know about the essential mise en scene of that film in four monosyllables).

Without bothering to either search my inbox or google, I will try to recall from memory some of the many Obama administration “scandals” the Machine has recommended to my attention (readers can no doubt remember more):

The family without health insurance that had granite counter tops.

Solyandra (sp? Never found out what that one was about. Something lobbying favoritism boondoggle something).

The slut young lady who wanted the government to pay for her birth control.

The IRS persecuting people who file for 501(c)(3) status because they were conservatives.

Standing up for thugs in hoodies.


The government web site that didn’t work.

Releasing Dangerous Terrorists just to get back a no-good deserter.

Like I said I’m sure I’m forgetting a bunch, but anyway this play list is kind of lame. The problem here I suspect is that asking why the Machine is constantly revving up another fake scandal is like asking why a classic rock station keeps playing I Can’t Get Enough of Your Love. It’s just what they do.

And I bet the reason it “pays” to do it is roughly similar: because there’s a built-in audience for the nostalgia value. All these stories are attempts to re-live the magic of the Year of Lewinsky just one more time, in something of the same way that hearing something off Led Zeppelin IV for the 10,000th time is supposed to take the audience back to their own magic moments.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Yes, Tales From Topographic Oceans (1973)


[ 14 ] May 31, 2014 |


On LGM’s 10th anniversary, I’d like to thank the Founders for inviting me to join the gang all the way back in 2008. For me it was a timely invitation, as a decade-long stint as a weekly columnist for the Rocky Mountain News was about to end, due to the paper’s demise.

I’m also grateful to the management of our anarcho-syndicalist commune for allowing me to integrate the 19 months I spent producing Inside the Law School Scam into LGM’s capacious platform.

For me, this blog’s greatest strength is its eclecticism, both in regard to the perspectives of its front pagers, who have supported positions as varied as “Derek Jeter is annoyingly overrated” to “Derek Jeter is overrated, but dreamily handsome,” to “who exactly is Derek Jeter again?”

This seems like a good time to share my Derek Jeter story: A friend of mine was the star of the Kalamazoo Central High School baseball team, and was named captain going into his senior year. He was at that time certain he was going to be a professional baseball player. On the first day of practice, a ninth grade kid showed up to try out for the varsity. By the end of the day, one dream of professional baseball greatness was defunct.

Some wise person said recently that we live in an age in which “everyone has a platform but nobody has a career.” Writing for LGM isn’t yet a career (I’m still waiting for George Soros’ checks to clear), but it remains a great platform, not least because of our erudite if occasionally batter-soaked commentariat. You’ve brought us fame and fortune and everything that goes with it — I thank you all.

Madness and evil

[ 249 ] May 29, 2014 |

This post is one of what may be several about Elliot Rodger and his crimes.

I read Rodger’s manifesto, My Twisted World, this past weekend, and have been thinking about it since. I’ve also dipped a reluctant toe into the cesspool of PUA, Anti-PUA, Incel, and related dark corners of the internet. At this point all I really have are questions, so I’ll start with this one: What does it mean to claim that Rodger was mentally ill? More precisely, in what way(s) was Rodger suffering from mental illness?

I would suggest, very tentatively, that to categorize Rodger as “psychotic,” or “delusional,” or “grandiose,” or “autistic,” even if these diagnoses turn out to be accurate, (he may well have been some or all of these things; I’m not a mental health expert, and even if I were I wouldn’t be attempting a diagnosis on the basis of nothing more than what is no doubt an incomplete and in some ways misleading and self-serving document) risks, perhaps, obscuring the cultural and political significance of Rodger’s crimes by placing them within an explicitly therapeutic frame.

The thoughts that follow aren’t intended as an argument for some particular position, but rather as starting points for further conversation.

(1) Whether or not Rodger was crazy, he is, in his manifesto, remarkably lucid. He is obviously intelligent, and is even a fairly good writer — or would be, if the flow of his prose wasn’t constantly being derailed by his obsessions, which make reading the whole document an exhausting experience. He even has something resembling a coherent ideology: one which as an empirical matter appears to be flat-out bonkers (I am not using DSM terms here), but which he has worked out and brooded upon endlessly, in excruciating detail.

(2) To read My Twisted World is to read an explicitly political document, and indeed an apologia for an explicit act of political terrorism, in the narrowest and most precise sense of that much-abused term.

(3) Again, I have no competence to judge the extent to which, or in what ways, Rodger was mentally ill, but as a member of the human race I do feel qualified, subject to important caveats, to comment on the moral character of the author of these atrocious acts. My Twisted World may or may not be a glimpse into various manifestations of madness; but it is certainly a window into evil.

By the end of his life, Rodger had given himself over completely to what had become a bottomless well of resentment, entitlement, self-pity, and unbounded egoism. Not once in the text’s more than 100,000 words does he manifest the slightest concern for any other person on the face of the earth. He is, in this document, a man who lives for nothing but to luxuriate in his endless grievances against the world and everyone in it. Indeed it’s almost impossible to believe that he could, by the end, have given them up, even if a blonde (a word that appears 62 times in the text) Victoria’s Secret model had walked up to him as he sat in front of a Santa Barbara pizza stand and spontaneously offered to carry him off to a world of “heavenly” (a word he uses 11 times) pleasures.

By the time he wrote My Twisted World, Rodger had fallen deeply in love with his hatred (a word he repeats 52 times) — of women first and most of all — and indeed he lived for nothing else but to indulge that romance. That may be a form of madness, but it is, to the extent that he was still capable of choosing to be something or someone else, the purest form of evil.

You know who else also opposed free speech?

[ 221 ] May 23, 2014 |

Scott’s post linking to Chris Taylor’s thoughts on various bits of meta-commencement commentary alerted me to this Onion article actual op-ed by Yale Law School professor Stephen Carter.

Scott and djw have already pointed out that commencement speeches are highly ritualized forms of institutional identity maintenance, and therefore political gestures of a very specific kind, rather than occasions for real intellectual engagement, let alone actual debate.

So Carter’s protest that objecting to showering Condi Rice et. al., with honors (and money) at commencement ceremonies is an example of shutting down legitimate academic debate is nonsense on its face, and I’m not going to belabor it.

Nor do I want to comment on Carter’s remarkable contempt for the people whose debt-leveraged tuition payments fund his salary, at Taylor does a fine job of thrashing him on this score.

Instead I’d like to comment on the appalling intellectual laziness of Carter’s complacent description of what universities are supposed to be doing:

In my day, the college campus was a place that celebrated the diversity of ideas. Pure argument was our guide. Staking out an unpopular position was admired — and the admiration, in turn, provided excellent training in the virtues of tolerance on the one hand and, on the other, integrity. . .

[On the other hand] there are your fellows at Rutgers University, who rose up to force the estimable Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state and national security adviser, to withdraw. The protest was worded with unusual care, citing the war in Iraq and the “torture” practiced by the Central Intelligence Agency. Cleverly omitted was the drone war. This elision allows the protesters to wish away the massive drone war that President Barack Obama’s administration has conducted now for more than five years, with significant loss of innocent life. As for the Iraq war, well, among its early and enthusiastic supporters was — to take a name at random — then-Senator Hillary Clinton. But don’t worry. Consistency in protest requires careful and reflective thought, and that is exactly what we should be avoiding here.

The literary critic George Steiner, in a wonderful little book titled “Nostalgia for the Absolute,” long ago predicted this moment. We have an attraction, he contended, to higher truths that can sweep away complexity and nuance. We like systems that can explain everything. Intellectuals in the West are nostalgic for the tight grip religion once held on the Western imagination. They are attracted to modes of thought that are as comprehensive and authoritarian as the medieval church. You and your fellow students — and your professors as well; one mustn’t forget their role — are therefore to be congratulated for your involvement in the excellent work of bringing back the Middle Ages.

Again, leave aside the point that commencement speeches aren’t and as a practical matter can’t be occasions for genuine intellectual engagement and debate. What ought to astonish us here is that someone who is purported to be a serious scholar of, among other things, church-state relations, argues for a version of the academy that is both impossible to take seriously and a perfect reflection of the conventional wisdom regarding the academy’s failures (aka the supposed dominance of “political correctness”).

It ought to be obvious to anybody who thinks about for ten seconds that actually making the pursuit of a “diversity of ideas” and “pure argument” the paramount values of an academic institution –as opposed to, say, the pursuit of knowledge — is ultimately inimical to the latter. Consider one of an almost infinite number of possible examples: Should a university history department — in the name, needless to say, of tolerance for “unpopular positions” and the paramount importance of celebrating a diversity of ideas, arguments, and viewpoints — invite David Irving to give a talk on the disputed question of whether the Nazi regime operated extermination camps? Better yet, should Irving be appointed to a faculty position on some optimally tolerant history faculty?

Now it would be simply dishonest to try to wriggle out of answering this question by claiming that the question of the existence of the Nazi extermination camps is not in dispute. It’s in plenty of dispute — although, not, it’s important to emphasize, among actual historians. Now what is an actual historian? An actual historian is, among other things, someone who would be (unlike David Irving as of 2014, although not as of, say, 1970) a person whom it would be reasonable for a history department at a real university to invite to give a talk, or to perhaps consider appointing to its faculty. And there are certain historical viewpoints — such as the claim that the Nazis did not operate extermination camps — that properly disqualify people who hold them from being in that category.

The reason for this is that genuine intellectual debate quickly becomes impossible if tolerating the diversity of ideas trumps the pursuit of knowledge. And there isn’t any magical formula for determining when tolerating certain ideas interferes with the pursuit of knowledge to a sufficient extent that those ideas can’t be tolerated within an institution, such as the university, that values, or ought to value, the pursuit of knowledge above and beyond the toleration of diverse viewpoints. Indeed in one sense the pursuit of knowledge could itself be defined as an attempt to determine which ideas should and should not be tolerated within a community dedicated to its pursuit.

(I won’t comment here at any length on Carter’s trivialization of any protest against the war crimes of the Bush administration via the cheap rhetorical trick of simply assuming that the people protesting those crimes wouldn’t hold Democratic enablers of those crimes to the same standard, or on his remarkable use of scare quotes around the word torture).

Walking while fat and female

[ 132 ] May 20, 2014 |

I started walking between 5 and 12 miles a day about year after I moved to Seattle. The main motivator was a crippling anxiety about being late coupled with an inconsistent public transportation system (that will now become less consistent, yippee). Additionally, working in an industry with late nights (I house manage for various theaters) means that if you’re reliant on public transit, you will be waiting for an hour at a scary bus stop with Mr. and Mrs. Meth Addict at 1:30 in the morning. Walking became a way for me to take control of my commute. It was my time. Four mile walk to work. Four mile walk back. In the rain. In the dark. In the cold. Every season. Sometimes with tunes. Sometimes with “Stuff You Missed in History Class.” Sometimes talking to myself. And sometimes with silence.

When I moved to Seattle I weighed 260 pounds. Because I walk so much (and lead a pretty active life here) I now hover between 175 and 190 depending on the the time of year. And I’m fucking strong. I run several times a week and I’m training for my first triathlon. But I’m still fat. And I’m good with that. . .

According to a number of men who seem to come crawling out of their hidey hole around this time of year here’s why:

I’m a woman.
I’m fat.
I’m sexy.
I’m a cunt.
I need a man.
I’m walking.
I’m walking with another woman.
I have tits.

Last night, I was walking across a crosswalk while fat and female. Two guys in a white SUV rolled down their window to say. “Hey, cunt. Cunt. Hey. You’re fat. Fat, fat cunt. Fat. Fat. Cunt. ” I didn’t even realize they were talking to me at first. By the time I’d made it past their car, the guy in the passenger seat had rolled down his window to continue yelling at me. Changing it slightly to make it very clear, yes they were talking to me, and yes, they wanted a reaction. I didn’t have one. I was in my time. My time to walk, to think, to decompress after a long day. I just kept walking . . .

I’m sick of it. I’m sick of not feeling like I can say anything to the jerks* that yell at me. Like I can’t react. And that I can’t even share that this experience happens daily with supposed allies. Not all men shout at me from cars. But the ones that do shout at me are the ones that make it unsafe to walk in my city. And you telling me that not all men do that doesn’t make my walk, or drive, or existence safer. It makes it more challenging to say, “This happened and it was wrong.” It makes it harder to call out this behavior for what it is – misogynistic, sexist, rape culture bullshit behavior. I don’t care that not all men are like this. I care that it happens. That it continues to happen. That it’s common. That it’s so common that when I hear a woman start talking about it with other women, those women can point to at least one similar incident that’s happened to them in the past two weeks.

Read the whole thing.

The nature of capitalism

[ 54 ] May 20, 2014 |

Stephen Diamond provides a free lecture on the nature of capitalism:

[I]t is more likely that Stanford grads will earn substantially more than Colorado grads. And that makes it far more likely that Stanford will earn back substantially more from those grads than Colorado. That means from the standpoint of the Stanford board of trustees – who have a fiduciary obligation to the institution – it is perfectly rational to spend twice per capita at their law school than they do at Colorado. Anecdotal information suggests their calculation makes perfect sense – it’s why they have one brand new building named after alum William Neukom, former Microsoft general counsel, and another named after Charlie Munger, business partner of Warren Buffet and father of a Stanford Law School alum, while Colorado struggled for years – to the brink of putting their accreditation at risk – to come up with the funds for a new building. (Granted, when they got it built it was pretty spectacular.)

It strikes me as odd that someone once feted at the Cato Institute as the “bad cop” of law school reform (do his colleagues at the allegedly left wing site Lawyers Guns and Money care where he spends his spare time?) seems to have a very weak grasp on the nature of capitalism but there you have it. Stanford makes money from its law school. It does not lose money. It invests in its physical plant and in its human resources calculated against the potential of making money off of that investment. Of course Stanford is an educational institution, a non-profit entity, so it does not and should not look for ways to merely maximize its earnings. But it certainly is not going to engage in activities that throw away the tuition dollars and donations it receives.

Diamond seems to have a weird fetish — he’s mentioned it numerous times — about the fact I took part in a panel discussion on the future of law schools (with Brian Tamanaha) at Cato a couple of years ago, as if that is somehow intellectually or morally problematic, although of course he doesn’t say why. (Note that Diamond actually blocks some people who have posted critical comments about his writing from even reading his blog, so his commitment to open debate is shall we say less than inspiring.)

The argument that the trustees of Stanford have a fiduciary obligation to engage in aggressive rent-seeking because of “the nature of capitalism” doesn’t require any comment.

Speaking of capitalism, here’s a nice example of what just a little bit of informational transparency can do to even a very heavily subsidized and otherwise distorted market:

Applications to Santa Clara’s law school:

2010: 4,959

2013: 2,598

Here’s an example of cartel pricing at work:

Stanford Law School tuition in 1999: $26,358

Santa Clara Law School tuition in 1999: $22,000

Stanford Law School tuition in 2013: $52,530

Santa Clara Law School tuition in 2013: $45,000

(Taking tuition discounts into account, effective tuition — sticker minus discounts — at Stanford appears to be slightly lower than at Santa Clara, with the respective figures for 2013 being around $39,000 and $40,000).

Here’s an example of what happens when your school’s median LSAT is 157 instead of 171:

Percentage of 2013 grads with federal clerkships:

Stanford: 29.4%

Santa Clara: 0%

Here’s an example of a school lying egregiously about whether its graduates without jobs actually want jobs, and then ceasing to lie about this when it’s no longer advantageous to do so, i.e., when the law school rankings start counting graduates who are unemployed and supposedly not seeking employment as simply unemployed, as opposed to removing them from the denominator when calculating a class’s employment rate:

Total unemployed Santa Clara graduates nine months after graduation in 2011: 61 of 305

Total of these unemployed graduates Santa Clara claimed were not seeking employment: 55

Total unemployed Santa Clara graduates nine months after graduation in 2014: 58 of 322

Total of these unemployed graduates Santa Clara claimed were not seeking employment: 1


Why does law school cost so much?

[ 156 ] May 19, 2014 |

According to the Dr. Pangloss of the legal academic status quo, it’s because of reasons:

The critics do not seem to realize that it is expensive to create an effective modern law school. The actual cost of doing it right is vastly underestimated. At HYS [Harvard, Yale, Stanford] for example sticker tuition is now north of 50K per year but that is, as far as I can tell from publicly available information, about one third of the actual cost spent per student each year. Other lower ranked schools have to try to get the job done with far less, of course, and most are effective in doing so. But it is no surprise, is it, that the schools with the most resources continue to dominate in the rankings?

Diamond has a Ph.D. in political science, but that experience doesn’t seem to have given him much in the way of empirical inclinations: There are many plausible and even screamingly obvious reasons why the richest law schools are the highest-ranked law schools, but “because they provide the most effective legal education relative to the original abilities of their students” would not be anywhere on that list, given that there isn’t a shred of evidence for the proposition that elite schools enhance human capital, as the economists say, more effectively than less gloriously endowed institutions.

Speaking of empiricism and endowments, let us turn to some actual law school budgets, past and present, and ask in a longitudinally-inclined way how much the cost of legal education has risen in recent years, and why. In what follows, all dollar amounts have been converted to constant, 2012 dollars.

School A is a hyper-elite law school at the very top of the legal academic hierarchy.

School B is a strong regional law school, which has always been ranked in the 30s and 40s since the advent of the pestilential USN rankings 25 years ago. (There are currently 202 ABA-accredited law schools).

The figures below are derived from the operating budgets for fiscal years 1996 and 2012 for School B. For School A, the figures are derived from its FY2012 operating budget, and from a reconstruction of its FY1996 budget, based on its tuition revenues and endowment income in that year, which I assume together made up the same percentage of its expenditures in FY1996 as they did in FY2012. (School A’s endowment tripled in real terms between FY1996 and FY2012. In 2012 School B’s total endowment was equal to 8% of School A’s. The schools are roughly the same size in terms of total student enrollment. Per student expenditures are calculated on the basis of all law students, both JD and non-JD.)

School A

Total expenditures per student in FY2012: $101,902

Total expenditures per student in FY1996, in 2012 dollars: $49,750

School B

Total expenditures per student in FY2012: $51,472

Total expenditures per student in FY1996, in 2012 dollars: $25,544

Basically, operating costs per student doubled in real terms at both schools over this 16-year stretch, so that Strong Regional was costing as much to run per student in 2012 as Hyper Elite had cost in 1996. During this time, Hyper-Elite’s operating costs per student have risen from 50% more than tuition to twice as much as tuition. Meanwhile, at School B, due to massive tuition hikes, the ratio between tuition and operating costs actually declined significantly between 1996 and 2012.

School B’s outputs, as measured by total legal employment percentage for new graduates, median salary for new graduates, bar passage rates, and law school ranking, did not improve between 1996 and 2012, either in absolute terms, or relative to other law schools. School A’s outputs did not improve between 1996 and 2012 by three of these four metrics, in either absolute or relative terms: median graduate salaries did improve in absolute (but not relative) terms.

What accounts for this extraordinary increase in operating costs at both schools?

This question can be answered with some precision for School B: by far the biggest factor has been the increase in personnel costs, and this in turn has been mostly a product of employing far more people.

For example, at School B, per capita tenure track faculty compensation increased by slightly less than 20% between FY1996 and FY2012, while non-tenure track faculty compensation increased by 16% (This means that if everything else had been held constant, operating expenses at School B would have been less than 10% higher in FY2012 than FY1996). But while per capita compensation increased relatively modestly, the number of faculty skyrocketed: the tenure track faculty was 45% larger in 2012, while the non-tenure track faculty increased by 64%. These increases were dwarfed, however, by the increase in non-teaching administrative staff, which nearly tripled. (For example, the office of career services grew from one full-time and one part-time employee, to six full-time people. By 2012 School B employed five people whose full-time job was various types of fund-raising; in 1996, one person had been engaged in this work).

While the same granular longitudinal comparison can’t be done for School A, School A did more than double the size of its teaching faculty between 1996 and 2012, so it seems likely that much of the doubling of operating costs at the school was driven by the same personnel factors that caused costs to double at School B. (Capital improvements also played a significant role at both schools, i.e., the so-called “amenities arms race.”).

What sort of improvements, if any, in regard to providing an “effective” legal education did this spending orgy produce? The answer of course is that we don’t know. As I noted above, increased spending at each school has seemed to have no effect on measurable outputs. Note too that a linear relation between increased spending and increased pedagogical effectiveness would mean that the legal education provided by School A in 2012 was four times as “effective” (whatever that is supposed to mean) as that produced by School B in 1996.

In sum, how plausible is it that these increased costs have been even minimally defensible, in terms of any conceivable cost-benefit analysis, from the perspective of the graduates of these law schools? To ask that question is to answer it.

If something cannot go on forever, it will stop

[ 93 ] May 16, 2014 |

The law school reform movement gets a boost from an unexpected source:

It is no mystery what has prompted the current calls for a two-year law degree. It is, quite simply, the constantly increasing cost of legal education . . . If I may advert to my own experience at Harvard, once again: In the year I graduated, tuition at Harvard was $1,000. To describe developments since then, in the words of a recent article:

Over the past 60 years, tuition at Harvard Law School has increased ten-fold in constant, inflation-adjusted dollars. In the early 1950s, a year’s tuition at the school cost approximately $5,100 in 2011 dollars. Over the next two decades this figure more than doubled, so that by 1971 tuition was $11,664 in 2011 dollars. Tuition grew at a (relatively) modest pace over the course of the 1970s, so that by 1981 it was $14,476 in 2011 dollars. Then it climbed rapidly again, rising to $25,698 in 1991, $34,484 in 2001, and nearly $50,000 in 2011, again all in constant dollars.

This is obviously not sustainable, given that over the last 25 years there has been a sharp contraction of the legal-services sector, compared with the rest of the American economy . . .The graduation into a shrunken legal sector of students with hundreds of thousands of dollars of student debt, non-dischargeable in bankruptcy, cannot continue. Perhaps — just perhaps — the more prestigious law schools (and I include William and Mary among them) can continue the way they are, though that is not certain. But the vast majority of law schools will have to lower tuition. That probably means smaller law school faculties . . . and cutting back on law-school tuition surely means higher teaching loads. That also would not be the end of the world. When I got out of school the average teaching load was almost 8 hours per week. Currently it is about half that. And last but not least, professorial salaries may have to be reduced, or at least stop rising. Again, not the end of the world. To use Harvard again as an example: faculty salaries have much more than doubled in real terms since 1969.

Antonin Scalia, commencement speech to the William & Mary law school graduating class of 2014.


The university speaker fee racket

[ 134 ] May 14, 2014 |

Updated below

In his post about free speech on campus arguments, Scott mentions the tangential issue of exactly how much celebrity speakers at commencements and other university events are getting paid for casting their pearls before students, parents, alumni, etc.

The University of Colorado holds what I can only hope is some sort of record in this regard, although this is a rare case in which absurdly reckless spending on campus can’t be laid at the doorstep of university administrators per se. CU-Boulder has an extraordinarily well-funded

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student government (essentially all the money comes from student fees, above and beyond tuition). I became aware of this after almost literally running into Kofi Annan a few years ago at the bar of a swank Boulder hotel (I was there for a law school event), as both of us strove to order gin and tonics and help bring about world peace.

I was curious as to how much it was costing the student government (annual budget at that time: $33 million) to bring Annan to campus, where his official duties were limited to giving one 50-minute speech. Inquiries revealed the answer was $160,000, with $100,000 of that representing his speaking fee, and the rest travel expenses for himself and his retinue. I was shocked enough by this figure to inquire further, only to discover this wasn’t a one-off event: in the previous two years the student government had paid the same $100,000 speaking fee to Rudy Giuliani and B.B. King.

Anyway, five-and six (!)-figure speaking fees for the sorts of minor celebrities who speak at commencements etc., are indeed, as Scott notes, part of a complacent racket by which the elites celebrate their wonderfulness through pecuniary gestures that grow increasingly grotesque.

Update: A commenter links to a story revealing that between leaving the White House and July 2012, Bill Clinton had received $89 million in speaking fees (a figure which by this point has almost certainly hit nine figures, as he made $13.4 million from speaking fees in 2011 alone). Over that time Clinton’s average speaking fee was $189,000, with a high of $750,000 for a speech in Hong Kong to Ericcson.

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