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The rent (and the tuition) is too damn high

[ 152 ] June 8, 2016 |

neil

This is a first world problems post, but just because those problems are meaningless, that don’t make them go away.

There was muted rejoicing in the white collar salt mines of big New York City law firms yesterday, when Cravath, Swaine and Moore announced it was raising first year associate salaries from $160,000 to $180,000. For 50 years Cravath has been setting the “going rate” for the salaries top law firms pay associates, and this was the first bump in the rate in nine years. (Most of its competitors have already announced they’ll match).

Now $180,000 is by any measure what David Ricardo would have called a metric fuckton of money, if he were alive today and blogging while mildly intoxicated.

On the other hand: (ALL FIGURES BELOW ARE EXPRESSED IN CONSTANT 2016 DOLLARS)

The going rate in 1975: $110,000

Three years TOTAL tuition for 1975 Harvard Law School grads: $40,700

Average rent in New York City in 1975: $778

Three years TOTAL tuition for 2016 Harvard Law School grads: $171,000

Average rent within ten miles of New York City in 2016: $3,519. Average rent in NYC and environs has increased by 50% since 2009 alone (the CPI has increased by 10% over that time).

Again, all these numbers are inflation-adjusted.

It’s a sign of how extreme wealth disparities and their social effects have gotten that a $180,000 salary in New York City can be considered in some sense (and not just the Republican sense) “middle class.”

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Why haven’t any ABA law schools shut down yet?

[ 33 ] June 8, 2016 |

conference

A specter is haunting law schools: the specter of bankruptcy.

Not literal bankruptcy — educational institutions eligible for federal student loans can’t as a practical matter ever file for bankruptcy, because doing so makes them ineligible, and federal loans are the lifeblood of higher education in the US in general, and of law schools in particular (around two-thirds of the average law school’s revenue is in the form of such loans).

Rather, I’m using bankruptcy in the metaphorical lay sense of going out of business. Given the the steep decline in applicant totals over the past five years, why haven’t any ABA schools shut down? (There are dozens of non-ABA-approved law schools, mostly in California, and some of them do close from time to time, but they are the equivalent of Wildlings beyond the Wall, and nobody really knows anything about them).

Now in fact one ABA law school has gone out of business, practically speaking: Hamline University allowed its law school to merge with the freestanding William Mitchell School of Law, but since the new law school is going to be approximately the same size as William Mitchell was before the merger, this was effectively a face-saving way for Hamline to close its school.

But, that aside, all the other 204 ABA schools are still operating. Why?

For one thing, total enrollment hasn’t declined as sharply as applicant totals, because a number of schools are now pursuing de facto open admissions policies. While applicant totals fell by 40% between 2010 and 2015, total JD enrollment fell by only 23%. A bit this is a lag effect of the somewhat larger 2013 entering class that hadn’t graduated yet — first year enrollment fell by 29% over this time — but applicant totals appear to have bottomed out, at least for the present, with 2016 marking the third straight year in the 55,000 range, down from 88,000 in 2010 (and 100,000 in 2004).

Still, by this coming fall total JD enrollment is going to be about 30% lower than it was six years earlier.* Why hasn’t this sunk any schools yet — Hamline excepted — especially considering that this 30% average masks wide variations between schools, with some schools suffering enrollment declines of 50% or more?

There are, I think, a couple of related answers to this question.

90% of ABA law schools are located inside larger universities, and universities are clearly reluctant to close law schools, even though as of now the large majority of law schools are losing money for their parent institutions. (As for the free-standing schools, they’ll stay open as long as the value of an income stream of federal loan money minus operating expenses is greater than the liquidation value of the enterprise to its creditors). This reluctance is itself a product of several factors:

First, some observers have noted that in the 1980s and 1990s a number of universities, including some prominent ones, closed their dental schools, and they’ve wondered why the same fiscal logic hasn’t yet been applied to law schools. The answer is that (a) dental schools, like medical schools and unlike law schools, are inherently expensive operations, what with equipment, labs, clinical requirements, etc.; and (b) there are no TV shows or movies about dentists; and (c) there are no dentists in the state legislature.

In short, closing a law school is a pain in the ass for central administrators, because having a law school is “prestigious,” and universities these days are obsessed with prestige, because of the rankings nonsense. In addition, a bunch of politicos are graduates of your school, and these people can and will hassle you if you try to close their alma mater, thus violating the prime directive that guides your professional identity as a modern university administrator, i.e., avoiding conflict with connected guys/gals.

Second, it’s actually not all that difficult to slash a contemporary law school’s operating costs. In fact, given the current financial structure of postgraduate education in America it should be practically impossible to lose money running an ABA law school.

Consider that at present the federal government will loan the full cost of attendance — not just tuition — to anyone a law school chooses to admit, and that furthermore law schools can charge whatever they want in terms of both tuition and their cost of living estimates.

Imagine if you were running a car dealership, and the government would loan the full cost of any car you sold to whoever wanted to buy one of your cars, and that furthermore you could charge whatever price you wanted for your merchandise. It would be very difficult to lose money in that business, but obviously it wouldn’t be impossible.

You could, for example, double your sales force and triple your administrative staff, while selling the same number of cars. You could allow some of your sales people to never come into the office, and do their pitches by Skype or pre-recording. Jeff Harrison describes a few of the numerous holders of the Donald Trump Chair:

Many law professors hold this esteemed position. It is for those who sell nothing to unsuspecting buyers. Here is what I mean. There was a fellow at a law school at which I once taught. He was up for tenure and that meant class visitation. The visits took place over a 2 week period. Near the end of that time, a student asked me why Professor Trump was giving the exact same lecture every day. Yes, he had one particular presentation he had down pat and he went to that one whenever a visitor appeared.

And then the was the Trump professor who did his summer teaching by way of a prerecorded course. This way he could be paid for both teaching and research in the summer, a custom made side deal. One year, though, the same guy needed an extra course in the regular school year to qualify for a sabbatical. All of sudden the prerecorded course, that was offered at the same time it was always offered, was listed as occurring during the spring semester and our boy gets his sabbatical with no additional effort. He may be recruited by Trump U — the experts in something for nothing.

A friend of mine who is a high school principal tells me that whenever he has to contract the parents of a student whose parents work at the university he call them at home. He asked me, “what is this working at home thing.” Some people do work at home but some people are able to actually teach at home. One particular Trump professor, likely hired because he was the grandson of a political celebrity and former Harvard professor, managed to teach his students from home after creating a course that involved supervising students who were teaching high school students about law. Yes, no need to come in to do research or to teach. Nice (non) work if you can get it.

All of us have minor Trump appointments in the form of confercating — going to conferences that are actually vacations. I am happy to say that the new dean at my school has a rule that you actually must do something at a conference before the School will fund it. God forbid! Great idea but there is still the moral hazard of a 5 minute minute panel appearance or recycling the very same work you reported on 23 other times.

Of course if cars were sold in this way they would become insanely expensive, to the point where a lot of people would stop buying them, despite the no-questions-asked financing. At that point a lot of sales people and even some administrators would get fired. But it would be easy enough to keep all the dealership open, as long as the feds were willing to keep picking up the tab.

In sum, even under today’s conditions (much smaller enrollments, bigger discounts off sticker tuition) it will be fairly straightforward for the vast majority of law schools to take steps to stop losing money: just spend half as much money, in real terms, as they’ve been spending recently. Doing so would in many cases simply return them to the financial structure under which they operated not very long ago, so it’s not as if somebody has to invent the equivalent of a cold fusion reactor to pull off this feat of financial engineering.

*Another way of thinking about this is issue that declining enrollments have had the functional effect of closing three out of every ten ABA schools, assuming constant per school enrollment levels.

Shorter Tom Friedman: We need two major parties, because one party advocating my centerist neoliberal agenda is one too few

[ 156 ] June 8, 2016 |

friedman

NOTE: THIS IS NOT A PARODY

This party needs to just shut itself down and start over — now. Seriously, someone please start a New Republican Party!

America needs a healthy two-party system. America needs a healthy center-right party to ensure that the Democrats remain a healthy center-left party. America needs a center-right party ready to offer market-based solutions to issues like climate change. America needs a center-right party that will support common-sense gun laws. America needs a center-right party that will support common-sense fiscal policy. America needs a center-right party to support both free trade and aid to workers impacted by it. America needs a center-right party that appreciates how much more complicated foreign policy is today, when you have to manage weak and collapsing nations, not just muscle strong ones. . . .

I know so many thoughtful conservatives who know it matters. One of them has got to start the N.R.P. — New Republican Party — a center-right party liberated from all the Trump birthers, the Sarah Palins, the Grover Norquists, the Sean Hannitys, the Rush Limbaughs, the gun lobby, the oil lobby and every other narrow-interest group, a party that redefines a principled conservatism. Raise your money for it on the internet. If Bernie Sanders can, you can.

“Principled” = Agrees with Thomas Friedman about everything.

Is Trump even going to get the nomination?

[ 134 ] June 7, 2016 |

tire fire

It’s easy to over-react to the latest news cycle or two, in the same way that sports fans tend to over-react to the results of their favorite team’s latest game, but all of a sudden much of the GOP establishment appears to be on the verge of running for exits in re Donald Trump’s Excellent Adventure:

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday disavowed Donald Trump’s criticism of a Hispanic judge, saying such remarks were the “textbook definition of a racist comment.”

Ryan, speaking at an event to unveil U.S. House Republicans’ policy proposals, said the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s comments were absolutely unacceptable and indefensible.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump should stop attacking minority groups and start talking about issues that Americans care about, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday.

“My advice to our nominee is to start talking about the issues that the American people care about, and to start doing it now,” McConnell told reporters when asked about Trump’s attacks on a Hispanic judge who is overseeing fraud lawsuits against Trump University.

“In addition to that, it’s time to quit attacking various people that you competed with or various minority groups in the country and get on message.”

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another former primary rival of Mr. Trump’s, urged Republicans who have backed Mr. Trump to rescind their endorsements, citing the remarks about Judge Curiel and Mr. Trump’s expression of doubt on Sunday that a Muslim judge could remain neutral in the same lawsuit, given Mr. Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim noncitizens entering the country.

“This is the most un-American thing from a politician since Joe McCarthy,” Mr. Graham said. “If anybody was looking for an off-ramp, this is probably it,” he added. “There’ll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary.”

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., facing a big challenge from Rep. Tammy Duckworth D-Ill., said Tuesday he will not support presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump after earlier saying he will back him.

“I cannot and will not support my party’s nominee for President regardless of the political impact on my candidacy or the Republican Party,” Kirk said in a statement.

2014 Census:

Percentage of US population

Non-Hispanic White: 62.2

Hispanic: 17.4

Black or African-American: 14.3

Census projections for 2060:

Non-Hispanic White: 43.6

Hispanic: 28.6

Black or African-American: 17.9

Look at that subtle off white coloring — the tasteful thickness of it

[ 292 ] June 6, 2016 |

business card

Oh my God it even has a watermark.

An embattled Donald Trump urgently rallied his most visible supporters to defend his attacks on a federal judge’s Mexican ancestry during a conference call on Monday in which he ordered them to question the judge’s credibility and impugn reporters as racists.

“We will overcome,” Trump said, according to two supporters who were on the call and requested anonymity to share their notes with Bloomberg Politics. “And I’ve always won and I’m going to continue to win. And that’s the way it is.” . . .

Trump ignited the controversy when he defended his real-estate program by saying Curiel has an inherent conflict of interest because of his Mexican heritage, because the candidate has proposed building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border to curb illegal immigration. Curiel was born in Indiana, and Trump’s complaint has been criticized by Republican leaders, legal experts, and other commentators. Trump on Sunday broadened his argument by saying on CBS that it’s possible a Muslim judge could treat him unfairly too, because of his proposed ban on Muslim immigration.

“I should have won this thing years ago,” Trump said on the call about the case, adding that Curiel is a “member of La Raza.” Curiel is affiliated with La Raza Lawyers of California, a Latino bar association.

A clearly irritated Trump told his supporters to attack journalists who ask questions about the lawsuit and his comments about the judge.

“The people asking the questions—those are the racists,” Trump said. “I would go at ’em.”

Suggesting a broader campaign against the media, Trump said the campaign should also actively criticize television reporters. “I’d let them have it,” he said, referring to those who Trump portrayed as hypocrites.

Look at my African American over there

[ 240 ] June 3, 2016 |

Not sure he’s renting or owning in this case:

This campaign is going to be a non-stop car crash. Since I predicted last summer that Trump had a real shot at the nomination, I’m going to throw another prediction out there now: There’s a non-trivial chance that Trump actually withdraws from the race at some point prior to the election. This is based on the assumption that there’s a good chance that the polls late in the race — say towards the end of October — will show him suffering a massive, humiliating defeat. Rather than face that I can see him bailing, based on some sufficiently crazy conspiracy theory about how the whole thing is rigged, has been from the start, etc. Plus he doesn’t actually want to do the job of course, though he would no doubt be willing to outsource it. (I have no idea what the election laws allow in regard to the GOP coming up with a last-minute pinch-hitter).

Mysterious murder of Dan Markel appears not to have been very mysterious

[ 59 ] June 2, 2016 |

When Dan Markel was murdered almost two years ago, he was locked in a bitter custody battle with his ex-wife, a fellow Florida State law professor.

Update: A colleague has asked me to clarify the situation. His full message is below:

I’m a big admirer of your work on legal education, and we were in touch a few years back on those issues when I was on the faculty at [ ].

I was also a good friend of Dan Markel, and appreciate your writing about the case. The whole blog theory was ridiculous, though the reality is horrible of course.

I did want to mention that there’s an inaccuracy in there that I’m hoping can be fixed.

You write that there was a custody battle. That’s not true actually, though a few media reports have said that, and I know you’re just relying on them. They split the kids 50-50, joint custody, no dispute about it. The Tallahassee paper had it right initially — they were fighting over the terms of (or enforcement of) the settlement agreement.

Even when she asked to move to South Florida (which was decided a year before his death), the plan was for Dan to move too, and commute to his job at FSU a few days a week, which Dan actually seriously considered for a while. Still would have been joint custody, 50-50.

I do think the distinction matters, given the sensitive context and that their young kids will read this stuff someday. And yes, I realize there’s not much hope of protecting the kids from deep pain at this point.

“Custody battle” as you know, implies that they were arguing over how many days, who was a better parent, etc. I talked to Dan every other day for a few years going through this. Just not true. Bitter divorce? Sure.

Appreciate your considering fixing this, and hope all is well.

That circumstance would seem to have provided a pretty obvious list of suspects for the police to investigate. Nevertheless, someone came up with the theory that maybe some comments on a certain law school blog were the key to solving the mystery, and duly fed this theory to an all too credulous publication, which put it into print:

Police are reportedly investigating whether law professor Dan Markel may have been murdered by one of a handful of blog commenters who blasted him with threatening messages — including one who ranted about ‘shutting people like YOU down.’

Markel, who was gunned down in the driveway of his Florida home, sparred with several commenters on his own blog and other sites that cater to law students, The Tallahasse News reported.

The prominent Jewish professor even complained that he felt physically threatened by one nasty internet commenter on a now-defunct site called insidethelawschoolscam.blogspot.com, which prompted even more ominous posts.

“You’re worried about your home and private life being a target?” the correspondent wrote. “What about your graduate’s homes and private lives? (Or lack thereof?) YOU’VE RUINED THEIR LIVES YOU FOOL.”

“So yes, ‘all means necessary’ are important to shutting people like YOU down,” said the writer, who went by the profile athiestATLlawyer, possibly indicating that the person is from Atlanta.

The writer ended by calling Markel “Law school scammer.”

Another letter-writer accused Markel of using the supposed threats to stifle discussion on his own Prawsblawg site.

“Seriously you are coming across even more negatively as this saga unfolds (if that is even possible),” the commenter wrote. “To put it charitably folks who have never even met you are inclined to see you as an obsessive, egomaniacal , control freak.” . . .

Police have pleaded for help in the puzzling case and have not discussed any suspect or possible motive.

National Law Journal:

Florida investigators believe law professor Dan Markel was murdered in 2014 by two convicted felons hired by his ex-wife’s brother.

In a newly unsealed probable-cause affidavit, police said that “a desperate desire” by the family of Markel’s ex-wife to move the couple’s two children from Tallahassee to Miami was the motive of murder suspect Sigfredo Garcia, arrested last week for Markel’s murder.

Markel, 41, was a prominent and well-respected teacher and legal blogger who was shot in the head while exiting his car in the driveway of his Tallahassee home on July 18, 2014. He died the next day at an area hospital.
Police arrested Garcia, 34, on May 25 but offered little information at the time on the possible motive, saying the investigation was ongoing.

The unsealed affidavit, first reported by the Tallahassee Democrat, says police used a combination of video surveillance, eyewitness accounts, cellphone records, emails and court records pertaining to Markel and his contentious divorce from Wendi Adelson to place Garcia and alleged accomplice Luis Rivera near the crime scene and establish the Adelson family’s motive to put out the hit.

“There is no previous contact found between Markel and these two defendants,” the affidavit reads. “Therefore, it is the affiant’s belief Garcia and Rivera were enlisted to commit this egregious act against someone they did not know and had never interacted with before the murder.”

Wendi Adelson, who was a clinical professor at Florida State University’s law school, filed for divorce in 2012 after six years of marriage. Investigators described the divorce as “bitter,” with Adelson taking their two sons to her parents’ Miami home without Markel’s consent before she returned. Their divorce was finalized in 2013, although the couple continued to fight in court over finances and access to the children by her mother, whom Markel claimed made “disparaging comments” about him to the children.

“E-mail evidence indicates Wendi’s parents, especially her mother, wanted Wendi to coerce Markel into allowing the relocation to South Florida,” the affidavit says. “Additionally, Wendi’s brother, Charles Adelson (Charlie), reportedly did not like Markel and did not get along with him.”

Police believe Charlie Adelson “was involved in a personal relationship” with Katherine Magbanua, the mother of Garcia’s two children.

Cellphone records placed both Rivera and Garcia in Tallahassee the day of the murder, and Garcia had regular phone contact with Magbanua in the three months before the killing. She was Garcia’s first call following the murder, police said.

Various video surveillance showed the two men traveling to and from Miami to Tallahassee on July 16 and July 18 in a silver Toyota Prius rented by Rivera. Police also found video, captured from a city bus, of the men following Markel in that same vehicle from the parking lot of his gym prior to the murder. An eyewitness also reported two men matching the suspects’ descriptions near Markel’s house before and after the murder.

Tallahassee police said Thursday that no other arrests in the case had been made.

Entrepreneurial racism

[ 262 ] June 1, 2016 |

sierra madre

Donald Trump’s description of an Indiana-born judge as a “Mexican” is all part of an ongoing branding exercise:

Today, barely three out of five Americans are non-Hispanic whites. In another two or three decades, “white” people, as traditionally defined, will make up less than half the population. White America is in the process of disappearing, and it’s no surprise that tens of millions of people who thought of this as their country are frightened by the thought that it isn’t any more.

All this helps explain incidents such as Trump’s claim this week that a federal judge who has ruled against him in a lawsuit is a “Mexican,” even though the judge was born in Indiana. Clueless journalists treated this as yet another example of Trump’s apparently bottomless ignorance, when in fact it’s obviously a strategic choice on his part.

To Trump’s supporters, a person of Mexican ancestry is Mexican, rather than American, because Americans are white, and “Mexicans” aren’t. To the overt racists who make up Trump’s – and to a significant extent, the contemporary Republican party’s – electoral base, non-whites are at best Americans by courtesy or sufferance, because America has always been a white country.

A few years ago, Trump discovered that there was an enormous untapped market, as he would think of it, for overt racism in mainstream American politics. This is why he laid the groundwork for his presidential run by constantly repeating paranoid nonsense about Barack Obama not really being an American. He was, as they say in the business schools, establishing his “brand.”

It is very important to keep in mind that Donald Trump is now the leader of the Republican party, and that this means the Republican party is now the party of overt racism, in pretty much the same way the southern wing of the Democratic party was the party of overt, unreconstructed racism seventy years ago, when Trump first began to contaminate the planet.

Saying so isn’t considered polite, because that would imply that, as long as it’s the party of Trump, and, more important, Trumpism, being a Republican is no longer a respectable thing to be. It isn’t.

Just got this email; not sure if real

[ 190 ] May 31, 2016 |

manchuria

You’ve probably heard that the omniscient Bill Kristol tweet-hinted this weekend that an independent presidential campaign to #stopTrump and #stopHillary was about to be unleashed:

Just a heads up over this holiday weekend: There will be an independent candidate–an impressive one, with a strong team and a real chance.

— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) May 29, 2016

Speculation swirled around possible candidates, including Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, and Condoleezza Rice. It turns out the Kristollian Candidate is . . . well read it for yourself:

***Mandatory Credit: Bloomberg Politics’ Mark Halperin and John Heilemann***

***Mandatory Credit: Bloomberg Politics’ Mark Halperin and John Heilemann***

Kristol Eyes Conservative Lawyer for Independent Presidential Run

BY: Mark Halperin and John Heilemann

http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2016-05-31/kristol-eyes-conservative-lawyer-for-independent-presidential-run

Two Republicans intimately familiar with Bill Kristol’s efforts to recruit an independent presidential candidate to challenge Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have told Bloomberg Politics that the person Kristol has in mind is David French — whose name the editor of the Weekly Standard floated in the current issue of the magazine.

French is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. According to the website of National Review, where French is a staff writer, he is a constitutional lawyer, a recipient of the Bronze Star, and an author of several books who lives in Columbia, Tenn., with his wife Nancy and three children.

Reached in Israel late Tuesday afternoon, Kristol declined to comment on his efforts to induce French to run. The two Republicans confirmed that French is open to launching a bid, but that he has not made a final decision. One of the Republicans added that French has not lined up a vice-presidential running mate or significant financial support. However, according to this person, some conservative donors look favorably on the prospect of French entering the fray.

In Kristol’s piece in the Standard’s June 6 issue, he argued that “the fact of Trump’s and Clinton’s unfitness for the Oval Office has become so self-evident that it’s no longer clear one needs a famous figure to provide an alternative.” After mentioning Mitt Romney and other possibilities such as Judd Gregg and Mel Martinez, Kristol invoked French’s name and résumé, writing, “To say that he would be a better and a more responsible president than Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is to state a truth that would become self-evident as more Americans got to know him.”

Ever since Kristol tweeted on Sunday that an “impressive” independent candidate “with a strong team and a real chance” is now prepared to enter the presidential fray, the political world has been engaged in a fevered guessing game over whom that person might be.

Shortly after Kristol fired off that provocative missive on Sunday, he left for Israel and has been avoiding the press, speaking only through a series of tweets taunting Trump for responding to Kristol’s Sunday tweet. Speculation had centered on 2012 Republican nominee Romney, freshman Nebraska senator Ben Sasse, and other current and former state and federal office-holders.

According to one person deeply involved in the efforts to recruit an independent challenger, the search has focused on individuals who have one or more of the following three traits seen as vital for credibly such a bid: fame, vast wealth, and elective experience. Reached by phone Tuesday evening, French declined to answer questions about any possible run.

Bad arguments against a universal basic income

[ 119 ] May 31, 2016 |

robot

Eduardo Porter in the NYT:

Figure out a reasonable amount — the official poverty line amounts to about $25,000 for a family of four; a full-time job at $15 an hour would provide about $30,000 a year — and hand every adult a monthly check. The minimum wage worker stretching to make it to payday, the single mother balancing child care and a job — everybody would get the same thing.

Poverty would be over, at a stroke.

But wait:

Its first hurdle is arithmetic. As Robert Greenstein of the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities put it, a check of $10,000 to each of 300 million Americans would cost more than $3 trillion a year.

It’s easy to miss that a proposal to give every adult a monthly check has suddenly morphed into giving every American, including about 75 million children, that payment. Indeed, a UBI proposal that distributed payments per household would be a little more than a third as large as the $3 trillion price tag Porter tosses about.

That’s not the only shaky math in the article:

The popularity of the universal basic income stems from a fanciful diagnosis born in Silicon Valley of the challenges faced by the working class across industrialized nations: one that sees declining employment rates and stagnant wages and concludes that robots are about to take over all the jobs in the world.

That scenario might lie in our future — I will devote my next column to discussion of such a universe. But it’s certainly not our present. Men at their prime working ages — 25 to 54 — have been falling out of the labor force since the 1960s. Still, today more than eight out of every 10 Americans in their prime are working.

Um, no. The labor force participation rate — the percentage of people who are either “employed” or looking for work — for 25-54 year olds was 80.9% in 2014, while the unemployment rate in that cohort hovers between four and five percent. And describing the 76% or so of 25-54 year olds who are participating in the labor force and not technically unemployed as “working” is a bit of a stretch, since the BLS counts you as “employed” if you’ve been paid for even a single hour of work in the last four weeks, which hardly means that you have a job in the old fashioned (and increasingly archaic) sense of the word.

Moving right along:

Work, as Lawrence Katz of Harvard once pointed out, is not just what people do for a living. It is a source of status. It organizes people’s lives. It offers an opportunity for progress. None of this can be replaced by a check.

A universal basic income has many undesirable features, starting with its nonnegligible disincentive to work. Almost a quarter of American households make less than $25,000. It would be hardly surprising if a $10,000 check each for Mom and Dad sapped their desire to work.

These two paragraphs come dangerously close to flat-out contradicting each other. If work gives people forms of satisfaction that go beyond money, why is giving people money so likely to reduce them to lazy idlers on the dole?

I don’t have an opinion on an particular variety of UBI because I haven’t thought enough about the issue, but these arguments are pretty terrible.

Another comment on legal scholarship

[ 94 ] May 29, 2016 |

thesis

The massive increase in the cost of American legal education has been driven largely by a massive increase in the size of law school faculties. (Student-faculty ratios fell by half between 1978 and 2013.) The most common justification for this increase has been that larger faculties allow for lower teaching loads, which in turn allow more law review articles to be written.

The main problem with this justification is that a huge amount of the stuff that gets published in law reviews is “scholarship” in name only. (See for instance this illuminating little tale).

What follows is another example from the flagship journal at a more or less respectable law school. In other words, this is a relatively prestigious publication venue in the context of the 800 [!] or so journals now published by American law schools, and publishing in it is exactly the kind of thing that lower teaching loads etc. are supposed to encourage.

This article’s thesis is that the US News rankings have played a critical role in causing law schools to hike tuition so sharply in recent years. This is because the rankings reward schools in various ways for spending more money, which thus leads to invidious and inefficient forms of competition. So the hypothesis that the rankings have caused tuition increases to accelerate certainly seems plausible.

Anyway, according to the article, “twenty years” of rapid tuition increases have now collided with the sudden contraction in the economic prospects of young lawyers that supposedly began with the Great Recession, to produce the current crisis in legal education.

The article’s author, Victor Gold, was dean of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles from 2009 until last summer, and he doesn’t pass up an opportunity to take potshots at certain people who made his job harder:

Of course, a number of law professors publicly also weighed in on the crisis, achieving national notoriety by accusing legal education of being a scam and charging that law schools were pursuing a failed educational model. While long on critiques, they were short on practical suggestions. One could only imagine the angst these professors suffered every two weeks when they had to cash paychecks produced by what they believed to be such a bankrupt system.

(Citations not provided).

Here’s a practical suggestion: Stop paying law professors to publish useless articles that fail to meet even the most minimal academic standards.

Suppose you were teaching an undergraduate class on the economics of the American health care system, and a student wanted to write a paper arguing for the proposition that the Affordable Care Act has driven up the cost of health care. What’s the VERY FIRST QUESTION you would ask the student? My guess is: Have you compared the rise in health care costs before the passage of the ACA to the rise afterwards? Because if health care costs have risen more slowly since the passage of the ACA, that’s going to be a big problem for your thesis.

But Victor Gold isn’t an undergraduate: he’s the William H. Hannon Professor of Law at Loyola Los Angeles. And it apparently doesn’t occur to anybody, and in particular it doesn’t occur to the editors of the Syracuse Law Review, to ask questions such as, if your thesis is that the US News rankings have played a critical role in causing tuition to go up so rapidly over the past twenty years, have you checked on how fast tuition was going up before the rankings supposedly began to bend the law school cost curve upward? (The annual US News rankings began in 1990, and were first extended beyond 25 schools in 1994).

In fact law school tuition didn’t start shooting through the roof 20 years ago: it’s been climbing steeply for at least 60 years – but the rate of increase has actually declined sharply during the US News era:

Median private law school tuition in 1956: $475 ($4,181 in 2014 dollars).
Median private law school tuition in 1974: $2,350 ($11,285 in 2014 dollars).
Median private law school tuition in 1994: $15,965 ($25,503 in 2014 dollars)
Median private law school tuition in 2014: $43,398

(I’m using 1956 rather than 1954 because I have data for the former year but not the latter. I’m using private law school tuition because about 70% of American law students attend private schools, and because the tuition situation at public schools is more complex, since varying percentages of students pay resident and non-resident tuition at various schools).

Percentage increase in private law school tuition between 1956 and 1974 in constant dollars: 169.9%
Percentage increase in private law school tuition between 1974 and 1994 in constant dollars: 126%
Percentage increase in private law school tuition between 1994 and 2014 in constant dollars: 70.2%

The decline in the rate of increase would be even more striking if we had long-term historical numbers for effective tuition — sticker tuition minus “scholarships,” i.e., discounts off sticker price. This is because the gap between sticker and effective tuition has grown rapidly in recent years. (I estimate that, between 1991 and 2012, effective tuition as a percentage of sticker tuition declined from about 90% to about 80%).

Now these numbers don’t logically preclude the theory that the US News rankings have caused tuition to rise faster than it otherwise would have, since you could always argue that the pronounced slowdown in the rate at which tuition has been increasing would have been even more pronounced if not for the effect of the rankings. This is precisely the argument sophisticated right-wing polemicists make when they grapple with the awkward fact that the rate of increase in medical care costs has slowed under the ACA.

Of course the less sophisticated ones simply ignore the data, and screech that the ACA has caused medical care costs to explode. But I bet – or maybe I’m just hoping — that it would be difficult to get that argument published in a putatively academic journal.

Turns out Ken Starr hasn’t exactly been fired after all

[ 103 ] May 26, 2016 |

Apparently he’s being demoted all the way down to to adjunct professor custodian assistant vice president for bureaucratic redundancy Chancellor:

On Thursday Baylor University put out the following news release:

Board of Regents apologizes to Baylor Nation; Dr. David Garland named interim University President; Ken Starr transitions to role of Chancellor and remains professor at Baylor University Law School

Previous LGM coverage here.

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