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The destruction of American public legal education

[ 23 ] March 6, 2017 |

I’ve been working on an article about the history of tuition at American law schools. Spoiler: it went up by roughly 1100% in constant dollars over a 55-year span, but then started going down on an average effective per student basis about five years ago, because increased transparency required law schools to slash sticker prices radically for about half their matriculants.  The upshot is that today roughly half of all law students are paying sticker tuition (which is higher than ever) or fairly close to it, while the other half are getting bigly discounts off sticker.  Further spoliation: this cross-subsidization flows on average from poorer students to richer ones, and from ethnic minorities to white students, for reasons you can probably guess.

Anyway, the big surprise to me in looking at all this closely was how public law school resident tuition didn’t go up much at all relative to either private law school tuition, or increases in family income ,at least through the mid-1980s.  Since then it’s gone completely crazy though.

The other stat that really jumped out at me was how robustly median family income grew in the 1950s and 1960s, and how amazingly flat it’s been for the past 40+ years.  (Note that family income is about 20% higher than household income, since the census defines a family as two or more people related by blood or marriage or adoption living together, while a household can be one person, or two or more unrelated people domiciled together.) . Here’s a small section:

To be as affordable today as public law school tuition was in 2006, relative to what family income was at that time, a family has to make $105,000.

To be as affordable today as public law school tuition was in 1996, relative to what family income was at that time, a family has to make $189,000.

To be as affordable today as public law school tuition was in 1986, relative to what family income was at that time, a family has make $342,000.

To be as affordable today as public law school tuition was in 1974, relative to what family income was at that time, a family  has make $453,000.

To be as affordable today as public law school tuition was in 1956, relative to what family income was at that time, a family has to make $547,000.

Several things are evident from these numbers. First, the enormous run-up in private law school tuition between the mid-1950s and the mid-1970s was to some extent ameliorated by the rapid rise in the income of American families during this time. In the eighteen years between 1956 and 1974, real median family income grew by nearly 50%, from $42,675 to $63,552 in 2017 dollars.

Indeed, these same increases in family income mostly offset the rise in public law school tuition, which remained roughly as affordable as it had been two decades earlier, in relative terms.  Yet over the next four decades, law school tuition continued to rise at a breakneck pace, even as family income growth slowed to a crawl. By 2015, median family income was just 12.6% higher than it had been 41 years earlier, while private law school tuition had increased by 297% in constant dollars since then, and public law school resident tuition had risen by a mind-boggling 690%, even after adjusting for inflation.

Thus, the devastating consequences of rapidly increasing tuition and flat income growth are seen in their starkest form when considering the effect of these dual trends on the affordability of public legal education in particular.   When compared to family income, public law schools now cost considerably more than private law schools did as recently as the 1980s, let alone in the decades before then.  Resident tuition at public law schools is now higher, in real terms, than the tuition charged by Harvard and Yale law schools when a large percentage of today’s law professors attended the latter institutions.

Note: Median family income was $70,697 in 2015.




The Transfiguration of Donald Trump

[ 217 ] March 1, 2017 |

The American pundit class, with notable rare exceptions, deserves every bit of the contempt that Donald Trump heaps upon the political media in general.

Witness Van Jones, who is usually a better than average example of the species from what I’ve seen of him:

Shortly after President Donald Trump addressed a Joint Session of Congress for the first time since taking the oath of office, CNN’s Van Jones called one particularly moving moment from the speech the real estate mogul’s most presidential to date.

Less than an hour after Trump honored the widow of a slain NAVY Seal, the Democratic commentator suggested that the commander in chief had officially begun to look the part.
“He became President of the United States in that moment, period,” said Jones, after the evening’s most emotional point was replayed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
“That was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics,” Jones added. . .
Noting that he still often disagrees with the President, Jones admitted that Trump’s powerful moment shows he may be settling into the role.
“If he finds a way to do that over and over again, he’s going to be there for eight years,” Jones said.
Really, what can you say?  Trump shamelessly exploits a widow’s fresh grief, (eta: while lying even more shamelessly about the botched mission that killed several children along with her husband) in a thoroughly disgusting display of symbolic politics at its emptiest and most cynical, and pundits across the ideological spectrum swoon, because he’s suddenly “presidential.”  I guess this means he actually managed to read a speech written for him without doing one of his little riffs on Mexican rapists or black murderers or Islamic terrorists or women whose pussies he’d like to grab.

You cannot hope
to bribe or twist,
thank God! the
British journalist.

But, seeing what
the man will do
unbribed, there’s
no occasion to.



Bill Paxton

[ 80 ] February 26, 2017 |

Bill Paxton has died, after complications from surgery.

Paxton seemed to have been in a thousand movies and TV shows, making him a sort of second-string Kevin Bacon, who appeared with him in Apollo 13, and probably a bunch of other things as well.

I remember him best as Hudson, the cowardly Marine who is given the best lines in James Cameron’s Aliens, and as the earnest husband juggling several wives in HBO’s Big Love, a cheesy but strangely compelling series about polygamy among suburban heterodox Mormons in Salt Lake City.  He was also in Titanic, although I can’t remember who he played.  I do have a painful memory of him in Twister, one of the worst big budget movies ever.   An actor who everybody knows but somehow never quite becomes a real movie star, and who then dies on the day the Academy Awards take place, is something out of Woody Allen movie, or maybe a Raymond Carver story.



4chan and Trump

[ 399 ] February 24, 2017 |

I know next to nothing about the subcultures explored in this essay, and therefore can’t vouch for its accuracy,  but it’s a fascinating read.

On Gamergate:

Again, here we can understand this group as people who have failed at the real world and have checked out of it and into the fantasy worlds of internet forums and video games. These are men without jobs, without prospects, and by extension (so they declaimed) without girlfriends. Their only recourse, the only place they feel effective, is the safe, perfectly cultivated worlds of the games they enter. By consequence of their defeat, the distant, abstract concept of women in the flesh makes them feel humiliated and rejected. Yet, in the one space they feel they can escape the realities of this, the world of the video game, here (to them, it seems) women want to assert their presence and power.

If this sounds hard to believe, take for example Milo Yiannopoulos, the “Technology Editor” at Breitbart News, whose scheduled lecture this month at Berkeley spawned massive riots and protests. Yiannopoulos rose to prominence via Gamergate. He is not a “technology” editor because he compares the chip architectures of competing graphics cards. Rather the “tech” here is code for the fact that his audience is the vast population of sad young men who have retreated to internet communities. Likewise the mainstream press sometimes describes him as troll as a way of capturing his vague association with 4chan. This term, too, is inaccurate. He is 4chan at its most earnest, after all these men have finally discovered their issue — the thing that unites them — their failure and powerlessness literally embodied (to them) by women.

Yiannopoulos’ rambling “arguments” against feminism, are not arguments at all, as much as pep talks, ways of making these dis-empowered men feel empowered by discarding the symbol of their failure — women. As an openly gay man, he argues that men no longer need be interested in women, that they can and should walk away from the female sex en masse. For example in a long incoherent set of bullet points on feminism he states:

The rise of feminism has fatally coincided with the rise of video games, internet porn, and, sometime in the near future, sex robots. With all these options available, and the growing perils of real-world relationships, men are simply walking away.

Here Yiannopoulos has inverted what has actually happened to make his audience feel good. Men who have retreated to video games and internet porn can now characterize their helpless flight as an empowered conscious choice to reject women for something else. In other words, it justifies a lifestyle which in their hearts they previously regarded helplessly as a mark of shame.

On Trump as Pepe the Frog:

We know, by this point, that Trump is funny. Even to us leftists, horrified by his every move, he is hilarious. Someone who is all brash confidence and then outrageously incompetent at everything he does is — from an objective standpoint — comedy gold. Someone who accuses his enemies of the faults he at that very moment is portraying is comedy gold. But, strangely, as the left realized after the election, pointing out Trump was a joke was not helpful. In fact, Trump’s farcical nature didn’t seem to be a liability, rather, to his supporters, it was an asset.

All the left’s mockery of Trump served to reinforce his message as not only an outsider, but as an expression of rage, despair, and ultimate pathetic Pepe-style hopelessness.

4chan’s value system, like Trump’s ideology, is obsessed with masculine competition (and the subsequent humiliation when the competition is lost). Note the terms 4chan invented, now so popular among grade schoolers everywhere: “fail” and “win”, “alpha” males and “beta cucks”. This system is defined by its childlike innocence, that is to say, the inventor’s inexperience with any sort of “IRL” [in real life] romantic interaction. And like Trump, since these men wear their insecurities on their sleeve, they fling these insults in wild rabid bursts at everyone else.

Trump the loser, the outsider, the hot mess, the pathetic joke, embodies this duality. Trump represents both the alpha and the beta. He is a successful person who, as the left often notes, is also the exact opposite — a grotesque loser, sensitive and prideful about his outsider status, ready at the drop of a hat to go on the attack, self-obsessed, selfish, abrogating, unquestioning of his own mansplaining and spreading, so insecure he must assault women. In other words, to paraphrase Truman Capote, he is someone with his nose pressed so hard up against the glass he looks ridiculous. And for this reason, (because he knows he is substanceless) he must constantly re-affirm his own ego. Or as Errol Morris put it, quoting Borges, he is a “labyrinth with no center”.

But, what the left doesn’t realize is, this is not a problem for Trump’s supporters, rather, the reason why they support him.

Trump supporters voted for the con-man, the labyrinth with no center, because the labyrinth with no center is how they feel, how they feel the world works around them. A labyrinth with no center is a perfect description of their mother’s basement with a terminal to an endless array of escapist fantasy worlds.

Trump’s bizarre, inconstant, incompetent, embarrassing, ridiculous behavior — what the left (naturally) perceives as his weaknesses — are to his supporters his strengths.

In other words, Trump is 4chan.

While Clinton won young voters (18-29) by a wide margin (55-37), that margin was sixteen points lower than Obama’s margin over McCain, and six points below Obama’s margin over Romney.  To be fair, sex-starved semi-employed white guys living in their moms’ basements represent only a small part of this larger demographic. Hopefully.






How much did it and does it cost to educate law students? An interview with myself

[ 119 ] February 23, 2017 |

A couple of days ago I wrote about the extraordinary increase in Stanford Law School’s revenues and operating budget over the past twenty years (Revenues have tripled in constant dollars, while expenditures have risen a more modest 174%, also in constant dollars.  The size of the student body has not changed).

Anyhoo, I’ve been digging around in various dusty financial documents (the old ones are sometimes literally dusty, while the newer ones tend to be PDF files, so they give off metaphorical dust).

I recently interviewed myself about this research.  (Answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity).


How big was Harvard Law School’s operating budget in the year that current — so we’re not talking about the Middle Ages m’kay? — Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg matriculated? (She was one of nine women in the 1956-57 class of 552.  HLS had started admitting women six years earlier).

About $19.68 million.  Again, 2016 dollars yo.

How much was that per student?

Around $11,927.

Was that a lot in those days?

Compared to the average law school, yeah that was a lot.

How much did the average law school spend in operating costs per student back then?

Around $6,110 in 2016 dollars. (I keep repeating this because of the incredulity factor). This average includes Harvard, which by itself accounted for 8.92% of the collective operating budget ($220,590,000) of the 129 ABA law schools at that time, so that figure would be somewhat lower if you backed out HLS’s contribution to the total, which I’m too lazy to do at this moment, but I would appreciate it if someone would do for me, TIA.

How much did Harvard charge to attend its law school in 1956?

$7,765 (2016$)

How much did the average ABA law school charge?


How much did the average public law school charge in resident tuition?


What was the median income of American families 60 years ago?


What’s Harvard Law School’s operating budget now?

In fiscal year 2015-16, about $253 million.

How much is that per student?

$126,374.  TBF, Stanford is spending $135,011.

Is the educational experience of today’s Harvard Law School students better than that experienced by Ruth Bader Ginsberg et. al.?

For sure.  Ginsberg got asked by the dean how she could justify taking a spot that could have gone to a man, so yeah, I bet it’s a lot better in many ways, especially for women, Kenyan Muslims, etc.

Is it 959.56% better?

Probably not.

What about Ye Average Law School?  How much is it now spending per student?

$53,174. So only 770.28% more.

How much does Harvard charge these days?

$62,700.  Per year.

And your average law school for average law students?

$46,050 at private law schools, $25,870 for state residents at public institutions.

But aren’t only about 35% of law students paying full sticker these days?

Yes but that just means the poorer students are paying their richer classmates’ bills. And that ain’t right.

Did you know Mick Jagger had a kid a couple of months ago?

Yeah when he goes to law school he can tell people that poppa was a Rolling Stone.

How much is median family income in America today?


So how much more expensive has law school gotten relative to median family income since the notorious RBG’s student days?

Back then, HLS’s annual tuition was 18.4% of median family income.  Now it’s 88.7%. Average law school tuition was 9.9% of median family income.  Now private law school tuition is 65.1% of median family income.  Public law school tuition was 4.4% of median family income.  Now it’s 36.6%.

Will the revolution be televised?


Scenes from the new gilded age, law school edition

[ 28 ] February 21, 2017 |

Five years ago this month I gave a talk to about 100 Stanford Law School students, with a professor or three in the audience as well.  Among other things I talked about how super-elite law schools like Stanford were having an invidious effect on the economics of legal education by continually jacking up their revenues and operating costs at a dizzying rate. In an era of idiotic college ranking systems, the super-elites were playing a key role in driving a destructive fiscal arms race, which was doing great damage to the vast majority of law students, who attend schools where most students don’t get elite legal jobs, or in many cases legal jobs at all.

Why not cut your tuition in half I suggested? (Also, what’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding etc?).  The students all thought this was a grand idea, and several talked to me subsequently about how they might organize to petition the administration.

30 years ago I remember reading in Bill James’s annual abstract that there were days in his professional life when he felt like he was making no progress.  That observation was triggered by the selection of Andre Dawson as the National League’s most valuable player in 1987.  (According to today’s analytic methods, Dawson wasn’t even one of the top 20 players in the league that year, but even in those simpler sabermetric times the selection was obviously absurd.  The pick of George Bell over Alan Trammell over in the junior circuit was nearly as bad.)

Anyway back to our regularly scheduled programming:

Stanford Law School Revenues


Stanford’s revenues have gone up 29% in real terms in the last five years alone, at a time when yuuge numbers of law schools are drowning in red ink, after decades of trying to keep up with the Kardashians.  And the thing is, I just know the powers that be in Palo Alto (not only at the law school of course) are positively proud of themselves at how modestly they’ve raised tuition, given how much more they’re spending:

Stanford law school tuition

I may break this stuff down in more detail in a future post, if the world hasn’t blown up by then, and/or I haven’t drunk myself insensible.

Top Five

[ 307 ] February 17, 2017 |

Top five cover versions of original songs:

Rolling Stones, Love in Vain

Duane Allman and Boz Scaggs, Loan Me a Dime 

Shonen Knife, Top of the World

Yayhoos, Dancing Queen

Linda Ronstadt, Hasten Down the Wind






Math problem bleg

[ 35 ] February 17, 2017 |

Can you math wizards answer this one plz?

Year 0   16.83

Year 5    18.57

Year 10  21.38

Year 15  29.36

Year 20 36.05

What does this series extrapolate out to in years 25, 30, and 35?


I think I’m still in denial that this is actually happening

[ 269 ] February 16, 2017 |

Even though I suggested a year and a half ago that it very well could.

Therefore I’ll outsource to the always essential Josh Marshall:


This is that rare time when I think the cliched phrase is appropriate: That press conference speaks for itself. There’s very little I can think to add. It all amounts to a confirmation of what most of us already know. This man is not emotionally or characterologically equipped to serve as President. He lacks the focus, the ability to commit to even a passable amount of work without immediate emotional gratification. Thus his decision to hold a campaign rally in Florida on Friday. (It’s literally a campaign event, put on by his 2020 reelection campaign). Trump lacks the emotional resilience or toughness to deal with what is the inevitable criticism and difficulties of being President, which – lets be clear – are great.

These different deficits all feed upon each other. He lacks the steadiness for the job.

There are credible reports of Richard Nixon being in this sort of state in the final weeks of his presidency. But Nixon, to give him his due, was at the center of the greatest political scandal in American history, bearing down on him for months and pushing him toward the greatest political disgrace and humiliation in his nation’s political history. He was overseeing the Vietnam War, witnessing various domestic civil disturbances, grappling with foreign policy blowups which neared superpower confrontations. There was a lot going on. Trump has been President for less than four weeks. Aside from domestic, media driven and other crises of his own making, virtually nothing has happened.

But the man who just appeared before the press for a free-ranging airing of grievances looked tired, sullen and half broken. His bracing insistence that everything is going perfectly in his White House sounded desperate and bizarre.

He’s coming up on one month down and 47 to go.

If there’s any justice in the world, most of the Trumpkins will be far enough away from the nuclear explosions to die slow deaths from radiation poisoning.

The question of the moment

[ 162 ] February 15, 2017 |

How long can this go on?

After little more than three weeks, Trump’s behavior is no more erratic than it used to be, but in the context of the Presidency it seems so. This year’s “Saturday Night Live” season has been very funny, but the most startling moment was not a sketch but a depiction of something real: Trump’s obsessive tweeting, four years ago, about the end of the relationship between Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. It’s been fascinating to watch him change policies in the twinkling of a tweet, as with his briefly confrontational China policy, inaugurated in December with a telephone call to Taiwan’s leader, and then reversed; or to witness his cobra-like lunges at newfound enemies, including the Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, who revealed that Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, had told him that he found the President’s attacks on the courts “demoralizing.” Trump just can’t seem to stop himself. Three months after the election, which he won, he’s still talking about those mythical fraudulent voters, and still calling Senator Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas.” When he again alleged voter fraud recently, in a room filled with senators, it got awkward; one attendee told Politico that “an uncomfortable silence” filled the room.

Those uncomfortable silences accompany chatter about Trump’s state of mind, which is abetted by talk from a leaky White House and even from a Trump doctor, Harold Bornstein, who may have crossed a doctor-patient confidentiality line when he told the Times that Trump has been taking the drug finasteride, to preserve his unique haircut. Writing in the Washington Post, Daniel Marchalik, a urologist at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center, discussed what he called “potentially life-changing and irreversible side effects that may be associated with these medications,” and which may include sexual, physical, and psychological changes, pretty much none of them good. It’s hard to dismiss all of this.

CBS’s Scott Pelley recently began his evening broadcast in a way that no evening news in this nation has ever begun: “It has been a busy day for Presidential statements divorced from reality.” He went on to give several now familiar examples, such as Trump’s insistence, contrary to all available evidence, that the press hasn’t reported on a number of terrorist attacks, or that opinion polls showing high levels of Trumpian disapproval are “fake news.” Perhaps there is some causal link between Trump’s distance from the recognizable world and his bodily distance from what once were the landmarks of his life, apart from brief treks to Mar-a-Lago. With Trump living inside what Harry Truman called “the great white sepulcher of ambitions and reputations” (although Truman, for most of his Presidency, lived in the cozier Blair House), and not inclined to drop by the Situation Room when an anti-terror Navy SEAL mission in Yemen was about to go terribly wrong, it’s hard not to wonder where this Presidency will go next. The mood inside the gates is said to be distressed. “Really hard to overstate level of misery radiating from several members of White House staff over last few days,” the Times’ Maggie Haberman recently tweeted. Outside, those who worry about all this are worrying less about policies—even those that are regarded with revulsion—but, rather, about how much longer someone who controls the power to destroy the world will be able to control himself.

A non-American friend of mine was asking me this morning if there isn’t some sort of mechanism for removing a president other than declaring him to be a criminal or mentally/physically unfit.  She was thinking of something along the lines of a legislative no-confidence vote, requiring the president to either resign or call a new election.

The absence of any such mechanism is a pretty serious flaw in our system, as we’ll probably have occasion to ponder a few thousand times in the next 1400-odd days.

9th circuit rules that Trump’s promise to ban Muslims indicates the possibility that his EO was intended to ban Muslims

[ 155 ] February 9, 2017 |

Ruling here.  (Most relevant bits are at 25-26).

Trump has already responded, in a manner that will be familiar to anyone who has tried to explain to an over-tired toddler why he can’t watch Zootopia eight times a day.

The Gorsuch gambit

[ 84 ] February 9, 2017 |

Senate Democrats need to apply their new-found resolve to oppose the Trump administration at every turn to the Gorsuch nomination.  Gorsuch is a very right-wing judge: this academic analysis concludes that he’s even more “conservative” (for foreign readers who might not be familiar with current American political categories, in contemporary parlance, “conservative” means “right-wing reactionary”) than Scalia and Alito, and is only outflanked by Clarence “Bring back the glory days of the 18th century” Thomas.

All the current babble about how Gorsuch is “brilliant” and “thoughtful” is just this thing of ours code talk by Ivy League types, who are apparently relieved that Trump didn’t nominate Dale Earnhardt Jr. or one of the Duck Dynasty crew.  “Brilliant” lawyers are a dime a dozen, and the fact that Gorsuch is not a rhetorical bomb thrower like Scalia just makes him likely to be more effective in pursuing his goals, and thus more dangerous as a practical matter.

So forget that this seat was stolen fair and square from Obama: Democrats should no more vote for Gorsuch than they should vote to gut Social Security or eliminate the estate tax.   Judicial nominations aren’t like legislation, in which horse trading to make a bad bill less bad sometimes make sense.  Nominations are up or down matters, and the argument that Trump might nominate an even worse nominee is weak, since a dumber and less suave nominee should obviously be preferable, from a progressive point of view, than somebody who makes “liberal” law professors swoon even as he stylishly mounts Randy Barnett’s or Richard Epstein’s favorite jurisprudential hobby horse and rides it straight back to 1880.

Beyond all this, absent some at this point completely unforeseeable development Gorsuch is going to be confirmed even if he doesn’t get a single Democratic vote.  Mitch McConnell has already made it perfectly clear, as Richard Nixon used to say, that he’s going to ram this thing through even if he gets no bipartisan cooperation.  So the only question is whether the GOP will have to nuke the filibuster to get their way.  As Jon Chait points out, the worst possible outcome is that Gorsuch gets confirmed while the filibuster stays in place, thus leaving it to Democrats to get rid of it in the (hopefully) near future, when the next Democratic president gets to fill a vacancy with a small Democratic majority in the Senate.  (And if you think the Republicans won’t force them to do so under these circumstances, I’ve got a full tuition scholarship to Trump University to sell you).

Where I disagree with Jon is in regard to his conclusion that once the Dems force the GOP to get rid of the filibuster, they should then vote for Gorsuch.  I don’t see any point in doing that, since Gorsuch is not somebody that any Democrat should want to be on the Court, and the argument that he might be replaced by someone “worse” is shaky indeed, given what “worse” ought to mean in this context.

In light of all this, it’s easy to understand why Gorsuch is whispering sweet nothings into Democratic senatorial ears about how very upsetting it is that Der Donald is being so awfully disrespectful toward federal judges.  Trump is being awful, of course, but on the list of awful things Trump did before Neil Gorsuch agreed to accept Trump’s invitation to be nominated to the SCOTUS, Trump’s recent remarks about judges wouldn’t make the top 100 (and even these remarks are if anything less offensive than what Trump had to say about Judge Curiel last summer).

Gorsuch’s game seems pretty transparent: to get himself onto the Court while preserving the filibuster, to be used by the GOP against future Democratic administration nominees.  Nobody who has a vote now should fall for it.

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