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A brief comment on comment policies

[ 147 ] April 11, 2014 |

Updated below

Over at The Faculty Lounge, Steve Freedman, assistant dean of admissions at the University of Kansas Law School, announced a couple of days ago that he was going to offer a series of posts about why right now is a great time to go to law school. (The first two are here and here. TL;DR: Less law students means more jobs for law graduates.)

Freedman predictably got some push back regarding his thesis, with Brian Tamanaha providing the most trenchant criticism:

Please address the apparent contradiction in advice like this. Assuming no substantial change in the legal market (for better or worse), the job outlook for graduates stands to improve precisely because fewer students are enrolling in law school these days. But of course, if significant numbers of people take your advice and “enroll today” (thinking three years hence the oversupply of law grads will be eliminated by falling enrollment), then the job outlook will worsen as a consequence because the oversupply will not go down as much. So your prediction will bear out only if most people thinking about law school do not take your advice.

It’s notable that Freedman has already closed comments to his second post, even though none of the comments were inappropriate in tone or substance, unless of course harsh criticism of one’s arguments is considered inappropriate per se.

I’m not picking on Freedman in particular in this regard, as I’ve noticed there’s a strong tendency among legal academic bloggers to either not allow comments at all, or to cut them off for no apparent reason other than that they’re highly critical. This fact says something, I think, about the level of deference that legal academics become accustomed to from their usual audiences. Apparently failure to provide that deference can easily get interpreted as “lack of civility,” or “insolence,” or some other form of lese majeste.

This in turn probably helps explain why it took so comparatively long for the legal academy to notice the disaster that was overtaking so many of our graduates. Under the circumstances, developing something other than a flypaper-thin skin in regard to criticism might be in order (especially given that we’re supposed to be training future lawyers).

Update: In regard to Prof. Lisa McElroy’s comments in the closed thread, comments at JD Underground are most definitely not closed.

Economic possibilities for our future robot overlords

[ 257 ] April 11, 2014 |

Following up on Erik’s post about working hours in France, in 1939 John Maynard Keynes published what eventually became a famous essay, entitled “Economic Possibilities For Our Grandchildren,” in which he tried to predict what “the progressive countries” (what would now be called the developed world) would look like in 2030.

The essay makes two big predictions:

(1) By 2030 the developed world would be in per capita terms four to eight times wealthier than it was a century earlier.

(2) This explosion of wealth would produce a tremendous reduction of hours worked, as people chose leisure over yet more income.

The first prediction was almost uncannily accurate, while the second has turned out to be completely wrong in regard to the United States, and largely wrong about Europe. (I’m not familiar enough with the relevant statistics in regard to the emerging economies of Asia and Latin America to comment on the salience of Keynes’ second prediction to them).

Regarding the first prediction, U.S. per capita GDP was about 6.2 times higher at the end of 2013 than it was at the end of 1929 (it increased from just over $8000 to just under $50,000 in chained 2009 dollars). Extrapolating out, Keynes high end prediction appears to have been if anything slightly conservative. Keynes thought that such a trajectory would result in something like a 15-hour work week for most people who worked for income:

For many ages to come the old Adam will be so strong in us that everybody will need to do some work if he is to be contented. We shall do more things for ourselves than is usual with the rich to-day, only too glad to have small duties and tasks and routines. But beyond this, we shall endeavour to spread the bread thin on the butter-to make what work there is still to be done to be as widely shared as possible. Three-hour shifts or a fifteen-hour week may put off the problem for a great while. For three hours a day is quite enough to satisfy the old Adam in most of us!

At the time, this seemed like a reasonable projection, as work hours in the US and Europe had declined considerably over the previous half century, and Keynes assumed that the income effect — the declining marginal utility of income in relation to leisure — would cause this trend to continue. Since then, however, the decline in working hours has ceased almost completely in the US, and slowed down drastically in Europe (Europeans do work about 20% fewer hours than Americans however, which is not a trivial distinction).

Economics being a rather tautological discipline, there is of course a ready theoretical explanation for this as well: the substitution effect — i.e., to the extent that productivity increases are reflected in higher income per hour worked, each hour of forgone work in favor of leisure becomes more costly to the worker.

Of course this doesn’t explain why the substitution effect seems to have won out almost completely over the income effect in the US, and to a lesser extent in Europe. And here the biggest weakness of Keynes’ analysis in the essay — a surprising weakness given how relatively sensitive he was to sociological considerations — becomes obvious: there isn’t a word in the piece about distributional considerations.

Here are some numbers from the U.S. census bureau (all figures are in 2012 dollars):

Median household income in 1967: $42,323

Median household income in 2012: $51,017

Per capita GDP 1967: $21,893

Per capita GDP 2012: $49,231

In the late 1960s, median household income was nearly double per capita GDP, while today we have nearly a one to one relationship between the two metrics (Households are on average only slightly smaller today. I don’t have figures for 1967 handy, but in 1975 the average household included 2.89 people, while in 2012 it featured 2.54 persons). Or to put it another way, if over the past 45 years the nation’s increasing wealth as measured by output had ended up getting distributed equally across income groups as income, median household income in the US would be nearly $100,000 per year, rather than half that sum.

This helps explain, I think, why in the US in particular the substitution effect has been so much stronger than the income effect: it’s much harder to forgo additional income in favor of increased leisure when the relative wealth of those above you in the SES hierarchy is increasing faster than your own — especially in a culture obsessed with the conspicuous consumption of positional goods.

Hence:

A jesuitical interlude

[ 46 ] April 10, 2014 |

The ABA just published employment statistics for the class of 2013, based on reporting by law schools of the status of their graduates as of February 15, 2014, i.e., approximately nine months after graduation, and four to five months after bar results. On a national level, this year’s stats are pretty much identical to last year’s, with only 53% of graduates obtaining full-time long-term employment requiring bar admission (excluding law school funded “jobs” and putative sole practitioners).

Needless to say even these numbers ought to be treated with some skepticism, as schools are under tremendous pressure to gild the lily in all sorts of ways. (For example, by using favorable default assumptions regarding conditions of employment when, as is often the case, it’s not actually known if a position is full-time and/or long-term).

An amusing example of how “flexible” reporting standards can be is provided by Santa Clara University’s law school, home to Prof. Steve “People Who Criticize the Law School Status Quo Are Actually Trying to Bring Back Jim Crow” Diamond (see also). A little background: Until the spring of 2011, the US News rankings excluded graduates who schools listed as “Unemployed Not Seeking” from the denominator, when calculating graduate employment rates. This seemed like a reasonable choice, given that very occasionally graduates don’t happen to be seeking employment nine months after graduation. And most schools listed very few if any graduates in this category: the median percentage was below 2%, and the mode was zero, with nearly a quarter of schools not listing even one graduate as unemployed not seeking.

But in the spring of 2011, after schools had submitted their reports, US News decided that it would start including graduates listed as unemployed not seeking as unemployed, in part because of (well-warranted) suspicions that a few schools were manipulating the category, by for example using perverse default criteria, such as assuming that unemployed graduates who didn’t affirmatively indicate to their Career Services Office that they were looking for work weren’t actually looking for work (Many law students and graduates have very negative views of their CSOs, so assuming that an unemployed graduate who didn’t use the CSO’s services wasn’t looking for a job was a conveniently disingenuous way of radically understating a school’s true unemployment rate to US News, which at that time was the only entity publishing that information).

Which brings us back to Santa Clara. Behold Santa Clara’s unemployment statistics before and after US News started counting students categorized as “unemployed not seeking” as simply unemployed:

2010

Total graduates: 305
Unemployed Not Seeking: 55
Unemployed Seeking: 6
Reported unemployment rate to US News: 2.4%
True unemployment rate: 20%

2011

Total graduates: 297
Unemployed Not Seeking: 47
Unemployed Seeking: 24
Reported unemployment rate: 9.6%
True unemployment rate: 23.9%

2012

Total graduates: 298
Unemployed Not Seeking: 28 (9.4%)
Unemployed Seeking: 24
True unemployment rate: 17.5%

2013

Total graduates: 322
Unemployed Not Seeking: 1 (0.3%)
Unemployed Seeking: 57
True unemployment rate: 18%

Santa Clara experienced a 98.3% decline in the percentage of its graduating class that was unemployed but not seeking work, relative to the percentage of unemployed graduates seeking work, after the former category was no longer useful for disguising the school’s true unemployment rate.

I suppose it’s possible to deploy some legal academic casuistry — perhaps the doctrine of mental reservation as applied to the Public Good of the Rule of Law — to produce a benign explanation for this series of events.

Graduate student debt and the one percent

[ 94 ] April 8, 2014 |

The New America foundation has released a study of graduate and professional school debt, which features a bunch of interesting information. Unlike most reports regarding such debt, New America’s survey includes survey estimates of actual educational debt totals, not merely how much graduate and professional school students have borrowed while in post-undergrad programs (the latter figure excludes undergraduate debt and interest accrued on educational debt). It’s a longitudinal study, with numbers for 2004, 2008, and 2012 (all figures are reported in 2012 dollars).

Here are a few figures for the 50th and 75th percentiles of total educational debt in 2012 for

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students with debt (approximately 87% of all students):

MBA 50th: $42,000 75th: $69,906

Master of Arts: 50th: $58,539 75th: $90,892

Master of Science: 50th: $50,400 75th: $84,808

JD: 50th: $140,616 75th: $193,823

The comparatively modest MBA figures no doubt reflect that employers often pay for part or even all of the tuition costs incurred by MBA students. I don’t know what to make of the MA and MS figures (How marketable are masters degrees? Note that these figures don’t include education masters, which are often obtained by teachers who are increasing their salaries via further credentialing, and which are listed separately).

The law school figures are both shocking and unsurprising. When I attempted to calculate average total educational debt for law graduates in an academic article in 2012, I used what I took to be a conservative estimate of $10,000 of undergraduate debt among the 87% or so of law graduates with debt. New America calculates the true figure as being $16,660 at the 50th percentile, and more than $35,000 at the 75th.

It’s still common to read statements from (usually older) legal academics, lamenting that some graduates now incur “as much as” $150,000 in debt, when in fact this will probably be the average figure for next month’s graduating class.

What has produced such numbers, which require 25 years of four figure per month debt payments — essentially the equivalent of a mortgage? Obviously skyrocketing tuition has played the most crucial role, but here I want to note another factor, which has more to do with the structure of the American economy as a whole than with the specific behavior of law schools.

These graduate debt figures help highlight how expensive it is to get an advanced degree even without regard to the tuition costs incurred by students. And that non-tuition expense is, in many instances, a direct product of America’s increasing economic stratification.

Consider what it now costs to attend law school in New York, or Washington, or Boston, or San Francisco, or Los Angeles, or Chicago. Over the past generation, each of these cities has to a greater or lesser extent been transformed into a playpen for the one percenters. The result is that UC-Hastings (located in the scenic Tenderloin district of San Francisco) estimates that a reasonably frugal law student will incur $23,616 in living expenses over the nine-month academic year, while Brooklyn Law School (Brooklyn Heights) estimates that student will spend $28,225, and Whittier (Costa Mesa CA) calculates its nine month cost of attendance as $27,796.

Since full-time law students must normally take 36 months to cover the distance from the first day of classes until the bar exam two months after graduation, all these figures need to be multiplied by four to estimate student living expenses. In other words, students are incurring $100,000 or more in attendance costs without regard to tuition (sticker tuition price at these schools is over $50,000 per year at Brooklyn and Hastings, and a mere $41,460 at Whittier, where a total of 56 of 210 2013 graduates had full-time non-temp jobs requiring law degrees in February of this year, while more than 40% of the graduating class was completely unemployed nine months after graduation.)

Of course no-doc federal loans allow anybody these schools to enroll to borrow the full cost of attendance, most especially including the cost of living in places where people with household incomes of $400,000 per year consider themselves part of the struggling “upper middle class.”

The fact that the government will lend you the money to live in or perilously near an enclave of the hyper-wealthy for three years during which time you have taken yourself out of the paid labor force (law students at non-elite schools are expected to “intern,” aka, work for free, in order to get their feet inside rapidly slamming doors) doesn’t make it a good idea to borrow that money. In other words, a lot of law schools located in such places are no longer worth attending even for “free.”

McCutcheon and Capital in the 21st century

[ 130 ] April 2, 2014 |

Have a nice day!

An important new book by economist Thomas Piketty points to a pessimistic conclusion . . . Drawing on hundreds of years of economic data (some of which has only recently become available to researchers) Piketty reaches a simple but disturbing conclusion: in the long run, the return on capital tends to be greater than the growth rate of the economies in which that capital is located.

What this means is that in a modern market economy the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the already-rich is as natural as water flowing downhill, and can only be ameliorated by powerful political intervention, in the form of wealth redistribution via taxes, and to a lesser extent laws that systematically protect labor from capital. (Piketty argues that, because of historical circumstances which are unlikely to be repeated, this sort of intervention happened in the western world in general, and in America particular, between the first World War and the early 1970s).

Readers can already guess the dire conclusion that flows from combining Piketty’s theory with the plausible assumption that unregulated wealth leads to plutocracy: If the only way to avoid plutocracy would be to employ political processes that the plutocrats themselves will eventually buy lock, stock and barrel, then the only way to avoid being ruled by the Lords of Capital is to become one of them. This, in effect, is the contemporary GOP’s economic creed in a nutshell.

Why do professors take buyouts?

[ 72 ] April 1, 2014 |

Yesterday I noted that a bunch of law schools are pursuing aggressive buyout plans in regard to their senior faculty, that in some cases contemplate attempting to get half or more of the senior faculty to resign their positions, either immediately or over the next few years.

In comments, Warren Terra asks:

As I understand it, on paper these tenured professors have a guaranteed income of one year’s salary every year until they hit the mandatory retirement age – and they’ll give that up for two years’ income, possibly disbursed to them only over several years? How is that a good deal for them, unless they think they need to get out before their employer goes bust or does worse to them? And even then, why would they accept a plan for payment over several years? If you’re taking the money and running because you think the money won’t be there in the future, why agree to wait for the money?

Mandatory retirement ages are now largely illegal in the US (as a formal matter, of course: age discrimination against older at will employees is as a practical matter extremely difficult to combat), and have been explicitly illegal in regard to tenured faculty for the past 20 years. This presents some serious potential problems for the structure of higher education in general in this country; as is so often the case, law schools are merely the canary in this particular coal mine.

A few years ago Columbia professor Mark Taylor framed these problems sharply:

The growing tendency to defer retirement leads to both financial and intellectual difficulties. In almost all cases, the more senior the person, the higher the salary. This creates pressure on budgets that are already stretched to the limit. In some cases, the salary of one tenured professor could fund two non-tenured positions. There are intellectual problems, too. To be candid, on campuses, the best work of people in their late 60s and 70s is behind them. Though there are exceptions, many aging faculty members either rewrite previous books or produce nothing at all, and in the classroom they all too often recycle notes they have used for many years.

Mandatory retirement would open up opportunities for younger people, who today spend as long as 10-12 years pursuing careers from which they are often blocked by senior faculty members who refuse to retire. This situation is not only tragic for many of our best and brightest young researchers and scholars but is also disastrous for the future of higher education.

Of course as Taylor notes, there are always individual exceptions to the rule: in the legal academy, it’s often noted that Arthur Corbin did much of his most influential work on contract law in his 70s and 80s (he was the primary author of the second Restatement of Contracts until failing eyesight led him to surrender this project at age 90). What’s less noted is that Corbin formally resigned from the Yale faculty at 68, and did this work while technically “retired.”

In any case, the problems created by combining a legal regime in which people can only be fired for cause — a privilege that almost no one in the US other than tenured faculty and the increasingly small percentage of workers who enjoy either civil service or union protection has — with the legal elimination of mandatory retirement ages, are considerable.

These problems are particularly acute in the legal academy, because of high salaries, low teaching loads, and a somewhat farcical publication system, in which publication in any of hundreds of student-edited non-peer reviewed legal journals counts as academic publication.

So Warren’s question is a very good one: Why would anybody who is getting paid $250,000 or more (a common compensation package for the most senior faculty at many even non-elite schools) to teach three classes per year, while perhaps cranking out a “law review article” now and then, forgo this exceedingly pleasant arrangement unless he — and of course for demographic reasons it is at this point still usually a he — thought the whole business was about to go bust?

After all, professional-class people usually retire because their jobs are burdensome: they would like to have time for the kinds of things that are difficult to pursue if one has to show up for work for nine hours a day 50 weeks every year, and/or they dislike their work for various reasons (needless to say people doing hard physical labor have far more compelling reasons to want to retire, but that’s a separate subject altogether).

But legal academics do not, to put it mildly, have burdensome jobs: they are required to show up at the office for just seven months out of the year, and 90% or more of the time they spend working — assuming they are working what could realistically be characterized as a full time job, which is the 500-pound can opener in this little conversation — can be spent on doing whatever work they actually want to do.

As one very professionally active professor in his late 60s put it to me recently, “I get paid to do exactly what I would be doing for free.” In his case he gets paid $350K per year, so while I don’t at all doubt that he would, like Prof. Corbin, literally write the same terrific books he writes now — and they are excellent — if he were working for free, on the whole he would understandably prefer to keep getting a $30,000 per month pay check. And who can blame him?

So why do people take buyouts? Obviously I’m speculating, but it’s speculation informed by anecdotal observation for what that’s worth:

(1) A sense of social responsibility and basic fairness. Law professors hired 40 years ago have piled up millions in their TIAA-CREF accounts, they bought houses for nothing, they got to go to both undergrad and law school for basically free in the 1960s/70s etc. (Harvard Law School tuition was $8000 per year in 2013 dollars in 1965, and public school tuition was nominal). And it apparently does occur to some people that if they would do this job for free, maybe they really should do it for free at some point. After all one of the many great things about being an academic is that you can often continue doing all the parts of the job any sane person would actually enjoy even after you formally retire. Those who still have a scholarly vocation can now spend literally all their work time on research and writing, while those who enjoy teaching will usually be accommodated by administrators who are more than happy to pay former full time faculty adjunct wages. Basically you can do much the same job you had before, minus committee work and faculty meetings (and, of course, the salary).

(2) A sense of shame. As Taylor points out, lots of academics are more or less burnt out after 30 or 40 years on the job. Unlike baseball players law professors don’t have batting averages, but people keep score anyway, both for themselves and others. John Updike on Ted Williams’ last at-bat:

One of the scholasticists behind me said, “Let’s go. We’ve seen everything. I don’t want to spoil it.” This seemed a sound aesthetic decision. Williams’ last word had been so exquisitely chosen, such a perfect fusion of expectation, intention, and execution, that already it felt a little unreal in my head, and I wanted to get out before the castle collapsed. But the game, though played by clumsy midgets under the feeble glow of the arc lights, began to tug at my attention, and I loitered in the runway until it was over. . . On the car radio as I drove home I heard that Williams had decided not to accompany the team to New York. So he knew how to do even that, the hardest thing. Quit.

Faculty buyouts and the fascinating world of law school finances

[ 51 ] March 31, 2014 |

This is the first in a series of posts.

Over the past few months, it’s been revealed that several law schools are trying to buy out the contracts of significant numbers of their tenured faculty, and it’s likely that quite a few more are doing so on the down low. The terms of these buyouts naturally vary by institution, but after having looked into this at a number of schools I can say that a fairly standard package is something like two years of salary in return for an immediate resignation (this sum is sometimes paid all at once, but more commonly it’s disbursed over two to five years).

From a game theoretical perspective, rational maximizers of their utility at law schools that are under some sort of fiscal stress — a category that is coming to include the large majority of schools — will no doubt make a number of calculations.

First, senior faculty who were mulling imminent retirement before the wave of buyouts struck are now perversely incentivized not to quit, since it “makes sense” for them to try to wait out their employer until it offers a golden handshake.

Second, some people are no doubt considering the possibilities of double dipping, by retiring from a their current faculty and then taking a job at another school (of course the spread of the fiscal crisis across legal academia is making it harder to pull off this particular move).

Third, some faculty are now consulting employment lawyers, since attempts to procure putatively voluntary buyouts can end up violating age discrimination laws.

I’ll have more to say about these factors in another post, but here I’m going to offer a glimpse into the remarkably diverse world of the finances of contemporary American law schools.

You can learn a lot about the fiscal structure of a law school by dividing the school’s total effective tuition by its total full time faculty. Calculating total effective tuition within a tolerable degree of accuracy isn’t very difficult, given the information schools now must reveal in the ABA 509 disclosures. The 509 forms now require schools to disclose what percentage of their JD students get discounts on sticker tuition, and what the median, 75th percentile, and 25th percentile discount is. In addition, the ABA is now publishing data on how many non-JD students each school enrolls in post-JD (LLM) and post-BA (these are the various new “masters of law” degrees) programs.

The 509 forms also list current totals of full-time faculty, including administrators and visitors. Using these data, I’ve calculated the total tuition revenue per full-time faculty member for 40 schools. The results are startling to say the least.

For example, here are the numbers for Yale Law School and the New England School of Law respectively (all figures are for the 2012-13 academic year):

Yale

Sticker tuition revenue: $14.3 million
Discounted tuition revenue: $10.6 million
Non-JD tuition revenue: $2.0 million
Total tuition revenue: $26.9 million
Total tuition revenue per full-time faculty member: $283,157

New England

Full time sticker tuition revenue: $16.26 million
Full-time discounted tuition revenue: $11.33 million
Part-time sticker tuition revenue: $6.77 million
Part-time discounted tuition revenue: $1.8 million
Non-JD tuition revenue: 0
Total tuition revenue: $36.16 million
Total tuition revenue per full-time faculty member: $1,063,529

Needless to say YLS is not attempting to operate on the penurious sums generated by the school’s $54,650 annual tuition: it also gets about $40,000,000 per year in expendable revenue from the law school’s approximately one billion dollar endowment. This sum increases the school’s effective operating revenue per full time faculty member to nearly $700,000, which according to my understanding of basic free market principles means that the quality of education being provided to law students in New Haven is 64.9% as good as that bequeathed upon students at the Boston institution helmed by the legendary John O’Brien. (Remarkably, generating more than one million dollars per year in tuition per full time faculty member in 2012-13 wasn’t enough to keep O’Brien from threatening last fall to summarily fire faculty if 35% to 40% of the current faculty didn’t accept buyouts).

Much more to come . . .

Victims and victimizers

[ 147 ] March 30, 2014 |

Updated below

Six weeks ago Ray Rice allegedly hit his fiancee hard enough to render her unconscious.

Subsequently:

On Thursday, Ravens running back Ray Rice was indicted for aggravated assault of his fiancee. On Friday, he married her.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, Janay Palmer and Rice exchanged vows last night, in a ceremony that had been scheduled for weeks.

The conscious coupling could insulate Palmer from having to testify against the man who allegedly rendered her unconscious. But the niceties of New Jersey law won’t matter. Since the incident happened in a casino, chances are that the only evidence needed will be the videotape of the alleged punch that knocked her out.

The video reportedly exists, and it will go a long way toward proving beyond a reasonable doubt that assault was committed, regardless of whether Palmer takes the stand.

Rice faces three to five years in prison on the felony charge. In the wake of his indictment, the Ravens have expressed support for the veteran running back.

The temptation in this situation is to plunge straight into victim-blaming — a temptation which will prove even more difficult to resist in the not-unlikely event that Janay Palmer eventually ends up getting murdered by Ray Rice.

It’s possible to have sympathy for everyone in this situation: for Palmer, who has grown up in a culture in which it’s totally normal and to a great degree socially acceptable for a woman to marry a man who severely beat her last month; for the law enforcement officials who understandably get sick of trying to prosecute cases featuring victims who do everything they can to interfere with prosecuting their victimizers; and even with Rice, who after all has been rewarded richly for engaging in an ultra-violent profession, that in turn expects him to leave that ultra-violence at the office, so that he can live a nicely compartmentalized life.

All of which is to say that structural problems need structural solutions, rather than emotionally satifisfying moralizing.

Update: Some of the comments in this thread are reprehensible. Brien Jackson in particular seems to think that alluding to the ways in which the violent world of professional football intersect with what appears to be the very high rate of domestic violence committed by NFL football players is some sort of crypto-racism. Others go to the other extreme, arguing that any attempt to place what appears to be a fairly severe act of violence (a very muscular man hitting a woman literally half his size hard enough to knock her unconscious) within a larger cultural context is some sort of excuse-making for that violence.

Rice is due his day in court, and perhaps the facts in the case are less damning than they seem to be on the basis of the publicly available evidence. It’s too bad that trying to talk about the complex cultural forces at work in this sort of context triggers these sorts of comments.

There goes my ONE BILLION dollars

[ 69 ] March 21, 2014 |

paterno

JoePa and Coach K share life lessons

Q: How many times in the last ten NCAA tournaments has Duke seriously underperformed relative to its seeding?

A: Eight.

Blaming men for failing to acquire imaginary jobs

[ 182 ] March 19, 2014 |

Updated below

I have a piece in The Week about one aspect of Paul Ryan’s “culture of work” remarks that hasn’t gotten much attention:

Ryan’s inner city men, who have never “learned the value and the culture of work,” are therefore not merely failing, but failing specifically as men, by failing to provide for their families.

The problem with this neat little morality tale is captured by what ought to be some startling statistics. Note that another unstated assumption behind comments such as Ryan’s is that the American economy actually produces enough decent-paying jobs to allow a reasonable number of Americans to have such jobs, as long as they embrace “the culture of work.”

To say this isn’t the case is an understatement. What is a “good” job, financially speaking? One which pays $50,000 per year? $40,000? $30,000? The latter figure, which represents take-home pay of less than $2000 per month, and which is only twice the minimum wage (which itself has declined sharply in real terms since the 1960s), is an extremely generous definition of what constitutes a decent-paying job.

But let’s use it anyway, to determine how many Americans of working age have such jobs. If we make a couple more unrealistically optimistic assumptions — that nobody under 18 or over 69 is working, and that no one has more than one job — the answer is: three out of 10.

Nearly 70 percent of American working-age adults do not have jobs that pay at least $30,000 per year, because there are only three such jobs for every 10 American adults between the ages of 18 and 69. In other words, the vast majority of working age Americans cannot possibly acquire decent-paying jobs, even if one defines a decent-paying job extremely broadly, because there aren’t nearly enough such jobs, not because people fail to embrace “the culture of work.”

Update: Some correspondence included for its potential sociological interest:

19 March 2014

Prof Paul F. Campos
University of Colorado
School of Law

Dear Prof. Campos,

Your criticism of Rep. Paul Ryan was a bit harsh to say the least. He does have a point regardless of you voluminous statistical presentation. Permit me to reflect upon certain demographic of the Black population. Why is it that, since the lack of jobs seems to be an equalizer and issue for everyone, Blacks have a far higher unemployment rate then non-Blacks? Why do Blacks have an astronomically higher crime/illegitimacy rate then non-Blacks? Why is it that Blacks are far more prone to create slums then non-Blacks? Why is it that Haiti, which has been under Black rule for over 200 years,is the economic basket case of the Western Hemisphere? Why is it that Black Africa is the most economically backward region of the world? Despite the false media hype of Blacks, why is it that rarely does one see Blacks in elite military units? The Special Ops unit that killed Bin Ladin did not have one single Black in it and most don’t. We’ve had decades of multi-$trillion minority programs and all sorts of preferential accommodations for Blacks and I might add Hispanics and the results are, to say the least, dismal! It is quite obvious that Blacks are not up to the job of constructively participating in a civilized society without a plethora of costly assistance programs;that American society can do without! The Black population, over the decades, has sufficiently demonstrated that it is more of a burden then an asset and clearly of no redeeming value! None! It is time to admit reality,as Rep. Ryan has done,and stop pretending!

Sincerely,

Roderick Spode*

*Name changed to protect the guilty

Flight 370 and Occam’s razor

[ 92 ] March 18, 2014 |

Given the continuing absence of any evidence for more esoteric/sinister theories 11 days after the disappearance of FL370, this account seems increasingly plausible:

The left turn is the key here. Zaharie Ahmad Shah1 was a very experienced senior captain with 18,000 hours of flight time. We old pilots were drilled to know what is the closest airport of safe harbor while in cruise. Airports behind us, airports abeam us, and airports ahead of us. They’re always in our head. Always. If something happens, you don’t want to be thinking about what are you going to do–you already know what you are going to do. When I saw that left turn with a direct heading, I instinctively knew he was heading for an airport. He was taking a direct route to Palau Langkawi, a 13,000-foot airstrip with an approach over water and no obstacles. The captain did not turn back to Kuala Lampur because he knew he had 8,000-foot ridges to cross. He knew the terrain was friendlier toward Langkawi, which also was closer.

Take a look at this airport on Google Earth. The pilot did all the right things. He was confronted by some major event onboard that made him make an immediate turn to the closest, safest airport.

For me, the loss of transponders and communications makes perfect sense in a fire. And there most likely was an electrical fire. In the case of a fire, the first response is to pull the main busses and restore circuits one by one until you have isolated the bad one. If they pulled the busses, the plane would go silent. It probably was a serious event and the flight crew was occupied with controlling the plane and trying to fight the fire. Aviate, navigate, and lastly, communicate is the mantra in such situations.

There are two types of fires. An electrical fire might not be as fast and furious, and there may or may not be incapacitating smoke. However there is the possibility, given the timeline, that there was an overheat on one of the front landing gear tires, it blew on takeoff and started slowly burning. Yes, this happens with underinflated tires. Remember: Heavy plane, hot night, sea level, long-run takeoff. There was a well known accident in Nigeria of a DC8 that had a landing gear fire on takeoff. Once going, a tire fire would produce horrific, incapacitating smoke. Yes, pilots have access to oxygen masks, but this is a no-no with fire. Most have access to a smoke hood with a filter, but this will last only a few minutes depending on the smoke level. (I used to carry one in my flight bag, and I still carry one in my briefcase when I fly.)

What I think happened is the flight crew was overcome by smoke and the plane continued on the heading, probably on George (autopilot), until it ran out of fuel or the fire destroyed the control surfaces and it crashed. You will find it along that route–looking elsewhere is pointless.

If this theory is correct, it seems unlikely that the plane and its flight data recorder will ever be found. The search for Air France 447 suggests that it’s basically impossible to find the fuselage of a plane in the deep ocean unless searchers know almost exactly where the plane went down (Flight 447 was found 6.5 miles from its last known location two years later, after three previous failed searches). Any debris spotted at this point will be hundreds of miles from the crash site. Reconstructing the path of such debris along ocean currents might confirm or dis-confirm the autopilot theory, however.

New law school graduate debt figures

[ 98 ] March 14, 2014 |

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US News has just published data on class of 2013 law school graduate debt. Matt Leichter points out that an unusually large number of ABA schools — 14 out of 201 — chose not to reveal this figure to US News (Schools are required to report these numbers to the ABA Section of Legal Education, but as of now the Section only publishes aggregate debt figures. In a typical year around four schools don’t report to US News). Also Barry, a Florida bottom feeder, obviously only reported debt incurred by graduates during their third year. They made the same mistake in 2011, got called out for it, gave the correct figure for the class of 2012, and then misreported again in 2013.

The schools that didn’t report were mostly places that would be shut down instantly if the federal government could bestir itself to apply even the most minimal regulatory controls to the money it shovels into law school coffers in the form of student loans that aren’t going to be paid back (Cooley, one of the John Marshalls, Touro etc.). But the list also included Cornell, which happens to have the highest tuition of any law school in the country (And hopefully the universe: $59,550, including mandatory fees).

Anyway, the figures published by US News are seriously understated, for several reasons:

(1) They only represent the total sum of federal educational loans issued to students while in school. This omits the interest accrued on these loans, as well as origination fees, which are absurdly high (4% in the case of GRADPLUS, which applies to all loans beyond the first $20,500 taken out in any year). Interest accrued and origination fees can be calculated readily, so I’ve included them in the figures below.

(2) It also omits debt that doesn’t run through a school’s financial aid conduits, such as private loans — these are rare as of post-2010 among professional students, since they can borrow an unlimited amount from the feds, but they still exist.

(3) More significantly it omits family loans, such as when parents tap HELOCs to pay for their child’s Very Prestigious Symbol of Prestige.

(4) It also doesn’t include student credit card debt incurred to cover expenses during law school, or loans taken out after graduation and prior to the bar (usually taken three months after graduation) to cover living expenses and bar preparation and administration costs.

(5) It doesn’t include other educational debt. Average undergraduate debt among college graduates with debt (around two thirds) is now running at nearly $30,000 per year, apparently because Kids Today drive fancier cars than their professors and insist on squandering money on frivolous gadgets like cell phones and ipods that play so-called “rap” music.

I’ve calculated the average total owed on federal loans when the first payment came due, that is, in November 2013, for the graduates of the ten schools with the highest reported graduate debt. Note that the figures below only include (1) above, and that the actual educational debt carried by graduates of these schools is considerably higher (The list includes Arizona Summit, fka Phoenix School of Law, which didn’t report to US News but did put the relevant figures on its web site. It doesn’t include any of the other 13 schools that didn’t report, a few of which probably would have made it into the top ten).

The number after the debt figure is the number of 2012 graduates of these schools who got jobs with large law firms, or federal judicial clerkships (This number is a good proxy for the number of graduates who got jobs that hold out some reasonable prospect of careers which will allow graduates to service six-figure debt loads).

Arizona Summit: $225,321 (1 of 181)

Thomas Jefferson: $219,734 (1 of 260)

New York Law School: $200,046 (34 of 601)

American: $192,688 (58 of 463)

California Western: $191,347 (3 of 283)

Northwestern: $188,851 (164 of 295)

Whittier: $187,301 (1 of 170)

Chicago: $186,474 (152 of 215)

Florida Coastal: $182,266 (5 of 510)

St. Thomas (Miami): $182,057 (0 of 216)

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