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CNN gives its readers a wide range of views on how to solve the budget crisis

[ 41 ] July 29, 2011 |

Ranging from a former GOP senator, to another former GOP senator, to another former GOP senator, to another former GOP senator, to a former GOP congressman, to Ronald Reagan’s budget director.

All balanced out by this guy . . . sorry, this guy.

Favorite album covers

[ 143 ] July 29, 2011 |

As we slouch toward the Eve of Destruction, it fills me with a certain melancholy to contemplate the passing away of many features of a once-great civilization. One in particular, first severely wounded by the scale of the digital compact disc, and then slain altogether by the mp3 player, is the vinyl record album cover.

Here are two three personal favorites:

on the beach

london calling

misfits

Feel free to link to others in comments.

Life On the Dole

[ 108 ] July 28, 2011 |

poor

One of the most devastating economic effects of long-term structural unemployment is that a significant number of people become more or less permanently unemployed. The political effects of such unemployment, however, are complex. Consider this passage from The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell’s 1936 study of the effects of the Great Depression on the industrial areas of northern England: Read more…

Drinking and driving don’t mix, except in NASCAR

[ 37 ] July 27, 2011 |

Jalen

Annett

It’s been a busy day in the world of high profile athletes and drunk driving.

First, former NBA star and current TV analyst Jalen Rose was given 20 days in jail for drunk driving. Rose’s sentence is remarkably harsh in that it was a first offense, and that a test at the time indicated he was not far over the legal limit of .08% BAC (.088%; although a subsequent blood test indicated a BAC of .12%), and he was involved in a minor one-car accident in which no one was hurt. The judge in Rose’s case is notorious for being very harsh with drunk driving cases, so this doesn’t seem to be a case of disproportionate sentencing based on celebrity status.

Meanwhile, NASCAR driver Michael Annett got a suspended sentence, a $200 fine, and 48 hours of community service for rear-ending a car stopped at a light last February (Charges of resisting arrest and unlawful use of a mobile phone were dropped. His driver’s license was also suspended for a year, but apparently you don’t need a valid driver’s license to compete in NASCAR. It’s like rain on your wedding day).

The remarkable aspct of Annett’s case is that he had a BAC of .32 when arrested, which for most people would be falling down drunk/bordering on fatal alcohol poisoning. According to this calculator, I could drink seven Martinis in a few minutes and not get to a BAC of .32

Americans tend to have very inconsistent attitudes about driving while impaired, depending on the source of the impairment, and the outcome. For example few people seem to get morally outraged about using a cell phone while driving, even though there’s evidence to suggest that cell phone use (let alone texting — it’s incredible how many people will text while driving) is as dangerous as Jalen Rose-levels of drunk driving.

And I’m sure Annett would have gotten a much harsher sentence if his accident had seriously injured or killed someone, despite the fact that he would have been engaging in precisely the same behavior.

27

[ 60 ] July 23, 2011 |

Amy Jade Winehouse (14 September 1983 – 23 July 2011)

Good age for baseball players, bad age for music icons.

Why do people read papers at academic conferences?

[ 61 ] July 22, 2011 |

boring

I mean literally read them when giving a “talk.” This practice gives unfortunate credence to Alfred North Whitehead’s remark that the university has been obsolete since the invention of the printing press. Hearing someone read a paper is a far less efficient communication process than just reading it yourself. (This is especially aggravating when the paper has been distributed beforehand).

I’ve heard the practice defended by people who point out that not everyone is a good extemporaneous speaker, which is true, but it makes me wonder what such people do in their classes. How are they adding value exactly? Of course some people are skilled at mixing reading from a prepared text with apt interpolations, expansions, digressions, etc., which is a different thing. But too often in recent years especially I’ve run into the faithful oral transmission of written text (often accompanied by the dreaded Powerpoint “enhancement” of key paragraphs).

Grover Norquist and the metaphysics of taxes

[ 48 ] July 22, 2011 |

When I first read this passage from Norquist’s NYT Op-Ed this morning regarding what counts as a violation of the no new taxes pledge he authored 25 years ago, I hadn’t had any coffee yet and it made no sense whatsoever:

Finally, there has been much confusion — some of it my fault — over whether the ending of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts or the A.M.T. “patches,” scheduled for Dec. 31, 2012, should count as a tax hike. If they are ended, the government will take in nearly $4 trillion more over the next decade than if they remain.

My position, and the implications of the pledge regarding such “temporary” tax cuts, is clear. If there were no vote in Congress and taxes rose automatically, then no politicians would have voted for higher taxes and no elected official would have broken his or her pledge.

But that is different from supporting a plan by some Democrats that would end some [!] or all of these lower tax rates, higher per-child tax credits and the A.M.T. patches
— policies that, by the way, Congress has extended repeatedly with bipartisan support. It is difficult to see how such a package would fail to violate the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Contrary to the hopes of some that I am somehow softening the pledge, it is stronger and more important than ever: it has made it easier for members of Congress to credibly commit to voters that they will refuse to increase taxes and instead focus on reducing the cost of government.

Did you follow that? If all these lower tax rates expire without further legislative action then members of Congress who allow this to happen will not have raised taxes. But if members vote for a bill that (among other things I suppose) “ends some or all of these lower tax rates” then that does count as raising taxes.

What’s going on here? Theories:

(1) Norquist is all twisted up in some devious game where he wants to kill any “grand bargain” in the works.

(2) He adheres to some very strange act/omission distinction in regard to the politics of taxes.

The second possibility is more interesting. It would track with what to me has always been one of the weirdest quirks of the anti-tax theology of the contemporary GOP, which is its otherwise inexplicable objections to “wealth redistribution.” The “logic” of the position seems to be something like this: It’s OK for government to collect taxes to pay for government services, but it’s not OK to take money people have earned and give it to other people who haven’t earned it. This view requires maintaining various distinctions that collapse under the slightest intellectual pressure, which is one reason great care is taken to never exert any (the anti-intellectualism celebrated on the right is among other things a pragmatic strategy).

Norquist’s otherwise strange act/omission distinction makes a certain degree of sense in this broader context. The basic underlying metaphysical assumption appears to be something like, “There’s a natural economic order. Interference with that order is bad. Legislative action interferes with that order. Legislative inaction does not. Therefore higher taxes that result from legislative inaction are not tax hikes, while precisely the same tax rates — or even tax rates that are lower overall than the present baseline; note the “some” in the quoted passage — resulting from legislative action are tax hikes.

If Norquist and his ilk really do adhere to this kind of distinction, then it becomes more obvious than ever that there’s no reason to compromise on the expiration of the Bush tax cuts.

The ultimate belted trench coat and kids trench coat collection is here. You can find a full range of shearling bomber jacket including leather motorcycle chaps to motorcycle racing jackets at our online shopping store.

How to radicalize liberals

[ 35 ] July 21, 2011 |

Actual cuts now, theoretical revenue increases later.

If something like this doesn’t happen it’ll be because the median vote in the House is a lunatic winger.

What’s particularly exasperating about this is that we’re in a situation which the dysfunctional structure of our political system is on the POTUS’ side (assuming for the purposes of argument that what he actually wants is a deal that features at least as much revenue enhancement as budget cutting). After all the Bush II tax cuts expire if nothing happens, and if there’s one thing the US legislative process is good at producing it’s nothing. Then consider that there’s no way the money men who run the GOP would actually allow anything more than a very short term and almost completely symbolic “default” to occur, and if such a thing did occur, polling data indicates the public would blame the GOP more than the Democrats.

At some point one has to consider the radical hypothesis that these negotiations are on the level, and that Obama wants this kind of deal.

Update:. More details emerging.

Random blogginess

[ 70 ] July 19, 2011 |

(1) With the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in coming up, I’m struck by how durable the practice of making a portmanteau word out of any scandal and “gate” has been. I guess it makes sense in that it makes it easy to come up with a shorthand term, instead of figuring out whether we’re going to call the scandal “Teapot Dome” or what have you. I wonder if this linguistic convention exists in any other languages, i.e., taking a word or part of a word from some famous scandal and tacking it on to the scandal of the moment?

(2) I just realized that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are going to come up for their first HOF vote together on the same ballot at the end of next year. That should provide a few thousand hours of sports talk show fodder (my view for any BBWA voters getting the LGM feed is that both had HOF careers before they started using PEDs so there should be no question about voting them in).

(3) I do a certain amount of freelance journalism, and have developed great admiration for anyone who makes their living that way. I’ve found it’s fairly routine to pitch a piece to places that I’ve published with before and to still not get any response, not even a one-sentence no thanks.

(4) Relatedly, email etiquette has gotten very bad. Even though answering an email is about fifty times easier than writing a letter, people don’t answer emails (I plead guilty on this score). Everyone of course has the same excuse that they get dozens of emails a day, but it’s sad how rude this has made us. For example, somebody will ask me for a piece of information, I’ll give it to them, and then get no acknowledgement, even though that would take the person literally ten seconds. I’m choosing an example that annoys me in particular and in which I’m the innocent party, but I also fail to answer lots of emails I should answer. (Update: Just to be clear I’m referring to a situation where a stranger emails out of the blue asking for a favor in the form of information about a subject and then never bothers to acknowledge getting what he asked for. I don’t mean routine inter-office communication, although I’m of the old fashioned view that it never hurts to say thank you).

(5) I’m halfway through Jonathan Kay’s Among the Truthers. The little story he relates here is of a piece with much other contemporary political craziness.

Caveat emptor, libertarianism, and social ethics

[ 27 ] July 19, 2011 |

Asked if there was a contradiction between his stand against expanding class sizes and the growth of the student population at N.Y.L.S., Mr. Matasar wrote: “The answer is that we exist in a market. When there is demand for education, we, like other law schools, respond.”

The following question is just a specific example of an issue that arises in all sorts of contexts: What obligations should law schools have toward their prospective students?

The libertarian answer, I suppose, (is Brad Potts around to speak ex cathedra on this?) is that schools should be obliged to maintain a reasonable level of informational transparency regarding the costs and benefits of attendance. Of course at that level of generality this answer leaves a lot to be desired, since it’s unclear what a “reasonable” (socially optimal?) level of transparency involves. For example everyone would agree that law schools shouldn’t be able to outright lie to prospective students about, as the economists say, “outputs” regarding employment data. But how much information should they be required to disclose? I’ve argued recently that the current disclosure requirements are — or rather were, they’ve just been strengthened a bit — very inadequate, in that the data they elicit is quite misleading. In my view law schools should be required by the ABA to disclose accurate (this means at least minimally audited) information regarding what percentage of their graduates have permanent full-time jobs that require a law degree a year after graduation, and what those jobs pay.

I suppose even this might be too much for at least some libertarians, who would consider that level of regulatory interference with “market” transactions between the producers and consumers of legal services to be unwarranted. It’s easy enough to foresee the standard argument: schools that don’t disclose information relevant to potential students will be at a relative disadvantage to schools that do, and will be punished by the “market” for such students accordingly (somehow these arguments never seem to take collective action problems seriously, although I’m well aware that the next move in the libertarian discourse is to point out that the collective action problems themselves are largely a function of having any regulatory structure at all, and if the ABA didn’t exist the free market would work as it should etc).

Nevertheless there seems to be something of a consensus among the powers that be that the current disclosure requirements for law schools are too lax, and that the potential consumers of legal education need better information if they are to successfully maximize their utility.

But I’m interested primarily in a more difficult issue, which is what obligations, if any, law schools should have to prospective students beyond disclosure of quantifiable cost/benefit data. Here it seems to me that the standard answer in our political culture has pretty much become “none.” As long as we disclose to you what we will sell you, and what it is likely to be worth, the argument runs, then you, as a rational maximizing consumer, a captain of your own soul, a sovereign adult member imbued with certain inalienable rights, and so forth, are on your own.

This seems to me to be the wrong answer. It’s the wrong answer because the underlying assumption — that people are reliable maximizers of their own utility — is wrong even on its own narrow terms. People, and especially young people who are formally adults but still naive, inexperienced, and more unrealistic than they’ll eventually become, have a strong tendency to simply ignore the relevant data as it can be expected to apply to them (interestingly they are very realistic about the predictive significance of this same data as applied to their classmates).

In the specific context of legal education, this circumstance calls for a certain degree of paternalism. The mere fact that there’s a market for what we’re selling should not end discussion of whether we ought to be selling it at the price it is currently fetching to the people who are currently buying it. Of course even at the level of the crudest self-interest the sellers of legal education must pay some attention to quantifiable costs and benefits, since at some point the cost/benefit ratio can get so out of wack that the ability to exploit our market will be undercut, and we will discover that we no longer have a “sustainable business model,” as the MBAs say.

But we shouldn’t have to get to that point to ask the questions we should be asking. Education in general, and legal education in particular, is a business, but it is not only a business. Law schools should not be run on the basis of precisely the same set of principles as a Lexus dealership, i.e., how much can we get away with charging for a consumer good that offers its prospective purchasers a complex mixture of practical value and status enhancement via conspicuous consumption? That this has become a highly controversial assertion is a comment on the triumph of a certain sort of economic politics in our culture.

Shocking

[ 59 ] July 18, 2011 |

raines

“The death is currently being treated as unexplained, but not thought to be suspicious. Police investigations into this incident are ongoing.”

Apparently the local constabulary has a rather narrow definition of “suspicious.”

Law and law school economics

[ 49 ] July 16, 2011 |

David Segal has written another interesting piece on the state of legal education, this time focusing on the business side of law schools. Much of the piece is taken up with a case study of New York Law School and its dean, Richard Matasar. I’ve long been an admirer of Matasar’s efforts to reform the basic structure of legal education in America, which he was involved in long before he became a dean (in my view reform efforts hinge largely on being able to convince the ABA to make its accreditation standards more flexible). As the piece illustrates, Matasar’s reformist agenda has ended up in considerable tension with many aspects of his administrative career.

A cynic might consider Matasar a hypocrite. If even he ends up engaging in many of the same practices he deplores, does that mean his efforts at reforming legal education are a sham? I disagree with this interpretation. In my view, Matasar’s career illustrates the paradoxical and even potentially tragic character of attempts to reform powerful, well-established institutions. Unlike the revolutionary, who can indulge in creative destruction, the reformer must work within a system, using tools that are designed to impede his efforts at reform. His position ensures he runs the risk that his efforts will be so compromised by practical realities that he will end up helping to perpetuate the very things he is trying to change.

Anyway, a question that deserves more attention than it has gotten from legal academics is, precisely why has the cost of legal education skyrocketed over the past generation?

This is a complicated matter, but I’ll use a few statistics from the law school from which I graduated (Michigan) to illustrate the current situation. (All of the following financial information is expressed in constant, 2010 dollars).

Thirty years ago, annual in-state tuition+fees at UM Law was $5,367, and out of state tuition was $11,514. This fall, the respective figures will be about $47,000 and $49,500. In other words, in-state tuition has increased by a factor of nine in real inflation adjusted terms. Part of this is no doubt a function of the gradual withdrawal of tax subsidies for in-state tuition. But note that out of state tuition, which was never tax-subsidized, has increased by four and a half times in real terms. One result of these trends is that the 84% of 2010 UM Law grads who borrowed money during law school graduated with an average debt of $112,133. (That class matriculated when tuition was nearly $10,000 per year lower, so the entering class of 2011 is likely to average close to $150,000 in law school debt when it graduates three years from now).

One main driver of increasing costs across legal academia has been an increase in the size and the compensation of law school faculty. For example, 30 years ago the salaries of Michigan’s tenure-track law faculty ran from about $75,000 to $155,000 in 2010 dollars. Today the comparable figures are about $140,000 to $300,000 (This counts only base salary. Actual salaries are about 15% higher for most faculty because of “summer research grants” that for most faculty are de facto salary supplements.). Interestingly, 30 years ago the law school’s dean’s salary was no higher than that of several other senior faculty. Last year the dean’s published salary was $442,000.

Meanwhile over just the past decade the number of full-time law faculty at ABA-accredited schools has increased by 40% (a related statistic that will surprise no one familiar with academia is that over the same period the number of law school administrators more than tripled).

All this has been taking place at a time when the number of jobs for law graduates whose salaries justify six-figure debt loads has dropped sharply. Meanwhile, legal academia has barely begun to grapple seriously with the issue of who (other than independently wealthy people and partners of well-paid spouses) is going to be able to afford to take public interest legal jobs, the vast majority of which pay salaries that will not allow today’s average law school graduates to service their educational debts while at the same time paying for even a modest life style. (Note that the figures on law school indebtedness do not include undergraduate or consumer debt).

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