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Purity of Essence

[ 88 ] September 27, 2012 |

This post is going to sound like under-theorized musing not as some sort of rhetorical device, but because I’m sincerely puzzled by the following question (triggered, obviously, by the last several posts and the comments to them):

Why does what any individual chooses to do with his or her vote in a presidential election ever matter in any way?

It’s obvious that at the most straightforward level of analysis my presidential vote doesn’t “matter,” if “matter” means “have an effect on the outcome.” Statements like “voting for Gary Johnson makes it more likely Romney will be elected” are true at the level of individual action in the same way that the statement “if I (Paul Campos) call up the Denver Nuggets today and ask them for a tryout that will increase the chances that I’ll make the Nuggets’ roster.” Probabilistically, this statement is true. Practically, it’s meaningless, since the odds that I’ll make the Nuggets’ roster no matter what I do or don’t do can quite safely be treated as identical to zero with no loss of practical predictive value.

I’ve sometimes wondered if this truth in the context of national elections creates some sort of collective action problem or paradox, at least in terms of any vaguely utilitarian framework of analysis, since the utility of casting a vote to any individual voter is surely negative, unless one starts tacking on caveats about psychic benefits, the potential secondary effects of otherwise completely impotent social gestures and the like.

Following such a line it’s possible I suppose to make arguments about how one’s individual vote, and in particular one’s public posture regarding that vote, could have various ripple effects that went far beyond its immediate practical effect on electoral outcomes, which again is always and everywhere pragmatically identical with “none whatever.”

Indeed without such an argument, it’s hard to see how any individual vote in a presidential election is ever anything more than the kind of “pure” (which is to say in practical terms completely ineffective) act of self-expression which those who self-consciously engage in casting protest votes are often derided for engaging in.

Continuing . . . I personally don’t believe in utilitarianism as either a descriptive or normative matter, so I don’t think a utilitarian justification for individual voting behavior is necessary. But I doubt one can be successfully maintained.


How Ayn Rand is wrecking football (and America)

[ 28 ] September 25, 2012 |

Bringing it all back home to Green Bay.


[ 17 ] September 24, 2012 |

God is apparently a union man.

[SL] Scabtacular!  I mean, I’m a Seahawks fan.   I’d like to be celebrating a remarkable win over the Packers that of course proves that Simmons was right!!!!!!1!!!1! But obviously there’s no was of celebrating a win decided by a call like that.   Even if charitably excuse the first blown call by (correctly) noting that the real refs basically never call PI on anybody on Hail Mary passes for reasons I’ve never understood, the fact that the winning “touchdown catch” was obviously an interception is rather hard to ignore.   And, of course, there were countless equally bad calls throughout the game.   But, hey, Roger Goodell can afford an extra ivory backscratcher!

I can also understand the reluctance of the Seahawks to kick the extra point — the scabs might rule that it’s worth -6 points.

QOTD:  “Watching the scab refs try to handle this game is like looking at Wile E. Coyote hold up an “EEP” sign in front of the Johnstown Flood.”

Scam talk

[ 128 ] September 24, 2012 |


Here’s an interview I did with Megan McArdle in re the law school scam and my new book on the subject.

The scandal

[ 22 ] September 24, 2012 |


If you want a glimpse into the short-term future of American legal education, take a look at what New England Law did this year with its entering class. NEL has, even by the standards of low-ranked law schools, atrocious employment statistics: only a little more than a third of the 2011 class got legal jobs (full-time long-term bar admission required; and this figure is bolstered by 15 people who listed themselves as starting solo practices), one in five graduates was completely unemployed, only four graduates out of 308 got jobs with law firms of more than 50 attorneys, and the median reported salary for the class was around $50,000, even though less than 25% of the class had a reported salary (Given these stats, it’s likely the true median salary for 2011 graduates of NEL was under $30,000.)

NEL has raised its tuition faster than almost any other private law school in the country, nearly doubling it since 2004, from $22,475 to $42,490 (these figures don’t include health insurance, which will run students close to another $2,000 if they purchase it from the school, and which they’re required to have under state law). The 2011 class had a mean reported law school debt of $120,480, but keep in mind this figure doesn’t include accrued interest, private non-government guaranteed loans, and other educational debt. Taking these factors into account, the average 2011 graduate almost certainly had at least $150,000 in educational debt, and quite possibly as much as $175,000.

The large majority of NEL grads aren’t getting legal jobs, and almost everyone who does get a legal job isn’t getting one that justifies the cost of attending the school. So what did this institution decide to do this year, given these extraordinarily dire statistics? If you guessed “raise tuition more than twice as fast as inflation and increase the size of the incoming class by 17%” you win a prize. NEL increased its incoming class from 385 to 452 students. It achieved this, while applications to law school in general were plummeting, by dropping the median LSAT score of full-time matriculants from the 53rd percentile to the 41st percentile, and that of part-time students from the 41st percentile to the 33rd (fully a quarter of the part-time admits had LSAT scores below the 26th percentile of test takers).

But we haven’t even gotten to the punch line yet, which is that the dean of this monument to catastrophic market failure is John O’Brien, who was none other than the chair of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar during the 2011-12 academic year — that is, the section of the ABA that is supposed to be regulating the conduct of accredited law schools. (O’Brien was paid $867,000 by NEL in 2010-2011).

What we have here, in other words, is the academic equivalent of what in the world of finance is known as a pump and dump operation. With an eye for the main chance that would make the likes of Whitey Bulger proud, O’Brien, who has been dean of NEL for 24 years, seems to have decided that he might as well get while the getting is good. With unlimited federal loan money there for the taking, NEL continues to jack up tuition as fast as it can, while tossing any semblance of admissions standards out the window, and not even pretending to care whether graduates are taking on life-wrecking amounts of debt in return for degrees that will rarely produce returns that justify their cost, and which indeed in many cases are going to be worse than worthless.

And while it’s true that if something can’t go on forever, it will stop, there’s still at the moment nothing to stop people like O’Brien from running educational boiler rooms. Yes the whole thing is starting to crash, but in the meantime there’s still money to be made, and lots of it. (My guess is that, as fiscal reality slowly sets in, a lot more law schools will stop trying to hold their LSAT medians, and instead admit whoever they have to admit to keep classes from shrinking even further.)

I suppose in a perverse way it’s a positive sign that a “special board” was appointed last year to make sure that O’Brien’s astronomical compensation — his salary is around three times larger than average for a law school dean — is warranted.

The only actual achievement cited by the review board is that, like a lot of bottom feeding schools, NEL has been turned into an apparently effective three-year bar review course.

NEL makes a very big deal of the fact that it spends lots of student tuition on paying SCOTUS justices to give little talks and such. There is to put it mildly zero evidence that this has produced any “elevated prestige” for the school.

As for “financial stability,” until about 15 minutes ago running a crap law school was a license to print money, and it would have taken an extraordinarily incompetent dean to fail to achieve “financial stability.”

The best part of this is citing heading the ABA Section of Legal Education as evidence that this guy is “strengthening the field” (the field, remember, being the practice of law) overall. Just imagine how bad employment stats for lawyers would have become if John O’Brien hadn’t been strengthening the field by running the Section of Legal Education.

As Michael Kinsley once observed, the scandal isn’t what’s illegal — the scandal is what’s legal.

Anarchy in Baltimore

[ 165 ] September 23, 2012 |


Tonight’s NFL game was a nice illustration of what happens when the putative authority figures in a social situation are neither respected or feared by the people they are supposed to be regulating.

Good to see the network announcers have given up on defending this crap.

Romney campaign releasing tax information

[ 161 ] September 21, 2012 |

In what very much smacks of sheer panic, the Romney campaign is suddenly releasing a whole bunch of the candidate’s tax information:

Romney camp: In 2011, the Romneys paid $1,935,708 in taxes on $13,696,951 in mostly investment income.

Romney camp: The Romneys’ effective tax rate for 2011 was 14.1%.

The Romneys donated $4,020,772 to charity in 2011, amounting to nearly 30% of their income.

The Romneys claimed a deduction for $2.25 million of those charitable contributions.

Romney camp says they could have written off more of their giving but didn’t so that Romney’s tax rate remained over 13%

A notarized letter from PWC will also be released re tax returns for last 20 years

PWC letter will say: Over the entire 20-year period, the Romney’s average annual effective federal tax rate was 20.20%.

PWC: Over the entire 20-year period, the lowest annual effective federal personal tax rate was 13.66%.

PWC: Over the entire 20-year period, the Romneys gave to charity an average of 13.45% of their adjusted gross income.

Couple of points:

(1) Assuming these numbers are correct, it’s hard to see why they didn’t release all this stuff months ago. Sure it’s bad, but given that the candidate is a Galtian Overlord it could hardly have been better, and there was naturally much speculation that it was worse. (The fact they’re dumping this on a Friday afternoon indicates they’re still spooked about the whole thing).

(2) If you are employed and make less than $110,000, then normally you pay a higher effective federal tax rate than Romney did in 2011, even in years, if any, in which you pay no federal income taxes. This is because normally you pay 15.3% of your income in FICA and Meditax (the employer contribution is in economic terms a straight deduction from what would otherwise be your wages).

Last evening of the summer

[ 38 ] September 20, 2012 |

A friend introduced me today to this amazing vocal performance by Sandy Denny, matched by Richard Thompson’s beautifully understated guitar accompaniment. Good to know it’s still possible to discover things like this at an advanced age.

Don’t Go To Law School (Unless)

[ 13 ] September 19, 2012 |

Don't Go to Law School

Many readers have suggested that I should put my critique of legal education into book form. DON’T GO TO LAW SCHOOL (UNLESS) does so.

The book is designed as a guide for anyone who is thinking about going to law school, or paying for someone to attend, and who is wondering what law schools might still be worth going to at what price. It also has advice for current law students in regard to under what circumstances it makes sense to transfer to another school or drop out.

Over the past couple of years a lot of people have asked me for advice on these matters, and I’m happy to continue to give it. This book is a concise summary of my take on all the most important aspects of the situation; in addition, the e-book format allows the data in the book to be completely up to date as of September 2012. (A print version will be available soon).

Too clever by half

[ 7 ] September 17, 2012 |

I have a piece in Salon on Rick Santorum’s observation this weekend that “the smart people” aren’t going to vote for the GOP.

Labor relations

[ 103 ] September 16, 2012 |

One of the referees in tonight’s NFL game was officiating a 7th grade game earlier this week.

The officiating across the league today was atrocious. Obviously even the best refs miss calls, but these semi-amateurs are totally out of their league (higher level college refs are refusing to do NFL games).

Some of the missed calls are products of simply not knowing the rules. San Francisco got a TD tonight because earlier in the drive what should have been a 25-yard loss was nullified when Alex Smith threw the ball away even though his pass didn’t come within a mile of reaching the line of scrimmage (that’s intentional grounding even if the QB is out of the pocket).

Obviously the owners care a lot more about strikebreaking than they do about not subjecting the players and the fans to a travesty.

Hope and Change, Cook County Circuit Court Edition

[ 26 ] September 13, 2012 |

Yesterday Cook County Circuit Court Judge Neil Cohen granted DePaul’s motion to dismiss a class action suit brought by several DePaul graduates, who enrolled at the law school between 2003 and 2008, incurred massive student loan debt (one now has an outstanding balance of more than $300,000), and were either unable to get any legal jobs at all, or are doing very low-paid legal work that doesn’t allow them to pay their loans in a timely manner.

The essence of Judge Cohen’s ruling can be boiled down to this: Read more…

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