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The generation gap and the education crisis

[ 88 ] September 1, 2011 |

I think one thing that fuels the current dysfunctions of higher education in this country is the extent to which older people — and especially university administrators and faculty — have lost touch with how basic shifts in the American economy have left young people in a vastly worse position than they themselves were at similar points in their lives.

I graduated from college in 1982, in the middle of what would turn out to be the worst post-WWII recession until the current mess. But I had no debt, because I went to an excellent public university that charged very low tuition. This, I realize in retrospect, made a huge difference in regard to my psychic as well as economic health. A few years later I went to a top state law school for not exactly free, but for a low enough price that I could earn the total cost of tuition from summer jobs. Today if I had done exactly the same thing I would be graduating with easily six figures of non-dischargeable educational debt at 7.5% interest.

All this is just part of a bigger picture involving very fraught questions of generational equity (The basic policy of the federal government for most of the past 30 years has been to pass on the costs of everything to people who weren’t yet old enough to vote. The student loan crisis may be a sign that strategy is running up against some limits).

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Why are so many people still applying to law school?

[ 30 ] August 27, 2011 |


I suggest some possible explanations, and also try to break down the question of who should be going to law school, given current circumstances.


[ 30 ] August 25, 2011 |

I’m looking for striking recent examples of upper class whining about how it’s hard out there for people living on not that much more than 200K a year, and who are threatening to go Galt should the fruits of their labors be expropriated at an even higher rate than the current confiscatory tax code allows for. I already have this guy in the queue but would much appreciate whatever help the LGM commissars can give me from what you’ve seen during your travels through what must surely be the target-rich environment of the contemporary blogosphere.

The student loan crisis

[ 22 ] August 24, 2011 |

Student loan debt in the US is approaching one trillion dollars (up from$180 billion a decade ago). Most of this debt is government-guaranteed and non-dischargeable — a combination which has very predictable effects for debtors and tax payers (they get shafted), and equally predictable effects for lenders (they get rich at the expense of the people getting shafted).

This post explores the issue in the specific context of legal education, but the problem is endemic to all of higher education in America today.

Legal education and the (a) problem of bad faith

[ 25 ] August 23, 2011 |

Most academics at research universities engage in two kinds of teaching: the general edification of undergraduates, and the professional training of graduate students who, in theory at least, are being prepared to replace their professors.

Law school professors aren’t doing either of these things. Instead, they’re preparing (sort of) people to do something they wouldn’t do if you paid them a whole lot more than what they’re getting paid now.

Inside the Law School Scam

[ 20 ] August 20, 2011 |

I started a blog a couple of weeks ago regarding the questionable state of contemporary legal education, which I initially authored anonymously, for reasons I explain in a couple of the recent posts. Those interested in the general topic may wish to visit. Those not so interested may still enjoy this Saturday Night Video:

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The Mystery of Rick Perry’s “Fed Up”

[ 29 ] August 15, 2011 |

perry book

Scott’s post makes me wonder just when Rick Perry started thinking seriously about running for president. Yglesias points out that the book Fed Up, which appeared under Perry’s name nine months ago, argues that the modern administrative state is basically unconstitutional (with a bit of hedging for a couple of civil rights laws).

I find it a bit hard to believe that a prospective candidate would go into print with something like this, at least if his handlers had anything to say about it. (In terms of subtle signalling to Wingnuttia, this book seems less like a dog whistle and more like a ceremonial gong). A quick check of NEXIS reveals that between mid-July and mid-August of last year only two stories appeared that featured the phrases “Rick Perry” and “run for president.” (This past month the comparable number for the same search was 529). My theory, which is mine, is that Perry did not start seriously considering the idea of a presidential run until the first batch of GOP contenders started falling on their faces, and the inevitable longing for someone “electable” began to cast about for likely lads. In a nostalgia-riven culture, it’s not too surprising that longing settled on Perry, whose campaign is shaping up as the political equivalent of Beatlemania for those magical years when missions were accomplished and housing bubbles floated ever-upward in great, unbroken rings.

The simulation gap

[ 29 ] August 11, 2011 |

It was probably just my imagination running away with me, but I thought last night the USMNT already looked more fluid and creative under Klinsmann than they did under Bradley. My favorite detail from this game involved the blown non-red card which wasn’t given in the 86th minute when Agudelo sprung Rogers on a breakaway. (BTW if I understand the rules of futbol correctly the ref doesn’t have the option of awarding a penalty kick in this situation, which seems unfortunate. Without the foul Rogers is on the keeper and surely has a better than even chance of scoring. A red card with five minutes left and a direct free kick from 25 yards seems like too small price to pay for avoiding that outcome).

Anyway the detail that appeals to me is how Rogers remembers a full second after he hits the ground that he’s supposed to have suffered some horrible injury from the foul, and then duly starts clutching his leg in agony. (You can see this at about 1:10 of the video, which complies with the international convention that all soccer highlight videos on Youtube must be accompanied by a crap music soundtrack).

This is clearly a developmental problem for US soccer, and it may help to have a former European superstar player as a coach, although it would be better if he were Italian (any Italian player in Rogers’ situation would be singing two arias from Aida before he hit the ground, and a little puff of smoke in the form of a mushroom cloud would rise from his body on impact).

. . . Daniel points out in comments that Klinsmann was a notorious dive artist in his day, so that’s another reason to be optimistic about the new era.

(A few months ago my brother was in Buenos Aires and he watched a father in a park spend quite a bit of time teaching his five-year-old how to dive)

London’s burning

[ 122 ] August 9, 2011 |

Nina Power in the Guardian on the larger context of the London riots:

Those condemning the events of the past couple of nights in north London and elsewhere would do well to take a step back and consider the bigger picture: a country in which the richest 10% are now 100 times better off than the poorest, where consumerism predicated on personal debt has been pushed for years as the solution to a faltering economy, and where, according to the OECD, social mobility is worse than any other developed country.

As Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett point out in The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, phenomena usually described as “social problems” (crime, ill-health, imprisonment rates, mental illness) are far more common in unequal societies than ones with better economic distribution and less gap between the richest and the poorest. Decades of individualism, competition and state-encouraged selfishness – combined with a systematic crushing of unions and the ever-increasing criminalisation of dissent – have made Britain one of the most unequal countries in the developed world.

Urban riots are usually complex events, in which people participate for many reasons, ranging from simple boredom and criminal opportunism on one end, to conscious political protest on the other. To the extent the latter is a factor in a riot, the riot becomes a genuine threat to the political order. As William Paley observed more than 200 years ago (How Subjection To Civil Government Is Maintained (1785):

Could we view our own species from a distance, or regard mankind with the same sort of observation with which we read the natural history, or remark the manners, of any other animal, there is nothing in the human character which would more surprise us, than the almost universal subjugation of strength to weakness; than to see many millions of robust men, in the complete use and exercise of their personal faculties, and without any defect of courage, waiting upon the will of a child, a woman, a driveller, or a lunatic. And although, when we suppose a vast empire in absolute subjection to one person, and that one depressed beneath the level of his species by infirmities, or vice, we suppose perhaps an extreme case: yet in all cases, even in the most popular forms of civil government, the physical strength resides in the governed. In what manner opinion thus prevails over strength, or how power, which naturally belongs to superior force, is maintained in opposition to it; in other words, by what motives the many are induced to submit to the few, becomes an inquiry which lies at the root of almost every political speculation. It removes, indeed, but does not resolve, the difficulty, to say that civil governments are now-a-days almost universally upholden by standing armies; for, the question still returns; How are these armies themselves kept in subjection, or made to obey the commands, and carry on the designs, of the prince or state which employs them?


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A passionate intensity

[ 42 ] August 8, 2011 |

As America prepares to party like it’s 1899, we need to ponder whether you can tell anything by looking into a man’s (or woman’s) eyes.

Lisa: You know Bart, Pablo Neruda says the eyes are mirrors of the soul.

Bart: (clearly offended) I am familiar with the works of Pablo Neruda.


Baseball and American political dysfunction

[ 39 ] August 8, 2011 |


I forget which French intellectual said that anyone who wants to understand America needs to understand baseball. This is probably an exaggeration, but while staring at this box score and then this financial data it occurred to me that the reason we have such a dysfunctional political system can be traced to the same factors that have preserved the nonsensical way pitchers are credited with “wins.”

don mossi

In 1876 National League pitchers completed 91% of their starts. Under the circumstances, a rule which credited the pitcher who was pitching when his team took a lead it didn’t subsequently surrender with the “win” made good sense. In 2011 NL pitchers completed slightly less than 3% of their starts. This guarantees that in a large minority of games the pitcher who is credited with the “win” bears little or no relation to the pitcher who did the most to help his team achieve it.

In theory this problem could be fixed quite easily — just give the official scorer the discretion to award the win to whichever pitcher deserves it most. But we can’t do that. Why? Because of the Framers. The Framers wanted political gridlock and they also wanted to take dictatorial discretion out of the hands of official scorers, who, if they could award wins to anonymous middle relievers they particularly liked, would soon be sending the rest of us to FEMA “re-education” camps. It’s a slippery slope.

Don’t know much about history

[ 75 ] August 5, 2011 |

sam cooke

Of course in the contemporary GOP having a really bad college transcript is just a form of anti-intellectual street cred. (That C in gym would be a big problem for a Democrat “man” though).

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