The Locker Room

August 6, 2004

Re: Higher Education Gets the Ax

Posted by George Leef at 11:14 AM

We hear this argument all the time from pseudo-economists like Madrick and spokespeople for the higher education establishment: We need to invest more in college education for our young people.

Fact number one about this alleged need is that almost every young American who is remotely qualified to attend college now does so. That was the finding of a study done by Jay Greene and Greg Forster of the Manhattan Institute, based on Department of Education data. You can read it here. They found that (using data from 2000) there were about 1.2 million young Americans who were qualified to go to college. (That is, had completed high school and had taken SAT or ACT.) In that year, colleges enrolled 1.3 million American students. (The "nonselective" colleges don't just scrape the bottom of the barrel, but gouge out some of the wood, too.) So it just isn't the case that significant numbers of qualified students are being kept out of college.

Fact number two is that average earnings between those who graduated from college and those who didn't is a misleading and irrelevant statistic. The earnings of college grads are greatly increased by the presence of people like, oh, John Kerry and John Edwards, not to mention Michael Jordan. On the other hand, the average earnings of non-graduates are depressed by the presence of many people who aren't working much and earn very little. Rather than looking at averages and thinking,"Golly -- if only we could get more people through college, earnings and taxable income would rise!" you need to look at the margins. How much would the earnings of a person who decided not to go to college, but instead to get a job driving a truck, in construction, or doing lots of similar jobs, be increased if he had instead gone to college?

The answer is probably zero. We already have quite a number of college graduates who have had to take "high school" jobs like selling video games in mall stores because their college experience did not equip them for anything better. Pulling more of the marginal students into college will simply waste time and money. Madrick's idea that going to college is a cure-all for every economic malady is so loony that I'm surprised that the editors -- even at the NYT-- didn't say, "Oh, come on...."

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Re: Sowell on the leftist vocabulary

Posted by Jon Sanders at 11:05 AM

Sowell's article that George highlighted provides several current example of socialist Newspeak and their adroitness at being able to "turn reality upside down" by euphemism.

One of the terms Sowell mentioned was "swamp." As Sowell wrote, Swamps were messy, sometimes smelly, places where mosquitoes bred and sometimes snakes lurked. The left has replaced the word "swamp" with "wetlands," a word spoken in pious tones usually reserved for sacred things.

It struck me that while socialists rarely describe swamps as "swamps" nowadays, they still make frequent use of a synonym for "swamp" that has an even messier, yukkier connotation. But they use it metaphorically. The word is "quagmire," and it is used to describe places where tyranny formerly reigned that are now in that unstable state between the old tyranny and emerging freedom. Thus according to them, the two most recently discovered "quagmires," where mosquitoes sometimes still breed and snakes still sometimes lurk, are Iraq and Afghanistan. Sudan doesn't garner classification, but then again, many socialists don't believe in Hell.

Regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, perhaps it would behoove American socialists to envision them as "freedom's wetlands."

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"Why Higher Learning Gets the Ax"

Posted by Jon Sanders at 10:30 AM

That's the title of this New York Times (subscriber site) op-ed, by Jeff Madrick, author of Why Economies Grow. The article leads with this contestable assertion: "To economists, higher education is like motherhood or apple pie. It will cure just about anything, from globalization and outsourcing to technological change and income inequality."

I know a little about economics, have a few friends who are economists, and read quite a few more, and I don't recall ever receiving from them the idea that higher education will "cure" globalization, outsourcing (*cough*), technological change, and income inequality. I know many who would say how more education in economics would show how these things, which academic socialists shriek at in what Catherine Seipp aptly termed their constant "Eek, a mouse!" tone of girlish fright, are not grave problems demanding cures at all. In fact, they'd probably show how the "social ill" of technological change generally prompts the "maladies" of globalization and outsourcing that work to cure income inequality by bringing "unequal" incomes to areas where there previously was none.

From that starting point, Madrick goes on to argue that "the data on the benefits of higher education in the United States are overwhelmingly convincing," such that the median income of a college-educated man is much higher than the median income of someone without a college education. This being the case, he argues, "why, when international competition is such a threat, are states, which finance the bulk of higher education, cutting back significantly on their budgets?"

This being the New York Times, part of the blame belongs to "the Bush administration." But the rest owes to the budgetary pressure affecting many states. Nevertheless, Madrick is never able to reconcile his fundamental point that higher education generally yields substantial income benefits to the individuals who have it with his observation that governments under financial pressure aren't funding more of it.

That's because Madrick is laboring under the same economic misconception that habitually strikes our governor, legislators and (self-appointed) "business leaders" when they argue for giving financial incentives to bring certain businesses to our state on the basis that these businesses will succeed here. That is this: If individuals — students, business owners, &c. — can see the likelihood of financial success in the future in undertaking a particular endeavor (attending college, relocating a business), then they will be willing to undertake the financial risk themselves because they will expect their future profits to exceed their present investment.

Put more simply, if a friend asks me to lend him $10 now, and he promises to pay me $20 next week, I won't need my legislator to hand me $5 "from the good citizens of North Carolina" to encourage me to make the loan because it will really help me out next week. Nor would I be inclined to turn him down.

Madrick doesn't get it. He sees that "the case for investing in higher education is stronger than ever." But it never occurs to him that if that's true, then individuals would be willing to invest in higher education for themselves. They are, in fact; even though tuition costs are rising, "students take longer to finish college so they can work to defray costs, and they borrow more to pay their way." He thinks this is a problem. I think most economists would respond as I: "So?"

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Thomas Sowell on the political abuse of language

Posted by George Leef at 09:14 AM

An excellent, razor-sharp column.

Too bad that Sowell doesn't do public stuff any more. I'd love to see him dissect Kerry and Edwards speeches for TV.

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Lez Be Fair About This

Posted by Paul Chesser at 09:08 AM

Imagine that...changing the rules at the National Scrabble Championship just to accommodate a television broadcast.

I wonder if "honky," "whitey," or "homophobe" were banned.

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Schools went backwards in federal accountability program

Posted by John Hood at 08:37 AM

Bruce Buchanan of the Greensboro News & Record has just shown once again why he is one of North Carolina’s sharpest and most effective education reporters. As I noted in my column today, North Carolina made its public schools look better under the federal No Child Left Behind criteria by allowing for more of a margin of error. That generated a big jump in the percentage of NC schools appearing to meet the federal law’s annual growth standard — to nearly 71 percent in 2003-04 vs. 47 percent in 2002-03. Other reporters noted that without the statistical change, the 2003-04 percentage would have been 56 percent, or “still a nearly 10 point gain” as several stories put it.

Not so fast. Buchanan was apparently the only one to note that if the statistical change had been applied to last year’s data, the percentage would have been 57 percent. In other words, if you take the statistical adjustment out of the picture, slightly fewer schools met the standard this year compared to last year.

Excellent work from Bruce. Not-so-excellent work from his peeers. And bad testing program from the state.

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The global warming culprit....

Posted by George Leef at 08:34 AM

....turns out to be the sun. Read about the science here.

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DeMint defends opponent on outsourcing

Posted by John Hood at 08:16 AM

I make fun of politicians regularly in this space and others. But sometimes they get it right. And Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican who is running for U.S. Senate this year against Democratic school superintendent Inez Tenenbaum, gets lots of things right much of the time. An unabashed advocate of economic freedom and sanity, vs. Tenenbaum‘s dated protectionist rhetoric, DeMint effectively handled charges that his campaign was wrongly distributing t-shirts made in Honduras:

The debate could not have gotten starker than it did earlier this week when reporters discovered that Mrs. Tenenbaum was using a company that hired foreign workers to handle her conference calls with reporters.

"This lady comes on the phone and she sounds French, so the reporters start asking her all these questions," said one person who was on the call. "It turned out, she was in Montreal."

Mrs. Tenenbaum, the state's popular superintendent of education, swiftly fired the company — BellSouth — and apologized for the mistake.

"Outsourcing is real and we were the victims of it," said Tenenbaum spokesman Adam Kovacevich. "We thought we were working with a local company, and they were outsourcing their jobs abroad."

The next day, news broke that Mr. DeMint's campaign T-shirts were sewn in Honduras. But there was no apology from his campaign.

"The cotton in that T-shirt is from South Carolina," DeMint spokeswoman Kara Borie said. "It was sewn in Honduras. You can't do it without outsourcing certain jobs."

DeMint campaign officials defended not only their campaign, but also Mrs. Tenenbaum's for hiring the Canadians.

"She is missing the point about globalization," Ms. Borie said. "Just because a company is outsourcing doesn't mean that it's not helping workers here in South Carolina."

She said 136,700 South Carolinians work for U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies, a number Mrs. Tenenbaum's campaign did not dispute.

"If you asked those workers about globalization, they would say that their paychecks depended on it," Ms. Borie said.

By firing BellSouth, she said, Mrs. Tenenbaum took her business away from a company that has thousands of South Carolinians on its payroll.

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Re: Hawking's admission of error

Posted by George Leef at 08:11 AM

Can anyone give me even one instance where a politician admitted having made a mistake? Not the sort of tear-jerking personal revelation that is now commonly a part of the schtick. I mean an instance where a politician says, "I voted in favor of Program X, but it is now clear to me that Program X is a useless waste of taxpayer money. I apologize to the taxpayers for having supported it and will endeavor to have the law repealed."

Announcements of error sometimes occur in science, but hardly ever in politics. That's because, I submit, politics is all about appearance whereas science entails a search for truth.

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Stephen Hawking teaches politicians a lesson

Posted by John Hood at 08:03 AM

Reacting to my “Daily Journal” piece yesterday on black holes and public-policy research, Macintosh computer guru and all-around-nice-guy Bob Chandler emailed with a follow-up point on the broader implications of Stephen Hawking’s recent announcement of a new theory to replace his previous one about how black holes function and whether the matter they swallow is ever re-released into our universe:

I was struck by another thing about Hawking's announcement. He admitted that he was wrong. He didn't reinterpret his original statement, he didn't deny making the statement, and he even paid off his bet. He is probably the only person in the world who could disprove his theory. He disproved it and reported it. In our current political climate that's an important lesson.

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