Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Introductory econ lecture #5 

We had an exam today. One of the essays was based on the elephants example in this lesson plan written for this piece on private property. (BTW, the set of lesson plans that FEE has are great for learning the lessons of liberty.) I'm late today because I've been grading exams most of the afternoon.

We started this morning looking at how markets induce cooperation between people. One reminder is that buyers compete with other buyers, not with sellers, and vice versa. This explains much of business behavior in terms of advertising but also in trying to monopolize or cartelize markets. We'll talk more about this later this week.

We also talked about the value of markets in expanding the circle of potential borrowers. A question in the text asks, why is it easier in a barter economy for the toilet paper manufacturer to meet his or her demands than an electric guitar manufacturer. There were stories in Armenia that many times workers were paid with some of their products. There are two major manufacturers there: a brandy plant and a piano manufacturer. Getting paid in brandy is not nearly so onerous as it is transportable and desired by more people. Pianos are hard to transport. Many simply burned them.

I told them a story from my time in Ukraine, where I had a central bank official offer me data to help him understand the coal industry. It was balance sheet and income statements for each coal mine in the country ... collected weekly. So much data, and yet they had no idea what to do. This reminds us of the economic calculation debate and whether socialism could ever fix this problem. The textbook says:
We are extremely dependent on changing money prices to secure effective cooperation in our complex, interdependent society and economy. When prices are not permitted to signal a change in relative scarcities, suppliers and demander receive inappropriate signals. They do not find, because they have no incentive to look for, ways to make accommodations to one another more effectively. It is important that people receive some such incentive, because there are so many little ways and big ways in which people can accommodate--ways that no central planner can possibly anticipate, but which in their combined effect make the different between chaos and coordination. Changing money prices, continuously responding to changing conditions of demand or supply, provides just such an incentive.

Scarcity is inevitable; it's simply a question of what you use as a rationing mechanism.

I oughta be in pictures 

I got word this morning that Penn & Teller's show Bulls*** that was to include a recording of me played last night. My interview was taped last fall. I notice that their page links to this site. I knew they would interview Mike Davis from here and Alan Kors, but I had no knowledge they could get Chomsky on tape too!

There's a show preview on ShowTime's site, and the show will replay Tuesday at 9pm ET/PT on SHO 2 and Friday at 10pm ET/PT on Showtime. I haven't seen the show, and must confess I don't buy Showtime on my cable package (nor any other movie channel -- I'm pretty much a news&sports junkie.)

Me and Chomsky, on the same show. That'll make the parents proud, if I can get them past the title.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Not teaching today 

... so there's no economics lesson here. But students might do well to consider whether economics is a microscope. If my students are reading, remember us talking about rent control? Here's a great story of how it benefits one pop star from my youth. (H/T: Emirates Economist.) You can bet that's coming out in class tomorrow morning!

What does France mean for accession? 

I've been thinking a good bit today about what the no vote on the EU constitution in France (and its likely rejection in the Netherlands Wednesday) means for the issue that I am concerned with, the accession of eastern European countries to the EU. I am convinced that it rather helps than harms them. Let me explain.

EU is really three parts. First, there is the holdover of the Common Market days, a customs union that permits trade to occur between EU members at more preferable terms than between the EU and non-EU trading partners. The accession seeking countries feel that trade oriented towards the west rather than the east (read: Russia) will benefit them, and that accession is the only means of getting dialogue on removing the EU's infamous trade barriers. I'm skeptical that this will happen. Agricultural policy has always protected French farmers, who were a big part of the no vote yesterday. But I doubt that the farmers were motivated to vote no because they thought the political process the EU constitution begins would cost them subsidies. If anything, it seems to me it would bring more as the tax base was expanded.

Second, there is the Euro-zone, the countries that use the new common currency. Accession countries will wish to use the euro to provide a more stable money than they offer themselves, and to reduce the "fear of floating" premium many of those countries pay. We saw this in Macedonia when I worked there in 2003: The country pays much higher rates on government debt than you might expect for a country with what appears on the outside to be a stable currency pegged to the euro. They pay this because foreign investors fear a shock from, say, ethnic fighting between Albanians and Macedonian Serbs. So Macedonian bonds don't sell well, and higher interest rates have to be paid to induce foreign investors to hold them. Getting into EU reduces that cost. Of course, it comes at the costs of a loss of your domestic currency (and the seigniorage revenue that might help finance government deficits) and with explicit constraints on your fiscal policy -- that is, unless you're Germany.

Last, leaders such as Chirac and Kohl have argued that the economic and political come together, and the EU Constitution is part of this. And in this, I think most eastern Europeans would agree with this assessment from Fistful of Euros:
The point *isn�t* that this puts all of Europe into crisis. This is not necessary. But �crisis� can only be avoided by recognising openly and clearly that something has gone wrong. The EU leaders are not carrying the EU voters with them on the constitution, and a dialogue must begin. The sooner this is recognised the better.

I don't believe this dialogue matters to the accession countries, however (remember, they don't have a say at present), both because the economic benefits are seen there as being quite strong -- which I think is an overestimation, but that's another post -- and because many may feel that even this EU constitution gives them a more stable form of government than the new, imperfect constitutions many of these countries adopted as they escaped the USSR or Warsaw Pact.

The risk is that the political leaders in Brussels will handle defeat badly. Mark Steyn notes:

...a couple of days before the first referendum, Jean-Claude Juncker, the "president" of the European Union, let French and Dutch voters know how much he values their opinion:

"If at the end of the ratification process, we do not manage to solve the problems, the countries that would have said No, would have to ask themselves the question again," "President" Juncker told the Belgian newspaper Le Soir.

Got that? You have the right to vote, but only if you give the answer your rulers want you to give. But don't worry, if you don't, we'll treat you like a particularly backward nursery school and keep asking the question until you get the answer right.

Sounds like how we vote on school bond referenda here in Minnesota.

Would you want your spouse to blog? 

I would. Since our MOB Road Show two weekends ago, Mrs. Scholar has been quite interested in the goings-on of MOB, NARN, etc. I can't get her to contact the M.A.W.B. Squad yet, one of whom invited her to contribute there. But she would like us all to know she plays piano. She is one of the music leaders of our church (I am the singer, but I just sing what she says and there's no doubt who runs the band when she's at the keys), and an early date was us playing Canon in D by Pachalbel, me on the violin. This was stopped when Mrs. S realized that accompanying a violinist means really accompanying, rather than trading fours. Two hams, one spotlight: It's amazing we've been married so long.

But really, she would be a great writer. She is the funnier one of the couple, and she reads entirely different things than I do. The blogosphere is a big enough stage for us both. And maybe I could get to Keegans more often if she was part of the group.*

So if you would like Mrs. S to write or play, give her a shout. Her contact info is in the piano link. Who knows, maybe we'll put mp3s of her playing up here!

*And actually, we could use more spousebloggers in MOB. And kidbloggers! (Note to Night Writer: You've got a Day Writer in waiting.)


The Northern Alliance's website has often been viewed as a fairly low-tech affair, including us making fun of Mitch's heartbeat graphic, but over the weekend we've unveiled a new Flash-driven site. It's far beyond my abilities at programming, so no credit goes to me. My favorite part is the NA aggregator at the bottom, so you go to any of our posts from one site.

And if you want instead the low-tech site, it's still there. Heartbeat and all.

No way to celebrate Memorial Day 

Understand, please, that I beleive a private group may have its own rules. If the Boy Scouts want to have a sexuality requirement for its scoutmasters, it's not any of my business since my son is no longer of scouting age. And so I'm not saying anything about this story other than, if it was me in charge of it, things would change.

Everyone agrees that Ligaya Lagman of Westchester, N.Y., is a Gold Star mother, part of the long line of women whose sons or daughters were killed in combat for the U.S. armed services.

Her 27-year-old son, Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Lagman, was killed last year in Afghanistan.

But the American Gold Star Mothers have rejected her for membership because -- though a permanent resident and a taxpayer -- she is not a U.S. citizen.

The group's national president, Ann Herd, said: "There's nothing we can do, because that's what our organization says. You have to be an American citizen." She added: "We can't go changing the rules every time the wind blows."

You should react better to sunlight, Ms. Herd. You can change the rule because it's your group.

Mrs. Lagman, meanwhile, has decided not to pursue membership further.

(H/T: Burt Dubow.)

Bureaucratically incompetent, too 

The University of Oregon has decided to slow down on a plan to have tenure and post-tenure review of faculty include a review of their "cultural competency," acccording to the Chronicle of Higher Education. (That link will expire Friday, after which you might prefer this article from the Seattle Times.)

"I was hired to teach chemistry and do research," said Michael Kellman, a chemistry professor. "I wasn't hired to be evaluated and even interrogated about cultural competency, whatever that is."

In a letter to the president, David B. Frohnmayer, 24 professors called the draft plan "frightening and offensive." They complained that it would spend too much money on "diversity-related bureaucracy."

Mr. Frohnmayer said in an interview on Thursday that administrators had "taken a step back from the draft plan, given the extent of the response."

"We're wedded to the objectives of the plan, but not to particular steps in any lockstep way," he said. "We're a community that lives to move with a greater sense of consensus."

Indeed, the plan itself is expansive, covering 22 pages and full of new plans for expanding "cultural competency". A major flaw of the plan is that it doesn't take the time to define what it means. The university sent it to another committee with the usual CYA language of "it's a draft" and "we just wanted to begin a dialogue". Here's the language in the draft, though (I've edited down to the first three points; the others are not as enlightening):
Faculty � in conjunction with the University Senate & Senior Administration
  1. Require faculty course evaluation forms to assess classroom content, climate, and openness to multiple viewpoints.
  2. Revise 3rd year, tenure, and post-tenure evaluation criteria to assess ongoing skill building and demonstrable commitment to cultural competency.
  3. Tie evaluation of cultural competency to raises, promotions etc.

That third point is not covered anywhere, but it's a nightmare bureaucratically. And while I'm quite happy to see any statement in favor of viewpoint diversity, its appearance in this document worries me. I don't necessarily believe that a leftist sociology prof is going to have her raise or promotion stopped by a student evaluation from a conservative student who was shouted down in her classroom. That would be a violation of her academic freedom, right?

Of course, the school has already been in the news once this month from a program to set aside seats in popular classes for math and English, and one prof in the Chronicle story isn't too happy about all this sunlight.

Not all faculty members were disturbed by the diversity plan. Matthew Dennis, a
professor of history, said some critics had overreacted, although he acknowledged that the plan could have been written better and agreed that not defining some terms was a mistake.

"There are reasonable concerns that can be worked out, especially if reasonable discussion aren't disrupted by incendiary discussions coming from off campus," Mr. Dennis said.

He could be referring as well to blog coverage by John Rosenberg and Dave Huber. He probably isn't talking about these puff pieces in the New York Times (there are six all together). And get a load of this, from the last paragraph.
This month, as the plan was sparking controversy, its chief architect announced that he was leaving the university. Gregory J. Vincent, vice provost for institutional equity and diversity at Oregon, is moving to the University of Texas at Austin to become vice provost for inclusion and cross-cultural effectiveness.

Those job titles are a doppelganger for the continued encroachment of the diversity cops.

Friday, May 27, 2005

So where did that day go? 

One problem of teaching the intro class is that somewhere on Friday (which is the off day) you hit a wall. I just didn't have much energy most of the day, and that I did have went to the next QBR. Then went and saw Littlest run her first duathlon, and by the gods she was first female! Fourth overall. Exciting evening ended with our first try at MLB 2005.

I made the decision to try to record some Coleman so I could hear what all the Cities MOBsters hear. Dial 1-800-DREADFUL. What I got out of it was that he lost his mind in a port-a-potty while wearing a safari vest. Or something like that. And Lambert? Regrettably, writing is his comparative advantage.

NARN's back at the White Bear Lake Superstore tomorrow. Frivolities begin at noon, and I'll step up at 1; Kathy Kersten, who I'm happy to call both a good acquaintance and a columnist again, will be on during the 1pm hour.

More minority students does not equal diversity 

So says a student at St. Olaf in yesterday's Pioneer Press (free registration required). Enrolled in a course in Latin American history, she discovered:
With six multiracial students in class, we heard about a personal example or experience relating to our topic nearly every day. For a while, everyone appreciated having these real-life examples of oppression in Latin American countries and of issues we discussed.

Soon, however, a division grew in our little classroom. I, and others, began to notice how quickly minority students criticized white students for daring to rationalize the actions of historical Europeans and Americans. This criticism happened only a few times, but the threat of attack was enough to instill a fear of speaking one's mind.

In contrast, white students regularly left inflammatory comments by these same multicultural students unanswered for fear that as a nonminority contradicting a minority they might sound racist. At one point, a student of Latin American heritage even went so far to say that minorities deal better with power because they have more sensitivity toward the rights of others.

When did one's ability to lead become based on what happened to their ancestors hundreds of years ago versus their intelligence and leadership skills today?
But worse is the problem that spreads outside the classroom at St. Olaf.
Last year, one minority student continuously bullied a first-year Asian student who had been adopted by white parents at a young age because "[she] couldn't even speak Korean � [she's] not really Asian." This tormented student transferred at the end of last year to escape persecution. I've also heard of another student who has an on-going feud with some of the multicultural students because they believe he is "white-washed" and not adequately connected with his roots.
Those stories are not at all uncommon on campuses in America these days. Most of the arguments for diversity on campus is that it's good for majority students to be exposed to minority students. It doesn't appear to be as good for the minority students themselves.

How did I miss this? 

I forgot to check in with The Night Writer until late tonight, discussing MOB Road Show.
One, the Queen Banian [demerits for misspelling name! --kb] does not take a backseat to King in encylopedic knowledge or sparkling conversation. It was a delight to meet her and we enjoyed a stimulating discussion that ranged from soy cooking to the theatre, The Rules and, of course, The Mystery. My wife especially enjoyed the evening, while the Littlest Scholar and my youngest daughter found the most interesting part of the event to be the arrival of a hulking piece of Triple Chocolate cake - which they proceeded to demolish like Mitch Berg going through a Nick Coleman column. The flying forks looked like a light-saber duel from Revenge of the Sith.
Littlest is well-known at her school as The Consumer of All Sweets. If I ate half what she does I'd be Mr. Creosote. And in case you didn't know, Missus is a veteran of bulletin boards on the Rules. She claims indeed to have solved The Mystery, but was sworn to secrecy. All that remains is The Look and the firm knowledge that as soon as I drive out to work she's on the phone to her sister. The conversation always begins, "You won't believe what he said today..."

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Introductory econ lecture #4 

It was a different kind of class today. One of the joys of teaching an economics course specifically for nonmajors is that you get such a diversity of viewpoints. And, unlike most of my majors or the kids from the business school, these students love to talk.

First half of the class begun late because we were into a discussion of health care in Canada, as a student was discussing the importation of prescription drugs to the US. This allowed me to discuss rationing. All scarce goods must be rationed somehow. If we don't use price in the market system to ration, something or someone else has to do the job. This can be first-come-first-served, age, beauty, ethnicity, kinship, equal shares imposed by government, or any number of other items. We ran through the examples of price ceilings and price floors.

We spent some time as well discussing consumer and producer surplus (note to self: do more of this Tuesday.) Given a myriad group of rationing schemes, one wants to know which provides the most benefit to society. What we illustrate is that with an unfettered market that has competition, the combination of the two surpluses is maximized when you allow price to ration goods.

We were doing fine to there. In the end of the fourth chapter of the text was a question I asked students to answer last night in homework:
Friedrich bought a large painting by Turner that was on display at a major exhibition, but he had to agree not to take possession until the show ended six months later. When the show finally ended and Friedrich brought the painting home, he made two discoveries: The show had so increased Turner's prestige that the painting was now worth twice what he had paid for it, and the painting was too large to fit any of his walls. Karl has larger walls in his home and would like to purchase the painting from his friend Friedrich. What is the proper price for Friedrich to charge Karl? What he himself paid for the painting or what he could now get for it if he put in on the market?

The answers to this were fascinating. One student allowed how she faced just this problem with some free infant formula she has but doesn't need: should she give it to her friends who are expecting infants of their own, or sell it to them, or what? Another student said you couldn't charge the market price to a friend because it's a friend, a violation of the opportunity cost rule (the marginal cost of the painting is now double what you paid). But a third student said to the second, if you sell it at cost and your friend turns around and sells it on the market, wouldn't you be upset? Yes, the second student allowed. I gave an example of an ugly tie Mrs. S might buy for me. She asks me to wear it. If I do, it's not because I like it, but if I don't she will be mad. You'd call it a gift with strings attached. So what about the transaction between Friedrich and Karl? And on and on it went, for a half-hour.

The end point of the story to me was a realization that, when dealing with friends, a transaction doesn't always involve the exchange of the same set of property rights as an exchange between strangers. I wouldn't imagine telling a stranger where to hang the Turner picture, but I might tell Karl to hang it where I can come see it later. And of course, in return I charge a lower price, because I didn't transfer a complete set of rights. I closed with a weird example sent to me by reader jw yesterday, wherein a transaction for a sperm donation between a man and a woman later gives rise to a claim for child support, which the court grants. The students are shocked, but I get lucky: one of my students has experience as a guardian ad litem, and helps explain that while a man and woman can have a transaction over the sperm, the woman is not allowed to terminate the rights the child has over the father.

So, I concluded, what is really being transferred isn't the good itself, but a set of rights, which sets up next week's lectures.

Mobility again 

Mark Gisleson at Norwegianity, about whom I wrote a post wondering why he had a problem with something James Taranto had said (of which I approved), has decided to return fire. It's a long and rather tedious post, full of fury that the "culture of business" is "f****** over people" and that "The system has been gamed by the people running the show, and they�re not even trying to play fair." He refers to it as a fisking. Well, call it what you wish, I don't particularly care. Let me respond to substantive points and not play with his pyrotechnics. I think his points are threefold:

  1. The data I use is older and not telling what is happening right now;
  2. The data show that income mobility is declining; and
  3. It's all the Republicans' fault.
Quickly, my replies are 1) the data is hard to come by and doesn't change dramatically year to year, and it's hard to control for other factors that change over time; 2) we agree that mobility is less than twenty years ago, but that 3) the trend has been happening for so long that it's unlikely due to any specific policy of either party.

Over at Cafe Hayek, Russ Roberts has been running a series on income mobility.

The bottom line is that it is extremely difficult to measure mobility and opportunity. One way to avoid all of these structural changes that contaminate the numbers is to look at the same people over time, rather than looking at snapshots of different people over time.
This is a major problem with how numbers get used in the debate. The size of the survey you need to calculate the distributions are large -- in the States there are only two or three sources you could use, including the Census (full disclosure: I have no exposure to doing these studies here; I have worked with ones in Ukraine and Armenia, but not much and they're not comparable) -- and so mobility studies tend to be somewhat infrequent.

I used the chart that Mark apparently had trouble reading because it tries as best possible to look at people longitudinally. It says that 59% of people in the lowest quintile of the income distribution in 1969 moved up a quintile by 1994. Nearly 53% went up from the second lowest quintile to the middle. &c. The part that should catch your eye as much as that on the right hand side you see over 61% of those in the top quintile in 1969 moved down. If The Man was always protecting his own, how come 3 of 5 rich people in 1969 were relatively worse off by 1994?

Mark's second major point is that it's not that there is mobility, but that there's declining mobility. The evidence does support that; my statement is that it's still substantial (did I spell that right?) And the decline in mobility pre-dates the present Administration and, in my judgment, has declined for reasons that are not related to any government policy. Roberts links to a study from the New England Federal Reserve (link is to a non-technical summary; here's the more technical article if you wish to wade into deeper water.) Here's Roberts' summary of the results.

What percentage of families during the '70s, '80s and '90s stayed in the same quintile of the income distribution:

1970 36%
1980 37%
1990 40%

What percentage moved up or down one or more quintiles:

1970 38%
1980 39%
1990 39%

What percentage moved up or down two or more quintiles:

1970 26%
1980 24%
1990 21%

Roberts and I are not sure what to make of that. The study Roberts quotes thinks it has to do with the increasing number of females heading households. Female-headed households are simply poorer that families with two adults present. The median income of a family with two working spouses in 2000 was $74,000, up 48% over 1970, but the median income of a female-headed household $27,000 and up only 28% from 1970. Higher divorce rates and increasing numbers of kids born out of wedlock play a role in these data. (Interestingly, Roberts notes, the income of households headed by a male and no female adult present has grown even less than for female-headed households.) As well, immigration plays a huge role. Roberts is rather skeptical that it plays a role, but I think it might be more: Think of the new enterprises immigrants creating high-tech firms in California. Those weren't McJobs. Is it enough to increase wages overall? Hard to say, but see this. (Interestingly, I also found that African immigrant household median income is more than $9000 greater than that of African-American households; this makes me wonder if the gains in black per capita income are also influenced by immigration. I didn't look further into this yet.)

But ascribing the mobility numbers to some thought that "Bush did change everything" is simply missing the point. The trends we're looking at have been going on for quite some time, for a variety of reasons -- which we cannot reliably disentangle, but seem to have little to do with public policy. I don't have the luxury of easy socialism that Gisleson turns to with his jeremiad against businesses (and their Clinton bagman Bob Rubin, he says) to provide simple answers, but neither do I have an easy response to why mobility is declining. If Mark wishes to take comfort in that or launch another blog missile, expect nothing more from me.

It appears as well that it's not clear what a government could do other than maintain a healthy market economy. A recent article in The Economist wondered why India, a democracy with healthy electoral competition, had done so much more poorly reducing poverty than China, which has no electoral competition. Citing a World Bank study, it says
Why might democracy militate against poverty reduction in poor countries? Mr Varshney has two suggestions. First, democracies have a bias towards �direct� methods of tackling poverty, such as subsidies and hand-outs, which, in the long run, are less effective than �indirect� methods�ie, those that generate faster economic growth. In India, this seems undeniably true. Governments have built up whopping budget deficits, thanks largely to subsidies. Many farmers, for example, receive subsidised or free fuel, fertiliser, electricity and water. But little public money is spent on improvements that would do most to lift the growth rate: in infrastructure, primary education and basic health care. Everybody wants better roads, and nobody votes against them. But every politician promises to build them and hardly any do. Cutting subsidies, on the other hand, is a sure vote-loser.

Second, the poor are not necessarily a homogenous group. In a democratic system, they may organise themselves along lines other than economic class and �the shared identities of caste, ethnicity and religion are more likely to form historically enduring bonds�. If you are born poor, you may die rich. But your ethnic group is fixed. In India, with its myriad linguistic and caste-based groups, the upshot is a dispiriting beggar-thy-neighbour politics. Just as subsidies are easier to deliver than are roads and schools, so are affirmative-action schemes, giving jobs to members of specified castes.
That description is apt elsewhere. Attempts to use the political process to redistribute directly sacrifices resources that could be used productively. This rent-seeking behavior occurs in any democracy where the government puts out to auction its coercive power to parties that win elections. I'll argue with my Republican brethren that they are as guilty of this as Democrats -- this was one of the two things that originally drove me into the arms of the Libertarians -- but those that respect the power of markets yield benefits that cut across class, caste or ethnicity.

Extra reading for my intro econ people 

Walter Williams explains trade deficits. The punchline:
Some politicians gripe about all the U.S. debt held by foreigners [as a result of our trade deficit -- kb]. Only a politician can have that kind of audacity. Guess who's creating the debt instruments that foreigners hold? If you said it's our profligate Congress, go to the head of the class. If foreigners didn't purchase so much of our debt, we'd be worse off in terms of higher inflation and interest rates. What about the possibility of foreigners dumping our debt? Foreigners aren't stupid. Dumping large amounts of Treasury bonds would drive down their value. Foreigners as well as we would take a hit.

The fact that foreigners are willing to exchange massive amounts of goods in exchange for slips of paper in the forms of currency, stocks and bonds should be a source of pride. It means America, with its wealth, rule of law and the sanctity of contracts, inspires foreigners to hold large amounts of their wealth in U.S. obligations. Their willingness to do so means something else: Trade increases competition. Ultimately it's competition, many producers competing for his dollar, that truly protects the consumer. What protects producers, at the expense of consumers, are restrictions on competition. The quest to restrict competition is what lies at the heart of the trade deficit demagoguery. When's the last time you heard a consumer complaining about his buying more from a Chinese or Japanese producer than that producer buys from him?
See further Mahalanobis. H/T: Don Boudreaux

Misleading headline du jour 

The headline trumpets good news for liberals:

Left-Wing Bias in Education Schools Is Overstated by Conservative Critics, 2 Reports Suggest

The two studies found that "only about 12%" of course weeks were directed towards exposing students training to become school principals recieved exposure to "different educational and pedagogical philosophies, to debates about the nature and purpose of public schooling, and to examinations of the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic context of education." But of these 12% of course weeks,
instruction devoted to such topics was biased, with 65 percent of those course weeks qualifying as left-leaning, 35 percent as neutral, and less than 1 percent as right-leaning.

According to the report, Mr. Hess and Mr. Kelly labeled left-leaning course weeks as those that advocated concepts such as social justice and multiculturalism, focused on inequality and racial discrimination, emphasized notions of "silenced voices and child-centered instruction," or criticized testing and school-choice reform.

Right-leaning course weeks were those that criticized ideas of social justice and multiculturalism, viewed focusing on inequality or discrimination as engaging in "victimhood," advocated phonics or "back-to-basics instruction," or framed discussions of testing or school-choice reform in a positive light.

Some course weeks identified as left-leaning included "The role of the curriculum in legitimating social inequality" and "What role(s) do race and social class play in school reform? Is social Darwinism a useful reform concept?"

Course weeks labeled as balanced or neutral included "Are unions good or bad for public education? What does the evidence say?" and "What should schools teach? Phonics vs. whole language; multicultural education/teaching for diversity."
Understand what they did, then: They went to 56 education schools, picked out 31 schools that had four syllabi that they could code, and coded them by course weeks. The article makes a big deal out of the finding that the words diversity, multicultural or multiculturalism appears in only 3% of the syllabi. That tells me nothing of what happens in the classroom. What evidence does exist says that 1/8th of course weeks gets devoted to looking at different views of higher ed policy, and that eighth is pretty darn liberal. Moreover,
Of the 50 most influential living management thinkers, as determined by a 2003 survey of management professionals and scholars, just nine were assigned in the 210 courses. Their work was assigned a total of 29 times out of 1,851 readings.
So where is the evidence that claims of bias are "overstated"???

Sunlight blocked in Guilford County 

It's interesting that when you try to discuss what happens in manadatory diversity training, they don't want you to know.
The Guilford County Schools invited the public to attend an anti-racism workshop held for teachers, parents and community leaders last week, but refused to allow a reporter to stay in the room once he was identified as such.

In fact, Crossroads Ministry, who held the seminar, has such clout that the second day, a reporter was thrown out after Guilford County School Superintendent Terry Grier had given permission for him to attend.
Notice: they were invited to attend, but not to tell the non-attendees what they saw. David Beito, who sent me this link, has some of what happened inside and considers it "appalling". This description, of true, is far worse than anything we experienced in our MDT.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Introductory econ lecture #3 

There is a post of these MTWR for this and the next two weeks, 11 lectures in all.

I led today with the quote I ended with yesterday from Heyne's instructor's manual. We spoke both of demand and supply curves. I do mine a bit different as a result of Heyne's book, insofar as I like to tie the supply curve directly to the production possibility curve (in the principles courses we seldom have time for this.) Here's a nice interactive example of production possibilities, but it kind of poops out at the end. What do you do with it? Well, if you multiply the opportunity cost of producing units of a good -- in terms of the alternative production foregone -- by the price of the alternative good, you have the marginal opportunity cost. Plot them on a graph, like this, and you have a supply curve. Supply curves represent opportunity costs of production to producers.

There's a good example of opportunity costs in yesterday's WSJ -- heck, they even use the words in the title, o happy day! -- where the difficulty of setting up business in Brazil is killing economic growth there. This picture is worth a bit more than thousand words:

You can perform more analysis from the World Bank's Doing Business site. If you're an international investor, that picture tells you to send your money elsewhere. While the rest of the world is getting freer, Brazil is getting economically less free. It's also gone from the 8th to 14th largest economy in the world in the last ten years.

We spent a good deal of time talking about substitutes to discuss demand. We listed out all the different uses of water, and for each we identified a substitute. We also, following along with the text, challenged the use of the word "need". People crossing a street in front of onrushing traffic demonstrate that they do not place an infinite value on their lives. People take riskier jobs; they don't use seat belts; they don't check the smoke detector's batteries. Forensic economists are often used in tort cases to establish compensatory damages.

We played with the idea of opportunity costs as well looking at a couple of movie clips. In Family Man, Nicholas Cage wants to move his family to NYC so he can pursue what he says is his gift of arbitraging securities. Tea Leoni tells him how much it will cost the family. We had a good discussion listening to the end of the clip where Cage says "We can have the perfect life!" Leoni: "We already do." There's projection of one's value to others. To get across the power of thinking on the margin, we also played Mr. Creosote getting just one thin wafer. You might even call it a non-linearity.

Last, there's this question in the text which I love: "In order to decide whether or not to drop intercollegiate football, your school undertakes a student of the program's cost. To what extent do you think the following budget items represent genuine costs?

This is not an idle question at SCSU, as some other NCC schools have gone Division I. When I talk to football boosters, they point to "not having enough scholarships", but ask yourself -- what is the cost to SCSU of giving a student who wouldn't come here otherwise a full scholarship on the day before school starts? What additional costs does the university bear?

I'm not arguing SCSU should go D1 -- I hope we would not -- but that the issues have more to do with building costs. We just built a stadium which is too small for D1. That's your binding constraint. It's not got to do with scholarships.

And all I had was a Pepsi Coke 

I haven't discussed the confab at the Governor's Mansion here. I don't wish to say it wasn't a big deal. The governor's name is whispered in discussions of 2008, he seems like a guy you might like to have a beer with (as opposed to Jesse, about whom you'd be afraid he'd drink your beer as well as his own), and a chance to see some other bloggers is something I don't pass up. But let I'm not a naif around politicos myself. Many summers I end up in some country you look up in an atlas, and work around ministries of finance or central banks. I don't know if meeting Pawlenty was as meaningful as meeting and working with Viktor Yushchenko, now president of Ukraine. I often stay in the same hotel where the power meetings occur in, for example, Macedonia, so I once literally bumped into and shook hands with its future head of state. Having lunch as a 23-year-old with Milton Friedman might rank higher with me. I don't believe I was quite so wide-eyed at the mansion as some would believe, or as others might have.

Nick Coleman, with whom I would also share a beer (not just because of my thirst), sees in posts others have had of the meeting that bloggers dreamt "big, beautiful blog dreams" of following the fellow to Washington in 2009. It's interesting that this comes a few days after Craig Westover pretty much said the same thing. Perhaps Coleman should send Westover $75. The one thing he adds is a phone call to Kelli Gorr, the PD at WJON, which happens to be where Mitch and I agreed to appear on her show last Thursday.
"I'll stand as the one person who would not be considered right-wing," said Gorr, who broadcast a talk show from the governor's reception room in St. Paul on the day of the reception, but who took pains to present a politically balanced program. "The spin was that they [the governor's staff] wanted to reach new media able to disseminate information quickly and to say thank you to the nontraditional media. That was the spin. But if you call it most definitely right-wing, you're not off base."
Again, if you looked around the room, there was no doubt in my mind that it was largely center-right bloggers and some talk radio people from outstate. I met the news director from Willmar station KDJS as well, and I have no idea what her views are, and I know Kelli but not her views. (Nick gave me an actual piece of information I can use.) The remainder? Yeah, probably not a Kerry voter in the bunch.

And yet, consider that Pawlenty's $200 of wine and old cheese didn't exactly buy him great coverage of his abandoning the no new tax pledge in many places. That this opinion is not universal doesn't indicate that the last link is to someone fully in bed with Pawlenty (First Ringer's said enough about the rest of the negotiations to make that last one fit). What it indicates is something we can't say enough: there actually is a diversity of opinion over any number of issues among what Coleman calls on his radio show "wingnut bloggers". Likewise, while some of the attendees may have been gosh and golly about the mansion, I think it's safe to say the Powerline duo, also in attendance, didn't have their socks knocked off.

I don't control the governor's invite list to the mansion. And frankly, had he asked, I'd've preferred that rather than invite me for chips and dip in posh digs, I get a pass to hear a press conference, or put me on a distribution list for press releases, or some such. There are politicians who get this already, both the Howard Deans and national candidates and those running for more mundane offices. I don't write a blog to be wooed, I write to become better informed and a better writer. I attended for those reasons: I hadn't met the guy, and this was as good a chance as I was going to get, and it helped with the critical cigarette tax post to put the guy in a visual context. (Not everyone writes that way, I suppose, but being able to see and hear imaginary conversations when you can attach a real voice helps me play out events.)

For all the abuse we take for going to the Gov's house, I wish I'd gotten some of the Gov's wine, or J.B. scotch. All I had was a Coke and the nickel tour. Next time, I'll steal the silverware, and send Nick a setting.

Note to TPaw: Chances at redemption are scarce 

Craig Westover makes the point about the governor's foolish cigarette tax proposal:
...the proposal comes with conditions. Pawlenty insists that the Legislature pass two of the following measures: initiative and referendum; meaningful school choice; a ban on teacher strikes during the school year; and a tribal/racino partnership.

Only politicians and members of the education establishment could view this proposal as anything but obscene treatment of children from low-income families, and yet ironically, it is proposing "meaningful" school choice as the backside of a political power play that endorses its criticality to the future of children in Minnesota.
Westover correctly rips the governor's plan to help school choice, an education tax credit for businesses, with those that go directly to students, such as the Hann-Buesgens or Knoblach-Ortmann plans. Those have withered on the vine, Westover says, because the governor and Commissioner Seagren have not invested time and resources to the effort. And, he concludes, Pawlenty might need a bigger victory in school choice now.
Elevating meaningful school choice to a priority in its own right is not just the morally right thing to do; politically, it allows the governor some wiggle room behind the scenes to maneuver his way out of the self-inflicted "fee" versus "tax" issue. Pawlenty has shown the bluster to kick open the door to educational opportunity; it remains to be seen if he also has the courage to walk through it.
As Republicans search for leaders that actually have courage, it might be a good time for Pawlenty to step up.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Introductory econ lecture #2 

You'll find one of these each day MTWR the next three weeks.

Because we have students without textbooks, I didn't cover as much as I'd've liked today. We spent time on the textbook issue, playing out the game as we saw it and concluding -- later found correct -- that the bookstores intentionally were understocking because of textbook buys through online and off-campus brick-and-mortar stores.

We then spent a good deal of time on efficiency. I love Dwight Lee's* description:

This emphasis on efficiency seems strange, if not reprehensible, to many people. They are convinced that economists are so narrowly focused on efficiency that they ignore the truly important things in life. Who but someone lacking completely in a sense of what makes life meaningful doesn�t recognize that pollution is bad because it harms the environment? We should get rid of it whether or not it is efficient.

This criticism is unwarranted, though understandable. Efficiency is a tricky concept. Once it is understood what economists mean when they refer to efficiency, it becomes clear that it is a much broader, and more desirable, goal than many people realize.

We differentiate between technical and economic efficiency, where the former talks of outputs and inputs and the latter talks of values. While we can always seek more technical efficiency in, say, gas engines, we end long before that giving up the chase, because thinking marginally means that's a bad idea.

Sure, new engines might convert more of the energy in gasoline into motion, but doing so would require diverting resources away from producing other things of value. Long before technical efficiency was maximized, the marginal cost of improving that efficiency would exceed the marginal value. This would reduce economic efficiency because it requires sacrificing more value (marginal cost) than is realized (marginal value).

Fortunately, market prices provide the information and motivation required to achieve economic efficiency. For example, engine producers increase profits by improving the technical efficiency of engines until the marginal revenue from the improvement declines to the marginal cost. Since marginal revenue tends to reflect how much consumers value additional improvement, and the marginal cost reflects the value of the goods and services sacrificed to make additional improvement (since input prices reflect their value in alternative uses), engine producers increase their profits by improving engines only as long as they add more value than is sacrificed. That�s not technically efficient, but it is economically efficient because it increases the total value realized from scarce resources.

We illustrated this with a film clip from Along Came Polly, where Jennifer Aniston convinces Ben Stiller to stop spending time putting throw pillows on and taking them off his bed. Ben says he spends 56 minutes a month doing this. While it makes his bed look nicer, less nice and 56 additional minutes to, say, spend snuggling with Aniston might have more value. They end up knifing all the pillows. The scene immediately following has Aniston finding her keys with an electronic finder given to her by Stiller. He wouldn't use it because he's neat -- but it's the substitution of technology to allow Aniston to continue her level of messiness. Substituting money for neatness can be efficient.

We then went to talk about comparative advantage. One of economics' fundamental insights is that markets allow for people to specialize according to their comparative advantage and then exchange goods to get to consumption policies they couldn't under autarky. (There's your word of the day. You're welcome.) And what is wonderful about the process is that it does not require any design: there are incentives for people to find it by dint of their own self-interest. When it happens, both sides can gain from trade. Here's an example.

I closed with this point, offered by Heyne in a set of notes to a different text, but quite applicable here.
We all realize that demand [for a good] depends upon people's preferences. But so does supply. Technological or physical facts don't supply anything. It is the decisions of people that make goods available.

Supply curves slope upward for the same reason that demand curves slope downward: a higher cost for any activity encourages the finding of substitutes. When potential suppliers are offered a higher price, the cost of not supplying, by pursuing alternative opportunities, increases. And alternative opportunities are pursued to a lesser extent.

Tomorrow we'll talk about supply and demand.

*-there are a whole set of Dwight's pieces on FEE that he did for The Freeman that were economic primers. Readers using these lectures as a tutorial will do well to search for others on that site.

The optimal number of campus bookstores, or, are shortages inevitable? 

What is the correct number? One might think competition is better, but I had reason to question this today.

My course had 30 seats available, and several weeks ago I sent a request to the campus bookstore for them to be sure to have thirty copies of my text available. This information is spread to all four bookstores that service SCSU. Nineteen students are currently enrolled in the class, but I find I haven't enough textbooks, as students reported to me this morning. We found only fifteen.

Panicked, I had my office manager call around the bookstores while I taught class. She reported back that one of the stores had dug up two books that AM, and two other bookstores had them on rush order. Thursday, one said. The other thought maybe tomorrow. Since it's only a three week class and Memorial Day weekend lurks, this is creates a serious problem for my students.

Now the question is how this could happen with four bookstores on or near campus. The answer, of course, is that each bookstore is assuming the others will pick up the slack. "We don't order for full enrollments because of the other bookstores," said one to my office manager. And that makes some sense, since there are costs of warehousing, freight on returns, and perhaps restocking fees. (I don't know about the last other than what others have told me when I've asked.) And this isn't the only campus on which this is a problem: Google says Kentucky, Pace and U. New Brunswick also had this.

Bookstores insist they aren't making very much money, perhaps no more than $1.25 on a $50 textbook. Margins on new textbooks tends to be 22.5%, but universities will capture a good bit of that back from the bookstore in terms of contributions to the athletic program or scholarships. Nationwide, fulltime students typically spend $850 on books and 9% of the sales come back to colleges. It's likely that SCSU receives upward of $1 million from the bookstores.

In return for that, you'd think they'd find a way for my students to actually get their books.

So what to do? The problem here was a noncooperative game between the bookstores trying to stick the costs of returned texts on other bookstores. We get a sub-optimal equilibrium. One solution would probably be to reduce the number of sellers to one. They'd have nobody to game with and probably order more books, but students would pay more. Controlling the price they are sold at would result in reduced contributions from the bookstore to the university.

Ukraine: there's a struggle going on 

From the beginning of his administration, I worried for President Yuschenko when he chose Yulia Tymoshenko as prime minister. I wasn't worried because she had little experience or even her dicey past working with ex PM Pavel Lazarenko. What worried me was that she had a clear idea what she wanted to do and that she had not clearly worked out details with Yushchenko. According to an article last week by the well-connected economist Anders Aslund, it appears they are working at cross-purposes and dissipating the fruits of the Orange Revolution.

[T]he new Ukrainian government of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, another revolutionary hero, has surprisingly opted for an economic policy that appears to be socialist and populist in nature. The results have been immediate: Last year Ukraine enjoyed economic growth of 12 percent; in the first four months of this year, the growth rate plunged to 5 percent, while inflation has surged to 15 percent. How could things turn so sour so fast?

The biggest blow to the economy has been the new government's foggy plans for re-privatization. During the election campaign, Yushchenko advocated the renationalization of Ukraine's biggest steel mill, Kryvorizhstal, to be followed by a new privatization deal. The goal was to undo the sale of the mill to Ukraine's two biggest oligarchs in a sweetheart deal last year. The new government quickly acted to recover Kryvorizhstal, but the owners have taken the case to the European Court of Justice, where the proceedings are expected to be prolonged.

For months top Ukrainian officials have discussed publicly how many flawed privatization deals should be reversed -- the possibilities range from 29 to 3,000 -- and how this would be done. The government is trying to recover many enterprises through the courts, and it has drafted a broad law that could undo much of Ukraine's privatization. The dispute can be settled only by the fractious parliament, which will need months to come to a decision -- if, indeed, it ever decides anything.

Meanwhile, the property rights of thousands of enterprises are in limbo. In Kiev, rumors abound that oligarchs connected to the old regime are trying to sell their enterprises to Russian business executives and are preparing to escape the country. Naturally, executives are cutting off investment, and economic growth is screeching to a halt.
Populists try to dump wads of cash on the population, and Tymoshenko's popularity is rising rapidly after disposable income in real terms was up more than 23% in the first quarter largely through huge social transfers. (Data from State Stastistical Committee.) But inflation is being fueled by rapid money growth as the deficit has widened to 3.4% of GDP from rough balance in 2004. If I remember right, the number tends to widen more in late summer, so the government is starting from behind.

Other problems are emerging after Tymoshenko chose to freeze gasoline prices, leading to spot shortages. (You really should read Scott Clark on the shortages.) Jed Sunden writes in the Kyiv Post:

The effects are already being felt. Ukrainians have been lining up for gas outside filling stations that � logically enough � are refusing to sell gasoline at the low prices the law demands. In Kyiv, it�s difficult to find gasoline at all. The government�s socialism has taken us right back to the scarcity days of the Brezhnev era. And observers could only hang their heads in despair when Fuel and Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov announced on May 13 that the Cabinet of Ministers would devise a special formula for calculating prices of petroleum products. A working group consisting of both government officials and representatives of Ukraine�s petroleum refineries was charged with coming up with this formula before the end of June.

Before the end of June? Not only is this an example of flagrant, Soviet-style interference in the economy, it also suggests that the authorities are in the price-fixing game for the long haul. But in a country that calls itself a market economy, there should be no government formula setting prices in the first place. Let supply and demand and market forces rule.

It seems rather grim to some, but Dan McMinn is actually optimistic that Yushchenko is keeping control of the situation. Yet Yushchenko can't go too boldly against Tymoshenko unless she would be weakened for the parliamentary elections in March, and after that the handover of powers from the presidency to parliament.

Interesting side note: Despite all this, FDI is increasing in Ukraine, but according to some reports its coming from top Ukrainian oligarchs selling out to Russians trying to get away from Putin ($479 million.) Western European companies are abandoning plants they already had started as tax amnesties are reneged. One wonders what will be left when the dust settles from the battle certain to continue through parliamentary elections.

Have the French become a protected class?? 

I could not write fiction this good. The bicentennial of Lord Nelson's victory at Trafalgar comes up this June, and there's supposed to be a celebration and a recreation of the battle, kind of. Brian Ferguson reports:
According to this piece from the Sunday Times organizers of the commemoration have decided that the re-enactment they're planning isn't really a re-enactment:
Organisers of a re-enactment to mark the bicentenary of the battle next month have decided it should be between �a Red Fleet and a Blue Fleet� not British and French/Spanish forces. Otherwise they fear visiting dignitaries, particularly the French, would be embarrassed at seeing their side routed.
As for what it is they're not actually commemorating for fear of offending someone,
Even the official literature has been toned down. It describes the re-enactment not as the battle of Trafalgar but simply as �an early 19th-century sea battle�.
It should be quite a spectacle, whatever it is.
The aim is to create a spectacular �son et lumi�re� re-enactment with pyrotechnics, lights and effects from barges in the Solent. Tall ships will create the illusion of a real battle.
Illusion it will be. A spokesperson for the Royal Navy reports "This is an illustration and theatre on water. Nelson is featured, but we are not billing it as Britain versus France. This will not be a French-bashing opportunity."

Well certainly not, we couldn't have that now could we? Ferguson concludes his insightful post wondering when they'll sandblast records of French battles at l'Arc de Triomphe which name the other Europeans who were vanquished by the French. Hey, we're all Euro-homies now, right?

H/T: The Eclectic Econoclast.

Guilting Guilford 

Mandatory diversity training is the event at the Guilford County school system, and David Beito is having none of it. The training is run by Crossroads Ministry, with whom David and the other members of the Alabama Scholars Association had a run-in at the University of Alabama. The teachers have expressed their own difficulty with the training.

The Andrews and Southwest teachers said mid way through their Crossroads session that they feel singled out.

The teachers, who are mostly white, said they felt defensive going into the workshop because they feel the assumption is they are racist and need the training.

They have been required to take this training, although typically the district allows each school to decide which training to offer or require of employees.

Parent Cheryl Smith wrote a letter to the News & Record about her concerns with Crossroads, particularly descriptions of whites being racist attributed to the Rev. Joe Barndt, a co-founder of Crossroads.

�I have problems with other individuals calling me names and saying ugly things about me or millions of other people when they don�t know me,� said Smith, who is white.

We have had our own experience with mandatory training, but based on David's reading it appears we got off lightly.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Kleis kludged by Chamber 

Psycmeister has a great story of how the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce screwed up and slandered Senator Dave Kleis, by sending a form letter to the St. Cloud Times saying Kleis supported a tax increase which he in fact opposed. MCC now claims its a clerical error. Psycmeister reports the form letter now has a disclaimer stating the error on its website. And late in the day a commenter said he got a letter back from MCC prez and letter author David Olson:
There is clearly a mix up here and we are trying to get to the bottom of it. We know that Senator Kleis did not vote for the tax increase so we will be doing something shortly to remedy this.
Hey, mistakes happen! I hope it publishes a clarification on its printed page tomorrow.

What is remarkable to me is that our university is still campaigning about anonymous comments on the Times site, yet in this case not only did they expose the error and get it corrected, but that not one but three local legislators -- including the two area DFL legislators -- came up to Sen. Kleis' defense rather early in the day. But in the middle of the chat there's our Mayor Ellenbecker trying to score a political point on Pogomonster's soak-the-rich tax increase. Ellenbecker would do well to get off those boards -- he keeps adding fuel to the fire. Which, as long as he is going to stand in the middle of it, is just fine by me.

UPDATE (5/24): Olson of the MCC sends a retraction and apology to the Times.
Our sincere apologies to Sen. Dave Kleis for our letter Sunday, which misstated his vote on the Senate tax bill ("Kleis' vote on taxes sends clear message.")
He did not vote for the tax increase, and we know better. The mistake was ours, regardless how it happened.

Translation: The dog ate my homework, but it's my fault.

Introductory econ lecture #1 

As requested, I'm including a few notes from each day of my crash course in introductory economics. I hope you will forgive me for not being more expansive, but this is a blog, after all.

This is the text for my course. It's in the 11th edition; the two latter co-authors signed onto the book only after Paul Heyne passed away in 2000. I found on the web this set of PowerPoint slides for the chapter if you are interested in flipping through them. They are thorough. As I mentioned in a comment, I am also having students read The Invisible Heart, authored by Russell Roberts of George Mason, who co-blogs with Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek.

What students should pick up by the end of the course is the power of incentives. We spend a good deal of time discussing the rules of the road which govern traffic. We know how cooperation on a freeway works because we observe (too often!) the times when it does not. Markets work so well that we take them for granted, and we do not see how they work. This is what makes economic conclusions surprising sometimes. We end up with unintended consequences of actions (as Bastiat points out in That which is seen), which is the type of story that thrills most economists to tell. We love the ironic (occasionally too much: we occasionally pass over a good, simple, true story in search of irony.)

Cooperation results from mutual adjustment. When we drive, we adjust to how others are driving: we tend to mimic others' speed; we tend to stay in lanes when others do; each driver seeks an advantage in getting where they want to go faster by reacting to others doing exactly the same thing. It helps to have rules of the road in traffic, to establish some parameters like speed or lanes through which traffic can pass.

Markets work the same way. Rules of the game exist, such as private property rights and the sanctity of contracts, that permit individuals to transact in a way that is mutually advantageous and allows them to capture the gains from transactions themselves. The aforementioned Boudreaux talks today about Zimbabwe, a place that doesn't work that way, and in which country citizens are trying some other way to transact because it is a natural act. The Mugabe government's attempts to squelch that natural desire to "truck, barter, and exchange" -- in Adam Smith's elegant words -- "is like a diseased and deformed baboon calling Charlize Theron ugly." Markets develop to reduce the costs of fulfilling that desire, to expand the circle of potential traders.

Last, we spend time discussing the view that individuals choose rationally. A corrolary of that is that things do not have a cost, only actions do. How does one get a beer? You can brew it, buy it, steal it, borrow it, charm a friend into giving you one. Each action has a different set of costs involved. You produce a beer using that action which is cheapest to you. Which, now that it's 6pm, sounds like a good idea to me.

Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder abets the loons 

Many people may not even know that the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder exists as a black newspaper in the Twin Cities. The paper has run a series of articles that help out the loony critics of SCSU. All appear to be written by Jeremy O"Kasick Two give sympathic portrayals of Bianca Rhodes, who's skills as a commencement speaker we've discussed. Two weeks ago, it ran a story effusive of Rhodes upcoming commencement speech, while the week before O"Kasick wrote a report on her failed attempt to get an amendment to the Minnesota State University Students Association's charter supporting under-represented students.
Rhodes, along with eight SCSU delegates and a handful of others, walked out of the assembly in protest. The multiracial group only had to cross the street to their hotel room on a cool spring night, but Rhodes spontaneously began to sing the spiritual, �A Motherless Child,� to ease everyone�s emotional intensity.
Our student homecoming queen called her "the Angela Davis of our school". Now I wonder where he got that from?

In its latest edition, O"Kasick gives new attention to a couple of fringe players who continue to send letters to school counselors telling them not to send minority children to SCSU.
Since 2002, a small group of local African American activists have also intermittingly sent letters to Twin Cities area high schools, condemning SCSU as a racist institution. ...

The two activists involved, Myrle �Buster� Cooper and Michael Davis, recently informed MSR that they have sent a new batch of letters to 48 high schools throughout Minnesota. ...

�St. Cloud is somewhat like the segregationist South,� said Cooper, a retired SCSU faculty member and longtime local gadfly. �City Hall and the university control everything around here, and they get real nervous when the word gets out about all the racism.�

Cooper said that the aim of their letter-writing campaign is to dissuade students of color from coming to St. Cloud, or at least compel them, their parents, and academic counselors to look deeper into racial issues at the university. They have hoped that such efforts will ultimately force SCSU to implement significant changes in order to improve its environment.
"Retired" faculty member and "longtime local gadfly" are, to be polite, euphemisms and an attempt to inflate Cooper's stature. Davis, who at least still is a faculty member here, manages to evade disciplinary procedures while attempting to impede a state goal of the campus, to increase its diversity. For its part, SCSU sends out its enrollment management person with data. And O"Kasick eventually undercuts Cooper and Davis with an interview with another student of color on campus.
Between all the numbers reported and cases made by administrators and activist professors, however, couldn�t high school students of color learn the most from SCSU students of color?

�I am glad I came here. It opened up my eyes,� said Chanmany Sysengchanh, a fourth-year student who graduated from Minneapolis� North High School, living near the intersection of Plymouth and Emerson. �It hasn�t been easy � that is for sure. But now I know how the world is outside the one I grew up in.�

Over the past year, Sysengchanh has served as the chair of campus affairs for SCSU�s student government. He said he is discouraged by what he views as campus-wide backlashes against cultural diversity, but that it was SCSU in the first place, along with a handful of professors, who inspired him to pursue studies in sociology and human relations.
I don't quite get the "backlashes" bit, since the backlash seems to be that anytime we put students of color in picture we are accused of "tokenism" and anytime we do not we're accused of bias. And yet it was SCSU in the first place, he said, that got him inspired to study (albeit fields of questionable merit.) It's here that the student really was able to learn. It makes you wonder what the MSR has against SCSU, unless it's to simply puff up a few Angela Davis wannabes.

The word you're looking for is "surtax" 

Dear Governor Pawlenty,

Chad points out that the STrib believes it is a tax. Your new buddy Mitch is writing letters to you. David is polishing his rapier, and PolicyGuy is pointing out that the DFL is trying to repackage its gas tax as a "wholesale fee". You've heard from several sides now that you may have stepped in the lutefisk. So what's a guy to do?

Well, we didn't have a chance to discuss this at our meeting, but I've been known to give advice to a few other governments, and I'm here to provide you some help. The first thing we need to do is keep your eyes on what is important, and what is important is not the size of the deficit, but the size of government. The problem with ever proposing to put up taxes is that it requires, if you're a fiscal conservative, having enough votes later down to take them down. The problem with cigarette taxes is that once they are put up, there isn't a constituency clamoring to take them down, because smokers are a minority. If you raise cigarette taxes, then, you've made sure that government gets permanently bigger. That is not just a "bad thing", that is the baddest thing when you are a fiscal conservative.

So first thing to do, today, is to say that the cigarette tax increase -- and for goodness sake, quit splitting hairs on semantics, lest we give the STrib another good editorial line -- is only good for two years. Sunset it. You can even use the label surtax, which would now make sense. Make the next Legislature propose to keep the increase, and then veto that increase when it comes in. The left will howl, but they weren't about to vote for you because you were nice this time. The right might find it in their heart to forgive a backing away from your pledge, though, and a good veto fight over cigarette taxes two years hence will be red meat for the faithful.

Second, enforce the conditionality of your offer. You asked for four things, two of which must be passed for you to sign onto the cigarette tax increase. Be damn sure you get these. It looks to many of us like you folded your hand then asked for a quarter of the pot for being nice. Show us this isn't true, that there was a quid for the quo. To do this, you must leverage your power to call the special session by insisting that all the parts of the deal you offered must be in place before you'll sign the order for the legislature to come back. Get it in writing, don't trust the Senate on this (ask Cheri Yecke if you need advice borne of experience.)

Last, get one of those stickers that the Center for the American Experiment's FACT group was handing out after Guiliani's talk Thursday night, which read It's The Spending, Stupid, and put it on your car. I'll repeat the first point: It's not the size of the deficit, it's the size of government. As Milton Friedman said a couple of years ago:
Many discussions of the economic effect of tax cuts and deficits implicitly assume that government spending is predetermined and independent of whether there is a tax cut or a deficit. In that world, deficits are produced entirely by a shortage of tax receipts. Raising taxes can eliminate the deficit without affecting spending. As I see the world, the situation is very different. What is predetermined is not spending but the politically tolerable deficit. Raise taxes by enough to eliminate the existing deficit and spending will go up to restore the tolerable deficit. Tax cuts may initially raise the deficit above the politically tolerable deficit, but their longer-term effect will be to restrain spending.
If you raise taxes, the Legislature -- including your friends in the Republican party -- will increase spending to create another deficit that you will be pressured into funding two years from now. Do not get yourself in that box. To paraphrase a quote about inflation I heard given by a governor of the Bundesbank, do not flirt with taxes, because if you do you'll end up marrying them, and divorce is quite expensive.

The advantages of academic blogging 

After reading some give and take in comments on a post by Mitch the other day, I thought I should address this issue one time and one time only. The issue is: Can I blog at work? The answer is yes, provided it
The advantage of being an economist and an academic is that I can blog about economics and higher education pretty much within the purview of my job. Academics research in many fields: I've been at times a Fedwatcher, a forecaster, a public choice economist, a sports economist, a development economist and a central bank specialist. I still to some degree hold all of those interests, some more than others. I once was asked to write an article about affordable housing. Certainly not my field, but researching it became part of my job until the article was done (I didn't enjoy the experience, so I haven't read about the topic since.) So my remit in terms of subject matter is pretty darn elastic. That's the nature of academic inquiry, and you wouldn't want it any other way.

Look around the blogosphere and you'll find many academics who blog. Instapundit is a law professor, and I dare say he blogs a good bit from the office. At Crooked Timber last year, Eszter wondered what the value of academic blogging as an alternative to scholarship printed in academic journals, and it may open up new markets for scholarship. cff John Quiggin and Tyler Cowen. The advertising value of this blog for me and for SCSU can be evinced by the increased traffic I get when John Hinderaker says nice things about me on Powerline. The university has benefit from that (double normal traffic on a Saturday when all I'm doing is blabbing about MOBfest.)

No doubt there are days the university does not like this blog, and they've had occasion to lodge complaints and seek redress. Yet they also read here; they were the blog's intended audience initially, and this whole MOB/NARN/VRWC thing was an unintended, serendipitous consequence. I've had members of the administration discuss posts with me. So it will do nobody good to contact the university and tell them I might be moonlighting on company time. They don't think of it that way, and neither do I. If and when they change their mind, I'll change my behavior.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Thanks everybody! 

First big thanks goes to Granite City for working with us to make a great evening. It's a fabulous facility and I love the beer they have. Our waitress was Annie, a delightful example of Minnesota youth: polite, pleasant, earnest and kept about twenty tabs going flawlessly. I will drop a note tomorrow to the general manager with our thanks.

Shiner the laptop made the rounds and we had live blogs from the event by Shot in the Dark and
Eckernet, as well as the posts immediately below. We couldn't get someone to start a new blog but we are working on getting Mrs. Scholar to blog with a group. Details forthcoming if she decides to take the plunge.

Third, special thanks to the Night Writer family for entertaining Mrs. and Littlest. The families hit it off marvelously and we will hope to visit with them again.

Last, to all who attended, thanks for a memorable night! We particularly appreciated visits from readers of mine, from those who traveled with nonblogging spouses (hi Mrs. Paul's!), and from one of my readers who hooked up with his high school friend. We have let St. Cloud know what blogging is, and they've seen the fine people who do it. Littlest is just turning in now, and so will I after linking all the names on the previous post. G'night!

Additional Live Blogging 

King wanted to update you on the progress of our MOB gathering here in St. Cloud. Unfortunately, he's too busy trying to convince the waitress that he has unlimited credit with the IMF and his signature on a matchbook, when submitted with the proper forms, is sufficient payment for the seven beers and multiple shots of whiskey he's consumed in the last hour.

Oh Jeez...King is wrestling with the waitress. She's got him in a half-nelson. Thank goodness - Mrs. Scholar has stepped in...ooh! In a brilliant tag-team move, Littlest Scholar has clocked the waitress on the head with a pint of pale ale while her mother distracted the waitress with a gin and tonic to the face.

You people should make a better effort to come to these events.

Mitch needs the computer; I am being kicked off so he can surf for pictures of Barbara Eden. Some issues there, I'm sure.

Thanks, King, for organizing this wing-ding.

UPDATE (10:30p): King says, All's back to normal. Thanks to Cathy for recording our events!

Having a good time at GCFB 

I'm blogging to you live from Granite City Food and Brewery in St. Cloud! I'm sitting with Cathy, Kevin Ecker, Mr. and Mrs. Fishsticks. Behind me are the Mrs. and Littlest and the Night Writer family and Psycmeister. At the next table are Mitch of Shot in the Dark, Shawn of The American Mind, and Gary of Let Freedom Ring. Phil of Market Power, Brian of Heavy-Handed Politics is here, along with Jo of the M.A.W.B. Squad, Marcus Aurelius of The Attic, Wog, and Speed Gibson and our good reader friend Roger. Wish we could see you here too!

UPDATE: (11:20pm) Links put in. Add Marty Andrade and Flash to the list attending, as they came after this post. Seventeen blogs represented and 27 people altogether attended.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Riding the daisy chain 

We have more reported attendees of the MOB at tomorrow night's gala celebration at Granite City Food and Brewery in St. Cloud. Scheduled to attend are one or more owners of these blogs (listed in alphabetical order, in case you couldn't see that it's sorted by the alphabet):
If I forgot anyone, drop a comment and let me add you to this list (and it's not too late to change your mind, Doug. "Prior commitments" are the things we use to get out of dating our friend's sister.) If you hadn't made up your mind yet, it's not too late. You don't need to be a blogger, and since Mitch and I announced this on WJON yesterday you might not even have ever read a blog before. That's cool, just come on down, and see what fun we can have! Rumors have it that there will be special videos, a laptop to try your hand at blogging, and a bus driven by a fatuous columnist. Festivities begin at 5:30 and the Horst Wessel Lied contest begins at 7.

UPDATE (5/21, noontime): Again, here's the map and you can get directions from wherever you are. If it's raining -- and it's not looking great p here right now -- we'll have to sit and be nice, but I just spoke to the nice people at GCFB and they'll have a long table for us.

UPDATE (5:20pm): We're here, and we've got wifi! The first attendees are Speed Gibson and reader jw with his missus!

Mobility over time 

In the process of riffing on my approving snip of a James Taranto quote on how Democrats use the term "working class", Mark Giselson proves my point ... I assume unsuspectingly. He says he would call someone working class to that person's face.
But then I�m speaking as a �former� member of the working class. I think farming, tire building, house painting and weatherizing (if you start my working life at age 16 that would cover 1969-1984) count as �working class.�
If you want to trade creds, mine are 1.) feeding cardboard into a box cutting machine, where a few handshakes with long-term employees tells you the dangers of the business; 2.) driving a truck for the Manchester Union Leader up to Laconia and back to deliver newspapers; 3.) unloading trucks and railcars. My family's been in warehouses and loading docks for three generations. My generation, the second since Hovhannes picked up Culenia from the ferry from Ellis Island, is the first to get off the docks. Which is the point Mark misses.

I realize the hard right�s been trying to bust up that Marxist �working class� meme for some time now, but people who work know they work. No one pushing a broom has any illusions about being part of some other class.

Um, bullshit. People, young and not so young, think they will become millionaires. David Brooks points out that poor Republicans think they can get ahead with hard work. Looking at the same Pew study Brooks did, there are equal share of financially stressed individuals who the study calls "disaffecteds" shows support for tax cuts, controlling spending to close the budget deficit, and a fair amount of social conservatism (e.g., 67-26 against gay marriage).

They�re working, and they have the callouses and pulled muscles to prove it. They�re not entrepreneurs, they�re not self-employed, they�re not one of a thousand points of light. They�re the people who empty wastebaskets, rewire fixtures, install cabinets and build things.

At that moment in time, yes, but not over time. A famous study from the Urban Institute quotes Joseph Schumpeter that compares the income distribution to "a hotel�full of rooms that are always occupied, but often by different people." I will use a chart from Heritage to show how rooms get changed (they didn't make the chart, it comes from this book).

Giselson lives in a view that this mobility doesn't happen. The mobility can exist even while there is greater inequality in general (something that may happen because of new technologies increasing the return on human capital, and not due to any sinister "soak the poor" government policies.) See these graphics from the New York Times as well. While they argue that mobility is lessening, they also note that only 37 of the Forbes 400 inherited their wealth. (Other sources for information here.)
When they leave the room you know they�ve been there, unlike the �thinking class� (my current peeps). The thinking class leaves no trace unless you�ve got our most recent URL, and our contribution to society is often just as intangible. Thinking class people have to explain what it is they do. Working class people have jobs that are immediately obvious.

I have no idea what he thinks the "thinking class" is. If he means those that create or process information, he should be aware of the great expansion of GDP that has happened even for the poor, and even not in the US. Heard of Grameenphone? You should. Is Yunus no more than a URL?

The thing which grates me about Mark's post, though, is that somehow he escaped the working class but that the others are not going to. I did too, and I guess I'm supposed to believe I'm special. Well, I don't. I consider myself lucky, but that's for finding Mrs. S and having #1 and Littlest S and some friends that have waltzed into my life unexpected and stayed and set up shop. Do I have special skills? No more than anyone else, what I have is a comparative advantage and a country in which I can pursue it. It's why Hovhannes came here, to pursue his comparative advantage away from the threat of massacres in his home country. He worked on a print shop floor until it closed in the Depression, then he worked in construction until pneumonia killed him. It's why Culenia told her kids to speak English only at home, because it made no sense to go back to the old country, particularly without a husband. She scrubbed floors for the neighboring WASP families who owned shops and got two of her kids through college, one of them my father, who still returned in the end to working with his hands and back, because that's what he did best.

If I had less than ten thumbs and a stronger back, I might be there yet now. But I had options and a different skill set than my father or brother, who stayed on the docks until his back told him to get into sales. He has options, and skills.

So does everyone else. Even Mark. But he won't talk to them that way, lest we "bust up that Marxist �working class� meme," because busting the meme means admitting markets work. Rather than do that, he'd rather continue the myth that people can't move.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Building enrollments 

Jay Clarkson has had no trouble getting students at the University of Iowa to sign up for his fall class examining pornography in popular culture.
One person who isn't a fan, however, is Iowa House Speaker Chris Rants, who is questioning whether tax dollars should be spent on the elective class.
'Do they know that we're not done with their budget yet?'' Rants, R-Sioux City, said. 'I'm pretty sure we don't need to increase state funding by $40 million to teach critical pornography studies.''
Source. As you might expect, there's a waiting list to get into this class, in which Clarkson wants to get students to "think about how pornography has moved from the adult bookstore to everyday advertising."

You see this sort of thing on campus frequently. Professor X has a class that, if advertised as "Sexual Images in American Advertising", might not grab student attention. "Feminist Critique of Advertising" wouldn't either. "Pr0n in American Culture"? Dingdingdingding! Winner! So in a sense, Clarkson is using porn in his own advertising. This happens more often than you may realize.

(Another jw H/T!)

Nah, we don't know him 

One hole that's been opened up in the Ward Churchill case is that his claim of Cherokee membershipis fraudulent, at least according to the tribal leadership.
"The United Keetoowah Band would like to make it clear that Mr. Churchill IS NOT a member of the Keetoowah Band and was only given an honorary 'associate membership' in the early 1990s because he could not prove any Cherokee ancestry."

The tribe said that all of Churchill's "past, present and future claims or assertions of Keetoowah 'enrollment,' written or spoken, including but not limited to; biographies, curriculum vitae, lectures, applications for employment, or any other reference not listed herein, are deemed fraudulent by the United Keetoowah Band."
The tribe also says that his honorary associate membership was in return for Churchill writing a history of the tribe, which it says he never did. It considers Churchill's remarks about 9/11 "offensive".

(H/T: reader jw)

UPDATE (5/20): Churchill of course thinks they're wrong, but the tribe is standing fast.

What would we do without surveys? 

"New Graduates Worry More About Their Careers Than About Terrorism, Survey Finds." Maybe because they understand risk better. 32% said their biggest concern was going into debt (which makes me wonder, what about the other 68%?), and 31% cited unemployment, while only 14% said another 9/11 was their biggest concern. Interestingly, more than half feel the war on terror will extend beyond their lifetimes; more than two-thirds think another terrorism attack will occur in the US in the next five years. But they apparently understand odds.

An executive summary of the survey from the Partnership for Public Service is here.

Media advisory 

Mitch Berg and I expect to be on AM1240 WJON in St. Cloud to discuss the Minnesota Organization of Blogs and blogging generally, at about 9:15 this morning. I don't believe they have streaming audio.

Only one marked the anniversary 

My readers will know my interest in Cheri Yecke. If you have the same interest, please go read Craig Westover's interview with Yecke on the occasion of the anniversary of her early-morning sacking, and his summary thereof. Craig comes away very impressed:
There is an edge to Cheri Pierson-Yecke, which is what her opponents react to. It is also what makes her an effective leader.


I have areas were I disagree with Yecke -- when I think about the structure of the No Child Left Behind act in the clutches of a President Clinton the Fairer, I get very nervous. Nonetheless, Yecke makes a strong case for the merits of the program when administration is in capable hands. Not completely convinced, I came away with a new perspective.

And that�s the personal power of Yecke. She�s Regeanesque in the sense that years of reflection and struggle with her values has provided her with sincere conviction (contrary to City Pages, she did not go gently into the Washington bureaucracy) that even a mauling by political thugs could not scar.
Word has it that Yecke made a good show at the CD6 convention, and yesterday I heard informed speculation that if any of the flak Michele Bachmann takes causes a loss of support that it may shift to Yecke. (We disagree on whether Bachmann has taken any hits; I say it's too early to tell.) And, Gary Miller notes, some pretty big guns can offer endorsements for her.

Let me add a couple of things. First, her charm is very different from Bachmann's or the other candidates. She's "edgy" because she has a non-flashy smile, and she's seldom speaking on education or running for office without bringing the discussion back to her own family and her desire to give her children the best education possible. She is a very quick study. As Craig says, she's data-driven, and with that she is also willing to confront data that runs against her beliefs.

Second, if ambition is a necessary ingredient for political office, Yecke will take a backseat to no one at the next convention. She definitely had a set of educational standards that she wanted to pass, and she risked and ultimately lost her position trying to get them passed. (Next time I talk to her, I want to ask whether losing the social science battle was harder for her than being sacked. It mattered to her that much.) She isn't timid and she isn't intimidated. And she will play her martyr role to the hilt, as she did at the convention. If the DFL overplays its hand here in MN in the Legislature, she can tap Republican anger, and anger can rally support in a convention.

It would be fitting for the DFL to lose that open seat to a hostage they shot but didn't kill.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Phishing the census 

The US Census announced that they were stopping an email scam that sought to get people to provide their bankcard numbers and PIN to get a $5 cash reward to answer questions from the census. I received an email with a copy of the phishing expedition.
The U.S. Census Bureau in association with participating banks will instantly credit $5 to your account - Just for taking part in our quick & easy 5 question survey!

Why do we care?
Iraq has endured decades of collapsing hopes and accumulating tragedy. It is numbing to consider the waste of so much human and resource potential. Saddam's ambitions conflicted with the region and the international community. True to his name, he too often chose confrontation over cooperation. Ultimately these decisions led to total collapse.

In March 2003 the United States along with an international collation struck the final blow on Saddam's tyranny with Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Two years later questions about weather or not America should have been involved in Iraq in the first place have echoed through the political and media scene all over the world.

Giving answers to these questions the U.S. Census Bureau with help from participating Equal Housing Lender partner banks has decided to contribute in setting up the means to reward participates for taking part in such a survey.

Now we can really find out America really thinks.
That seems a really cynical scam. But the misspellings are almost always a giveaway.

(H/T: MEE)

I love them dogs 

My office manager and I wondered how to spell okidoki. Yes, I spell it that way -- she spells it okeydokey, and couldn't figure out why I use the 'i'. "One word: Okidog!" I replied.

Okidog (link courtesy of the Mighty MS) was a frequent stop for me heading back to Claremont in 1979-84 after hitting a club or show in Hollywood. Okidog=2 hotdogs, grilled pastrami and chili in a flour tortilla. As the link says, the gut bomb to end all gut bombs. But I recall them also having one with a spicy slaw-sorta thing that someone told me was kimchee. I ate one of those once and like kimchee it made my eyes water for 20 minutes. But I love that kind of pain.

Went vegetarian many years ago, so the Okidog is off the diet, but still #1 in my hot dog memories.

A tax even the STrib couldn't love 

Matt writes me to look at Anti-STrib's post on the STrib's editorial that business taxes shouldn't be raised. Yes, you read that right. Tracy wonders what the deal is?
I have 2 guesses.
1. They are tired of overpaying their corporate taxes.
2. They figured out that people pay corporate taxes when they buy products. It�s easier to raise the price by $0.05 than it is to cut everyone�s pay by $1.00 an hour.
Well, I don't think the STrib's own situation has much to do with it, or else they might want to do something about the cost of delivering newspapers, which is also going up. As to the second explanation, it is questionable whether corporate taxes can be shifted forward to consumers or backwards to labor (in lower wages.)

No, and the weirdest part of this editorial is that that argument is the Reagan line, that corporations are just people. Former Bush Council of Economic Advisors chair Greg Mankiw made this comment in his text, and Brad Delong doesn't like it at all. It's not clear how much shifts to employees, but it's unlikely more than half. And a fair amount of it falls on owners of capital. (This article summarizes all the research.) The assumption that prices can be put up for consumers to pay for the tax, however, is not usually borne out in the literature.

There is something unfortunate going on in that Republicans seem to feel compelled to chase Minnesota businesses that have moved production to cheaper places. But the DFL has for a couple years now gone beyond the paper shell operations and tried to tax legitimate offshore income like royalties. Even if the horrid income surtax was removed, the Senate tax bill is bad enough that it deserves richly the Pawlenty no-tax veto pledge.

Not up to code 

While writing I had Hewitt on earlier this evening, and this line from Mark Steyn had me laughing very hard:
I mean you can't flush the Koran down the toilet. You're going to be flooding...certainly not with an Al Gore federally regulated teensy-weensy toilet tank...
Transcript courtesy Radioblogger.

...aaaaand, we're back 

Took a little longer than I thought, and tonight was choir practice night, but I am finally done with the second piece. Shipped and in the co-author's court at least until Monday.

One of the weird things about SCSU is that chairs only get additional pay if they teach a summer class, which the university assures them they can teach (it's usually considered a plum and is competitively provided in many departments.) I often have wondered if I could teach a class that got three students without harming the department's allocation the following year, as it depends on how many students we get. But what I do instead is a three week intensive intro course for people who want to learn econ but don't expect to take more than one class in their lifetimes. I say, give me 12 mornings, and I'll give you a class. That starts Monday, so it's going to goof up my normal schedule. Expect posts later in the day through early June.

And with that, here comes today's offerings.

Not until this evening 

I really need to get some professional writing done. Whipped one article out this morning, trying to finish another this PM. I'm going to have to finish up posts for here this evening.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

A star shone over St. Cloud 

Be sure you're on board for the Minnesota Organization of Bloggers Road Show, coming up this Saturday, May 21 at Granite City Food and Brewery in St. Cloud. Travel directions available from that link, and here's your Mapquest. I have fairly firm commitments from Mitch and Saint Paul (Elder is about 50-50), my neighboring friends like Cathy, Shawn not Sean, and Psycmeister. Several others are driving up from the Cities -- we're hoping for a two-wheeled appearance by Swiftee, owner of the original Fiskwanator. Feel free to use the comment boxes to coordinate travel if you want to share a ride, though I bet Swiftee rides alone.

Festivities should start around 5:30. We'll have the patio if the weather actually acts like it should.

Remember, this is an official MOB event, and attendance at one is required for permanent membership. You won't want to miss this opportunity. Please RSVP in comments or to comments-AT-scsuscholars-daht-com so I can warn GCFB how many heathens will descend.

I hope it isn't all like this 

Loyal reader jw sends along a report that Rocky Ward Churchill has sent a defense to the committee investigating him for scholarly misconduct. Says his lawyer David Lane
'He thinks it would be equally offensive for them (the faculty committee) to certify him as an Indian, as it would be to say he's not an Indian - but he showed conclusive proof to say he is Native American; but he is telling them it's none of their business. And I don't see it as constitutionally their place, to prove his pedigree.'
Did you follow this? Hope the committee can: It has until June 21 to report its findings.

Who let the cat out of the bag? 

I find this FOX 9 report that I'm told ran last night remarkable. A Cities TV station uses an investigative reporter for days to find one SCSU faculty member who has a second job and doesn't keep regular office hours.
Now more than ever you expect to get your money's worth� Like being able to find a professor in his office when he's supposed to be there.

..."We usually don't see him past eleven o�clock."

So where's he going? And what's his explanation for being there?

"Do you think taxpayers and students are getting a value for that?"
Nice attempt to smear an entire campus on the basis of one fellow.

As the reporter pointed out, there's nothing that prohibits faculty from having second jobs. I consult to governments on monetary policy; there have been times when I've taken unpaid days of leave to go to countries abroad. I arrange for my classes to be covered, and email covers most of students' out-of-class questions. (Like asking for extra credit for a dead cat.) And the professor is in the health field; looking at his schedule, it appears he specializes in emergency response. (I don't know him.) His classes are always stacked in the morning, so that he's done teaching by 10:00 or 10:30 each day, except for a night class.
Thursday, March 31st: He's supposed to be in the office from 11 to 12:30 but he leaves campus at 10:27 and misses his scheduled office time.
But according to his staff page, he's supposed to be in his office 9:30-11. Did he announce to his students he would miss that day, or have to leave early? The article doesn't say. The reporter is too busy playing gotcha, tailing him to the funeral home (ten minutes away).

It doesn't take an investigative reporter to let people know that faculty often need to adjust their schedules for office hours. It is not unusual for meetings to be called by administrators and to have them tell faculty it's OK to reschedule their office hours. And it's highly unusual for a department office to have the daily schedule -- including any off-campus activities or any one-time meetings -- of its entire department. The reporter shows a galling lack of context in this article.

But this isn't the most egregious part. That comes at the end:
After this meeting we tried one more time to give [the prof] an opportunity to explain his actions. We called him on the phone and he told us he "is meeting all his contractual" commitments with the University. We've learned this isn't the first time his work has been called into question.

Last fall [s/he] was issued an oral reprimand by St. Cloud State. The University says it had to do with [s/he] assigning work to lab assistants that wasn't academically relevant but that's all it will tell us. St. Cloud State says the specifics of the reprimand are private information.

Because of our story, the University has now launched its own investigation of [the prof].
An oral reprimand is the lowest form of discipline within our faculty contract (Article 24). It's given by an immediate supervisor -- which would be his dean -- and placed in his personnel file. The only other people who are supposed to have record of this is his union representative and perhaps the dean's supervisor, the provost. Which leads to the question: Who gave this information to the news station??? Who decided to validate the story by offering the information about the reprimand? And isn't it a violation of the faculty member's privacy rights to reveal an oral reprimand in an unrelated case? The administrator says it can't tell the specifics of the reprimand but reveals an accusation that he was making students work for him? Again, no context. What inspired leadership led to this PR gaffe?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Proof that God exists 

...is that ratings for pro hockey is no greater than that of junk sports.

As the National Hockey League and its players association continue to meet today, this must be depressing: TV ratings, so far, suggest as many viewers might want to watch hockey players bowl as watch them play hockey.

ESPN's Bowling Night, in which pro athletes from sports including hockey hit the lanes, is a stalwart in a replacement lineup that's now averaging 0.7% of U.S. cable TV households on ESPN and 0.4% on ESPN2.

That might not sound like much. But consider that at this point last year, ESPN/ESPN2 had aired 46 NHL playoff games - and drawn identical average ratings.

H/T: Phil Miller.

A better commencement address 

Meanwhile, last Friday night our Scholar Dave Christopherson gave his farewell as a commencement address. The contrast could not be more stark. Here were his opening grafs (from a copy he sent me early last week -- I cannot vouch that this was exactly what was said).

To each of you who is a parent, spouse, other relative, or friend of an honoree this evening, I say most sincerely, �Thank you for the role you played in helping to develop another �Master Teacher�.�

Yes, honorees, regardless of your area of graduate studies� expertise, I hope each of you sees yourself tonight as a �Master Teacher.�

Certainly all of you have worked hard enough in your chosen fields to be recognized as advanced scholars. Whether your future professional scholarship may lie within the arenas of the arts, sciences, health-care, humanities, education, social sciences, or business, each of you has proven your potential to be honored for discovering, applying, or integrating into the fabric of our global society meaningful new additions to our human body of knowledge.

He then proceeded to discuss four master teachers, and then implored his students to follow the traditional call of St. Cloud State, to teach:

Yes, St. Cloud State University has a wonderfully rich tradition of developing and honoring teachers. And you are tonight all being honored as �Master Teachers.� You are called to pass along your knowledge, skills, and values to countless others whom you will serve, develop, and inspire over the years.

In what roles do you see yourself teaching? As a parent of a child? As a volunteer Big Brother or Big Sister to someone else�s child? As a Saturday- or Sunday-school teacher? As a coach to a player? As a mentor to a research assistant? As a manager to a young supervisor? As a counselor to the infirmed?

This past year we have reflected deeply on the enormity of suffering around the globe � from Sumatra to Sri Lanka, and from Sadr City to the Sudan. Yet in this world�s tiny niche known as St. Cloud, I believe that each of us in this auditorium trusts that we can make a difference . . . as teachers . . . not overwhelmed by the complexity of the world�s tapestry spread before us, but rather focused on the unique needs of each individual we encounter in our journey through life . . . serving, strengthening, and mending them, one thread at a time.

Anne Sullivan was a teacher who did just that � for years focusing on just one student. Anne was a true �Miracle Worker,� developing the incredible gifts of Helen Keller. Who has been your own Annie Sullivan during the semesters of your graduate studies on this campus? Before you retire tonight, will you write her or him an e-mail? Please thank your Annie Sullivan for being your very special teacher. Then think about how you will to serve as a �Master Teacher,� answering St. Cloud State�s traditional call to teach. ...

Pass the torch to those who follow;
Teach, respect, and honor all.
Spark their fires to render service;
Help them hear your noble call.
A retired faculty member wrote me the other day asking whether I was up to continuing the discussion list battles that flare on this campus periodically without Dave. That isn't what Dave is about. His teaching is truly one at a time. I watched him work with one of my students who had trouble writing a thesis, taking more time than I might have with one of his. His means of dealing with the diversity establishment on this campus has also been a patient one-on-one teaching of another viewpoint, and a ramrod conviction in individual rights and the value of cognitive diversity. He cannot possibly be replaced.

Dave is returning to the corporate world to continue his work in insurance innovation. Frater, ave atque vale! SCSU is fortunate to have had you as a master teacher.

Monday, May 16, 2005

I went to commencement, and a training broke out 

More on the commencement speech I mentioned yesterday, from alum and MOB member Kevin Ecker.

Attended my sisters graduation yesterday at St. Cloud State University (SCSU). It was an event whose feeling was tarnished by the commencement speech. ...

I suppose I should have been on my guard when she started by saying that she wasn't going to give a speech, but rather it was going to be an interactive "conversation". It was anything but that...rather a lecture to all of us.

Like any good speaker, she started out by alienating half her audience. She did this by having "students of color" and "international students" stand up and then essentially lectured us how only these students had to work for their degree. ...

Then she discussed her trip to South Africa. No lesson in this part of the speech. Nothing inspirational. She just wants to take about how much better South Africa is than the United States. After all, people actually work there!! In the US we're just too damn lazy and too concerned about how we look. The fact that she is surrounded by farm country, USA didn't seem to register.

That's one of those interesting things about diversity at American campuses: It's all about having majority students learning from minority students. There is no attempt for minority students to learn from their experience in a majority environment. Yet we attempt to recruit from high schools that are greater than 50% students of color.

I do find it remarkable that none of these aspects of the commencement speech made it into the Times' story.

How do you spell post hoc ergo propter hoc? 

W-E-N-D-Y W-I-L-D-E. Mitch explains. I'll disagree with Mitch slightly -- the recession nationally and in Minnesota, which was part and parcel of the deflation of the Clinton bubble, came before 9/11/01. That doesn't at all invalidate his point though. And private job growth in the state the last twelve months is over 2%, better than any time since October 2000. (Data.) The side that isn't growing is government.

To be sure Wendy understands me: That's known in economic parlance as "a good thing".

Set asides 

According to Scott Norvell of Tongue Tied, students at the University of Oregon have to meet a race requirement to preregister for some math classes. The school insists the practice meets legal requirements.

Reported to me by an angry parent of a graduate from SCSU on Saturday: During her commencement address, a student government leader singled out students of color and international students for recognition. (This is not mentioned in the story, but I've confirmed it with another attendee.) He asked me if the university had vetted the student's address. I don't know, but I doubt they disapproved of the special recognition.

Fishsticks gives Kelley the business 

Craig Westover takes note of the story we covered last week on Senator Steve Kelley's sellout of the working poor's education tax credits to Education Minne$ota.
Kelley's opposition to providing low-income families with educational choice is consistent with his lock-step march with public school administrators and Education Minnesota. Having ousted a strong commissioner of education (Kelley was the prime mover in the non-confirmation of Cheri Yecke), Chairman Kelley is operating with an unchecked arrogance on education policy.

That will have political ramifications. Many people of color who testified in favor of the Hann bill before Kelley's committee were taken aback by Kelly's harsh treatment of testifiers � most of whom were not paid professionals, but concerned parents � and are now likely reconsidering their Democratic sympathies. [Committee Hearing Audio --April 5 Education Committee. Hann bill testimony starts at approximate 3:09 of the hearing. Kelley arrives late due to responsibility at a concurrent committee.]
I hope minority families do consider who better represents their interests. There is certainly hope provided by, for example, the joining of Latino groups with Republicans in Colorado to push for vouchers. But there would need to be a group in Minneapolis that sees Kelley as the minion of the teacher's union that he is. There is hope; sometimes even progressives figure out the problem. But even after Zelman, moves towards anything even remotely resembling vouchers -- which these are not but rather a tuition tax credit -- are fiercely resisted.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The next CARE seminar is in Room 101 

When we last left our colleague Mary Clifford, she was writing in the local paper about anonymous postings. Mary's monthly essay on Friday contains two fascinating elements. She is unhappy with one of her colleagues who also writes for the paper, who's column I discussed last month as debating the purpose of the Community Anti-Racist Education program, which Clifford helps direct. She writes:
Last month, a fellow columnist who also is a colleague in the Criminal Justice Department at St. Cloud State University suggested that the work being done by the CARE initiative is "probably criminal."

I have to say, I was outraged by his having made such a claim in the paper, especially because this program has been a great source of inspiration and education for me, as I believe it can be for others.
Now, on this campus in the last ten days we've had a raging debate over the union's executive committee attacking a white student-columnist who was outraged over a black professor's confrontational style in a meeting in the campus paper's editorial offices. How is Clifford's objection different, since Prof. Andzenge's columns even come with a picture (and, we're told by Miss Median, we should know his race by his name anyway)?

I'd've let that slide, except that she calls herself out later in the article.
My work with the anti-racism effort began about five years ago, when I made a racist statement on the St. Cloud State faculty list-serve. At the time I didn't think my comment was racist, and I was extremely hurt by the angry racist allegations. The attacks came at a personal level and at a professional level.

How could someone teaching and working in the justice arena not be more personally and professionally aware? Because I teach criminal justice courses � and so much of my training throughout my doctoral program, even though it was a program in justice studies, didn't include discussions about racism. I immediately became defensive and started offering evidence to support the fact that I was not racist. The more I learned about white privilege and the more I learned about the kinds of events that people of color are still subjected to, but which are very easy for my white mind to ignore or dismiss, the more I came to see that the allegations of "racist" fit my comments, and therefore they fit me.
Every time I read that today I flashed to the image of the self-flagellating monk in "The Name of the Rose." And to my mind came:
Do not imagine that you will save yourself, Winston, however completely you surrender to us. No one who has once gone astray is ever spared. And even if we chose to let you live out the natural term of your life, still you would never escape from us. What happens to you here is for ever. Understand that in advance. We shall crush you down to the point from which there is no coming back. Things will happen to you from which you could not recover, if you lived a thousand years. Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.
It is hard to remain a flaw in the pattern. And yet you must, lest you write editorials that contain your own confessions to someone else's religion.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Writing and teaching are different 

Michael Munger writes about the Johnathan Bean case at Southern Illinois:
...it seems to me there is a difference between what scholars can write (answer: anything, absolutely anything at all) and what they can 'teach' (answer: stick to your subject, keep your political views out of the classroom except as a foil for discussion, never use political conformity as a grading criterion, and consider the impact of readings in terms of their pedagogical effect, not just your own 'good' (meaning selfish) intentions).

He concludes that, if he was Prof. Bean's department chair, he would still support Bean but that Bean had come pretty darn close to crossing the line of what should we teach. It was a mistake, Munger says, but an honest one.

Do chairs often defend their faculty from honest mistakes? Yes.


I didn't even get to the actual question of this poll before thinking to myself "this all depends on how they asked the question". The Kool Aid Report shows the language and concludes it's akin to this poll they are running:
It is a common practice to kill or "put down" rabid puppies. Do you support killing puppies?

That Mao. What a guy 

I read this morning that Lileks has gotten into some controversy over his questioning of the use of Mao Zedong in a poster for the Minneapolis Public Library. Of course we all know Mao was very committed to scholars, right?
What's so unusual about Emperor Shih Huang of the Chin Dynasty? He had buried alive 460 scholars only, but we have buried alive 46,000 scholars. In the course of our repression of counter-revolutionary elements, haven't we put to death a number of the counter-revolutionary scholars? I had an argument with the democratic personages. They say we are behaving worse than Emperor Shih Huang of the Chin Dynasty. That's definitely not correct. We are 100 times ahead of Emperor Shih of the Chin Dynasty in repression of counter-revolutionary scholars.
from a 1958 speech to the Chinese Communist Party.
Source: Rudy Rummel who also provides some data on the death of non-scholars, including 27 million in the 1959-63 famine. No word on how many scholars were in that number.

Oh, and creating the 3rd largest economy? Per capita food production in China at the time of Mao's death in 1976 was the same as in 1955. You'd think that starving 27 million people alone might make per capita GDP go up because there were 27 million fewer capita -- yet China grew only 2.5% at most while its neighbors grew at three times that rate. Brad Delong calls Mao's economic performance a disaster.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Maybe it's just me, but... 

...I really will miss Dennis Miller's show. It's one of only two shows I taped regularly. They never settled on a format, and I agree with Ann Althouse that Miller had horrible writers and that "it was often painful to watch him sweating it out on camera". The cancellation has more to do with CNBC than with Miller's talent.

Cool post of the day 

"What happens when people draw conclusions from incomplete data?"Mahalanobis gives you an interesting analysis.

I'll take that bet 

Peter Swanson wants a piece of the honorarium that Lisa Westberg Peters turned down when the Monticello, MN, school board asked her not to talk about evolution in some its classrooms. She was supposed to show up to teach kids how to write. She's a writer. It would seem she could do that, but she felt censored.

If I'm a good writer -- and some days I think I am -- and if I had an interest in helping young people learn to write -- which I assume Peters has -- I think I could do that without needing to introduce a debate to second and third graders. Ms. Peters is free to accept or reject conditions on a contract to teach, but one wonders if she was looking to pick a fight.

Taranto clears the bases 

This paragraph in today's BotW could be used to describe most of the academic left:
Think about it: Would you call a janitor, a secretary or a carpenter "working class" to his face? The term connotes putting someone in his place: Your lot in life is to work. Thinking is for the higher classes. The questions the Democrats ask about the "working class" reflect precisely this contempt: What's the matter with these people? Why don't they understand that we know what's good for them? Why do they worry about silly things like abortion and homosexuality? If they must believe in all that religious mumbo-jumbo, can't they keep it to themselves?
Word, brother. Word.

Don't tell the kids 

I get some readers from the other side, and while they occasionally act sophomorically they can provide interesting commentary. Michael Boucher is one such reader. A blogger as well, he has a column in today's STrib that shoots darts at Michele Bachmann and the Academic Bill of Rights. His main problem is that students are being asked to report on instances of academic bias.
As I read along, it was the next section that made my blood run cold: "She [Bachmann] will be putting together a scrapbook of stories from all across the state. If you have experienced any kind of social or academic injustice at your school, or know some one who has, even if it is just a small story, send it to Michelle Bachmann at mailto:sen.michele.bachmann@senate.mn ...

What the senator plans to do with her "scrapbook" is unclear, but the lessons of McCarthyism ring in my ears.
That sounds like a job for KAR, since they're so intent on handing out assignments. Lucky for us, Mitch performs the needed fisking.
Well, speaking only for myself, if a hypothetical Representative Bachmann wanted to use her scrapbook to illuminate the bias, indoctrination, and frankly abuse of power that is going on in too many classrooms, it's about damn time!

Because in Michael Boucher's world (I'm assuming here, but I think it's a safe and comfortable assumption), there is only one thing conservatives do. It's his stereotype.
Read the rest of Mitch's post. Mitch seems to favor ABoR, which I do not, but Boucher's piece isn't really about ABoR.

There's a liberal commentary by Clever Peasantry who thinks we will be just naming names and having the Spanish Inquisition. Of course, documentation will be required. You need some? Go here. And of course you'll find the usual anti-Bachmann rhetoric in the usual places. We could go after these too.

My problems with Boucher's op-ed are twofold. First, the bill has nothing to do with high schools. That's right. Nothing. The email he is citing (which is copied apparently from the TAR-MN newsletter, and does not come from Bachmann) is confused to some extent. But Michael also neglects to include the reason TARs might be wondering if they can get some help from a bill of rights.
Administrations expect that student-led political orientated groups refrain from actually challenging students to think critically, (With the exception of GSL, Diversity, and Environment clubs of course). Our number one difficulty with affiliating TAR Clubs with schools is that school administrations have fear of �controversy� in the school. They would rather we remain silent on important issues to avoid getting phone calls. Unfortunately this contributes to the social shield in public High Schools that protect teenagers from the reality of the real world.
Michael, who is not just some public high school teacher but a leader in the social indoctrination science teacher's lobby, is also part of the problem for organizing TARs. We saw this last year with Protest Warriors. Michael views his job as something more than just getting students to remember timelines.
...by being a citizen of the city where I teach, in solidarity with my students, I can equip the next generation of citizens to improve all of our situation.
Second, if you look at the site Boucher runs, it should be obvious that he has stated political goals and is contemptuous of those who disagree with him. It is obvious as well that part of his motivation for writing this article was to help stop state Sen. Bachmann from becoming U.S. Rep. Bachmann. Swiftee takes care to show other examples of Michael's amazing lack of equanimity. Why should we assume that he somehow assumes a different mask when he walks through the door to his classroom? Instead, in order to generate an anti-Bachmann op-ed, he conflates something written by someone else into something she said. She has no need for a scrapbook, as I pointed out earlier. Horowitz does that already; LuAnn Wright does that already; FIRE does that already. Washington already knows. What Michael seeks to prevent is Washington from actually doing somthing about it.

Thankfully, the more Boucher moves his bouche, the easier it is to see his warts. I'm sure you'll find him in the comment box, along with the anti-Bachmann crowd. With enemies like this...

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

MOB Road Show is ready! 

5/11: BTTT

It's on. At the request of several MOBbers, and to take advantage of hopefully nice weather, we will have the Minnesota Organization of Blogs Outstate Division (a.k.a., the Road Show, the Away Team, and Blogs From Places Lileks Ignores As He Whiteknuckles It From Fargo) will meet at Granite City Food and Brewery in St. Cloud on Saturday, May 21 at 5:30pm. Mitch has already indicated he's driving up. We'd love to have many people come up from the Cities -- the drive Mitch will make is the one I do after each NARN show -- maybe we can arrange some carpools.

Directions to GCFB are found on this page. If you're coming up from Mankato (!) the place is right on SH 15. If you're coming on I-94, your exit number is 167B and come up to the first light. Couldn't be more central if you tried. Food is good, and the brews there are awesome; I'm addicted to the IPA.

Come on along, and let's be the noise machine that attracts and annoys fatuous simians at their typewriters. I would like a count to give the managers by Thursday next week, so either leave a note in the comment box or send an email to comments-(AT)-scsuscholars-DAHT-com.

Why adjuncts and untenured people are less likely to blog 

Critical Mass tells the story of a blog known as The Phantom Professor, who turns out to be an adjunct faculty member who's not been offered renewal. In an article in Inside Higher Ed, she's identified herself and discussed the details. She worked at a private university with a religious affiliation, and I would think posts like this probably are part of what drew the ire of the administration. I don't think you can excuse the university for its treatment of her, but if you work as an at-will employee -- which is what an adjunct professor is -- and you make it too easy to see that you are criticizing your employer, you are likely to be 86'd. Erin O'Connor criticizes SMU for trying to have it both ways:
Though administrators deny that the decision to renew Liner had anything to do with the blog, even going so far as to deny having ascertained that Liner was really the author of the blog, they also admit that they were deeply disturbed by the blog, that they had received complaints about it, and that they had gone so far as to consult lawyers about it. As an adjunct, Liner has no job security, and effectively does not enjoy even the semblance of academic freedom; SMU is free to choose not to continue to employ her, and it is free, too, not to offer her any explanation. As it happens, SMU administrators are offering an explanation that is patently unbelievable--they say they discontinued Liner because they want to begin replacing adjunct professors with full-time tenure-track professors, but they have no plans to assign Liner's course to someone on the tenure-track.
It appears Phantom Prof is now going to write more fully about her experiences at SMU.

There have been questions about authorship of this blog from time to time. I remind readers that I a) am tenured; b) a department chair; and c) quite willing to let you see my professional webspace. (Obviously I spend much less time on design of that area.) I have none of the risks the Phantom Prof did.

UPDATED: Noted at The Cranky Professor as well:
I realized once I was about 3 months into blogging that I wasn't nearly anonymous enough to say anything about my colleagues, much though you might be amused by our antics.
Oh, do tell!

Education tax credit: Not dead yet 

A reader writes me to let me know that the House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by state Representative and CD6 Congressional candidate Jim Knoblach, has managed to get HF 1054 into the House tax bill. HF 1054 is the education tax credit that state Senator Ed Borg Steve Kelley killed off in the Senate last week. Here's the record in the House Journal where it has been added. The bill is on the fiscal calendar for today. The tax bill is HF 785.

Of course, 'round these parts the local newspaper is reporting that Mayor Ellenbecker didn't get his ransom. And it appears he thinks it's Knoblach's fault. Of course, Ellenbecker wouldn't want to get involved in partisan politics, would he?

L&P rolling 

Liberty and Power has a string of posts today that need reading, including the latest on Grand Valley State CRs (guys, you only get to commit seppuku once if you do it right), good news on the defense of academic freedom at Southern Illinois, and a link to this thorough thrashing of Stanley Fish (none dare call it deconstruction.) Click and read.

What the hell is wrong with Columbia? 

On top of the scandal over its Middle East Studies program, we now find the university's senate has, over the vote of its own students, declined to allow ROTC back onto its campus, according to the lead editorial in today's Wall Street Journal.
Prominent in this roll call of dishonor was President Lee Bollinger, who voted against, and Provost Alan Brinkley, who gave an impassioned speech comparing the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy to a campus organization that allowed "African-Americans to join . . . only if they pass for white." Oddly, Mr. Brinkley abstained from voting, suggesting he lacked even the courage of these convictions.
Where do you begin? We have a campus that has real issues in allowing students to express themselves with concerns about their classes, and 62 members of the university's faculty vote to keep ROTC out when their own students want it?

And Alan Brinkley, if he were a student at SCSU, would be sent to sensitivity training for his comments.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Is Pawlenty pushing up teacher salaries? 

A friend passed along a clip from the EIA Communique that caught her attention.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is supporting a bill in the state legislature that would require school districts to spend at least 65 percent of their revenues on classroom instruction. Leaving aside the question of whether this is a good or bad idea, what exactly constitutes classroom instruction spending?


EIA's analysis indicates the United States directs 90 percent of instructional spending to teacher salaries and benefits. The percentages in the states range from Indiana's 96.8 percent to the District of Columbia's 77.5 percent. Minnesota ranks 16th, devoting 91.8 percent of its instructional spending to teacher salaries and benefits.

Since nine of every ten dollars will go to the teacher, it's an unnecessary obfuscation to describe it as higher classroom spending. Unless Minnesota or other states plan to radically change this ratio, they should just call for a floor of about 59 percent of district budgets to go to teacher compensation. But is that what they really want?
My friend was confused by this post, thinking it said that 90% of spending goes to teachers. I first verified that Pawlenty actually said this. It's in the House bill, though not the Senate bill, authorizing state spending on education.I asked the kind folks at the Education Intelligence Agency, who replied,
...an increase in "classroom spending" really means an increase in teacher compensation, since over 90% of classroom spending goes to teachers. So if Gov. Pawlenty wants to increase the district share of the budget going to the classroom, what he is really saying is that he wants districts to devote a larger piece of the pie to teacher compensation.
That is in fact true, as you can see in Table 6 of this report from the U.S. Census. But it's not 91% of total spending, only 91% of what is classified as "instructional spending", which is only 61.1% of all public education spending. What caught my attention was that, if the Minnesota bill that passes uses the US Dept. of Education measurement of "classroom spending" -- which EIA calls a vague term, a point with which I agree -- we would be moving from 61.1% of total school spending going to "classrooms" to a number greater than 65% (since 65% would be a floor, and some would be or already are over that amount.)

To raise that number, one of three things has to happen: We either have to push up school district spending and devote it all to hiring more teachers; we have to give teachers raises; or we have to reallocate district spending away from support services to classrooms. Given the control Education Minne$ota has over this state, I think it's safe to rule out the first option.

I find this a curious notion; we're again finding a Republican administration and the House pushing to manage local school district budgets with a very blunt instrument. I'm hoping someone will explain to me why this is a good idea.

UPDATE: Links to the House and Senate added, along with Pawlenty's statement.

Baltics, Georgia, Ukraine 

I've followed in some amazement the trip by President Bush to eastern Europe and the Caucasus. Scott on Powerline quotes Jay Nordlinger:
Can you believe what President Bush said in the Baltics? Can you believe he went to the Baltics, before visiting Russia for the 60th anniversary? Oh, yes, you can, if you know President Bush.

The Baltic states, of course, have moved much further towards freedom than the rest, and they were the region subjugated last by the USSR (those two points connect, but that'll wait for another post). Bush is touching base on all the parts of the former Warsaw Pact that are making great strides towards freedom. It is in part a desire to get Russia to understand her own past, something not comfortable when you've got someone like the old blowhard Viktor Chernomyrdin, now Russian ambassador to Ukraine, saying that the Holodomor, the Ukrainian terror famine of the early 1930s, was the fault of Georgia, not the USSR, since that Stalin guy was really a Georgian. (I'd've posted that earlier except I didn't know what to say except "put down the bong".)

Thus Bush's visit as well to Georgia, from which Malik Keylan reports in the WSJ today:
As Mikhail "Misha" Saakashvili, Georgia's irrepressible president and leader of the country's democratic Rose Revolution, has pointed out, "[The Bush visit] offers final proof that Georgia is an independent state with inviolable territory, that our land and freedom are indivisible."

That's the message in the Baltics as well: This land is claimed in the name of liberty. Bush has already had Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko in to the White House, and so missed the trip. But perhaps Bush will also highlight the types of reform Georgia is moving forward with, particularly since we're seeing less of this in Ukraine. Keylan writes:
Mr. Saakashvili has to reinvent civil society, slash bureaucracies, rehabituate the country to the rule of law, keep the Russians at bay, jumpstart the economy, and rebuild a nonexistent army--among other things. It's no easy undertaking, not least because some of the tasks contradict others. He keeps telling Georgians that he is no messiah or czar, that they must do the work themselves. But to get things done quickly, to allocate emergency road funds or sell off rotting state industries, his government often needs to act unilaterally and with dispatch rather than with full attention to formal procedures--some of which may not yet exist anyway.

But all acknowledge that he and his young ministers have made a tremendous running start. As he says, "even if you do nothing, the honeymoon period is over within two years, so it's better to do a lot of necessary unpopular things immediately." In the process, he often resorts to unprecedented acts. He fired some 15,000 traffic police in one stroke. He then had to rehire and retrain new ones and find the funds to pay them. His government then licensed a TV station to run a hidden-camera investigative series monitoring the behavior of traffic and customs officers. "The families of all those newly jobless people," he says, "will be my enemies for a while, maybe a long while, but the country will benefit." Meanwhile, he
refuses to confiscate the businesses of powerful oligarchs, even ones accused of buying state enterprises on the cheap during the Shevardnadze period. "They run them better than the state. Anyway, we must not compromise the principle of private property."

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Ukraine, as Scott Clark observes. Price controls are in place, economic reforms are haphazard or stalled, some really goofy thinking about privatization and ownership, and there's a little problem of a justice minister with a resume falsification problem. Scott says that the crowds still adore Yushchenko and prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko (who even is in fashion magazines now), but Saakashvili is right: you only get one honeymoon.

Lucky for them, the other guy continues to self-immolate.

Aside: Much ado is being made over Bush's statement of complicity in helping divide Europe. Do you remember the end of Patton, in which he argues for invading the Soviet Union at the end of World War II? There's a game scenario in Axis and Allies in which you recreate this. The problem is always that we would play the US INF and ARM in Europe and Asia began the game fatigued, and that made it nearly impossible to win. And, perversely, I always played the Russians. My point being, it's hard for me to see what our alternatives were in Yalta with the war fatigue felt at the time.

Put $2 on Lampley's nose and see if it grows 

The Warrior Monk does a useful service fisking the snot out of Jim Lampley. Let me add only one observation: Jim Lampley either doesn't know what he's talking about, or he's lying.

Here's the graph of the Iowa Electronics Market winner-take-all options on Bush versus Kerry. Politicalbetting reported that Tradesports had Bush at 54.5 (meaning a 54.5% chance of winning), and reports only one bookie showing a surge in Kerry betting late. As best I can tell late money moved onto Bush most everywhere else. None of them had Kerry anywhere near 2-1 favorite.

All hail Apprehension 

Douglas Bass has moved his blog to a new address and taken the new blog name Apprehension.
I'm starting a new blog because a new era is starting in my life. It is something that I haven't been at liberty to talk about until now. Most of my readers know that I am an assistant professor in the Graduate Programs in Software at the University of St. Thomas. What fewer readers know is that my request for tenure was not granted by the Academic Council of the University of St. Thomas. What even fewer readers know is that my appeal of the decision was unsuccessful. This means that my time at St. Thomas will end on September 1, 2006. Whether I will be able to find another position in academia is debatable. All I know is that I have to create more value.
Good luck to you, Douglas!

Monday, May 09, 2005

The ed lobby's borg claims another victim 

During the NARN show Saturday we had a phone call from Elizabeth Mische of Partnership for Choice in Education, who told us that the expansion of the education tax credit that had been proposed by Senator Julianne Ortman, SF 558, is now dead. It had been in the omnibus tax bill that was being squired around the Senate by Senator Larry Pogemiller, but was removed at the last minute in what Mische described to us as a logrolling maneuver to gain support from Senator Steve Kelley. Kelley, who has been chair of the Senate Education committee and was instrumental in the dismissal of Cheri Yecke and in bait-and-switch educational standards, has tussled with Pogemiller over this aspect of the bill, which in mid-April was attached into the tax bill.

Mische described the bill to me in a private email as follows:
This bill would have removed the regressive �family cap� that limited families earning less than $37,500 per year to claiming a refundable credit of $1,000 per child or a family limit of $2,000 for eligible expenditures � families could claim $1,000 for every child in their family � and most of the families claiming this credit are public school students; many of them are minority and immigrant families, and all of them earn less than $37,500. The bill would ALSO have allowed the 6,500-12,000 families at this income level who pay some tuition out of their own pocket at some private school to claim the money they have ALREADY SPENT for tuition as a credit.
See this analysis of the companion bill HF 1054 FMI.

Education Minnesota, however, not only wants SF 558 dead but wants to roll back the existing credit. (I'd give you a link to their page to see that, but of course it's password protected so you have no way to know what the Teacher Leviathan wants.) Note that this isn't one of those dreaded vouchers but a tax credit given to low income families who are engaged already in their children's education.

The stranglehold Education Minnesota has on the legislature is legendary. When I was there to testify on the social science standards, I researched the backgrounds of those who were in the room. A large number of legislators are teachers or former teachers -- and and not all are DFLers, mind you, though at least six current teachers or administrators of public schools are DFL legislators (Davnie, Eken, Dorn, Marquart, Pelowski and Sandra Petersen; please correct this list if I'm mistaken) and I think Mark Buesgens is the only Republican current teacher -- so that the union can have ready access to legislators to make their cases.

Killing SF 558 though, a bill that had DFL cosponsors, was apparently a Kelley affair alone. Mische noted to me that SF 558 was part of a tug-of-war between Pogemiller, who apparently wanted the bill to pass, and Kelley, who jealously guards his position as the gatekeeper for any bill affecting education. On top of this, Kelley has treated the Hann/Buesgens voucher plan supporters in a very rude manner, describing it as money laundering for religion. Kelley isn't a teacher, but he's dependent on them for his political future. Just like shooting the hostage last year, Kelley has taken and shot a hostage that would have benefited families with more than two children -- that is the cap currently on the number of children for whom the credit can be applied. This would include many poorer families, and many immigrant families who want to send their children to schools that share their cultural values. People who want to give their children the best chance to get ahead.

One guy, stopping these families from having more choice in education.

It's time to put this guy away.

What is a FYROM? 

A couple of years ago I did some consulting work in Macedonia. (I actually blogged a little from there on my aborted second blog.) During a weekend on one of these trips I went down to Thessaloniki, Greece, to see some sights like Vergina, the burial site of Phillip II of Macedon and to get some better food. As we drove back to the border I saw signs for "Yugoslavia" (which no longer exist) and "FYROM", which is the name the Greeks give to "the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia."

The country's own constitution names the country simply as Macedonia, and over 100 countries recognize it under that name, but the EU, bowing to Greek pressure, use FYROM. The US last November, in a move that somehow eluded major media coverage, went from FYROM to Macedonia. The Greek government is very unhappy, but again nobody cares.

An alternative name offered by the UN has been proposed and accepted by the Greeks -- Republika Makedonija-Skopje, which would use the Macedonian Slav language -- but not the Macedonians. Why would they, when the issue is moving in their favor already? (Leave it to the UN to try to stop a snowball rolling downhill.) This is very different from Taiwan, where it is trying to declare independence from China. The Greeks do not have any desire as far as I can see for taking in Macedonia as part of its own, but it has this inordinate fear that Macedonia wants part of its northern border moved. Macedonia has its own issues with ethnic Albanians and unstable neighbors to the north, and has no need to add to its problems with a border dispute with a larger, much more wealthy neighbor to its south.

If you've got time to think this up, chances are it's an issue 

A reader to Marginal Revolution sends in a question.
...there is an inexplicable shortage of sex. Given that studies show that women and men enjoy it more than most other activities (on average, not on the margin I'll grant), and given its intrinsically low cost, it appears that even a crude approximation of a utility maximizing person would probably spend much more time having sex than most do. Do you know of any economic discussion of this?

Tyler Cowen offers twelve possible explanations that account for gains from trade, much to the consternation of his spouse. I'm still not clear on the marginal utility issues here.

Question: If it is market failure, what is the government solution?

Headline of the day 

"Humanities scholars continue their debate over whether anyone is listening to them"

From The Chronicle of Higher Education. I tried to read the article, but at some point I stopped paying attention.

My iron law of state employee wages 

Last week Mark Yost, associate editor of the Pioneer Press and wingnut du jour, wrote a column that included this line that stuck in the craw of state employees everywhere.
State offices � particularly licensing bureaus � seem to attract people who do little work, are slow about it when they do, nasty about it when you don't kiss their pinky ring, and seem to never go away.
Mitch notes that AFSCME, the public employee union, is not at all amused.

Noted in advance: not all state workers are indolent martinets. But neither Mark Yost or I are the first to observe that state and government employ seems to draw a lot of:

  • people who thrive on lording petty authority over "customers", from clerks at state offices to the agents of county Child Support offices
  • people whose vocational goal is to have a secure grip on the same chair for an entire career, no matter what
SCSU is of course a state institution, and so I am also a state employee. I don't particularly mind Yost's comments, though I can say that among the state employees he might see most around here, like our academic office managers, he would behold little of this behavior. With college students you have what Gordon Tullock called "the discipline of continuous dealings," wherein repeated interaction induces more cooperation. I don't observe much "lording" (unless it's certain faculty who want to lord the bitch goddess diversity over some unsuspecting white male student-writer at the campus newspaper.) One of the issues of going to licensing bureaus is that you are highly unlikely to see that person ever again, so there's little chance that if they're rude to you that it will harm them later on. But, as James Suriowecki points out in one chapter of The Wisdom of Crowds, there are many other times where we act cooperatively with perfect strangers with whom we have no expectation of meeting again, such as in ultimatum games. (Quick nod to my colleague and reader Phil Grossman, who has done several of these experiments, for example looking at gender differences.)

So why do we have less-than-pleasant experiences with state employees? I think Mitch may have hit the target with the second bullet. (No slam intended to his marksmanship.) AFSCME as a union creates a wage schedule that builds in automatic raises each year -- even when a contract is negotiated and announced to "no increase in wages", workers will still get a step on a salary ladder for experience. Usually, increases in experience are associated with increases in productivity, but one would be hard-pressed to find productivity increases in AFSCME workers, and certainly not to the extent that they are in the private sector.

As a result, workers in government jobs -- in particular those working in offices -- have increasing unit labor costs. These are frozen in place by the state union contracts. Since their unit costs are high, these workers find it difficult to get employment in the private sector for a higher wage. It is that absence of private market alternatives that leads to their long tenures that Mitch observes. The person taking money for your car's tabs may make $30,000. Think simply what are the private market alternatives for this person and what do those jobs pay?

Most workers have two evaluation processes: that to keep the job they have; and the process that allows them job mobility. When mobility is diminished, the extra motivation to do well on a job is lost. I think this explains the quality of service both in state offices and most of Europe, where mobility is also poor.

Friday, May 06, 2005

It should be good 

NARN will be from the White Bear Lake SuperStore (I may take a little time to shop, as Mrs. S wants different wheels). We'll interview Brian Anderson of South Park Conservatives, where I'll try to get him to tell me the difference between SPCs and libertarians. We hope to have some other call-ins from people in the know on the issues at the University of St. Thomas and at the state Legislature (where there's some serious mischief afoot, even beyond Pogo's soak-the-employer scheme and the increased minimum wage.) We'll be live, happy to visit with you, and maybe you'll help me find some wheels a missus could love. 12-3pm Saturday on AM 1280 the Patriot, and there's a streaming link on that page if you need it.

Employment good nationally, not so good locally 

I don't see many people blogging today on the employment report, which came in far better than economists expected. Not only that, but the February and March numbers were revised significantly upward. Perhaps there isn't enough there for the naysayers to even find something to spin, though Angry Bear does note that there's good growth in construction, but those aren't very good jobs because they're temporary.

Given those revisions, it seems to me rather unlikely that the GDP report of 3.1% growth in the first quarter will remain at that level. My (very rough) number would be about a half-point higher.

On the very same day, our local paper has news of further layoffs at Electrolux, which is the largest manufacturer here in St. Cloud. St. Cloud has more manufacturing employment as a share of total area employment than most parts of the US or even Minnesota. I expect that while this area is growing faster in population than the rest of the state, we'll continue to have periodic outbreaks like this. The article notes,
Stockholm-based Electrolux AB saw 2004 net income fall 34 percent. To stay competitive, it plans to move about 13 of its 43 U.S. and European appliance plants to lower-cost areas such as Eastern Europe, Asia and Mexico.

It wouldn't shock me to see us be one of the 13.

Blatant misrepresentation 

The continued screaming of the Left over the Academic Bill of Rights is on display at Freedom Dogs. The Chief quotes the first paragraph of the American Federation of Teachers' pubication On Campus.

A new intrusion of politics into the classroom comes in the form of state legislation entitled "Academic Bill of Rights." It is Orwellian name for a bill whose aim is to overturn the First Amendment on college campuses, restricting freedoms of speech, religion and association that are as basic to democracy as academic freedom is to scholarship.
This is of course an abject lie. The bill is about protecting individual rights, not reducing them. The goals of the bill are supportable, even if I prefer a different means of achieving them than government intervention. This persistent use of the word Orwellian -- count the Google news hits! -- is the basest form of scaremongering.

Closer to home, our good friend Miss Median sent around to campus a hit piece in the LA Times by Saree Makdisi, who convolutes ABoR into some means of getting a pro-Israeli agenda onto campuses. Given Makdisi's a nephew of Edward Said, no surprise there. On the Claremont Institute blog, Ken Masugi highlights one of Makdisi's most outrageous claims, to wit,
The problem with all this is that the university is meant to be an insular environment. Those within its walls are supposed to be protected from outside political pressures so that learning can take place.
Masugi calls this "a case of what�s ours is ours and what�s yours is negotiable." Sic semper Marxists.

Makdisi says it's just "almost Orwellian". So he's just almost hyperbolic.

Checking Peiser 

Responding to my post about Dr. Benny Peiser's claims of bias in scientific journals, Tim Lambert performs the useful task of checking on which abstracts Peiser uses to claim that there is less consensus about global warming (among published articles in peer-reviewed journals, as best I can tell) than the Oreskes article claims. As I said, the burden of proof on this sort of thing is completely on Peiser, and from what Lambert has posted -- which he obtained from Peiser -- the burden does not appear to have been met. The only question I'm left with is whether Science was being kind in telling Peiser the paper was rejected for already having been on the Internet, or whether they had not performed as thorough an analysis as the folks commenting on Lambert's post have.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Who a union represents, and who they do not 

As I think more about the absurdity of the union's letter admonishing the campus paper yesterday, I'm struck by two thoughts.

First, who does the union represent? That is the clearest voice to come out over all the email the union's letter has generated in the last 24 hours. The faculty advisor to the paper is a union member, and he's quite angered that the union would seem to have stopped representing him. As he should be. And the past president of the union says yes, she's sorry he feels that way, but the union also represents the professor criticized in the opinion piece and that "many faculty of color do not believe that the union represents them." I'd laugh at her if I wasn't so damn mad. A couple of people in the union have wondered aloud whether the union's role in this is legitimate. It is supposed to be a union for everyone; it is not a guild, and cannot therefore discipline one of its own members. (Thus, for example, because department chairs are still union members, a faculty member cannot ask for the union to file a grievance against a chair but only against an administrator for not supervising the chair properly. This is the perverse system under which I work.)

Second, while nobody will bat an eyelash while I speak against this use of a bargaining unit as it engages in a political act, it is much harder for those who are not committed conservatives on campus. It's not that there are that many conservatives still "in the closet", but that there are many center-left faculty for whom the concept of a union is still an ideal but for whom this one is an abomination. They do not speak out both out of fear of being branded as "one of those" (meaning "like that King guy") and out of their honest desire to keep collective bargaining in the university. (Sad to say from my perspective, there is no hope in my view that we will ever be a union-free campus.) Theirs is the voice that dares not speak its name; theirs is the position that represents the silent majority of our campus. They fear vilification even more than conservatives, for they don't have a world view that explains their opposition and takes away the sting.

A university administrator asked whether we could have a discussion of our differences over this letter. Who will show up? It won't be the center-left majority, and the others have already dug in.

Other MnSCU schools lacking intellectual diversity 

Randy Wanke of the Center for the American Experiment is asking hard questions in yesterday's Mankato Free Press.

...what, if anything, is being done to advance intellectual diversity at MSU?

I am not raising this question now to simply play the role of the conservative antagonist taking on the liberal establishment on campus. I bring it up because I truly believe that intellectual diversity is vital to providing a quality education to MSU students and necessary for preserving the long-term well-being and intellectual health of the university.

In looking at two conferences that we've discussed here, Wanke wonders,
...why wasn't former Democrat Congressman Tim Penny, who has been a great advocate for MSU over the years and was a member of the President's Commission on Social Security, asked to come make a case for Social Security reform? Or, in the discussion about "the consequences of the war," why wasn't a speaker invited to discuss how the people of Iraq benefited from the successful free elections and the toppling of a tyrant like Saddam Hussein?

Given the treatment of Ann Coulter at St. Thomas and St. Olaf, perhaps it was for their own good.

Behold your freshman class 

Besides giving final exams next week, I've been hearing a few presentations lately about our incoming students. I'm given pause by this letter to our local paper, from a high school senior in Melrose.
I believe the minimum wage should rise to about $12 an hour.

This would help the economy because everything is expensive, and many people have to work more hours to pay for things.

Many people now have to work two jobs to survive in the 'real world.' Raising the minimum wage would help them and make them happy.

Yikes, well at least some day he'll grow up and understand the role of profits in a free society.

Minimum thinking 

Even when they cave in to pandering, the Republicans in Minnesota will get no credit for raising the minimum-wage.
It's been eight years since the minimum wage was last increased, largely because of opposition by Republican legislators and business lobbies. DFL leaders, who were the main movers behind the increase, toasted it as a significant bipartisan accomplishment in a session that some fear may be headed for deadlock on its main business, adopting a two-year budget.
Even when you do something wrong to get good publicity, you can trust that the local papers are not going to throw you under the bus. So, Governor Pawlenty, still want to kiss up to these people?

My earlier thoughts on the bill are here. Notice that they've had is down to about 128,000 workers, which I still think is going to be too high an estimate.

UPDATE: Thanks, Nathan, for catching a bad double negative.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Selective outrage 

The Faculty Association's Executive Committee is rather miffed about the column in the University Chronicle that I reported, insofar as it spoke ill of a faculty member here. It sent a letter to the paper's faculty advisor, copied to the entire campus, complaining that while (of course!) it supports the freedom of the press and that the newspaper can print what it wants (which of course it can't, if you listen to the student government), that it had not "honored its responsibility" that comes with the freedom. This sentence, however, needs to be quoted to be believed.
...we object to the vilification of a faculty member in your newspaper commentary pages especially when the faculty member singled out is a person of color. (Emphasis mine.)

Pointing out the faculty member's status as a person of color seems almost patronizing; if he was slandered, his status is irrelevant. Does the press have differential responsibilities in criticism in op-eds depending on one�s gender or race? I most certainly hope not.

And nobody has brought forward any evidence that anything said in the column is false. It's not a great column, but some monkeys get paid for worse.

Helping out a brother 

Mungowitz End needs link love. Here you go, sir!

Particularly when you get compared to cartoon characters.

Faculty union premium 

Phil Miller reports that the union difference in wages for faculty was about 3.9%, and there is substantial difference between the fields. In general, those in the humanities received higher union differentials, and those in the professional or business fields who taught at unionized faculties received lower wages. As Phil notes, it's unclear where the report puts economics, though it looks like it got lumped in with other social sciences. I recall my colleague Mike White did a paper in Economic Inquiry about twenty years ago on the NFLPA and found that its existence helped linemen more than it helped those who play the "skill positions" (I never have liked that phrase -- good blocking is a highly honed skill.)

Hoisting on one's, um, mushroom? 

Somebody alert our friends in Winona. There is a new hero in the battle to blunt the wave of V-Day celebrations, according to Christina Hoff Sommers. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Testaclese. Sauce for the goose, alas, is not sauce for the gander, as Erin O'Connor reports.
As student feminist groups papered the campus with flyers declaring such sentiments as "My Vagina is Flirty" and "My Vagina is Huggable," sold vagina-shaped lollipops, and organized an "orgasm workshop," the College Republicans staged a competing celebration of the penis. Penis Day, or "P-Day," featured a performance of The Penis Monologues; flyers declaring that "My penis is majestic," "My penis is hilarious," and "My penis is studious"; and a costumed phallic-shaped mascot named Testaclese. P-Day did not go over well at Roger Williams--two students involved in staging The Penis Monologues have been places on probation, and the Testaclese costume was confiscated after Testaclese approached a provost in the student union and congratulated him for being a "Penis Warrior." A Free Testaclese Fund is now in the works.
The pictures of the awarding of Provost Kavanaugh are frankly hilarious; he apparently thought at first it was Mushroom Day, says Sommers. The resulting probation of course has created the perfect press opportunity for Roger Williams' College Republicans to show again the double standards that exist on our campuses. As Sommers concludes, you can expect to find more P-Day parodies on campuses around America next year. Given the choice between that and a bake sale...

Should academic journals challenge fashionable wisdom? 

Any academic can give you stories of papers rejected by journals over bad referee reports, editorial whim, or, in the case of those of us teaching and writing at non-flagship schools, because nobody thinks we can write anything useful. I think about a fifth of these stories are true, possibly less ... and I'm one with a drawerful of rejection letters. Dr. Benny Peiser, considered an authority on natural disasters, wrote a paper looking at a thousand studies of global warming and concluded there was no consensus among the studies, and is angered that the paper was rejected.
The controversy follows the publication by Science in December of a paper which claimed to have demonstrated complete agreement among climate experts, not only that global warming is a genuine phenomenon, but also that mankind is to blame.

The author of the research, Dr Naomi Oreskes, of the University of California, analysed almost 1,000 papers on the subject published since the early 1990s, and concluded that 75 per cent of them either explicitly or implicitly backed the consensus view, while none directly dissented from it.

Dr Oreskes's study is now routinely cited by those demanding action on climate change, including the Royal Society and Prof Sir David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser.

However, her unequivocal conclusions immediately raised suspicions among other academics, who knew of many papers that dissented from the pro-global warming line.

They included Dr Benny Peiser, a senior lecturer in the science faculty at Liverpool John Moores University, who decided to conduct his own analysis of the same set of 1,000 documents - and concluded that only one third backed the consensus view, while only one per cent did so explicitly.

Dr Peiser submitted his findings to Science in January, and was asked to edit his paper for publication - but has now been told that his results have been rejected on the grounds that the points he make had been "widely dispersed on the internet".
Peiser disagrees. A second paper with similar conclusions was also rejected by Science because, according to the rejected author, "They said it didn't fit with what they were intending to publish." In the case of Science or Nature, the two journals discussed, there is the added dimension that what is published there gets wide dissemination in the press as opposed to, say, the Journal of Monetary Economics.

If a journal publishes a paper and then receives a paper that challenges that result, and that has met peer review for being scientifically sound, the journal is under some obligation to publish. Whether or not that is the case here one can only speculate. I could imagine Dr. Peiser to be right about the motives of the journals, but the burden of proof is quite large, and there are loads of academics who think their work deserved more consideration than it got; there are also plenty of stories of papers that were rejected many times before being published that then went on to great acclaim in their fields.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Get a proofreader, Alan! 

The WSJ deconstructs a correction to the Fed's press release raising the federal funds rate to 3%. They left out a usual sentence that says "Longer-term inflation expectations remain well contained." The market went up rapidly at first, thinking the Fed was going to raise rates more rapidly, then turned around when the Fed revised the statement.

The more rapid rise would have been news to the market that the Fed thought growth looked much stronger. So there was churn due to a misprint, and probably a few people lost some money today, because somebody didn't check the statement before it went out.

Not running away 

When David Horowitz decides to reprint on his own site an article from the Chronicle of Higher Ed about himself, it must be a pretty nice article. Ralph Luker thinks David makes too much money. Compared to those in the humanities, I suppose Luker's right to be concerned, but if I were him I'd just get a better gig. After all, how much money do you think Horowitz made running Ramparts?

As to the size of Horowitz' ego, to quote Dizzy Dean, it ain't bragging if you can do it. (Who said that first? This site says .)

Pozen ups the ante 

The day after my post on the WSJ's coverage of Bush's Social Security reform plan, Robert Pozen offers his own assessment on the same pages. Money quote:
More fundamentally, any increase in the payroll tax base must address the issue of political support for Social Security. Critics of progressive indexing have alleged that it will erode political support for the system among high-wage earners because their benefits would grow more slowly than under the current schedule. Yet these same critics are the ones urging substantial increases in payroll taxes for high earners. Will the political support of high earners be more likely to erode if they face a large hike in their payroll taxes for the rest of their working careers, or if they receive less than the current schedule of Social Security benefits when they retire in 20 or 30 years? The answer is obvious.
What's remarkable in the left's coverage (say, for example, the reaction to this USAToday poll) is their absolute desire to deny reality. There is an unfunded liability; we've promised to pay more than we have budgeted. We either must tax more or pay out less in benefits. TANSTAAFL. And it's pretty clear what Matthew Yglesias prefers.

Until one of them addresses the total package by including PRA payments in their benefit descriptions, I consider their statements deceptive and dishonest.

Reverse discrimination suit succeeds 

A basketball coach who says he was let go because his university wanted to replace him with a coach from an ethnic minority hits paydirt.
Jurors awarded former California State University, Stanislaus, men's basketball coach Mike Terpstra $540,000 on Friday, finding race was a factor in the university's decision not to rehire him after the 2002-03 season.

Terpstra, who is white, claimed the university let his contract expire because it wanted to replace him with a black coach.

Now let's make a case for why CSU-Stanislaus might want to bring in a black coach. It may be that CSUStan (which seems to be the nickname they like, though it sounds like it belongs in Central Asia rather than Central California) wanted to recruit more black students to their university. CSUStan has a relatively small black student population, after all. Yet of the four seniors on the basketball roster, two of them are black, a fifty percent rate. Those would have been recruited by the white coach. Of the ten juniors listed, seven are black. Now those might or might not have been recruited by him, since they could be junior college transfers.

The best part? The coach that replaced Terpstra is also white. Which may have frustrated SCUStan administrators.
Afterward, a few jurors explained why they supported Terpstra:

They were moved by the five witnesses who testified that they heard athletic director Milt Richards talk about a "Black Mafia," a reference to an alleged group of black administrators at Stanislaus.

They pointed to the phrase "recruitment of two African-American coaches," which Richards jotted down on a rough draft of his self-evaluation after the 2000-01 season.

When the draft was introduced Thursday, Richards testified that he was referring to two black assistant coaches brought in throughout the year, and that, after speaking to another administrator, he took the line out of his official evaluation.

"That letter broke the camel's back with some people," according to Lilia Meza, 29, a nurse from Oakdale.

Another female juror, who requested anonymity, commented: "Why couldn't he have just said 'two coaches?'"
Lesson: Never, ever, write it down.

I hate workshops 

At the end of his continued critique of the University of St. Thomas' response to the Ann Coulter presentation there a couple of weeks ago, Scott Johnson linked to Roger Kimball's battlecry for a new university. This paragraph provides his thesis: Kimball argues there are two steps to curing academia, diagnosis and treatment. And diagnosis is harder.
The prime difficulty facing the aspirant diagnostician is not the elusiveness of symptoms�they are florid and ubiquitous�but the patience required to set forth chapter and verse repeatedly and in language that effectively conveys the depredations on view.
Trunk points out the corrupt response of UST President Father Dease to Coulter, as one view of the depredations. Had this happened here, I'm quite certain the College Republicans would have been invited to a "workshop".

How easily it could have turned out all different 

I had promised to get back to Thomas Benton's essay in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, and reading it again early this morning reminds me of how close I was to an entirely different life.
I had just gone through 16 years of Roman Catholic schooling -- from first grade through college graduation. I had never even read Marx. My classmates might as well have been speaking a foreign language -- although, after a few years, I began to notice it was a language many of them understood imperfectly. Graduate seminars are often salted with loquacious poseurs whose knowledge of theory is little more than a collection of buzzwords and one-size-fits-all templates.
Only my college was Catholic -- I was raised Methodist, but St. Anselm was just across the river and I wasn't mature enough to leave home yet -- and I read Marx as a philosophy minor. This was in the 1970s when you were expected to finish in four years. Had I been given any opportunity, I would have double-majored in philosophy, and then been in those seminars with the loquacious poseurs.
But that's what graduate school in the 90s seemed to reward. Seminars rarely had examinations; the only requirements were participation and the submission of a final essay, written in the idiom of some school of theory that one had never been formally taught but was expected to know.
Change "idiom" to "math". We did not have many "seminars", and those that did occur were opportunities for us to hear other economists come speak about their research, of which we knew little. What I learned mostly was how to serve wine and cheese to the faculty afterwards - I got the coveted job of buying the wine too, from which came what little I know of wine. All of which is to say: Graduate school is a place where you wait to grow up as a scholar, but the classes, seminars and workshops have little to do with it.
Even if you were doggedly self-motivated, it was impossible to develop your scholarly methods in a conscientious manner. There was simply too much to learn. I was just becoming familiar with some of the ever-expanding literary canon -- and the historical and biographical contexts in which those works were embedded -- but it was simply assumed that everyone understood theory. Why else would anyone be in graduate school in the humanities?

Meanwhile, I was teaching for the first time (strangely, without any pedagogical training), preparing for two foreign-language examinations (mostly useless for an Americanist), working as a research assistant (good experience), and searching for venues to present and publish my badly written seminar papers (premature but demanded by the job market).
So you might wonder how one does learn to do the job? In my case it was a mentor who took me in, had me copy-edit his scribblings that he wrote every morning by the side of his pool or in the afternoon on an Orange County beach, and who eventually let me fill in some blanks. One day we're writing papers together. And then you teach principles of economics and you know that you have to break down and build back everything. At least in my case, economics, there's something to rebuild, unlike in the humanities to listen to Benton.
It is impossible to discuss the culture of graduate school without caricature. English departments often become intellectual echo chambers uninterrupted by any external critical voices. In a process called "incestuous amplification," outsiders are demonized, and insiders are forced to conform or face social ostracism.

Professors, in general, have the luxury of appearing moderate and open to competing ideas, but insecure students often research the opinions of faculty members to ensure that they will be on the correct side of any apparently open dialogue. The powerless seize on small expressions of political opinion from the powerful and embrace these views even more radically in order to prove their loyalty and worthiness.
But there's a payoff, right? Yes, for the fortunate few.
The great luxury of a tenured position -- which, with any luck, is on my professional horizon -- is the time to become genuinely learned: the time to let your intellectual portfolio mature, instead of investing in the latest academic get-rich-quick scheme.
I watch numerous younger faculty read the journals in economics looking for "what's hot", and for a hook that allows them to send a paper with a relatively minor point to a major journal. It's the quick road to tenure, to an appointment at another school further up the Carnegie scale. But it's a sucker's game, as economics teaches in tournament theory.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Ok, St. Cloud it is 

The poll has expired, and St. Cloud is the choice for the MOB Road Show. I'm inclined to May 21 for the event, so as to leave enough distance between that and the next MOB Cities event, which is being planned even as we speak. But I'm sworn to secrecy...

I will contact local brew-pubs in the next couple days for reservations.

Sid free 

Learned Foot thinks he has a teachable moment for me, that as a nonresident of Hennepin County he likes the proposal for the Twins stadium. Phil Miller is noting long-time stadium shill/sports columnist Sid Hartman's campaign. Here's one piece that drives me around the bend, from Hartman.
not only will the baseball problem be solved if the plan is adopted, but the opportunity to build the stadium will provide millions of dollars in the purchase of building materials, and it will provide a lot of jobs for three or four years for a lot of construction workers who are now out of work.
Someone should point out to him, however, that construction employment was up 1.4% in 2004. Phil notes today as well that Sid argues the park would really help downtown development, but the Target Center has not helped stop the exodus of businesses from downtown Minneapolis.

And don't miss this, from John LaPlante. IIRC, it was the StarTribune that held land where the MetroDome now sits.

UPDATE: Phil adds one more, and this is just hysterical. Sez Sid:
And, maybe most important, people confined to their homes and those in nursing homes will be assured that they will be able to continue to have a team to follow on radio and television.
That is, between bites of dog food, right?

Does it matter what a professor wears? 

I've dealt for some time with issues of respect between students and faculty. Mrs. S suggests that dressing with a tie would help. She has never liked me in anything except t-shirts or button-down collars, with or without ties; I am not permitted the cardigans or the elbow-patched sportcoats one imagines a professor having. But recently she's been suggesting the tie more often than not, to change perceptions. Does wearing a tie (or what for women? Wearing a dress?) change how students approach the classroom? Does it change how students talk to us?

I do note the "gray-hair effect". When my hair grayed about eight years ago, the incidence of students calling me by my first name declined. My good liberal professor friends tell me I'm too stuffy about this, and that I should invite students to call me King. I do not make the invitation, but neither do I tell them to call me Dr. Banaian or Prof. Banaian. I let them choose, and most choose the last. This was not true when I was 30.

I also note that our offices in this department never display the Dr. salutation, since it's not a distinction here: having a PhD is required for appointment to a permanent post. I notice in other departments everyone wears their Dr. proudly. I wonder why.

He got an education 

University Chronicle editor Nick Hanson, in his valedictory editorial, got a lesson in "tolerance" from some of our university's esteemed multicultural warriors.
My experience with [SCSU "Dept. of the 3.7 GPA" Professor Tamrat] Tademe ... came to my office last fall, with members of the Support the Court committee. He alleged that the Chronicle was racist, homophobic, xenophobic and did not cover enough diversity on campus. We welcomed his band of cronies to our office for a discussion to deny their allegations.

Before the meeting, I did my homework by counting up the large number of articles we had published in our first few months on diversity, GLBT issues and racism. I also dissected the homecoming court article for traces of subjective reporting and could find none. I even prepared a spiel about how the commentary and opinion pages are opinion, not news (something that most people don't seem to understand).

The "meeting" did not go well. It basically consisted of a group of about 10 professors and students yelling at me. The two times I attempted to interrupt their endless banter to defend the paper, one professor pointed out that I had cut off a female both times, alluding that I have prejudice against women.

Tademe made vague claims about the paper, which were not true, deniable by hard facts.

If I took anything away from the incident, it's that people who claim to be the most tolerant are often the most intolerant. This man came to my office, spewed a bunch of hate at me and made false accusations to my face.

So why should I believe the other information he preaches around campus, in Atwood or in class? How about the other professors on campus? Or the reports that claim St. Cloud is a breeding ground for hate speech?
A few notes: First, this parallels the story I had from the Support the Court's visit to the St. Cloud Times. It's the act of besieging the office of the newspapers that interests them, so that it inflames their own supporters to expend more energy on their causes. Nothing got done. Second, this tactic of claiming prejudice against females because you tried to speak while they were speaking is a meme around campus. I watched it in meetings here with alarming regularity. Maybe this explains the Left's newfound love of filibusters? Lastly, "preaches in class"?? I mean, nobody does that here, do they?

Student government at SCSU, meanwhile, continues to be a charade. Their advisor, said to she had "never seen a body so divisive among itself. It really hasn't served you well." One of my students who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate notes the student government intends to join up with the United States Students Association, which has made "gender-neutral bathrooms" on campuses an issue.

Bush bets "all-in" on PRA 

I never did get to my thoughts on Bush's Social Security press conference Thursday night during the NARN show last Saturday. So let's get a few thoughts here.

First, it's interesting that the president has in essence doubled down on personal retirement accounts. He gave way on "progressive indexing", which I think is politically a dangerous strategy but economically the right one, and he didn't say "never" to the idea of raising the cap on SS contributions (meaning you would pay the tax on higher levels of income rather than the current cap around $94,000.) This admits that PRAs will not solve the funding problem for Social Security, but makes them part of Bush's broader vision of an ownership society. (Even then, they are imperfect, but more on this later.)

Second, the Democrats have found ingenious (or is that disingenuous?) ways of bluntng the thrust of Bush's plan. Relying on a strategy paper written by Jason Furman, who was John Kerry's economic advisor during last year's run (he's burnished the paper here and here, but he's playing the same theme), the Democrats are arguing two main points:

  1. The old "a cut in the rate of increase is still a cut" canard. Anyone making more than $20,000 a year currently and is born after 1950 loses a benefit. But this ignores the value of the PRA. Only if you count the payments made by the government guarantee alone would you get the results Furman has presented. Donald Luskin notes this as well. You can observe the numbers with the Social Security Calculator provided by Patrick Ruffini. I suggest you go there and play with the calculator for awhile and see how PRAs allow younger workers to build their retirement savings.
  2. The second point is the attack that, by advocating progressive indexation, Bush is turning Social Security into a welfare plan. Reliable toady Paul Krugman is in shrill form today over this.
    ...it's a good bet that benefits for the poor would eventually be cut, too.

    It's an adage that programs for the poor always turn into poor programs. That is, once a program is defined as welfare, it becomes a target for budget cuts.

    Michelle Malkin notes the Left's new-found concern for the benefits of the rich. But this too is missing something. Hasn't it always been the argument that Social Security is a bad deal for the poor? But if we do something to fix that, then we are doing something worse? There isn't much good evidence one way or the other on the progressivity of Social Security; a paper in 2000 by Coronado, Fullerton and Glass (non-technical summary here) suggests that over a lifetime the current system is probably neutral; another paper of theirs looks at several plans, including those here, using some micro-level data and suggests there would be little change.
The reason I think progressive indexation makes sense economically is that wage indexation may be a dangerous thing to have in the long run. Social Security premiums are invested in short- and medium-term government securities, while benefits indexed to wages will behave like returns to capital, as Arnold Kling noted a while ago. In essence you are running an asset-liability mismatch in your portfolio, so that an expanding economy (or any situation where the stock market return exceeds those on short-term bonds) makes the Trust Fund worse off. This would be cured, by the way, if we allowed the Trust Fund to invest in long-run securities, or completely privatized the system.

The WSJ is correct that Bush has stood the debate on its head, and makes one other key point regarding the administration's continued focus on "fixing" Social Security:
The overriding problem, however, is that solvency pushes the entire reform debate into what Americans will lose rather than what they can gain. The great appeal of private accounts is the chance for workers to own their retirement savings rather than depend on the promises of politicians. Especially for lower-wage workers who find it hard to save, it is the chance to build wealth that they can control and pass along to their heirs. If they now die at age 64, they lose all of the taxes they've paid over a lifetime of work. That's the "fairness" argument we wish Mr. Bush and Republicans were stressing.
I continue to express my frustration that the "ownership society" president I voted for continues to miss opportunities to put that vision at the front and center of his domestic economic policy.

UPDATE: Reader jw sends along this report from the chief actuary at Social Security to Robert Pozen on the effects of progressive indexing with and without PRAs. Much of the information being used by the administration in its talking points seems to come from this, especially the last page. They are assuming a real (above-inflation) return on the PRAs of 3%. SSA thinks that assumption is warranted.

More educated people think more like economists 

That's the finding of Bryan Caplan in finding that economic literacy (yes, Stephen, I agree we need another word than literacy) correlates with education. Is it a proxy for IQ? Possibly. It probably doesn't correlate to economic education very well, since there's pretty good evidence that most people forget what they learned in principles of economics after two years.

Bumming in the sun 

Chad and Saint Paul note the f-bomb-laden rant by Lee Elia, who managed the Chicago Cubs in 1983. Good on St. Paul for noting that the original "Bleacher Bums" were created at Wrigley in the 1960s. Such thinking should help wrest back the trivia title from Mitch.

They have a link to the audio, which you should listen to with your office door shut or the kids in bed. We all listened to this after the show Saturday and it reminds me of the Jerry Burns scream defending Bob Schnelker which appears on another radio station's morning show from time to time.

Noted in passing: Today, Senate Minority Majority Leader Dean Johnson was at another table at the St. Cloud Panera where I dine some mornings. Good thing Mitch wasn't along.

UPDATE: Tim Slade notes my wishful demotion of Senator Johnson. A guy can dream, can't he?