Too many colleges

As I’m pretty sure I’ve written before, I believe that in general private colleges just do not offer enough better educational experience to justify the additional expense.  I do think an NC resident will get a better education at Duke than UNC, but certainly not almost three times better.  That said, if you’ve got a lot of money to spare, I think you can still justify the expense of an elite private university.  There’s just no matching the amazing education you’ll get at an Ivy, Duke, Chicago, Stanford, etc.  What has always seemed nuts to me, though, is spending a similar amount of money on a non-elite private university.  Yes, their classes are smaller, but I guarantee you your flagship state university has better faculty and all sorts of other advantages.

Thus, I was pleased to see Slate’s Jordan Weisman write that a number of small, non-elite private colleges are in financial trouble.  I daresay, they should be:

These are agonizing times for small, private colleges. Enrollment is falling. Debts are rising. Tuition is high as it can go. And since the financial crisis, schools have been shuttering more often than normal.

Now, Moody’s Investor Service, which analyzes the credit worthiness of more 500 public and private nonprofit colleges, is delivering this grim prognosis for the future.

“What we’re concerned about is the death spiral—this continuing downward momentum for some institutions,” analyst Susan Fitzgerald tells Bloomberg. “We will see more closures than in the past.”

And that, I will add, might be a very good thing.

Small private colleges aren’t necessarily nefarious institutions, but they’re not exactly the heroes of higher education either. For the moment, forget about elite schools Amherst or Wesleyan (they’re doing fine, anyway). Instead, consider places likeAshland University in Ohio, which Moody’s has called a default risk. These institutions often cater to iffy students and produce mediocre graduation rates. But because they don’t have much in the way of endowments, they tend to charge high tuition, and leave undergraduates saddled with debts that simply might not be worthwhile. When all the aid is factored in, attending Ashland still costs $21,000 a year, according to the Department of Education. Meanwhile, only 59 percentgraduate after six years. And so, according to Payscale, it offers one of the lowest returns on investment of any college in the country.

Forget ROI which I find very problematic when applied to colleges in this manner, but it just seems crazy to me to invest way more money in an inferior educational product.  The truth is we surely have too many small private colleges in this country (hello, inefficiencies of small scale) and higher education would be just fine with fewer.

Infographic of the day

Great Don Draper marketing quotes.  I love having Mad Men back.  I just wish it didn’t have to share Sunday nights with Game of Thrones right now.  I never know which I should DVR and watch the next night.

Don Draper Moments of Marketing Wisdom

Whither the Republican women legislators?

I was talking with my Politics of Parenthood partner in crime, Laurel Elder, the other day about her other research on women in state legislatures.  I think this chart that sums up the issue is pretty amazing.


As for Laurel’s explanation, here’s from her abstract:

 From 1981 to 2014, the percent of Republican women legislators increased by only 3 percentage points nationally and actually went down in one fifth of states. Moreover, the gains of Republican women have come disproportionately in liberal states that are trending Democratic, while they have faced their biggest obstacles in conservative states dominated by Republicans. In contrast, women’s presence in the workforce appears to facilitate a steady increase in the representation of Democratic women. Democratic women have made impressive gains in all regions of the country, including the South, and in both conservative and liberal states.

The conversation was occasioned by my coming across some similar research on the issue by Danielle Thompson at the conference last week.  Her take:

To explain this divergence, I develop a theory of Party Fit. The central claim is that ideological conformity with the party shapes the decision to run for office. I find that, regardless of gender, moderate state legislators are less likely to be attracted to a congressional career and less likely to run for Congress than those at the ideological extremes. The findings have gendered implications because, first, Republican women in the pipeline have historically been to the left of their male counterparts, and second, there is a dearth of conservative women in the pipeline.

Does not look like we’ll see much change in this gap anytime soon.  From a political optics perspective, this probably benefits Democrat’s claims of the “Republican war on women.”  Also, I think it is a good thing to have more women in legislatures period (plenty of good PS on this).  And the fact that there’s this stagnation among Republican women is a significant impediment to actually getting more women in legislatures.

Was that so hard?

Mark Begich’s campaign embraces the good of Obamacare:

And, I’ll just throw in a quote I love here from a recent Krugman column:

What’s amazing about this wave of rejection is that it appears to be motivated by pure spite. The federal government is prepared to pay for Medicaid expansion, so it would cost the states nothing, and would, in fact, provide an inflow of dollars. The health economist Jonathan Gruber, one of the principal architects of health reform — and normally a very mild-mannered guy — recently summed it up: The Medicaid-rejection states “are willing to sacrifice billions of dollars of injections into their economy in order to punish poor people. It really is just almost awesome in its evilness.” Indeed.


And while supposed Obamacare horror stories keep on turning out to be false, it’s already quite easy to find examples of people who died because their states refused to expand Medicaid. According to one recent study, the death toll from Medicaid rejection is likely to run between 7,000 and 17,000 Americans each year.

But, hey Obamacare is evil totalitarian socialism.  So there’s that.

Republicans and immigration

Nate Silver has a quasi-interesting post pointing out that Democrats and Republicans are far less apart on immigration than on most any other prominent issue:


Ahhh, but here’s the tractor-trailer sized caveat:

This is not to say that [Jeb] Bush’s position on immigration is risk-free. These polls do not measure the intensity of support; it may be that Republicans who are opposed to immigration reform feel more strongly about it than those who support it. 

I’m feeling a little too lazy to run the data now (I’ve got to go watch the new Mad Men), but I will nonetheless pretty much guarantee that those who oppose immigration are more intense and they absolutely are more likely to vote in Republican primaries.  If you ignore that, you are ignoring a huge part of the political dynamic.  Silver argues:

Furthermore, breaking from the party orthodoxy could allow Bush to portray himself as a “compassionate conservative” at a time when the Republican Party has a strongly negative image among moderate and independent voters. The extent to which the news media exaggerates the uniformity of Republican opposition to immigration reform could help Bush in this regard. The “narrative” of the campaign may be that Bush has taken an exceptionally bold position, when in fact many constituencies within the Republican Party share his views.

I’m inclined to argue that Bush’s relative moderation on issues such as immigration are, in fact, exactly the reason he cannot win the nomination (and why we certainly won’t see any meaningful legislation on this in the next couple of years).

Five more words

An essay from former Justice John Paul Stevens on how to fix the second amendment.  It’s pretty simple– just add five words:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.”

He makes a nice argument that this would actually bring us back to the intent of the amendment:

As a result of the rulings in Heller and McDonald, the Second Amendment, which was adopted to protect the states from federal interference with their power to ensure that their militias were “well regulated,” has given federal judges the ultimate power to determine the validity of state regulations of both civilian and militia-related uses of arms. That anomalous result can be avoided by adding five words to the text of the Second Amendment to make it unambiguously conform to the original intent of its draftsmen.

What do “health conscious consumers” have against science?

A recent Slate post about Wal-mart trying to hone in on the organic foods market had this throw-away bit:

In any case, there’s a certain irony in Walmart’s new organic food interest. The company has historically stocked its shelves with foods full of substances that are the bane of health-conscious customers—aspartame, MSG, and high fructose corn syrup, among others. 

Now there’s plenty of stuff in food that we have a reasonable amount of evidence that we know is “bad for you,” but it’s not these.   There’s no evidence that aspartame causes cancer or any of the other maladies people like to impute to it (nice summary here).  MSG is just awesome and makes your food taste better and that’s it (great summary here).   When I learned of this myth years ago (a Gladwell article, I think) I bought some Accent and started using it on various foods.  Mmmm.  Also, I totally avoid Chinese restaurants that advertise “no MSG.”  Just like I’d avoid a restaurant that advertised “no salt!”  And, lastly, I’ll admit that HCFS isn’t good for you, but there’s absolutely no evidence that it is any worse for you than sugar.  And, yes, all these myths are probably more evidence that (certainly at times) liberals can be just as ideologically ignorant of science as conservatives.

Quick hits

1) I loved seeing “Sue” the T. Rex in Chicago a few years ago.  Here’s the story of how Smithsonian was blindsided on how expensive she would be and was massively outbid.

2) Here’s a school system that thinks making a fellow student “uncomfortable” (in this case by twirling a pencil) should lead to a suspension and psychiatric evaluation.

3) I was prepared to think Jezebel was over-reacting, but these ads are truly horrible.

4) The reason that acceptance rates at top colleges are down is because too many kids are applying to way too many schools.  And you get this:

Bruce Poch, a former admissions dean at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., said he saw “the opposite of a virtuous cycle at work” in admissions. “Kids see that the admit rates are brutal and dropping, and it looks more like a crapshoot,” he said. “So they send more apps, which forces the colleges to lower their admit rates, which spurs the kids next year to send even more apps.”

5) The marijuana legalization opponents predicted a major crime way if marijuana became legal.  Not at all surprisingly, they are wrong.

6) Not just unemployment, but labor force participation rate is a real problem these days.

7) All those constant Lumosity pitches are not based on a lot of actual science, but here’s some evidence that brain-training really works.  Time to start playing the N-back game?  (I’ve actually been thinking this might really benefit my son with ADHD).

8) The best evidence Obamacare is working.  Drum on how you’ll never actually hear even a modest admission of that from conservative sources.

9) I love looking at American health care in a comparative perspective.  A really good article on how the German system works and what we can learn from them.

10) Tell white people they will be a minority and they become more conservative.  Yikes.  Jamelle Bouie on how this means the whole country could end up like Mississippi (double-yikes!)

11) American’s are hopelessly resigned to the fact that we can’t make meaningful changes in campaign finance.  And I’m one of them.  Larry Lessig says we need to get past this.  He’s right, of course.  But I’m just too skeptical of real change.

12) Vox explains the oil curse.  Simple but compelling.

13) I started reading this column about the recent Ebola outbreak and thinking about the book I read last summer by David Quammen about zoonotic diseases.  Then I noticed the column was by Quammen.

14) Listened to a fascinating Fresh Air interview about a new book detailing how Michael Rockefeller (of those Rockefellers) was likely killed and eaten by cannibals.  And here’s a Slate piece on the book.  Pretty amazing and compelling stuff.

15) Been reading for a while about how caffeine can improve your athletic performance.  Here’s a nice how-to guide from Vox.  (Before our 5-mile doughnut run, I actually gave my 14-year old son some caffeine– something he otherwise never has).

16) Totally deserves it’s own post, but since I haven’t gotten around to it yet… Here’s how a recent study find tens of thousands “suspicious votes” in NC.  But history very strongly suggests that when they are examined more closely, only a very small handful will be the result of malfeasance.  Not surprisingly, Republicans are simply pretending otherwise.

17) I’ve long known Jim Demint is a moron.  He argued this week that “big government” had nothing to do with ending slavery.  Jamelle Bouie’s takedown.  Adam Gopnik’s is even better:

This is, in plain English, so ignorant that, as I say, there has been no shortage of corrections. A debate about whether big government freed the slaves is pretty much the only debate that a liberal is guaranteed to win. The Civil War was the original big-government overreach: it came from Washington, D.C.; it involved raising new taxes (in fact, it is the origin of a number of taxes); it confiscated rifles from rebels; it did special favors for minorities (in this case, the special favor of recognizing them as human beings and setting them free from lifelong bondage); and, in the end, it imposed a bureaucracy on an unwilling population (that is, it imposed the Union Army on the South). Many things can be said about the Civil War, but not that it was done with the benign neglect of the federales. The moral point was argued for decades, as it is with most issues in a democracy. But that big government freed the slaves is as sure a fact as any in history.


Women are busy!

NPR ran a story earlier this week looking at how Republican women in Texas were trying to fend off Democratic attacks.  One of the leaders is queried on the equal pay issue and her response is just awesome(ly bad):

Here’s Christman being interviewed on the ABC affiliate in Dallas.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What’s the solution then, do you think, for equal pay then, Cari?

CHRISTMAN: Well, if you look at it, women are extremely busy. We lead busy lives, whether working professionally, whether we’re working from home and times are extremely busy. It’s just that it’s a busy cycle for women and we’ve got a lot to juggle and so… [emphasis mine]

Women are too busy to care about equal pay?  What?!  This Palin-esque incoherence says it all.

Gay marriage = inter-racial marriage?

Loved this Connor Friedersdorf post on gay marriage.  Pretty much my sentiments exactly:

Liberals generally think of themselves as proponents of tolerance, pluralism, and diversity. Some liberals are also eager to stigmatize and punish opponents of gay marriage. Is that a betrayal of their values? If so, these liberals tend to argue, it is no more problematic than the decision to exclude white supremacists from polite society. As an email correspondent put it, if you object to a boycott against a tech company whose CEO gave $1,000 to the Proposition 8 campaign, “I guess you find the Montgomery Bus Boycott objectionable as well. If not, you might want to come up with a better rationalization for why you’ve chosen to give aid and comfort to those who would deprive gay people of basic rights available to others.” 

In Slate, Will Oremus made a stronger version of the argument…. “But this is different. Opposing gay marriage in America today is not akin to opposing tax hikes or even the war in Afghanistan. It’s more akin to opposing interracial marriage: It bespeaks a conviction that some people do not deserve the same basic rights as others.” …

My position has always been that civil unions are not enough—that gays ought to have full marriage equality. But the pro-civil-union, anti-gay-marriage faction is instructive. Opposition to interracial marriage never included a large contingency that was happy to endorse the legality of black men and white women having sex with one another, living together, raising children together, and sharing domestic-partner benefits as long as they didn’t call it a marriage.

Does that clarify the inaptness of the comparison? …

To justify stigmatizing folks he disagrees with on gay marriage in a way he’d never stigmatize antagonists on “tax hikes or even the war in Afghanistan,” Oremus claims he’s identified a special case. He thinks gay-marriage opponents are different, because they believe “that some people do not deserve the same basic rights as others.”

That’s ostensibly his red line. And many on his side of the argument make similar claims. Yet I find their outrage curiously, unwittingly selective.

Proponents of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen believe “that some people do not deserve the same basic rights as others.” Advocates of deporting illegal immigrants believe “that some people do not deserve the same basic rights as others.” Advocates of spying on Muslim Americans believe “that some people do not deserve the same rights as others.” Indefinite-detention apologists believe “that some people do not deserve the same rights as others.” On a weekly basis, I write about all sorts of civil-libertarian causes, foreign and domestic. Let me assure everyone that there is no end to policies implicitly or explicitly premised on the notion “that some people do not deserve the same rights as others.” If that’s the standard, why are gay-marriage opponents the only ones being stigmatized? [emphasis mine]

I know decent well-meaning people who do not think gay marriage should be legal.  In my experience they are nowhere near the moral equivalent of unrepentant racists.  I think advocating for gay marriage is a worthy and moral cause.  That said (and I think I’m going to get serious pushback for this), I think on some level people (especially liberals) really want to feel like they are part of something big and important and a movement.  The Civil Rights movement is over (regardless of whether it’s work is done or not) and I think a lot of liberals probably like to feel like this is their Civil Rights movement.  And again, not that it’s an unworthy cause, but I’m not going to apologize for arguing that the Civil Rights movement of the 60′s was dealing with another whole level of wrongness and discrimination:

But it’s not credible to argue that they’re in the same moral category as the bigots who sustained Jim Crow, or that the narrow right they’d withhold has done similar harm and thus warrants the same response (even if you believe, as I do, that withholding the name marriage is wrong andharmful).

Yes, it is tough not having full legal equality, but the lack of a right to legally marry strikes me as a long way from the pervasive and crushing second-class citizenship that comprised Black life for the vast majority of our country’s history and I don’t think it does anybody any favors to pretend they are on the same level.

Lower tax rates… lower tax revenue

Surprise, surprise, after nice tax cuts for North Carolina’s wealthiest residents, tax revenues are… down.  SMH– you mean supply-side economics doesn’t work?!!  Oh, and the supposed economic benefits of our lower tax rates were going to create a budget amount to fund teacher raises.  Oh well, so much for that.  From WRAL:

 — Tax cuts that state lawmakers passed last year have trimmed the amount of revenue North Carolina is collecting to the point where promised raises for teachers are at risk.

When lawmakers wrote the two-year budget last summer, they left about $360 million unspent for this year, which they planned to use for proposed raises for beginning teachers. That cushion might not be there when the new fiscal year starts in July, however.

Lawmakers likely will have to use $200 million or so to cover another shortfall in the Medicaid budget, and the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division has issued a gloomy forecast for tax collections.

Although collections through the end of March were $12.1 million above target, personal income tax is coming in $221 million below forecasts, according to the Fiscal Research Division…

The revenue squeeze is the result of tax cuts included in last year’s overhaul of the state tax system already taking effect [emphasis mine], while other changes meant to offset the impact of the cuts, such as the elimination of several deductions, won’t be felt until people file their 2014 tax returns next year.

Well, who could have ever seen that coming?  Gee, if only there were some evidence that cutting (already low) tax rates doesn’t lead to increases in tax revenues.  Oh, wait, there is.  Who needs evidence when you’ve got Fox News.

A stupidity asymmetry?

First, read Ezra’s big article “how politics makes us stupid” which was featured to lead off Vox.   I’ve mentioned before the research that shows partisanship is so powerful as to make you bad at math, but Ezra nicely works this into a big piece about the state of politics today.  Read it, okay?

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I was intrigued by how Krugman used this as a jumping off point to suggest a partisan asymmetry in stupidity:

What Ezra does is cite research showing that people understand the world in ways that suit their tribal identities: in controlled experiments both conservatives and liberals systematically misread facts in a way that confirms their biases. And more information doesn’t help: people screen out or discount facts that don’t fit their worldview. Politics, as he says, makes us stupid.

But here’s the thing: the lived experience is that this effect is not, in fact, symmetric between liberals and conservatives. Yes, liberals are sometimes subject to bouts of wishful thinking. But can anyone point to a liberal equivalent of conservative denial of climate change, or the “unskewing” mania late in the 2012 campaign, or the frantic efforts to deny that Obamacare is in fact covering a lot of previously uninsured Americans?[emphasis mine] I don’t mean liberals taking positions you personally disagree with — I mean examples of overwhelming rejection of something that shouldn’t even be in dispute.

The thing is, the evidence is clear that liberals certainly can be just as “stupid.”  Over-reaction to GMO’s and gluten, anyone?  But, in the real world, I think it is safe to say there is definitely less of an impact of “stupid” liberal thinking.  So, what’s up?

One possible answer would be that liberals and conservatives are very different kinds of people — that liberalism goes along with a skeptical, doubting — even self-doubting — frame of mind; “a liberal is someone who won’t take his own side in an argument.”

Another possible answer is that it’s institutional, that liberals don’t have the same kind of monolithic, oligarch-financed network of media organizations and think tanks as the right.

Whatever it is, I think it’s important: people are people, but politics doesn’t seem to have the same stupiditizing effect on left and right.

Starting with Krugman’s second suggestion… ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!  Yep.  If liberals did have an entire political/media infrastructure feeding them the stupid, they’d be stupid.  Fortunately, we don’t.

But, I also think that actually interacts with the earlier proposition.  I think liberals are far less inclined to blindly accept that type of infrastructure.  There absolutely are real personality differences between liberals and conservatives.  For example, we in recent years there has been a huge divide where conservatives are much more likely to embrace right-wing authoritarianism (i.e., implicit submission to authority).  Other research suggests that liberals are higher on openness to experience and conservatives on conscientiousness and it is quite plausible to expect that these basic personality differences could result in substantially different rates of actually embracing “the stupid” in politics.


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