In college 50 years ago, I took Introduction to Political Science from Stephan A. Douglas. Not the short, fat Little Giant who debated Abe Lincoln. But a very good tall and angular professor at Illinois.
The main thing I remember from his class is his explanation about a compelling revolution in political science and economics that began a decade earlier. Traditionally, he said, political scientists sought to explain how institutions, practices and people in political and economic processes worked to promote the public interest and the common good. It was Pollyanna-ish: All for the better.
Then some iconoclasts said that’s not how things work at all. Most folks in the political and economic spheres aren’t trying to promote the public interest. To the extent they can, they use institutions and practices to promote their own special interests. This insight, which today seems obvious, changed political science and helped foster a branch of economics known as public choice theory – which has produced a number of Nobel Prizes in economics.
Against the background of the Viet Nam war and the turmoil in American politics in the 1960s, it was a bracing idea, and it quickly became a formative part of my intellectual make-up. It has served me well in politics and public service.
Now come our corporate leaders with a perfect example of how political and economic behavior masquerades as public-spirited when it’s really completely self-serving. The Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers of America’s largest companies, issued a new “Statement of the Purpose of a Corporation,” signed by 181 CEOs.
“While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders,” reads the key sentence. It names those stakeholders: customers, employees, diversity and inclusion, suppliers, the communities where they work, the environment and sustainability. Oh, yes, also “effective engagement with” company stockholders.
Since 1997, their periodic “Principles of Corporate Governance” statements have endorsed the notion of shareholder primacy: that corporations exist primarily to serve stockholders. In the New York Times Magazine on September 13, 1970, economist Milton Friedman, one of the intellectual giants of the 20th Century, said business executives who pursue a goal other than making money for their equity investors are wrong.
They are, he said, “unwitting puppets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of a free society these past decades.” They become “unelected government officials” who essentially tax employees and customers. They violate their legal and ethical fiduciary duties.
But the new diktat declares all “stakeholders” equal – leaving corporate moguls, our enlightened visionary betters, to decide how to balance their interests via corporate actions.
The concept of corporate stakeholders arose soon after the public choice revolution. Originally, it was descriptive: It described the groups that were affected by actions of corporations. But once the term was invented, it morphed into a normative concept suggesting the stakeholders have some kinds of claims on the actions of companies and their decision-makers that legitimately compete with the fiduciary duties owed to those who put their capital at risk by investing in the firm.
Now the CEOs have thrown in the towel and joined these predatory special-interest claimants. Why?
It’s something I’ve observed the last 40 years in regulation, politics and business. Essentially, executives are – surprise! – pursuing their own self-serving interests. They want to be lionized everywhere as great leaders, compassionate souls, visionary intellectuals. They want to use the resources their stockholders have entrusted to them to buy off everyone – unions, politicians, predatory special interests such as environmentalists, and the lamestream press.
Maximizing long-term discounted stockholder value within ethical norms crimps those aspirations.
This rot is clearest with regulated utilities, where executives can cut implicit (sometimes explicit) deals with regulators: We’ll do almost any foolish thing you want us to, as long as we can pass on the costs to ratepayers.
The problem started a century ago when large corporations were no longer managed by their primary owners, but instead by hired professional managers with their own self-serving agendas. Ironically, consumers, employees and the real public interest in economic growth and fairness suffer with stockholders in this scheme. Friedman was more right than he knew.
In last week’s column, I showed things really are much better now than in the past and said this week I’d provide some reasons for hope in the future.
Let’s start with: Our air and water are much cleaner now than 50 years ago. But we’ve not really observed the fundamental principal of regulation: We should implement such laws and regulations only if they are socially cost-effective and fair. That is, if the social benefits exceed the costs and minimize cross-subsidies. Fortunately, the Trump administration has stopped the rush to mindlessly promulgate ever more regulations and started to reconsider a few excessive ones now on the books. Maybe we can get policy right and all be better off.
Many children are indeed growing up in poor circumstances and face challenging futures. But that’s always been true, and some of them turn out surprisingly well anyway. Many other children are raised in very good circumstances, and some of them also do very well. Our daughter gives me much hope for the future. I hope your kids do so for you, too.
And some people are finally beginning to speak up about the need for two-parent families and the damage divorce and single parenting often do to children. We can’t reduce these problems until we openly acknowledge them.
Almost all significant dire things Al Gore predicted in his 2006 book An Inconvenient Truth have failed to materialize, especially the 20-foot rise in sea level. Good thing for him, too, because he bought an $8-million mansion on the coast. Probably even he didn’t believe that dreck.
Even though government excess and other basic trends have slowed economic growth, it seems to have settled at two percent annually in real terms, instead of slowing ever more. Economic growth is necessary to increase human wellbeing. Maybe we can turn our policies and other problems around and get back to long-term growth above three percent so each generation is about twice as well off on average as its parents.
A handful of high-tech companies have huge size and virtual monopolies in communications platforms. But just as IBM and others once ruled their sectors, only to be taken down by disruptive firms including the current leaders, so also will they eventually succumb to new technologies and business models, curing some of their current bad behavior.
A prominent futurist predicts artificial intelligence will blossom in the future, the way micro-electronics and the internet did before. And its benefits will exceed its risks. I think he’s right.
The rot of the Deep State is bringing it down fitfully and slowly. People are gaining consciousness of it and the problems it causes. All this likely will set off a round of reform that will benefit the public interest and ordinary folk.
Rumors of the death of the private auto are greatly exaggerated.
New technology has fostered a boom in creative arts and will continue to do so. You can make a video and post it to the world with your phone. Yes, most are forgettable, but not every play in Shakespeare’s time was a masterpiece, either. New tech gives us much new art and science.
Baseball is as much fun as ever to watch, especially the brilliant fielding plays. And the Dodgers are still the best team. Now, if only the Orioles could get back to their glory days …
If current film-makers won’t produce good movies (plot, character development, hope, inspiration, etc.) we can now watch classics on TCM, which we couldn’t decades ago. Thanks, Ted Turner.
There’s some hope biotech will help us live better, longer lives – and reduce the cost of medical care. No guarantees here, because health care and insurance costs continue to rise, but we can hope.
Technology and economic progress continue to improve our diets – quality, variety, nutrition, etc. Now we need to find ways to manage our intakes to fight obesity and promote overall wellness. A task for people, not governments.
We’ve been through crazy times like the present before and recovered. The Great Depression, the Sixties and various wars. We can do so again.
Thank you, President Trump, for considering the human lives lost before counter-attacking the evil empire of Iran.
Many folks have had enough of the anger, condescension, dishonesty, hate, bitterness, aggression, etc. that are so plentiful these days. So, despite my inclination to answer so much of it (and it needs to be answered), I write today about some reasons to be grateful for the world we inhabit — and hopeful about the future.
Our family recently traveled back to the Midwest for the biennial coast-to-coast extended family reunion on my mother’s side. The fact that many folks can travel economically such long distances for brief stays is something to appreciate, because it wasn’t possible in the past and still isn’t in most parts of the world today.
Mom’s the oldest surviving member of the family, while our daughter Karyn’s the youngest of her generation of cousins. So Karyn has had a great opportunity to learn first-hand some real and important history others get only in passing in school.
Her grandmother, until she turned eight, was a barefoot, dust-bowl, depression era Kansas farm girl. My grandparents (Mom’s parents) did well as young farmers in the Kansas farm boom of the 1920s, but as the water table sank, their well went dry and they lost the farm.
Having been diligent and productive farmers and paid their loan to the end, the bank asked them to take over a farm that still had water but had been abandoned by folks who went to California. When the well at the second farm also went dry, the bank asked them to try once more.
When the third farm went dry too, as the water table continued downward, they gave up farming and moved into Wichita. From my grandfather’s funeral many years later, the salient thing I remember is he continued to deliver eggs to neighbors even when they couldn’t pay.
Mom vividly remembers that the only time she ever saw her parents cry was after they moved into town and the pastor came to tell them he had found Grandpa a job. They cried at the family table because they knew their seven (soon to be ten) children would not go hungry. Those were really hard times.
Karyn also has such a story on her mother’s side from the same period. Kathy’s dad’s family owned a restaurant (25-cent full meals!) and then a general store in Lily, South Dakota, population 33. As things went downhill for everyone, they had to accept barter from folks at the store because no one had cash.
Ultimately, they couldn’t make the last payment on the family car and lost it, while the store closed. They packed everything they could into their suitcases, including the family silverware, and boarded a train for the west coast. Eventually they landed in California, where Dad and his father worked in the Marin shipyards in World War II (and Dad caught asbestos fibers in his lung that killed him half a century later).
As I told Karyn when we watched Ken Burns’ documentary, The Dust Bowl, that was something of a family history for her. But both families worked hard and prospered after the war. Kathy and I have been more fortunate than most, and so today Karyn will be able to go to college wherever she can get in.
Not everyone has been so fortunate, but a very large percentage of the population lives much better today than their forebears.
For example, in the last century, the portion of the average family budget that goes for food has declined from 25 percent to less than 10 percent. And over half of today’s food dollar is spent eating out, with much greater selection than at home and no dish-washing. A couple of years ago Karyn ordered Australian lobster at an Elko restaurant in February – something completely unheard of when I was her age. (Yeah, I really said that.)
Clothes, furniture, tools and all kinds of material things are plentiful and inexpensive today. So, much of our spending now goes to services only the very wealthy could afford in previous decades.
Yes, economic growth has slowed, and we may not see such rapid progress going forward. But next time I’ll give some reasons to be hopeful and optimistic for the future.
“Job growth was about 227,000 in June but 46 percent of the people surveyed say they are not better off. Democrats claim the 50 percent growth of the stock market does not help the common people because most do not invest in stocks, except those with 401(k) plans. But the stock market indicates companies are willing to invest, which leads to job growth. Please explain.”
Good points from a thoughtful reader.
June job growth of 227,000 was good, and recent upward revisions of prior-month figures likewise. However, longer-term job growth hasn’t been very robust, even though unemployment is at record lows.
Some people who were dropped from the job market during the Great Recession and tepid recovery that followed it simply haven’t returned. But some are beginning to. Some are seniors who entered retirement early and aren’t being welcomed back by hiring managers. And some are millennials who retired to their parents’ basements or similar quarters.
Dems err when they claim securities market price gains don’t help common folk. Beyond 401(k) plans and personal portfolios, the much larger impact is that the vast majority of those people depend on retirement plans that are invested in the markets. Given the poor management of most plans, members need markets to soar, for otherwise their golden years may not be so rosy.
And stock market rises don’t necessarily indicate strong investment by firms, so long-term job growth has been weak, as noted above; however, in the last decade, things have changed significantly from the pre-recession decades: thus, the “new normal.” And I think those long-term changes explain our national ennui and sourness.
The key fact is that, even after a decade of recovery and stock market growth, our economy is growing significantly slower than in previous decades. So, people’s incomes and wellbeing are rising much slower than they did during most adults’ lives, when annual per-person real growth of 2.0-2.5 percent meant that standards of living doubled every generation. Now, the generational growth is only about 40 percent, instead of doubling.
Although people don’t much consciously think or talk about that, it greatly conditions their sense of wellbeing and their outlook. For example, living space in the average home has doubled over about 40 years, and home amenities have also greatly improved. So, people are less burdened by preparing and cleaning up after meals with microwave ovens and dish washers. And they enjoy more TV options on much bigger and higher quality screens. Life seems better, and it is.
Although they don’t think about per-capita real growth having been cut in half, they do get a sense the last decade that things aren’t getting better the way they had come to expect from life-long experience. The fact they don’t know the exact reason for that is itself discomforting.
In my controller’s annual reports the last four years, I explained some key reasons for the new-normal slow growth. Government excess – spending, taxes, and debt rising continuously relative to the economy, plus continuously proliferating regulations of all kinds – all slowed growth ever more. Labor force participation grew before the turn of the century, helping growth, but has slowed since.
Debt of all kinds grew unsustainably before the recession, accelerating growth, but has stalled since then. And increasing trade and international investment, plus strong world economic growth, all helped us before the recession, but those trends too have reversed since then.
These are the important drivers people don’t see, but they definitely feel their effects of slow growth of productivity, jobs and incomes.
As noted above, people generally don’t think consciously about then versus now, although such considerations may play a subconscious role in their outlooks. Instead, regardless of how much their lives have improved, they always focus on us versus them: They are acutely aware of how well off they are compared to other folks.
And when they feel things aren’t going well for them, they look for scape goats and others to blame. When they don’t understand the economic complexities and long-term issues, they look for single-factor causes and immediate trends.
Swathed in an elegant suit of red, white and blue and enveloped by a huge crowd of the same beautiful hues, President Donald J. Trump announced his re-election campaign Tuesday night.
After reviewing the failures and treachery of his opposition and the Fake News, he counted at length the accomplishments of the American people and his administration. He ushered in the summer of our politics, economy and culture and outlined the challenges we face and how we will Keep America Great.
Of course, the lamestream media couldn’t focus on anything but Trump’s deserved criticism of them and the reptiles of Washington’s political swamp.
“Jabbing at the press and poking the eye of the political establishment he ran against in 2016, President Donald Trump officially kicked off his reelection campaign Tuesday night with a grievance-filled Florida rally that focused more on settling scores than laying out his agenda for a second term,” said AP in its story immediately after the speech.
And that’s completely a lie.
The truth is he focused mainly on how we’ve made America great again and what we’ll do in his second term to keep America great.
He started by saying our movement is made up of hard-working patriots. Next, he pointed out our country is thriving, prospering, booming and soaring to new heights. He added, “Our future has never looked brighter or sharper.”
We’ve reclaimed our government from a permanent political class that has enriched itself at the expense of the American people. We’ve transferred power back to you, the people of the USA. We’ve restored the future America deserves.
Yes, he observed his opponents are driven by hatred and rage. The truth of that was encapsulated in Hillary Clinton’s calling half of America “deplorables and irredeemables.” (Editor's note: For those that don't want to watch the link, here is Clinton's full quote: "We are living in a volatile political climate. You know, just to be grossly generalist, but you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. (laughter, applause) Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic - you name it. And, unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people - now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks - they are irredeemable, but thankfully - they are not America. But the other basket - and I know this because I look at this crowd and I see friends from all over America here - I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas, as well as, you know - New York and California - but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they're just desperate for change. It doesn't really even matter where it comes from. They don't buy everything he (Trump) says, but he seem to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won't wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroine, feel like they're in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.")
He noted the progress he and the senate have made in restoring a competent non-political judiciary that promotes the rule of law, not politics from the bench. Despite the vicious attacks against a great jurist, Brett Kavanaugh.
He discussed at various points the progress we’re making on the human tragedy of massive illegal immigration and initiatives he will be proposing. He announced a July 4th celebration of America in Washington.
In officially announcing his reelection campaign, he promised, “I will never, ever let you down.” He promised his heart, mind and soul. He observed the essence of his administration has been keeping his promises and not being co-opted by the special interests. And he generously shared credit with many folks for the progress we’re making.
He emphasized the progress on unemployment: lowest figures ever for African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans. Lowest rates in 74 years for women. And wages are rising, especially for low-income workers.
These results are due to cutting and reforming the onerous and unnecessary regulations that have long accumulated due to special interests and statist liberals and progressive ideologues. Also to his historic tax cuts. Further, he celebrated America’s energy independence, noting our air and water are cleaner than in many decades and better than most places in the world.
He pointed to crime policy reform, progress against opioids (thank you, Melania), right-to-try initiatives, and health care for military veterans.
He promised we’ll have fair trade and related relations with China, or none at all. He highlighted the progress we’ve made with Mexico and Canada. He discussed how we stand up to evil empires including Russia and Iran, where the Obama administration kowtowed to them. He touted our relationship with the good nation of Israel. And we support the people of Cuba and Venezuela against socialist oppression and poverty.
Yes, he noted that Democrats are driven by hatred and rage. They want to keep us splintered and divided as they become ever more radical and unhinged.
He proclaimed, “America will never be a socialist country. As Republicans, we believe in freedom, not socialism.” President Trump defended free speech, religious liberty and the right to bear arms.
He opposes taxpayer funded abortions and said, “Republicans believe that every life is a sacred gift from God.”
Finally, he promised we’ll provide opportunity for our children and make America wealthy, strong, safe and great again. But the lamestream press won’t acknowledge this summer of our politics.
Progressivism was a set of related movements in the U.S. after the Civil War up to World War II. Modern progressives emphasize movements related to government corruption, women’s suffrage, municipal administration, education, promoting abortion, child and pro-union labor laws, conservation, internationalism, culture and especially activist judges promoting a “living constitution” against originalism. Also, aggressive economic regulation and anti-trust law, much of which has been discredited by experience.
They studiously overlook as embarrassing progressivism’s first cause, eugenics (“scientific” racism); plus alcohol prohibition; and opposition to prostitution and voter fraud – because they’re not popular with today’s progressives. But where they used to soft-peddle governmental coercion and socialism as unacceptably harsh, modern progressives now proudly trumpet them.
Prohibition of alcohol and prostitution were greatly rooted in traditional religion, but many other progressive causes – especially scientific racism and opposition to basic principles of America’s founding – were rooted in disdain for religion. So, progressives experienced much cognitive dissonance.
The original progressive causes quickly found their natural partner, liberal statism. This 19th Century term stands for extensive government intervention in economic and social matters and not leaving much room for traditional and voluntary social, economic and political institutions and practices. Statism gave progressivism its key means: the mushrooming administrative state.
The movement was bi-partisan. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were the main leaders.
Progressivism was somewhat a reaction to the 19th Century rise of industrial and urban society. It’s called a reform movement because it sought to create new social and political means to preserve the positions of many groups – especially labor, farmers and whites – against new developments. Hence, much populist progressivism is reactionary.
An even larger part of the progressive movements was based on two related ideas. First, that there is an arc of history moving society toward ever better practices, policies and institutions – ergo, progress. Second and even more important, that the small socio-political elite fraction of the population, via the use of science (especially emerging social sciences) and their asserted natural intellectual and ethical superiority, would discern that arc of history and should therefore be given the power to effect their vision of it.
Thus, the disdain for traditional democratic means and religion and for the founding principles based on them.
A third key ingredient was arrogance due to their ignorance of possible unintended consequences and their stupidity in assuming they could remake the world and human beings, and everything would work just as they intended. Racism is the most obvious part of their ignorance and stupidity. But what we know today about their misplaced faith in rampant economic intervention (including labor law), internationalism and substitution of judicial for political means also drives home this point.
Ditto, their belief that government action is inherently benign (because it will be guided by the progressives implementing the arc of history, of course), and government won’t be co-opted by predatory special interests to prey upon the people and the public interest. The Founders understood the true nature and risks of government, so they designed a constitution to protect people and the public interest from them. These ideas were anathema to progressives.
Even more than FDR’s New Deal, LBJ’s Great Society was the apogee of progressivism and statism in the 20th Century. Then they subsided somewhat.
However, in this century, they have gained a new life, now replacing the good early causes with identity politics; radical economic egalitarianism; socialism; political correctness and suppression of free speech; environmental catastrophe dogma; and opposition to real science.
Classic failures of progressivism such as judicial activism are now joined by these predatory special interests as major parts of the sad legacy we’re leaving. Plus, of course, long-term slow economic growth and thus diminished human wellbeing and fairness.
Next time, examples and a few solutions.
American Progressives today like to talk about their Green New Deal, free higher education for all and slavery reparations. But recently the eminent economist Dr. Thomas Cargill addressed Reno’s Hayek Group about Progressives’ original cause: eugenics.
Eugenics is a dark and troubling part of US history – one not accurately reflected in standard accounts and teaching today of that history. The “scientific” racism of eugenics ideology flowered in the second half of the 19th Century through the 1930s.
It classified persons as “fit” or “unfit” based on traits assumed to be hereditary, including race and ethnicity, mental and physical characteristics, and country of origin. Because “fitness” was assumed to be genetic, it was hereditary and thus immutable: not subject to alteration via environment, nurture or other conditioning methods.
Eugenics gained wide acceptance, even being reflected in decisions of the Supreme Court of The United States. “Three generations of imbeciles are enough,” said Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in the case of Buck v. Bell, a 1927 decision upholding a Virginia law that authorized the state to surgically sterilize certain “mental defectives” without their consent.
Eugenics doctrine had a broad reach from justifying slavery to the alleged superiority of Nordic peoples (“Aryans”) to other races. It was fostered in the US by the mushrooming of the administrative state during the progressive period, and it also provided some ostensible intellectual foundation for that mushrooming.
German Nazism also drew greatly on the developing American eugenics tradition. As much as anything, the fall of the Third Reich undid eugenics.
After the Civil War, it was used first to justify low military compensation for blacks and then to support barriers to non-Nordic immigration. Implementation of eugenics was helped by the rise of progressivism’s administrative and interventionist government over-riding the outcomes of free markets. By 1905, 32 states had sterilization laws fostered by eugenics, and thousands of people were sterilized.
One scholar recently noted, “Eugenics and progressivism were made for each other.” The doctrine was an excuse for the exercise of extreme coercive collectivism, the fundamental means employed by progressivism.
Minimum wage legislation was also originally related to eugenics, as it proposed to let the market pay low or no wages to the unfit persons (mainly races) so they would over time die off. Even the famous Yale economist Irving Fischer bought into such dogma.
Perhaps the most (in)famous proponent and activist in favor of eugenics and its abuses of human beings was Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, who was an outright racist. Her 1933 article in the journal Birth Control Review was also a strong argument against immigration to America. And sterilization of the mentally ill was a popular birth control idea from the start.
The notable surprise beyond the flourishing of eugenics in America is that it has been almost completely omitted from modern history and government texts. Since almost all high school students must take a US history course, this omission has given them a completely false account of very important US history, politics and government. Eugenics and its disastrous history as a key part of progressivism are at best mentioned in passing, and mostly minimized and treated as not a significant part of our history.
Why? The writers of the books don’t themselves seem to know much about this central subject. Some authors are aware, but seem to consider it unimportant; eugenics is viewed by many progressives as the crazy uncle in the family. Also, eugenics’ relationship to abortion makes it a taboo subject for many advocates of that practice. And almost all these writers are progressives with a bias in support of the over-reaching administrative state, and discussing eugenics undermines that key advocacy.
What do students lose due to these biases and omissions? First, balanced and reasonably complete perspective on US history, politics and government and the roles of various factions then and now. Second, a necessary skepticism of the ideology of catastrophe supported allegedly by science. (See also climate change deniers.) Third, the perils of small groups, especially of self-selected elitists, controlling social power; this often leads to bad decisions and social disasters. (See also China’s one-child policy.) Finally, a profound understanding of the power of even a bad idea.
Recently, the outstanding economist Richard Vedder penned a column in the Wall Street Journal on the problems of higher education in America. He titled it: “College Wouldn’t Cost So Much If Students and Faculty Worked Harder.”
The piece was a preview of his book on the subject, Restoring the Promise: American Higher Education Today to be published May 1. From his summary and from reading his previous writings on the subject, I’m certain the book will be outstanding
His analyses have coincided with my own as a Nevada legislator, higher education regent, college teacher and state controller, and he has brought good data to illustrate issues I have observed in those roles. So, here, I’ll present a summary of his WSJ piece, and in future column I’ll detail from my experience and his book some major issues and solutions to the serious challenges U.S. higher education faces.
Vedder begins: “One reason college is so costly and so little real learning occurs is that college resources are vastly underused. Students don’t study much, professors teach little, few people read most of the obscure papers the professors write, and even the buildings are empty most of the time.”
As a regent and part-time community college instructor for four years, I observed all these phenomena and more first hand. They are some key reasons higher education costs have increased faster in real terms than the incomes of students and their families while those students are being ever more poorly prepared for life and the job market. And taxpayers are shorted.
His first observation is that surveys show college students today spend about 27 hours a week in class and studying, while taking classes only about 32 weeks a year. Or, fewer than 900 hours a year on academics – “less time than a typical eighth-grader and perhaps half the time their parent work to help finance college.”
He notes other researchers have found that in the middle of the 20th Century students spent 50 percent more time – around 40 hours weekly. Grade inflation has vitiated their incentives to work hard because the average grade received has risen from B-/C+ in 1960 to B/B+ now.
Vedder notes that on some campuses students study much more. And, “Engineering majors probably work much harder than communications or gender studies majors.” Ditto, law and medical students. As a sometimes engineering major at Illinois, recipient of a masters from Stanford in Engineering Economic Systems and later law student, I know all that’s not new.
But neither he nor I are suggesting that students responding to the changing incentives is the only problem. Vedder confesses: “I’m part of the problem: I’ve been teaching for 55 years, and I assign far less reading, demand less writing, and give higher grades than I did two generations ago.” Most other professors are less demanding and productive in teaching and useful research than he is, while mostly hard-sciences instructors put in similar teaching and productive research time.
When I taught 15 years ago, I told my community college students at the start of the semester I would teach them just as I would at any four-year college, including the same reading, writing, homework and testing. However, I felt guilty because I succumbed to the grade inflation trend. On the other hand, because a third of them needed remedial English, writing and math skills (having been shorted by their grade and high schools), I provided that service.
Another point he makes is that objective measures show the results of college education today are underwhelming. Similarly, I noted in my controller’s annual reports that American K-12 students’ achievement scores in international tests are in the middle ranks of those for advanced countries, while our per-student spending is among the highest.
A major point I learned as a regent is that much of higher education’s problem is the proliferation of administrative and other non-teaching staff relative to all instructors. Because colleges and universities work hard to cover up this phenomenon, I had trouble getting data on it, and I look forward to his book for more information here.
When we understand the full dimensions of the problem, we can begin crafting remedies. Stay tuned.
One joy of studying history, especially the 20th Century, is to see how life has changed. To my great satisfaction, our daughter Karyn has a fondness for the subject and especially the aspect of it that shows how people lived then versus now, particularly as reflected in popular culture.
As some folks know, I still collect sports and non-sports cards. I believe in the adage that he who dies with the most baseball cards, wins. Such cards and related ephemera are a great reflection of the times when they were produced and a deep insight into the real history and culture of their eras.
Recently, I acquired a reprint set of the first issue of football cards, which included 35 National Football League players and the immortal Knute Rockne, who had coached at Notre Dame and shaped much of the early game.
The original set, produced in 1935 by the National Chicle Co. of Cambridge MA is too expensive for a non-corrupt former elected official, because it includes the most valuable football card ever, number 34 Bronko Nagurski, as well as number 9 Rockne. They can command five-figure prices in near-mint condition. My reproductions, easily distinguished from the real items, cost a few dollars.
Among other things, all the players are pictured in actual football poses, not with fur coats, bling and shades as some stars have been in recent years. The front sides are art, not photographs, and they use very bright colors, attractive compositions and simple designs with football backgrounds.
The text on the back of the cards, written by Eddie Casey, then coach of the Boston Redskins and formerly Harvard, shows how real sports and life were then as compared to today.
A few things really struck me. The first was the line in Nagurski’s biography on the back that said: “A product of the wheat farm country, he stills works the soil between action on the football field and professional wrestling mat.” This is a great example of a feature of many cards even into the middle-1950s: the discussion of the player’s off-season job.
Their pay was so modest that many had to hold an off-season job for a decent living. Quite the opposite of the sometimes multi-million-dollar guaranteed levels even for rookies in some professional leagues now and the long-term contracts with mid-eight-figure annual pay for some stars.
After baseballer Carl Furillo won the National League batting crown in 1953, he returned to his winter job as an elevator repairman for Otis Elevators, according to one of his cards. Perhaps more than any other fact, that illustrates what I mean about life being real then.
Another item is that the text on the first 27 cards is essentially a tutorial for kids and adults on how to play certain positions and actions, as depicted by the player on the front. From all aspects of kicking, passing, receiving and handling the ball both in the open field and when plunging into the line to the need for defensive ends on kickoffs to stay in their lanes and turn the ball carrier to the middle of the field, etc.
These cards were meant for real fans of the time, not for kids ripping open packs to find a rare insert or special card.
A third aspect of how real everything was then is the height and weight statistics. Only one of the 35 players tipped the scales above 220 pounds (number 11 Turk Edwards at 250) and none were taller than 6’ 3.” Some colleges today have all their starting linemen at 300 pounds plus.
Perhaps the most endearing thing is that coach Casey knew his football, as shown in the final text on Nagurski: “He is as much a tradition to [his alma mater] Minnesota football today as Red Grange is to Illinois.”
The text on the next card ends: “Now, reaching the end of his professional career as a player he is following the footsteps of Red Grange in becoming an assistant coach to the bears.”
Illini fans then and now have always known that Grange was the greatest college football player ever.
Now, if only my daughter Karyn would develop a taste for card collecting.
Ron Knecht is a contributing editor to the Penny Press - the conservative weekly "voice of Nevada." You can subscribe here at www.pennypressnv.com. His column has been reprinted in full, with permission.