Posts tagged ‘Brink Lindsey’

Genetics, Race and IQ

Brink Lindsey has an great article discussing race, genetics and IQ.  It's hard to excerpt, but here is a bit of it:

A study of twins by psychologist Eric Turkheimer and colleagues that similarly tracked parents' education, occupation, and income yielded especially striking results. Specifically, they found that the "heritability" of IQ - the degree to which IQ variations can be explained by genes - varies dramatically by socioeconomic class. Heritability among high-SES (socioeconomic status) kids was 0.72; in other words, genetic factors accounted for 72 percent of the variations in IQ, while shared environment accounted for only 15 percent. For low-SES kids, on the other hand, the relative influence of genes and environment was inverted: Estimated heritability was only 0.10, while shared environment explained 58 percent of IQ variations.

Turkheimer's findings make perfect sense once you recognize that IQ scores reflect some varying combination of differences in native ability and differences in opportunities. Among rich kids, good opportunities for developing the relevant cognitive skills are plentiful, so IQ differences are driven primarily by genetic factors. For less advantaged kids, though, test scores say more about the environmental deficits they face than they do about native ability.

I have been struggling to articulate my issues with IQ for a long time.  I have always been frustrated with the nature vs. nurture arguments on intelligence, because I have always thought the answer is both.  But Brink's article get's me thinking along the lines of this simple model:

iq

In this model, intelligence is not a product that works straight out of the box, so to speak.  It's an engine with some inherent potential that requires a lot of fine-tuning and a long break-in period to reach that potential. Let's say in the US suburbs our kids have a development percentage of 0.9 (we have to leave room for future Flynn Effect -- it would be awesome if it turned out we were only at 0.5).  I assume education is an exponential rise to a limit, where early gains are easy but incremental gains at the margin are harder and harder to achieve.

development

If this is the case, then US suburban kids are probably pretty tightly clustered around that 0.9 (say from 0.88 to 0.92).  This cluster seems tight but again remember in an exponential rise to a limit, the effort and expense to take a kid from 0.88 to 0.92 might be very very large**.  In this situation, measured IQ is going to be driven mainly by genetics, with a wide bell curve in native intelligence dwarfing the effect of a much tighter bell curve around development.  Small improvements in educational development in this model both come at a high price and have little effect on measured IQ.

In a different sort of society, say in rural Mexico, kids might be much lower on the development scale, say around 0.6, due to cultural factors, educational opportunities, even diet.  In this case, large changes can occur in measured intelligence even from small changes in education (the steep part of the curve) and difference in education and development might be at least as important as the genetic contribution.

** Postscript:  Some may object that differences in education seem to be much larger than these in US schools, but we have to make sure we are talking about the same output.   Here we are solely talking about the ability to improve IQ as measured by IQ tests.  There are many other things education does than just polish native intelligence and cognitive ability.  It teaches skills.  For example, it teaches one to write.   I would agree that there are huge differences in schools in their ability to produce kids that can write good 5-paragraph essays, or complete a calculus problem, or understand how to analyze a historical document.

An Analogy I have Made Many Times

I will quote from Don Boudreaux (who was in turn commenting on his own quote of the day, which happened to be from Brink Lindsey, my old college roommate).

In other words, very many people – nearly everyone on the political left, yet plenty also on the political right – remain creationists.  They continue to fail to grasp the nuances, deep meaning, and full implications of the science of spontaneous order that first flowered among scholars in 18th-century Scotland.

Brink Lindsey's New Column

In one of those strange small-world things, my college roommate and I both have columns at Forbes.com.  Brink Lindsey's first installment is here.  In it, Brink expresses optimism for the prospects for continued US income growth.

Immigration and Median Income

I have hypothesized that immigration may have an effect on median income -- not because it is bad for the economy per se but just form the fact of adding millions of new people in the bottom quartiles would tend to shift the median downwards (just the pure math of the thing).

I have only given them a quick glance at this point, but Tyler Cowen links several studies that tend to say my hypothesis is false.

Also, here is an interesting discussion about the median income stagnation hypothesis itself and how sensitive it is to the end point, pointing out in particular that most folks start their analysis from a point within Nixon's wage and price controls, which skew the data - shifting the start point forward even a couple of years makes most of the stagnation go away.  He builds on a post by Brink Lindsey showing historic median income growth over a longer time frame, implying the aberration may have been the boom of the 1950s and 1960s rather than the lower growth rates of today.

I would normally find this a fascinating debate if it weren't for the dark cloud behind it that half the folks arguing the point wish to use it as a justification for further reductions in economic liberties.

Missing the Point

One aspect of the TSA debate I find hilarious as a libertarian is that we get to see yet another example of partisans switching sides on an issues based on whose team is in the White House.  Since when have Republicans had this deeply held concern about liberty and privacy vs. security against terrorism.  And now leftie Kevin Drum steps up to say that all the extract screening makes sense (to my college roommate Brink Lindsey:  Sorry, but the whole liberaltarian thing is a myth.  When in power, they seem to act just as authoritarian on social and civil rights issues as Conservatives).

Anyway, Drum is certainly not full-bore backing the TSA, but he does write

I hate the TSA screening process. Everyone hates the TSA screening process. You'd be crazy not to. It's intrusive, annoying, and time-wasting. It treats us all like common criminals even though most of us are just ordinary schlubs trying to get on a plane and go somewhere.

But guess what? The fact that you personally are annoyed "” you! an educated white-collar professional! "” doesn't mean that the process is idiotic. I've heard it called "security theater" so many times I'd be rich if I had a nickel for each time it popped up in my browser, but although the anti-TSA rants are often cathartic and amusing, they've never made much sense to me. All the crap that TSA goes through actually seems pretty clearly directed at improving the security of air travel.

The point is not, as implied by Drum, that current TSA screening isn't protection against certain types of threats. Let's be generous and assume that the TSA's screening, generally concocted in a barn-door approach after someone tries a particular approach, is effective at catching the threats it is designed to catch.

The point is that nearly anyone with a room temperature IQ can think of 20 ways to attack an airplane that is not covered by the screening. If there are, say, a hundred imaginable threats, how much privacy do you want to give up to protect yourself from 35 of them?

For example, you know what is in the cargo hold below your seat? The US Mail. You know how much screening is performed on the US Mail? Zero. How hard would it be to wire up a package with a bomb and an altimeter, or perhaps just a noise sensor, and send it off airmail.  They screen the crap out of your bags and body and then throw them on the plane right next to a bunch of anonymous, unscrutinized cargo.  And that is just one example.

The End is *Not* Near

Matt Ridley discusses some of the themes from his new book the Rational Optimist.

I now see at firsthand how I avoided hearing any good news when I was young. Where are the pressure groups that have an interest in telling the good news? They do not exist. By contrast, the behemoths of bad news, such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF, spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year and doom is their best fund-raiser. Where is the news media's interest in checking out how pessimists' predictions panned out before? There is none. By my count, Lester Brown has now predicted a turning point in the rise of agricultural yields six times since 1974, and been wrong each time. Paul Ehrlich has been predicting mass starvation and mass cancer for 40 years. He still predicts that `the world is coming to a turning point'.

Ah, that phrase again. I call it turning-point-itis. It's rarely far from the lips of the prophets of doom. They are convinced that they stand on the hinge of history, the inflexion point where the roller coaster starts to go downhill. But then I began looking back to see what pessimists said in the past and found the phrase, or an equivalent, being used by in every generation. The cause of their pessimism varied - it was often tinged with eugenics in the early twentieth century, for example - but the certainty that their own generation stood upon the fulcrum of the human story was the same.

I got back to 1830 and still the sentiment was being used. In fact, the poet and historian Thomas Macaulay was already sick of it then: `We cannot absolutely prove that those are in error who tell us that society has reached a turning point, that we have seen our best days. But so said all before us, and with just as much apparent reason.' He continued: `On what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us.'

Check out the article for more.  I am currently reading his book -- good stuff so far.  He quotes both my college roommate Brink Lindsey as well as yours truly in the book.  How can you go wrong?

Taking Krugman to the Woodshed

My friend Brink Lindsey is usually pretty measured in his writing.  So it was entertaining to see him take Paul Krugman out to the woodshed:

How can someone as intelligent and informed as Krugman
concoct an interpretation of the post-World War II era that does such
violence to the facts? How can someone so familiar with the intricate
complexities of social processes convince himself that history is a
simple matter of good guys versus bad guys? Because, for whatever
reason, he has swapped disinterested analysis and scholarship for
ideological partisanship. Here,
in a revealing choice of phrase, he paraphrases Barry Goldwater's
notorious line: "Partisanship in the defense of liberty is no vice."

To be a partisan is, by definition, to see the world partially
rather than objectively: to identify wholeheartedly with the
perspectives of one particular group and, at the extreme, to discount
all rival perspectives as symptoms of intellectual or moral corruption.
And the perspective Krugman has chosen to identify with is the
philosophically incoherent, historically contingent grab bag of
intellectual, interest group, and regional perspectives known as
postwar American liberalism.

Of course, over the period that Krugman is addressing, the contents
of that grab bag have changed fairly dramatically: from
internationalist hawkishness in World War II and the early Cold War to
a profound discomfort with American power in the '70s and '80s to a
jumble of rival views today; from cynical acquiescence in Jim Crow to
heroic embrace of the civil rights movement to the excesses of identity
group politics to a more centrist line today; from sympathy for
working-class economic hardship to hostility to working-class culture
and back again. Yet with a naive zeal that leaves even Cuomo visibly
nonplussed at several points in the interview, Krugman embraces the
shifting contents of this grab bag as the one true path of virtue.

Music Recommendations

A while back, I solicited input on what bands a lover of classic rock should be listening to from the last 10 years.  I got about 40 responses.  Here are some of the more popular recommendations:

First, several people suggested Pandora.com, an internet radio station that will play music based on songs or bands you like.  I have used Pandora for a while and really like it.  I have found a number of albums I really love from this source.  For example:  Frank Zappa's "Shut up and play yer guitar" series of live guitar solos.   RadioParadise.com also had a number of supporters, and I am running it right now as I type.  It streams a fairly eclectic mix of old and new music.

Several bands / albums got multiple votes.  Those included:

White Stripes
Clutch
Corrosion of Conformity
Dream Theater
Queens of the Stone Age
Tool

I will try a selection and let folks know. 

Lot's of support for the most recent Rush efforts, which I already own and enjoy.  Ditto Stone Temple Pilots and the Black Crowes, though I am not sure their best work quite clears the 10-year-old hurdle.  Someone suggested Days of the New -- I own their first album and really enjoy it (acoustic grunge?).  I also own and enjoy both "Burning for Buddy" CDs that several folks recommended, if you are looking for something jazzier.

Lots more recommendations I will check out over time in the comments here.

Update: I asked my college roommate and CATO-ite Brink Lindsey the same question, because I know from several years of living in a confined space that he shared many of my musical tastes.  He writes:

From the mid 90s to the present, my favorite albums are:

Soundgarden, Superunknown
Garbage, Garbage
Kula Shaker, K
The Offspring, Smash
Beck, Odelay
Audioslave, Audioslave (this one's actually from after 2000!)
Kid Rock, Devil Without a Cause (yeh, it's rap but it rocks)
Green Day, Dookie
Linkin Park, Hybrid Theory (from 2000!)

Going back to the early 90s, Metallica's black album, Blind Melon's
self-titled album, Red Hot Chili Peppers' Blood Sugar Sex Magik, U2's
Achtung Baby, Nirvana's Nevermind and Unplugged, and Pearljam's 10 and
Vs. are all favorites.

None of this will allow you to claim you have current musical tastes.

Among current rock bands that I know of, I like the White Stripes.  But
that's about all I know.

Soundgarden / Metallica / Nirvana / Pearl Jam sort of represent the new end of my music collection, beyond which I am attempting to fill in the white space.

The American Dream

I am still underwater here completing a few projects, but Brink Lindsey is blogging on the most recent study claiming that income growth and the American Dream are somehow dead for the average American. 

Seriously folks, if I had a betting market that would allow you to bet on either income mobility in the US or in France, which would you take?  Seriously?  Given that the US has higher economic growth, orders of magnitude lower barriers to entrepreneurship, and no history of bright-line class distinctions that carry down through history, as France does, where would you bet?

Well, actually, there is such a betting market, and it is called immigration.  Guess which way it is running for the most talented people for whom income mobility would pay the greatest benefits?  Have you heard the stories of the brilliant young technology minds moving from the US to France to start their new business?  Yeah, neither have I.

And don't make the mistake that "Oh, this is fine for smart college educated kids, but how about for poor people?"  Congress is currently tying itself into knots over the problem of about 12 million poorer people for whom America was such an economic attraction that they were willing to break the law to come here.  Which, coincidently, also goes a long way to explaining why US median income always seems stagnant in studies over the last 30 years.  It is because tens of millions of poor immigrants have come in at the bottom, bringing down the mean and median at the same time most individuals are climbing.  It is for this reason that the average individual can be doing better and better at the same time the mean is flat or even going down.

Postscript:  I was emailing back and forth with Brink and he made a great point, which you should look for him to embellish on his blog tomorrow, which I would summarize this way -- No number of dollars in 1970 would buy a laptop computer
loaded with a real-time strategy game that you can play with 64 of your
friends over the Internet or on which you could store a few thousands CD-quality (CD, what's a CD?) songs.

Happy Birthday Star Wars

Brink Lindsey reminds me it is the anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars.  I happened to be staying in Century Plaza in LA with my family on the day the movie was release, though I had never heard of it.  It was actually a pretty low-budget movie, and was only released on a few screens.  I got dumped off by my family, who was going shopping, in some theater near UCLA and Century City I can't even remember the name of.  Anyway, I and about 20 other people were in the theater that first day, partly I guess because it was daytime and mid-week.   It is the first and only movie I stayed and watched a second time.  I know this makes me a geek, but it really was a transcendent experience for me, though sadly an experienced unmatched in any of the follow-on movies.

Being one of an extremely small cadre to have seen the first one on opening day (really by accident) I felt compelled to see all the others on opening day, a cycle I completed successfully.

I would argue that for its time, against expectations of its day, the opening 30 seconds after the words stop scrolling may be the most amazing and powerful opening of a film ever (starts at about 2:00 into the clip below).  And don't miss that fine exhibition of Stormtrooper shooting at about 4:31.  Enjoy it again:

And don't miss how Star Wars should have ended.  Priceless:

And if you are not Star Wars'd out, try the Stormtrooper Training Video:

Watch the Daily Show

I know a number of my readers are also friends with my Princeton roommate Brink Lindsey.  Look for Brink tonight on the Daily Show with John Stewart at 11PM EST on Comedy Central.

Good News

My friend and Cato-ite Brink Lindsey is blogging again, in conjunction with the release of his new book The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America's Politics and Culture.  Those who read his earlier blog will not be surprised to learn that one of his first series of posts illustrates the concept of freedom in popular music.

Libertarian Plea to the Left

My Princeton college roommate Brink Lindsey, now of Cato, has been raising a moderate rumpus by arguing that the traditional libertarian-Right coalition is stale and that libertarians should look for allies on the left as well.  He called it liberaltarianism.  Fair enough.   I will take a shot at the same plea.

I will use this map of the teaching of evolution in schools by state as a jumping off point.  I can't validate whether it is accurate or not, so I won't reproduce it here, but let's accept it as a fair representation of the diversity of approach to teaching evolution by state, even if you don't agree with the implicit value judgments embedded in the chart.  I will use it to reflect on two points I have made in the past to try to interest the left in libertarianism.

1.  Building complex machinery of state may feel good at first, when "your guys" are in control, but your opposition, or outright knaves, will eventually co-opt the system. As I wrote here:

I am reminded of all this because the technocrats that built our
regulatory state are starting to see the danger of what they created.
A public school system was great as long as it was teaching the right
things and its indoctrinational excesses were in a leftish direction.
Now, however, we can see the panic.  The left is freaked that some red
state school districts may start teaching creationism or intelligent
design.  And you can hear the lament - how did we let Bush and these
conservative idiots take control of the beautiful machine we built?  My
answer is that you shouldn't have built the machine in the first place
- it always falls into the wrong hands.... 

Today, via Instapundit, comes this story about the GAO audit of the decision by the FDA to not allow the plan B morning after pill to be sold over the counter.
And, knock me over with a feather, it appears that the decision was
political, based on a conservative administration's opposition to
abortion.  And again the technocrats on the left are freaked.  Well,
what did you expect?  You applauded the Clinton FDA's politically
motivated ban on breast implants as a sop to NOW and the trial
lawyers.  In
establishing the FDA, it was you on the left that established the
principal, contradictory to the left's own stand on abortion, that the
government does indeed trump the individual on decision making for
their own body
  (other thoughts here).
Again we hear the lament that the game was great until these
conservative yahoos took over.  No, it wasn't.  It was unjust to scheme
to control other people's lives, and just plain stupid to expect that
the machinery of control you created would never fall into your
political enemy's hands.

2.  As public school boards come under sway of the Christian Right, the left should learn to embrace school choice, just as the Christian Right did a generation ago.  As I wrote here:

After the last election, the Left is increasingly worried that red
state religious beliefs may creep back into public school, as evidenced
in part by this Kevin Drum post on creationism.
My sense is that you can find strange things going on in schools of
every political stripe, from Bible-based creationism to inappropriate environmental advocacy.
I personally would not send my kids to a school that taught creationism
nor would I send them to a school that had 7-year-olds protesting
outside of a Manhattan bank.

At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never
going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is
impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way.  Statist parents
object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the
Constitution.  Secular parents object to mentions of God and
overly-positive descriptions of religion in history.  Religious parents
object to secularized science and sex education.  Free market parents
object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics.   Some
parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem,
while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't
learning what they are supposed to.

I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just
test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one
day drive acceptance of school choice in this country.  Certainly
increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these
softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by
just the three R's.

So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side.
Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice.  I'm not talking
about rolling back government spending or government commitment to
funding education for all.  I am talking about allowing parents to use
that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of
their choice.  Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine,
they can find a school for that.  Parents want a strict, secular focus
on basic skills - fine, another school for that.  Parents want their
kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love
nature and protect the environment - fine, do it.

Yes, I know, private schools to fit all these niches don't exist
today.   However, given a few years of parents running around with
$7000 vouchers in their hands, they will.  Yes, there will be
problems.  Some schools will fail, some will be bad, some with be
spectacular (though most will be better than what many urban kids,
particularly blacks, have today).   Some current public schools will
revitalize themselves in the face of competition, others will not. It
may take decades for a new system to emerge, but the Left used to be
the ones with the big, long-term visions.  The ultimate outcome,
though, could be beautiful.  And the end state will be better if the
Left, with its deep respect and support of publicly-funded education,
is a part of the process.

Of course, there is one caveat that trips up both the Left and the
Right:  To accept school choice, you have to be willing to accept that
some parents will choose to educate their kids in a way you do not
agree with, with science you do not necessarily accept, and with values
that you do not hold.  If your response is, fine, as long as my kids
can get the kind of education I want them to, then consider school
choice.  However, if your response is that this is not just about your
kids, this is about other people choosing to teach their
kids in ways you don't agree with, then you are in truth seeking a
collectivist (or fascist I guess, depending on your side of the aisle)
indoctrination system.  Often I find that phrases like "shared public
school experience" in the choice debate really are code words for
retaining such indoctrination.

In other words, are you OK if Bob Jones high school or Adam Smith
high school exist, as long as Greenpeace high school exists as well?
Or do you want to make everyone go to Greenpeace high school
exclusively?

Good Freaking Luck

Harvard has a new president.  Good freaking luck.  That job chewed up someone I respected (Neal Rudenstine) and someone who tried to reform the institution (Larry Sommers).  I would rather try to bring good government to Haiti than try to run that dysfunctional organization in Cambridge.  Premiers of the Soviet Union had less power than the Harvard faculty wields.  I am one of many Harvard graduate students I know who appreciate the education we got but hate the institution.  My Princeton roomie Brink Lindsey helped start the NOPE campaign - Not One Penny Ever (to Harvard).

If you want a taste of why, below the fold I have included an excerpt of a chapter from my book BMOC (still at Amazon for those who have not used up their Christmas gift certificates yet).  This chapter is pretty autobiographical, except for the part where the character is, you know, a girl.

From the end of Chapter 8 of BMOC:

Susan looked around her small apartment in the nightmare that was the Peabody Terrace apartments, a pair of Harvard-owned hi-rise apartments located across the river from the business school.  Susan was convinced that these apartments were part of a 1950's Soviet plot to undermine America's youth.  The building design was right out of East Berlin, with its all cast concrete construction.  Even the interior walls were concrete, giving it the warmth and ambiance of a World War II German pillbox.  Her tower had an elevator, but it only stopped on every third floor, a cost saving measure also borrowed from the East Germans.  Of course, her floor was not one of the stops.  

She had dithered about whether even to apply to Harvard, and had applied in the last application group, after most of the spots in the school had already been filled.  She was not actually accepted into the school until well into June, leaving her just about dead last in the housing lottery.  Only a few foreign students from strange, lesser developed countries she had barely heard of were so far back in the room queue, which helped to explain why her entryway was always choked with the smell of bizarre foods cooking using unfamiliar spices.  Her walk to and from school involved crossing a lonely and poorly lighted footbridge, which was, coincidently, the coldest spot in New England on most winter days.

Whenever she walked into her building, she had difficulty fighting off a sense of despair and loneliness, even despite her generally sunny disposition.  The building was that depressing.  To make matters worse, she had spent most of the winter fighting with the Harvard administrative departments over the temperature in her room. She had complained nearly every day about the cold, and knew things were bad when frost started to form on the inside of her windows.  A worker from building services had finally come by, but instead of a toolbox he brought a thermometer, which he placed in the center of the room and just stared at for five minutes.  Then he picked it up, looked at it, and declared that the room was fine.

"Fine?" she had screamed.  "How can it be fine?  It's freezing in here!"

"Mam, the thermometer says 54 degrees.  State law says we don't have to do anything unless it falls below 50 degrees," observed the housing guy.

"State law?!  Who gives a shit about state law?  What about customer service?  What about the sixty grand I pay to this university?"

But she had gotten nowhere, at least until she started putting the oven on broil with the door open to try to keep the room warm.  Once the building services folks saw that, with all the implicit fire and liability dangers, her radiator had finally been fixed.

Looking around the cold and depressing room, she decided she definitely did not want to be here now.  She wanted to celebrate her new job, not stare at four bare condensate-dampened concrete walls.

Harvard Paradox

Asymmetrical Information comments on Greg Mankiw by observing:

Harvard scores lowest in student satisfaction *and* enjoys the highest yield (%
of students admitted who attend) of any leading American university. How can the
same institution be so desirable and so disliked at the same time?

The data presented for is for the undergraduate school and my experience is with the graduate school of business, but I think some of my experience can still help answer this question.

At the time I attended, I was sure that the Harvard Business School (HBS) was the best place for me to attend.  I still think that is true.  First, it had (and has) a great reputation with both people hiring for jobs and the general public.  The Harvard diploma has power, power that hasn't lessened even 20 years later.  Second, it had a style that worked well for me personally.  I sat in on classes at other business schools, but HBS classes had an interactive, and often combative, style that I loved and thrived in.  Yes there was work, but the workload never was worse than my undergraduate school.  I would not change my decision.

That being said, while I have showered my undergraduate school with cash, Harvard has not gotten one dime from me.  Because as an institution, it sucked.  It had an incredible arrogance to it, often stating publicly that its customer was NOT the students, but was the businesses who hired its graduates and society at large.  And this was the attitude at the business school, which I was often told was the most student-friendly part of Harvard.  My college roommate Brink Lindsey apparently had a similar experience at Harvard Law, as he was part of a group that founded N.O.P.E., which stood for Not One Penny Ever (to Harvard).

At every turn, one ran into petty, stupid stuff that did nothing to contribute to the educational experience but were frustrating as hell.  The faculty was often arrogant and the administrative and housing staff uncaring. 

At the risk of sounding petty, I will share two examples.  These are small things, but are representative of hundreds of similar experiences over two years. 

  • At winter break the first year, we were all given a "gift" of a coffee table book about Harvard.  Then, next spring, we all found a $100 charge on our spring term bill for this "gift"
  • My Harvard dorm room had a broken heater in my second year.  It got so cold that ice formed on the inside of the windows.  After weeks of trying, we finally got a maintenance guy to come out.  He set a thermometer down in the center of the room and stared at it for ten minutes.  Then he picked it up and started to leave.  "Why are you leaving?" I asked.  He replied "Because its 53 degrees in here.  State law does not require us to fix the heating until it falls below 50."  I finally had to go to Walmart and buy several space heaters.  Several weeks later I was ticketed by the campus police for having a fire hazard -- too many space heaters.

I do not think it an exaggeration to say that had Harvard scoured every post office in the country for employees, it could not manage to provide worse customer service day-to-day.

And I think this is the answer to the paradox.  If you can tolerate the faculty arrogance, you can get a great education, but Universities are more than just a school.  For most students, Harvard is also their landlord, their only restaurant choice, their local police force, etc. etc.  And for all these other functions, they are terrible.

Problems at Harvard

Steven Metcalf has an interesting article in Slate on the state of Harvard University.  And, if you don't really care about what messes the twits from Harvard are making of the place (and I don't blame you) it is also a good look at problems in universities in general.  My favorite passage is this one:

From Bradley's descriptions"”and from my own experience"”academia has devolved into a series of now highly routinized acts of flattery, so carefully attended to that one out-of-place word is enough to fracture dozens of egos.

One only has to observe the shrill and over-the-top reactions to some of Lawrence Summers recent remarks to have this ring true.

I actually have several connections to Harvard.  As a high school senior, I was fortunate to have my choice of Ivy League schools, and I chose Princeton over Harvard, in large part because it was obvious even then that the Harvard's graduate schools and faculty egos took precedence over teaching undergraduates.  At Princeton I got to know Neil Rudenstine, then provost of Princeton and later President of Harvard.  Rudenstine was basically far too good a man to run Harvard, sort of like sending Mother Theresa in to run Haiti.  The faculty devoured him, and drove him to a breakdown.

More recently, I attended the Harvard Business School (HBS).  Many of you who are unfamiliar with Harvard would likely assume that the b-school was the snobbiest and most condescending arm of the university.  In fact, the opposite was the case -- the B-school was both isolated from and looked down on by the rest of the university, its isolation reinforced and symbolized by the river that separates HBS from the rest of the campus.  Many an outsider have commented on how approachable HBS students and faculty are as compared to the rest of the university, which is ironic since most of the rest of the university, busy polishing their egalitarian credentials, condescendingly denigrate HBS students for being, well, grubby capitalists rather than lofty intellectuals like themselves.  As a result, HBS crew teams were routinely booed through the entire Head of the Charles regatta, and HBS graduates are booed by the rest of the university at every graduation ceremony.

As a result, Princeton gets much of my time and love and attention and, well, money, while Harvard gets nada. 

Update:  I am reminded that this last feeling about Harvard is not limited to the B-school.  My good libertarian college roommate Brink Lindsey (I wish he would start blogging again) tells me that when he was at Harvard Law, a group of his friends formed N.O.P.E., which stood for Not One Penny Ever [to Harvard].