Posts tagged ‘Ivy League’

Worried about your privilege? Want to be treated like an abused underclass? Start a business!

John Scalzi tries to explain privilege to non-SJW-types by saying that being a white male is like playing life on "easy" difficulty.

I'll grant I benefited from a lot of things growing up others may not have had.  I had parents that set high standards, taught me a work ethic, taught me the value of education, had money, and helped send me to Ivy League schools (though the performance there, I would argue, was all my own).

Well, for those of you concerned about living down a similar life of privilege, I have a solution for you: start a business.  Doing so instantly converted me into a hated abused underclass.  Every government agency I work with treats me with a presumption of guilt -- when I get called by the California Department of Labor, I am suddenly the young black man in St. Louis called out on the street by an angry and unaccountable cop**.  Every movie and TV show and media outlet portrays me as a villain.  Every failing in the economy is somehow my fault.   When politicians make a proposal, it almost always depends on extracting something by force from me -- more wages for certain employees, more health care premiums, more hours of paperwork to comply with arcane laws, and always more taxes.

Postscript:  I will add an alternative for younger readers -- there is also a way to play college on a higher difficulty:  Try to be a vocal male libertarian there.  Write editorials for the paper that never get published.  Sit through hours of mindless sensitivity training explaining all the speech limitations you must live with on campus.  Learn how you can be charged with rape if your sex partner regrets the sex months later.  Wonder every time you honestly answer a question in class from a libertarian point of view if you are killing any chance of getting a good grade in that course.  Live every moment in a stew of intellectual opinion meant mainly to strip you of your individual liberties, while the self-same authoritarians weep and cry that your observation that minimum wage laws hurt low-skilled workers somehow is an aggression against them.

 

** OK, this is an exaggeration.  I won't likely get shot.  I don't want to understate how badly abused a lot of blacks and Hispanics are by the justice system.   I would much rather be in front of the DOL than be a Mexican ziptied by Sheriff Joe.  But it does give one the same feeling of helplessness, of inherent unfairness, of the unreasoning presumption of guilt and built-in bias.

Why It Is Good to Be A White Male: I Had to Take Ownership for My Business Failures

Ellen Pao's supporters are blaming her departure from Reddit on sexism, despite the fact that the much of the opposition to her inside Reddit resulted from her termination of a popular female employee.  I don't know what is inside her head of course, but after reading her piece in the WaPo, it sure doesn't look like she blames anything she did at Reddit for her failure there.

It is certainly possible to build a case that her decision-making at Reddit was ham-fisted and reactionary and not what the organization needed.  I am the first to acknowledge that the dialog over large swaths of Reddit is toxic, but that is not a new thing.  The odd bit to me is that Pao seems to have jumped right into the fray and immediately started swinging randomly.  Why?  What was the rush?  I have never heard of a new leader jumping into an organization and immediately firing off culture-changing orders (there are a few exceptions to this, such as there-are-only -6-weeks-of-cash-in-the-bank crises, but this was not one of those).  Even if you think you know what ails the company, you have to show the organization some respect and talk to a lot of people first.   To me, it looked like a classic impatient arrogant technocrat's mistake -- but what does she think?  Does she acknowledge error at all, even privately?

I say all this because I know quite personally what it is like to fail in business, and more importantly, just how very hard it is to acknowledge that such failure is one's own fault.  To explain it, I have to give some background that will seem self-promoting.

I was always top in my class at school.  I had my choice of Ivy League schools to attend, and graduated Princeton just a few hundredths of a GPA point (on the north side of 4) from being top of my department.  Five years later, I did graduate first in my class at Harvard Business School.  I write all this to say I entered the business world with supreme confidence.

The first signs of trouble were there in my very first job, though I only see them now.  The engineering work at Exxon was easy, but I tended to drag my feet on tasks that required I seek out and pull together coalitions of experts.  Ditto for my consulting work at McKinsey, where my analytical work and modelling were first-rate but my client building work was mediocre.

It was hard, really impossible at this point in my life, to accept I was failing at something.  Even McKinsey's sending me to executive charm school (I kid you not, such things exist) was not a wake up call.  I KNEW my analysis was awesome.  I figured that was all that mattered.  McKinsey was instead seeing an ADD guy with awkward people skills who would wander around the room eating off the side-board while in a formal meeting with a Fortune 25 CEO.

Things finally fell apart when I was working for a guy, really a legendary guy, named Chuck Knight at Emerson Electric.  Again, I kept telling myself the analytical work I was doing was awesome, and I am sure it was.  But even I couldn't fail to figure out that somehow my other people skills were totally wrong for corporate America.

And even then, when the organization made it abundantly clear I was not going to get any further promotions, pressing my face against the glass so to speak, I STILL could not fully face reality.  I blamed my failings on a culture clash and similar things.  You have heard this before -- "I left that company because it was totally screwed up."  But it wasn't screwed up.  It was a very solid, well-managed organization and a great place to work for the right people.

I was allowed to continue to avoid reality because I continued to fail upwards, getting an even larger job at a new company after Emerson based on my academic record and ability to do fabulous interviews (don't ask me why as an introvert I could do interviews but not one-on-one business discussions with my superiors, or why I thrive at speaking to large audiences but can't handle a cocktail party -- I don't know).

Again, at a large aerospace company, I had more great insights but little impact on the company.  I created this awesome presentation -- it is still the best description of how profits are and are going to shift within the aerospace industry I have ever seen -- but I was being paid to do stuff that improved this year's sales and it wasn't happening (though to be a little fair to myself, making change in the aerospace business is a bit like trying to turn an aircraft carrier by pushing on the prow with a fishing boat).

It took me a couple more jobs and a taking a year off around the age of 40 to finally acknowledge all of this.  After the pain of accepting failure, though, things really improved.  I thought about what I did well and what I don't, and built my own company in large part based on those insights.   Examples:  Sales in my business are based more on creating huge, analytical written bid documents rather than face-to-face persuasion.  Management is more about creating a great process and implementing that process consistently in scores of locations using technology and training.    Most importantly, I am the boss, and many of my past interpersonal failures had to do with interacting with people with more authority, of which there are none in my company.

I don't deny that women or people of color in business likely face obstacles I have never faced, and I long for a world where that will no longer be true.  But in trying to be sympathetic to women and people of various races and the discrimination they face, we also may be doing them a disservice, making it harder for them to gain self-awareness of their own abilities.  After all, if I had been able to play the race or gender card as an excuse, I likely would never have gained what self-awareness I have today.

Things I Would Never Have Believed When I Was Young -- College Students Taking Offense Like Southern Baptists

I grew up in the Deep South (in Houston -- for outsiders, Texas acts like the South when one is east of I-35 and then is more like the West).  Though my immediate family was fairly open-minded, I was surround by a scolding Southern Baptist culture that seemed deeply offended by everything -- dancing, drugs, drinking, youth behavior, movies, TV, games -- you name it.  I remember visiting aunts and uncles and cousins who were in a perpetual state of being offended.  And it carried over into the whole political culture of the place -- it seemed there was always some debate about book or textbook passage that needed to be banned to save the delicate eyes and impressionable brains of the children.

Going to college in the Ivy League was a breath of fresh air.  I never cottoned much to the authoritarian command and control favored by many at college, but I loved the liberal atmosphere of tolerance for most any speech or behavior.

Little would I have believed it, but college students today now sound exactly like my Southern Baptist aunt.  They are humorless and scolding and offended by virtually everything.  Many of the same pieces of literature those good Texas Baptists were trying to censor from school curricula in my day because they conflicted with religious doctrine are now being censored by good campus Progressives because they might be triggering.   What a bizarre turn of events.

Ian McEwan had a nice line in his graduation speech at Dickinson:  "“being offended is not to be confused with a state of grace — it’s the occasional price we all pay for living in an open society.”

Beware Applied Underwriters Workers Compensation Insurance

After you read this, there are more updates on 4/18

Well, I have managed to get myself into a scam.  It is not your normal scam, like the ones that are run by some mafia boiler room with guys working under aliases.  This scam comes via a major insurance company called Applied Underwriters (working under the names California Insurance Company and Continental Indemnity Company) which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway and none other than Warren Buffett.  If you feel sorry for Warren Buffett and want to give him a large interest-free loan for an indeterminate number of years, this is your program.

Update 4/16:  Let me insert here that Applied Underwriters has sent me a letter threatening a libel suit if I do not take down this post and a parallel review at Yelp.  AU Takedown demand here (pdf).   The gist of the matter seems to be the word "scam".  By the text of their letter, they seem to believe that "scam" is libelous because their company is well-rated financially and that they provide reasonable claims service.  I concede both these facts.  However, I called it a "scam" because there is a big undisclosed cost to their product that was never mentioned in the sales process, and that could only be recognized by its omission in the contract I signed -- that there is nothing in the contract committing them to any time-frame under which to return deposits and excess premiums I have paid, which may well amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.  This fact about the contract is confirmed by their customer service staff, who have said further that the typical time-frame to return such over-collections and deposits is 3-7 years after the contract ends, or at least 6-10 years after the first of the deposits was made.

So is this a "scam"?  I believe that this issue is costly enough, and hard enough to detect, and far enough outside of expected business practices to be called such.  You may have your own opinion, but ask yourself -- When you enter into, say, a lease and have to put down a security deposit, is it your reasonable expectation that the landlord has the right in your lease to keep your deposit for 3-7 years (or more) after you move out?  /Update

Anyway, let's take a step back and look at this in detail.

First, I need to give a bit of background on how workers comp works.  When you are a new company, they assign you an experience rating -- that is a multiplier of your premium based on past loss experience.  There is some default starting number that if I remember right, in most states, is a bit over 1.0x.  Each year, the workers comp world looks back at your past history and computes a new loss rating -- higher if you have had more payouts, lower if not.  Generally it is based on three years experience not counting the last year (so 2-4 years in the past).  Your future premiums get multiplied by this loss rating.

Several years ago we had a couple bad injuries that drove our loss number into the 1.7-1.9x area.   Neither were really due to a bad safety issue, but both involved workers in their seventies where a minor initial injury led to all sorts of complications.  Anyway, my agent at the time calls me one day a couple of weeks before renewal and says that none of the major companies will renew me.  This seemed odd to me -- I understood that my recent claims history was not good, but isn't that what the premium multiplier was for?  In fact, if my loss history returned to normal, they would make a fortune as I paid high rates based on old losses but had fewer new ones.

Apparently, though, insurance companies have fixed rules that keep them from underwriting higher loss ratings.  Probably for the same reason Vegas won't take action on Ivy League football games any more -- just too much variability.  I found out later with my new broker we could probably have overcome this, but I learned that too late.

My broker at the time put me into a 3-year program from Applied Underwriters, in part because they were taking everybody.  This program was set up differently from most workers comp programs.  You had a basic policy, but there was a second (almost indecipherable to laymen) reinsurance agreement that adjusted the rates of the basic policy based on you actual claims.   Here is the agreement (pdf)  In other words, based on your claims, they would figure up at the end how much you owed and what your premium multiplier would be.

I saw two red flags that I ignored in signing up.  1)  The reinsurance agreement was impossible to understand, violating one of my foundational rules that I shouldn't sign things I don't understand.  And 2) The rate structure was very suspicious.  They touted a rate structure that could go as low as, say, $100,000 a year and was capped around $400,000 a year.  But when you pulled out a calculator, the $100,000 was virtually unobtainable.  It would require about zero claims.  If there were any claims at all, even for a few bandaids, the price would march up to $400,000 really fast.  It was the equivalent of a credit card teaser rate, and it should have made me suspicious.

Anyway, I was desperate.  For a business like mine, being told I had no workers comp insurance just a few weeks before the old policy ran out was a death sentence.  No one would write me or even quote me a policy that fast.  So I took the Applied Underwriters offer.  Shame on me, I should have worked on this much harder.

I won't bore you further with my voyage of discovery in trying to figure out how this thing works.  I will just tell you the results that I have found.  There are apparently other companies with similar issues, one of which is documented here: Applied Underwriter Suit (pdf)Newsletter publisher objected to scan of article, so I have taken it down at their request.  Here is a link to roughly the same article.

I spent hours and hours trying to figure out AU's statements.  There is a whole set of terminology to learn that is actually not used in most of the rest of the workers comp world.  The key page of the statement is page 7, which I will show below because it highlights several of the issues with Applied.  Page 7 is the page where the monthly premium is "calculated".  I have added the red numbers and arrows for the discussion below.

applied

Here are some of the Applied Underwriter problems:

  1. Large deposits that must be made each year and may never be returned.    You can see that I am making deposits over $40,000 a year.  And that is each year.  The first year deposit is not returned.  The second year and third year are just added to it.  And I have found out since I joined this program that they are not contractually obligated to return them in any time frame.  Maybe some guy who was hurt in his thirties has a relapse and claims more money when he is 75.  Gotta keep your deposit just in case, don't we?  The timing of the return of your deposits (and overpaid premiums below) is entirely at their discretion, and that has been confirmed by their customer service staff.  In fact, their standard answer is that on average, such monies are not returned to customers for 3-7 years after the contract ends, or at least 6-10 years after the first deposits were made.
  2. Premiums based on the worst of your experience and their estimate of your losses, and they keep the difference for years and years.   For those in the same trap as me, I will try to explain the numbers above.  The estimated loss pick containment at the top is basically their estimate of your losses.  Note that it drives every number on the page and is basically their arbitrary number -- they could have set it anywhere.  The loss pick containment to date is just pro rated for the amount of the year that has gone by.  The 65% is an arbitrary number.    The $25,278 is my actual losses to date.  You can see where I point with #2 above, though, that my losses are irrelevant to my premiums.  They take the higher of my losses and what is essentially their estimate of my losses and I pay based on that.   Note that their higher number is not based on the reserved amounts on actual claims -- the $25,278 includes their reserves.  It is just the number they established at the beginning of my policy they think my claims are going to be and gosh darnit they are going to stick to that (and my claims even in my worst year in history were never even half of their estimate).  Yes, at the end of the policy if my losses stay low, they owe me money back for all the premium they overcharged me based on their arbitrarily high estimates.  But see #1 above -- there is no time horizon under which they have to return the money.  They can keep it for years and years.
  3. The final premium is, after all these calculations, entirely arbitrary.  So after this loss calculation (which essentially just defaults to their arbitrarily high estimate and not my actual loss history) they do some premium calculations.  These actually sort of make sense if you stare at the agreements for a really long time.  But then we get to the line I point to in red labelled 3.  It is the actual amount I owe.  But it does not foot to any other number on the page.  How do they come up with this?  They won't say.  To anyone.  It might as well be arbitrary.  I actually had some dead time and took all my reports and tried to regress to a formula they use for this, but I couldn't figure it out.   So all the calculation on this page is just a sham, it's the mechanical wizard in the Wizard of Oz.  It looks good, but does not actually directly lead to what you are billed.

So I thought I understood my problems.  I put in large deposits and overpaid premiums based on arbitrarily high loss estimates they make -- all of which will take me years and years of effort to maybe get back.  It turns out that I likely will have a third problem.  In the lawsuit linked above, the plaintiff complains that when they left the program after three years, Applied arbitrarily wrote up all their estimated losses on open claims to stratospheric levels and then demanded a large final premium payment at the end.  Folks on Yelp complain of the same thing.  You should know how this works by now -- the plaintiff will theoretically get all this back someday, maybe, when the claims prove to be less costly, but in the mean time Warren Buffet gets to invest the money for years and years (cost of capital = 0) until it is returned.

This is why I think Applied Underwriters actually likes companies with high lost histories.  Rather than costs, losses for them are excuses to over-collect on deposits and premiums -- money that can then be invested and held for years free of charge.

As an aside, I want to thank my new agents at Interwest Insurance for helping decipher all of this.  They actually flew a guy in to help me understand this policy.  They didn't get me into it, but they are helping me pick up the pieces as best we can.

If I Were a Billionaire: Coyote College

My daughter and I did the whole college visit thing last week -- 8 colleges in five days.  In doing so, I was struck by the fact that all these great schools we visited, with one exception, were founded by rich people no more recently than the 19th century.  Seriously, can you name a college top students are trying to get into that was founded since 1900?  I think Rice University in Houston was founded in the 20th century but it is still over 100 years old.

The one exception, by the way, was SCAD, an art school in Savannah, Georgia.  SCAD is new enough that it is still being run by its founder.  I am not sure I am totally comfortable in the value proposition of an expensive art school, but I will say that this was -- by far -- the most dynamic school we visited.

So here is what I would do:  Create a new not-for-profit university aimed at competing at the top levels, e.g. with the Ivy League.  I would find a nice bit of land for it in a good climate, avoiding big cities.  The Big Island of Hawaii would be a nice spot, though that may be too remote.   Scottsdale would not be a bad choice since its bad weather is during the summer out of the normal school year and land is relatively cheap.

Then, I would take the top academic kids, period.  No special breaks for athletes or tuba players.  It would have some reasonable school non-academic programs just to remain competitive for students - maybe some intramurals or club sports, but certainly no focus on powerhouse athletics.  We could set a pool of money aside to help fund clubs and let students drive and run most of the extra-curriculars, from singing groups to debate clubs.  If students are passionate enough to form and lead these activities, they would happen.

And now I need a reader promise here - if you are going to read the next sentence, you have to read the whole rest of the article before flying into any tizzies.

And for the most part we would scrap affirmative action and diversity goals.  We are going to take the best students.  This does not mean its pure SAT's - one can certainly look at a transcript and SAT in the context of the school kids went to, so that smart kids are not punished for going to a crap public high school.

Realize I say this with the expectation that the largest group of students who will be getting affirmative action over the next 20 years are... white males.

What?  How can this be?  Well it is already nearly true.  Sure, historically everyone has focused on reverse discrimination against white males when colleges were dealing with having twice as many men than women and they had few qualified black or hispanic candidates.  But my sense is that few white males any more lose their spot in college due to competition from under-qualified minority candidates.

That is because there is an enormous demographic shift going on in college.  In fact there are three:

  1. Girls rule high school and higher education.  Yes, I know that women steeped in "Failing at Fairness" will find this hard to believe, but undergraduates are something like 56% women nowadays.  As we toured Ivy League schools, we were on tours with about 6 prospective female students for every one guy.  Back when my son played high school basketball, on the walls of various high schools he played at were pictures of their honor societies.  Time and again I saw pictures of 20 girls and one or two forlorn boys.  If top schools want to keep their gender numbers even, then they are going to have to start affirmative action for boys, if they have not done so already (I suspect they have).
  2. Asians are being actively discriminated against.  Schools will never ever admit it, because they are getting sued by Asian prospective students (I know Princeton has been sued) but reverse discrimination against Asian students is becoming more and more intense.  The bar for Asia females already is way higher than the bar for white males in top schools, and it likely will only get worse
  3. Foreign students bring in the cash.  Ivy League schools have a ton of international students, which makes sense as they strive to be international institutions.  But one thing they will not tell you is that there is another reason for bringing in foreign students:  For most schools, their need-blind admissions policies and increasingly generous financial aid packages do not apply to foreign students, or apply on a much more limited basis.  The average tuition paid by international students is thus much higher.  I suspect, but cannot prove, that under the cover of diversity these schools are lowering their standards to bring in students who bring the cash.

So we scrap all this.  If the school ends up 80% Asian women, fine.  Every forum in one's life does not have to have perfect diversity (whatever the hell that is), and besides there are plenty of other market choices for students who are seeking different racial and ethnic mixes in their college experience.   We just want the best.  And whatever money we can raise, we make sure  a lot of it goes to financial aid rather than prettier buildings (have you seen what they are building at colleges these days?) so we can make sure the best can afford to attend.  Getting good faculty might be the challenge at first, but tenure tracks have dried up so many places that my gut feel is that there are plenty of great folks out there who can't get tenure where they are and would jump at a chance to move.  You won't have Paul Krugman or Bill McKibben type names at first, but is that so bad?

We know the business community hires from Ivy League schools in part because they can essentially outsource their applicant screening to the University admissions office.  So we will go them one better and really sell this.   Hire any of our graduates and you know you are getting someone hard-working and focused and very smart.

I don't know if it would work, but hell, I am a billionaire, what's the risk in trying?

Previewing the President's College Rankings

Today, President Obama sort-of kind-of acknowledged a problem with Federal college student lending:  Federal loans are doing nothing to improve the affordability of colleges, as colleges are just raising tuition in lockstep with increased lending, thus leaving students massively in debt for the same old degree.

His proposed solution is to somehow tie the availability of Federal funds to some type of government scoring system for colleges.  The probability that this will do anything to reign in student debt is exactly zero.  But it will potentially give the Feds another vehicle for control (similar to what Title IX has given them) of even the most mundane university policies.  Why not, for example, give high scores to universities with the restrictive and politically correct speech codes this Administration favors, thus effectively denying money to students of universities that don't have Eric Holder-sanctioned speech policies?

If you think I am exaggerating, look at the recent Washington Monthly college rankings as a prototype for the Obama scoring system.  In their system, colleges are ranked higher if they have a higher percentage of Peace Corps*** graduates, if more of their Federal work-study grant money is used for jobs at non-profits rather than for-profits**, and if their school reports more community service hours.  This latter points to another issue -- a number of schools rank really low on community service hours, effectively all tied with zero.  This is obviously a reporting issue.  The Obama plan just about guarantees that universities will start to game all these metrics -- does no one pay attention to the fraud that has been found in the law school rankings?

They also have a ranking of the schools providing the best value.  The good news, I suppose, is the school my son attends is #1.  The bad news is that my alma mater Princeton is not even on the list.  I found this odd, because while the authors explicitly laud Amherst's generous program that helps fund students through grants rather than loans, Princeton actually was one of a few schools that did this first (update:  Princeton was the first school to eliminate loans from financial aid packages of low income students, and since has eliminated loans altogether from all financial aid packages.  If you can get in, you can graduate debt-free).

It says this of Amherst:

 It chose to tap its sizable $1.6 billion endowment to provide tuition discounts so generous that the annual net cost to students with family incomes below $75,000 is only $843, less than a third of the sticker price of a year at the average community college. Another elite liberal arts college, Williams, also makes our list. But instructively, none of the other prestigious, well-endowed private colleges and universities in America—not Harvard or Yale, Swarthmore or Smith, none of them—can make that claim.

Actually, we don't know if that last sentence is true because the authors left Harvard and Yale off the list entirely.   My impression is that Princeton makes is very inexpensive for families making less than $75,000 as well, so I could not understand the claim -- perhaps even without debt the tuition charges to low-income families are still unreasonably high.  But we will never know, because apparently Princeton is not even on the list -- not because it does not direct a lot of its endowment to need-based scholarships, but because it has only 10% students on Pell grants, and the authors decided that you could not be on the list unless that number was at least 20% "to make sure they aren’t just catering to the affluent."  This just points to how quickly such a system gets politicized.  What does "catering to the affluent" have anything to do with bang for the buck?  If they really trust their methodology, they would have included these schools and if they are really just over-priced rich kids' playgrounds, that should have come through in the ranking.  Instead, the author's have explicitly invented an unrelated criteria to weed Ivy League schools out, a criteria more related to admissions requirements than to financial aid requirements and affordability and value (the ostensible bases for the rankings).

By the way, if you want to get a really good laugh, this is supposed to be a value or "bang for the buck" ranking, but they only rank the costs.  There is absolutely no ranking of "bang".  Bizarre.  It is as if any degree of any type from any institution is equally valuable.  Which, by the way, is part of the problem in the student loan bubble -- just this assumption.

 

** This is EXACTLY the kind of incentive that will help pay off those future college loans -- lets make sure to encourage every student to work in non-profits rather than for-profits jobs.

*** Why the Peace Corps?  Why not a myriad of other useful and productive occupations?  If you want to have a service metric, why is Peace Corps there and, say, Teach for America not?

Moms with Ivy League Educations

Apparently it is somewhat unethical in the feminist world for women to go to the Ivy League and then become a full-time mom.   I know several women who have Ivy League undergrad or graduate degrees and have, for at least part of their lives, been full time moms.  I am married to one, for example.  I have a few thoughts on this:

  1. People change plans.  Life is path-dependent.  Many women who ended up being full time moms out of the Ivy League will tell you that it still surprises them they made that choice.
  2. Why is education suddenly only about work?  I thought liberal arts education was all about making you a better person, for pursuits that go far beyond just one's work life.  I, for example, get far more use of my Princeton education in my hobbies (e.g. blogging) than in my job.   The author uses law school as an example, and I suppose since law school is just a highbrow trade school one might argue it is an exception.  But what is wrong with salting the "civilian" population with non-lawyers who are expert on the law?
  3. Type A Ivy League-trained full-time moms do a lot more that just be a mom, making numerous contributions in their community.  I am always amazed what a stereotyped view of moms that feminists have.
  4. If spots in the Ivy League, as implied by this article, should only be held by people seriously wanting to use the degree for a meaningful lifetime career, then maybe the Ivy League needs to rethink what degrees it offers.  Ask both of my sisters about the value of their Princeton comparative literature degrees in the marketplace.  By this logic, should Princeton be giving valuable spots to poetry majors?
  5. I can say from experience that the one thing a liberal arts education, particularly at Princeton which emphasized being well rounded, prepared me for was being a parent.  I can help my kids develop and pursue interests in all different directions.  One's love of learning and comfort (rather than distrust) of all these intellectual rubs off on kids almost by osmosis.  In other words, what is wrong with applying an Ivy League education to raising fabulous and creative kids?
  6. The author steps back from the brink, but this comes perilously close to the feminist tendency to replace one set of confining expectations for women with a different set.

Oh and by the way, to the author's conclusion:

Perhaps instead of bickering over whether or not colleges and universities should ask us to check boxes declaring our racial identity, the next frontier of the admissions should revolve around asking people to declare what they actually plan to do with their degrees. There's nothing wrong with someone saying that her dream is to become a full-time mother by 30. That is an admirable goal. What is not admirable is for her to take a slot at Yale Law School that could have gone to a young woman whose dream is to be in the Senate by age 40 and in the White House by age 50.

I would argue the opposite -- the fewer people of both sexes who go to law school to be in the Senate by 40 and the White House by 50, the better.

Update:  My wife added two other thoughts

  • Decades ago, when her mom was considering whether she wanted to go to graduate school, her dad told her mom that even if she wanted to be a stay at home mom, a good graduate degree was the best life insurance she could have in case he died young.
  • Women with good degrees with good earning potential have far more power in any divorce.  How many women do you know who are trapped in a bad marriage because they don't feel like they have the skills to thrive in the workplace alone?

Anti-Intellectual

In this article discussed in the last post, the author criticizes the Tea Party as having a worldview that is "anti-intellectual, anti-establishment, anti-elite."  It is interesting that liberals and progressives now suddenly consider being anti-establishment and anti-elite as bad things.  It just goes to show that the progressive movement is a long, long way from its roots, and is more about exercising power than the mythology it developed for itself in the 1960s.  I would gladly accept either of these labels for myself, even when I don't always agree with the Tea Party.

Moreover, when I was thirty years old and holding two Ivy League degrees, I would have jumped in with the author in attacking folks that were anti-intellectual.  But over the years, I have seen too many people exercising naked power in the name of being smarter and better able to make decisions for the rest of us.  I am exhausted with the technocratic governing urge, and while I still would not describe myself as anti-intellectual, I can sympathize with those who might.

Credentialism: A Problem that Cuts Both Ways

From the Chronicle of Higher Education via TaxProf Blog

If you want to get a job at the very best law firm, investment bank, or consultancy, here’s what you do:

1. Go to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or (maybe) Stanford. If you’re a business student, attending the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania will work, too, but don’t show up with a diploma from Dartmouth or MIT. No one cares about those places. ... That’s the upshot of an enlightening/depressing study about the ridiculously narrow-minded people who make hiring decisions at the aforementioned elite companies. ... These firms pour resources into recruiting students from “target schools” (i.e., Harvard, Yale, Princeton) and then more or less ignore everybody else. Here’s a manager from a top investment bank describing what happens to the resume of someone who went to, say, Rutgers: “I’m just being really honest, it pretty much goes into a black hole.”

Being, I suppose, an insider to this process (Princeton - Harvard Business School - McKinsey & Company) I'd like to make a few comments

  • First and foremost, this problem cuts both ways.  I can imagine outsiders are frustrated with the lack of access.  But as an insider I can tell you  (cue Admiral Akbar) It's a Trap!  You go to Princeton, think, wow, I did well at Princeton, it would be a waste not to do something with that.   You are a competitive sole, so getting into a top grad school is an honor to be pursued just like good grades.   So you go to Harvard Business School (it could have been Harvard Law) and do well.  And what is the mark of achievement there? -- getting a job at a top consultancy or top investment bank.  So you take the McKinsey job, have your first kid, and what do you find out?  Wow, I hate this job!  In fact, the only thing I would have hated more is if I had taken that Wall Street job.   Eventually you find happiness running your own company, only to discover your Ivy League degrees are a liability since they intimidate your employees from sharing their ideas and most of the other guys you know successfully running businesses went to Kansas State or Rutgers.
  • My only data point inside this hiring process is from McKinsey about 15-20 years ago, so it may be out of date.    But at that time, the above statement would be BS.  Certainly hiring was heavily tilted to the top Ivies and a few top business schools.  But we had people with undergrad degrees from all over - in fact most of our office in Texas had undergrad degrees from the Texas state schools  (at lot from BYU too -- McKinsey loved the Mormons).  At the time, McKinsey was hiring hundreds of people out of business school around the world each year.  No way this could have come from only a few schools.
  • My hypothesis is that this may be more a regional than an industry bias, limited to Boston/New York/East Coast.  Since many top law firms and consultancies and investment banks are in NYC, they reflect this local bias.  But I would bet these same firms and industries hire differently outside of the East Coast.
  • There is some rationality in this approach - it is not all mindless snobbism.   Take Princeton.  It screens something like 25,000 already exceptional applicants down to just 1500, and then further carefully monitors their performance through intensive contact over a four year period.  This is WAY more work and resources than a private firm could ever apply to the hiring process.  In effect, by limiting their hiring to just a few top schools, they are outsourcing a lot of their performance evaluation work to those schools.

Raising Better College Students

Two great takes on the Amy Chua article on the superiority of Chinese moms.  I will begin by saying that I went to an Ivy League school and would love to see my kids go there as well.  But the be-all end-all drive to get into such a school, combined with 6% admissions rates, seems to be a recipe for a lot of unhappiness.  Especially since the vast, vast  (did I say vast?) majority of the most successful people I have met in my life went to non-name-branded schools.

The first take is from the Last Psychiatrist:

I'll explain what's wrong with her thinking by asking you one simple question, and when I ask it you will know the answer immediately.  Then, if you are a parent, in the very next instant  your mind will rebel against this answer, it will defend itself against it-- "well, no, it's not so simple--" but I want to you to ignore this counterattack and focus on how readily, reflexively, instinctively you knew the answer to my question.  Are you ready to test your soul?  Here's the question: what is the point of all this? Making the kids play violin, of being an A student, all the discipline, all of this?  Why is she working her kids so hard?  You know the answer: college.

She is raising future college students.

Oh, I know that these things will make them better people in the long run, but silently agree that her singular purpose is to get the kids into college.  Afterwards she'll want other things for them, sure, but for 18 years she has exactly one goal for them: early decision.

The second take is from TJIC:

Professor Amy Chua is part of two broken credentialist mindsets: the Chinese Confucian admissions-to-the-imperial bureacracy memset, and the American academic admissions-to-the-Ivy-League memeset. (But perhaps I repeat myself).

Heck, she’s risen to a top spot in the American conformist system – she’s a PhD and a professor at a top university. Of course she buys into the implied social hierarchy.

I climbed much of the way up that particular hierarchy, and then decided towards the end of the process to bag on a PhD. Why? Because I looked around and realized that PhDs, even professors at Ivy League schools, weren’t really accomplishing much, and weren’t really happy.

I do interviews for Princeton as part of the admissions process.  I am not sure that the admissions office would agree with my approach, but I spend time in the interviews trying to figure out if a high achieving student has succeeded by grimly jumping through hoops under his or her parents' lash, or if they have real passion and interest in the things they do.  I tend not to be impressed by the former.

Seriously, are we really celebrating the creation of a whole generation of our brightest kids who get all their motivation externally?  What happens when the motivation prosthetic they have been using goes away?

Postscript: From the first article

That's why it's in the WSJ.  The Journal has no place for, "How a Fender Strat Changed My Life."  It wants piano and violin, it wants Chua's college-resume worldview.

Oh how I wish my parents had forced me to play electric guitar rather than piano.

Intelligent Without Being Smart

Its hard to believe these kids at top schools can be so credulous, except that I attended an Ivy League school and saw many such dopes in action.  But even given that preparation, I still can't get over the feeling that this is some kind of elaborate performance art rather than an real effort.  If it's real, it does reinforce all my stereotypes about Brown, however.

Purging Real Characters

I am not sure that Tiger Mike Davis was really missed in the business world after his bankruptcy, but I have to say that my reaction to these memos of his (via Tom Kirkendall) waiver back and forth between "what an asshole, glad I never worked for him" and "too bad political correctness has purged the world of a lot of real characters."

The memos seem to have a common theme of reminding everyone who is boss.  I run a 500-person business and have never in 10 years felt the need to remind any employee that I was boss, or to make it clear that I was somehow subject to different rules.  I could subject myself to different rules, but the downsides of doing so would be large and fairly predictable.  I try to work at least as hard as everyone who works for me.

If I was, say, LeBron James and 99% of the value created among myself and the circle of people working for me was created by me, I might see copping an attitude.  But since 99% of the value in my company is created by someone who works for me, I spend most of my time convincing my employees that I don't know everything and that I am therefore reliant on their ideas and initiative.  A long while back I wrote that I tend to hide my degrees from Ivy League schools from my employees, as these tend to intimidate people into assuming I know more than they do.  This may be a correct assumption about, say, the origins of the reformation or solution approaches to partial differential equations.  It is not correct, however, when it comes to knowledge of day to day operating issues (and their potential solution) at our facilities my employees manage for me.

Interestingly, and almost inevitably, Tiger Mike seems to have a problem with his employees not sharing information or ideas with him, as evidenced by this memo:

They Should Be Getting Degrees in Post-Modern Art Criticism Instead

Congress is cracking down on for-profit universities that market relatively fast degrees (< 2 years) in certain vocational programs like auto mechanics.  Apparently, Congress is concerned about "vocational programs in which a large share of students don't earn enough to pay back their loans."

So Congress is worried about students paying several thousand dollars and investing 18 months of their lives for a degree that may not repay their student debts.  No word yet on whether they are looking into students who spend four years and $160,000 for Ivy League gender studies degrees, which we all know have simply enormous income-generation potential.

Where's the Love For Princeton Law School?

From David Bernstein

The president went to Harvard, and barely defeated a primary opponent who went to Yale. His predecessor went to Yale and Harvard, and defeated opponents who went to Yale and Harvard, and Harvard, respectively. The previous two presidents also went to Yale, with Bush I defeating another Harvard grad for the presidency. And once Elena Kagan gets confirmed, every Supreme Court Justice will have attended Harvard or Yale law schools.

I know that Harvard and Yale attract a disproportionate percentage of America's talented youth, but still, isn't this a bit much? Are there no similarly talented individuals who attended other Ivy League schools, other private universities or (gasp!) even state law schools?

For what its worth, I have a Princeton undergrad degree and an MBA from Harvard and the number of Harvard-Yale-Princeton employees working for me in our 420-employee firm is ... zero.

The Evolution of Activism

A couple of years ago I wrote:

Activist: A person who believes so strongly that a problem needs to be remedied that she dedicates substantial time to "¦ getting other people to fix the problem.   It used to be that activists sought voluntary help for their pet problem, and thus retained some semblance of honor.  However, our self-styled elite became frustrated at some point in the past that despite their Ivy League masters degrees in sociology, other people did not seem to respect their ideas nor were they particularly interested in the activist's pet issues.  So activists sought out the double shortcut of spending their time not solving the problem themselves, and not convincing other people to help, but convincing the government it should compel others to fix the supposed problem.  This fascism of good intentions usually consists of government taking money from the populace to throw at the activist's issue, but can also take the form of government-compelled labor and/or government limitations on choice.

So now, we have the next step -- advocating that others spend their time convincing government to use compulsion to solve some imagined problem.  Kevin Drum urges:

The only real way to address climate change is to make broad changes to laws and incentives.  It puts everyone on a level playing field, it gives everyone a framework for making their own choices, and it gives us a fighting chance of making the deep cuts we need to.  So listen to Tidwell: "Don't spend an hour changing your light bulbs. Don't take a day to caulk your windows. Instead, pick up a phone, open a laptop, or travel to a U.S. Senate office near you and turn the tables: 'What are the 10 green statutes you're working on to save the planet, Senator?'"

Jackboots seem to be "in" this season.

Postscript: In the language of mathematics (I mentioned before I am in the middle of Goedel-Escher-Bach) if actually aiding someone is "helping," then I guess organizing people to help is meta helping, and lobbying government to force other people to help is meta meta helping and so advocating on your blog that people should lobby the government to force other people to help is meta meta meta helping.  Must really warm Drum's heart to be so directly connected with helping people.

Universities are Farther Left Than I Remembered

It is not at all surprising that an Ivy League University professor does not recognize a difference between rationing by individual choice based on price signals and rationing based on government mandate.  What is surprising to me is that I remember this particular professor, Uwe Reinhardt, as the only person who would ever take the free market side of campus debates.  Kind of depressing.  I guess he must have seemed free market just by contrast, or else he has evolved a bit.  Is it ironic to anyone else that radicalism of the 1960s, which purported to be based on individualism and freedom, has led to campuses where it is normal not to even consider individual liberty as part of a public policy equation?  It just reinforced my sense that no one really wants to get rid of "the man," they just want to be "the man" themselves.

In particular he writes:

As I read it, the main thrust of the health care reforms espoused by President Obama and his allies in Congress is first of all to reduce rationing on the basis of price and ability to pay in our health system

We actually have plenty of examples of the government ending rationing by price and ability to pay.  Gas price controls in the 1970s are one very good example.  Anyone remember the result?

donovan02

Or more recently in China, where gas prices were controlled well below world market levels:

gaslines

We substituted gas rationing by willingness to pay the posted price with gas price rationing by ability to waste four hours of one's day sitting in lines. (I had never thought of this before, but there must be some interesting economic implications of preferentially routing fuel to those least likely to have a full-time job).

Perhaps worse, Reinhardt equates criticism of the current health care system ( and particularly its productivity) with support for socialization of the system.  Really?  There are perfectly valid free market reasons to criticize health care, where any number of government policy decisions over the years have disrupted the efficacy of price signals and created terrible incentives.

More here from Doug Bandow of Cato

Postscript: Farther left?  Further left?  Sorry, I try, but your scribe is an engineer at heart and sometimes struggles with the native tongue.  When I was in fourth grade, I remember doing a battery of achievement tests, and getting 99+ percentile scores on every test but spelling, where I got something like a 25th percentile.   I think this score put me down mostly with kids for whom English is a second language  (or maybe even worse, with Russian kids for whom ours is a second alphabet).  Only technology in the form of spell-checkers has bailed me out of my personal handicap.

*Sigh* Something Else I Will Have to Subsidize

Via TJIC:

It took decades and, at times, antagonistic battles, but Harvard's gay community says it has finally cemented its academic legitimacy at the nation's oldest university. College officials will announce today that they will establish an endowed chair in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender studies, in what is believed to be the first professorship of its kind in the country.

Can the adults among us agree that a degree in LGBT studies has about zero economic value?  Even a history degree has more economic value, as history studies tend to still be accompanied by some academic rigor.  But the pathetic scholarship standards and non-existant statistical rigor with which most social sciences, and various [fill in the blank with oppressed group] studies departments in particular, are taught make the economic value of such a degree at best zero and at worst a negative.

I have no problem with anyone studying whatever they wish using their own resources.  This is one place I diverge with Ayn Rand -- she might say that pursuing non-productive activity is inherently immoral.  I would say that pursuing your own goals, whatever they be and however valuable or valueless they might be to others, is just fine as long as you don't demand that everyone else to support you.

The problem is that a degree at Harvard probably requires a $200,000 investment to complete.  Given that, beyond a few career spots in academia, a LGBT studies degree is unlikely to ever recover enough (versus having no degree)  to pay for such an investment, problems are inevitable.  Either someone (read: taxpayers) will likely foot the bill, or else some student is going to find herself with tens of thousands of dollars of student debt and no realistic way to pay it back.

In fact, this latter situation is a common leitmotif of recent media stories, the college grad unable to handle his or her shocking debt load.  Somehow, stories all seem to blame the capitalist system as a failure point.  Michelle Obama, who similarly pursued [historically oppressed group] studies at Princeton, has expressed just this point of view.

Despite their Ivy League pedigrees and good salaries, Michelle Obama often says the fact that she and her husband are out of debt is due to sheer luck, because they could not have predicted that his two books would become bestsellers. "It was like, 'Let's put all our money on red!' " she told a crowd at Ohio State University on Friday. "It wasn't a financial plan! We were lucky! And it shouldn't have been based on luck, because we worked hard."

Is this problem really so hard to diagnose, or have we gotten so politically correct we cannot state a fact out loud that everyone understands -- that is, some degrees have more economic power than others.  LGBT studies degrees likely have very little economic utility.  So it is fine to pursue such a degree, but don't be surprised when you are not offered a six-figure income at graduation, and don't come to me expecting that I pay for your choice.

Massive Campaign to Bring Back Indentured Servitude

On several occasions I have have lamented the declining standard of activism:

Activist:  A person who believes so strongly that a
problem needs to be remedied that she dedicates substantial time to ...
getting other people to fix the problem.   It used to be that activists
sought voluntary help for their pet problem, and thus retained some
semblance of honor.  However, our self-styled elite became frustrated
at some point in the past that despite their Ivy League masters degrees
in sociology, other people did not seem to respect their ideas nor were
they particularly interested in the activist's pet issues.  So
activists sought out the double shortcut of spending their time not
solving the problem themselves, and not convincing other people to
help, but convincing the government it should compel others to fix the
supposed problem.  This fascism of good intentions usually consists of
government taking money from the populace to throw at the activist's
issue, but can also take the form of government-compelled labor and/or
government limitations on choice.

It seems that there is a surprisingly large coalition ready to take this to its logical extreme:  A group called Service Nation is set to spend a ton of money lobbying the government to create a program to force every young person into servitude by 2020.

Not satisfied with taking 20-40% of our income to spend as they see fit, the government hopes also to be able to order around the labor of millions of young adults.   I feel like I am reading some bizarre historical re-enactment of the Soviet or Chinese youth programs.  This whole program, which I am tentatively going to label "happy face fascism," makes me so sick I can't even address it further tonight.  More later.

PS:  This is, not coincidentally, exactly the idea Obama has been pushing (here and here).  I say not coincidentally, because this is how one skirts stupid campaign finance laws - you get your supporters to take your top campaign planks and run with them as "independent" efforts that are not subject to campaign finance restrictions.

PPS: Just to head off an argument that came up last time in the comments, I have been a consistent opponent of the military draft as well.

Update:  I know the allusion is over-used, but we are in 1984-land when people keep using the term "voluntary universal national service" as do the leaders of this effort.  By universal, they mean that everyone has to do it.  So they are calling for "national service that everyone is required by law to perform but is voluntary." I do not think that word means what you think it means.

The solution is to develop a system of voluntary universal national
service for our country and for the world. To call upon all young
adults to take at least one year to learn the hard and rugged skills of
practicing idealism.

Yes, lets teach them the "hard and rugged skills" of being forced to do labor that no one is willing to pay for voluntarily, so must be performed by slaves instead.

Another thought:  TJIC made a relevant observation to this the other day:

I'm seeing more and more grudging praise for the efficiency of the Chinese dictatorship these days.

It tends to go something like this:

Sure, sure, they're horrible, and democracy is better, but if they
decide that they need to put in { more mass transit | a factory | a new
canal | an Olympic village }, they just tell everyone in the village
"move!", and the job gets done.

I get the same impression.  Service Nation is the end result of such thinking.

Clarification:  Service Nation denies they support mandatory service, and have removed the word "universal" from their site.  However, it should be noted that many of the prominent supporters and board members of Service Nation have individually advocated for mandatory service.  Also, no denial that they are seeking to create a new, massive government beauracracy.

I Wonder if This Is Related?

Megan McArdle had a stat the other day that was pretty depressing, related to the number of kids of middle class African-Americans that appear to fall back into poverty:

A chapter of the report released last fall found startling evidence
that a majority of black children born to middle-class parents grew up
to have lower incomes and that nearly half of middle-class black
children fell into the bottom fifth in adulthood, compared with 16
percent of middle-class white children

That is not good, though I am always suspicious of income statistics (for example, income statistics show me as close to or below the poverty line over the last few years, a function of an entrepreneurial startup).

Then I saw all the silly to-do about Michelle Obama's senior thesis at Princeton (I can't say I honestly even know what my wife's thesis was about).  But what got me to thinking was the fact that as an African-American Ivy League student, she felt compelled to study and write her thesis about race.  I started to remember a disproportionate number (but by no means all) of my middle-class African-American Ivy League acquaintances studied and wrote on the same thing - race.  This means that while I was studying engineering, which had obvious value in the workplace, many blacks are studying a topic that has no marketplace value except to get a very low paying job in a non-profit somewhere.  Which is all fine and good if that is what people want to do, but if blacks are worried their kids are not financially successful, they should consider whether its smart that, while other kids are studying subjects that will get them ahead, their kids are studying a subject that seems to focus mainly on explaining to them why they will never get ahead.

Update:  I want to be careful not to call race / gender / group identity majors "worthless."  Worthless is in the eye of the beholder, and if a student values such a course of study, then it has worth.  However, by the same token, the student should be prepared for the fact that most of the world, particularly the subset called "hiring managers", does not value degrees in majors that have little practical application outside of academia and which have a reputation in general for having low academic standards.  The student does not have to accept the rest of the world's judgement of her degree, but in turn the student can't demand that the rest of the world adopt hers.

In fact, when I made these comments, I didn't know Ms. Obama's choice of course of study.  Knowing that now, it is even more amazing to me that she sees her student debt experience as an average data point indicating a structural flaw in the economy instead of the fact that she chose perhaps the most expensive college in the country and then chose to dedicate four years of study to a major that is nearly impossible to monetize in the job market.

Oops, There Goes Another Bridge

I probably shouldn't criticize a curriculum that I have not observed, but as someone who studied engineering the old-fashioned way (ie with lots of math and equations) this looks kind of worrisome:

Today's Christian Science Monitor profiles Glenn Ellis, a professor who helped develop Smith's innovative engineering curriculum, which emphasizes context, ethics, and communication as much as formulas and equations.

We know that when the goals in public schools were shifted from education to graduation and retention (e.g. social promotion), the results were disastrous.   So one has to be a little wary of a curriculum aimed more at retention than, you know, designing bridges correctly:

Smith, the first women's college to offer an engineering degree, graduated its first class of engineers in 2004, and since the program's creation, in 1999, has attained a 90-percent retention rate.

Hmm.  Well, if they are teaching the same material in a more engaging manner, fine.  But lower degree retention rates in hard core engineering programs is not a "female thing."  I know that we had a lot of attrition from the harder engineering degrees (mechanical, chemical) at Princeton even among Ivy-League-Quality students and even among the males. 

Hat tip: TJIC

Go Tigers

Sorry, but we don't get to celebrate this kind of thing very often:

The Class of 2008's No. 11-rated inside linebacker Jonathan Meyers
spoke with ESPN's Billy Tucker about his recent commitment to Princeton
over Division I powers Florida and Michigan.

"When it came down to
it, Princeton just offered so much more besides football; it just fit
really well with me. Its academics are number one, the football program
is highly-respected [2006 Ivy League Champions] and I have a chance to
play lacrosse as well."

Additionally, Meyers received some helpful advice from Princeton graduate and current Washington Redskin Ross Tucker.

Definition of an Activist

Activist:  A person who believes so strongly that a problem needs to be remedied that she dedicates substantial time to ... getting other people to fix the problem.   It used to be that activists sought voluntary help for their pet problem, and thus retained some semblance of honor.  However, our self-styled elite became frustrated at some point in the past that despite their Ivy League masters degrees in sociology, other people did not seem to respect their ideas nor were they particularly interested in the activist's pet issues.  So activists sought out the double shortcut of spending their time not solving the problem themselves, and not convincing other people to help, but convincing the government it should compel others to fix the supposed problem.  This fascism of good intentions usually consists of government taking money from the populace to throw at the activist's issue, but can also take the form of government-compelled labor and/or government limitations on choice.

I began this post yesterday, with the introduction above, ready to take on this barf-inducing article in the Washington Post titled " Fulfillment Elusive for Young Altruists In the Crowded Field of Public Interest."  Gee, who would have thought it difficult for a twenty-something with no real job experience to get someone like me to pay you to lobby the government to force me to pay for your personal goals for the world?

Fortunately, since it is a drop-dead gorgeous day outside, TJIC has already done the detail work of ripping this article apart.  Here is one snippet, you should read the whole thing:

So the best they can imagine doing is "advocating".

Here's a hint: maybe the reason that your "sense of adulthood"
is "sapped" is because you haven't been doing anything at all adult.

Adults accomplish things.

They do not bounce around a meaningless series of do-nothing graduate programs, NGOs, and the sophisticated social scene in DC.

If you want to help the poor in Africa, go over there, find
some product they make that could sell here, and start importing it.
Create a market. Drive up the demand for their output.

Or find a bank that's doing micro-finance.

Or become a travel writer, to increase the demand for photography safaris, which would pump more dollars into the region.

Or design a better propane refrigerator, to make the lives of the African poor better....

One thing that disgusts me about "wannabe world changers" is that
mortaring together a few bricks almost always is beneath them - they're
more interested in writing a document about how to lobby the government
to fund a new appropriate-technology brick factory.

Special mutual admiration bonus-points are herein scored by my quoting TJIC's article that quotes me quoting TJIC.

I will add one thing:  I have to lay a lot of this failure on universities like my own.  Having made students jump through unbelievable hoops just to get admitted, and then having charged them $60,000 a year for tuition, universities feel like they need to make students feel better about this investment.   Universities have convinced their graduates that public pursuits are morally superior to grubby old corporate jobs (that actually require, you know, real work), and then have further convinced them that they are ready to change to world and be leaders at 22.  Each and every one of them graduate convinced they have something important to say and that the world is kneeling at their feet to hear it.  But who the f*ck cares what a 22-year-old with an Ivy League politics degree has to say?  Who in heavens name listened to Lincoln or Churchill in their early twenties?  It's a false expectation.  The Ivy League is training young people for, and in fact encouraging them to pursue, a job (ie 22-year-old to whom we all happily defer to tell us what to do) that simply does not exist.  A few NGO's and similar organizations offer a few positions that pretend to be this job, but these are more in the nature of charitable make-work positions to help Harvard Kennedy School graduates with their self-esteem, kind of like basket-weaving for mental patients.

So what is being done to provide more pretend-you-are-making-an-impact-while-drawing-a-salary-and-not-doing-any-real-work jobs for over-educated twenty-something Ivy League international affairs majors?  Not enough:

Chief executives for NGOs, Wallace said, have told her: "Well, yeah, if
we had the money, we'd be doing more. We can never hire as many as we
want to hire." Wallace said her organization drew more than 100
applicants for a policy associate position. "The industry really needs
to look at how to provide more avenues for young, educated people," she
said.

Excuses, excuses.  We are not doing enough for these young adults.  I think the government should do something about it!

Update:  Oh my God, a fabulous example illustrating exactly what universities are doing to promote this mindset is being provided by the University of Delaware.  See the details here.

Giving to State Universities

A few weeks ago, I discussed how Ivy League schools came under fire from some leftist for not spending their endowments fast enough.  Obviously this guy has been a succesful adviser to Congress.

Anyway, one of the differences between private and state schools is not just that many private institutions get a lot more per alumnus giving.  Another big differentiator is how the money gets spent.  Here is a great example of private giving taking on the, uh, most critical challenges in public education.  Via Market Power.

When an Ivy League Degree is a Handicap

Megan McArdle writes:

Why is it so much fun to hate Ivy Leaguers? In part, because they
(well, we*) can often be so hateable. For years, I toyed with the idea
of offering a prize to the first Harvard grad I met who did not, in the
first ten minutes of conversation, manage to work that fact into the
conversation somehow.

OK, I have a couple of Ivy League degrees, so now I have fallen into the trap as well.  But I say that mainly to tell a story about running a small business.

Running a service business that is dispersed across many locations in 12 states, I cannot personally be on top of everything.  Not even close.  I depend on my employees taking the initiative to tell me when they think the company should be doing something differently or better.  However, many of my employees do not have college degrees at all.  This is not a problem for their job performance, as most have a lot of life experience and they do their jobs quite well.  Unfortunately, if or when they find out I have a Harvard B-School degree, the very likely outcome is that they stop making suggestions.  They make the assumption that because I have a more expensive piece of paper on my wall than they do, that I must know what I am doing.  They are embarrassed to try to give me suggestions.  Which is a crock.

I constantly have to hammer home two messages to my employees, both of which are hard to get people to believe despite the fact that they are true:

  1. Most of my employees do their job better than I would do their job.  They tend to assume they are somehow an imperfect proxy for me, when in fact, because their skills and interests are different, they usually do what they do better than if I focused on the same job myself
  2. If the company is doing something stupid, it is probably not because I want it that way.  It is probably because I am ignorant, either of the problem or of the better way to do it. 

How Princeton Uses Its Money

Everybody is always trying to spend someone else's money.  This kind of thing would really make me sick, except it is a little funny to see the kind of class warfare and redistributionist economics preached by elite universities come back to bite them:

Dr. Gravelle points out that endowment wealth is concentrated in the
upper ranks, much of it at 62 institutions with endowments larger than
$1 billion. But just three years ago only 39 schools had billion-plus
endowments. That's a 38% increase in just a few years. In 2006, 125
schools had endowments over $500 million"”a third more than in 2002. The
number of schools that can count themselves as endowment-rich or
super-rich is growing rapidly....

What the data shows is that endowment wealth is everywhere"”except in
the hands of the students who need it today. Last year endowments
increased 17.7% on average"”those larger than a billion increased 18.4%.
Yet, despite double-digit increases stretching back a decade or more
"”endowment spending is at a nearly all-time low of 4.2%--down from 5.1%
in 1994, 6.5% in 1982, and 5.2% in 1975....

Tuition has been going up so rapidly for so long it has reached nearly
ungraspable levels. So let me put today's tuition cost in concrete
terms. Senators, what would your constituents say if gasoline cost
$9.15 a gallon? Or if the price of milk was over $15? That is how much
those items would cost if their price had gone up at the same rate that
tuition has since 1980.

I believe that skyrocketing tuition is
undoubtedly the biggest "access" problem in higher education. What can
possibly be more discouraging to a capable student whose parents are
not wealthy than a school with a $45,000 price tag on the door?...

Congress should not hesitate to consider a minimum payout
requirement"”and 5% should be considered a starting point. The 5% number
is a dated one"”even for private foundations. Many schools have been
rolling over so much money for so long that they should easily be able
to accommodate a higher rate of payout. Possibly the most significant
challenge for policymakers will be to make sure that any newly directed
monies actually go toward aid or tuition reduction and don't become
part of a shell game.

Seriously, is there no pocket of private money that socialists won't stick their hand into?  In effect, at the same time Americans get lambasted for saving too little, this guy is going after private universities for saving too much?  And note the implicit assumption about government intervention he holds and expects all of Congress to hold in the third paragraph above:  It is just assumed that if prices go up enough to upset the constituents, then it is Congress's job to act.

Far be it for facts to get in the way of good populism, but I do know what Princeton does with its 2nd or 3rd largest endowment:

  • Every student who gets admitted gets a financial aid package from the University that will allow them to attend, no matter what their finances are.  Yes, the student may have to work his butt off, but if he really wants to go to Princeton he will be able to go.  Princeton's wealth also allows it to be much more friendly in these financial assessments.  For example, many assets like the parent's house are taken off the table when assessing ability to pay
  • If a student graduates normally, then all of her debts are paid off at graduation.  Every student graduates debt-free, giving them far more flexibility in what jobs they choose our of college.  No longer must they eschew non-profit or low-paying jobs due to the burden of debt.
  • Princeton has accepted that applying more money to increasing the educational intensity of its existing 4000 students by an additional 0.1% is not the best use of its investment.  It has committed (in too small of a way for my preferences, but that is another matter) to using its fortunes to increase its size and bring Ivy League education to more people.  This year, it increased its entry class size by 250, which may seem small to those of you from large universities but is about a 20% increase for Princeton.

Since all Princeton students get whatever aid they need and graduate debt-free.  So the tuition number is irrelevent.  And statements like "I believe that skyrocketing tuition is
undoubtedly the biggest "access" problem in higher education" are virtually meaningless.