Give Money to Fancy Colleges, Including Harvard

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212 Responses

  1. NewDealer says:

    I am an alum of a very fancy liberal arts college (Vassar)*. We don’t have a Harvard sized endowment but it is nothing to sneeze at plus the college owns a lot of the immediate off campus real estate.

    Around the time of the Matt Y article, my college had a 24 hour fundraiser. 500 alums needed to give in 24 hours and if this goal was met, a three-generation family would give 175,000 to the annual fund. IIRC we met 500 people easily and it ended with over 1000 grads donating 140,000 to the college. This is small compared to the Harvard grant but not unsizable.

    A friend of mine had a very fancy K through university education at fancy private schools. He said that it is only alumni giving that gave him the scholarships.

    I think all this debate depends on how one views uptimalized giving and this causes a lot more debates that many economically minded people seem to want to admit.

    *Semi-OT: I’ve noted that a lot of grads of prestigious schools like to downplay where they went. So they will say “I went to school in Connecticut” instead of “I went to Yale.” This strikes me as false modesty and humble bragging. So I say to people I where I went even if they judge.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:

      “A friend of mine had a very fancy K through university education at fancy private schools. He said that it is only alumni giving that gave him the scholarships.”

      A significant portion of financial aid/tuition assistance/scholarship money in independent K-12 schools comes via donation. It creates some situations that can be described as “necessary evils”… e.g., “Head for the Day” auctions, where wealthy parents pony up thousands of dollars to bid on the opportunity for their child to make believe he/she is the head of school for the day. They get to skip out on most classes and accompany the head, sit in on some fake meetings, determine the cafeteria meal and dress code, shit like that. Students older than my own often ask why Jimmy gets to do that and no one else, leading to awkward conversations. Part of me hates things like that. But I also know there are students in the school who wouldn’t be if not for the money raised by such events. So, it’s tough.

      Though, I read a recent report saying that more and more money is going to middle and upper-class families with multiple students instead of those who we’d more traditionally consider being of need. This further complicates all the calculus.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:

        I’ve read those reports as well and it is troubling. I will point out that my alma mater often gets credit for finding at need students and non-traditional ones. We have a Vassar Vets program.

        That being said plenty or many of Vassar students come from the upper-middle class and above even though 60 percent of each class is public-school educated. We are talking about people who grew up in the nicer suburbs of NYC-Metro and other major cities. In fact many scholarship students at Vassar seemed to be like my friend and attended K-12 at prestigious private schools because of scholarships as well. I do alumni interviews for Vassar and many to most of the students are upper-middle class or above whether they went to private or public school. We are not talking about wide discrepancies.

        There was an article about this recently in the Atlantic.

        The shocking statistic I heard is that at Duke the median student family income is 350,000 dollars. Though medians can be misleading, that is a lot of money.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Were the reports you saw about colleges/universities? Or K-12? I only saw them on the latter, but I don’t tend to read much about the former.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:

        Largely college and universities.Report

    • Creon Critic in reply to NewDealer says:

      This strikes me as false modesty and humble bragging. So I say to people I where I went even if they judge.

      I can see being aware of the range of responses you get when people judge where you went to school, and choosing to be slightly evasive about it in certain circumstances. And I wouldn’t criticize it as false modesty or a humble brag. To me it depends on the context. So a job interview, sure no reason to say “A school near Boston”. But social situations, meeting friends of friends, do I really want the first thing, or near first thing, that comes out of mouth “I went to” Brown, or Duke, or whatever?

      There’s a reason it is called dropping the H-Bomb,

      • NewDealer in reply to Creon Critic says:

        Perhaps. I still feel like I would be being dishonest with people if I said “I went to college a few hours north of NYC” over “I went to Vassar.” Maybe that is just me but others noted it as false modesty in the article you gave.

        Though Vassar is not as much of a bomb as Harvard, you still get a reputation for being an artsy special snowflake and snide comments about not being able to do STEM.Report

      • Cathy in reply to Creon Critic says:

        This is a big part of it. I, and most of my current friend-group, went to an Ivy League school, and in some circumstances that fact becomes awkward. If everyone else in the room went to HYP, etc., it’s not a big deal because nobody makes it a big deal (and, really, we all know people of impressive accomplishment who went to State U; it’s NOT a big deal).

        However, if you are in a crowd of people who went to Mid-Tier Private College, State U, and Big Ten School, saying “I went to Harvard” or whatever will frequently prompt someone in the group to say “Ooooooooh, HARVARD, so you’re really smart then, huh?” or worse, “So I bet we all seem pretty dumb to you then?” or similar, and it’s just embarrassing. It’s a small thing, but so is avoiding it by saying “I went to school in Connecticut.”

        Mind you, my friends and I are recent grads; I imagine this effect disappears as everyone gets further removed from college.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Creon Critic says:

        I think it depends on context. If I’m discussing how I was fortunate enough to be living in Boston when the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years, it is sufficient to say, “I went to school in Boston.” If I’m discussing my specific academic path, I’d need to specify: “I went to Boston College.” Context, people. Context.Report

    • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

      It’s not at all. Unless you were in skull and bones. in which case why do you need to tell anyone?

      (also, how many schools are there in Rhode Island? 😉 )Report

  2. Will Truman says:

    The words “trickle-down…” come to mind here.

    Of the various motivations you listed, the one that resonates the most is “paying it forward.” It seems to me that if you feel like you have an obligation to your alma mater, you should pay it if it you can.

    From there, it starts depending more on the institution. The sheer amount of national influence that passes through the doors of Harvard is alarming. Yale and Princeton to a lesser extent. The Ivy Leagues to a considerably lesser extent. If a graduate of lesser Ivy or Patriot League school wants to help his alma mater challenge the biggest boys, I think that’s pretty alright. Our nation is getting larger and Harvard still doesn’t have more than 10,000 undergraduates. We need more Harvards, or more alternatives to Harvard for the country’s best and brightest.

    I undershot on my undergraduate institution. If I were to make a bazillion dollars, I would probably donate generously to the school so that the school I went to can become an even better institution than the one I intended. The fact that it offers space for 30,000 instead of 3,000 plays a role in that. But a part of it, for me, relies on the fact that by some calculations at least, it is an underdog institution that needs people to step up.

    The more of an underdog the institution, the more sympathetic I am to donating money in that direction than [insert benign charitable organization for the needy here] or more personal pursuits.

    But Harvard itself? Meh.Report

    • In general, they paying-it-forward aspect is a worthy endeavour, but I can’t get behind it, as presented.

      There’s a ton of tribal BS that is going on with paying-it-forward only to people who happen to go to a school you happened to go to, too. There’s no other connection to these people… there’s no real connection at all. You can just as easily pay-it-forward to students attending other other schools (or, if we’re looking at personal betterment and granting opportunities to youth in a more general sense, this pay-it-forward mentality need not be limited to educational pursuits).

      People will have emotional connections to the places they’ve come from; that’s fine; that’s human. People can do what they want with their money (though the rest of us are welcome to assess it and present potentially better uses), but there’s something… I don’t know, “classist”, “tribal”, “exclusionary”… about deciding that paying-it-forward is specifically valid if it’s going to Harvard.Report

  3. zic says:

    For some time, it’s seemed to me that the best endowment gifts would be to colleges that serve low/middle-income families; community colleges and state colleges in particular.


    But endowments also mean that those elite universities get to participate in the market in ways that align with their values. For instance. There’s an LLC that’s been purchasing up as much of the great northern woods (Northeastern) as it can. Timberlands, in huge parcels, stretching from Upstate NY to the Maine/Canadian border. Most of this land was, as little as 25 years ago, owned by the timber/paper industries — and it’s been a working farm for trees since before the late 1700s to early 1800s. With changes in those industries, there’s some serious pressure on that land to be developed. The LLC that’s been purchasing the land is funded by the endowments of those elite colleges.

    Now why does that forest matter? Numbers of reasons, including water quality, biodiversity, etc. But the biggest one? That forest absorbs more carbon then the entire eastern Seaboard produces every day. And because of the wealth of the endowments and the research they do, there’s some ability to match their long-term investments with desired social goals (sequestering carbon) that the general public is not ready to participate in.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to zic says:

      Which of the three liberal arts colleges in Maine is considered the most prestigious? Bates, Bowdoin, or Colby?

      I applied to Colby and it was my second choice. Bates was not on my radar. Bowdoin seemed too old school WASPY and like every student went to a preppy and sporty private school and was not very arts oriented. However, I think Colby still might have had a wealthier student body than Vassar did.Report

      • zic in reply to NewDealer says:

        Bowdoin, then Colby, then Bates. Bates is probably bottom because of the town it’s in, however; mill town mostly populated by French Arcadians.

        Interestingly, these are not the schools buying up the land in northern Maine.Report

  4. Jaybird says:

    What do you want more of?

    If there is a college that does a better job of creating (your favorite major) degrees than any other college, you should totally send your money to that school and earmark it for that department.

    My confusion when I see millions being given to Harvard (or any college, for that matter), is that I don’t know what the donor is hoping to be rewarding. “Harvardness”?Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:

      A bit. People think it is better to endow a chair at Harvard than Eastern North Dakota State.

      A lot of donees are also alums so there is an emotional attachment to the school.Report

    • Creon Critic in reply to Jaybird says:

      I didnt’ outline the details of Griffins gift, but (iirc) something like $140 million for financial aid and $10 million to endow a professorship at the business school. I think Tod Kelly makes this point below, but these big gifts rarely come without some instructions exactly like those you outline – spend it on this department, or that set of efforts the donor supports. Here for instance is Bloomberg on his most recent gift to Hopkins ($350 million, he’s given +$1 billion to Hopkins over several decades),

      “Johns Hopkins University has been an important part of my life since I first set foot on campus more than five decades ago,” Bloomberg said. “Each dollar I have given has been well-spent improving the institution and, just as importantly, making its education available to students who might otherwise not be able to afford it. Giving is only meaningful if the money will make a difference in people’s lives, and I know of no other institution that can make a bigger difference in lives around the world through its groundbreaking research—especially in the field of public health.”


      • Jaybird in reply to Creon Critic says:

        If the school does a good job in the field of public health, it makes *PERFECT* sense to donate money and say that you’re doing it because you love how much they contribute to the public health. I even applaud such an act.

        My problem, if I have a problem, is with the suspicion that money is fungible and the public health department budget would be $X Million whether or not you donated some percentage of X or not.Report

      • Jay, while that’s true for some things, I think using fungibility when it comes to donations is a really good way to discourage people from making future donations. It’s not like taxes in that respect as voters have poorer long term memories than people who give millions of dollars.Report

      • Kim in reply to Creon Critic says:

        I think anyone who gives money with their name attached is vainglorious and has missed the point of tzedakah.Report

      • Roger in reply to Creon Critic says:

        So it is both true and inconvenient?Report

  5. Lyle says:

    Perhaps the better question is where will your donation do the most good. I went to a major land grant school, and Cal-Tech, but gave to the land grant school, because I felt that Cal-Tech had enough money compared to the land grant school, and felt overall I was better treated at the Land Grant School, all be it Cal-Tech was the graduate school. I think each donor should decide where the greatest impact of their money might be.Report

    • Pierre Corneille in reply to Lyle says:


      I went to a land grant for undergrad, too, and if I ever do decide to donate, it would be to the land grant. Not only do I believe in its mission and not only do I appreciate its lack of pretension (not every university ought to strive to be a “WORLD CLASS INSTITUTION” like the one where I got my PHD), but I also think the money could do the most good there.Report

    • Creon Critic in reply to Lyle says:

      I think each donor should decide where the greatest impact of their money might be.

      Totally fair.

      I probably should have mentioned Vedder’s more harsh suggestion of phasing out both donor and capital gains tax breaks for schools like Harvard, Princeton, Yale… Essentially, treat them less as nonprofits because they already have so much money. (He also folds in an objection to legacy admissions, but that’s not central to his argument.)

      If you want your donation to go to cutting edge physics research say, like the Bloomberg-Hopkins $350 mil. public health gift, should the government count that as not a “real” charitable donation?Report

  6. ScarletNumbers says:

    When my directional New Jersey state college asks me for money, I mail the envelope back empty.

    That way, not only do they get teased into thinking that they are getting a donation, they get charged postage on the envelope.Report

  7. Fnord says:

    The “they gave me a hand up, and I’d like to give back” comes from a noble place. But it can support a self-perpetuating elite, with elites helping other elites and those without a pre-existing “in” to the system left out.Report

  8. TM (tm) says:

    It’s a question of alternatives.

    If you’re considering a donation to Harvard, or buying a Malibu beach house, by all means donate to Harvard. If you’re considering donating to the opera or some other highbrow cultural institution, by all means donate to Harvard instead.

    But if you’re considering donating to any real charity, then even Harvard’s need-based scholarships are not the most effective use of the money. Every Harvard student has excellent alternatives. The same can’t be said at other schools, or for other causes.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to TM (tm) says:

      “If you’re considering donating to the opera or some other highbrow cultural institution, by all means donate to Harvard instead.”

      This one is curious to me. Por que? Not all high brow institutions have a lot of money. NY Opera just shut down. What’s wrong with giving to so called “high brow”* cultural institutions or arts institutions like NY Opera or the Brooklyn Academy of Music (or smaller companies like SF Contemporary Opera or Shutgun Players?)

      Art is important.

      *I explicitly reject the idea that only people with money enjoy so called high culture. There are plenty of people who love classical music, opera, ballet, theatre (traditional and avant-garde) that are not rich and big donations could theoretically lower ticket prices.Report

      • greginak in reply to NewDealer says:

        Agreed on the “only rich folk like high culture.” There is a quite bit more to it than that. My middle class social worker wife enjoys opera and classical music. Plenty of non-rich folk enjoy them. Where would jazz fit in there? Is jazz high culture? A lot of big name jazz acts play at “high brow” venues. Taking kids to the Nutcracker is a holiday tradition for many people.Report

      • dhex in reply to NewDealer says:

        “mostly people with money” would cover it pretty good guys.

        otherwise they’d be able to, like, pay for stuff without having to do funding drives AND their funding drives would fail constantly and they’d need bloc grants to keep the lights on.Report

      • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        yes, art is important.
        But I’d rather have to go under a supermarket to listen to folks sing in the basement… (oh, wait, I have — in Chelsea). Than have people pay oodles of money to make Opera “fashionable to the wealthy” [note: separate designation is needed for money used to keep architecture of historic interest.]Report

    • Creon Critic in reply to TM (tm) says:

      Why is Harvard not a “real” charity? To me, there are many worthy causes. Anti-malaria bed nets, or the give directly program Yglesias touts, completely worthy causes. But that doesn’t make every other cause unworthy. There’s a zero-sumness that rubs me the wrong way about pitting causes against each other.

      Even supposing making an ordinal list were possible, you’d still run up against internal conflict. How do we judge Bloomberg’s $350 million gift to Hopkins for public health professorships? Hopkins is already a wealthy university. Public health professors could do real good focusing on researching the diseases faced by those helped by the bed net charity. Bed nets help people right now, those Hopkins professorships could help people in the future. How do you account for the time value of money tradeoffs with direct interventions for saving lives?Report

      • Kim in reply to Creon Critic says:

        You do the best you can.
        Ideally, we all earmark some percentage of our income to “helping the unfortunate”
        Then there’s another percentage we give to “keeping basics running — structural stability” (gov’t, planned parenthood).Report

  9. Stillwater says:

    One thing I’m really unclear on is the purpose of an endowment. Some quick Googling revealed that the Harvard endowment is at $30 billion and the fund managers invest in things like timber and natural gas. That is, just pretty standard investment strategies to maximize return. That’s all well and good, but how does the money – profit or principal – actually get used? Or does it? I get the feeling that endowment funds are primarily used to increase the fund rather being spent. I know that’s not always true (Phil Knight paid for the construction of a new facility at Oregon) but is it an accurate picture in general?Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Stillwater says:

      There are actually multiple answers to your question.

      Endowments for colleges and universities are large, tricky things, because it’s actually rare that someone gives large sums of money one that have no strings attached. People that give that kind of money almost always have very specific purposes for eventual cash disbursements, and those stipulations can reach out over decades and even centuries.

      Phil Knight (to use your example) has given a lot of money to Oregon, and each time he has done so it has been with a very particular set of instructions. Sometimes those instructions are immediate (re-build Autzen stadium), but more often than not they are long-term and the university is contractually obligated to hold on to funds over time (here is money to create a first-class baseball program, but the money needs to be dispersed to pay for that over a 20 year period.) And those strings often have financial side benefits. Investment is one, but there are others. Most larger institutions are self-insured for a number of things, because they do have cash on hand and this reduces their long-term expenses.

      There are people who just give $25 a pop for whatever, but those normally go into general funds for day to day operation. The reason endowments sit over time is most often because the money paid into it (and the interest accrued from that donation) was given with the express purpose of doing so. So the reason that Oregon doesn’t take it’s endowment and give all professors a raise, or cut tuition in half, or whatever, is because they basically agreed not to use it to do those things when they took it.Report

      • zic in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Tod, there’s a difference between an endowment and a cash gift. An endowment is money that’s invested, and the returns from that investment are used to pay for whatever . . . baseball, art programs, scholarships. A gift that’s not an endowment is generally spent, and then gone.

        Endowments are good on the one hand, they’re like a trust fund, and they (in theory) shouldn’t run out. But they do require a sophisticated money manager, and that actually syphons off some of the endowment’s profits. Endowments are subject to fluctuations in the markets, too. Harvard’s lost substantial value during the economic collapse; and they had to cut back on a lot of the things they’d planned to do because of that loss.

        Direct cash gifts tend (so it seems) to have more strings; use this money for new stadium seats or for new science lab or new library. But there’s no ongoing burden to manage that money, either. Raise it, spend it.

        For small private schools, there’s often a dream of setting up an endowment that would be there to help ease the school through lean years; but the actual fund raising for the endowment and managing of the endowment are pretty big obstacles, and I’ve seen schools decide to pursue this path and then back down once the realize how much it will require of them going forward. Better to get money that they can spend on tangible things now. For an endowment to work, it has to be large enough to earn interest and dividends that are significant; that can take several years (or even decades) to achieve, and in the meantime, the money raised just sits in the investment accounts and doesn’t work for the school.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Endowment gifts can be limited in their uses, too. People tend to think of an endowment as one fund, but it’s actually multiple funds, perhaps a great many. For example, one of the donor gifts that is part of my school’s endowment is a find to buy books for the library.

        These gifts can be for just about anything, whatever the donor wants and the school agreee to. Commonly they’re for scholarships or endowed faculty positions, but whatever they may be the primary common denominator is probably that they’re something to which the donor’s name can be attached. Few people give large gifts just to the general fund, with no restrictions on use.

        Of course Presidents would prefer unrestricted gifts to the endowment, to maximize their own discretion. But using funds otherwise than directed can result in lawsuits by donors or their heirs/estates, and potential loss of the gift.Report

      • Matty in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        The university endowments I’ve heard of tend to be tied to particular departments or professorships. E.g here is money to create the Ordinary Times Chair of Blogging, to do that you need to both invest over the long term to pay for a succession of office holders and fix in advance what the investment can be spent on. Otherwise your Chair of Blogging may turn into a new conference hall, which may be more use but is not what you paid for.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Stillwater says:

      There are also laws that endowments need to spend 5 percent of their size a year. This might be less for universities but Harvard is not just allowed to sit on that money. They need to spend it.Report

    • zic in reply to Stillwater says:

      the underlying value of the funds themselves are not touched, that’s part of an ‘endowment’ instead of a gift to do some specific thing.

      Returns the endowment generates are generally spent on scholarships, capital improvements and reinvested in the endowment. I’m not aware that new chairs/depts. get established out of endowments, but I don’t see why they couldn’t. I have heard, at some smaller schools, of endowments being used to help offer more competitive teacher/professor salaries.

      The endowments themselves (having extremely large sums of money to invest) give the universities some elbow room to set market directions; as I said above (and you reinforced) timber holdings in part because over the long term, they’re reliable investments, and because they’re part of a response to climate change; protecting carbon sinks.Report

      • Matty in reply to zic says:

        Ah I think we mean different things by endowment. You are referring to a kind of general investment fund held by the university whereas I was thinking of donors endowing funds for a particular thing.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

      One thing I’m really unclear on is the purpose of an endowment.

      The fundamental purpose is financial stability. The schools without sufficient endowments to help cover their operating costs are highly tuition-dependent, and at high risk of failure if enrollment drops. One or two of those schools fail each year, and we’ll probably see a big shakeout in the next 20-30 years.

      Endowments also help keep enrollments up by enabling private schools to offer in-house financial aid (few students pay the full list price of tuition).Report

  10. Tod Kelly says:

    Reading through all of the comments, it occurs to me that most people might not be aware of how Harvard attempts to put together its graduating classes.

    Harvard isn’t actually a university that tries to gather children all of the richest people from the country; nor is it one that tries to gather the smartest. Instead, it buys into a philosophy of trying to get those people from different regions, different economic classes, and different “cultural” backgrounds that Harvard believes are most likely to eventually be influential in the arts, academics, government and business.* Now, there’s certainly a question as to whether or not that’s how they should be admitting kids (or not); there’s a question as well as to how much they are good at predicting this, and how much they “make” it happen just by letting 18 year olds in their famous doors.

    But the “rich, rich, rich” lines I see in these threads isn’t how Harvard operates. (“Elite, elite, elite,” maybe.) If you’re really looking for a college or university that takes kids from lower income brackets and makes them financially successful in life, I’m not sure that you can find a better example than Harvard.

    * Full disclosure: My spouse was a Radcliffe grad, and they basically paid her way to come there because they decided she was one of those people.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Is Harvard unique in this regard? Or is this more-or-less how every college operates, possibly with a slight different focus on the industries it tries to cultivate influence in?Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:


        I surely don’t know, but a whole slew of kids I went to HS/early college with ended up at Stanford and all of ’em received all sorts of financial incentives to do so. As Tod said up there, Stanford looked at those kids as having the “right stuff”, where that term didn’t refer to wealth/privilege in any way.

        Same is true for some of the kids I knew who ended up at harvard. They got in without any cultural/financial privilege greasing the wheels.Report

    • ScarletNumbers in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      If you’re really looking for a college or university that takes kids from lower income brackets and makes them financially successful in life, I’m not sure that you can find a better example than Harvard.

      Sounds like a racket to me.Report

      • Oh, I think that it totally is.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to ScarletNumbers says:


        Out of curiosity, what would your ideal be?

        I know it is currently popular among the left and the right to say “college is not for everyone” and encourage vocational school but I like the romantic idea of an affordable system where everyone gets some or a complete college education including a strong dose of the arts and humanities. Can it hurt a nation for everyone to have a bit of a background into the classics of world culture: European-American, Asian, Latin American, and African?Report

      • dhex in reply to ScarletNumbers says:

        “Can it hurt a nation for everyone to have a bit of a background into the classics of world culture: European-American, Asian, Latin American, and African?”


        1) what else could they have been doing during that time?
        2) who gets to decide what counts as a “classic”?
        3) what if they have no interest?
        4) what if they have no aptitude?
        5) what if they’re really into math or polka to the exclusion of non-math, non-polka material?
        6) who pays for it?

        somehow i think you’d think less of mandatory science and math classes for the effete theatre types. “i come not to send peace but a sword, so do some math and science about that sword if it gets on a train in philadelphia traveling twelve miles an hour…”Report

      • NewDealer in reply to ScarletNumbers says:


        I am not against STEM but I think of them as being less cure-alls than they are currently touted.

        Who gets to decide is a valid point but I am not completely culturally democratic or relativist. Aristophanes is more worthy of study than Family Guy. Virginia Woolfe and Edith Wharton are more worthy of study than Jodi Picault and Danielle Steele. The Tale of Genji and Runaway Horses are more worthy of study than Ranma 1/2 and Sailor Moon.

        I think a well balanced education includes the arts and humanities, math and science. Would you suggest not letting high school students take biology or physics or trig if they showed no interest or skill in the subjects? Why do we decide that is acceptable for people to skip over Mozart and Michaelangelo?Report

      • NewDealer in reply to ScarletNumbers says:

        “6) who pays for it?”

        Again this is one of those things that is bonkers about the United States. Every other nation seems to accept that public education and low tuitions are human goods but in America it is considered horrible and snobby to suggest that tax payer money go to lowering tuition.

        We could easily have free public education and universal healthcare if we cut bloat from the military-industrial complex and private prison industry and would probably do more good as well.

        Do we need deadlier weapons and drone fighters and the horros that Snowden uncovered? Don’t you think it would be better to give everyone some Great Works courses in the music, art, and literature of the world?Report

      • dhex in reply to ScarletNumbers says:


        we all agree that forcing people into XYZ courses out of some weird cultural crusade seems less than ideal?

        STEM IST KREIG is the innumerate npr white people version of reading turns your kids into commies or whatever strawman your cultural corner of the sports bar is beating to death this week. that’s kinda sad. we’re also stemming the hell out of ourselves right now, so you’d best unplug the internet and go hug a random engineer of some kind just to even the score.

        i skipped the trig and mozart and michaelangelo so i think i did pretty good on that front because i have no interest in any of it. but don’t worry, i have some deep interests that your upper middle class background/brainwashing would find acceptable, and none of it involves anime. 🙂

        so rest easy.

        “who pays for it” is more than some american thing. it’s a “we want to feed our kids and get paid for our time” thing. people are totes *weird* like that. it’s easy to say “free stuff for everyone!” without thinking how that free stuff actually works, how it would be rolled out, and in the case of “everyone gets some classics, sans lube”, how you sell that to people who otherwise might object – myself included. i don’t even like sitting in chairs inspired before 1920, so you better pull extra hard if you’re going to recommend forcibly beowulfing my kid.

        we all agree someone’s dominant narrative has to be enforced; i just think having things more loosey goosey on that front is probably a good thing while focusing on skills like how to build a good argument and less of the whole. reading whatever the upper middle class thinks is a classic is less useful than knowing how to rebut nonsensical classist kulturkampf masquerading as “common sense”.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to ScarletNumbers says:


        I didn’t say anything about raising taxes. I did note that a lot of money gets spent on the defense, drug war, and intelligence budgets and this could be slashed considerably and have a lot of money left for the public goods in terms of more money for healthcare, roads and other public works, the justice system, libraries, museums, arts, and schools.

        And we would still spend more on defense and intelligence than most other nations or all other nations. Does the US need the military budget and size it has?

        STEM is touted by plenty of Republican politicians because it seems more practical than Art History and they like to sneer at arts degrees. See GOP commentary about Occupy Wall Street and Rick Scott in Florida praising STEM as a cure-all.Report

      • dhex in reply to ScarletNumbers says:

        you’re having an argument with some guy who is not me.

        who pays means “who pays the teachers that will lead these mandatory classes? who pays the administrators who set them up? who pays for the displaced workers who taught stuff before the required classics of all nations came into play? or would extra hours need to be covered with overtime? who would pay for the extra daycare required? where do we get the classes taught that build up the context of a high school-based great books curriculum, something that turns on its head the vast majority ?” taxes would be a part of it regardless, but there’s more than that involved. a lot more.

        watching this whole common core thing unfold is a good lesson in that.

        my value system says that blowing up fewer people is a noble goal and all that, but i think you go off the rails a bit when you get into “no no no we take away money from the things i don’t like and give it to the things i do like!” especially when those things are basically a set of preferences – and at least 50% aesthetics – for an idealized upper middle class lifestyle disconnected from the general experience of most americans.

        it’s cool to like stuff that an other, real or imagined, wouldn’t like. i do it at least three times a day AND i work in marketing. i like grindcore and big data. i’m basically everyone’s asshole. it’s great if you enjoy being the jerk, and i certainly do.

        but a very large part of my job is convincing people (and their parents, and depending on their background, their extended families) of the inherent value of art history degrees as a valuable part of in the future narrative of this poem we call america.

        you should probably leave this particular crusade to the professionals.Report

      • I like my classics, and what I consider classics probably matches pretty well with what @newdealer considers to be classics. I like my James Joyce and I like my history. It would be fun and probably intellectually invigorating if most other people did, too, and were willing to talk about such things.

        But there’s also something invigorating by interacting with people with very different views of the world from mine, and those views can include preferences very different from mine. I’m all for a well-rounded education, but I think it’s deceptively easy to conflate my sincere belief that each person would benefit from as well-rounded an education as possible with what are simply my preferences that people be like me. I also don’t think it’s horrible that I have to interact with people who couldn’t care less about Dubliners.

        I agree that as a practical matter, studying what are considered the classics can be helpful in cultivating the soft skills that can be very valuable to people. It can also be intellectually uplifting and a good in its own right. But in case someone’s heart does not leap up when he/she beholds great literature, I think we have to rely on the practical arguments to justify making such study a requirement.

        I’m also not too into defining what is and isn’t worthy of study. Whole schools of historical interpretation have emerged from studying things other people thought weren’t worthy of study. I’ve never read a word of Danielle Steele. How would I even know if she’s worthy of study before I read her? I have a pretty good idea–I have a sorting process that excludes her very early on from the range of works I want to read–but I still can’t be certain she’s unworthy of study. And if I wanted to study her work, why would that be bad? Maybe her oeuvre is actually classic worthy. Or if not, maybe it’s an example of what Orwell and others called “a good bad book.” Or maybe her work is so intellectually void and empty and formulaic that it ought to go to the recycle bin.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to ScarletNumbers says:

        We could easily have free public education and universal healthcare if we cut bloat from the military-industrial complex and private prison industry and would probably do more good as well.

        This doesn’t mean that there are no trade-offs. If we cut bloat from the “military-industrial complex and private prison industry” and didn’t replace it with anything, total government spending would be somewhat lower*. There’s still a trade-off between letting people spend their own money as they see fit and funding your pet projects.

        The bottom line, for me, is that if you’re going to go to someone and say, “You know those plans you had for that money you worked for? Well, you’re just going to have to forget about that, because I’m going to take it and use it to fund the things I care about,” then you’d better have a damned good reason. And promoting your preferred forms of entertainment doesn’t strike me as meeting that bar.

        *Not by as much as you seem to think. Spending on prisons in the US is on the order of $50B per year, and military spending around $800B, compared to $1T and $1.2T for government spending on education and health care, respectively. Unless you’re talking about eliminating the military and prison system altogether, we’re looking at a few hundred billion in savings. Not trivial, but covering free public education and health care seems like a stretch.Report

      • Kim in reply to ScarletNumbers says:

        Not sure where you’re getting all that.
        Twilight and Cardcaptor Sakura would be essential to understanding
        contemporary society. And if you can’t understand contemporary society,
        why the fuck are we having you study older ones??
        [disclaimer: understanding human psychology is the goal of most literature, is it not?]Report

      • Kolohe in reply to ScarletNumbers says:

        We could easily have free public education and universal healthcare if we cut bloat from the military-industrial complex and private prison industry and would probably do more good as well.

        Your math (you know, the “M”) is significantly flawed. The US spends 17% of GDP on health care, 40% of which is not already government spending. The US spends somewhere between 2.5% to 4% of GDP on the military industrial complex. So right there, you have a gap of some 3-4% of GDP to cover to be able to ‘easily’ have universal healthcare by getting rid of the military.

        Private prisons have some 100K-150K people incarcerated, which out of 3 million people incarcerated in the US, is less than 5% of the problem, and only about $1.5 billion in annual cost – or enough to send only about 20K over 3 million graduating high schools seniors to a four year ride at a private college.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to ScarletNumbers says:

        “STEM is touted by plenty of Republican politicians because it seems more practical than Art History and they like to sneer at arts degrees.”


    • NewDealer in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      LeeEsq has mentioned it here before but Harvard (and many other institutions) keep their elite status by having supply drastically lower than feasible demand. Lee mentioned that Harvard admissions has basically admitted they could fill their opening class 5 or 6 times over but decided not to.


      I imagine that any institution that is considered elite or hard to get into does it on a level but I think it is more subconscious that Tod’s post implies. I don’t think they are saying “Bill seems capable of succeeding at Harvard but we doubt he is going to be a world-leader so let’s not admit him” but who knows. Then again in the US we have elite and we have elite. We both went to undergrads that are known and very hard to get into but they are not considered elite enough to get us jobs on Wall Street (if either of us wanted jobs on Wall Street that is)

      If Brown and Cornell are second tier, I wonder what schools like Vassar and Boston College are? Neither school is known for being easy to get into.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to NewDealer says:

        Harvard (and many other institutions) keep their elite status by having supply drastically lower than feasible demand

        Even non-elite schools try to do this because admissions rates are one of the ways schools get ranked. One trick used by schools trying to improve their ranking is to recruit applications ftom students they know are below their admissions standards so they can increase their rejection percentage.

        It’s a dirty business, but it can help the school attract more quality students by appearing more exclusive. Done right it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to NewDealer says:

        Exactly. The reason why we are having a college crisis is that the number of students and the number of elite students is greater than it was at the start of the baby-boom but the number of elite colleges remained more or less constant. This includes the number of students who could attend these colleges.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to NewDealer says:


        You’ll have to flesh that out a bit more for me. I see one way that argument could go, but I’m not sure it’s what you mean.Report

      • Mo in reply to NewDealer says:

        @james-hanley Another thing schools do to goose the accepted offers percentage is to put students who they are not sure will accept (typically because they may be in the top quintile) on the wait list. If the potential student accepts wait list status, they will send an acceptance immediately.Report

      • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        Cornell is a cow college, same as Penn State.
        Do you like Empires?Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to NewDealer says:

        Lee mentioned that Harvard admissions has basically admitted they could fill their opening class 5 or 6 times over but decided not to.

        In Harvard’s defense, scaling up your capacity by a factor of 5 or 6 is very difficult if you’re in the paperclip manufacturing industry. Doing it when your business model is providing the best researchers, instructors and facilities in the world in a very high service:customer ratio is even harder. Harvard could scale up by that factor, but it would be near impossible to do it without losing some of what makes it Harvard.

        Maybe giving 5x as many people something that’s 80% (50%? 25%) as good as going to “Harvard Classic” is better than keeping “Harvard Classic” for a small group. But I’m pretty sure it’s a serious trade off.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to NewDealer says:

        Only half of Cornell is a cow college, (i.e. land-grant college/university), and 1/2 of that literally studies cowsReport

      • LeeEsq in reply to NewDealer says:

        @james-hanley, we can all agree that the we have more people in the United States in 2013 than we did in 1945. With more people, come more students, and with more students more elite, well-qualified students. What were the desirable colleges in 1945? The same ones that the top students want to go to now with Harvard, Yale, and Princeton still being the top three. The other ivies, Brown, Columbia, and Cornell serve as acceptable substitutes for those that can’t get into the top three. MIT and CalTech are still the best science schools and Johns Hopkins is the choice for those that want to be doctors. Vassar and company are still small liberal arts colleges for the artsy, alternative sit even though some of them are co-ed these days. The desirable schools in 1945 are still the schools that elite students want to go to these days. There aren’t enough slots though, this forces elite students into institutions that they wouldn’t normally go to, and this puts pressure on everybody else.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to NewDealer says:


        OK, I get you now. An interesting thought.

        Since the number of elites hasn’t grown, I think the next step would be to see if enrollment in the elites has grown commensurately with the population: i.e., a little more than doubled. I know factually that some of those schools have grown in that time, but my hypothesis would be that their collective enrollment hasn’t doubled.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

        I actually tried to look up Harvard’s enrollment over time but have not had much success. That their undergrad enrollment sits at 8000 or so suggests to me that it has not. Their higher graduate enrollment maybe suggests the opposite, though?

        FTR, I am very much on board with what @leeesq is saying. About the only counterargument to it I have is that if Harvard were bigger, even more of our national leaders would be Harvard grads. Or maybe the networking effects would diminish? Not sure.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:

        @leeesq @james-hanley @will-truman

        It is also worth noting that the notion of elite as increased because the old guard has stopped doing the outright discrimination that they used to do in the past. The Ivies (and maybe the Seven Sisters) used to consider it part of their mission to keep America’s ruling class as being White, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant. They let in some minorities but in radically smaller numbers and also developed quota systems when it looked like some groups (read: Jews) were being over represented.

        Richard Feynman wrote in his autobiography that he went to MIT because the quota system at the Ivies worked against him. As late as the 1950s or 60s, William Buckley was aghast in the National Review at admission changes in the Ivy League. I can’t find it now but it expressed horror that Yale would consider taking a straight A kid from a suburban public school (presumably a Jewish student) over a C or B student from Philps Exeter or some such.

        Emory recently apologized for anti-Semitism which kicked out several Jewish students for “flunking out” of their dentistry school. Note the students did not really receive flunking grades.

        Previously most bright Jewish students who were college bound went to various state universities or the City University of New York system because those were government run and could not disReport

      • LeeEsq in reply to NewDealer says:

        @will-truman, my guess is that increasing the number of students at an elite school will decrease their cache but not to the extent they fear. One reason why a Harvard or Yale degree is valuable is because its rare, not many people go to Harvard or Yale and many of those that do are the children of important, powerful, or at least very well off people. The other reason why a Harvard or Yale degree is valuable is because they are known names. Most people can recognize them as names of famous, prestigious universities even if they don’t know anything else about them. Very few people would recognize my university by name. The name recognition of Harvard and Yale would off-set some of the prestige lost by increasing the student body to a more realistic size.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

        @leeesq I think that is exactly right. A good chunk of the loss of value that would occur would probably be a relative loss of exclusivity, which is pretty zero-sum because I don’t mean “bringing in less qualified applicants” but rather “bringing in fewer qualified applicants.” So you’d have more graduates from Harvard competing with more other graduates of Harvard for the cream-of-the-crop jobs, but what the 8000th student would lose, the 8001st would gain. And it would, as you say, probably not be as big a hit as they fear.Report

      • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        Elite schools and science schools are different things.
        CMU certainly fits up with Caltech and MIT (maybe a smidge lower, but not by much). There’s others, certainly (UChicago springs to mind, but that’s because of my field — Stanford as well, of course)
        University of Pittsburgh does medicine — it’s maybe not as prestigious as Hopkins, but… what’s prestigious getting you these days?

        I can tell you what going to Harvard gets you — nice, well-heeled friends who will take you high places.

        Can’t say as much with science (particularly if you’re going to get a PHd. Then you just want a good researcher as a prof).Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      @tod-kelly In the event that Harvard is not one of the elite schools that discriminates against members of bad social clubs (FFA, 4-H, etc) and does actually seek a degree of diversity (beyond race), then good for it. It’s hard to actually pin down what their admissions look like, though, and perhaps out of a reactionary anti-elitism I am actually a big skeptical that they cut against the grain to such a degree.Report

  11. NewDealer says:

    The Times published this on Saturday:

    In the comments people ask “What’s the matter with the trades?” I would say that there is nothing wrong with the trades but it seems to me that college or not has a whole lot to do with a mindfield of values and cultural assumptions. I think it is democratic and eaglitarian to provide an affordable college education for everyone. To others this makes me a snobby McSnoberson because I want people to study Homer and Mursaki Shikibu over plumbing or carpentry or some such.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

      The thing is, if somebody doesn’t want to go to college, or isn’t temperamentally suited, the values and cultural assumptions will largely sail right by them. And in large enough numbers, they’ll change colleges rather than the other way around.

      To others this makes me a snobby McSnoberson because I want people to study Homer and Mursaki Shikibu over plumbing or carpentry or some such.

      What’s your view of someone who thinks that everybody should learn how to fix a transmission? Or build a computer? Or write code? Whether a person wants to do it as a career or not, I mean.

      Your arguing (or seem to be) that your value system is superior to the value system of others. That they need to value what you value, even if there’s “nothing wrong” with what they value. That’s going to rub people with other value systems the wrong way. That’s not entirely on them.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:

        “Your arguing (or seem to be) that your value system is superior to the value system of others. That they need to value what you value, even if there’s “nothing wrong” with what they value. That’s going to rub people with other value systems the wrong way. That’s not entirely on them.”

        I generally think everyone does this whether they realize it or not.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:

        To further expand, I think it is equally a value call or judgment when people say that higher education in the arts and the humanities and sciences is not necessary. It says that people only need what is economically viable and that the values of a life of a mind are nill to none.

        That rubs me the wrong way. It is a cliche but there is a general truth to “those that don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

        I know we live in an age where we are supposed to be radically democratic and relativist about culture but I am not for better or for worse.Report

      • Chris in reply to Will Truman says:

        Do you see the difference in kind between someone saying that higher education (in the form of a 4+-year post-secondary education) is not necessary and saying that, in essence, a 4+-year post-secondary education is better than other things in some objective, absolute sense?Report

      • Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

        oh, I totally agree with taht statement. That’s why I think studying Tale of the Genji over Cardcaptor Sakura is completely idiotic.

        Did you catch my post on Art? Nicole Eisenmann had a great painting with the phrase “I’m with stupid” on it.

        Before we ought to study pretensions, we ought to understand reality.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:


        I’m not with stupid on it. People will discover Cardcaptor Sakura, Wrestlemania, and whatever on their own and that is fine and okay.

        There is still more value in the Tale of Genji if only because the Tale of Genji was the start of the Japanese written narrative tradition which eventually gave birth to Cardcaptor Sakura. They have very little in common but Cardcaptor Sakura would not exist without the Tale of Genji existing. I still think part of the job of critics and educators is to give exposure and a bit of push towards what people might not discover on their own or is a bit harder to appreciate in a passive kind of way. Many people seem to note that the appeal of TV is in that it is a passive entertainment and they can sit and zone out.

        Thomas Kincaid (ugh) would not exist without JMW Turner existing first, etc.Report

      • Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

        All due respect (which is little) but studying cardcaptor sakura is not the same as blindly watching it.
        And Cardcaptor Sakura has much, much more to do with Ukiyio-e woodcuts than Tales of the Genji, being popular entertainment of a purient nature.

        I should write a guest post on this.Report

    • Chris in reply to NewDealer says:

      New, let me start by saying that I like you, man, I really do. But if you think that is why people think you’re snobby McSnoberson, you’re wrong, or at least, only right by a small fraction. People think that because you frequently behave indistinguishably from snobby McSnoberson. Several people here, including myself, have been pointing this out to you over the last few weeks, with apparently very little impact, because you keep giving us reasons why people treat you as snobby McSnoberson that entirely, or nearly so, miss the point of people doing so.

      Don’t get me wrong: I think society would be a better place if more people partook of and appreciated Kritik der reinen Vernunft, L’Éducation sentimentale, and Les pêcheurs de perles, but I also think the world would be a better place if we — people in more intellectually-defined careers, or with more intellectually-defined preferences — had more appreciation for practical knowledge and the people whose careers or preferences are more defined by it.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Chris says:

        I am fully appreciative of the fact that it takes skill and dedication and a lot of hardwork to be a master carpenter, plumber, electrician, chef, and multiple other practical careers.

        I am also fully aware that it is unethical and immoral to ask people to go into massive amounts of debt for the chance of a middle class life.

        That being said, my preferred solution to the current college debt crisis is to find a way to lower tuition to more affordable levels instead of making college an extreme exception again. I still think there is a lot of appeal to the idea of a mass educated society. Plus people will spend most of their lives working. I think there is something good about a society that thinks the time between 18-22 could be for working on a life of the mind and getting a broad knowledge of world history and culture and science.

        I think the idea of reducing the number of people in college seems more like regress than progress. Though I suppose it all depends on what you think is more possible: lowering tuition or not.

        All this being said, I still think that there is a lot of “excuses excuses” talk over so-called high culture. At various times in life people I have heard people say “I wish I had more time to read.” The same people then when on to numerous detail about all the TV shows they watch and video games that they play. Yet it seems that suggesting to people to cut out an hour or two of video games or TV a week for reading is ultra-snobby. I am not even telling people what to read, just that they can read more by watching a bit less TV or playing fewer video games per a week.

        I’ve also noted that people can complain about the high cost of theatre and live performance tickets while spending lots of cash on season tickets for their favorite sports teams or going to expensive foodie restaurants with 295 dollar tasting menus.

        If they have a preference for spending 200 dollars on a meal over 80 dollars on a theatre ticket, I would just prefer they say so.

        And yes I realize in many ways I am quaint and a throwback to a different time. If my time ever existed.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        I am also fully aware that it is unethical and immoral to ask people to go into massive amounts of debt for the chance of a middle class life.

        You’re mistaken if you believe that a middle class life requires a 4-year college education. Since you’re from the North East, I give you Long and Staten Islands as evidence that you are mistaken.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Chris says:

        I’m from Long Island. Though maybe from a different socio-economic Long Island than the one you are thinking of.

        I think part of the issue is what do we mean when we talk about the middle class. American culture and politics seems constantly inable to come up with a mutually agreeable definition. Is it purely income or does it involve educational factors as well? I.e. is a lawyer not middle class because they are a lawyer even if said lawyer works as a public defender or public interest lawyer for a modest salary? When people talk about the middle class it does sometimes seem that a college education takes you out of it and they are referring to the time when factory workers made really good money, that mythical post-war economy that lasted until the 1970s or 80s. Do you look at the nation as a whole or do do you do it by geographical regions? By national standards, my income is very good. My San Francisco standards I am still above the median but by way less than the national average.

        Also almost every American likes to think of themselves as middle class.

        Based on the articles I read, it seems to me that people without college educations face higher unemployment and long bouts of unemployment than college graduates. That being said many college graduates face underemployment and with students debts that is wrong.

        *I once saw a dog walking/pet care company with a guarantee that all their employees had college degrees. I made a post on facebook about how this was too much and you don’t need a college degree to walk dogs or take care of pets. My pet-owning friends argued that they like the idea because they think college grads would be more careful.Report

      • Kim in reply to Chris says:

        NewDealer and Chris,
        how much marketshare does the middle class need to continue to exist as an economic entity?Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Chris says:


        Despite the fact that you said you have very little respect for me (and I can say the same) that is the million dollar question that everyone is trying to answer.Report

      • Kim in reply to Chris says:

        why bother answering it? The point is that the share of the economy that the middle class has is diminishing by the year, and has been doing so for years. At some point, it will no longer be an economic entity. I think we’ve already reached that tipping point.Report

      • Kim in reply to Chris says:

        also, you have very little respect for yourself? Wiser than I thought, I suppose.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Chris says:


        Fish you. The point is that we can’t even agree about who is in and who is not in the middle class. There was a debate several months ago about how the poor performances of places like JC Penny and Sears showed that the middle class was dying. Others countered that this was non-sense and the middle class has just gone on to shop at different retailers from CostCo to J.Crew.

        What income makes someone middle class? It seems to me that it is rather broad and contains more of a mess than universal traits.

        I’ve discussed this other places but in the US we tend to use “class” to refer to “taste” more than anything else. This might be one of the greatest triumphs of the right-wing in American politics. It has also been noted by everyone from Paul Fusseli to Charles Murray to our own Burt Likko. When Charles Murray talks about who is and who is not elite, all his points are about matters of taste and culture. He doesn’t even include economics. This creates a strange world where Mitt Romney and the Koch Brothers and the Duck Dynasty family are somehow not-elite despite making lots of money but a 30-something adjunct or assistant professor of art history is elite. This is a very strange.Report

      • Kim in reply to Chris says:

        anyone fishing using costco as an example of middle class shopping needs to check their damn demographics. Costco has one of the highest percentages of millionaires shopping in it. (and, when I’m on quant boards, I hear them plotting strategies for effective sample browsing… and most efficient shopping).

        Besides, Costco doesn’t put down in a good deal of middle class areas. They concentrate deliberately and specifically on Asian and Jewish areas.

        Sears is dying, but so is retail in general. Hell, walmart is dying, done in by the lowest bidder. Nobody’s marketing to the middle class anymore.

        I picked up a can of soup at the store (not campbells). It now has beef in it that 5 years ago you would have had to go to someplace in middle mexico to get. That’s how tight things have gotten. Marketing to the middle class is dying. And that has dramatic things to say about our food supply.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        New, I worry that any attempt to define “middle class” with an education requirement is more an attempt to exclude non-white collar labor from the middle class, rather than an attempt to accurately and effectively define the middle class. Is the only thing that excludes a master plumber who makes 6 figures and lives in a home he or she owns in a middle class suburban neighborhood excluded from the middle class entirely because he or she did not go to a 4-year college or university? If so, what the hell use is defining the middle class? What about merchants (who, at one point in history, essentially created the middle class) without college degrees?

        I think that middle class shouldn’t be defined entirely in terms of income or wealth, but education should be more a shared middle-class value (where education is more broadly defined than 4 years of college or more), and that those values are what define the middle class. And those values are going to be highly correlated with income levels.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Chris says:


        I don’t disagree and those are good points. Interestingly when I hear pundits and politicians talk about the middle class, it almost always seems like they are excluding people with advanced educations despite said person’s income. In my mind people are often thinking about the Master Plumber or Carpenter as being middle class.

        Again this seems to be an area where no one can agree and when we talk about class in America, it often seems like we are really talking about tastes. See my comments to Kim above.

        There are lots of personal politics involved with class identification.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

        When I was a kid, it was explained to me that “middle class” had “upper” and “lower” and “white collar” was upper and “blue collar” was lower and the distinction was that “upper” required a college education and “lower” required a high school diploma (or equivalent) and maybe some trade schooling or an apprenticeship. “Lower” probably has a union. “Upper” probably didn’t.

        There were also cultural differences. “Upper” is more likely to drink wine (we didn’t have craft beers yet). “Lower” was beer. “Upper” was tennis. “Lower” was bowling.

        Now, of course, a master plumber probably did make more than an accountant, but there were class differences that made the accountant “upper”. (The closest analogy I can think of on short notice would be a Chief Master Sargent saluting a fresh-outta-the-academy 2nd Lieutenant.)

        “Lower” goals included sending the kids off to college to make sure that they’d be upper.Report

      • Kim in reply to Chris says:

        Yup. really ought to write the post on how Jay(I think he was saying he was way underwater on loans? whazzat someone else), I and NewDealer are all working class shmoes.
        [Working class, for those who have forgotten the terms, is upper lower class.]Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

        (Pretty sure that that’s someone else. We’re pleased to have a mortgage payment and, now, a car payment and that’s it.)Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Chris says:


        Those are the cultural-taste markers I was talking about and I am not sure whether they should exist when we talk about class or not because it adds too much on taste and not enough of income.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

        It’s not just taste. I want to say that it’s also “culture”. Hell, I could be talked into saying that it’s mostly “culture”.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

        @newdealer , over 2/3 of Americans do not have a college degree. You and I are the exception, not the rule. The “middle class” of educational attainment actually is a plumber.

        Like @chris , when I hear “middle class” I tend to assume that we’re talking about people with college degrees and when we mean plumbers we say “working class.” Though locksmiths are probably more middle class in the statistical sense than are most people with college degrees. However, since popular media and entertainment is geared towards the college educated, we get to define the economic classes as revolving around us.Report

      • Kim in reply to Chris says:

        thanks. i’d rather make a fool out of myself in the comments than after I write a whole post.
        *returns to munching on own foot*Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Chris says:

        @will-truman @jaybird

        I don’t disagree with what either of you are saying. Taste is always going to be some part of class but I still think it is odd that Charles Murray can come up with an entire list of what makes someone a member of the elite and not have economics be one of the factors.

        In this view of the world, some of my friends are members of the elite even if they are artists who earn most of their money via bartending or by being administrative assistants over the Duck Dynasty family who are millionaires (and college educated!) but have more seemingly down home tastes. Unless you saw the pre-TV photos of them, in those they look like stereotypical upper-middle class people on a beach vacation.

        This is problematic to me.Report

      • dhex in reply to Chris says:

        class is more than income and taste, though it incorporates both of those things. for your particular memeplex, the value of studying “the classics” is obvious, both from:

        1) the practical value – it makes you a “better” person (e.g. more like your preferred class)

        2) that “classics” can easily be discerned, separated out from those lower class elements of instruction, and taught.

        along those lines, it’s how baby einstein was able to be a very successful franchise despite being – in the most charitable reading – a cargo cult.

        i married lace curtain irish, so the mechanisms involved seem fairly transparent to me. to my wife, less so; or merely a frustration, a set of idiosyncrasies constantly messing with common sense.

        i’m only half joking when i tell people to never marry outside of their class.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        The way I tend to think of upper class is in terms of upbringing. For example, would kids in the following circumstances be considered to have middle class upbringings:

        Raised in a house owned by the parents in a safe neighborhood with above-average incomes, good schools with college track and AP courses available (and encouraged for kids who would be expected to do well in them), plenty of extracurricular activities available, and active parents (not just their own, but school-wide)?

        Do we need to know what their parents do? I mean, I grew up in such a situation with a father who was a pediatrician, but our neighbors across the way didn’t have a college education (the father owned a dredging company), our neighbors on one side had high school educations and owned a small hardware store, and our neighbors on the other side were a PhD physicist and a professional flautist. The entire neighborhood was so mixed, particularly after Saturn moved to town in the late-80s/early-90s and a lot of high school educated people who’d risen to middle management at GM in the 70s and 80s moved to town. Does the fact that some of us had college educated parents and some of us had high school educated parents mean that some of us had middle class upbringings and some of us working class upbringings, despite the fact that we all had basically the same material advantages, same educational opportunities, etc.? If so, that seems really odd to me, and makes the categories pretty much useless.Report

      • Kim in reply to Chris says:

        call me weird, but I tend to associate class with goods and things. Money and wealth too.

        I don’t care if you have a PHd, living in the DemiMonde does not make one bourgeoisie. In fact, by definition, one is NOT in the bourgeoisie.

        ::Somewhere in the distance, the Rite of Spring is starting::
        … does that make a point as to what middle class versus bohemian means?Report

      • Kim in reply to Chris says:

        if classics are not lower forms of entertainment, they are merely gilding the lily and ought to be taught as such — an afterthought. The basics need to be learned first, or they will never be learned at all.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

        @newdealer This is where we start getting into differentiation between economic class and social class. I am as guilty as anyone of conflating the two or at least not being clear about which I am talking about.

        I’d argue that the social class of a school teacher does tend to be higher than that of a plumber who makes more money. The school teacher is likely to have absorbed more of the upper class’s norms, for example. Their child is more likely to marry the child of a doctor.

        But social class is a muddy thing. I tend to associate things with upper class and lower class that are often more regional differences. And we don’t have a formal caste system, which can make it hard to pin down.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

        @leeesq Yep. It’s not a recent thing. It’s just that changes in the economy and cost inflation have made it more of a pressing issue.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        not art history in particular, but the liberal arts in general, which is an educational model i do believe in. just not to the exclusion of all the hundreds of other life paths that people might choose for themselves or have thrust upon them. its supremacy aligns with a very small group of people.


      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Well, I don’t think that one ended up in the right place.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Chris says:

        I once saw a dog walking/pet care company with a guarantee that all their employees had college degrees. I made a post on facebook about how this was too much and you don’t need a college degree to walk dogs or take care of pets. My pet-owning friends argued that they like the idea because they think college grads would be more careful.

        Score one for the signalling model of the college wage premium.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Chris says:

        The rot goes a lot deeper than that. High schools are packed with kids reading books and learning foreign languages instead of acquiring specific job skills, and all at taxpayer expense.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

      Here’s another article from the Times. Including:

      Research by three economists — Paul Beaudry, David Green and Benjamin Sand — goes beyond familiar explanations for wage stagnation like global competition and labor-saving technology. Examining the demand for college-educated workers, they found that businesses increased hiring of college graduates in the 1980s and 1990s in adapting to technological changes. But as the information technology revolution matured, employer demand waned for the “cognitive skills” associated with a college education.

      As a result, since 2000, many college graduates have taken jobs that do not require college degrees and, in the process, have displaced less-educated lower-skilled workers. “In this maturity stage,” the report says, “having a B.A. is less about obtaining access to high paying managerial and technology jobs and more about beating out less-educated workers for the barista or clerical job.”

      College uber alles!Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

        What’s your point? It seems to me this is exactly what New Dealer is saying is okay, and I don’t see a case here that it’s not.

        Say the economy were better. In that case, it’s likely that, of college graduates, mostly only those who studied unmarketable subjects of one kind or another, often out of a commitment to doing study in the humanities for its own sake, would be looking for barista jobs. So there would be college educated people competing for barista jobs and non-college-educated people doing so. As there are now (though unfortunately given the economy some of those people are probably journalism or education majors as well. Or even accounting, etc.).

        So? What’s the problem? People went to college and studied something they considered culturally or intellectually valuable – a choice made purely on its own merits. Now they’re working as a barista, bartender, or bathroom cleaner. If they’re okay with it, what’s the problem? Others in those fields have a valid reason to complain about having to compete with people who wanted to get and pay for that experience and now want to work in these jobs? It’s not college uber alles, it’s college if you want it.

        There will always be a few of these folks. The complaints of those competing against too many of them should be directed at the Fed, and, depending on your view of fiscal stimulus Congress. If there were enough job growth, there’s either be enough of these service jobs to go around even for the college grads who for whatever reason want them, or there’d be more middle-level management jobs that companies would be willing to train art history majors to do because they maybe had to take one computer class and were vague familiar with Excel.

        But there being some people who want to work as street sweepers who have gotten degrees in Japanese Language & Literature is not a problem, just like we wouldn’t say it’s a problem when a person who studied to be and is a plumber develops an interest in social psychology and decides to purse a bachelor’s in it. It’s a good vision of society in which increasing numbers of people develop such interests and are able to pursue them (develop them partly because increasing numbers are able to pursue them as we get richer). I’m not sure to what extent ND is saying that irrespective of having developed no glimmer of such interests, everyone should be pushed into attending college. But what i’d say is that everyone should be given every chance to recognize and nurture the green shoots thereof, and encouraged to pursue them as far as the can or at least want to… where want to is defined in an encouraging (at least up through undergrad) rather than discriminating (really? are you really sure you want to go to college? to study that?) way. And that’s it’s a special victory when someone who might have been in a position not to receive such encouragement and instead be one of those pre-judged to not be a good candidate for encouragement to undergraduate academic study in the humanities/sciences receives it and pursues such studies to some kind of personal intellectual fruition.

        When I put it that way, I suspect suddenly it seems like our difference narrow dramatically. That’s the point. I don’t think it’s necessary to read New Dealer as counseling some kind of near-coercion in which people are forced to do things they don’t want to do. I think he’s saying that it’s better the more and more people are given the chance to develop and pursue interests in the academic and cultural spaces before being shuttled off into trades (as happens to kids so very, very soon in a lot of countries that we don’t want to emulate).

        But that’s on the postulate that it’s valuable any time a person develops an interest in an academic discipline that carries them through a considerable amount of undergraduate study – no matter the subject, including the dreaded “Art History”-like ones. Even if that means they then go on to be relatively happy, if mildly disappointed, baristas (but rather than prosperous plumbers who never received academic encouragement and thus never learned to recognize and develop latent curiosity and potential – which is by no means all plumbers, but is some, I’d maintain). And I think it’s likely that that’s where any deep disagreements we might have lie.Report

      • It’s actually more of a counter to the article ND cites as it pertains to college and inequality. It also ties into aspects of the larger conversation I’ve had with ND over time (in here) even if not, as you point out, his “people should go to college and be able to college to college because it’ll make them better people” argument.

        My public interest is, and remains, the economic rationale. Growth, inequality, and so on. ND has other priorities and that’s fair, and the social aspect of what he’s talking about has been addressed in various other comments in this thread by various other people and myself.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:


        What Michael Drew said but let’s tease out our disagreements and see where we match up and don’t.

        When you say college is not for everyone, who are you imagining as someone who goes to college because he or she feels compelled to?

        I don’t doubt that this happens but my worry about “college isn’t for everyone” and tracking is that we will end up with a socio-economic class based system of who goes to college and who does not. In other words, it will be like the old days when college was largely for the rich and used to entrench social privilege. My worry is that kids from more modest or working class socio-economic backgrounds will be tracked into trades because “college isn’t for everyone” even if said kid is really intellectually curious and desires to go to college. However, there will be plenty of people in college who could still be described as the “idiot sons of the rich” to use a phrase from one 19th century Harvard President.

        Can you design a system that would be strong enough to tell the upper-middle classes that their children do not belong in college? Perhaps people who end up studying business could be given apprenticeships instead of college educations?

        Basically my worry is that the decisions are going to be made about biography rather than real merit.

        As to the jobs thing, I think this is because we are in an age of demand for jobs vastly outpacing supply and this means employers are going to look for the most qualified employee they can get. It is not the fault of college graduates that they are underemployed, it is the fault of changes to the economy. I think if people decided “Why the fuck should I go to college if it only makes me a barista?” Will soon discover that they can’t even get barista jobs at our current economic state.Report

      • ND, to answer your tough question, no, it would be virtually impossible to convince upper-middle class parents that college is not for their kid unless we can start a rigorous program of screening kids out, which I am honestly not all that sure about.

        But the same problem that “College isn’t for everybody” doesn’t solve, “College is for everybody” also doesn’t solve. If we take the 70% of Americans that lack college degrees and send them through college, where are they going to go? Not to your school and probably not to mine. Wherever they go is extraordinarily likely to land them at roughly same spot in line where they are now. The main difference is that either they’re going to be in debt or somebody paid a whole lot of money for them to retain their current position in order to go to college which they had to do (whether or not they wanted to) in order to retain their current position.

        Assuming roughly 100% success (we’ll exclude those with developmental disabilities, in prison, are absolutely incapable, etc), preference has the advantage that these kids know Plato (insofar as they had to pay attention to pass a test to get through the college they may or may not have even wanted to attend). My preference has the advantage that it saves a lot of money. More than just the cost of everybody getting a degree, but the inevitable costs of cost inflation by virtue of the leverage private schools (in conjunction with the increased premium likely placed on private schools so that the people who go to college now can still differentiate themselves from those who don’t go to college now but would under the right set of circumstances and incentives) as well as the new requirement that if you want to get ahead now you go to graduate school (secondary advantage to your preference: More people have written theses on Plato).

        Assuming near total failure, where we tell everybody to go to college and the graduate rate remains at about a third, your preference obviously doesn’t mean anything and my preference means that two-thirds of Americans are judged as something other than “a failure of college” and instead maybe something like “a good locksmith.” Because if the message is that college is a universal good, there’s no way to make that case without saying something about those who aren’t interested in college or don’t make it for one reason or another.

        Anywhere in between here and there you’re working along an axis of these pluses and minuses. The higher the “success” rate, the more money is being spent with minimal positional change, the more young people going to college because they are told to rather than because they have the intellectual curiosity, the more people are required to go to selective and more expensive schools to set themselves apart, and the more people are required to go to graduate school, incurring extra costs (for somebody) and taking more time out of their productive years.

        The more importance we place on college, the more importance we are placing on an academic arms race. Arms races do not produce net winners. Nor would they, I don’t believe, produce a more deserving set of winners. The winners it would produce would be those who did well in school, which is great for the people who do well in school.

        Which at some point breaks down to “We want to reward people who are most like us.”

        I actually don’t have a real problem with the sort of numbers we are posting now. About a third graduate from college. That might be right, or closer to a quarter may be right or closer to a half may be right. “Everybody” isn’t right (even with the appropriate exclusions) and we need to put some serious thought into what to do with the remaining majority.

        People who attended college that shouldn’t have or wouldn’t have if not for social pressures aren’t some hypothetical. I’ve met them. I’ve also met some people that I feel society has really lost something by not sending to college. So like I said, I don’t know what the “right” number is.

        Ideally, I’d prefer to be able to better figure out who is college material and who isn’t. Let those who are go for free. Nudge others towards skills that don’t require that they go to college. I recognize, though, that’s problematic for some of the reasons that you lay out. There are no good solutions. There are bad solutions and there are worse solutions. The status quo represents a less bad solution than one where we turn up the insistence that college is for everyone. Being more frank about the fact that college isn’t for everyone and simply extending more respect to those who choose not to go or aren’t college material would probably be less bad still.

        Because the more our solution to them is “go to college” the less we are addressing their actual circumstances.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:


        You are right that on a very real level 100 percent college attendance is impossible.

        That being said, I would like a college educated population closer to current levels than at 2-3 percent and I would include generous encouragement of arts and humanities students because Art History should be for all and not just something that the rich can afford to study. Same with drama, music, film, history, literature, writing, etc.

        Part of the issue with the trades is that we don’t seem able to get the 70 percent of people who don’t go unto college into the skilled trades either and that is interesting to me. If we are talking about the death of factory work but the need for plumbers, electricians, and carpenters, why aren’t the kids who used to become factory workers being encouraged to look into the trades?Report

      • That being said, I would like a college educated population closer to current levels than at 2-3 percent

        Oh, so apparently I was very unclear on something? YES! A college educated population or 2-3 percent would be a disaster of epic proportions. I’m spitballing it here, but someone would have to work pretty hard to convince me of any number lower than 20%. My range is anywhere from 25-50%.

        I would include generous encouragement of arts and humanities

        I think Art History is a fantastic minor (:P) and we should do more to facilitate undergraduate minors unrelated to the majors. My minor was in Industrial Supervision because after aborting my previous minor (education) it was the quickest route to graduation. But I’d prefer to have a minor in something… interesting.

        Of course, I also have expectations of what liberal arts majors should have in non-LA areas.

        why aren’t the kids who used to become factory workers being encouraged to look into the trades?

        Because we’re telling them to go to college.Report

      • In fairness, I should add that the more people from more walks of life I meet, the closer to 25% that number becomes. I’m just not close to the point where I would want to go below that or close to being at the point that I would look below 20%.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Will Truman says:

        “why aren’t the kids who used to become factory workers being encouraged to look into the trades”?

        Because we’re telling them to go to college.

        Wow. Boom goes the dynamite and all that. Nicely done, Will.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:


        Maybe but is the message sticking. The one part of Hanna Rosin’s end of men thesis I believe is that we are much more successful with getting women to be the first in their families to attend higher education than men. The men who used to become factory workers are largely not going to college and not going into the trades it seems.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

        My preference has the advantage that it saves a lot of money.

        What is your preference? In terms of mechanisms or policy, not just outcomes like saying the number of people who do/don’t go to college is okay or should be different by X%? Have you said?

        I don’t get the impression that college for 100% of the able population is even ND’s preference. I think it’s something like “college for 100% of the population who we can stir up any real interest in what college is actually supposed to be about in and show aptitude at a level that can be remedied up to the point where college study would be at all beneficial.”

        It makes me angry to think about kids who don’t ever make the connections necessary to get themselves noticed as having potential and interest that their test scores don’t reveal but who enjoy and benefit from a class on Plato or the oral tradition in the African diaspora being locked out while dudebros (first time I’ve ever used that word in anger) who come from privileged backgrounds and can get decent enough test scores inevitably go to college with the intent of doing nothing but standing under a beer bong and passing accounting or programming tests. (whew.) To me, it’s the latter who don’t belong in a place I recognize as college, but *they* would attest to its value *to them*, and we both know no system you could devise will ever weed them out or exclude them. The remedy I see for this state of affairs is to encourage *everyone* in all socio-econoimc situations who can even conceive of college as a true opportunity to broaden intellectual horizons and gain self-understanding to do everything they can to get there (not that it’s the only place for that to happen, but I don’t know what better advice to give them about someplace to study Plato), and to make attendance possible whenever they show the potential to be successful. We should also tell them that things like trades apprenticeships and the like are available, and be very positive about their benefits. But college should be right there as an option.

        What is your practical alternative? What are we actually disagreeing about here? A lot of kids won’t ever believe in the value of college and their ability to succeed there if their not told that it exists, or at least that they can make it exist by their own application. A lot of people go to college who miss the whole point of it but who we’re never going to be able to tell they’re doing something wrong by being there because their privilege makes them sure they’re in the right place. I’m not clear what your proposal is but I don’t see any reason to undershoot in telling kids about the value of an arts & sciences education. If they choose a more direct employment-based path after seeing the options, that’s great but there should be no discouragement except where the ability really is not there.Report

      • zic in reply to Will Truman says:

        On the Trades:

        Most require you to go to college for an associates degree, and often, a multi-year apprenticeship after.

        I realize this is not the traditional liberal-arts college you’re speaking of; but it is higher education, focused on kids who are not ever going to apply to a four-year college, older workers who have been displaced by changing economies, and on the workforce needs of local businesses in the communities where the colleges are located.

        Bonus: Man a student who would never have applied to traditional college discover they ought to give it a shot at community colleges and trade schools.

        And the faculty at those schools often have a huge burden of remedial education dumped in their laps, too.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to Will Truman says:

        I never attended a university. I did briefly attend a community college, but that didn’t really work out. I also attended a trade school, which was a joke. (Really, looking back I have no idea what I was thinking at the time.)

        I wish I had gone to university. I mean, obviously. I think I missed out on a great deal because of that.

        On the other hand, I had other shit going on in my life.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:


        @michael-drew is arguing for my point better than I am doing. I don’t like the idea of a kid from an inner-city or boarded up factory town getting locked out while dudebro goes, parties for four years, and then joins the firm started by his great-grandfather.

        Michael Drew, one reason I liked Vassar is that even our dude-bro guys were intellectually curious enough to pick a small liberal arts school without practical majors like business or accounting.Report

      • No, it’s not sticking. But we’re doing a terrible job of laying out the alternatives. In fair part, I believe, because we don’t want to say “Go to college or…” because we’re so insistent on that first part.

        The big exception here are those pariahs, for-profit universities, who were largely founded by offering and promoting the quick job-centric training opportunities that the important people are skittish about promoting.

        Not that the for-profits are the only ones offering these programs. A lot of community colleges are doing a good job. But the community colleges don’t have the advertising budgets and aren’t getting the free advertisement of non-pariahs suggesting that people look into it.

        When I graduated high school, I looked into (two-year) votech training. Mostly for-profits with one exception. A state school that boasted a lot of programs and stellar placement rates. I didn’t go that route, obviously, but today I am really taken aback by the school’s mission and clear sense of what it was and what it was not. They were very clear about not being a junior college and if you had plans to get a regular college degree there were faster ways to do it. I wish we had more of that and that they had advertising budgets.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:


        In truth, of course it’s an unfair caricature, even at a place like where I went (Wisconsin). Everyone has some latent inherent curiosity about the world and the culture in which they find themselves. You always eventually hear those guys talking about how interesting that one philosophy class they’re forced to take or if not that then the astronomy elective ends up being – ifyoucanbelieveit!

        But that’s the whole danged point!!! 😉 Everyone!Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:


        From what I undestand, it is the for-profits that end up doing a lot of damage in selling expectations and then having high drop out rates and drop outs burdened by huge amounts of debt.Report

      • @michael-drew I agree about the dudebros. A lot of them fall into the category of people who went to college whose time was wasted there. The thing is… sending more kids to college won’t cure that. These guys will still have the inside track. I honestly don’t see sending more kids to college as doing much to change line placement.

        My preference is to do a better job of promoting alternatives to traditional colleges and stop viewing these things as inferior. Try to alleviate the arms race.

        In my ideal world, it would look more like (but not completely like) the French model with more assessment at determining college preparedness. That’s a tricky thing, but so is the universal promotion of college.

        And yes, I know that ND isn’t actually talking about 100%. But there’s no easy comfortable point between here and there. Especially as long as we associate a college degree as a ticket or pre-requisite to success. Even if it’s 2/3, it’s a problem. I don’t know where the happy medium is. Spitballing it, I said between 25-50% and probably closer to the former. I’m less interested in that specific number and more interested in promoting alternatives for the remaining majority.Report

      • dhex in reply to Will Truman says:


        “Art History should be for all and not just something that the rich can afford to study.”


        2) community colleges say what?

        3) baked into all of this are two assumptions

        3a) people *want*, by and large, to study art history but cannot

        3b) people would study art history and be improved morally, spiritually, or in some other non-financial, non-material aspect

        both of these are, at best, very difficult statements to support.

        4) autodidactism is being treated as irrelevant and possibly suspect. i think especially now, and especially in the case of cultural artifacts, it is very hard to argue that people don’t have access to cultural expression.

        now, they don’t choose culture you would approve of, but they choose it nonetheless. i wouldn’t approve of most of it either but who died and elected me king of all that is culturally righteous? (king righteous the 2nd but that’s neither here nor there, and quite frankly it’s an empty title.)Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman says:

        @will-truman, if you want to correct the college focus of the American education system than you need to invest a time machine. The “college is for everyone” meme became inevitable once we made a choice to develop a single-track rather than multi-track educational system. In America its always been elementary, middle or junior high, high school, and than college. Its been that way since the 19th century. Some high schools might have more of vocational feel than others but it was never an official thing like it was in Germany where you had a bewildering amount of different kinds of high schools.Report

      • @newdealer Yes. I’d argue that they succeed in part because they are promoting something that otherwise more responsible people are reluctant to promote. Wouldn’t it be better if there were more institutions like the state-run one I talked about? And if they had better promotion? I think it would, though others would argue that I am trying to discourage people from going to college and that’s a bad thing. So who makes the case? ITT Tech, that’s who.

        Of course, ITT Tech is increasingly moving on to bigger and better things. They’re riding our promotion of college in general, as are the many other for-profit schools. I should also add that they specialize in reaching out to marginal students. Exactly the same sort of students that increasing college enrollment would likely entail. Community Colleges tend to have pretty rocky graduation and placement rates, too, for a lot of the same reasons: comparatively few networking opportunities, marginal students, and students distracted by life.

        Not that I am equating the two. Community colleges are cheap (not just inexpensive for the end-user, but comparatively cheap in total costs) and I support cheap educational opportunities. If for no other reason than that it helps sort out who might should and probably shouldn’t be going on to a four-year college.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

        No, it’s not sticking. But we’re doing a terrible job of laying out the alternatives. In fair part, I believe, because we don’t want to say “Go to college or…” because we’re so insistent on that first part.

        So, here we get down to it, and I think it turns out we can all agree: more visibility on the options. In Obama’s push for post-high-school ed, he made a point to say college or…” (making the complaints that he’s so elitist to think everyone should go to college just wrong in addition to being risible).

        I think we can all agree that laziness should not dictate how we talk about post-college options. Not presenting college as anoption among others actually just shortchanges the case to be made about it to kids. The case should be made to nearly everyone with any interest and potential ability, but it’s only a vivid case if it’s presented alongside the case for why a vocational course might also be better for a given student. Kids should hear competing cases so they can choose. In practice, because the language everyone defaults to is “go to college,” this means making an effort to talk more about other options. But it also means talking more specifically and less reflexively about what exactly college is and what it’s for.

        There will always be some status preference among parents for college – but what are you going to do about that? It actually is a higher-status path. High schools should try to set things on an even keel by offering clear information about different options.

        As to for-profits in the vocational space, I have my concerns. They strike me as willing to take your money for something of uncertain value. If I were going that route, i’d want to look at apprenticeships first. But maybe these days you can’t get an apprenticeship without a technical degree or at least progress on one. I wouldn’t prejudge any given program in a final way just because it’s at a for-profit.Report

      • dhex in reply to Will Truman says:

        quite a few private liberal arts colleges are actively recruiting regional community college graduates with guaranteed transfer programs and the like, in part because they tend to be motivated, slightly older students who are serious about their goals and focused on their futures in a way that a traditional undergrad isn’t necessarily.Report

      • zic in reply to Will Truman says:

        @michael-drew brings up apprenticeship programs; there is a sad lack. In part, this is also do to the demise of skilled-trade unions, too, where most of the more formal apprenticeship programs existed. We’ve done an excellent job of union busting, but not of establishing the master/journeyman relationships in some fields outside of unions.Report

      • My comment on for-profit colleges seems to have been misunderstood. So let me clarify that before I do anything else:

        I am not endorsing for-profit colleges. My mention of them was not meant to be an endorsement. It was meant to be an observation that they got where they are by filling a niche that was largely neglected (either in perception or in fact) by other institutions of higher learning.

        What I endorse is the state-run program whose campus I looked at when I was a senior in high school.

        This isn’t to say that all for-profit colleges are bad. I think in some ways they do get a bad rap – when their numbers are placed next to schools with different sets of students – but I like them most when they are made redundant (they innovate in some way, public and non-profit schools follow suit). By and large, I am actually quite skeptical of them. The only time I do like them is when they fill a niche or do something I like, and then my next thought is “I wish public colleges did that sort of thing.”

        If nothing else (and there is else), I dislike them for being the most prominent banner-wavers for the notion that everybody should go to college.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:


        You are right that I am discounting autodidactism but I don’t come from a background where autodidactism is considered what is about and by this I mean Judaism which has always stressed group study and debate.

        But I do believe that libraries are important.

        The US has 300 million people or more. The world has 7 billion plus people in it. We are both probably right about large numbers of people wanting or not wanting art history educations including people with access to them and people without access to them.

        You said upthread that your job was to promote the usefullness of art history degrees. Somehow I imagine that you wish otherwise was the case.Report

      • dhex in reply to Will Truman says:


        background or not, you’re discounting that america is basically in the grips of autodidactic fever. diy, do or die. etc. i didn’t take classes in graphic design or music production, and yet i managed to enrich my life with those things quite beautifully. so do many, many other people who teach themselves – or even join a book club or take local classes at a local woodworker shop or bookstore what have you – without having the structure of tests, classes, professors, etc.

        “You said upthread that your job was to promote the usefullness of art history degrees. Somehow I imagine that you wish otherwise was the case.”

        not art history in particular, but the liberal arts in general, which is an educational model i do believe in. just not to the exclusion of all the hundreds of other life paths that people might choose for themselves or have thrust upon them. its supremacy aligns with a very small group of people.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

        Sorry, got pulled away.

        Understood on the for-profits; I agree, reliable community collges and votechs need reinvestment.

        I’ll just close by saying in response to

        sending more kids to college won’t cure [dudebros]. These guys will still have the inside track. I honestly don’t see sending more kids to college as doing much to change line placement.

        That I don’t want to cure the dudebro problem. Or it’s not a high priority. Let them get their degrees and have good lives with good memories of fun times. The point of encouraging kids to go to college is to be sure not to deny any of them the opportunity to partake of the life of the university in the classical way from sheer failure to make people believe in the value of the endeavor. There are other constraints and I’m not saying they can all be overcome. Everyone literally can’t go to college. But one of the constraints doesn’t have to be that it was suggested it might not be right for them. Ensure they are informed of available options. But don’t privilege one class with a clear assumption that college is inevitable and burden the other with deep doubt about whether they should even be thinking about it. I’m pro-encouragement and pro-informed decision making.

        Have a good night, all.Report

      • dhex in reply to Will Truman says:

        question of nomenclature: what does “dudebros” mean? i’ve always used it as a interchangeable version of “fratboy” or “stripey mcshirteson” etc. i get the feeling though it’s taken on a larger othering role that i’ve missed out on.

        anyway, it strikes me that all of the above can’t really be addressed without addressing how poorly high schools – even “good” ones – seem to be at preparing students for college level work.

        i feel fairly confident saying that the future of private and public colleges is going to involve a lot of bridge programs – summer programs designed to bring underprepared students up to speed – especially as demographic shifts continue. we’re going to see far greater active recruitment of minority students (as well as international students) at much higher levels in the next five to ten years, and without bridge programs for those who need it, their washout rate is going to be at least as bad, if not worse, than previous first generation college student populations. and a lot of previously mostly white schools are going to change rather dramatically, rather than cosmetically.

        either they get more cosmopolitan and open to genuine population/background diversity or they’re going to go bye bye.Report

      • Dudebro as I used it pretty much = fratboy type who may or may not actually be in a frat.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Will Truman says:

        People went to college and studied something they considered culturally or intellectually valuable – a choice made purely on its own merits. Now they’re working as a barista, bartender, or bathroom cleaner. If they’re okay with it, what’s the problem?

        The problem is that in many cases taxpayers have subsidized their college educations at considerable expense, and that our agreement to do so has been premised largely on the claim that this would pay dividends in the form of higher productivity. In cases where the sole effect of those subsidies has been to allow students to spend four years (8% of their working lives!) studying something they personally enjoy and earn a certificate that gives them an edge in getting a job where that education isn’t actually productivity-enhancing, taxpayers aren’t getting a good return on that investment.

        To suggest, while the marginal college education is already un- or underutilized, that taxpayers should spend still more money to subsidize still more underutilized college educations, strikes me as indefensible.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Will Truman says:

        To suggest, while the marginal college education is already un- or underutilized, that taxpayers should spend still more money to subsidize still more underutilized college educations, strikes me as indefensible.

        This. And you just can’t expand college education to a lot more people without dumbing it down to the point it’s not really a college education. So you wouldn’t actually be achieving the intended goal.

        And if we didn’t dumb things down, we’d still not be doing them any favors. I fail several students per year, most of whom drop out because they’ve failed more classes than just mine. Some are bright kids for whom it’s just not the right moment.* But most just shouldn’t have been there in the first place, because academics isn’t their strength. Many do have a strength; it’s something different.
        * The bright kids who drop out mostly do so because they’re not mature enough. My casual observation suggests this has to do with how much they’ve experienced the world. I’d encourage everyone with kids to travel with them. Take them to places outside their daily experience. Sleep in a tent sometimes, splurge on a nice hotel sometimes, and stay in Motel 6 at other times. Take them to plays, sporting events, the symphony, art shows, street festivals, boat rides and nature walks. It doesn’t have to be non-stop activity, just variety, and you can buy the cheapest seats. If their high school sponsors a trip somewhere, scrounge and dig deep to send them. Also, make them do some goddam work, whether it’s regular chores around the house, volunteer work, or a paid job. Don’t send us your spoiled kids who expect rewards they haven’t earned–I’d rather have half-bright but hard-working students than the asshole who says “how could I get a C? I came to class most of the time.” /soapbox on which I’m probably speaking mostly to people who do/would parent in roughly that way.Report

  12. Ian says:

    Their ain’t nutin wrong with donating to Harvard or elsewhere. That being said, that money could sure be a lot better spent. When all students in the United States can afford to go to college, I won’t say a darned word of criticism about millionaires giving money to future millionaires. ( i know i’m painting with a broad brush, but I think the point stands)Report

    • Patrick in reply to Ian says:

      When all students in the United States can afford to go to college

      … college won’t be very demanding, or it will be… something different from what it was.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Patrick says:

        It would probably end up something like France’s system. Radically more elitist and eaglitarian at the same time:

      • Will Truman in reply to Patrick says:

        Wow. That’s the direction I would take things in my perfect world, but spelled out that way it seems hardcore. I’ll have to mull it over.Report

      • Maribou in reply to Patrick says:

        How a country handles education also doesn’t have to be one extreme or the other.

        Tuition and fees for an out-of-province Canadian at my alma mater, McGill (which some argue is the top school in the country), for a B.Sc. degree (more expensive than a BA because of lab fees) are 8,305.01 dollars this year.

        For a Quebec resident, they’re 3,946.31.

        Aid is still quite freely available, and even without scholarships, loans of $12,000 are a lot more feasible to pay off than loans of $200,000.

        Not every Canadian can afford university – but most of them can.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Patrick says:

        @will-truman, the great advantage of the American system is that its incredibly kinder to late bloomers and poor standardized test takers than a tracked system. I was a late bloomer. In a more tracked system, I probably would not have ended up as a lawyer but as something else. I’m not sure what that would be since I’m not a handy person but its most likely an office worker of some sort. Our “college is for everybody” system might have certain downsides when it comes to the non-college inclined but its not without its positive points. Dealing well with late-bloomers is one of these, all though this seems to be disappearing at the time. As much as we complain about the dominance of elite schools, it could be worse in other countries although there is some disagreement about that.

        Its also not a coincidence that the most heavily tracked school systems exist in countries known for having the most generous welfare states and state intervention in the economy. It helps ensures that those tracked out of the more lucrative jobs are not destined to a miserable or less than satisfactory life from an economic or material position. If you combine a heavily tracked system with Americas less than generous welfare state and America’s less unionized workforce than your asking for some serious trouble.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Patrick says:

        Aid is still quite freely available, and even without scholarships, loans of $12,000 are a lot more feasible to pay off than loans of $200,000.

        Note that reporters seek out the most extreme cases they can find. So while your typical newspaper story on student loan debt will feature someone they managed to find with $200,000 in debt, this is pretty rare in practice. The median debt at graduation for all students is around $10,000, and it’s around $30,000 if you ignore those who have no debt at all.Report

      • Maribou in reply to Patrick says:

        @brandon-berg I didn’t take those numbers from newspaper claims about total debt loads. I was specifically thinking of whether “every student”, or at least most people, could afford to go to school or not, and even more specifically thinking of whether every academically qualified student could afford a top school.

        My point was, precisely, that there is a huge amount of middle ground between “what France does” and “what America does”.

        But debt is *not* at all a fair proxy for affordability. Plenty of people in the US just don’t go to school, or don’t go to as good a school (let’s face it, since everyone *can* afford to go to a community college, we are setting quality limits). Because they already know they can’t afford it.Report

  13. Mo says:

    Let’s not kid ourselves that Harvard needs the money. Their endowment is of sufficient size that a mere 2% return on the endowment would be able to cover the tuition and fees for every single undergrad and still throw a cool $200M (i.e. 33% more than Griffen’s donation) on top of the principal every year. Harvard is a hedge fund with a side business in education.

    Disclosure: I went to two other schools in the top 10 for endowment sizeReport

  14. Kazzy says:

    If you want to get really angry, check out the double-whammy’s presented in this article:

    Most expensive day tuition rates among US independent schools. Included is their endowments, some of which reach into the nine figure range.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:

      I know people who went to most of those schools but a long time ago. They were probably still expensive back then. I can’t fathom the amount of money it takes to send someone to K-12 private school and the people I know went to similarly elite private schools for K-12.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:

        People think that education is somehow immune from market forces. It is not. In NYC, demand outpaces supply. As such, tuition rates are astronomical.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:


        I don’t doubt it. The NYC school scene has always been a special version of insane. During my lifetime, there were always a decent number of educated professionals (usually white) who wanted to raise their kids in the city because they saw it as being better than the suburbs for a variety of reasons.

        Not all of these people could afford the astronomical private school tuition though. Some would send their kids to public school and hope their kids got into one of the selective public high schools. If not, they make a mad dash for private school or scrimp and save for private school tuition. Anything to not move to the suburbs!

        Research says that educated, middle class people from our generation is more likely to stay in cities (especially NYC) after getting married and starting families and this will make the public schools better. Anecdotally, the evidence seems spilt. I do see people with kids on facebook defending the NYC school system. Personally, I just think they got lucky with school placement. I remember when I was living in Brooklyn, the elementary schools were very diverse and a lot of the upper-middle class Brooklynites sent their kids to the public elementary school. The middle and high schools were as close to 100 percent African-American and Latino(a) as possible and not very diverse.

        Part of me wonders if there will be another mass exodus to the burbs in a few years when more kids reach school age or middle school age.Report

      • dhex in reply to NewDealer says:

        some of my work mail from google used to get mixed up with these guys:

        i’m sure it’s a very nice school (everyone i dealt with was nice) and that the discount rate makes things less than the sticker price, but for 41k for kindergarten (not counting lunch, extra activities, etc) i hope they’re getting their money’s worth.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:


        What’s weird is that despite living in the NYC Metro Area for 23 years of my life, teaching in Manhattan schools for 2, attending a Manhattan graduate school, teaching at another NY independent school for 4, and networking with people across the region… I have *never* heard of that school. I wonder if it is like those clubs that don’t have signs because they’re so exclusive.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:

        I haven’t heard of that school either.

        I’m opposed to making kids where suits to school.Report

    • dhex in reply to Kazzy says:

      yeah, the entire k-12 is maybe 500 kids? there’s a lot of very tiny indie schools in nyc, mostly due to the incredible money in the area and the smoking crater that is the public school system.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to dhex says:

        “…but for 41k for kindergarten (not counting lunch, extra activities, etc) i hope they’re getting their money’s worth.”

        This kind of dovetails with a conversation we had elsewhere about clothes and labels and the like.

        As an independent school teacher, I can say that it is practically impossible that they are getting their money’s worth if we look at the relative quality of the education offered there versus that at their local public school. I mean, it would literally have to be infinitely better given that the public school is free. But even if the public school cost $1000/year out of pocket, it would still not be 41x better.

        But most parents who send their kids to independent schools aren’t just paying for instructional methods and curriculum and content and all that. They are paying for a whole host of hard to quantify things, ranging from connections to the right name of the transcript to being able to brag at cocktail parties. Depending on how much you value those things, they may be getting a bargain.Report

      • dhex in reply to dhex says:

        access is worth a lot of money, and friendship is certainly a form of that.Report

  15. Roger says:

    I don’t get it. I thought egalitarians were supposed to be for helping the little guy?

    I am all for anyone donating his well earned money as he pleases, but I certainly do not get the liberal argument which defends sending more money to the “super privileged.”

    The relevant argument is not whether this donation does any good, it is whether it could do more good. The people getting into Harvard are the top one percent of the one percent. What, do they like need better silver spoons?

    In financial terms, this is like arguing for subsidies to rich people. Sure, maybe they will use the money well, but if we really care about the poor and disadvantaged, I think a moral case would be overwhelming that those less privileged should get the money first.

    And no, this won’t get a different class of underprivileged person. Anyone qualifying for Harvard is already in the intellectual elite, regardless of their parentage. These are the last people on earth that need a hundred and fifty million dollars of support.

    I flat out do not get how this gels with the egalitarianism of the left. Major disconnect.Report

    • Kim in reply to Roger says:

      Why should we care about the poor and underpriviledged?
      Most of our money to them amounts to dumping our surplus onto people…
      incidentally crashing their own economies.

      Charities are worse than governments at being self-perpetuatingReport

    • Stillwater in reply to Roger says:

      I flat out do not get how this gels with the egalitarianism of the left. Major disconnect.

      I’m having a problem with that too, but not because of any conception of “the egalitarianism of the left”, whatever that means. It’s because, as you say, the money could be better used elsewhere. What does the concept of the egalitarianism of the left have to do with any of that?Report

      • Roger in reply to Stillwater says:

        I think most would agree that egalitarianism is a central tenet of the left.

        When I find that, for some, what they really mean is financial egalitarianism combined with personal academic elitism, then I question whether they are indeed egalitarians though. Perhaps I am just getting in the middle of a turf battle between competing elites.

        And to clarify I am hunky dory with both kinds.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

        “the egalitarianism of the left”, whatever that means

        Gee, who the heck is that’s been worrying about rising inequality, then? I’ve mistakenly been calling those folks left/liberal, and I want to make sure I get it right next time.Report

      • Kim in reply to Stillwater says:

        oh, some of us are libertarians.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        I think most would agree that egalitarianism is a central tenet of the left.

        Oh sure. Is it definitive of the left? Is there a definitive conception of “the egalistarianism of the left” that can be determined, applied to, describe everyone who’s a member of the left? Doesn’t that reverse the normal order of things by presuming a specific ideological commitment is definitive and then evaluating people according to that definition?

        Personally, I think the grounds for your disagreement were perfectly legitimate and wonder why you thought the additional criticism of inconsistency with “the egalitarianism of the left” furthered the debate in any way. Especially when the whole point of his post was to justify contributions to Harvard that met the burden of inegalitarianism.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

        Oh sure. Is it definitive of the left? Is there a definitive conception of “the egalistarianism of the left” that can be determined, applied to, describe everyone who’s a member of the left?

        Stillwater, your recent trend of arguing, or so it appears, that nothing can actually be said about the left just jumped the shark. Your question is unduly restrictive. It’s not necessary to have a single definitive conception of egalitarianism that every person on the left is in perfect agreement about. All that’s necessary is that those on the left are more likely to classify themselves as egalitarian than either those on the right or libertarians.

        What is it lately with you and this “liberalism’s too diverse to have anything in common that we could possibly mention” schtick? Yes, the left is diverse, but there are things that make it the left, rather than the midfle, the right, or whatever. And egalitarianism is just the kind of fairly broad–not too narrow–and non-derogatory term that is most appropriate for this kind of discussion, I find your objection to it so utterly incoherent I truly can’t begin to fathom why you’re saying it.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:


        The reason I commented is because Creon, who’s a member of the left, wrote a post specifically addressing why donations to Harvard can be defeneded from the criticism that doing so is inconsistent with inegalitarianism (amont other things). So to turn around and criticize him for acting inconsistently with “the egalitarianism of the left” either begs a bunch of questions about what that concept means, or it completely discounts Creon’s argument for being a priori inconsistent with the set of beliefs attributed to him.

        Just the very fact that he presented the argument in the OP ought to meet the burden of rendering both those possible criticisms misguided and/or wrong.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Stillwater says:

        All that’s necessary is that those on the left are more likely to classify themselves as egalitarian than either those on the right or libertarians.

        All that’s necessary for what? To offer, when the term (“egalitarian”) used in a not-very-specified way, a not-broadly-off-base characterization of one of the constituent tendencies of left politics? Of course.

        (Was Stillwater resisting that? He allowed that it’s a “central tenet,” and AFAICT was speaking to the question of a tight, defining relationship only in response to Roger’s view that the kind of approach to giving that CC can’t be consistent *at all* with “the egalitarianism of the left” 9again, whatever that means… and to say, “whatever that means” is not a denial that such a thing exists, it’s just to say it’s not exactly cvlear what that thing, or things, are. but I’ll let him speak for himself about that.)

        But is that all that’s necessary to back up Roger’s view that there’s an inconsistency between being a lefty (though, to be fair, he specifically made the claim *about egalitarians explicitly*, as opposed to about those on the left, though he then went on to associate the left with them) and thinking that giving to fancy can be consistent with that leftiness? Surely what you describe above is not enough to establish this inconsistency. And I’m not saying that you were saying it is, but I’m saying that that’s the context for Stillwater’s remark, which you seem to have taken as all he has to say about the overall relationship between the left and egalitarianism… despite the fact that he explicitly says, “Oh, sure” to Roger’s, “I think most would agree that egalitarianism is a central tenet of the left.”Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Stillwater says:

        …Sorry for all the syntax errors. Disregard; SW can speak for himself.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

        @stillwater–Then it seems to me that your first paragraph above wasn’t really about anything at all.

        @michael-drew –honestly, until you start taking a little more care in writing, disregarding you is what I intend to to. You’re more than smart enough to have a good conversation with, but your carelessness in writing (convoluted sentences, lack paragraph breaks) makes you too hard to understand to be worth the effort. Honestly, if you don’t care enough to try to make yourself understood, why should anyone else put in the effort?Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Stillwater says:

        Yep. You’re right. Whenever I put up comments like that, it’s because I’m ultimately okay if they get disregarded. That sounds like sarcasm, but it’s true. If I really want them to be read, they’ll be at least cleaner than this one was. (Though I don’t really buy the paragraph break thing. I sometimes underuse them, but in most cases my paragraphs are what I really think they should be. Most, not all.)

        That being said, you don’t actually disregard very many of my comments, which are pretty much always like that to some extent – like, hardly ever. So it’s not like you’ve actually been sending that signal.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Stillwater says:

        …But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop posting such comments. My judgment has always been that I get responses because the content of what I write is compelling and formidable enough to prompt (or provoke?) people into being strongly (enough) motivated to respond despite the writing infacilities. Where that’s not been the case, it’s not been the case. But it’s often been the case with you, James, even after you’ve previously mentioned my writing as a problem for you.

        @stillwater ‘s first paragraph was about whether egalitarianism of a requisite sort is such a necessary part of a left viewpoint that it’s a necessary contradiction if someone on the left takes a view about charitable giving of the sort that Creon Critic does in this post.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:


        When you write long paragraphs you’re not thinking about the medium. Your meaning gets lost in the writing. You agreed with me about that before. I’m happy to have a discussion when you’re nice enough to try to be clear, but if you don’t care about having a conversation, then do me a solid and don’t respond to my comments. Or if you do, at least don’t address me by name, because that makes me think you really do want to talk. When I see a comment without my name, like above, I’ll know you’re not trying to chat with me.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Stillwater says:

        No, I’m with you on the point. Shorter helps in this format. I just don’t want always to be governed by that. Sometimes I do add in paragraph breaks just for the white space when it’s running long, and I believe I usually do write in reasonable-length grafs, though clearly not as short as you’d prefer. Sometimes I’m just in a big hurry and don’t care, mashing everything together, but that’s fairly rare. Other times I think the ideas are connected in a way that I don’t want to break up.

        That adds up to the paragraphs for the most part being the length I want them, but not the length you want them. Unlike syntax problems and convoluted sentences, long paragraphs don’t pose a direct problem for meaning, at least when I don’t just throw everything in one block of text. It’s more just an irritant to the eye, which I get; I’m just not particularly concerned about it. As I say, if I’m intent on being read, I’ll format the text to make it inviting. I know how. But mostly, I just want the ideas to be out there on the record to be read by anyone sufficiently interested.


        As for going forward, when I think you get something wrong or feel compelled to comment for some other reason, I’ll respond to you and might use your name. (I’ll skip the @ function so that you don’t get emails, though.) Such comments may or may not be formatted like you like them. Like always, I’ll be writing principally to put the ideas on the record, not necessarily get a response. (An implication being that if i ask you a question really meant to get a response in one of these, I’ll try to format it to your liking.)

        This is just the mode and context for most of my commenting here over the years. In most cases what I’m responding to has impelled me to feel the need to respond: often I have preferred not to have to be spending as much time as I am, and therefor I’m usually looking to minimize the time spent. The text format and errors reflect that reflects that. That’s just how it is & it’s gonna stay that way when that’s the context.

        OTOH, if I’m looking to chat in some other way, just talking about ideas or whatnot without feeling the need to put certain ideas on the record, I’ll try to do you that solid, yes.Report

      • Roger in reply to Stillwater says:

        If it helps, feel free to pretend “of the left” was never written. It was just my way of broadening the focus beyond Creon (to others on this page with supporting views).

        I do not get how one can say they are an egalitarian and support elitist finishing schools for the cognitive and social top tier. It seems like a recruiting drive for elitism. We want a diverse elite.


        So, are ND and Creon not really egalitarians? Are they inconsistent? Are they just economic/financial egalitarians? Are they social/academic elitists who resent and fear their competition from the financial elite? Or are they looking for a broad and diverse brand of elitism? (Whatever the heck that is)

        Or is there another explanation?

        I still don’t know.Report

    • Creon Critic in reply to Roger says:

      As the Official Spokesperson of the Left, I can definitively say to you that the Left believes…

      I’m just an individual who happens to have leftward leanings as judged in the US political spectrum (and national political spectrums differ widely, in the UK I was a middling Labourite). As views between political philosophies differ on how to help the little guy, views within political philosophies can differ as to how to help the little guy.

      Some people on the left believe the perspective you outline and more, holding it is incompatible with egalitarianism to even permit private schools, colleges, and universities. “They should all be public”, this point of view holds; thus, nationalize both Andover and Harvard. That is not on the cards in the US (or UK) anytime soon; private charitable organizations can run schools (and higher education institutions) and are unlikely to have the capacity to do so taken away.

      sending more money to the “super privileged.”

      This is manifestly not the position of every individual associated with elite education in the US; they are not all “super privileged”. For instance, there are students who are not privileged, money for financial aid goes to supporting giving the underprivileged more choice. Need blind admissions mean precisely that the underprivileged can have (a tiny slice of) the freedom of the privileged. As an underprivileged prospective college student, if admitted, you can choose amongst some of the best institutions in the US (and in the world) and say just like Warren Buffet’s kids, Bill Gates’ kids, and Michael Bloomberg’s kids, “Money is no object.”

      It is a worthwhile thing for that individual student whose life chances are expanded, it is a worthwhile thing for that university that they have a bright and diverse student body, and it is a worthwhile thing for our society that bright students get to go to outstanding institutions.

      The relevant argument is not whether this donation does any good, it is whether it could do more good.

      See my reply to Lyle at March 2, 2014 at 11:11 pm

      In financial terms, this is like arguing for subsidies to rich people.

      So, again, just my view here, but I don’t think the left is necessarily opposed to subsidies for the rich. After all, they are helping to pay for all the goodies we’d like to see, universal pre-k, single payer health care, financial services for the unbanked and underbanked… Given the appropriate tax rates (no doubt rates some League commenters would see as confiscatory), we could have these things without means testing with no objections from me – it seems unfair to say, “You foot the bill for dinner but you can’t eat anything.” Part of the meaning of welfare state is caring for the well-being of everyone, including the already rich.

      (I couldn’t tell if you were being tongue in cheek or not. This doesn’t seem to mesh with things you’ve argued before. But if you’ve decided to join the left, comrade, welcome to the club. Your New Yorker subscription begins next week, and the secret decoder ring is on its way.)Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Creon Critic says:

        As the Official Spokesperson of the Left…

        And thus it is decre(on)ed.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Creon Critic says:


        Are the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford considered state/public institutions in the same way that UCLA and the University of Oregon are considered state/public institutions?

        I’ve never been able to figure out their status. They seem kind of like a quasi-private or quasi-public institution.

        I can tell my undergrad is private, my K-12 state/public, Andover and Eton are non-state educational institutions. But UK universities seem hard to determine. How about University College or RADA?Report

      • @newdealer
        Are the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford considered state/public institutions in the same way that UCLA and the University of Oregon are considered state/public institutions?

        Yes. WIth debates that are similar to those associated with UC Berkeley, as in, are they meeting their obligation to the public? Here for instance,

        I don’t know about RADA.Report

      • Roger in reply to Creon Critic says:

        Gotta run for a few hours, but just wanted to say that the key point here is that elite is not just a financial thing. We are talking about aid for the best and brightest, that is those least likely to need aid, and in a world of limited resources this does not seem egalitarian in the slightest.

        And if your definition of the welfare state is taking care of people who are more than capable of caring for themselves then your definition sounds to me like a massive plan to spend other people’s money on each other. A recipe for inefficiency, waste and rent seeking. Of course it is a recipe for success for the master planning academic intellectual elites who hope to steer the ship.Report

      • Kim in reply to Creon Critic says:

        in my humble opinion, aid for the best and brightest is some of the most useful aid ever. Because those are the people most likely to create new markets, solve new and unusual problems, etc etc. And the financially poor among them (like a modern Carnegie) are likely to be the most motivated.

        I just really don’t think Harvard is the way we find (or create) geniuses.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Creon Critic says:

        Category error here, folks. People who give to Harvard may or may not be lefties (less often than you might think, I suspect) but I’d guess that in most cases they’re not doing it, except in some misguided instances, out of a belief that doing so proceeds from their lefty principles (which may or may not speak to the propriety of donating to a place like Harvard… ever).

        In fact, generally, while these folks might, if pressed allow that this is giving to charity, I think in most cases it’s thought of as simply preferential giving to a node in one’s personal social network who claims a certain loyalty from you. Not unlike an grandparent giving to her already well-off grandchildren (perhaps not objectively as justifiable from some perspectives, but that’s not the point). It’s simply a personal act, not a principled one. The rich grandmother setting up a college fund for her already well-off grandkids doesn’t pass the egalitarianism test of a certain conception of absolute leftiness. She does it anyway… and may still be a lefty.

        Further, this all leaves aside the question of gifts directed at funding research, which is a huge percentage of overall universtity giving (if I had to guess… so maybe it’s not). If a person has a big desire to further disease X research and concludes the place where funds to do that will be put to best use at Harvard… well, is that not charity because the students at Harvard tend to be (but aren’t universally, except by virtue of attending Harvard) very privileged? If you want to say so, fine, but I don’t really see it.

        (Incidentally, these two impulses often interact when, or so runs my impression, sometimes rich, loyal alums (or those aligned with an institution for other reasons) will notice that their beloved institution lacks a Center For Disease X Research, or the one they have is not very prestigious. Out of a certain vanity or pride, they will give a large gift to create or catapult such a center to greater prominence. Is that charity? Not charity? Consistent/not consistent with left politics (which many of them might have)? It’s all pretty much beside the point to those doing the giving.)Report

      • Kim in reply to Creon Critic says:

        In my local experience, people seem to give huge donations with relatively few strings attached. Then they get schools named after them:

        FWIW, i think he’s right. His donation will serve as a seed for Pittsburgh’s future growth,.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Creon Critic says:

        Oh, I’m sure they do, Kim. And I’m sure there are people who somehow think that by donating to Harvard’s fund for financial aid for students of limited means, they are advancing the most sacred of lefty values. I’m not ruling anything out of existence. I just don’t think those examples (though probably yours more than mine) work well as general characterizations of what’s going on in most of these givers’ minds re motivations and values.

        But in reality, I wouldn’t have the first clue, so I’d defer to anyone who would even claim to speak with any authority. I’m just giving my impressions.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Creon Critic says:

        …Though my sister did work in development at a nice college in the NW, and AFAIK, the pitch was much more about “Support your alma mater bc look what we did for you!” than, “We’ll do so much to rectify political or economic injustice in the world or i our country with what you’ll give to us!”Report

      • @roger
        We are talking about aid for the best and brightest

        I don’t see how one suddenly doesn’t need aid because of smarts. Harvard costs $65k a year. How does brightness help pay that bill? But for the various kinds of aid on offer, both from the state and from the institution itself, that education would be inaccessible to all but the already well off. As things stand today, the less well off already have a great deal of difficulty making it through the gates, minus aid we may as well shut the gates to them altogether.

        And if your definition of the welfare state is taking care of people who are more than capable of caring for themselves

        Well, here’s what I wrote, “caring for the well-being of everyone”. Universality of various benefits, including the wealthy, just doesn’t bother me.

        a massive plan to spend other people’s money on each other

        Yeah, it is called government. It is a major part of what the apparatus of the state has been doing for the past +100 years, collecting resources and deploying them to tackle major social problems. It is like the US never had a Beveridge Report moment; “a comprehensive policy of social progress”would do us Americans a great deal of good.

        A recipe for inefficiency, waste and rent seeking….

        Inefficiency, waste, and rent seeking? Just like those social democratic states in Scandinavia. Those sad, sad Scandinavians, leading lives with lower rates of child poverty and lower public sector corruption*.

        * Re: corruption, here,

      • Roger in reply to Creon Critic says:


        I strongly agree with much of what you have written. Giving to an elite college is a form of in-group social networking and signalling.

        I am not suggesting giving to Harvard is (or is not) something those on the left do. I am only pointing out the paradox of supposed believers in egalitarianism giving to one of the most elitist organizations on earth.

        The fact that Creon and New Dealer, both usually strong proponents of egalitarian principles, reveal themselves to also be strong proponents of elite colleges flabbergasts me. Lots of potential explanations and rationales go through my mind.Report

      • Roger in reply to Creon Critic says:


        Just to clarify, nowhere am I arguing that aid to Harvard doesn’t do any good. Nor am I arguing that I have any problems with elitism or egalitarianism. (Though I am neither)

        My argument is elitism is inconsistent with egalitarianism. I don’t get how a person who is an egalitarian could support anything to do with an elitist and borderline nepotistic organization of the likes of a Ivy League schools. I would assume an egalitarian would detest the very idea of them.

        I certainly get that the cognitive and social elite need to pay for college too. But you do realize you are giving aid to someone who least needs it? In a world of scarce resources, I would imagine an egalitarian would prioritize differently. Every dollar that is spent getting the top one thousandth of one percent into Harvard is a dollar not spent on people that will actually struggle in life.

        The default condition is not failure to get into Harvard equals life as a single mom on welfare. It means they get a Masters or PHD from one of the other hundreds of great schools each with ample aid for those such as them needing it. You could not find less needy beneficiaries. You are effectively trying to steal the elite students from slightly less outrageously elite schools.

        Exaggerating only slightly, Your replies are basically that you want government to pay for everything for everybody. If you are unaware of the dangers of taking this path, then you are even more of an extremist than I have imagined.

        We are not a small little country of broadly similar Scandinavian people. We have an entirely different demographic with an entirely different cultural and historic path and situational context. Nor would we ever become like a Scandinavian country by only taking the parts you like and rejecting the parts that contradict your world view. Nor could Scandinavian countries be what they are without drafting on the countries which are not like them.*

        Think about it.

        * a viable strategy in a population is to be a follower of early adopters. Let the others experiment and take the risks and troubles of blazing the trail of economic progress, and just be a fast follower. It is not a viable strategy for everyone to take this strategy, as there is nobody left to draft on.Report

      • Roger,
        I don’t think you understand what egalitarianism looks like from the left. What you’re representing to me is a sort of reductio ad absurdum egalitarianism – an egalitarianism that celebrates tall poppy syndrome. Egalitarianism could theoretically be rooted there, where the especially able and especially gifted are cut down in the hopes of achieving equity. But that isn’t the foundation for my egalitarianism.

        My egalitarianism, and likely many leftward egalitarian outlooks, takes John Rawls as a touchstone. I’ll use my one link, so as not to be moderated, to point to SEP’s distributive justice page.

        The thing you keep representing to me, something you don’t believe in any case, is strict egalitarianism. I believe in a Rawls-informed egalitarianism. There’s a significant distinction there. Inequalities are permissible with the proviso that society must keep a watchful eye on the well-being of the least well off; moreover, society need provide the least well off with a suite of primary goods to ensure their access to opportunities already open to the well-off. (That’s a really short space to try to cover a lot of Rawls, so SEP’s Rawls entry might be useful too.)

        You are effectively trying to steal the elite students from slightly less outrageously elite schools.

        I don’t get this formulation, and maybe you just didn’t express yourself well here, but I’ll say it anyway: The student didn’t belong to any school in the first place. It isn’t stealing when a student gets the chance to decide between Stanford and UC Berkeley on the merits instead of on the financial costs. It is giving that student access to the similar choice that the well-to-do already have.

        Exaggerating only slightly, Your replies are basically that you want government to pay for everything for everybody.

        You might as well say to libertarian commenters in these parts, move to Somalia or FYIGM Libertarian. I mean, “exaggerating only slightly”, did you think that could cover the extreme perversion of the perspective I’ve outlined that follows in that sentence? Really?

        I mean, you’re free to disagree, but you might as well go around calling people commie-dems if you’re going to so unsparingly alter the alternative perspectives that’re presented to you.

        If you are unaware of the dangers of taking this path,

        A path I didn’t suggest!

        That’s a very clever mode of argumentation, attribute to your interlocutor a view they don’t hold and then remark on their potential ignorance or extremism: “then you are even more of an extremist than I have imagined”

        I just want to bring into relief the goodies I said the left would like to see that I’d mentioned upthread, “universal pre-k, single payer health care, financial services for the unbanked and underbanked”. I also mentioned the Beveridge Report as a foundation for the start of the British welfare state and how the US never had that comprehensive, crystallizing moment. That outlook to you somehow prompts “you want government to pay for everything for everybody.” Oh, but “Exaggerating only slightly”.

        Has the Overton Window been pushed so far to the right that you can’t even understand what I’m saying?Report

      • Roger in reply to Creon Critic says:


        Thanks for sharing and clarifying your views. I appreciate it.

        Various points based upon your (as always) excellent comments.

        I am familiar with Rawls and the strengths and weaknesses of his approach. Personally I am a big fan of creating rules and institutions which draw upon impartiality and choice (real, not theoretical). I doubt people would actually choose what he argues they would, and i believe that if they did they would in general regret it as it would be suboptimal to the long term, especially for future generations. Growth eats armchair theorizing for lunch.

        “I don’t think you understand what egalitarianism looks like from the left. ”

        Granted, but I am not sure you guys have a consensus on it. Isn’t one take-away from your post that there is a widespread disagreement within the left?

        “What you’re representing to me is a sort of reductio ad absurdum egalitarianism – an egalitarianism that celebrates tall poppy syndrome. Egalitarianism could theoretically be rooted there, where the especially able and especially gifted are cut down in the hopes of achieving equity. But that isn’t the foundation for my egalitarianism.”

        Where did I mention anything about cutting anyone down (in non economic realms)? My discombobulation with your brand of egalitarianism is that it is focused on economics. Economic power is one of many types of power. There is brute strength, intellectual power, parentage, positional power, esteem, political power, hierarchical power and such. I am amazed you and your brethren focus on one and ignore the others and the effects of reducing economic power on the balance between the others.

        Indeed I suspect you want to take from those with economic power to fund your grand visions. You are part of the team that wants to both neutralize your competition and use their resources for your own plans. You have good intentions, I am sure, but so did many of those supporting Fidel and Che.

        And my point isn’t socialism, it is that those seeking power love having intellectuals provide arguments about how we need to give them this power to help ourselves. You aim for Sweden and get Detroit.

        “Inequalities are permissible with the proviso that society must keep a watchful eye on the well-being of the least well off.”

        Well, I certainly agree that most reasonable people would prefer to operate with safety nets. It is critical that these safety nets not encourage free riding, rent seeking and parasitical behavior on behalf of recipients, and that they not discourage creativity and productivity by those paying for the nets.

        And just as importantly, it is essential that this society not allow those seeking dominance hierarchies to control the levers. They are neither benevolent nor capable.

        As to whether I exaggerated less-than-slightly, you were the one who wrote “Part of the meaning of welfare state is caring for the well-being of everyone, including the already rich.” And “Universality of various benefits, including the wealthy, just doesn’t bother me.” When you then extend this benefit to a an Ivy League education for the least needy, forgive me if I find your vision a few standard deviations outside of the norm. No rhetorical tricks were intended.Report

  16. NewDealer says:

    “i’m only half joking when i tell people to never marry outside of their class.”


    IIRC there are studies that show the hardest things for people to do is to get used to how things are done in different classes whether they move up or down the class ladder via marriage or personal circumstance.Report

    • dhex in reply to NewDealer says:

      things would certainly be easier if they stopped doing everything wrong.

      more seriously there’s also a set of outlooks and values that goes beyond which way one dangles the toilet paper that is as deep, and perhaps deeper, than any other cultural value that can be transmitted. i think that’s the differential that chris mentions above, and i think it’s part of why i can often identify folk within a few minutes of meeting them as being from a similar background as mine decades after we all left the places we grew up.Report

  17. notme says:

    What are they missing? The real thing they are missing is the fact that worrying about diversity or inequality is not a university’s job, despite what liberals seem to think. Now the NYT is whining about college increasing inequality. Why do liberals have such an obsession with the subject?

    • Kim in reply to notme says:

      No. Finding ways to make bright students is a university’s job, first and foremost.
      At that, American universities are abysmal.

      But, hell, you wouldn’t last a day at a real university. [I might last two]Report