Wednesday, February 25, 2009


By Richard Vedder

Earlier, I asked whether this was "Obama's Nation" or whether his policies were an "Obamination." After listening to last night's ersatz State of the Union address, there is no question in my mind that it is the latter. It was the single most frightening speech I recall having heard from an American politician over more than a half of century of listening to such speeches. Given my hypertension, I had to take it in small doses, but I would predict that on February 24, 2010, the economy will be in no better shape than now (unemployment above 7.5 percent, a Dow that is low), interest rates and inflation will be on the rise, and Obama will be blaming the persistent problems on greedy capitalists rather than himself. Obama is arguably our first purely socialist president, a person who has utter contempt for free enterprise. I also sense a streak of authoritarianism in him, and would not surprised to see an attempt to consolidate political power by unethical and possibly illegal means, by doing such things as trying to silence Rush Limbaugh and doing away with elections for union representation. I, of course, may be wrong. And Congress still has a role to play, although seeing the likes of Nancy Pelosi presiding last night did not instill much confidence.

But let us talk about higher education. I issued a blistering comment to the Associated Press, which soon will be in print around the country, ending any remote chances I had for a White House invitation for the next four years -- no big deal. Here is what is wrong with the announced higher education policy:

1) The notion that every child should have some postsecondary education is completely unrealistic and, well, dumb. We have thousands of disabled kids who have trouble telling time, and who are warehoused in schools because we don't know what else to do with them. They surely cannot complete a meaningful high school diploma which has integrity, much less any college. Hundreds of thousands drop out of high school annually for a multitude of reasons --family dysfunctions, drugs, abysmal quality schools, low cognitive abilities, etc. They do not belong in postsecondary schools. I would argue that we already have too many kids pursuing degrees for the sake of degrees. There is a need for more vocational training of many of our less academically successful youth, but that is not what the President seems to be calling for in his remarks to date.

2) The notion we will be number one in the percent of young adults with bachelor's degrees or more by 2020 does not accord with reality, particularly given our pathetically bad government schools that provide most of the secondary education in this nation. It is nearly mathematically impossible for us to pass Norway, for example, unless the Norwegians decide to embrace American progressive education with a vengeance overnight, which is highly unlikely.

3) Huge tax credits for Americans going to college in the stimulus bill add to the problem of rising tuition costs. My sidekick Andrew Gillen has developed the theory and facts to support that statement in an absolutely brilliant paper that CCAP is going to release very shortly. The Pell Grant increase, another part of the bill, actually makes more sense on both theoretical grounds and from the standpoint of American ideals of equal opportunity. The vast expansion of government student loans for middle class Americans will clearly raise costs, as colleges move to capture the funds.

4) Infrastructure help for colleges flowing from the stimulus plan is suspect given the low utilization rates of existing physical plant.

5) There are no proposals so far to demand accountability of colleges, to require them to measure outcomes, etc. There is no effort to change the way higher education services are delivered, a prerequisite to true positive change in American higher education. Indeed, there doesn't even seem to be anyone in charge of higher education on Maryland Avenue (which may or may not be bad).

My blood pressure is rising, so I better stop. I have made my point.


capeman said...

Porr ol' Doc. He got almost nowhere even with Spellings as Ed. Sec'y under Bush. Now it's hopeless.

Better calm down, Doc, take a meditation class at your local U., and maybe you'll be able to cut down on your medication.

But don't get too excited about what's happening with Obama, you're bound to blow a gasket or two, and there's not a whole lot you can do, it's the tide of history.

Your only hope has been an economic crisis so you can see your fantasy of destroying higher education come true (you hope).

Trouble is, an economic crisis of that magnitude would mean the destruction of your beloved market economic system.

You're getting a foretaste with Obama right now. Better not hope it gets worse.

Not a winning situation for the Doc.

So take my advice and give it a rest.

I'm telling you this as your friend.

Paul Johnson said...

Obama is an idiot. His ideas are idiotic.

Attend a Santelli Tea Party near you.

Nick said...

I've subscribed to this blog for quite some time now. I thought maybe I would be getting a sneak peek into some academically rigorous research, and perhaps some ideas to inspire my own research. I thought that this center would give me some food for thought, something to move higher education in a new direction that we so desperately need.

In the past several weeks, my marginal utility (thought you'd appreciate that one) of reading this has dropped like a rock. Maybe it's just that I expect too much from this blog, or maybe it's because I'm seeing many of these points following traditional "Republican" talking points rather than "libertarian" talking points.

Reading this particular post put me over the edge -- not because I am an uber-liberal hipster that loves President Obama (which I'm not) -- but because of the clear political rhetoric with a general lack of academic rigor or empirical evidence. I can't take it anymore.

Where is any evidence that "disabled" children cannot complete a "meaningful" high school diploma? What is meaningful to policy makers may not be meaningful to that child's parents.

Norway's % of young adults with a BA or AA is 40%. US is 30%. A 10% gap is large, but in my humble opinion not impossible to close. I'd like to see some evidence that this is "nearly mathematically impossible." That might be a good research project for you all.

The Bennett hypothesis is so 1980's....still not been proven by any rigorous research.

What is the current utilization rate of physical plants? And what constitutes a "low" rate versus a high rate? Evidence please.

To end on a positive note, I would have to say your point on #5 is duly noted. Almost enough to make me want to come back and read another one of your blogs...almost.

sydneyj said...

I gotta say I agree with your first point 100%. I've got one of those kids, forced him into college, and it was a horrible mistake. Four years later, with a 1.0 GPA, countless withdrawals, and less than 30 credits, he finally dropped out - and got a job working with FedEx, where he is quite happy and doing well...and working alongside guys with college degrees! Same thing happened with my nephew, except he went to an vocational school after dropping out of college and is now an electrician.

What is it about academics, like Obama, who think that EVERYONE needs to have a college education? No, everyone does not need to, nor does everyone want to. Sure, offer help to kids who want to go to college...but, since you're so interested in spending money, pour some into vocational programs for kids who don't want to go to college. All those young Latinos that come here illegally, they can fix cars, have construction skills...they didn't go to college. You shouldn't have to learn about Shakespeare in order to be an auto mechanic.

Tolky1 said...

I think this post and this blog is great and only have somewhat disagreed with one or two posts in the past three months I've been following the blog.

As Dr. Vedder implies, the solution to our problems is not more degrees but the skills that we can give our students.

This is why socialism didn't work for the USSR, Cuba, Vietnam, or China and won't work for the United States.

The key is not how many students have degrees, but whether those students work skillfully and produce an amazing amount.

Socialism blunts the edge of the free market. Admittedly, as capeman has pointed out, the free market can create some institutions which are sometimes bad, but that's either because 1. the government created the situation for them to get away with being so flawed, or 2. Americans have not been free or courageous enough to fight on the free market for the changes necessary.

Consider this quote from Edward Gibbon (end of the third paragraph from the end of second chapter), and he's describing a declining second century empire: "Their personal valour remained, but they no longer possessed that public courage which is nourished by the love of independence, the sense of national honour, the presence of danger, and the habit of command. They received laws and governors from the will of their sovereign, and trusted for their defence to a mercenary army. The posterity of their boldest leaders was contented with the rank of citizens and subjects. The most aspiring spirits resorted to the court or standard of the emperors; and the deserted provinces, deprived of political strength or union, insensibly sunk into the languid indifference of private life."

That's why socialism is so bad. Instead of: what's best for everybody (little government), it's what's best for me and keeping my money, although my desire for wealth is paid for on the government debts added on the back of my children and grandchildren and the government regulation that hinders their freedom and encourages their stupidity to keep from being educated about a free world.

That's slavery, and the free market, though not perfect, is immeasurably better than any of that. Blessings on everybody.

Paul Johnson said...


Q. Does right wingerbloggers receive Republican talking points?
A. Well, I, MAXHEADROOM, receive a fax at 6AM every day (including weekends) of the Republican Talking Points. I don’t share it with the other bloggers, and instead just browbeat them into saying what I want.

Q. Are these the same talking points all other Republican shills receive?
A. No, I get ones specifically tailored for bloggers. I assume politicians, pundits, radio talk show hosts, and FOX News get different talking points.

Q. Why are they sent by fax?
A. Apparently, Rove never caught up with 21st century technology - such as secure e-mail. He likes to personally sign the main copies as a sort of verification (see the picture of a talking point memo posted below). I'd explain digital signatures and what not to Rove, but I'm scared of him. At least they seemed to be composed on a word processor (or some ridiculously advanced typewriter from the seventies - whoops, that swipe was talking points from a year ago).

Q. How many other right-wing blogs out there receive talking points?
A. I wouldn't know the exact number, but, obviously, most of them do.

Q. How does a blogger get to receive talking points?
A. Most blogs were created at the behest of Rove and started out with talking points. I had gained interest from my work as a Republican in college as offered a large sum of money to start a blog to pretend that conservatives are capable of humor (we really aren't). It is possible to start a blog and then be approached by Rove or his henchman, but he seems to like more control over blogs than that.

Q. Do you share the money Rove pays you with the other bloggers?
A. This is "Frequently Asked Questions" not "Showtime at the Apollo," so enough with he jokes.

Q. What happens if you deviate too much from the talking points?
A. A certain amount of deviation is expected to make it seem like we're each our own individuals (e.g., hating monkeys is not on the talking points). But the power of the blogosphere is that we Republican shills all act in unison on some issue, so, if one blogger wanders too far off the reservation, then he or she will simply stop receiving the talking points. This will leave the person pointless and having to make things up like Drudge.

Q. Are there Republican talking points for podcasters?
A. Not yet. The podcast was originally someone else’s idea (I only come up with ideas given to me by Rove). I am hopeful there will be talking points for podcasts soon (and more money for being that bigger a shill).

capeman said...

sydneyj -- point #1 is about "postsecondary" education. That means not just college, but community college, trade school, vocational school. Training to be an auto mechanic is "postsecondary" education, ditto an electrician. Your local community college probably has 1 and 2 year certification programs for things like that.

I feel bad for your son wasting 4 years in college. But with a 1.0 average? Why did it take so long to figure out this was not for him?