Confirmed: Students at Elite Colleges are Spoiled Brats

I always believed that students at exclusive colleges must disproportionately come from high-income families, but this statistic cited by Joanne Jacobs surprised me.

At 38 elite colleges, more students come from the top 1 percent of the income scale than the bottom 60 percent, according to an Equality of Opportunity Project study.

And these are the very same schools noted for campus activism, with students out protesting ‘the one percent.’ To find ‘the one percent,’ they apparently don’t need to look very far.

Jacobs offers the following analysis.

High-income achievers may turn to activism because they feel guilty about their privilege, writes Riley. Since they think they know it all, they “shut down outside speakers and demand that professors censor their lectures,” demand safe spaces and trigger warnings.

Indeed, it takes more than a little chutzpah to be 19, 20 years old, never having accomplished anything in the world of adults, and telling professors and administrators how they should be doing their jobs. At that age, I never would have presumed such a thing. But the phenomenon gets easier to understand if we keep in mind that a lot of these students are rich, and therefore believe they’re better than everybody else.

And undoubtedly a lot of what motivates campus leftists is guilt, because they know, deep down, that they are highly privileged. That’s why they talk so much about privilege: white privilege, male privilege, etc. It’s a way of expiating their own privilege.

Not a pretty picture.

In any event, if some of these snooty schools are really, as they say, interested in ‘diversity’ they can start by admitting more kids from the poor and working classes.

The Death of Inland California: Exaggerated?

Joel Kotkin likes to write about how the social and political elites in Coastal California are screwing over the inland part of the state, and his articles usually contain much truth and insight. In a recent piece, he returns to this theme in somewhat florid rhetorical terms.

California may never secede, or divide into different states, but it has effectively split into entities that could not be more different. On one side is the much-celebrated, post-industrial, coastal California, beneficiary of both the Tech Boom 2.0 and a relentlessly inflating property market. The other California, located in the state’s interior, is still tied to basic industries like homebuilding, manufacturing, energy and agriculture. It is populated largely by working- and middle-class people who, overall, earn roughly half that of those on the coast.

Fresno, Bakersfield, Ontario and San Bernardino are rapidly becoming the Bantustans — the impoverished areas designed for Africans under the racist South African regime — in California’s geographic apartheid. Poverty rates in the Central Valley and Inland Empire reach over a third of the population, well above the share in the Bay Area. By some estimates, rural California counties suffer the highest unemployment rate in the country; six of the 10 metropolitan areas in the country with the highest percentage of jobless are located in the central and eastern parts of the state. The interior counties — from San Bernardino to Merced — also suffer the worst health conditions in the state.

Just a couple paragraphs later, however, Kotkin unwittingly contradicts this narrative that the Inland Empire has been declining economically.

Between 2000 and 2013, the Inland region experienced a 91 percent jump in its population with bachelor’s degrees or higher, a far more rapid increase than either Orange or Los Angeles counties.

By curtailing new housing supply, California is systematically shutting off this aspirational migration. Chapman University forecaster James Doti notes that, in large part due to regulation, Inland Empire housing prices have jumped 80 percent since 2009 — almost twice the rate for Orange County.

I have no doubt that housing prices are higher than they should be due to regulation, particularly restrictions on land use and development. So the housing price situation is not ideal. But let’s step back and consider what rapidly rising housing prices imply about the Inland economy. If the economy were really in a tailspin, housing prices would not be rising, they would be falling or at least failing to keep up with the rise in other regions. But that’s not the case; Kotkin says Inland prices have experienced a more rapid rate of increase than at least some prominent parts of the coastal region.

Also the huge jump in the population with bachelor’s degrees is not indicative of economic decline, and on this metric Kotkin again notes that the rate of increase exceeds that for key coastal counties.

Kotkin’s reporting makes me think the death of the Inland Empire has been greatly exaggerated. The region undoubtedly trails the coast by most social and economic metrics, but that has always been true. Bakersfield in (say) the 1970s was not some kind of economic paradise.

Debate: The End of Jobs

Here at Yet, Freedom!, we warned years ago that robots and artificial intelligence pose grave threats to human jobs. Now Alex Tabarrok, our old classmate, and Tyler Cowen, our old professor, have filmed a lively debate on the subject.

Alex says that labor saving technologies in the past did not cause a net reduction of jobs, because they opened opportunities for new areas of employment that did not previously exist.

The jobs of today were unheard of even ten years ago. Think about all of the people writing apps for those smart phones that we have. Those jobs were unheard of before. There will be new jobs in the future that you and I can’t even imagine today.

What Alex says has always been true. For more than 200 years, machinery and automation have generally been beneficial to labor by increasing wages and improving working conditions. Two hundred years ago, about 90 percent of people were farmers; now only 2 percent are. The disappearance of those farming jobs did not leave people with nothing to do, because new jobs were created that people centuries ago could never have imagined.

The problem is that, while Alex’s argument is correct about the past, it’s not necessarily true about the future. For the first time, things are different. Instead of merely replacing manual labor, machines now are threatening even highly intellectual jobs like being a lawyer or an anesthesiologist.

As Tyler points out, labor market data suggest that, this time, things are different. Labor force participation is falling, and wages are stagnant. Alex, however, dismisses this evidence.

Alex and Tyler posted this debate about six months ago, but a new study published just last month supports Tyler’s position. Daron Acemoglu of M.I.T. and Pascual Restrepo of Boston University found, somewhat to their surprise, that industrial robots depress both employment and wages.

The paper is all the more significant because the researchers, whose work is highly regarded in their field, had been more sanguine about the effect of technology on jobs. In a paper last year, they said it was likely that increased automation would create new, better jobs, so employment and wages would eventually return to their previous levels. Just as cranes replaced dockworkers but created related jobs for engineers and financiers, the theory goes, new technology has created new jobs for software developers and data analysts.

But that paper was a conceptual exercise. The new one uses real-world data — and suggests a more pessimistic future. The researchers said they were surprised to see very little employment increase in other occupations to offset the job losses in manufacturing. That increase could still happen, they said, but for now there are large numbers of people out of work, with no clear path forward — especially blue-collar men without college degrees.

The economists looked at the effect of robots on local economies and also more broadly. In an isolated area, each robot per thousand workers decreased employment by 6.2 workers and wages by 0.7 percent. But nationally, the effects were smaller… each robot per thousand workers decreased employment by three workers and wages by 0.25 percent.

So each robot eliminates three jobs. And keep in mind those are net jobs in the overall economy, not just jobs at the plant where the robot is introduced. The net effect on jobs takes into account those new jobs, as Alex points out, made possible by the robots. New jobs are needed to make and service the robots, but moreover, the robots create jobs by decreasing costs. By lowering costs, the robots leave people with more money to spend on other goods, which can expand employment in other industries. But even after accounting for new jobs, Acemoglu and Restrepo still found a net loss of three jobs for each robot.

Alex’s view of the effects of technology is the optimistic one, and I hope he is right. His argument has always been correct in the past. The latest evidence, however, suggests that the past might not serve as a useful guide to the future.

Earth Hour: *Yawn*

I’m running a little late with this, but this past weekend featured the 11th annual Earth Hour, when people all over the world are supposed to demonstrate how committed they are to stopping ‘climate change’ by turning off their electric lights for one hour.

Earth Hour is a kind of protest, of course, and a protest is not an argument, but just a way for people to show how strongly they feel about something. As a signal of feeling, however, Earth Hour seems laughingly pathetic, since the cost of participating is so meager. I mean, if you really believe that life on Earth as we know it is in jeopardy, shouldn’t you be willing to do more than just turn off your lights for one hour per year?

I’d be a lot more impressed by these folks if instead of an hour they lived without electricity for a year or even a month. Go into the woods and make a hut out of mud and pine needles and I’ll be duly impressed. I’ll still disagree with you, but I’ll at least acknowledge the strength and authenticity of your commitment to your false beliefs.

I mean, St. Francis of Assisi grew up well-to-do, but when he had his religious epiphany, he gave away literally all of his worldly possessions including his clothes, so that he was going around town completely naked. The local bishop had to tell him that he couldn’t go naked and gave him some clothes. Now, I don’t worship at the altar of St. Francis, but he certainly demonstrated his commitment.

But turning off lights for an hour is just the cheapest of cheap virtue signalling, like posting to social media about Cecil the Lion or Kony 2012.

Peace out.

What Hath Feminism Wrought?

By some measures, women in America are doing better than ever. For every three men in college, there are four women. Women outnumber men in law school. There are more women working than ever, making more money than ever. We would right now have our first woman president if not for the fact that her opponent managed to run the table in the electoral college by winning a series of close state contests.

The legal regime governing marriage, reproduction, child support and custody totally favors women over men.

And yet, for all this presumed progress, women report being less happy, and exhibit more of the symptoms of despair. At least, that’s what I conclude from the fact that American women appear increasingly to be drowning their sorrows in alcohol.

Back in December, the Washington Post published a remarkable article about the rise in binge drinking among women, particularly white, middle-aged women. Here are just a few of the astonishing facts.

  • Every year more than one million women end up in hospital emergency rooms for alcohol related reasons. This number may involve some double counting, as the same woman may be admitted to the hospital more than once, but the number nonetheless seems appallingly high.
  • Since 1997, binge drinking by white women has increased 40%.
  • Since 1999, alcohol-related deaths among middle-aged white women have soared by 130%.

The Post blames the problem on alcohol advertising, particularly advertising on social media targeted at women. The trend in binge drinking, however, started long before social media became a thing. I suspect the problem runs much deeper than advertising. Consider the fact that also drug overdoses have increased, particularly among middle-aged, white women. The drug overdoses likely have little to do with advertising and more to do with despair.

This same cohort of middle-aged white women has also exhibited a significantly higher suicide rate. From 1999 to 2014,

the age-adjusted suicide rate for women increased by 45%, while the rate for men increased by 16%.

The suicide rate increased for women of all ages, but the spike was especially pronounced for women aged 45-64.

The rise in alcohol and drug related deaths would seem to be of a piece with the higher rate of suicides, since alcohol and drugs often serve as methods of slow-motion suicide. One way or another, a lot more women are killing themselves.

What has happened to middle-aged American women? Historically, only about ten percent of 35-year-old women were unmarried. Now, 40 percent of 35-year-old women are unmarried, and that figure just keeps rising. Could the lack of support from family explain the despair among middle-aged women?

Many will say that the problems facing women are caused by ‘the patriarchy’ and we therefore need to double-down on feminism.

Maybe. But in the bad old days, before the triumph of feminism, women reported higher levels of happiness and weren’t succumbing nearly as often to the pathologies of despair.

Why It Sucks to be Poor

Mae West said, “I’ve been rich, and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.” But why, exactly, does it suck to be poor in today’s America? In the post below, I noted that poor households do not generally seem to be lacking any of the typical amenities of modern life–food, shelter, appliances, gadgets, health care. I asked rhetorically, what is it that the poor lack the makes them poor?

Well, upon further reflection I would like to, as they say in Congress, revise and extend my remarks. The poor in America lack two important things: safety and schooling. Being poor in America often means living in a dangerous, crime-infested neighborhood. And living in such a neighborhood inevitably means having access only to a crummy, dysfunctional government school. Those are the two primary reasons why people work so hard to stay out of poverty and to afford a house in a decent community: safety and schooling.

Notably, safety and schooling are both services for which the government has assumed responsibility. The primary problems of America’s poor are therefore a direct consequence of government’s failure to fulfill its promise to provide safety and decent schooling. If only the government were effectively enforcing order on the streets and in the schools, being poor might not be so bad.

For most of history, being poor meant being relatively exposed to the hostile forces of nature: famine, flood, disease, the icy winds, and the wolf at the door. Now being poor means being relatively unable to protect yourself from the consequences of government failure. In the post-scarcity world, the remaining ‘hostile force of nature’ is government.

The problem with being poor is self-evidently the failure of government, but of course that won’t stop leftists from arguing that what the poor really need is even more government.

Life Imitates Aristophanes

Lysistrata, a play by Aristophanes, 411 B.C.

Lysistrata has planned a meeting between all of the women of Greece to discuss the plan to end the Peloponnesian War. As Lysistrata waits for the women of Sparta, Thebes, and other areas to meet her she curses the weakness of women. Lysistrata plans to ask the women to refuse sex with their husbands until a treaty for peace has been signed. Lysistrata has also made plans with the older women of Athens (the Chorus of Old Women) to seize the Akropolis later that day. The women from the various regions finally assemble and Lysistrata convinces them to swear an oath that they will withhold sex from their husbands until both sides sign a treaty of peace.

Dateline: February 6, 2017.

Feminists and women’s rights activists have announced the follow up to the Women’s March on Washington: a “Women’s Strike” planned for March 8th, where women who oppose Donald Trump’s “misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic and racist policies” will stop doing chores, attending work, and even having sex with their partners in a show of how much women matter.

So Aristophanes called this one across 2400 years. As the 19th century German philosopher Heinrich Heine said, “There is a God, and his name is Aristophanes.”

Audi Debunks ‘Gender Pay Gap’

So Audi made a Superbowl ad on the so-called gender pay gap. Then only one tweet was required to get Audi to refute their own ad.

Ah, so the ‘gender pay gap’ at Audi disappears once we “account for all the various factors that go into pay.” But why then does Audi not grant other companies the courtesy of a similar accounting? Could it be that the same ‘various factors’ that explain the pay difference at Audi also explain pay at other companies?

In any event, what does Audi propose that America do to achieve “equal pay for equal work?” Pass a federal law? Oh…wait…equal pay for equal work has been the law in America for more than 50 years. If women still aren’t getting equal pay for equal work, then Obama’s Justice Department must have done a piss-poor job of enforcing federal law.

Income Inequality: Why Don’t ‘Progressives’ Support Useful Reforms?

Perhaps the most salient animating concern of the political left is income inequality. According to the left, income inequality is the root cause of almost every social evil: crime, delinquency, poor health, poor school performance, etc.

And yet, despite the professed concern for income inequality, the left lacks a coherent and practical program for doing anything about it. The only constant in their program seems to be raising taxes on the highest income earners, even though doing so would not raise a very large amount of government revenue, and could potentially do significant harm to the performance of the overall economy.

Interestingly, the left rarely if ever discusses any of the far less costly reforms that could do a lot to reduce inequality. A prime example would be education reform. One of the primary obstacles faced by America’s underclass is the lack of access to quality schooling. A reform as simple as allowing schools to fire ineffective teachers could make a significant difference. I believe it was economist Dan Hamermesh who estimated that firing the worst six percent of teachers would created a dramatic improvement in student achievement.

Another effective reform would be abolishing or phasing out the mortgage interest deduction.

These benefits, known as “tax expenditures,” allow home owners to deduct the interest paid on mortgages and to net up to $500,000 of capital gains tax-free on the sale of their homes.

The amounts are not trivial. The CBO estimates that the tax expenditures for mortgage-interest deductions amount to $70 billion, almost 73 percent of which goes to households in the top 20 percent of the income distribution, while those in bottom 20 percent receive no benefit. Although there would be some downside for the home-building industry, limiting tax subsidies to wealthy homeowners could lower the level of inequality without seriously adverse consequences for the rate of homeownership.

There is no economic justification for deducting mortgage interest. In fact, the deduction constitutes an inefficient subsidy to homeownership that causes people to consume too much housing.

Scandalously, the deduction is even available for the purchase of a second home.

Maybe the reason leftists don’t talk much about the mortgage interest deduction is because the primary beneficiaries are people in the upper middle class, many of which are political ‘progressives.’ They support removing subsidies from others, but not themselves.

Also, education reform gets ignored because the teachers’ unions are among the most important interest groups in the Democrat Party.

If ‘progressives’ were serious about effectively reducing income inequality, they would logically focus on such relatively low-cost and effective reforms, but they don’t. Is almost like all the talk about income inequality is just another manifestation of Fen’s Law: The left does not really believe any of the things they lecture the rest of us about.

Next time some leftists start whining about income inequality, ask them what they intend to do about firing incompetent teachers and eliminating the mortgage interest deduction.