Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Is College Debt Worth It?

What you study and where you study it matters, especially if you're going to be sinking into debt while completing a degree. There has been some research that illustrates this:
First, the notion that college graduates have a comparatively low unemployment or underemployment rate is misleading. The table below shows that "low" unemployment isn't so low among recent graduates, though people over 30 with college degrees do have lower unemployment than the national average.

Second, even those with jobs are often not in jobs that require any college education. As you will read below, as many as 40 percent of graduates in the humanities are working in positions that do not require a four-year degree.

Recent College Graduates

Social Science8.937,000
Law and Policy8.134,000
Life Sciences7.732,000
Liberal Arts9.431,000

If you study a performing art, the return on investment simply isn't there unless you are already a special talent. If you're attending an Ivy League or noted arts college, you might do okay, but an art major graduating from a state university? You'll be struggling.

Note: I am posting this to two blogs because the topics of student debt and public rhetoric intersect in multiple ways.

Consider the following article.

Students take Debt 101 and lose out

http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/opinion/jack-kelly/students-take-debt-101-and-lose-out-650567August 26, 2012 12:22 am
By Jack Kelly / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Real wages for recent college graduates have fallen nearly 5 percent from 2007 to 2011. More than 40 percent of recent college graduates work in jobs that do not require a college education. There are 323,000 waiters and waitresses, 115,000 janitors and 83,000 bartenders with college degrees.

The unemployment rate for Americans aged 18-29 is 50 percent higher than the national average. It's higher among college grads than among young people generally. A majority (53.6 percent) of college graduates under 25 are unemployed or underemployed, the AP reported in April.
When colleges and universities report the number of graduates working, those numbers are manipulated. One admissions employee at a public college told me that a sales clerk with a business degree was being counted as employed in her field of study. I'm sure that's a standard, since you can't find any college admitting to a 60 percent career placement rate. A quick skim of websites for colleges in my area shows near-universal success for graduates. For the schools making any claims about graduate success, employment rates range from a mid-80 percent success rate to a school claiming a near perfect employment record among graduates.

Where are the schools with the 50 percent employment success rates? If other schools have graduates landing great jobs in their fields of study, then there must be institutions with lousy success rates.

Of course, success requires graduating. Students aren't graduating at levels you might expect.
Only 60 percent who start college get a degree. More acquire debt. To encourage young people to matriculate who lack the ability or inclination to do college work does them no favors.
I have to admit, I've seen too many students at universities unprepared for the work. That's been true at state teaching universities, research universities, and private universities. We have a serious problem when so many students enter college with high school diplomas but not the skills those diplomas should represent. These students are unlikely to graduate, but they will have lots of debt.

We are offering an increasing number of remedial courses, usually for no credit. Students need these courses, sadly. And don't misunderstand me: some students will be "saved" by the opportunities provided by these courses. However, too many of these students will leave the college campus without a degree.

Students struggling in math or basic English aren't going to be graduating with STEM degrees. Our college students are choosing majors that don't have the best employment prospects because (and this is a generalization) many are unprepared for demanding science and technology degree programs. There are brilliant students in the humanities, so we then need to ask how we can attract more of those students to the STEM fields.
Those with STEM degrees (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) have little difficulty finding well-paid work, but only about 15 percent of grads have them. More major in the visual and performing arts than in engineering.
The conclusion of Mr. Kelly's column is a bit harsh, but he might have a point.
A student who borrows $97,000 to obtain an "interdisciplinary degree in religious and women's studies" is chiefly responsible for her plight. But those who offer such a degree are running a con, not a school. Even smart kids do stupid things, because they're kids. Adults who mislead and exploit them have much to answer for.
I wonder what the future holds for the generation graduating during this economic downturn. Debt and what else?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Romney + Ryan = Real Discussion We Need

The announcement by Mitt Romney that he has chosen Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate means we will have a much needed discussion about the serious economic issues facing this nation. That Paul Krugman and other "progressives" dislike Ryan's budget proposals means the ideas deserve some consideration.

You can find many articles describing the "Ryan Budget" and you can read the complete budget document.

The House Budget Committee posts its documents online:

I disagree with some of Ryan's specific proposals, but the key to me is that he admits we are in a financial quagmire that must be addressed. As opposed to the Keynesian idealism of progressives (which twists Keynes as much as some on the right twist Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman), Ryan starts with the assumption that broke is broke — and the United States is broke. That means endless deficit spending cannot be used to stimulate the economy back to health.

But, without stimulus in the form of increased monetary easing, federal spending, or tax cuts, what can we do to encourage economic growth?

Ryan suggests radical tax code simplification. Close the loopholes. I like that start. It will seem fair and reasonable to most people. Why should some companies get out of taxes thanks to crony capitalism? The idea is that closing loopholes will increase federal tax revenues without raising tax rates. This will help balance the budget (over many long years, granted), ensuring continued low interest rates (in theory) and economic stability.

Personally, I believe we have to cut federal spending — real cuts, not slower growth or cuts based on inflation — but at least Ryan suggests an interesting path.

I'm willing to endorse raising tax rates, slightly, if there are genuine federal spending cuts. Ryan opposes any rate increases. Still, he is closer to my position than any other politician seems to be.

My tax proposal is simple: raise rates a half percent across all marginal rates. Then, for two years, raise the top marginal rate a quarter percent each year. The slow increase would be predictable and steady. These increases would only go into effect with an equal cut to the overall federal budget. After four to six years, spending could again be indexed to inflation.

We know federal spending is out of control because most spending is automatic, non-discretionary. Medicare, Social Security, VA benefits, and other programs consume far more of the budget than discretionary items do.

At least during the remainder of this presidential campaign, there is a chance that American voters will have a serious budget discussion. It is a slim chance, sadly, because any attempts to reduce spending will cause an outcry.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Freedom From vs. Freedom To

Following a post on Krugman, probably because that is what he was reading, Nathan posted the following comment:
In your description of yourself, you are a classical liberal defined as:
"Classical liberalism embodies the original concept of liberalism: a faith in freedom to, not freedom from as a guiding principle."

Yet the concept of 'freedom to,' which is positive liberty, is contained nowhere in the U.S. Constitution. The founding fathers of our country were, as far as the definition of classical liberal that I know, mostly classical liberals - hence where we get the term. Yet, the U.S. Constitution is only written in terms of negative liberty, or 'freedom from.'

How do you reconcile what appears to be a modern interpretation of classical liberalism from what is most assuredly a different actual and historical definition of the term classical liberal?

Check the definition with references from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy before answering - http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/liberalism/#ClaLib
The original definition of classical liberalism the way our founders saw it most certainly had nothing to do with positive liberty, which is a modern concept, and everything to do with negative liberty, or freedom from.... especially government interference.

Click to Read Full Post
First, allow me to acknowledge that Nathan's post raises several valid points and that is why I am posting a separate entry on the topics raised. Second, let me further acknowledge that I use the title "Almost Classical" because I am not a purist, something I've written about on several occasions. I'm more of a pragmatic libertarian than an ideologue.

Now, let us address the points raised because they are certainly ones my students would recognize and discuss in my Intro to Ethics course, which deals with various (Western) ethical systems.

I am, as Nathan suggests, a proponent of "Negative Rights." Traditionally, these are described as the "Freedom From Intervention or Interference" but I consider that a strange wording. I admit, my problem with this reflects a political and theoretical bias: I consider these "Negative Rights" the Freedom to Act and Think what I want as long as I harm no one else — but as a professor I am obligated to help students use the proper terminology. My lectures refer to my libertarian ideals as Negative Rights because that is the accepted terminology within academia.

The challenge for a rhetorician is that concepts and terms do change, based on context. When George Lackoff writes of a "Freedom from Want" he is not describing Negative Rights. I do discuss Lackoff in my courses, as well as Frank Luntz. Both men use "Freedom From" to appeal to very different audiences. (Welcome to rhetoric, where the art of persuasion meets the science of psychology.)

Reading through old writings by socialists and communists, these thinkers used the "Freedom From" quite differently than we might when discussing "Negative" and "Positive" freedoms. The rhetorical move of supporting a "Freedom from Poverty" or a "Freedom from Disease" is quite effective. Many brilliant and admirable men and women of the left discuss "Freedom From" in ways that are far more effective than the rhetoric employed by any libertarians or conservatives. It is this rhetorical "Freedom From" various concerns and perceived threats that I oppose, not the Freedom from Interference suggested by thinkers like J. S. Mill, which is the model of freedom I embrace. (If you aren't familiar with Mill, you should read On Liberty.)

The following are the notes from one of my lectures for Intro to Ethics, revised summer 2012. In the lecture notes, you will find "Negative Rights" and "Positive Rights" mentioned. As you will see, Nathan's question does accurately reflect "Negative Rights" — which I do embrace and promote as a writer and, admittedly, the views I express when my university students ask my views on economic and social theories. However, I also hope my students realize I respect whatever views and insights they might bring to class. The role of an instructor is to raise questions, not to provide easy answers.

Realize these notes are from only one short lecture and discussion, but do reflect the topics we discuss in the course.

Human Rights
  • Do rights exist before any social order is established?
  • What are "inalienable" rights? Do they exist?
  • Are rights granted by, defended by, established by, defined by, or recognized by government? 
  • How would these views differ?
Natural (“God-Given”) vs. Man-Made
  • Natural Rights: exist for all people, naturally.
  • Rights of Law: created by a community, legally.
Natural Rights
  • Natural rights and natural law theory emerged during 16th and 17th Centuries.
  • Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679)
    • Natural Right = Survival
    • Natural Law = Do no harm to Self (or Other)
  • John Locke (1632–1704)
    • Life, Liberty, and Property… and you are your personal property.
Legal Rights
  • Utilitarianism emphasizes legal rights.
  • Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832)
    • No one is born "free" or "equal" to others.
    • Inequality increases and evolves during our lives.
  • John Stuart Mill (1806–1873)
    • Legally, we should agree to be left alone.
    • Freedom produces the most individual happiness and pleasure, so it is a logical pursuit of government.
Negative Rights
  • Limits what government should do, by listing what it cannot do to the individual.
  • Rights of "non-interference" to live as you want.
  • Locke, Mill, and Thomas Jefferson are historical supporters of negative rights.
  • John Hospers, The Libertarian Alternative (1974).
  • Ayn Rand's works also promote negative rights (in a simplistic, "immature" way).
    • She wasn't a great scholar or careful thinker. More of a"cultish" figure with followers.
  • "Conservatives" and "libertarians" claim to embrace (some) negative rights. 
Positive Rights
  • Limits what the individual should do, while granting "rights" from the government to the person.
  • Considers it "positive" to have basic needs met.
  • Karl Marx (1818–1883) major proponent of positive rights: government cares for the person.
  • Socialists, Marxists, progressives, and "liberals" embrace (some) positive rights, to very different degrees and with different ideals. 
    • Don't confuse Marxists for American liberals. Not even close, despite whatever rhetoric you might encounter.
Distributive Justice
  • Represents one aspect of social justice theory, which seeks egalitarian experiences and outcomes for citizens.
  • Seeks to provide for citizens "fairly" based on needs.
  • Redistributes goods and services to achieve equality.
  • Uses legal means to pursue social justice.
  • Embraced by "left-leaning" political philosophies.
  • Fundamental Equality: Believing we are born equal, or at least equal under the law.
  • Social Equality: Assuming equality within a social community, or equality promoted within the community.
  • Equality of Equals: Accepting equality among those of similar social stature; discriminating against the "unequals" we encounter.
  • Fundamental Equality, Revised: Striving to equalize what we can, within reason.
Dworkin's Models of Freedom
  • Ronald Dworkin, American philosopher and legal theorist
  • Taking Rights Seriously (1977)
  • Freedom's Law (1996)
  • What happens when freedoms or rights conflict?
  • Developed two models to examine rights in the law addressing infringement and inflation.
Model 1: Seeking a Balance
  • Balance the rights of the individual against the demands (rights) of the society by avoiding extremes of either:
  • Infringing Rights: Reducing freedom of the individual.
  • Inflating Rights: Exaggerating the freedom of the individual.
  • Attempt a "middle course" that does not infringe or inflate rights more than necessary.
  • Dworkin describes this as the "default" model for political debates, but a flawed model.
Model 2: Primacy of the Individual
  • Give priority to the freedoms and rights of the individual: primacy of "freedom to act" (freedom from interference) — negative rights.
  • Assume that the individual will not misuse a freedom to do harm to others.
  • Inflating rights is less risky to society than infringing on rights without substantial evidence.
  • Challenges to Dworkin assume society and positive rights are primary.
I hope the above notes indicate what I present to students in a survey course on ethical systems is within the traditions of academic terminology. However, I also admit that this blog and my other writings promote my particular views using rhetorical choices I consider the most effective.

So, Nathan is correct, but he was also assuming a bit based on a quick tagline used for a blog. That's probably my mistake, since a professor should communicate clearly. I will have to consider ways to revise the short description to avoid any potential confusion.

Also, remember that the notes posted above are incomplete, from my own lecture outline. I merely wanted to demonstrate what how I introduce "rights" during a university course.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Regulatory Recklessness

Congress has a long history of ceding power to the executive branch. The arguments for this, that administration requires expertise and efficiency, do little to justify the surrender of Constitutional authority. Sadly, this surrender of power to unelected and too often unaccountable bureaucrats shows signs of accelerating.

Review the administrative expansion under Presidents Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama and the number of regulations issued are depressing. President Obama has a penchant for the expensive, too.
The Daily Caller

In his 2012 State of the Union speech, Obama claimed, "I've approved fewer regulations in the first three years of my presidency than my Republican predecessor did in his."

Obama's statement was true, but skewed, because he's far outpacing Bush in the production of "economically significant" regulations, each of which imposes costs of more than $100 million per year, said Wayne Crews, a vice president for policy and director of technology studies at the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute.
The type of regulation certainly matters, though Obama and his supporters would rather gloss over that aspect of administrative expansion. There are annoying regulations and then there are the annoyingly costly regulations.

Also, what is costly to one regulated person or business might be a minor annoyance to a wealthier person or national corporation. For example, a requirement to post calorie data on menus (as in New York) is far more costly per customer transaction for a small chain than for a national chain restaurant. Thankfully, such regulations often include exemptions for the smallest businesses, but they are still regressive "taxes" of a sort on the regulated.

Pres. George W. Bush (the younger) oversaw more regulations in his first term than the previous two presidents — about 23 percent more than Pres. Obama has overseen. No one can claim the Republicans have a record of supporting smaller government with data like these.
Bush produced 12,587 "final rules" in his first three years, while Obama produced slightly fewer, or 10,810, "final rules," according to Crews' data, which is drawn from a federal website, http://www.reginfo.gov/public/.
Still, let us return to the costs of these regulations. Obama is the clear winner in this category.
Bush's deputies finalized 30 "economically significant" rules in his first three years, while Obama's deputies have produced 893 such rules.
Bush had 71 "economically significant" regulations under consideration in 2003 — many of which were finalized in later years — while Obama has 138 such regulations under consideration in 2011.

Bush's appointees also generated 16 final rules that have a significant impact on small business in his first three years, while Obama's appointees have produced 257 similar rules.
Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2012/02/24/dem-governor-claims-fewer-regulations-under-obama-than-under-bush
The chattering class likes to complain that when laws and regulations aren't being passed and approved that the Congress and White House are "doing nothing" — but that should be something to celebrate. Do we need 3,000 to 4,000 new regulations annually? I doubt it.

More importantly, these regulations produce endless red tape and slow economic growth. No business can be agile if you need a lawyer to wade through this much regulator spaghetti.