Paging Richard MacDuff

by Kieran Healy on February 5, 2009

I guess Anthem is finally in public beta, under the guise of Microsoft SongSmith.

Stimulus for Community Colleges

by Harry on February 5, 2009

My colleague Sara Goldrick-Rab has a piece at Brookings arguing that the education money in the stimulus package should double funding for community colleges (from $6b to $12b) and should simultaneously add an accountability system, gather necessary data, and foster innovation. Here’s a quote, but read the whole thing:

Since 1974, only 149 new community colleges have been built, and many campuses today are bursting at the seams. While community college students tend to enroll part-time, even these students require space in which to learn. In the first two years, this spending would amount to just 1.4 percent of the proposed costs of the recovery package, and would support infrastructure upgrades that truly stimulate the economy. Over the longer term, it would add modestly to federal higher education expenditures, but would ensure that our nation realizes an economic payoff from increasing enrollments.

The federal government should not simply expand funding, but use these new resources explicitly to promote greater success for community college students. Colleges receiving enhanced funds would be required to track and report student results, such as completion of a minimum number of credits, earning a degree, and landing a good-paying job. Over time, a majority of federal dollars would be awarded based not on enrollment, but on colleges’ performance on these critical measures.

Liberals and Campaign Finance Regulation

by Henry Farrell on February 5, 2009

“Josh Cohen”: has an interesting new piece up at the _Boston Review_ website where he sticks it to the libertarians, complaining that they’ve always been at the rearguard of struggles for rights because of their distaste for the state. There’s one argument that I want to pick up on.

we [liberals] think that chances for influence should not depend so much on resources, and that means regulating campaign finance. Now, we know (and share) the concerns about intrusive regulations, official distortions of speech, people spending on fancy cars instead of politics, and the troubles with drawing lines between regulable and non-regulable speech, especially in our political culture. But we see all of these concerns as conversation starters, not stoppers. The issue is whether we can figure out a system of electoral finance that would not simply dismiss the value of political equality. That is the question. But when we hear the idea of regulating the flow of money, we don’t assume that it will be perverse, or futile, or ruinous of all that is good

What’s interesting is that Mark Schmitt has a “piece”: in this month’s _American Prospect_ (which has just gone up on the website), arguing more or less the opposite case.
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I think maybe it was that rich crab dish – part of a delicious Indian dinner Belle and I shared last night with Neil, the Ethical Werewolf. Anyway, I had the most vivid and bad novelistic zombie nightmares all night long. But it was all oddly economically-themed. Zombies and the recession. Zombies and liquidity traps. (Obviously I’ve been reading way too much Crooked Timber recently.) Yes, I know: other people’s dreams are boring. But who among you has suffered actual, macroeconomically-themed nightmares over the past few months?

When I picked my wife up from work the other day, she told me about a (teenage, black) kid in afterschool. He was trying to do his homework on the computer, and she sat with him as he worked. She pointed out that his sentences were very good, and asked some questions, eliciting further sentences. He wouldn’t look at her, and didn’t believe that his sentences were good. He mumbled “I’d be doing it on my own”. “What”. “At my house. I’d be doing it on my own. No help in my crib”. She understood that he was thanking her.

Now, Lemuel and Righteous kindly alert me to a wonderful and old passage from Dinesh D’Souza:

Equal opportunity seems like a logical fulfillment of the equality principle in the Declaration of Independence. Yet it is an ideal that cannot and should not be realized through the actions of the government. Indeed, for the state to enforce equal opportunity would be to contravene the true meaning of the Declaration and to subvert the principle of a free society. Let me illustrate. I have a five-year-old daughter. Since she was born–actually, since she was conceived–my wife and I have gone to great lengths in the Great Yuppie Parenting Race. At one time we even played classical music while she was in the womb. Crazy us. Currently the little rogue is taking ballet lessons and swim lessons. My wife goes over her workbooks. I am teaching her chess.

Why are we doing these things? We are, of course, trying to develop her abilities so that she can get the most out of life. The practical effect of our actions, however, is that we are working to give our daughter an edge–that is, a better chance to succeed than everybody else’s children. Even though we might be embarrassed to think of it this way, we are doing our utmost to undermine equal opportunity. So are all the other parents who are trying to get their children into the best schools, the best colleges, and in general give them the best possible upbringing and education. None of them believes in equal opportunity either!

Now, to enforce equal opportunity, the government could do one of two things: it could try to pull my daughter down, or it could work to raise other people’s children up. The first is clearly destructive and immoral, but the second is also unfair. The government is obliged to treat all citizens equally. Why should it work to undo the benefits that my wife and I have labored so hard to provide? Why should it offer more to children whose parents have not taken the trouble?

There are numerous errors here, some, but not all, of which Timothy Noah’s comments briefly point out. Here are a few. First, it is entirely possible to believe in equal opportunity while pursuing maximal advantage for one’s own kid. For example, one might not make the mistake of believing that when two values conflict in a particular circumstance, the one that should give way has no value at all. Or one might believe that one’s own actions are morally suspect. Second, it does not follow from the fact that parents should have some freedom to pursue the good of their children, that they should be free to do whatever they want to pursue the good of their children. Would D’Souza be justified in bribing a jury to get his (innocent) daughter off a drug charge? Third, there are numerous reasons why the government should offer more to “the children whose parents have not taken the trouble”. For example, the fact the equality of opportunity is valuable. Or the fact that it is wrong to allow misery to persist that one can relatively easily, and costlessly alleviate. What freedom of D’Souza’s or his child’s, exactly, was the government undermining when it paid my wife to sit with that kid the other day? Fish in a barrel? Sure, but while almost no-one makes all of D’Souza’s mistakes at once, many people make one or another of them. [1]

Anyway, this is mainly an excuse for some shameless self-and-other promotion. Swift and I, regrettably ignorant of D’Souza, nevertheless point out his errors at great length in a paper we have just published legitimate parental partiality. It seems not to require a sub, or registration. I’m rather proud of it, more so than I would dare to be of anything I had done on my own. But then, of course, it’s much better than if I’d been doing it on my own.

[1] Note that I have refrained from worrying about his daughter’s well being on the grounds that with parents like that one might become very materially successful but an emotional cripple. That’s because I imagine he’s exaggerating the repulsiveness of his behaviour for effect, and if I’m wrong at least she’ll have funds to pay for therapy.