From the monthly archives:

September 2022

The endowment exercise

by Harry on September 29, 2022

When I am teaching students about inequality in education, I often do this exercise, which concerns inequalities in higher education (obviously, its only really about inequality between the very top echelon and the rest). I call it “The Endowment Exercise”. Please use/modify it if you think it would be helpful in your classes.[1]

The students take out their phones or computers, and work in pairs. Each pair is assigned to one college or university and is asked to calculate the annual yield on endowment for that college or university per undergraduate student. Here is how to do this:

Lookup the size of the endowment (this information is usually on the wikipedia page)

Lookup the number of undergraduate students (also usually on the wikipedia page)

Divide the first number by the second number.

Divide the result by 25. This is because the prevailing wisdom is that, on average, you can spend 4-5% of an endowment/year consistent with the endowment maintaining its value over time. The final figure represents the amount of money per undergraduate student that the university is able to spend in addition to whatever revenues it gets from tuition and state appropriations and other sources.

Then the students report their results. Its very important in the reporting stage to pick less wealthy institutions for early reporting. This makes the students assigned to more wealthy institutions anxious that they have done the math wrong (they haven’t).

Here’s a list of institutions. Yours should include your own institution, some local regional comprehensive universities, some public institutions your students have heard of, and some of the wealthy institutions on the list.

University of Illinois-Chicago
The Ohio State University
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
UW-Stevens Point
Harvard University
Princeton University
Grinnell College
Amherst College
Stanford University

Just to give a sense of the orders of magnitude here are 4 results:

UW-Madison: $4,800
UW Parkside: $61
Grinnell College: $67,000
Harvard: $509,000
Stanford: $239,000

Of course: not all of this endowment yield is spent on the undergraduates. There’s probably no way of calculating how much is, at least on the basis of publicly available information. But the amounts reveal very considerable disparities in the resources available, in principle, for spending on undergraduate programs (Note, the better endowed institutions do not charge lower tuition than, for example, UW-Parkside).

[1] My dad suggested that it might be a good idea to do this for the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and some of their constituent colleges. Somebody presumably has the time and expertise for that.

Back in 2011, I wrote a post arguing that

self-defense (including collective self-defense) is justified only to the extent of restoring the status quo ante bellum. That is, having defeated an aggressor, a country is not justified in seizing territory, unilaterally exacting reparations or imposing a new government on its opponent. Conversely, and regardless of the alleged starting point, countries not directly involved should never recognise a forcibly imposed transfer of territory or similar attempt to achieve advantages through war.

What does this claim mean in the context of the war in Ukraine? In my view, it means that the Ukrainian government and its international supporters should seek a ceasefire in which Russia withdraws its forces to their positions of 23 February, without conceding any Russian claims regarding annexations or (if they still operate after the sham referendums) the Luhansk and Donetsk separatist republics.

It is already evident that the Russian army can’t hope to secure a better outcome than this. Judging by hostile leaks and popular opposition, lots of Russians, including in the military have recognised this, even if Putin hasn’t. But, on current indications, it will take a long time before the Ukrainians can recover all the territory currently occupied since the invasion. An early Russian withdrawal would liberate tens of thousands of people from a brutal occupation, as well as preventing vast loss of life on both sides (bearing in mind that the Russian army will increasingly be made up of conscripts, including Ukrainians). And more of the aid flowing to Ukraine could be used for rebuilding, rather than expended in fighting.

A ceasefire wouldn’t imply that Zelensky was going back on the pledge to recover all the territory of Ukraine, including Crimea. The Ukrainian position would be the same as it was before the invasion. But it was clear then that the areas under occupation couldn’t be recovered by force and that is probably still true, particularly as regards Crimea.

An obvious question is whether a ceasefire would give the Russians the chance to rebuild for another attack. In my view, the opposite is more likely. By next year, Russian energy exports to the EU will have ceased, and Russia’s technical capacity will have degraded further through the effects of sanctions and the flight of skilled workers. Meanwhile, Ukraine will have the chance to train its enlarged army, and reorient its economy towards the EU.

Of course, wars change things and an exact return to the status quo ante bellum is impossible. The dead are still dead, the crimes committed during the war will not be absolved, the aggressor can rarely be made to pay full reparation, and so on. Both sides will be worse off than if the war never happened.

I’d be interested in thoughts. However, anyone thinking putting forward a pro-Putin, or anti-anti-Putin position should stay quiet. No comment of this kind will be published, and the commenter will be permanently banned. If you’re in doubt, that probably means you shouldn’t comment.

Sunday photoblogging: Molière celebrations in Pézenas

by Chris Bertram on September 25, 2022

Last weekend we had a “historical reconstruction” in Pézenas as part of the 400th centenary celebration of Molière’s birth. There were parades and performances and much dressing up. There were nobles, and there were peasants….
Pézenas: celebrating Molière

As I wrote last month, the prospective results for the upcoming elections in Italy look very bleak. A right-of-right (sorry, horrible world play) coalition is set to win almost certainly, and might win two thirds of the seats in Parliament due to the existing, very problematic electoral law – which would give them the numbers to change the constitution. The most moderate, least populist element in the coalition is Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia – the fella who catapulted Italy into political ridicule from 1994 to 2011 (I still remember all those “How can you possibly have that guy as Prime Minister?” when I first moved to New Labour Britain in 2002…those were the days). Enough said. Some of my friends, family members, and Italian colleagues are in a state of constant panic, terror and disbelief. We might have the first female Prime Minister that Italy has ever had…and it’s going to be a fascist.

I am worried, too, of course, but not terrified. Some of that is certainly due to the fact that, bar a 2 year return between 2008 and 2010, I basically left the country 20 years ago. But, actually, I still care a lot. The fact that, living in the UK, I have enough to worry about, might explain my state of mind a bit more, but it’s still not enough. [click to continue…]

Conceptions of Equity in Education

by Harry on September 21, 2022

Every semester when I teach about education and justice, and even in most semesters when I don’t, some student sends me some version of this cartoon:

I’m usually good humoured about it, but the cartoon drives me a bit nuts. Both pictures depict equality — one depicts equality of a resource (milk crates), the other depicts the equality of an outcome and, frankly from my point of view, not a particularly wonderful outcome — its not as though they’re watching a cricket match or something enjoyable like that. [1]

So: does ‘equity’ mean ‘equality of outcome’? Not according to the people who use the term in relation to education. In fact… well, people use the term to mean a wide variety of different things, sometimes even offering contradictory definitions in the same document. The multiple ambiguity of the term has bothered me for a long time. Meira Levinson, Tatiana Geron and I have written a shortish paper analyzing how the phrase gets used in educational contexts, using the cartoon as a kind of touchstone. We don’t usually promote our journal articles here on CT, but I’m making an exception in this case because the paper is open access, and was written for a very wide audience. It was also, as you can probably tell if you read it, enormous fun to write. Ideally it would be required reading for everyone who looks at the cartoon! The html version is here and the pdf/epub version here. Both are free. Enjoy!

[1] The cartoon actually has a fascinating history, described here.

You have probably heard some Dems boosted crazy MAGA Trumpists via ad buys in various Rep primaries, obviously angling for victory in November over more extremist, presumptively easier-to-beat opponents. Some of the crazies won!

Here’s a recent WaPo article about it. Quite a bit has been written elsewhere; you can google if curious. Details are colorful. (After the article appeared, Bolduc won!) These R’s who got the boost are all certifiable, whether they are electable or no. And it wasn’t just Dem candidates freelancing this on their own. The DCCC got involved among other leaders. So it wasn’t just some coordination problem where individual candidates acted in selfish, short-sighted ways against the party’s interest, never mind the country’s.

This has outraged people, D’s included. R’s (usually of an anti-anti-Trump bent) have cited it as evidence D’s don’t really believe that MAGA is a threat to democracy. Surely they would not be so cavalier as to play with fire if they thought it would burn the house down!

Maybe I’m getting flaming radical in my old age but, honestly, I just don’t see what the fuss is about. Actually, I thought I did at first. I said that I disapproved. Then I thought again and I just couldn’t see it. You tell me. [click to continue…]

Jury Duty

by Harry on September 20, 2022

I know people who have been called for jury duty several times, but its something I’ve never wanted to do, and by the time I finally got the summons I thought maybe I’d avoided it. But the summons came a year or so before the pandemic and, after a couple of delays, I duly went to the courthouse early one morning to wait with the other couple of hundred or so people who’d gotten the same demand.

I was finally called as part of a group of 18. We were duly put in that place in the courtroom where the jury sit, and the process of selection began. The prosecuting attorney looked far too young to do his job, and the defendant looked confident with his attorney. I guess both sides can dismiss a certain number of people without explanation, so they generally ask questions designed to exclude people who will be bad jurors for one side or the other. We were told that the case involved violence so the first (and, as it turned out, only) question we were asked (after disclosing our occupations) was whether we had ever been a victim of violence. The prosecutor went through us one by one. The first thing I learned was that, unless they were lying, a lot of people have been victims of violence, and in particular domestic violence (men, as well as women). It was unsettling to be honest.

[click to continue…]

Why Australia needs an elected President

by John Q on September 13, 2022

Here’s a piece from my Substack blog. Although the references are Australian, much of the argument is relevant to all the realms of the British King, including Britain

With the death of Queen Elizabeth, the issue of an Australian republic has naturally arisen. The immediately following question is whether we should support a ‘minimal’ republic, as similar as possible to our current system, or replace the Governor-General with an elected President.

The starting point for both monarchists and supporters of a minimal republic is the claim that ‘the existing system has worked well’. This is incorrect in two crucial respects.
[click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: Bouzigues

by Chris Bertram on September 11, 2022


All Hail King Charles

by Miriam Ronzoni on September 9, 2022

BBC News Plays Sex Pistols' “God Save the Queen” to Mock Pro-Brexit Politician | Pitchfork

My friend Maria alerted me to this excellent obituary of Queen Elizabeth II, who died yesterday (as probably everybody reading this blog knows). The introductory section of the obituary ends like this:

“The queen was an abstraction: a role, like any other — and it was the person behind her, Elizabeth Windsor, who expertly played the part.

The world’s papers will be full of obituaries of the queen today.

This is the life of Elizabeth Windsor.” [click to continue…]

Who thinks who is a threat to a democracy, Part 2

by John Holbo on September 8, 2022

I did a part 1 so I owe a part 2. (I’d like to do a series but I don’t think it will all go with this particular title.)

Right. In part 1, I considered whether D’s really believe that the R party is, as Biden suggested in his speech, a standing threat to democracy, due to Trump and MAGA. Douthat (and others) have suggested that D behavior suggests this is a bit of a put-on. D’s don’t seem to be taking the threat seriously. My counter-argument is that if you think there is, like, a 20% threat to democracy from the R’s, that’s hard to deal with coherently. Partly you want to set your hair on fire and run around screaming ‘danger!’, partly you want to just keep calm and carry on. But those responses are cognitively dissonant, which makes you look insincere – probably about the hair-on-fire part. But that’s actually not right. The dissonance fits the uncertain facts.

So let’s turn to the R’s. Do the R’s really believe that Trump and Trumpism is NOT a threat to democracy AND/OR that D’s are actually the real threat to democracy due to ‘Russia Russia Russia hoax’ perpetrating, election-stealing Dark Brandon and his illegal, student-debt-cancelling ways, plus his nefarious son Hunter? [click to continue…]

The democratic theory of “A Half-Built Garden”

by Henry Farrell on September 7, 2022

Ruthanna Emrys’ new novel, A Half-Built Garden is out (Indybound, Amazon). If you want to know whether you should buy it, the answer is yes, if you like sociologically and politically sophisticated sf, if you are looking for a realistic but hopeful take on a post-climate change future, if you want a different kind of first contact story, or any combination of the above. If you’re looking for a proper review, go here.

This post does something quite different – it singles out just one of the political threads from the novel. In other words – read the book too or first to get the bigger narrative that gives it proper context. I do try to avoid big spoilers, but I can’t help giving some sense of the book’s background.

Short version: A Half-Built Garden thinks through the relationship between AI/machine learning and democracy from a very different perspective than our current one. It asks a question that very few people are asking, but that is plausibly pretty important. What would online democracy look like if AI/machine learning was used to counter individual bias rather than exacerbating it?

[click to continue…]

“Republican” as an identity

by John Q on September 5, 2022

Like John H, I was struck by Ross Douthat’s latest piece in the New York Times, but, unlike John, I wasn’t much interested in engaging with the argument, such as it was. Rather, I took at as providing insight into the extent to which being a Republican is central to Douthat’s identity, over-riding any concerns about democracy, justice and so on.

In this respect, Douthat is similar to the great majority of the “good Republicans” implicitly distinguished from the MAGA fascists in Biden’s recent speech (and also in Hillary Clinton’s reference to the “basket of deplorables”). Just as Douthat is the archetypal intellectual in this respect, Susan Collins is the archetypal politician. They want to be seen as decent and caring, but in the end, they are Republicans first and foremost. And it is the Douthats and Collinses who will, in all likelihood, destroy American democracy.

[click to continue…]

Who thinks who is a threat to democracy? (Part 1)

by John Holbo on September 4, 2022

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing us he wasn’t Twitter. No, I’m kidding, I love Twitter. But I have abandoned blogging and that’s so so sad. So, once again, I’m going to try to do better

I would like to ask: who thinks who is a threat to democracy?

New Quinnipiac poll finds 69% of D’s and 69% of R’s say they think American democracy is in danger of collapse – presumably not for the same reasons.

Biden’s speech called out Trump and Trumpism – MAGA – as threats to democracy and the rule of law. But obviously Trump and his MAGA base don’t see themselves that way. If they’re semi-fascists, they are suffering from severe false-consciousness. They think they are patriots fighting Dem fascists. Or at least they say they think that. Douthat argues today that D’s don’t really believe the hype themselves.

You may believe that American democracy is threatened as at no point since the Civil War, dear reader, but they do not. They are running a political operation in which the threat to democracy is leverage, used to keep swing voters onside without having to make difficult concessions to the center or the right.”

The evidence: failure to engage in outreach to build the anti-Trump coalition! Some Dems, including the DCCC, gave to MAGA candidates in primaries on the theory they will be weak in the general. Is this the behavior of people who think democracy is on the line?

I dunno. Might be. [click to continue…]

Advice for new college students (again)

by Harry on September 3, 2022

Since it is near the beginning of our term, and I am, again, teaching first year students (which I do only once every three years), I thought I would repost this as a public service…

A couple of years ago the Midwest conference of the Junior State of America asked me to be their keynote speaker. I still have no idea at all why they invited me: it seemed and still seems rather unlikely. I stupidly agreed, and then agonized about what to talk about. The organizers suggested talking about how I got to where I am, but, although there are parts of how I got to where I am that are quite interesting, where I am is not interesting at all. Then, mercifully, the Thursday before the talk two of my students brought one of their friends to meet me in my office. (You can tell how exciting their lives must be!) And they told me to tell her my tips for how to get the most out of college. I was put on the spot and tried, desperately, to remember what my tips are. Fortunately, I did remember. And then I thought, oh, actually, I could talk on Saturday about how to get the most out of college. It’s something I know something about, and that would actually be useful to audience!

Since it is the time of year that some of our readers in the northern hemisphere are getting ready to welcome students to college (I am teaching a small first-year class, which I only do once every three years), and other readers are getting ready to send their kids off to college and, conceivably, one or two readers are getting ready to go off to college themselves, I thought I’d excerpt the part of the talk where I actually give the advice. About 2/3rds of the talk was about what the point of going to college is and I’ll skip most of that, but just say that the point that I gave them was to learn knowledge, skills, attitudes and dispositions that will enable them to make a better contribution to the good of all of us; and to enjoy that learning itself. I know going to college has other purposes, but these are the ones that get neglected by the college recruiters, and school counsellors, and movies, that shape their ambitions about college.

Here goes with the concrete advice:
[click to continue…]