Reviling the reviewers


The colleges — or some of them — are threatening to boycott the U.S. News & World Report college rankings. Obviously they are doing something right:

Before blasting U.S. News, however, perhaps the Education Conservancy and its allies should consider why the rankings have become such a sensation since they were first published in 1983: The magazine’s editors and writers aren’t interfering with higher education so much as responding to a consumer demand for more information about it.The demand exists because colleges and universities are among the least accountable institutions in American life. Private companies must report profits and losses to their shareholders. Even K-12 public schools, which the government protects from genuine competition, increasingly post standardized test scores on websites, allowing parents to assess their performance. The higher-education sector faces nothing similar. It remains shrouded in mystique — and it would like to keep things that way, so that it may continue to live in its cozy cocoon of tenure, sabbaticals, and parents who are willing to foot exorbitant tuition bills.

Now as John J. Miller’s article points out, there’s plenty about the U.S. News rankings that is silly — it’s mainly a popularity poll. But its quantitative factors have been improving over the years and, for Heaven’s sake, it gets the right answer for number one just about every year. I like Miller’s point about accountability, however. It’s an issue being addressed on other fronts, such as trustee elections, as well. As a semi-active alumnus of Number One, I have observed that on the one hand, by any conceivable measure, Princeton seems to just get better and better at just about everything. I’d like to work there, if I could.

I probably never will, because I keep saying this: My alma mater seems more and more the “property” of a self-perpetuating Ivyocracy that appoints trustees and faculty that share its views and in turn reappoints and reaffirms them in a never-ending echo chamber of shared cultural, philosophical, educational and political assumptions. Will the U.S. News poll have any affect on that? I doubt it, but any increase in transparency would, you’d think, be appreciated.

Except, of course, for Princeton and the other “winners.” By virtue of the success that the rankings reinforce, Old Nassau continues to be the place that is not broken, and why would it ever be fixed? It’s good to be the king — or at least the courtiers to a throne where not only are the clothes, but the emperor himself is invisible.

Bruce Fein blows a gasket

“The vice president has run utterly amok and must be stopped,” writes Bruce Fein in Slate.  He goes on to say that Cheney must be impeached.  Impeached!

Forget about that — that’s one stupid and irrational idea that’s not going anywhere. (But hat tip to Ali Eteraz.) No, what’s noteworthy is just how much the conservative community has come to loathe this Administration, which, from its (“our,” I guess) perspective, gave us nothing, or worse, except Justice Roberts.

“Writes Bruce Fein in Slate” — parlous times, indeed.

Or is it?

Fein was, indeed, a deputy Attorney General in the Reagan Administration. But he’s been gunning for this one for years now. He wrote in Slate last week, too, on the White House email dustup. He gives interviews to Truthout. From all indications, he is sincerely exercised about this Administration, and has been for a long time. But it is not newsworthy, at this point, that he is raising the volume higher and higher, now making absurd impeachment threats and relying on a now threadbare resume from the Reagan years. (It’s notable for someone with that profile to be in something other than a major Washington firm, but I don’t know exactly what it does mean, so I just point it out.)

He’s not a shill for either “side,” is Fein — I agree with this recent article by him, for example, criticizing the preposterous claim by reporters that they are exempt from the law by virtue of some imagined First Amendment emanation the insulates them from the normal duties of citizenship. That’s a conservative position, in my view, so he is no “civil libertarian” in the left-wing sense of the phrase. He has even said he is “not anti-President Bush.”

So what, exactly, happened to Bruce Fein? Because while there is much to despise about this Administration, this article suggests he’s gone off the deep end. Any helpful links would be appreciated — I can’t find anyone who has analyzed this question.

Here in my car

58-olds-98.jpg“If people wanted cars with great mileage, they’d be buying them”:

Is it just Murdoc, or is energy conservation one of the most liberal of all issues? (And by liberal, I mean that proponents campaign for other people to give up things for the supposed greater good, i.e. today’s practical definition of “liberal”, not the actual definition.)Lunatics everywhere think that raising CAFE standards will somehow help gas prices or Global Warming or something. If almost everyone is so positive that higher gas mileage is a good thing, why isn’t almost everyone driving vehicles that get 35 MPG or more? There are a lot of them out there folks, and many of them aren’t too terribly expensive. . . .

Basically, Murdoc is saying that the problem isn’t car manufacturers (who have enough of their own problems these days, thankyouverymuch) but car buyers. It’s those damn people again.

And not only lunatics say it, Murdoc. The question comes down, as I mention in the article at the last link, to whether there is a rational externality-based argument — there we briefly discussed national security — for government regulation of prices, unless you are a libertarian or even a firm free-marketer and don’t believe there is ever such an argument. Murdoc mentions global warming as one “something” from which people make this case. Not only lunatic people.

But these arguments may be beside the point or, at least, may be guilty of obstructing a large part of the point, because they ignore the question of whether increased CAFE standards are a net positive for social welfare. One body of literature has argued for years that CAFE kills, because lighter cars are less safe cars, at least for the people riding in them. Another urges that they don’t even really help reduce fuel consumption. The thinking is that more efficient cars encourage more driving — it’s cheaper per mile. Now, I have argued that the cost of gasoline, at this point in history and given the overall increase in wealth, probably has very little at all to do with how much most of us drive, and indeed the Heritage data tending to prove more driving is based on decades-old data.

I don’t know. It’s complicated, isn’t it? That’s why I’m saying that pushing for increased CAFE standards as a cure-all is almost certainly simplistic, because it makes the cardinal mistake in microeconomics of not allowing for the large multiplicity of moving parts in economic policy-making. But as demagoguery, it is right on.



Originally uploaded by Ron Coleman.

Watching the watcher and photographing the photographer at a “Home Goods” store in Wayne, New Jersey.

GOP meltdown — and who will make the ice cubes?

Glenn Reynolds reads our very transparent minds and ponders:

WHAT SHOULD REPUBLICANS DO as the GOP seems to be committing suicide? I dunno — saving the GOP isn’t my job, and if the Democrats weren’t worse on national security I wouldn’t mind much. (And the GOP advantage there seems to be shrinking anyway).But you’ve got three basic choices: Exit, voice, and loyalty. …

Problem is, people have been exercising “voice” a lot and it’s clear that President Bush, Trent Lott, et al., don’t care and aren’t listening. … I think the GOP’s vulnerability to a third party challenge has just gone way up.

I’ll say. I’ve never been more disgusted, and that’s from a lifelong Republican and occasional activist who still voted for Clinton in 1992. Yes, I’m more disgusted than I even was then.

I never liked Trent Lott, and the fact that he was elected the Minority Leader in the Senate was a red flag. GWB has lost me completely on the immigration issue and his utter lack of leadership, right now, on just about anything. Not only that, but I am so disgusted that what I once willing to overlook for what I believed to be the Cause, I retroactively do not. The unbridled spending… the cronyism (which I have not hesitated to criticize before)… the complete surrender of the message on the Iraq war and, yes, the failure to communicate effectively about just about anything, certainly since the 2004 election.

What a squandered, ugly moment for Republicans conservatives like me. What a shame for America.

And, yes, what an opportunity for a third party candidate. And what an interesting moment for, in my view, Rudy Giuliani to ask himself if he might, perhaps, be that candidate — an idea so daft for the front-runner it just might work.

The other America, in the barber’s chair

Remember I said that John Edwards’ problem was that the class warfare he seeks is pointing right back at him?

Well, even if you don’t remember, I did and it is. (Hat tip to Insty.)

Attorney Ronald D. Coleman