November 2, 2011

Going to university isn’t enough: you need to take the right program

Filed under: Economics, Education, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 12:04

Alex Tabarrok points out that the widely reported student debt problem is made much worse because students are taking courses that don’t lead to higher-paying jobs:

Over the past 25 years the total number of students in college has increased by about 50 percent. But the number of students graduating with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (the so-called STEM fields) has remained more or less constant. Moreover, many of today’s STEM graduates are foreign born and are taking their knowledge and skills back to their native countries.

Consider computer technology. In 2009 the U.S. graduated 37,994 students with bachelor’s degrees in computer and information science. This is not bad, but we graduated more students with computer science degrees 25 years ago! The story is the same in other technology fields such as chemical engineering, math and statistics. Few fields have changed as much in recent years as microbiology, but in 2009 we graduated just 2,480 students with bachelor’s degrees in microbiology — about the same number as 25 years ago. Who will solve the problem of antibiotic resistance?

If students aren’t studying science, technology, engineering and math, what are they studying?

In 2009 the U.S. graduated 89,140 students in the visual and performing arts, more than in computer science, math and chemical engineering combined and more than double the number of visual and performing arts graduates in 1985.

It’s still true that students who graduate from university will tend to have higher lifetime earnings than their peers who do not get degrees, but there’s a huge difference between the expected earnings from an engineering degree than from a “studies” degree.

History pop quiz

Filed under: Britain, Government, History, Law — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:12

Tim Black wants you to identify how long ago a certain communication to the royal family was written:

‘I write to formally request the consent of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to provisions to be included in the . . . Bill.’

So, history fans, in which democracy-forsaken year did a member of the Houses of Parliament open a letter to an heir to the throne with this line? Not sure? Perhaps this sentence will help: ‘Granted that these proposed changes . . . will apply to . . . contracts entered into by or on behalf of the Duchy of Cornwall, we should be very grateful to receive the consent of the Prince of Wales.’ There are plenty of clues there: the cowering, creeping tone; the excessive, almost fearful formality; and, of course, the sheer palpable deference towards the Crown. Surely this particular parliamentarian’s request must originate from some time before parliament began to forcibly assert its interests against those of the Crown during the seventeenth century? Perhaps it was even earlier: 1590 or maybe even 1565.

This is a follow-up to a post from earlier this week.

Disagreeing with Pete Townshend

Filed under: Economics, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:03

Felix Cohen has an interesting article up at the Guardian‘s “Comment is free” section:

When I was originally sent some quotes from Pete Townshend’s John Peel lecture on Apple — which he refers to as a digital vampire — and music piracy, I was ready to fundamentally disagree with the thrust of his argument, but having taken the time to read it and parse it I’m surprised at how much sense there is. Regrettably, though, he also commits some fairly serious and unforgiveable misunderstandings of Apple and Amazon as companies, the internet and, perhaps least forgivable, the nature of creativity and the auteur as arbiter of what’s acceptable for public consumption.

[. . .]

Because I also believe that the commercial success you and your peers achieved was a brief, Burgess Shale-like period in popular culture, where the dearth of real social recommendation meant that people like John Peel, and now, sadly, Simon Cowell, imposed their tastes on swaths of youth. Peel (Cowell considerably less so) was an amazing, charismatic, much missed man who was able to tap into the zeitgeist and promote acts who wouldn’t have a chance without him. But he had his tastes and dislikes like anyone, and that’s the downfall of auteur theory; you don’t get to see outside of someone else’s perspective.

[. . .]

And, like the creatures in the Burgess Shale, we can look back and say: this brief flowering of bizarre and fantastical cultural expression was only made possible by its environment. This was what popular culture looked like when the only people who could make a real living were the top 0.0001%, while everyone else toiled in garages, college music rooms and village halls, trying everything in their power to break through. And, sadly, it ended up anodyne, populist and, well, The X Factor.

[. . .]

I’m not sorry that the period where you were able to be wined and dined by vast, terrifyingly wasteful record labels because you were paying for all of their A&R failures is over. To return to my prehistoric metaphor, the Cambrian period ended with a mass extinction event, but the period that followed allowed for the establishment of the species we see today. We should hope that creative popular culture follows a similar pattern, and that new artists and musicians will be able to be successful, widely heard, nurtured by crowd-supported services such as PledgeMusic rather than bloated A&R corporations; companies with a more human attitude to what they do and who they are doing it for.

The decline and fall of Righthaven

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:40

Ars Technica has what should be the final legal chapter in the Righthaven saga:

Looks like it’s time to turn out the lights on Righthaven. The US Marshal for the District of Nevada has just been authorized by a federal court to use “reasonable force” to seize $63,720.80 in cash and/or assets from the Las Vegas copyright troll after Righthaven failed to pay a court judgment from August 15.

Righthaven made a national name for itself by suing mostly small-time bloggers and forum posters over the occasional copied newspaper article, initially going so far as to demand that targeted websites turn over their domain names to Righthaven. The several hundred cases went septic on Righthaven, however, once it became clear that Righthaven didn’t own the copyrights over which it was suing. Righthaven, ailing, was soon buffeted by negative court decisions as a result.

[. . .]

The appeals court has refused to act on Righthaven’s request to delay its August judgment further, and the money was due last Friday. When it didn’t show up, Randazza Legal Group went back to the Nevada District Court to request a Writ of Execution to use the court’s enforcers, the US Marshals, to collect the money. The court clerk issued the writ today, and Righthaven’s $34,045.50 judgment has now ballooned to $63,720.80 with all the additional costs and fees from the delay.

I spoke to Marc Randazza this evening, who tells me, “We’re going to enlist the US Marshal in marking sure this court’s order has some meaning.” He looks forward to heading over to Righthaven’s offices as soon as possible. Should Righthaven not have the cash in its bank accounts, the writ allows Randazza to “identify to the US Marshal or his representative assets that are to be seized to satisfy the judgment/order.”

The degree of threat that Righthaven and other lawfare groups posed to bloggers and anyone else who quoted material on the internet was discussed back in May.

Universities are far from being bastions of free speech

Filed under: Cancon, Education, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:28

George Jonas on the sorry state of free speech in Canadian universities:

Are Canadian universities a threat to free speech? If you ask me, yes, and if you ask civil rights lawyer John Carpay, he’ll go even further. Carpay has ranked universities so that you can see which one is a bigger threat than the other. He demonstrated it last week at a breakfast organized by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy for Calgary’s Chamber of Commerce, where guests in the Fireside Parlor were treated to a preview of Carpay’s “Campus Freedom Index.”

[. . .]

Saying that universities reflect the Zeitgeist is an understatement. Universities are more fashion conscious than Women’s Wear Daily. Academics go sashaying and flouncing like so many models on a catwalk in their ivory towers as they display the latest whim of the great designer, Intellectual Currency. Philosophers have better centuries and worse centuries, as the spirit of the times changes. The 18th century was good; the 19th century mixed, the 20th century baneful. Universities incubated both fascism and communism, along with their many sub-versions (pun intended). Although the great democracies defeated those two particular monstrosities in the end, it was a close-run thing and no thanks to their academic elites. As for the 21st century, with jihadists infesting campuses all over the world, we’re off to a rocky start.

[. . .]

When some brave souls associated with universities speak out against censorship, as they do on occasion, they’re the inspirational exception. The rule is an obedient dissemination of the dogma of the day, including terrorist chic, with Hamas apologists shouting: “No freedom of speech for racists.” I heard them do it at the Alma Mater of a noxious doctrine called “Israeli Apartheid,” a.k.a. University of Toronto.

A Canadian institution of higher learning is the least likely place, I’d say, to encourage a clash of ideas to discover the truth. Greasing the squeakiest wheel of an intellectual bandwagon, then handing out honorary doctorates to those who hitch a ride on it, would be more of its speed.

QotD: The evolution of the public sector

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Education, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:03

The public-sector workplace has become a kind of artificial Eden, whose fortunate inhabitants enjoy solid pay and 1950s-style job security and retirement benefits, all of it paid for by their less-fortunate private-sector peers. Some on the left have convinced themselves that this “success” can lay the foundation for a broader middle-class revival. But if a bloated public sector were the blueprint for a thriving middle-class society, then the whole world would be beating a path to Greece’s door.

Our entitlement system, meanwhile, is designed to redistribute wealth. But this redistribution doesn’t go from the idle rich to the working poor; it goes from young to old, working-age savings to retiree consumption, middle-class parents to empty-nest seniors. The Congressional Budget Office’s new report on income inequality points out that growing Medicare costs are part of the reason upper-income retirees receive a larger share of federal spending than they did 30 years ago, while working-age households with children receive “a much smaller and declining share of transfers.” Absent reforms, this mismatch will only grow more pronounced: by the 2030s, Medicare recipients will receive $3 in benefits for every dollar they paid in.

Then there’s the public education system, theoretically the nation’s most important socioeconomic equalizer. Yet even though government spending on K-to-12 education has more than doubled since the 1970s, test scores have flatlined and the United States has fallen behind its developed-world rivals. Meanwhile, federal spending on higher education has been undercut by steadily inflating tuitions, in what increasingly looks like an academic answer to the housing bubble. (If the Occupy Wall Street dream of student loan forgiveness were fulfilled, this cycle would probably just continue.)

The story of the last three decades, in other words, is not the story of a benevolent government starved of funds by selfish rich people and fanatical Republicans. It’s a story of a public sector that has consistently done less with more, and a liberalism that has often defended the interests of narrow constituencies — public-employee unions, affluent seniors, the education bureaucracy — rather than the broader middle class.

Ross Douthat, “What Tax Dollars Can’t Buy”, New York Times, 2011-10-30

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