Published on 2 Dec 2013
Whether you like football or not — whether you’ve ever bought a ticket to a high school, college, or NFL game — you’re paying for it.
That’s one of the takeaways from The King of Sports: Football’s Impact on America, Gregg Easterbrook’s fascinating new book on the cultural, economic, and political impact of America’s most popular and lucrative sport.
“The [state-supported] University of Maryland charges each…undergraduate $400 a year to subsidize the football program,” says Easterbrook, who notes that only a half-dozen or so college teams are truly self-supporting. Even powerhouse programs such as the University of Florida’s pull money from students and taxpayers. “They do it,” he says, “because they can get away with it.”
At the pro level, billionaire team owners such as Paul Allen of the Seattle Seahawks and Shahid Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars benefit from publicly financed stadiums for which they pay little or nothing while reaping all revenue. Easterbrook also talks about how the lobbyists managed to get the NFL chartered as a nonprofit by amending tax codes designed for chambers of commerce and trade organizations.
As ESPN.com‘s Tuesday Morning Quarterback columnist, Easterbrook absolutely loves football but also isn’t slow to throw penalty flags at the game he thinks is uniquely America. In fact, he sees the hypocrisy at the center of the business of football as “one of the ways that football synchs [with] American culture….Everyone in football talks rock-ribbed conservatism, self-reliance. Then their economic structure is subsidies and guaranteed benefits. Isn’t that America?”
Easterbrook sat down with Reason‘s Nick Gillespie to discuss The King of Sports, how the business of football burns taxpayers, and whether increased worries about brain injuries and other problems spell eventual doom for the NFL and other levels of play.
Produced by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Meredith Bragg and Krainin.
December 2, 2013
October 30, 2013
[Karl Marx] was also an unemployed professor, a scholar in the German tradition with a first-rate brain, a vast depth of learning and considerable obscurity of thought. Of his intellect and scholarship there can be no doubt at all. He knew many languages and had read widely in many subjects. A very learned man indeed, he was admirably fitted for the life of a German university. Marx’s complete absorption in his philosophy, history and economics was quite typical of the sort of professor he should by right have become. That mixture of scholarship, vagueness, poverty and practical inexperience would have graced a chair at Heidelberg or Bonn. But for the death in 1840 of Frederick William IV, a man of strictly orthodox views on religion, Marx might have had an academic career. Barred from this, however, as an atheist, he had no class to teach, no pupils from whom he might have learned. There is a sense, of course, in which a professor lives apart from the world. But his duties, even in the mid-nineteenth century, involved some contact with other people. The most professorial of German professors would have examinations to set and appointments to keep. Sessions of Senate and Faculty might give him scope for eloquence or intrigue, and he would find for himself the need to compromise, concede and persuade. Howbeit painfully and slowly, the professor comes to know something of administration and finance. But this was the practical knowledge which Marx was denied. All the experience he had was in his own home, where his failure was catastrophic for his wife and family. Of his children some died of slow starvation and two committed suicide. Retaining and increasing all his professional learning, he became more purely theoretical than even professors are allowed to be. Of the difficulties of organizing human society he knew practically nothing. There was in fact no human society — no province or city, no school or club — of which he could be said to have been a member. His whole life was bounded by the printed page.
C. Northcote Parkinson, “Internal Contradiction”, Left Luggage, 1967.
September 17, 2013
Tyler Cowen wraps up the rise and fall of “right” and “left” economics in the US since the 1960s:
Throughout the 1970s and most of the 1980s, the so-called “right wing” was right about virtually everything on the economic front. Most of all communism, but also inflation, taxes, (most of) deregulation, labor unions, and much more, noting that a big chunk of the right wing blew it on race and some other social issues. The Friedmanite wing of the right nailed it on floating exchange rates.
Arguably the “rightness of the right” peaks around 1989, with the collapse of communism. After that, the right wing starts to lose its way.
Up through that time, market-oriented economists have more interesting research, more innovative journals, and much else to their credit, culminating in the persona and career of Milton Friedman.
I’ve never heard tales of Paul Samuelson’s MIT colleagues mocking him for his pronouncements on Soviet economic growth. I suspect they didn’t.
Starting in the early 1990s, the left wing is better equipped, more scholarly, and also more fun to read. (What exactly turned them around?) In the 1990s, the Quarterly Journal of Economics is suddenly more interesting and ultimately more influential than the Journal of Political Economy, even though the latter retained a higher academic ranking. The right loses track of what its issues ought to be. There is no real heir to the legacy of Milton Friedman.
September 5, 2013
You could find a dozen websites offering more trenchant progressive political analysis in five minutes.
Yet Professor Penn’s lesson has value to his students. They can learn the following important things:
1. In the course of your life, people with power will act badly with impunity.
2. People with power over you will use that power to indulge themselves in droning, whether or not their droning offers any value.
3. People can be tremendously talented and knowledgeable about Subject X and be useless louts about Subject Y. Often they’ll want to talk about Subject Y.
4. People think others want to hear their opinions about politics, and think their opinions about politics are insightful.
5. A significant part of developing as an adult is deciding how you will deal with points 1 – 4.
6. Huge amounts of government money pay for absolute shit.
7. People who nominally favor freedom of expression will drop it like a hot coal when their political biases are aroused. Case in point: many angry conservative people saying that Professor Penn should be fired for a banal political rant, even though he’s a professor at a state university enjoying First Amendment protections that are rather broad. Check the comments on the sites complaining about Professor Penn if you don’t believe me.
I submit those are all valuable lessons.
I think that it’s pathetic that these students are paying to hear Professor Penn indulge himself like that even for ten minutes. I think his calling out a student in class for seeming to disagree displays low character and an excellent reason to avoid his class. But I don’t see anything that merits firing from his position at a public institution, and I am not enthused about a system in which public universities will be policed for insipid partisanship by other partisans.
But how enthusiastic do you suppose Professor Penn’s students are about faculty free speech rights after sitting through that?
August 31, 2013
Coyote Blog links to a Daily Mail article on the woman who wants to run your life (and Obama wants to help her):
I am a bit late on this, but like most libertarians I was horrified by this article in the Mail Online about Obama Administration efforts to nudge us all into “good” behavior. This is the person, Maya Shankar, who wants to substitute her decision-making priorities for your own [...]
If the notion — that a 20-something person who has apparently never held a job in the productive economy is telling you she knows better what is good for you — is not absurd on its face, here are a few other reasons to distrust this plan.
- Proponents first, second, and third argument for doing this kind of thing is that it is all based on “science”. But a lot of the so-called science is total crap. Medical literature is filled with false panics that are eventually retracted. And most social science findings are frankly garbage. If you have some behavior you want to nudge, and you give a university a nice grant, I can guarantee you that you can get a study supporting whatever behavior you want to foster or curtail. Just look at the number of public universities in corn-growing states that manage to find justifications for ethanol subsidies. Recycling is a great example, mentioned several times in the article. Research supports the sensibility of recycling aluminum and steel, but says that recycling glass and plastic and paper are either worthless or cost more in resources than they save. But nudgers never-the-less push for recycling of all this stuff. Nudging quickly starts looking more like religion than science.
- The 300 million people in this country have 300 million different sets of priorities and personal circumstances. It is the worst hubris to think that one can make one decision that is correct for everyone. Name any supposedly short-sighted behavior — say, not getting health insurance when one is young — and I can name numerous circumstances where this is a perfectly valid choice and risk to take.
August 27, 2013
The slow news days of August have reached the traditional back-to-school phase of page filling:
I love back-to-school time: the joy, the energy, the sense of limitless possibilities. It’s almost enough to make you forget about the tsunami of dreadful journalism that accompanies it.
There are basically three reasons for bad back-to-school journalism. First, higher education is complicated; it doesn’t lend itself to the simplistic narratives required for 800-word articles. Second, there’s a serious lack of decent data about higher education in Canada, what with the Millennium Scholarship Foundation gone, HRSDC no longer funding any decent Statscan surveys, and provinces and universities holding on tightly to their own data on the grounds that someone might use it to compare them against other provinces/institutions (and that would never do!). In this data vacuum, interested parties with their own agendas find it easy to peddle all sorts of demented, half-true factoids to journalists; hence, the frequent appearance of stories based on “data” which simply aren’t true.
The third problem is the lack of outcome measures. Everyone wants “good” education, but no one knows what that is. So journalists tend to fall back on input measures: small classes, students per professors, etc., which inevitably lead to a weird mythologizing of university life in the 1970s. Nothing wrong with the 1970s of course, but it somehow never quite clicks with op-ed writers that a major reason life was so great for students back then was that access was restricted to a fairly small elite, and that the comparative “failures” of today’s universities are largely the result of expanded access.
Here’s the Bingo card for you to play along at home:
May 27, 2013
Alex Usher can’t stop recommending On Improving Higher Education, by Kim Il Sung, going so far as to call it “a perfect book for our times”:
Pay raises, for instance are Right Out. “As long as you make an issue out of remuneration, you cannot be a revolutionary,” says Kim, righteously noting that nobody paid Marx to write Das Kapital (the fact that Marx died before completing it might have had something to do with that, but no matter). North Korean intellectuals had the privilege of giving lectures and writing books, “and yet they insist on receiving money for this wonderful task,” Kim splutters.
Work rules, too, come under serious scrutiny. Responding to complaints that “university and college professors lecture a thousand hours a year”, which some consider to be too much, Kim is clear: “You are wrong! Fundamentally speaking, calculating lecture hours is not the attitude of a revolutionary. If you are true revolutionaries who serve the people, you would never calculate the hours; you try hard by all means to work as much as you can”.
(I make the following offer to university administrations across Canada: if any of you decide to try to outflank your faculty union to the left by telling them their views are evidence of captiveness to bourgeois ideology, I’m buying the first round.)
May 24, 2013
Alex Usher calls it the best idea he’s seen all year:
If you’re a UBC student, staff, or faculty member, and want to start a business, you’re eligible for up to $5000 worth of business services (though, in practice, most use far less). And unlike virtually every other entrepreneurship system in Canadian PSE, there are no requirements whatsoever with respect to using UBC technology, nor is there any stipulation that the business be some kind of technology enterprise. Want to open a flower shop? This fund’s for you.
There’s no catch. UBC certainly isn’t interested in equity, for instance. All they want is recognition. All companies that move through the program must display a logo declaring themselves as “UBC-affiliated companies” for a period of five years.
How brilliant is that?
First, it creates a great, dense network between an institution and small businesses in its community (which will no doubt pay off philanthropically, down the road). Second of all, it allows the institution to get a much better handle on the post-graduation activities of its entrepreneurs, and hence allows UBC to highlight its larger role in job creation and innovation in British Columbia. Frankly, UBC could pay for this out of the Government Relations budget, and it would make complete sense — how great will it be to be able to walk into an MLA’s office and rattle off the names of all the new, “UBC-affiliated” businesses that have started-up in his/her riding?
It’ll be interesting to see how this works out in the long run, as $5,000 isn’t enough to establish a business but it can be a helpful amount of money to an otherwise undercapitalized business.
May 22, 2013
It’s cleverly entitled “Scholars in Bondage”:
Three books from university presses dramatize the degree to which once taboo sexual subjects have gained academic legitimacy. Margot Weiss’s Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality (Duke University Press, 2011) and Staci Newmahr’s Playing on the Edge: Sadomasochism, Risk, and Intimacy (Indiana University Press, 2011) record first-person ethnographic explorations of BDSM communities in two large American cities. (The relatively new abbreviation BDSM incorporates bondage and discipline, domination and submission, and sadomasochism.) Danielle J. Lindemann’s Dominatrix: Gender, Eroticism, and Control in the Dungeon (University of Chicago Press, 2012) documents the world of professional dominatrixes in New York and San Francisco.
[. . .]
Furthermore, Weiss is lured by the reflex Marxism of current academe into reducing everything to economics: “With its endless paraphernalia, BDSM is a prime example of late-capitalist sexuality”; BDSM is “a paradigmatic consumer sexuality.” Or this mind-boggling assertion: “Late capitalism itself produces the transgressiveness of sex — its fantasized location as outside of or compensatory for alienated labor.” Sex was never transgressive before capitalism? Tell that to the Hebrew captives in Babylon or to Roman moralists during the early Empire!
The constricted frame of reference of the gender-studies milieu from which Weiss emerged is shown by her repeated slighting references to “U.S. social hierarchies.” But without a comparative study of and allusion to non-American hierarchies, past and present, such remarks are facile and otiose. The collapse of scholarly standards in ideology-driven academe is sadly revealed by Weiss’s failure, in her list of the 18 books of anthropology that most strongly contributed to her project, to cite any work published before 1984 — as if the prior century of distinguished anthropology, with its bold documentation of transcultural sexual practices, did not exist. Gender-theory groupthink leads to bizarre formulations such as this, from Weiss’s introduction: “SM performances are deeply tied to capitalist cultural formations.” The preposterousness of that would have been obvious had Weiss ever dipped into the voluminous works of the Marquis de Sade, one of the most original and important writers of the past three centuries and a pivotal influence on Nietzsche. But incredibly, none of the three authors under review seem to have read a page of Sade. It is scandalous that the slick, game-playing Foucault (whose attempt to rival Nietzsche was an abysmal failure) has completely supplanted Sade, a mammoth cultural presence in the 1960s via Grove Press paperbacks that reprinted Simone de Beauvoir’s seminal essay, “Must We Burn Sade?”
[. . .]
What is to be done about the low scholarly standards in the analysis of sex? A map of reform is desperately needed. Current discourse in gender theory is amateurishly shot through with the logical fallacy of the appeal to authority, as if we have been flung back to medieval theology. For all their putative leftism, gender theorists routinely mimic and flatter academic power with the unctuous obsequiousness of flunkies in the Vatican Curia.
First of all, every gender studies curriculum must build biology into its program; without knowledge of biology, gender studies slides into propaganda. Second, the study of ancient tribal and agrarian cultures is crucial to end the present narrow focus on modern capitalist society. Third, the cynical disdain for religion that permeates high-level academe must end. (I am speaking as an atheist.) It is precisely the blindness to spiritual quest patterns that has most disabled the three books under review.
The exhausted poststructuralism pervading American universities is abject philistinism masquerading as advanced thought. Everywhere, young scholars labor in bondage to a corrupt and incestuous academic establishment. But these “mind-forg’d manacles” (in William Blake’s phrase) can be broken in an instant. All it takes is the will to be free.
May 21, 2013
Wendy Kaminer on the issues of sexual harassment rules on campus:
What’s the difference between an unwelcome request for a date and rape? Pursuant to the Obama administration’s definition of sexual harassment, this is not an easy question to answer.
You have to read the administration’s latest diktat to colleges and universities to believe it. In a joint letter to the University of Montana (intended as ‘a blueprint’ for campus administrators nationwide), the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) define sexual harassment as ‘unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature’, verbal or non-verbal, including ‘unwelcome sexual advances or acts of sexual assault’. Conduct (verbal or non-verbal) need not be ‘objectively offensive’ to constitute harassment, the letter warns, ignoring federal court rulings on harassment, as well as common sense. If a student feels harassed, she may be harassed, regardless of the reasonableness of her feelings, and school administrators may be legally required to discipline her ‘harasser’.
They are also required to promulgate detailed policies parroting the DoJ/OCR definition of harassment, as well as procedures for reporting and prosecuting alleged offences: ‘Federal government mandates unconstitutional speech codes at college and universities nationwide’, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) accurately declares:
‘Among the forms of expression now punishable on America’s campuses by order of the federal government are:
- Any expression related to sexual topics that offends any person. This leaves a wide range of expressive activity — a campus performance of The Vagina Monologues, a presentation on safe-sex practices, a debate about sexual morality, a discussion of gay marriage, or a classroom lecture on Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita — subject to discipline.
- Any sexually themed joke overheard by any person who finds that joke offensive for any reason.
- Any request for dates or any flirtation that is not welcomed by the recipient of such a request or flirtation.
There is likely no student on any campus anywhere who is not guilty of at least one of these “offences”. Any attempt to enforce this rule evenhandedly and comprehensively will be impossible.’
FIRE is right to note that fair, inclusive enforcement of this mindlessly broad policy is impossible. But I doubt it’s intended to be fairly enforced. I doubt federal officials want or expect it to be used against sex educators, advocates of reproductive choice, anti-porn feminists or gay-rights advocates if their speech of a sexual nature is ‘unwelcome’ by religious conservatives.
May 18, 2013
Cathy Young has some concerns with a popular gender studies textbook:
A few months ago, a post with a shocking claim about misogyny in America began to circulate on Tumblr, the social media site popular with older teens and young adults. It featured a scanned book page section stating that, according to “recent survey data,” when junior high school students in the Midwest were asked what they would do if they woke up “transformed into the opposite sex,” the girls showed mixed emotions but the boys’ reaction was straightforward: “‘Kill myself’ was the most common answer when they contemplated the possibility of life as a girl.” The original poster — whose comment was, “Wow” —identified the source as her “Sex & Gender college textbook,” The Gendered Society by Michael Kimmel.
The post quickly caught on with Tumblr’s radical feminist contingent: in less than three months, it was reblogged or “liked” by over 33,000 users. Some appended their own comments, such as, “Yeah, tell me again how misogyny ‘isn’t real‘ and men and boys and actually ‘like,’ ‘love‘ and ‘respect the female sex‘? This is how deep misogynistic propaganda runs… As Germaine Greer said, ‘Women have no idea how much men hate them.’”
Yet, as it turns out, the claim reveals less about men and misogyny than it does about gender studies and academic feminism.
I was sufficiently intrigued to check out Kimmel’s reference: a 1984 book called The Longest War: Sex Differences in Perspective by psychologists Carol Tavris and Carole Wade. The publication date was the first tipoff that the study’s description in the excerpt was not entirely accurate: the “recent” data had to be about thirty years old. Still, did American teenage boys in the early 1980s really hold such a dismal view of being female?
When I obtained a copy of The Longest War, I was shocked to discover that the claim was not even out of context: it seemed to have no basis at all, other than one comment among examples of negative reactions from younger boys (the survey included third- through twelfth-grade students, not just those in junior high). Published in 1983 by the Institute for Equality in Education, the study had some real fodder for feminist arguments: girls generally felt they would be better off as males while boys generally saw the switch as a disadvantage, envisioning more social restrictions and fewer career options (many responses seemed based on stereotypes — e.g., husband-hunting as a girl’s main training for adulthood — than 1980s reality). But that’s not nearly as dramatic as “I’d rather kill myself than be a girl.”
Update, 19 May: Welcome to all the visitors from Reddit. I think this is the first time one of my posts got linked from Reddit (and several thousand of you have dropped by in the last 24 hours). To mark the occasion, I’ve added a Reddit link to the Sharing options on all posts.
April 28, 2013
April 16, 2013
At Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok summarizes the findings from a recent large study:
In a large, randomized experiment Bowen et al. found that students enrolled in an online/hybrid statistics course learned just as much as those taking a traditional class (noted earlier by Tyler). Perhaps even more importantly, Bowen et al. found that the online model was significantly less costly than the traditional model, some 36% to 57% less costly to produce than a course using a traditional lecture format. In other words, since outcomes were the same, online education increased productivity by 56% to 133%! Online education trumps the cost disease!
Bowen et al. caution that their results on cost savings are speculative and it is true that they do not include the fixed costs of creating the course (either the online course or the traditional course) so these cost savings should be thought of as annual savings in steady-state equilibrium. The main reason these results are speculative, however, is that Bowen et al. only considered cost savings from faculty compensation. Long-run cost reductions from space savings may be even more significant, as the authors acknowledge.
The university model we’ve known for centuries is long overdue for change. However, remember that just about every new communication technology was touted as being “revolutionary” for education: the printing press, radio, movies, TV, and now online courses. The traditional university model has survived each new technological breakthrough relatively unscathed.
April 12, 2013
In The Register, Andrew Orlowski reports on the sad state of published neuroscience articles:
A group of academics from Oxford, Stanford, Virginia and Bristol universities have looked at a range of subfields of neuroscience and concluded that most of the results are statistically worthless.
The researchers found that most structural and volumetric MRI studies are very small and have minimal power to detect differences between compared groups (for example, healthy people versus those with mental health diseases). Their paper also stated that, specifically, a clear excess of “significance bias” (too many results deemed statistically significant) has been demonstrated in studies of brain volume abnormalities, and similar problems appear to exist in fMRI studies of the blood-oxygen-level-dependent response.
The team, researchers at Stanford Medical School, Virginia, Bristol and the Human Genetics dept at Oxford, looked at 246 neuroscience articles published in 2011 and and excluded papers where the test data was unavailable. They found that the papers’ median statistical power — the possibility that a study will identify an effect when there is an effect there to be found — was just 21 per cent. What that means in practice is that if you were to run one of the experiments five times, you’d only find the effect once.
A further survey of papers drawn from fMRI brain scanners — and studies using such scanners have long filled the popular media with dramatic claims — found that their statistical power was just 8 per cent.
Low statistical power caused three problems, the authors said. Firstly, there is a low probability of finding true effects; secondly, there is a low probability that a “true” finding is actually true; and thirdly, exaggerating the magnitude of the effect when a positive is discovered.
April 7, 2013
You know how great Wikipedia is? You know what’d make it even greater? Adding nearly 2,000 first-year university students as contributors and editors (because they do such a great job of writing research papers and citing their sources):
Steve Joordens urged the 1,900 students in his introductory psychology class to start adding content to relevant Wikipedia pages. The assignment was voluntary, and Joordens hoped the process would both enhance Wikipedia’s body of work on psychology while teaching students about the scientist’s responsibility to share knowledge.
But Joordens’s plan backfired when the relatively small contingent of volunteer editors that curate the website’s content began sounding alarm bells. They raised concerns about the sheer number of contributions pouring in from people who were not necessarily well-versed in the topic or adept at citing their research.
Discussions in the Wikipedia community became very heated with allegations that articles were being updated with erroneous or plagiarized information. Some community members called for widespread bans on university IP addresses and decried the professor’s assignment as a needless burden on the community.