Sunday, June 25, 2006

'Party of Ideas' My Ass

by Tom Bozzo

Nobody should be surprised that it would come to this, but here anyway is James Lileks openly mocking liberal education:
"Cut College Costs." Why? Because it's the job of the federal government to regulate the cost of a four-year degree in English lit, with a minor in textile history.
Via Stephen Karlson, who adds, "Priceless." Uh, sure.

BTW, that's Prof. Karlson of Northern Illinois University, beneficiary of the late liberal society's crazy idea that higher education for the masses is worthwhile.

And therein we see that while the answer Lileks supplies to the "Why?" question is in line with a conservative tradition of disparaging anything other than vocational or technical education, it is — as the saying goes — not even wrong. English Literature and Basketweaving get the yuks, but when it comes down to pounding a nail, pushing paper, or selling stuff, even notionally respectable (*) subjects like economics might as well be philosophy of philosophy.

The bigger problem, which the Democrats actually manage to see and the other side has enormous difficulty maintaining a coherent message on, is it's supposedly the educated who will prosper in the globalized economy. (As Dean Baker might say, it would be more accurate to say that prosperity goes to skilled practicioners of non-tradeable services. So while Baker focuses on highly educated professionals in The Conservative Nanny State, the fuller view says that it's Rich Trethewey and Tom Silva who will eventually rule the earth — as long as the upper-middle to upper-classes provide them with enough customers.)

Anyway, demand curves sloping downwards and all, why would you want to signal — by exposing students to more of the cost of their education — that people should be investing less in their human capital?

This, admittedly, is an inversion of the standard wisdom. In line with the Republican Idea ("Every Man For Himself"), that's focused on extracting a portion of the private benefits of higher education, in effect shifting a tax burden to upper-middle-class youth from their parents. So Lileks is just advocating a youth tax — if not the largest such tax levied in the course of tax-and-spend Republicanism. What's up with that?

Don't expect to see a quote from Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the epigram space.
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