Category: Public Policy

The educational cronyism of textbook publisher cartels is coming to an end as digital alternatives are on the rise, or so says AEI’s Mark Perry in a recent article. “Hear that hissing sound?” he writes, “It’s the sound of the college textbook bubble starting to deflate. . . . The era of the college textbook cartel and $300 college textbooks is ending.”

I have written on this subject in the past for the PowerBlog (here and here), mentioning Perry’s coverage of the subject at that time, among others.

In particular, I would maintain my position today that if more affordable, quality alternatives exist, educators ought to take the time to research them and find ones that fit their curricula if they can. Students are already overburdened by student loan debt in order to get degrees of decreasing quality and utility. If a professor can do a little to lessen the financial burden of higher education, it is one small victory for the common good. And Christian educators ought to lead the way.

Perry summarizes the problem as follows:

Between January 1998 and September 2013, the CPI for college textbooks has increased by more than 144%, compared to an increase of only 44.4% for the CPI for all items, and an increase of only 0.6% for the CPI for recreational books. In real terms, the cost of college textbooks has increased by more than 69% over the last 15 years, while at the same time the real cost of recreational books has fallen by more than 30%.

The reason that the college textbook bubble is on an unsustainable price trajectory and is already starting to show some initial signs of deflating is because of the increasing amount of competition for the college textbook market.

Read more . . . .

BrendleIn his article today Anthony Bradley asks, “When Did College Education Reduce To Making Money?

Our country’s narcissistic materialism has created a neurotic obsession with disparities between the incomes of individuals resulting in an overall devaluing of the learning goals and outcomes of what colleges exist to accomplish. There is a major disconnect here. I wonder if this explains why many parents do not want their children studying the humanities in college.

While I completely agree with Anthony about what the purpose of college should be (“a place where men and women are educated and formed into more virtuous citizens”), I think he’s overlooking how we got into this situation: College is priced like a luxury good but treated as a prerequisite for most forms of employment.

Unfortunately, the types of degrees that best fulfill the primary function of a college (e.g., liberal arts) are also the most likely to lead to underemployment.

A couple of years ago, Andy Whitman wrote an article for Image, “Starbucks and the Liberal Arts Major”, that highlighted the problem:
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saving-money-for-collegeSomeone should tell university administrators and educators that their primary purpose is to guarantee that graduates will have better incomes than those who are not fortunate enough to attend college. In addition, colleges and universities are now, it seems, supposed to be places where everyone equally becomes one of the “Joneses.”

In an article titled, “Rethinking the Rise of Inequality“, Eduardo Porter of the New York Times writes that college education is about solving the income disparity problem. Porter opens the story with this odd statement: “Many Americans have come to doubt the proposition that college delivers a path to prosperity.” What? Is that what college is about? Making people prosperous? What college has making graduates prosperous as its mission? Why would anyone go to college just to become economically “prosperous”?

Are colleges off the target then? Are they missing their new true calling? The mission of Brown University is “to serve the community, the nation, and the world by discovering, communicating, and preserving knowledge and understanding in a spirit of free inquiry, and by educating and preparing students to discharge the offices of life with usefulness and reputation.” Clemson University states, “Our primary purpose is educating undergraduate and graduate students to think deeply about and engage in the social, scientific, economic, and professional challenges of our times. The foundation of this mission is the generation, preservation, communication, and application of knowledge.” Fort Lewis College (Colorado), says that its mission is to offer “accessible, high quality, baccalaureate liberal arts education to a diverse student population, preparing citizens for the common good in an increasingly complex world.”

Do these colleges, and many others, simply not get it? It seems that these schools are primarily interested in student learning and the formation of good citizens, so when did college reduce to being a means of addressing “income inequality”?
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lightbulbIn today’s Wired, Microsoft founder Bill Gates shares his thought on how busines, government and philanthropy can make positive changes in the world. Gates makes it clear that he is pro-capitalism:

I am a devout fan of capitalism. It is the best system ever devised for making self-interest serve the wider interest. This system is responsible for many of the great advances that have improved the lives of billions—from airplanes to air-conditioning to computers.

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Blog author: abradley
Friday, November 8, 2013
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franceSince the French Revolution, Americans have glanced over to our friends across the Atlantic Ocean as a model of what a country should not do. That tradition continues. France’s centralized planning of the economy, health care, education, the family, religion, and so on is not working. The New York Times reports:

The pervasive presence of government in French life, from workplace rules to health and education benefits, is now the subject of a great debate as the nation grapples with whether it can sustain the post-World War II model of social democracy.

Well, those who champion economic, moral, and political liberty predicted this ages ago. As expected, government control of French society has crippled France’s “capability to innovate and compete globally.”

What is more, “investors are shying away from the layers of government regulation and high taxes.” Again, not surprising.

The French government continues to raise taxes and create reasons to redistribute workers’ earnings. According to the article, in France “most child care and higher education are paid for by the government, and are universally available, as is health care.” The cost of health care is “embedded in the taxes imposed on workers and employers; workers make mandatory contributions worth about 10 percent of their paycheck to cover health insurance and a total of about 22 percent to pay for all their benefits.” This is unsustainable.
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Creation Heart ManBeginning today, Acton is offering its first monograph on Eastern Orthodox Christian social thought at no cost through Amazon Kindle. Through Tues., Nov. 12, you can get your free digital copy of Creation and the Heart of Man: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Environmentalism (Acton Institute, 2013). The print edition, which runs 91 pages, will be available later this month through the Acton Book Shop for $6. When the free eBook offer expires, Creation and the Heart of Man will be priced at $2.99 for the Kindle reader and free reading apps.

A summary of Creation and the Heart of Man:

Rooted in the Tradition of the Orthodox Church and its teaching on the relationship between God, humanity, and all creation, Fr. Michael Butler and Prof. Andrew Morriss offer a new contribution to Orthodox environmental theology. Too often policy recommendations from theologians and Church authorities have taken the form of pontifications, obscuring many important economic and public policy realities. The authors establish a framework for responsible engagement with environmental issues undergirded not only by Church teaching but also by sound economic analysis. Creation and the Heart of Man uniquely takes the discussion of Orthodox environmental ethics from abstract principles to thoughtful interaction with the concrete, sensitive to the inviolability of human dignity, the plight of the poor, and our common destiny of communion with God.

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snapMichael Tanner of the Cato Institute released a recent policy analysis that raises important questions about whether or not we should completely re-conceptualize how to provide food for the truly disadvantaged. In “SNAP Failure: The Food Stamp Program Needs Reform” Tanner argues The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is currently crippled by high administrative costs, significant fraud and abuse, and weakening of standards. Tanner notes that SNAP breeds greater dependence on government, and, even worse, seems to have negligible long-term effectiveness in eliminating food deficiencies for the truly disadvantaged.

The statistics are overwhelming. Using primarily government data, Tanner observes that the poverty is politicized in Congress through the framing of food stamps as fulfilling two separate goals—“improved levels of nutrition” and “strengthening the agricultural economy.” This created the “bipartisan” support that has exploded funding and served the interests of both political parties. Everybody wins, except for the poor. According to Tanner, “Since 2000, spending on SNAP increased from just $17 billion per year to more than $78 billion in 2012, a greater than fourfold increase.” The increase in spending cannot even be blamed on the recession. According to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates, 35 percent of the program’s growth from 2007 to 2011 was not a result of economic factors in the country.

The factors that have created the expansion include:
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102-Schall“Roman Catholicism is primarily concerned with man’s transcendent end and purpose,” says Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., “with how it is achieved in actual lives, in actual places, and in real time.” Rev. Schall considers how Catholicism and political philosophy are connected:

A course in “Roman Catholic Political Philosophy” is rarely found in any academic institution, including those sponsored by the Church. We do find courses titled “Religion and Politics,” “Social Doctrine of the Church,” or “Church and State” — but “Roman Catholic Political Philosophy” is something different. Going back to Plato, it is common to find that most people consider philosophers and academics, not to mention clerics, to be rather foolish and naïve when it comes to dealing with the practical affairs of this world. Philosophers are notorious for studying everything else but politics; and when they do, they insist on studying them as if their object were like that of the physical sciences and not free human agents. Aristotle already warned us not to use a method that was inappropriate to the nature of the object studied.

But there are two questions combined in that title: First, what is political philosophy? And second, what is Roman Catholicism? The two are not to be confused. They are, if possible, to be related in a coherent, non-contradictory whole such that each retains its essential nature while relating to the other. Whether we like it or not, both are present in the actual human world in which we live. Philosophy, to be itself, cannot, by its own methods, exclude any consideration of what is, of what claims to be true. Roman Catholics, during their time on earth, live in the polities to which they belong or dwell in. Like everyone else, they too are “political animals,” as Aristotle said.

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Sid Meir's CivilizationMy wife despises Sid Meier. She’s never met him, nor would she even recognize his name. But she knows someone is responsible for creating the source of my addiction.

For over twenty years I’ve spent (or wasted, as my wife would say) countless hours playing Civilization, Meier’s award-winning strategy game. Every time I play the game I enter an almost trance-like state of complete immersion. According to positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, what I’m experiencing in that moment is known as “flow.” Csíkszentmihályi describes the mental state of flow as,

being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.

According to Csíkszentmihályi, there are ten factors that accompany the experience of flow:
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poor-taxDuring the government shutdown billionaire philanthropists Laura and John Arnold gave $10 million to the National Head Start Association to keep the program for low-income children running. Mr. Arnold made it clear, however, that he did not believe this was a permanent solution, as “private dollars cannot in the long term replace government commitments.”

But some people thought Arnold’s generosity itself undermined the government’s power. As The Nation’s Amy Schiller said, “The entire shutdown is undergirded by a fantasy of a world in which the government’s power is vastly reduced and private citizens step into the breach with better, more innovative ideas for solving social challenges.”

It’s not that they are against all philanthropy — only the public donations that undermine the government’s monopoly on power. As John Daniel Davidson explains:
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