Newsflash: CBS News is a Den of Liars. Perky Liars.

Well, maybe the headline's a tad strong. Nevertheless: don't try to claim you've invented a colorful phrase if Benjamin Zimmer of Language Log is within earshot. Katie Couric is quoted speaking to Bob Schieffer:

You and I talked a little earlier this afternoon, Bob, we were saying Iowa is really getting interesting. As they say in the business, too close to call. In fact, that phrase was invented here at CBS between 1962 and 1964. I thought you might find that interesting.
And Katie also reports:
A new poll shows it's tight as a tick in South Carolina between Clinton and Obama.
Benjamin traces the provenance of both phrases to non-CBS sources. It's interesting!

Here's Pun Salad's new colorful phrase for a close election: "The race is nip and tuck, with Nip checking Tuck's pockets for spare change."

It works better if you imagine Dan Rather saying it. Or maybe if you imagine Darrell Hammond imitating Dan Rather saying it. But in any case: remember, you heard it here first.

Let's Pick Harvard's Pocket!

A new front on the great Class Warfare struggle opens up on the New York Times op-ed page today, with an article on inequality in the endowments of institutions of higher education. Says Herbert A. Allen:

America's wealthiest colleges have endowments that are thousands of times greater than those at the least fortunate schools. The chasm is far deeper than that in other realms. After all, overpaid chief executives and investment bankers pay inheritance and income tax, so their wealth diminishes over time. Heavily endowed colleges and universities, however, suffer no such setbacks.
Oh no! What perfidy does this loophole allow?

We'll get to that, but first Mr. Allen makes the obligatory head-fake about merit:

It's certainly true that these academic institutions have worked hard to be excellent. They deserve to be rich. They should be congratulated.
Right. Reader, can you guess the very next word in Mr. Allen's article?
But should they be allowed to be so protected by the tax code that they can use their disproportionate wealth to raid poorer colleges and scoop up the best teachers by offering better pay, benefits and tenure-track positions? Should they further separate themselves from less fortunate colleges by taking the best high school students and offering them ever richer deals?
Mr. Allen apparently expects us to answer with a thunderous "No!" to these two questions. But if I were in the shoes of those hypothesized "best teachers" or "best high school students", I think I'd be thinking: "Actually, that sounds pretty OK to me."

Mr. Allen seemingly feels everyone would be better off if these teachers and students remained stuck at poorly-endowed Podunk State U. Because … well, he doesn't explain why. To a certain mentality, it's blindingly obvious, I guess.

But it turns out there's a perfectly good solution to this ill-defined problem:

What to do? Well, here's one solution: tax the investment income of the wealthiest colleges (though not their endowments). If the endowments of all academic institutions were evaluated on a per student basis, a standard could be set that could begin to allow revenue sharing.
Ah. Sounds like an innovative solution! In fact, it sounds like pretty much the same innovative solution offered up more or less daily by the New York Times for every other problem: coercive redistribution of wealth and income. Is there nothing it can't do?

Mr. Allen concludes:

I know it won't be easy to convince well-off schools to share their wealth. But they should. They should see this act as part of a down payment on their professed mission: to create a stronger, smarter and ultimately more stable society.
It's nice to see Mr. Allen phrase this in the language of voluntary sharing for mutual benefit. But of course, that's bogus: he's proposing a tax. You don't really have to "convince well-off schools" of anything; you only have to convince a majority of senators and representatives. Then you just start taking money from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, and handing it out to Patrick Henry Community College and Fayetteville State University; you don't even have to say thanks.

I must admit, though: there's a certain amount of petard-hoisting fun to see rich left-skewed institutions targeted by this sort of argument.

Stats on endowments, if you're interested, are here.

Mr. Allen was positioned at number 239 on the most recent Forbes 400 Richest Americans list. I'm not sure what that means other than Warren Buffet isn't the only rich guy who can sling synthetic populist rhetoric.

Update: You may also want to read what a Free Exchange blogger has to say about Mr. Allen's proposal: a "surpassingly silly idea".

Last Modified 2007-12-22 6:26 AM EST