URLs du Jour

2019-01-18

[Amazon Link]

  • At the WSJ, James Freeman takes a stroll down memory lane: Remember When Politicians Promised to Make College Affordable?.

    Expanding federal grants and loans to finance higher education has predictably given colleges the ability to raise prices, which in turn requires students to take on even more debt to pay the new higher prices. It’s not a new story. In 1965 Washington launched a program to make college “affordable” by offering a taxpayer guarantee on student loans. By an amazing coincidence college costs have been rising much faster than inflation ever since.

    James quotes from coverage of the June 2008 Detroit campaign stop of then-candidate Obama. A "tearful" young lady noted that she was "about $1500 short" of paying for her dental hygeine studies at Wayne County Community College.

    In response, Obama promised “I will make college affordable for every American. Period.”

    It's unknown whether the student somehow managed to get her schooling, but certainly that's a broken promise.

    As a Pun Salad value-added, I was able to find a spreadsheet showing the historical tuition rates for Michigan community colleges, including Wayne County. Since the 2008 event, it appears that their per-credit hour tuition has gone up about 6.6% annually. About double the CPI increase since then.

    Bottom line: when politicians promise to make things "affordable", run away.


  • At Quillette, Jonathan Kay fits that woke Gillette ad into the long history of advertising bullshit: Gillette's Progressive Politics: 'Corinthian Leather' for the Progressive Soul.

    Being a metallurgical engineer (as I, too, would later become), my father was especially irritated by ads for razors. In one well-known spot for the Vintage Stainless Steel Doubled-Edged Blade (this was before my time, but he often talked about it), an actor would be asked to compare a “Personna Stainless, seven shaves old” with another “well-known blade, brand new”—shaving half his face with each. The actor, of course, identifies the Personna as being the more comfortable of the pair. The announcer then hammers home the fact that the Personna prevailed despite being seven shaves old. But that fact was meaningless, my father would tell me (and others), because the main cause of shaving-blade degradation isn’t contact with skin. It’s the gradual oxidation that takes place when the blade dries off, over hours or days, after it’s been used—a phenomenon that wouldn’t apply to a blade that (as in this case) presumably had been used seven times in rapid succession.

    It’s an example my dad would bring up repeatedly whenever a dumb commercial would come on TV, since the same general principle applies to most ad campaigns for mass-market products. Coca-Cola doesn’t make you smile. The “Rich Corinthian Leather” that Chrysler used to upholster car seats wasn’t actually from Corinth. And smoking Virginia Slims doesn’t actually mean “You’ve come a long way, baby.” It probably just means you’re going to die of lung cancer.

    I'm tempted to oversimplify: there are two kinds of people in the world, those who actually like politically-correct virtue-signalling, others who find it obnoxiously off-putting. These groups will never understand each other.


  • At American Consequences, P.J. O'Rourke writes on The Bet. Specifically, the one between the late Julian Simon and Paul Ehrlich. You might have heard about that, and know how it came out. If not, click through and RTWT. But the underlying debate rages. Some more current data:

    In a paper released at the end of last year, Cato scholar and Human Progress Founder Marian Tupy and Brigham Young University economist Gale Pooley describe what they call “The Simon Abundance Index.” Tupy and Pooley created the index by expanding the original wager made by Simon and Ehrlich to include a basket of 50 “foundational commodities” – energy, food, materials, and metals – and by using price data from 1980 to 2017.

    Even though the population of the world increased by 69.3% during those 37 years, the price of the 50 commodities declined by 36.3%.

    Tupy and Pooley’s conclusion: “Every additional human being born on our planet appears to make resources proportionately more plentiful for the rest of us.”

    Make your bets in the commodity market any way you want, but never bet against people.

    A good thing to read when you're feeling pessimistic. But remember: "people" elected our politicians.


  • At NR, Kevin D. Williamson has a good suggestion to which nobody in power will listen: No-Deal Brexit Solution: Unilateral Free Trade. (NRPlus, sorry.)

    The born-again mercantilists and daft neo-nationalists fundamentally misunderstand trade: The benefits of trade are the imports; the exports are the cost. Contemporary trade skeptics — and American nationalist-populists in the Donald Trump mode are not least among them — get it backward. They hear about “trade deficits” and, misunderstanding that term — it is an intentionally misleading one, after all — believe that our trading partners are somehow getting over on us. Difficult as it is to believe in the particular — that you’ve been victimized by your new Mercedes — it somehow feels plausible as an abstraction: They get $50 billion, and we get only $30 billion. Of course, they get only $30 billion worth of actual goods and services, while we get $50 billion worth.

    Unilateral free trade may sound like a radical idea, but other countries have had pretty good luck with it, including one that may be of interest to the English: England. When the English rescinded the Corn Laws in the middle of the 19th century, they did not do so as part of a broad and reciprocal agreement with their grain-producing trade partners, some of whom — the French — they didn’t particularly like. They did it because the sensible English finally came to the sensibly English conclusion that English people would be better off as a whole if there were more food coming from more sources at better prices, even if that diminished the earnings of the relatively small cartel of big landowners who had benefited the most from anti-trade measures. Great Britain in fact grew vastly wealthy while maintaining trade arrangements that paid relatively little attention to reciprocity even in principle. British territories, notably Hong Kong, grew wealthy while following much the same model.

    Make Britain Great Again!


  • I've been a Virginia Postrel fanboy for decades, ever since she edited Reason magazine. She sat for an interview at the Writers on Writing website. Part of her answer to a softball "role of the sane writer in insane times" query:

    While I understand the market forces that push writers to feed outrage in order to get traffic, I also feel a civic responsibility to keep my cool, not to attribute motives to people that they wouldn’t themselves recognize, and to think about what might actually persuade people who disagree with me. I don’t always live up to those standards—we all get outraged sometimes—but the older I get and the more history I read, the easier it is to do.

    It also helps that, unlike many, perhaps most, female writers, I have never felt either market pressure nor a personal desire to write about my personal experiences and emotions. What interests me is learning and writing about the world.

    We need many more writers and thinkers like Ms. Postrel.


  • And a mini-rant:

    I go to the Mental Floss website, since it's supposed to be aimed at the smarties, and I like to imagine I'm one of them.

    And yet, it seems that way too often I get offered articles like the one headlined…

    The Real Reason Harry Potter Named His Son After Severus Snape.

    I would normally post an excerpt followed by a (theoretically) pungent comment, but I'm not even gonna bother with the excerpt.

    Because Harry is a fictitious character. So is Snape. And so is Harry's son. They had no "real reasons" to do anything, because they are not real themselves.

    If you find this painfully obvious, congratulations: you may be too smart to read Mental Floss.