Newsflash: Starve the patient and the patient dies.

28 12 2010

I hate disagreeing with noted self-loathing academic Richard Vedder yet again on the subject of higher education, but this blog post at Forbes asking whether government has any business in higher education is particularly evil. I’m not even going to discuss his recommendation. I’ll settle for just fisking his version of the lay of the land:

Income inequality has increased in the past four decades of rapidly rising higher education, and the proportion of college students from low income groups is smaller today than four decades ago despite massive expansion of federal loan/aid programs;

Gee, you think that has more to do with the failures of higher education or with Republican polices that promote income equality? I forget whet the name of that logical fallacy is, but that certainly is one.

The statistical correlation between state government higher education spending and economic growth is negative, not positive, suggesting the positive economic spillover effects of governmental university aid are non-existent and maybe even negative;

Again, see above. Don’t you think there might be other things affecting the direction of economic growth besides state government spending on higher education? You’re an economist. Maybe you might try an actual study on this one?

Despite rising higher education attainment, crime rates have not fallen dramatically, voter participation has not risen, volunteerism has not dramatically increased, and other alleged social positive spillover effects of more higher education are not apparent;

Higher education hasn’t cured the common cold, reunited North and South Korea or saved the world from Sarah Palin either. Let’s kill it now!

Even if there were some positive external benefits, the sharp rise in higher education costs would call into question whether those benefits exceed the costs.

Perhaps that sharp rise in costs might have something to do with the huge drop in state spending on higher education? Ever heard of economies of scale?

Some two million articles are written for academic journals annually, most of which are little read trivial refinements on topics previously well researched and understood.

Way to be a big favorite at next campus meeting: Blithely dismiss the entire corpus of work produced by whole colleges at once. And I guess every study produced in an American economics department is the greatest thing since sliced bread? And this is from a guy who wrote an entire book about the wonders of Walmart!

Perhaps it’s time to apply Rees’ law in a new context: If you hate higher education this much, you shouldn’t be allowed to work in it. Period. Perhaps more importantly, this strikes me as the epitome of Republican politics applied to academia. Don’t put people who hate government in charge of running your government. Don’t put people who hate academia in charge of running universities. If you do the patient won’t get better, they’ll die. But of course, that’s exactly why they want to control government and/or academia in the first place.


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