American economic growth

Warren Buffett is optimistic:

I have good news. First, most American children are going to live far better than their parents did. Second, large gains in the living standards of Americans will continue for many generations to come. …

We can be confident that births minus deaths will add no more than 0.5% yearly to America’s population. Immigration is more difficult to predict. I believe 1 million people annually is a reasonable estimate, an influx that will add 0.3% annually to population growth.

In total, therefore, you can expect America’s population to increase about 0.8% a year. Under that assumption, gains of 2% in real GDP–that is, without nominal gains produced by inflation–will annually deliver 1.2% growth in per capita GDP.

This pace no doubt sounds paltry. But over time, it works wonders. In 25 years–a single generation–1.2% annual growth boosts our current $59,000 of GDP per capita to $79,000. This $20,000 increase guarantees a far better life for our children.

In America, it should be noted, there’s nothing unusual about that sort of gain, magnificent though it will be. Just look at what has happened in my lifetime.

I was born in 1930, when the symbol of American wealth was John D. Rockefeller Sr. Today my upper-middle-class neighbors enjoy options in travel, entertainment, medicine and education that were simply not available to Rockefeller and his family. With all of his riches, John D. couldn’t buy the pleasures and conveniences we now take for granted.

Two words explain this miracle: innovation and productivity. Conversely, were today’s Americans doing the same things in the same ways as they did in 1776, we would be leading the same sort of lives as our forebears.

Replicating those early days would require that 80% or so of today’s workers be employed on farms simply to provide the food and cotton we need. So why does it take only 2% of today’s workers to do this job? Give the credit to those who brought us tractors, planters, cotton gins, combines, fertilizer, irrigation and a host of other productivity improvements.

To all this good news there is, of course, an important offset: in our 241 years, the progress that I’ve described has disrupted and displaced almost all of our country’s labor force. If that level of upheaval had been foreseen–which it clearly wasn’t–strong worker opposition would surely have formed and possibly doomed innovation. How, Americans would have asked, could all these unemployed farmers find work?

We know today that the staggering productivity gains in farming were a blessing. They freed nearly 80% of the nation’s workforce to redeploy their efforts into new industries that have changed our way of life.

You can describe these develop-ments as productivity gains or disruptions. Whatever the label, they explain why we now have our amazing $59,000 of GDP per capita.

This game of economic miracles is in its early innings. Americans will benefit from far more and better “stuff” in the future. The challenge will be to have this bounty deliver a better life to the disrupted as well as to the disrupters. And on this matter, many Americans are justifiably worried.

Let’s think again about 1930. Imagine someone then predicting that real per capita GDP would increase sixfold during my lifetime. My parents would have immediately dismissed such a gain as impossible. If somehow, though, they could have imagined it actually transpiring, they would concurrently have predicted something close to universal prosperity.

Instead, another invention of the ensuing decades, the Forbes 400, paints a far different picture. Between the first computation in 1982 and today, the wealth of the 400 increased 29-fold–from $93 billion to $2.7 trillion–while many millions of hardworking citizens remained stuck on an economic treadmill. During this period, the tsunami of wealth didn’t trickle down. It surged upward.

In 1776, America set off to unleash human potential by combining market economics, the rule of law and equality of opportunity. This foundation was an act of genius that in only 241 years converted our original villages and prairies into $96 trillion of wealth.

The market system, however, has also left many people hopelessly behind, particularly as it has become ever more specialized. These devastating side effects can be ameliorated: a rich family takes care of all its children, not just those with talents valued by the marketplace.

In the years of growth that certainly lie ahead, I have no doubt that America can both deliver riches to many and a decent life to all. We must not settle for less.

I share Buffett’s optimism for America’s economic growth, with the caveat that history would suggest that our meager birth rate might be a signal of a cultural malaise that could diminish economic growth. I also agree with Buffett’s point that the gains from wealth must start trickling down more than they have for most of the past half century. If they don’t, the next generation of Buffetts will (probably rightly) face pitchforks and torches.

Prudence

Gracy Olmstead writes on three virtues, and in particular on prudence:

Prudence might be the most underrated and misunderstood virtue. We’ve lost a full understanding of the word. Being called a “prude” is usually an insult, targeting a person’s attitude toward sexual mores only.

But prudence is derived from the Greek word phronesis and describes the most central and vital of the virtues. According to Aristotle, virtues come with two corresponding vices: one of excess and one of defect. The virtue of courage, for instance, avoids the vice of cowardice on the one hand, and the vice of brazenness or foolishness on the other. It lies within two extremes.

The virtuous person must know how to navigate and avoid these vices of extremity. Thus we need prudence: a person with phronesis is “someone who knows how to exercise judgment in particular cases. Phronesis is an intellectual virtue; but it is that intellectual virtue without which none of the virtues of character can be exercised.”

Jane Austen’s Anne Elliott, the star of Persuasion, is perhaps one of the first literary protagonists who comes to mind when I think of prudence. She knows what to do in unexpected, uncertain circumstances—and usually serves as the sustaining backbone in every community or company she finds herself in. After her nephew dislocates his collar bone following a fall, for instance, Anne is the first to act: “It was an afternoon of distress,” writes Austen, “and Anne had every thing to do at once; the apothecary to send for, the father to have pursued and informed, the mother to support and keep from hysterics, the servants to control, the youngest child to banish, and the poor suffering one to attend and soothe.”

Throughout Persuasion, characters look to Anne for leadership, wisdom, and cool thinking. She helps guide important actions throughout the narrative, via both her own personal action and her advice, thus serving to prevent harm and encourage good.

In this sense, too, Anne demonstrates the important particularity of virtue: she exercises her prudence within community, for the good and happiness of that community’s members. Hers isn’t (and couldn’t be) a displaced or isolated virtue. It’s contingent upon her place and the actions that happen within that place.

Gracy’s reflection on prudence reminds me of some of the reasons I value Karen Laub-Novak’s “The Archer,” which I wrote about last year. Gratitude and mindfulness are Gracy’s two other highlighted virtues.

Vita Institute in New York

Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture hosted a one-day seminar-style version of its Vita Institute in New York today at the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture. I discovered this was happening only a few weeks ago, registered just before it reached capacity, and just finished this day of talks:

The Center for Ethics and Culture is proud to offer an exclusive installment of its elite pro-life training program for the faithful of the Archdiocese of New York.

Join us for a full day of instruction in the fundamentals of life issues with our world-renowned scholars in biology, philosophy, theology, and law. No prior knowledge of these disciplines is assumed or required; sessions are aimed at enthusiastic pro-life advocates seeking to hone their skill and enhance their knowledge to better advance the Culture of Life. In addition to intellectual formation, participation in the NYC Vita Institute will connect you with a community of like-minded champions for the most vulnerable members of our society.

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Biology: When Does Life Begin?
Fr. Kevin FitzGerald, S.J. (Center for Clinical Bioethics, Georgetown University)

Abortion: Law & Policy
Prof. O. Carter Snead (Notre Dame Law School)

Prenatal Screening, Diagnosis, and Selective Abortion
Mary O’Callaghan (Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture) & Katie Shaw

Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan
Archbishop of New York

Abortion: The Philosophical Arguments
Prof. Frank Beckwith (Baylor University)

Abortion & The Church: Resisting a Throw Away Culture
Fr. John Paul Kimes (Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith)

Cardinal Dolan’s remarks were basically a welcome to the participants, and by far the shortest of any of the sessions. Dolan primarily spoke on the past half century of New York City’s witness to life in a culture that has enshrined a sort of official indifference, with a default stance of skepticism toward life-affirming attitudes, to the situation of vulnerable persons:

 

Afterwards I met my friend Peter Atkinson at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral for mass, and we caught up over dinner at Lombardi’s Pizzeria nearby.

Appearance and human persons

William E. May’s Catholic Bioethics and the Gift of Human Life is a great book for understanding the basis for pro-life advocacy and the vision so many have for a life-affirming culture rather than one which grants liberties procured at the expense of the rights of others.

Concerning the problem that human rights and the appearance of human persons:

[A] common set of claims … deny the humanity and a fortiori the personhood of the human zygote and early embryo [and] appeal[s] to the fact that these organisms do not “appear” to be human or persons. Pictures and drawings of human beings at these stages of development seem to support claims of this kind. “How,” they ask, “can you say that an organism with no face or hands or feet or organs can possibly be a human being, much less a person?” Or, “How can an organism no larger than the period at the end of a sentence possibly be regarded as a human being, a person?”

Germain Grisez points out that arguments of this kind are plausible, “because they use imagery and directly affect feelings. Usually, in judging whether or not to apply a predicate [such as human being or person] to an experienced entity, one does not examine it to see whether it meets a set of intelligible criteria; instead, one judges by appearances, using as guide past experience of individuals of that kind.” However, he continues, such claims can be falsified by pointing out that, “while the particular difference [between a human zygote or early embryo and embryos and fetuses at a later stage of development] is striking because of the normal limits of human experience, (nevertheless) entities that are different in that way certainly are living human beings.”

Stephen Schwarz, whom Grisez commends, has identified the element common to these denials of humanity and/or personhood to the zygote and early embryo and has responded to it decisively. He points out that all these objections are “based on the expectation that what is a person must be like us. It must be the right size (a size like ours); it must have a level of development comparable to ours; it must look like us; it must, like us, be conscious.”

But, he continues, “these are not true criteria for being a person [nor for being a human being].” They are rather “simply expressions of our expectations, of what we are used to, of what appears familiar to us. It is not that the zygote fails to be a person [or human being] because it fails these tests; rather, it is we who fail by using these criteria to measure what a person [or human being] is.”

It is unreasonable to expect that a human being in the first stages of his or her development will look like a familiar human being, or like a newborn baby or a four-year-old or a teenager, or a mature adult or a wheelchair-bound elderly man or woman. The way these persons “appear” during the early stages of their development says nothing of the status of their nature or being. Each of us develops and unfolds his or her inner essence and personality every day of our lives, and we were developing and unfolding them before we were born just as we do afterwards. This ought not to cause anyone surprise. “Horton,” one of Dr. Seuss’s lovable characters, hits the nail on the head in Horton Hears a Who when he says, “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”

And concerning the problem of “personhood;” of the idea that persons acquire their personhood from their recognition by their peers:

Another claim denying personhood to the unborn, or at least to many unborn human beings is widely held today, but it too is readily falsifiable. It is the claim that personhood is a status conferred on entities by others, and it is, surprisingly, held by many in our society. Proponents of this view contend that personhood is a social status conferred on an entity by others and that an entity is a person only when recognized by others as a person. They believe that this view is supported by the truth that persons exist only with other persons—personhood is relational in character.

One advocate of this view, Marjorie Reiley Maguire, proposes that the personhood of the unborn “begins when the bearer of life, the mother, makes a covenant of love with the developing life within her to birth … The moment which begins personhood … is the moment when the mother accepts the pregnancy.” And, if she does not accept it and decides to abort the “developing life within her,” that life must be regarded as not a person, for personhood has not been bestowed on it.

This position, of course, leads to the absurdity that the same being can be simultaneously both a person and not a person; it is a “person,” for instance, if at least one person, say its father, recognizes and esteems it as a person; but it is not a “person” if another person, say its mother, refuses to consider it a person. This claim presupposes that human meaning-giving constitutes persons; the truth is that human meaning-giving and human societies presuppose human persons.

We need a broader spectrum of choice as a way to heal a culture that presently and capriciously denies the basic humanity of all its people, often for material reasons that a society as fortunate as ours should be strong enough to resolve.

Robert Caro: On Power

Robert Caro’s “On Power” is a great 100 minute reflection on what has basically been the theme of his entire, extraordinary writing career. I transcribed this particular excerpt from his narration, where he talks about the impact of one of the most colorful stories from The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, which I read earlier this year:

For James Roth, Robert Moses would not move the [Northern State] Parkway one foot. Jimmy Roth, who had watched his father and mother sweating side by side on the land, told me about how in years to come his father would keep talking, over and over, about what had been done to them. “I don’t know that I blame them for talking so much about it,” Jimmy said. “I’ll tell you, my father and mother worked very hard on that place, and made something out of it, and then someone just cut it in two.”

Ina found some of the other families who were dots on the map, and I talked to them, so over and over I heard similar stories, about how Robert Moses’s Northern State Parkway had ruined their lives, too. The injustice of it. The wrong of it. There had been no need for the Parkway to run through the Roth’s farm. Looking at the maps it was clear that the route could have been moved south a tiny distance that would have saved the Roth’s farm and their lives, and the farms and lives of 22 other families with very little difficulty. To the south of their farms was an empty area of farmland. Robert Moses just hadn’t wanted to be bothered moving it, and because the Roths didn’t have any power, he hadn’t had to be bothered. And that was a lesson for me: regard for power implies disregard for those without power.

And the Northern State Parkway is very clear demonstration of that. The map of the Northern State Parkway and Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island, is a map not only of a road, but of power, and what happens to those who are unwitting caught in power’s path.

In the moments when I learned about James, Helen, and Jimmy Roth, things changed for me. My idea of what the book should try to be changed. I saw what I hadn’t seen before. If my book was to analyze power fully and honestly, in all its facets, when I got to the Northern State Parkway, the story, if it was to be an honest story, could not only be about the construction of the consequences of the Northern State Parkway and the power of the robber barons. The story of the farmers was a part of the story of the Northern State Parkway, part of the Robert Moses story, part of the picture of power I was trying to learn how to draw, and not an incidental part, either.

And that, I saw now, in that moment, was what I wanted my book to me. What I guess I always wanted my book to be. What my book had to be, if it was to accomplish what I wanted it to accomplish.

In order to write about power truthfully, it would be necessary to write not only about the man who wielded power, and not only about the techniques by which he amassed power and wielded it, but it would be necessary also to write about the effect of power, for good or for ill, on those on whom it was wielded, on those who didn’t have power. It would be necessary to write of the effect of power on the powerless.

There are, of course, personal implications in a decision like this.

It took Caro seven years to write The Power Broker, necessitated the sale of his house, involved desperation, and ultimately came to fruition to some degree from sheer luck. The Power Broker manuscript numbered more than one million words, in telling the truth of both the triumphant genius of so much of New York and Robert Moses, as much as it tells the truth about the true human costs of achieving the New York that today we think of as having been there as long as anyone remembers.

Robert Caro spoke with Jeff Slate about On Power, which was assembled from two recent speeches, specifically addressing the question, “Do we need a Robert Moses today?” His answer:

Well, the quick answer to your question—“Do we need someone like Robert Moses?”–I would say no. He caused such immense human hardship, many times when he did not have to. It was a use of power that ruined the lives of people where there was really no reason to, except that they didn’t have power and he did, so he could run over them.

On the other hand, as I tried to show in the book, we do need someone with vision. You know there are very few people who saw this immense vision that Robert Moses had. Put it this way, in each of his twelve offices he had a huge map. There’s a picture of one of his offices in The Power Broker, and the map takes up a whole wall. And when I was interviewing him–when he was 78 or 79, but had boundless energy–he’d jump up with his pencil in his hand and he’d start sketching in the air, saying, “Can’t you see, we’ll put a highway here to Fire Island that’ll hook up back to Long Island there.” He saw this entire Metropolitan Region–New York, Long Island, Westchester, and the parts of New Jersey near New York City–as one picture and he was uniting it all. Because he had that vision and he put that energy behind all of his work.

So Robert Moses’ don’t come along very often, and you need the genius of a Robert Moses, and I tried to show that in the book. But you also can’t let someone like that have power, unfathomable power, with no check on him, because look what happens. I think his career is an example, among other things, of what happens when you give power with no check on it to somebody.

What’s so revealing about The Power Broker is that Robert Moses seized upon the unrealized power of public authorities to do more than any elected official ever could, due to the traditional limits and checks on the power of elected officialdom. In this way, Moses’s power was inexplicable and impossible to anticipate.

Discovering how to effectively empower someone with the scope of Moses’s vision—while at the same time limiting his power—is consequently a riddle.

War and the ‘pleasure of agency’

Shadi Hamid writes on Omar El Akkad’s American War and asks, “what holds a society together in the absence of common ideas?” Excerpting:

During the war, dying, as Drew Gilpin Faust writes in her seminal history This Republic of Suffering, became an art, and Christianity was central to dying well. “It is work to die, to know how to approach and endure life’s last moments,” Faust writes. Christianity, already infused in daily life, became even more so as the death toll rose: “Redefined as eternal life, death was celebrated in mid-nineteenth-century America.” After the war, as the realities of defeat settled, there was inevitably the question of “why?” Was the fall of the Confederacy, suffering a significantly higher mortality rate than the north, a punishment from God?

Both sides, with presumably “fine” people on each, prayed to the same God and, therefore, believed they were right, and that God would grant them victory. Presumably, if their cause were indeed just, he would also spare them a long and grinding war. In a war’s early stages, ideas and ideals seem more pure, untainted by political calculation or the atrocities of one’s own side. But once you pick a side—or once you’re already on a side because you happen to be of the South or of the North—there isn’t much you can do. War becomes “tribal.” Sarat, a Southern rebel and American War’s protagonist, asks her mentor Albert Gaines, a Northerner by birth and a veteran of Iraq and Syria, why he chose to side with the South:

“I sided with the Red because when a Southerner tells you what they’re fighting for—be it tradition, pride, or just mule-headed stubbornness—you can agree or disagree, but you can’t call it a lie. When a Northerner tells you what they’re fighting for, they’ll use words like democracy and freedom and equality and the whole time both you and they know that the meaning of those words changes by the day.”

Gaines goes on: “Right or wrong, you own your cause and you never, ever change your mind.” This seems to worry Sarat, and so he asks her: “If you knew for a fact we were wrong, would it be enough to turn you against your own people?” “No,” she says.

But for those predisposed to fight—perhaps if they witnessed a massacre, as Sarat did—there is a kind of joy to be found from taking up arms for a cause. Writing on the motivations that drew El Salvadorian insurgents to join together during the 1970s and 1980s, Elisabeth Jean Wood captures this feeling, arguing that “they took pride, indeed pleasure, in the successful assertion of their interests and identity.” Wood calls this “the pleasure of agency.”

There’s something to this, isn’t there? War and the urge toward it boiled down to the simple “pleasure of agency,” with so much justification as some kind of window-dressing for the latent violence in our hearts that flows from the desire to justify one’s existence by one’s own force of being?

The “pleasure of agency” versus the law of the cross.

Reaching The LION 90.7fm’s 2017 goal

I wrote earlier this year soliciting audio, memories, items, etc. from Penn State’s student broadcasting alumni for a growing permanent archive, and more recently on the news of Penn State’s “Student Broadcasting” historical marker placed in from of Pattee/Paterno Library just before the start of the fall semester. I also visited the old WDFM headquarters in Sparks Building and made a short video of the Student Broadcasting marker for those who can’t visit it in person.

Why do I think Penn State student broadcasting still matters in a world where content can be created and consumed instantaneously? Why does The LION 90.7fm—the heir to WPSC, WDFM, and WPSU—still matter for Penn State students?

For the reason I shared with Penn State News earlier this year: “While it’s a fact that student broadcasting has always been made possible by technology, its true power has always been in empowering the human voice.”

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What The LION 90.7fm does, and what its predecessors we honor did in years past, is provide a specific place where young people and community members can come together and truly learn from each other. It provides a place where the human voice can be fine tuned, where a Penn Stater can learn how to speak in a way that’s compelling and to earn the attention of a potentially indifferent audience. It provides an extracurricular sort of classroom for learning about how to be a positive public citizen along with a few dozen other Penn Staters. And it provides a place for students to share great music, the news and life of the community, and the spirit of each class with anyone who might want to hear. It’s a place that reminds us that what we say, and the things we create, matter to a whole community and can change lives, careers, and influence others in all sorts of unexpected and unplanned, positive ways.

We’ve wanted to support Penn State student broadcasters for a long time. It always amazed me that, despite a history dating to the Senior Gift of the Class of 1912 that enabled the first student radio experiments, there has never been a formal scholarship to support students involved with student broadcasting.

That changed when Mike Walsh, an alumnus of The LION 90.7fm, came to me not long ago and committed $25,000 toward a necessary $50,000 to create the first permanent annual scholarship for Penn State student broadcasters. Thanks to Mike’s gift, I signed the paperwork committing the Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group to raise that remaining $25,000 no later than June 30, 2019. I’ve been confident that alumni will step up with contributions of all sizes to help us reach this goal, and I’m writing now to ask if you’ll be one who steps up and makes a gift before the end of this year.

cropped-psaa_ma_rgb_2c1.pngWe’ve already raised ~$7,500 of the remaining $25,000, and we’re aiming to raise a final ~$2,000 by December 31st. Next year, we’re aiming to raise ~$8,500. That would leave ~$7,500 to raise in 2019 and ensure we reach our $50,000 goal to make this scholarship permanent.

Even better, Penn State will double match the annual scholarship available to members of The LION 90.7fm, which means that by helping us reach this $50,000 goal, an annual ~$7,200 in scholarship assistance will be available for Penn State student broadcasters going forward, every year.

I only write to appeal for gifts like this once per year, and now is that time for this year. Will you make a gift today (or later this month) to help us raise our remaining $2,000 goal before December 31st?

Make a one time, tax deductible gift here, or consider signing up as a recurring scholarship donor directly through Penn State.

As alums of WPSC, WDFM, WPSU, WKPS, or any of the old residence hall stations, I think we have some duty to the students of today who’ve followed in our footsteps to make life better for them than it was for us. To make Penn State just a little bit better by building up student broadcasters and making it better than we found it.

That’s ultimately what I’m asking you to consider, if you’re in a position to make a gift.

 

Student debt and outcomes

Far better than legislation to socialize the cost of college education would be for Congress to ensure interest rates for loans reflected the true risks/rewards behind specific colleges and degrees. Nick Phillips lays out “how we got here” and the specifics of what a modest but important market-based reform to American higher education policy might be:

Total student loan debt has tripled since 2004 and currently amounts to $1.31 trillion, making it the largest consumer debt category in the country behind mortgage debt. Current default rates stand at 11 percent, eerily mirroring the peak of mortgage delinquency rates during the subprime crisis. And student loans carry the highest delinquency rate of any category of consumer borrowing. This should worry everyone.

The growth of student loan debt has depressed home ownership and consumption, creating an ever-growing headwind to economic growth. Missed payments ruin the credit ratings of individual borrowers and limit their capacity to assume risk—for example by starting a new business or moving to a new state.

The harms aren’t just economic. By dampening entrepreneurialism and creating a new generation of immobile, risk-averse young people, student debt actually has the capacity to change our national character. Borrowers have lost confidence in themselves and have turned instead to government for protective bailouts.

Hopelessness is festering into radicalism. Young people are furious with these restraints on their mobility, and currently that fury is being channeled by Bernie Sanders with his plan to socialize the cost of public university for all students. Instead of ceding this all-important ground to progressive activists, conservatives should be leaping over themselves to propose solutions to this catastrophe. After all, it was created by the federal government.

That federal government holds over a trillion dollars of student loan debt, and taxpayers are expected to take a net loss of $170 billion on these loans over the next decade. And the losses will only get worse. The easy availability of federal aid incentivizes universities to keep raising tuition. Taxpayers cover those costs upfront in the form of federal aid, while the universities have no skin in the game if their students default after graduating. Tuition thus goes up and up, and the dominant policy response is always to make federal aid even more available, inflating the bubble further. …

When the government keeps interest rates artificially low for degrees that in fact carry a high risk of default, it induces more people to sign up for risky programs. Interest rates are supposed to act as a signal that such programs are not good investments. Absent that signal, students with unsophisticated understandings of personal finance and the labor market (and hopped up on Baby Boomer platitudes about following your passion at all costs) see no reason not to go deep into the red to attend a barely accredited university and major in film studies. …

The easy availability of federal money disincentivizes universities from lowering tuition or improving the quality of their education, while incentivizing bad universities that sell a terrible product to stay open. Under this scheme, student borrowers and taxpayers suffer together. Every incentive is misaligned. An injection of market principles is essential medicine.

The example Nick cites, of Thomas M. Cooley Law School, is devastating. No way that institution stays open, except for government policy that enables easy student debt from credulous young people:

The largest law school in the country is Thomas M. Cooley Law School. Its tuition is $50,790 per year, roughly equivalent to top law schools like Yale ($59,865), Berkeley ($52,654), and UT Austin ($50,480). And of course, the government will help you borrow at the same rate to attend Cooley as those other schools. But Cooley is not these other schools. Cooley is the worst subprime risk imaginable. Seventy-five percent of its graduates were not employed in the legal field one year after graduation. Fifty percent of its graduates weren’t employed at all. No rational lender would touch it, but the government’s drive for equity keeps it open. For the sake of its prospective students, Cooley must be made to get cheaper, get better, or close.

At some point, when the student debt bubble bursts, many people will be crying alligator tears and putting on a show to ask, “How could this happen?” Anyone who cares enough to pay attention to this issue knows exactly what’s happening—but it’s so much more attractive to get paid in whatever way by exploiting the present system, than to agitate for its collapse.

Those hardest hit are the students and professors themselves, but the lie that “access to higher education” is always and everywhere a path to success is too sweet a promise to contest—even if generations are stuck with trillions in debt to finance a law degree that’s left them jobless.

If I were a trustee or administrator in higher education, I would prepare for the inevitable shocks to come by trying to make my institution not the “most student friendly” college, but actually the “most professor friendly” college. Walking down that path ensures a robust college for decades to come, led by sparkling talent who will ensure young people continue to enroll even if debt-financed tuition becomes harder to obtain.

And it’ll be a heck of a lot more just for the professors and students, too—ostensibly the people who are at the heart of any great college.

Melissa Ohden

Melissa Ohden was our keynote speaker last night for the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia‘s 36th Annual “Stand Up For Life” Dinner. This was my sixth consecutive year attending the dinner, and I think Melissa’s talk may have been the best in my experience.

Melissa Ohden is a survivor of an attempted saline abortion, a now-banned form of abortion wherein a toxic salt solution was injected into the womb to strip the skin of a child before ending its life by causing organ failure as it seeped into the body over the course of 72 hours. As difficult as that is to read and write, Melissa’s wit, verve, and joie de vivre made her talk both emotionally moving and downright encouraging because of the love she radiates. That’s probably the only appropriate response to this barbarism of our time. Melissa’s story was shared on EWTN’s Pro-Life Weekly earlier this year:

And Melissa’s Congressional testimony a few years ago conveys so much about the spirit of our age on this human rights issue:

We also celebrated Edel Finnegan’s many years as the Pro-Life Union’s leader, and welcomed Tom Stevens as our new President & CEO who takes over next month.

Flatland and scientism

In Chapter 4 of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput’s “Strangers in a Strange Land,” he relates Fr. Edwin Abbot’s 1884 novel Flatland, and in so doing neatly conveys the problem with scientism—with the idea that all the matters is what can be measured, basically:

The story imagines a world of intelligent two-dimensional figures. These creatures are straight lines, triangles, squares, and polygons, led by a priestly class of circles. The circles oversee all science, business, engineering, art and trade.

Flatland is a complex society guided by the creed of Configuration. For Flatlanders, all of reality consists in width and length. “State doctrine condemns “those ancient heresies which led men to waste energy and sympathy in the vain belief that conduct depends upon will, effort, training, encouragement, praise or anything else but Configuration.” And what is Configuration? It’s the belief that all misconduct, all crime, comes from some deviation in Regularity of line or angle. Those who are Irregular end up in hospitals. Or prisons. Or executed.

One night the narrator, an urbane and orthodox Square (an attorney), is visited by a Sphere. The Sphere lifts him out of his Flatland universe. It shows him the glory of three dimensions and proves that Flatland is only part of a much larger reality. Then it sends the eager narrator back to his own world as an apostle of the Gospel of the Three Dimensions. Where he’s promptly locked up for mental illness and heresy.

Popular wisdom holds that Flatland was a satire of the conventionalism of the Victorian era. But we might find better parallels closer to our own land, in the scientism of our own time.”

What is scientism? Basically, a false faith in “universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or the most valuable part of human learning—to the exclusion of other viewpoints.”