One of the things I’ve been dabbling with during my most-recent extended absence from law:/dev/null has been the near-daily stream of news stories about police going totally bonkers while carrying out their once-upon-a-time mission to “serve and protect.”
Then, before the day was even out, there was a different news story about the NYPD shooting innocent bystanders while trying to take down a mentally ill man. I added as a joke (because a number of my FB friends are flaming liberals) that we needed cop control more than gun control.
That was it. Two news stories that happened to be on the same day, followed by some banter about whether or not I should be allowed to own my Smith & Wesson M&P9 with three fully loaded 17-round clips.
Before I really noticed it I’d posted 72 of these stories, adopting a “Warrior Cops Gone Wild!” motif similar to the late-night ads for the college girl videos. Somehow on top of those 72 posts I’d still amassed a queue of 69 unposted entries, and kept getting new material all. the. time.
It’s some disturbing sh*t that just gets more disturbing as time goes on.
And I’m not really sure what to do about it. I’m certainly not the first person to document that police brutality exists. I don’t have any special influence with any decision-makers who could change anything. I’m also not really the protest type.1
But I am an attorney, and a constitutionalist, and a small government conservative who isn’t that big a fan of the police state we’re becoming — and damn sure not a fan of a police state freed of the shackles of due process.2
I feel like I need to do something.
I’m open to suggestions. Because something has to change.
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 5, 2014 in Background
Most folks I meet don’t believe it when they find out I was once a homeless college dropout.1 I’ve mentioned it occasionally here at law:/dev/null but I generally don’t talk about it in person — it’s not exactly an uplifting topic!
Well of course that ended up being one of the topics of discussion during my interview with the N.C. State Libraries as part of their Student Leadership Initiative (links to Part 1 and Part 2 are below).
We also chat about me helping to shepherd a few items through the Student Senate on my return, including the creation of a campus LGBT Center.2
Questions in this Clip:
00:00 – You’ve spoken about the challenges you faced while you were a student, specifically your time as a self-described “college dropout.” Can you talk a little bit about why you dropped out and what factors influenced your decision to return?
08:21 – As a Student Senator, you authored many bills including the Student Media Independence Referendum and a bill that supported the establishment of a campus LGBT center. Can you talk about your decision to support these bills?
I’m off for a weekly poker night with one of my mentors and his friends Have a great night y’all!
From the law:/dev/null Student Leadership Initiative-related archives:
Case in point: back during law school graduation, after NCCU Chancellor Charlie Nelms offered some kind words about me to the crowd, Top Gun asked me when I got in line for my diploma “Is all that stuff he said true?” in total disbelief. [↩]
Apologies to my friends who just went into shock to discover I was supporting the LGBT community before it was trendy [↩]
Earlier this week one of my good friends and occasional law:/dev/null commenter VA forwarded me a story out of Florida Coastal School of Law, which is apparently in the process of searching for a new dean.
The disturbing part of the report involves a candidate who raised concerns about the school’s declining student credentials and bar pass rates. That candidate was asked to leave in the middle of the lunch presentation. The candidate resisted, but was told that security would be called to remove the candidate from campus. This all happened in the view of about 40 faculty and staff present at this presentation, which was being recorded so others who were teaching class could see it later.
Th concerns raised by the dean candidate are supported by publicly available information showing that the 2013 entering class at Coastal had the following 75/50/25 LSAT profile: (148/144/141). Reports indicate that the students who have placed seat deposits in 2014 have a virtually identical profile as the 2013 entering class.
The LSAT in 2008 and 2009 was (153/150/147). In 2010 the numbers were (152/149/146). The decline continued in the succeeding years (151/147/145) in 2011 and (151/146/143) in 2012.
As might have been predicted, the weaker entering class of 2010 had a low bar pass rate, 67% for first time takers on the July 2013 Florida bar. This was the first time in several years that Florida Coastal had dropped below 70%.
At first I thought there was no possible way the story could be accurate. To borrow VA’s words, “And it was to the FACULTY… it wasn’t like ‘Hey, students, you go to a crap school!'” — but after seeing the first comment on the blog entry, from a FCSL professor who doesn’t dispute the account of events but simply notes “The entire Florida Coastal Community works hard to help our students do well on the bar,”2 now I’m inclined to believe it.
I don’t know how that story reads to the folks in academia, but as a lawyer on the outside all I see is “We don’t want to be held accountable!” If FCSL’s student profile climbed, and bar passage rates didn’t climb accordingly, it would be painfully obvious the faculty are at least partly responsible for the failure; now though, by accepting students with “declining credentials,” the faculty can blame any shortcoming in the pass rate on the caliber of student they’re letting in.
Then to make it worse, after throwing a temper tantrum about now wanting to be held accountable, they threaten to have the person offending them escorted from the premises by security? Wow.
Evidently legal education is in more trouble than I thought…
From the law:/dev/null Unsolicited Commentary archives:
Which normally wouldn’t be that annoying (I have strongly opinionated friends ), except that this go-round it’s been a bombardment from all over the political spectrum.
My conservative friends had long ago labeled me a pariah for defending “Commies, hippies, and other people who don’t bathe” as one person put it. The very first time I mentioned thinking about helping, one of my good friends from undergrad simply replied “oh you better not!”1
But then this week I’ve also had several liberals asking me “who thought everyone getting arrested was a good idea?” and “what were they thinking?” and “tell me what this all accomplished?” — as if I played any role in the protests themselves or cared an iota about the movement’s success-or-lack-thereof.
A not-uncommon query this week
And there’ve even been what I’d consider the apolitical folks, who are just plain flummoxed that people can still be arrested (and convicted! ) for things like self-evident political speech, and more flummoxed still that similarly situated protestors could end up with totally different verdicts in their respective cases.
So when I got an email over the listserv earlier today from a well-respected attorney helping with the defense, pontificating over how best to advance the politics of the Moral Mondays protests, I did one of these and typed an almost-ALLCAPS rant in response…
…then I took a few deep breaths, removed the inflammatory stuff,2 and sent the following:
From: T Greg Doucette To: MM Lawyers Listserv Date: December 5, 2013 @ 11:21 AM RE: Update
I’d respectfully argue that whether “a litigious approach [is] the best way” for “helping the advancement of the MM issues” is a minor side issue, because what’s going on with these cases long ago transcended the Moral Monday stuff and is now about the bedrock principles of a free society.
Now I’ll concede up-front that (1) I’m just a baby lawyer and (2) I’m an unabashed Republican who didn’t participate in the Moral Monday protests and agrees with very very (very) few of the items the group was promoting. So take this entire email with several grains of salt as each of you sees fit.
But the whole reason I agreed to take on any of these cases was because it seemed mind-bogglingly outrageous to me that North Carolina taxpayers could be arrested en masse for obvious political speech in the very legislative building paid for by those very taxpayers for the very purpose of hashing out political issues. Even if I wholly disagreed with the content of their speech, I’d never try to have someone locked up over it (if for no other reason than I’d like to have the option of protesting one day when the political pendulum inevitably swings in the other direction).
It’s the kind of shameless abuse of power I (naïvely) figured the government would have stopped doing a long time ago after taking ConLaw in law school. It’s outrageous regardless of which party’s in power. And the Judiciary, at some level, needs to weigh in and remind the Executive Branch that jailing dissidents isn’t how we do business in the United States of America.
Anyhow, please forgive the imperious rant — thanks to everyone for their work so far, keep it up, let me know where us baby lawyers can continue helping, and let’s all pray the judges come to their respective senses on the rest of these cases
That about sums up my thoughts on these prosecutions: they’re an abomination.
Not to mention an audacious choice for a State that every April 12th celebrates the adoption of the Halifax Resolves — the first official action of any of the colonies calling for independence from Britain (talk about a protest!).
And while the initial arrests were wrong, I’d argue the prosecutions are worse; unlike police, District Attorneys are lawyers who (at least theoretically) had to learn about the Constitution and the First Amendment in order to pass the bar exam.
With the guilty convictions racking up, it seems obvious the decisions have already been made at the meat-grinder/District Court level. I just hope the Superior Court — or the appellate courts if it comes to that — correct this particular abuse of power and as a result send a message about future abuses.
Because moreso than global warming or eeeevil 1%ers or any of the other boogeymen the political Left insists will lead to my demise, this is the type of thing that causes me to lose sleep at night.
From the law:/dev/null “Excellence in Government” archives:
One of the things I try to do every morning (before venturing out into the world with my bow and arrow) is running through the mini-feed of the NC SPICE Twitter account and looking for any useful or interesting stories that might be helpful to the solo and small practitioners we serve. It helps them out, and has the side benefit of keeping me informed about what’s going on in the world.1
And every now and then I come across stories that just kinda make me scratch my head…
Seemed like an innocuous-enough tweet so I clicked the link, and was taken to this press release from the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law. It outlines the planned testimony earlier today of “Legal Trailblazer Gillian Hadfield,” a professor at the law school, who insists “the legal system’s regulatory approach needs to dramatically shift with less-expensive alternatives to attorneys[.]”
As part of her prepared remarks, the release claims:
“My main message for the Court is one rarely heard from the legal profession,” Hadfield said. “There is no way to generate the kind of legal help ordinary Americans need without fundamental change in the way the judiciary regulates the practice of law… We cannot possibly solve the access to justice problem without changes in our regulatory approach.”
Now I don’t know who Gillian Hadfield is; I’m sure she’s a great lady and a sage scholar of the law. And I’ll even go a step further and accept at face value the claim that her “message” of needed regulatory reform “is one rarely heard from the legal profession.”2
But she teaches at USC Law.
A school with annual tuition and fee rates of $51,490.00 in 2012-2013.
Take a minute to juxtapose Hadfield’s view promoting non-lawyer lawyers with the long-standinglamentationlaw schoolsfloodedthe market with too many graduates. I think those complaints are wrong — the problem isn’t too many lawyers, it’s too many lawyers trying to bill out $250+ an hour so they can repay student loan debts in excess of a quarter-million dollars apiece — but the contrast highlights how completely backwards the discussion over the legal market has gotten.
If you want to promote deregulation of the legal industry, say on the notion that more competition would induce more innovation and produce a better product, then go for it. At least that’s a plausible argument and frankly one I’d support.4
But to promote deregulation on the mind-numbing theory there’s an undersupply of legal help available, all while enriching yourself via (and thus contributing to) one of the top drivers behind inflated legal rates, is beyond farcical.
The press release closes by noting Professor Hadfield’s valiant efforts to tame her employer:
She is part of a growing movement to reform legal education. Her mission is to teach law students to be problem solvers.
“Many law professors come to law school thinking that our job is to be the expert at the front of the class imparting information,” she said. “But one of the most important things we can do for our students is to get them actively engaged in problem-solving together to generate workable solutions to client problems. As I see it, my job as a professor is to design the materials and opportunities for them to do that and then to take myself out of center stage as much as possible.”
With due respect to the esteemed Professor Hadfield, if you really want to “take [yourself] out of center stage as much as possible” I’d suggest you encourage USC Law to lead by example and slash its tuition and fee rates.
Approach that objective with even a fraction of the zeal you’ve devoted to deregulating the entire legal profession, and I suspect you’d discover there is a “way to generate the kind of legal help ordinary Americans need”: producing lawyers ordinary Americans can actually afford to hire.
From the law:/dev/null Unsolicited Commentary archives:
There’s a LOT of cool new material every. single.day! [↩]
A point I’m not sure is supported by the evidence, what with New York moving to mandatory pro bono hours and states promoting other regulatory changes. While the particular reforms might differ, the entire “access to justice” debate’s focus has been on the tweaking of regulations. [↩]
I’ve learned in the months since the bar exam that there are quite a few things that are so simple they could be accomplished by a well-trained monkey, yet require a lawyer’s signature instead. I don’t fear deregulation. [↩]
Let me start by apologizing for the profane title. We try to keep things family-friendly here but I truly couldn’t think of a sufficiently cathartic alternative title this time without dropping at least one F-bomb.
Long-time readers of law:/dev/null know that Big Guv’mint and I aren’t exactly BFFs. My love and support for education notwithstanding, I seem to be a magnet for every other buffoon making a living off the taxpayers’ dimes.
In each of those cases, though, an apologist for Big Guv’mint could at least make a non-frivolous argument that I bore at least some responsibility for other’s failures. I could have paid my taxes as they were due instead of trying to get back into college, could have called the NC DMV instead of assuming they updated my address when they sent my new license to it, and could have remembered to take off my suicide bomber bling in the airport.
This isn’t one of those times.
Let’s begin at the beginning: today did not start off well. My car wouldn’t start despite a fresh battery installed just last week (driving car maintenance costs during 3L year to the $2K mark) so I once again headed to the repair shop. The repair guys still didn’t know for sure what was wrong, but ~$515 worth of repairs later they assured me everything would work this time.
So now being flat broke and not knowing how April’s rent is going to get paid, I decided to bite the bullet and call Sallie Mae to apply for one of their bar prep study loans. I give the agent my information, have him submit the preliminary app… and get told I can’t be approved for a loan. Which was mighty odd when I’ve been busting my butt to get my credit into the “as good as you can get without having a mortgage” zone, on top of me just disclosing my entire financial life to the North Carolina Board of Law Examiners at the beginning of January. If something was wrong, I should have known it.
A new addition to my credit report, courtesy of Big Guv'mint's incompetence
Panicked now that I have absolutely no clue how I’m going to cover rent for April — or May or June or July or August — I log onto the Equifax website to check my credit report.
And see this.
That reads “150 days past due”.
As of February 2012.
On a student loan issued in August 2011.
Now those of you who are good at math might notice there’s a 6-month gap between August to February. Roughly 180 days give or take. As few as 155 if you’re going from August 31st to February 1st. Meaning whatever the hell happened with this thing, I’ve supposedly been “delinquent” since the day it was issued. No in-school deferment. Not even a grace period. Nothing.
At this point I briefly stop being concerned about the Sallie Mae app and start being terrified about my bar application itself. The NCBLE likes getting everything about your life and I had just told them in January I was current on everything. Now I’m listed as 5 months late. A pretty big omission that can’t be good for the whole “character and fitness” thing.
Luckily I’m ever-so-slightly OCD when it comes to legal and financial documents, so I’ve got a copy of every single thing I sent to the State Bar. I pull it out, flip to one of the appendices — and sure enough, even the Federal Direct Loan website had me listed as being current on everything
Big Guv'mint says nothing is due... but I'm apparently 150 days late on it anyway
It’s a bit hard to see because this is a copy-of-a-copy, but you can clearly make out “Next Due Date: 07/14/2013″, “Pay This Amount: $0.00″, and the timestamp when it was printed out — 01/03/2012, when I would have been 120 days late according to the Department of Education’s report to the credit bureau.
Staring at physical evidence that something was/is amiss, I transition from being worried to being furious. I call the DOE’s 800-number and get to spend the next 30 minutes of my life talking with one of their agents.
He first tells me I owe ~$300ish dollars on March 14th (next week). He then tells me I’m on the verge of defaulting because I’m 150 days late and they report things to the credit bureaus at 90 days. Trying to contain my rage I politely reiterate that I’m still in school, don’t graduate until May, and am entitled by law to an in-school deferment.
Then I get put on hold
About 5 minutes later he gets back on the line, tells me he’s going to flag my account as being in forbearance so it doesn’t become even further past due, and will “submit some paperwork” to correct the deferment issue.
And then adds “There might be a little smudge on your credit report. If that becomes an issue, call back and we’ll try to fix it.”
(1) “If”? (2) “Call back”?? (3) “Try“???
I got off the phone before I said something I’d regret. Then filed a credit report dispute with Equifax and took the dog out so I could decompress a bit.
Since Big Guv’mint’s got sovereign immunity — and I don’t have a property interest in a prospective loan, or other damages to bring me under the Tort Claims Act — there’s not much I can do in terms of legal recourse. And at this point, thanks to the DOE, I now have an oncoming financial train wreck bearing down on me that has to take priority.
But damn this is ridiculous. Completely, totally, inexplicably ridiculous.
This wasn’t some loan issued before they nationalized the student loan industry, converting something from my private lender to my public one and something getting lost en route. It wasn’t the first public loan issued to me, where maybe someone somewhere at some point might have been unsure of how the process worked. No: it’s the last loan of at least 13 of them issued under the Direct Loan program.
And the best they can tell me is “If us screwing up becomes an issue for you and you can’t pay your bills as a result, call back to wait 30 minutes and then we’ll try to correct our failures.”
I pray I can stay healthy for awhile, because with my track record God only knows what’s going to happen when these clowns take over my healthcare system…
The full-body scanner showed I had nothing else on me except for the chain around my neck — why do you need to follow up with groping my genitals? [↩]
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 21, 2011 in Randomness
I surfaced briefly from under the pile of end-of-semester homework to catch up on the news, and just now stumbled upon this whole UC Davis pepper spraying incident via a friend posting this YouTube video on Facebook:
Now I’m no fan of the Occupy movement and Occupiers’ tendency to willfully violate the private property rights of others to try and make a point.1 Even so, this is downright insane
The university’s claim that the pepper spraying was prompted by a “hostile” situation is thoroughly debunked by the video. There’s nothing here but a bunch of wannabe hippies sitting there linking arms thinking it’ll make a difference in tuition increases.2
They weren’t preventing the ingress or egress of vehicular traffic, presenting a safety hazard, or causing any other public disturbance to a level that demanded the use of force. Totally, shamelessly, incontrovertibly outrageous — what seems to be a recurring theme among California law enforcement agencies.
Remind me not to visit California again any time soon…
I’ll concede I wholeheartedly agree with the Occupy folks with respect to crony capitalism bearing some responsibility for the economic mess we’re in — but they don’t seem to grasp that the reason crony capitalism persists is because it’s incredibly lucrative when the federal government has its tentacles in every cookie jar available. A regulation costing you or I a nickel apiece might cost a given industry millions of dollars, which prompts companies to buy legions of lobbyists to push for special favors from the government. That’s why things turn into a mess. End crony capitalism, but also end the government overreach that promotes crony capitalism. [↩]
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 18, 2011 in The 3L Life
Good evening y’all, and welcome to the weekend!
Posting on law:/dev/null will be hit-or-miss until around December 9th or so — I’ve currently got 6 papers, 2.5 oral arguments, and an in-class final exam in the next 2 weeks alone, leaving me with almost no time to blog.1
Without the luxury of coming up with something new and pithy, I’ve taken the luxury of linking to a “Behind the Mic” webstream of an online radio show I hosted with my classmate Hahvahd2 on Wednesday for our ConLaw II class
Each week during the academic year, we host something call iSpeak Blog Radio talking about a variety of First Amendment-related topics. You can access the main website, including the archived shows, online at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/ispeak.
My topic was California’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) shutting off all cell phone service within their subway stations, as a way of squelching an alleged protest that they claim was going to take place.3 We also brought in ECU’s Peter Romary4 to help give a lawyer’s perspective on the issues. Personally I think BART’s decision was shamelessly illegal and I’m a bit disappointed no one’s filed suit over it yet, but until someone does I decided to comment from my perch in the law school
Before we get to the video, if you’re interested in the factual background and links for more info, here’s what I included in the Facebook event listing I cobbled together for the radio show:
The operators of California’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) public transportation subway system pay mobile phone providers to offer mobile phone service throughout the Transbay Tube. Mobile transmitters/towers exist throughout the BART system providing cellular coverage. BART maintains physical control over the towers, including providing electrical power.
On July 3rd, 2011, BART police shot and killed Charles Hill at its Civic Center Station in San Francisco. Hill was a homeless man who was allegedly inebriated, and was reportedly armed with a bottle, two knives, and was “acting aggressively” toward police when he was killed. The official security camera video released by BART is inconclusive (the YouTube video can be seen at the link below).
This was the third fatal shooting by BART police in three years. The first, occurring in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009, resulted after police arrested and handcuffed Oscar Grant for disorderly conduct at the Fruitvale Station in Oakland. While Grant was handcuffed and prostrate [face-down] on the ground, Officer Johannes Mehserle pulled out his revolver and shot Grant in the back. Grant later died for his injuries and Mehserle served 11 months in prison for involuntary manslaughter: Mehserle claimed in court he intended to pull his Taser instead.
Following Hill’s July 2011 death, the group “No Justice, No BART” organized a protest at several metro stations beginning at 4:30pm calling for BART to be disbanded and the officers who killed Hill to be criminally charged for yet another killing. As the crowd grew in size, some protestors attempted to prevent trains from departing and service was eventually disrupted. Several stations were closed entirely as a result of the protest.
A month later, BART claimed “[o]rganizers plann[ed] to disrupt BART service on August 11, 2011… us[ing] mobile devices to coordinate their disruptive activities and communicate about the location and number of BART Police.” BART officials cut off electricity to all mobile phone towers from 4:00pm to 7:00pm at four stations in an attempt to thwart the alleged protest. In the process, everybody (including non-protestors) lost mobile phone service in BART stations.
[LEGAL ISSUES PRESENTED]
==> Did the alleged “credible information” obtained by Bay Area Rapid Transit, claiming an impending August 11th protest, satisfy the 3-pronged test articulated by the Supreme Court in Brandenburg v. Ohio (intent / imminence / likelihood) for infringing upon speech rights?
==> Assuming arguendo the Brandenburg test was satisfied, was the BART decision to end mobile phone service nonetheless an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech, particularly when BART acknowledges portions of its stations are “free speech zones” for lawful protest?
==> Assuming arguendo the Brandenburg test was satisfied, was ending mobile phone service for everybody (including innocent commuters) an overbroad — and therefore unconstitutional — restriction on protected First Amendment activities?
After more than 2 years of writing here at law:/dev/null, I’ve done a reasonably decent job of keeping the “real world” politics to a minimum1 — not because I’m averse to talking about those sorts of issues, but because law school is enough of a headache without me going into AN ALL-CAPS RAGE2 about the latest controversy du jour.
Even so, every now and then I feel a slight urge to rant
Earlier tonight I took a break from drowning in homework to visit Chapel Hill for “An Evening with Five Presidents”, an event put together by the UNC Board of Governors featuring a panel discussion with the 5 folks who have led the consolidated University of North Carolina since it was established in 1972. Former BOG members were asked to attend as “special friends” of the University — and since I’m more likely to find a job lead from one of these folks than anything my GPA will get me, I figured making the academic sacrifice was a rational choice
Anyhow, the wide-ranging discussion included more-than-a-few remarks about the proper way to fund the University and the totally absurd tuition increases being discussed behind closed doors (e.g. $4K+ increase at UNCCH for in-state undergrads over the next couple years ). Unfortunately those are the kinds of conversations that happen when newly-Republican-led state legislatures gore the higher education system and nuke $1 of every $7 overnight.3
It’s obvious from the General Assembly’s actions that legislators have a dim view of the university system, I’m just thoroughly flummoxed as to why. It’s always made intuitive sense to me that the education sector is one of the few options that are a sensible and eminently capitalist choice for investing taxpayers’ money.
Yes, I just said “eminently capitalist.” Maybe I’m biased because of the modest upbringing and former dropout status, but consider two brief reasons:4
The Social Network Effect:
Folks who’ve spent time in a computer science class have probably already heard of the “Metcalfe Effect”, named after Ethernet founder Robert Metcalfe. He argued that a critical mass of users was necessary to create any value in any particular network; for example, one person having a telephone is worthless, but as more people get telephones all current telephone users benefit.5 Economists refer to this as a positive network externality.
The Metcalfe Effect in computer science: for a network of (n) nodes, the total number of possible connections is (n * (n - 1)) / 2
You can see a visual depiction in the photo on the right. The Metcalfe Effect can actually be expressed as a mathematical formula — (n * (n-1)) / 2 — indicating the total number of possible connections between n nodes in a network. 2 nodes: 1 connection. 5 nodes: 10 connections. 12 nodes: 66 connections. And so on.
Universities are essentially big incubators for a human-centric Metcalfe Effect, creating what I’d describe as a Social Network Effect. Thousands of people voluntarily choose to come into a given geographic area, sharing a common institutional affiliation for 4 years at a stretch, and in the process inevitably form connections (their social network) with those around them.
Now is every one of N.C. State‘s 33,000+ students going to connect with the other 32,299+? Of course not. But in the aggregate, more connections are formed than would be otherwise.
I’ve seen this Social Network Effect get routinely derided by conservative pundits for years — “We’re supposed to be teaching kids to get jobs! Not to have fun!” blah blah blah rabble rabble rabble.
But the criticisms overlook basic realities of how economics works: information asymmetry is an impediment to maximum economic efficiency, and our personal networks help to distribute information and reduce that asymmetry as a result. This is the reason why the extent and quality of your personal network influences the resources you can obtain.
To make a long story short (these kinds of debates can get über-long), basically with the Social Network Effect at universities you get more people forging more numerous and economically higher-quality connections with more other people, producing a greater quantity and quality of economic interaction — better matches between employers and employees, producers and consumers, new business ventures, and so on.
The Foundational Knowledge Effect:
I couldn’t come up with a cool-sounding name for this one
One of my minors at N.C. State was in economics, and to get there we had to read a lot of different books / essays / writings / etc. Out of everything economics-related that I’ve read, economist William Easterly’s The Elusive Quest for Growth ranks among my Top 2 favorites.6
A former economist with the World Bank, Easterly’s book discusses the various “panaceas” touted by the developed world for trying to improve third-world countries (things like debt forgiveness, building schools, and the like) and why most of them simply don’t work. While the book overall is excellent, what particularly jumped out to me in reading it was Easterly’s thorough exploration of the role of knowledge in the economy.
In a nutshell: knowledge is cumulative and builds off of itself.
This is why, if you look at the economic growth rates of various countries over the last century, countries tend to hit a certain point where their per capita GDP accelerates exponentially rather than just linearly — the “core” level of knowledge among the populace hits a threshold point where it can then take greater advantage of new advances and discoveries, accelerating growth further and leading to even more such discoveries.
As an example, you couldn’t simply teleport back to California in 1900, give someone the laptop you brought with you, and expect Silicon Valley to spring up decades ahead of time when the country hasn’t seen a radio or TV yet. Easterly discusses this reality in the context of African tribes cut off from the outside world, suddenly immersed in modern tech innovations when approached by missionaries: they pick up on it eventually, it just takes a long time when that foundational knowledge doesn’t exist.
Just like universities are great voluntary creches for nurturing social networks, so too are they among the most-effective means for building “core” knowledge in the populace. The widespread ubiquity of technology, access to the latest research, the exposure to knowledge that comes from building a social network in itself — all of this contributes to everyone’s foundation of knowledge, enabling a higher degree of economic growth at a faster pace than we’d have otherwise simply from mere exposure to it (and even more if it’s retained).
I have to cut this entry here because WordPress says I’ve already hit 1,300 words, but my main point is this: the Social Network Effect and the Foundational Knowledge Effect, taken together, lead to a situation where the economic loss that comes from taxing away private money and diverting it to a public purpose is recouped and then outweighed by the economic gain from reducing information asymmetry and increasing the scope and speed of innovation in the marketplace.
In other words, just looking at the economics alone and ignoring any other incidental benefits, funding the University of North Carolina is a net benefit for the State and its taxpayers.
The conservatives in the North Carolina General Assembly should take notice and give embodiment to the words written in Article IX, Section 9 of the State’s Constitution: “The General Assembly shall provide that the benefits of The University of North Carolina and other public institutions of higher education, as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the State free of expense.”
And I might be going out on a limb here, but I’d guess cutting 15% of the University’s budget and prompting 4-figure tuition increases don’t really mesh with that.7
Have a good night y’all!
From the law:/dev/null Unsolicited Commentary archives:
A hair’s breadth under $2,000,000.00 at NCCU Law completely gone. [↩]
I concede at the outset I haven’t gone searching for empirical studies to back up my arguments here; I’m sure they exist and I could found them if I felt like spending the time to do so, but I don’t need empirical confirmation to know when something basic makes sense [↩]
Or, for the younger generation of folks reading this entry: the more people who join Facebook, the more each individual Facebook user benefits [↩]
The other, read during the time I had dropped out of school, is Henry H. Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson — hands down the greatest economics tome I’ve ever read, and one I strongly encourage everyone to read from cover-to-cover regardless of your political philosophy [↩]
That’s not to say I think all tuition increases are per se bad. I firmly believe students should be expected to fund a portion of their education (and even take out loans ) so they have some “skin in the game” as it were, and universities should have flexibility to deal with inflation and other cost issues. But I’ve also advocated for years that any tuition increases need to be predictable and capped. Better to have a 6.5% increase every year like clockwork than no increase one year and a 40%+ increase out of the blue the year after. [↩]
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Mar 14, 2011 in Randomness
…to everyone with whom I’ve ever shared a meeting, meal, or car ride where I incessantly looked down at my BlackBerry and *tappity tap tap*‘d away at my phone rather than enjoying the presence of your company
I was recently reminded of how profoundly discourteous the practice is and how annoying I must have been — and while I’ve surely racked up enough bad karma that I’ll likely be getting repaid for years,1 I want you to know I truly am sorry and hope you’ll forgive me
Law school-related content to resume tomorrow Have a great night y’all!
Though, in fairness to me, since switching to an iPhone I’ve finally gotten into the habit of turning the ringer off whenever I’m with other people [↩]