Over at Pacific Standard, Seth Masket expresses surprise at the fact that many in the Republican party have abandoned traditional GOP policy goals and ideological beliefs:
Most recently, this has been apparent in Trump’s responses to reports by American intelligence agencies that Russia and WikiLeaks hacked Democratic National Committee servers and worked to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign… Most recently, this has been apparent in Trump’s responses to reports by American intelligence agencies that Russia and WikiLeaks hacked Democratic National Committee servers and worked to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
And it doesn’t stop with the GOP’s new Russophilia:
Another core tenet of modern Republicanism, of course, is free-market capitalism. The best economic system, the party maintains, is one in which businesses can operate with minimal regulation and thus produce wealth and innovation that benefit everyone. Trump’s approach has literally been the opposite of that. To use the tax code and other tools to selectively bully and punish companies that exhibit undesirable but legal behavior, such as building plants in other countries, is many things, but it’s not free-market capitalism. But many Republican leaders have nonetheless enthusiastically backed Trump’s approach.
I have a different view. My opinion is that GOP talking points are cheap talk and did not express true ideological commitment. For example, Republicans talk free trade, but they feel free to restrict labor through migration restrictions, they were always willing to give breaks to specific firms, and hand out subsidies to specific groups (remember the faith based initiatives?). A strict libertarian approach to trade in the GOP has really been a minority view. In other words, “free trade” is fun to say but in practice, they don’t follow it. It’s yet another example of “libertarian chic” among conservatives.
So what’s my theory? Like all parties, the GOP is a pragmatic coalition. Ideology is secondary in most cases. It’s about getting a sufficiently large block of people together so you can win elections. If you believe this theory of political parties, ideology is really not that important and, in most cases, it can be dropped at any time. In American history, for example, the Democrats and Republican parties switched positions on Black rights as part of an attempt to win the South.
This theory – that ideology is only as good as its ability to maintain a coalition – best explains the GOP policy points that Trump has rigidly stuck to: anti-immigration and abortion. And it makes sense, the two most steadfast groups in the GOP are social conservatives/evangelicals and working class whites in the South and Midwest. These groups don’t care much about foreign relations or free trade. What Trump has shown is that populism will melt away every thing except your most cherished beliefs.
Whenever I write about jobs and graduate school on this blog, I usually get one or two people who accuse me of “careerism.” For example, when I wrote about how to be productive a few weeks ago, the following comment was posted by jon:
What Fabio was talking about is probably careerism. Most successful scholars, may I say, unfortunately do follow that trajectory. But there are a few great ones that don’t. Only real geniuses are productive. Average good scholars are remembered for only one or two pieces of masterful works. This is most obvious in hard science such as mathematics and physics, and I don’t know why it wouldn’t apply to social science.
The previous comment, by Santosh Sali, elaborates:
Reading the post – gives me few impressions,
1) Being productive is about making “work-around” for serious, solo, committed work.
2) Academia is all about “Publishing” . And “teaching” doesn’t matter or it is “mundane” n trivial aspect.
3) So then where is original “contribution” of researcher? How will system assess/evaluate it?
4)Also using doctoral scholars, post-docs to work with is “collaboration” or “something else”.
5) also I have genuine doubt, these suggestions – will bring “breadth” in your work, what about “depth” – isn’t that people enter academia for this? (Or probably I am in utopian world).
A few responses. If by “careerism,” you mean “you wish to rewarded and promoted for doing good teaching and research,” then yes, I am absolutely a careerist. If you mean by careerism means “avoiding doing good work and focusing only on raises and promotions,” then, no, I do not mean that and nothing I wrote supports that.
Rather, my recommendations are about working smart. For example, let’s take Santosh’ #2 point – “academia is all about publishing.” Actually, I never said that. As any faculty member will tell you, academia is about many things. In a liberal arts college, you will do lots and lots of teaching. Even in a research university, professors will spend a lot of time prepping lectures, meetings with students, and grading papers. I know I do! Academia is also about administration and service.
The tricky thing is how to balance all these demands. My suggestion from the post boils down to a few ideas: work in groups; recognize diminishing returns; recognize work that can be minimized or avoided. At no point did I saw that you should do poorly in the class room. Rather, you should try to recognize that there may be a way to be an excellent teacher without creating more work for yourself. Same with research. Sure, *some* types of research *might* require a lot of solo work. But normally, most work improves with collaborators. So if you want to improve at your job, give these ideas a chance.
Antitrust is one of the classic topics in economic sociology. Fligstein’s The Transformation of Corporate Control and Dobbin’s Forging Industrial Policy both dealt with how the rules that govern economic life are created. But with some exceptions, it hasn’t received a lot of attention in the last decade in econ soc.
In fact, antitrust hasn’t been on the public radar that much at all. After the Microsoft case was settled in 2001, antitrust policy just hasn’t thrown up a lot of issues that have gotten wide public attention, beyond maybe griping about airline mergers.
But in the last year or so, it seems like popular interest in antitrust is starting to bubble up again.
Just in the last few months, there have been several widely circulated pieces on antitrust policy. Washington Monthly, the Atlantic, ProPublica (twice), the American Prospect—all these have criticized existing antitrust policy and argued for strengthening it.
This is timely for me, because I’ve also been studying antitrust. As a policy domain that is both heavily technocratic and heavily influenced by economists, it’s a great place to think about the role of economics in public policy.
Yesterday I put a draft paper up on SocArXiv on the changing role of economics in antitrust policy. The 1970s saw a big reversal in antitrust, when we went from a regime that was highly skeptical of mergers and all sorts of restraints on trade to one that saw them as generally efficiency-promoting and beneficial for consumers. At the same time, the influence of economics in antitrust policy increased dramatically.
But while these two development are definitely related—there was a close affinity between the Chicago School and the relaxed antitrust policy of the Reagan administration, for example—there’s no simple relationship here: economists’ influence began to increase at a time when they were more favorable to antitrust intervention, and after the 1980s most economists rejected the strongest Chicago arguments.
I might write about the sociology part of the paper later, but in this post I just want to touch on the question of what this history implies about the present moment and the possibility of change in antitrust policy.
I am a huge proponent of “big data” – the data that millions, no – billions, of people generate as they use the Internet. For the first time in human history, we have a portal into the collective chatter of humanity. And if you can’t see the promise in that, you sorely lack in imagination.
But, as with anything, big data has problems and limitations. Perhaps the most fundamental limitation of big data is that it is a corpus of text, not a sample of people. In other words, the typical big data project uses information gleaned from social media, search engines, email, crowd shared editing (e.g., github or wiki), and the World Wide Web. It simply is not a sample of people.
Skeptics will just wave their hands and say “I told you so! It’s garbage!” My response is different. First, there are lots of data that are immensely useful even if they aren’t perfect random samples – historical archives, dinosaur bones, field notes, etc. What is important is that the data source tell you some important about a case that you care about, or it addresses the possibility that something might be true.
Second, even though big data is not a sample of people, it is still a sample of a very important type of communication. And surely, this would be of enormous value to social science.
Third, when I hear that method X has a limitation, I usually see it as an opportunity. For example, survey data on income are often truncated on the left or the right (i.e., the poor or wealthy are often lumped together). Instead of saying, “Garbage! No survey data for the study of income!” – you should say, “Can we model the bias? How do we qualify the findings?” This is exactly what was done in the Heckman model, and other models of survey bias.
So yes, big data has problems. But so do all data and if you take a moment to think about it, a lot of problems are simply opportunities for developing new insights into research methods.
A few days ago, we had a discussion about, exactly, what institutionalism is all about these days. This has been a long standing issue on this blog:
- Combining institutionalism with other topics.
- What we lost when the sociology of orgs became institutionalism.
- Institutionalism 2015
- Does Jerry Davis still hate institutionalism?
- Is Theory of Fields an updated Dynamics of Contention?
- Assessing A Theory of Fields.
While higher ed has certainly been under attack since the election, Donald Trump hasn’t said too much about his agenda for higher education, and with Betsy DeVos, charter school aficionado, at the helm of the Department of Education, it seems like K-12 issues may be at the forefront of the new administration.
What’s pretty clear, though, is that “free college”, a la Bernie or, more reluctantly, Hillary, is not on that agenda. But free college, it turns out, has not disappeared: New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced a free college proposal of his own, to apply to SUNY and CUNY schools.
Cuomo’s proposal would make SUNY/CUNY tuition-free for families with incomes of up to $125,000. It would require full-time attendance, and be “last-dollar” aid—i.e., the fee waiver would kick in after federal Pell grants, NY state Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) grants, and any scholarships were already used up.
New York is not the first state to set forth some kind of “free college” proposal—see Tennessee and Oregon. However, it is the first to take it beyond the community college level. And the mere size of the NYS system—enrolling a million students—makes it impossible to ignore.
So, some caveats. “Free tuition” probably doesn’t cover fees, which at my SUNY, at least, are nearly $3000 a year. And it definitely doesn’t cover living expenses. New York also has low tuition, compared to most states—it is still only $6470 at four-year SUNYs. And it has a decent—though not as generous as California’s—state grant aid program in TAP. If your income is low enough—I’d guess below $50k, though that’s just a ballpark—between Pell and TAP you’re not paying any tuition anyway. As Matthew Chingos accurately points out in the Washington Post, families with incomes between $80,000 and $125,000 will benefit most.
And the fact that living expenses are still, at SUNY/CUNY, larger than tuition costs means that it’s also not going to make that much dent in student loans, which are lower-than-average (about $20k for four-year degrees) for SUNY graduates anyway. Cuomo’s headline about “alleviating crushing burden of student loans” is hyperbole.
So what this is, is a significant, and expensive, expansion of grant aid for the middle-class, and a reframing of what college costs (nothing! I know, I know) that may encourage lower-income students to go to college. And tying the benefit to full-time attendance may encourage more full-time enrollment, which evidence suggests (though there are a lot of selection effects here) facilitates completion.
And, of course, this is just a proposal. It’s not yet legislation, and there are a lot of steps between here and there. Nevertheless, despite its limitations, if this became a reality I think the implications for higher ed would be huge—for the symbolic value of committing to the idea that students should not pay for tuition, if nothing else.
One is the question of whether this would be resource-neutral for SUNY and CUNY. There’s no indication it’s not intended to be, but a lot will depend on the details. For SUNY, at least, funding has only been loosely linked to tuition levels. Sometimes New York State has raised tuition to plug its revenue gaps, without SUNY ever seeing the money.
A second is how it intersects with the push for larger enrollments, which has been a pounding drumbeat over the last three or four years at SUNY (not sure about CUNY). Right now, additional students—even in-state ones—bring marginal benefits, but would that still be the case if many of them weren’t paying tuition? I don’t think the enrollment push has been particularly good for the institution, but it’s also been sold as the path to financial solvency. If free tuition means no benefits to larger enrollments, SUNY will have to find a new strategy for achieving long-term fiscal stability.
This could also affect who gets to enroll. Free tuition might make selective schools more competitive—which is probably good for them as institutions. But it also might encourage an even heavier focus on out-of-state and international students who can bring more revenue. That, in turn, could lead to battles over who gets the seats—New York residents or non-New-Yorkers paying full freight—which have been brutal in California, but largely absent in New York.
Finally, this clearly affects the complex organizational ecosystem of higher ed. It’s bad for private institutions in New York, especially small struggling colleges like Albany’s Saint Rose, which cut two dozen tenure lines last year in a desperate attempt to stay afloat. It’s probably also bad for for-profit colleges—largely because of the symbolic value of making college “free” rather than real changes in relative cost, since for-profit students are disproportionately in the lower-income group that wouldn’t benefit anyway.
But I’d hold that the biggest impact of such a plan would be the symbolic one. Is it ideal that it’s basically a middle-class tax benefit that does nothing material for lower-income families? No. But the institutional details of the New York State system—its relatively low tuition and preexisting state grant aid—make it possible to create “tuition-free college” here for less money than it would cost in many places. Showing that it can be done will make free college more than a pipe dream. SUNY/CUNY is the 500-pound gorilla of public higher ed. Where New York leads, others will follow.