Whisky Tango Foxtrot

I have to admire the ability of Anya Kamenetz to use the non-sequitur in such a blatant and obvious manner. Kamenetz takes aim at Neal McClusky of the Cato Institute and his recent writings on higher educational subsidies from the federal government. What is so amazing is that she can’t seem to muster any data to refute McCluskey’s point so she ends up writing,

Now you could bat these numbers back and forth all day. What really makes me laugh is the argument that since the federal government is already spending a hell of a lot of money on this problem, that means the problem is not really a problem at all.

Tell that to 46 million Americans with no health insurance !

I’m sorry, but WTF is that woman talking about? So…subsidies to college students are linked to health care spending…or is it that health care spending is linked to subsidies for college students…or does Anya walk to work or carry her lunch? Is this the kind of thinking that an education at Yale produces? If so, then I can think of some subsidies to cut right now, every single one to Yale.

But the inanity of Kamenetz doesn’t stop there. Forging ahead on nothing other than sheer ignorance and thickheadedness we get this,

Neal, let’s shake hands and agree that throwing more taxpayer dollars away is not going to get at the root causes of this mess. What we need is a solution that curbs billions of federal subsidies to corporations and other waste, reins in spending at the for-profit outfits and out-of-control state bureaucracies, incurs low administrative costs of less than a penny on the dollar, is funded as a public good and a public investment, is modeled on the successful systems in other industrialized nations, and protects the poorest and most vulnerable, who are most exposed to risk in the current system.

This isn’t so bad, but it assumes that Neal McCluskey actually favors things like corporate welfare, large out-of-control state bureaucracies, and so forth. Further Kemenetz, despite claiming to write on economic issues–more like personal finance, she doesn’t know her butt from elbow when it comes to things like public goods. Education is not a public good in that it is acts to improve human capital. If one opposes subsidizing corporations capital accumulation on the ground of corporate welfare, then logically one should oppose the same thing with regards to human capital. One could argue that there are some external benefits to educational spending and justify subsidies in this way, but Kamenetz doesn’t even do that.

And as both Radley Balko and Neal McCluskey argue, part of the problem with rising college costs is the very aid that Kamenetz wants to increase (and which is increasing). It isn’t that hard to figure out. If you subsidize something, people will consume more of it. But since we live in a world with finite resources, universities and colleges will have to spend more to be able to supply more, and as such they’ll raise their prices. Also, if the student isn’t paying for college out of his own pocket, then there is less incentive for universities and colleges to keep tuition low. In fact, why not raise it since the students will pay the tuition anyways.

There is something pathetic and smarmy about a privleged white kid whining about how rotten the lives of other people are, and Anya Kamenetz seems to have taken such whining to knew heights. Radley Balko notes that Kamenetz has been called the “voice of the under 30 crowd”. This is too bad for the under 30 crowd; having such a thick witted doofus as a standard bearer is a black mark, IMO.

Update: Here is some more vapidness from Ms. Kamenetz. Here Kamenetz is bemoaning the sorry state of affairs for graduate students in the humanities. You see, getting a graduate degree in comparative literature isn’t likely to lead to a cush job, hence you’ll likely find yourself working like a dog as an adjunct professor, and earning a wage that probably wont allow you to cover the cost of your student loans if you went that route. But often times Kamenetz simply uses the terms “grad students” and the subtitle for the article is, Grad school provides exciting new road to poverty”.

In other words, while this is true for the humanities, it isn’t necessarily true for other graduate programs such as law school, medical school, or going to graduate school in mathematics, computer science or even something like economics. All of these latter graduate school programs usually produce people with skills that not only prepare them for academia, but also for the private sector. Being able to grind through mountains of data and turn it into something that the layperson can understand has some value to many corporations.

Yes, going to graduate school in the humanities is probably not going to lead to a comfortable life. But whose fault is that? The graduate programs that are teeming with graduate students who will take strenuous work assignments for crap pay? Or the graduate students who fail to look into things like TAships, prospective employment down the road, and so forth? Shocking isn’t it…looking further ahead in life more than the next party, but that is part of growing up. A good example is somebody who blogs under the psuedonym Invisible Adjunct,

“I’ve spent all these years and I’ve failed,” says IA, who entered graduate school in 1993 and received her Ph.D. in 1999. “You agree to do this five-to-seven-year low-paid apprenticeship because you’re joining this guild. And if you end up as an adjunct you think, wow, I’m really getting screwed over.”

Well boo-fricken-hoo. Did the Invisible Adjunct look at how easy it was to “join” this guild? Did she look into the job market for people with degrees comparable to her prior to entering graduate school? Both of these are critical. For example, the old notion of a guild was that supply was controlled by controlling…well…the supply for crying out loud. Control the supply and each member of the guild has more market power. If the current system admits any breathing person that can write the tuition check, then guess what happens to market power if many people try to enter the guild?

One doesn’t need loads of data handed oneself to reach the not so shocking conclusion that a PhD in history, comparative lit. or Elizabethan poetry isn’t going to mean a job with a huge income and lots of benefits.

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Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Steve, in your first example I think that what Ms. Kamenetz may be getting at is that

    1. Education and health care are both problems.
    2. The federal government spends a lot of money on both of them.
    3. Spending more money hasn’t solved either problem.
    4. The solution to both is spending more money.

    Reasoning by analogy. They’re similar therefore they’re the same. A stretch but not quite a non sequitur. I’m sure it makes perfect sense to her.

    A key problem for those who, like Ms. Kamenetz, believe that despite the increases in spending in real terms the solution is spending more money is that they’re unaware of Gammon’s Law: both education and health care are producing fewer inputs per output over time regardless of how outputs are measured. Milton Friedman has written about his pretty extensively, cf. the citations in a post of mine, “The Best Laid Plans”.