Internet Reduces Elite Universities’ Competitive Edge

With professors spending so much time blogging for no payment, universities might wonder whether this detracts from their value.  Although there is no evidence of a direct link between blogging and publishing productivity, a new study* by E. Han Kim and Adair Morse, of the University of Michigan, and Luigi Zingales, of the University of Chicago, shows that the internet’s ability to spread knowledge beyond university classrooms has diminished the competitive edge that elite schools once held.

Top universities once benefited from having clusters of star professors.  The study showed that during the 1970s, an economics professor from a random university, outside the top 25 programmes, would double his research productivity by moving to Harvard.  The strong relationship between individual output and that of one’s colleagues weakened in the 1980s, and vanished by the end of the 1990s.

The faster flow of information and the waning importance of location—which blogs exemplify—have made it easier for economists from any university to have access to the best brains in their field.  That anyone with an internet connection can sit in on a virtual lecture from Mr DeLong means that his ideas move freely beyond the boundaries of Berkeley, creating a welfare gain for professors and the public.  

For the full story, see:

"FINANCE & ECONOMICS: Economists’ blogs; The invisible hand on the keyboard; Why do economists spend valuable time blogging?"  The Economist 380, no. 8489 (Aug. 3, 2006):  67. 


The full reference to the paper by Kim et al, is:

* “Are Elite Universities Losing Their Competitive Edge?” by E. Han Kim, Adair Morse and Luigi Zingales. NBER working paper 12245, May 2006.

(Thanks to Carolyn Diamond for giving me a copy of the article from The Economist.) 


Exercising to Win, Hurts Lifetime Fitness

Source of image:  online version of the NYT article cited below.


(p. E1)  The dirty secret among former high school and college jocks is that many don’t remain active as adults.  In their glory days they were the fittest among their peers.  But as adults many are overtaken by nonjocks who embrace fitness as a commitment to health, forget the varsity letter.

Onetime elite athletes often languish once organized competition is over and a coach isn’t hounding them, sports scientists and exercise physiologists say.  Many are burned out.  Others become discouraged when their lackluster fitness can’t compare to their highlight reels.  Running on a treadmill in a sea of anonymous gym-goers doesn’t compare to the thrill of being an m.v.p. on campus.

"Basically, they’ve been to the mountaintop and now they’re on these little hills, and that is difficult to deal with," said Dan Gould, the director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University in Lansing.

Extrinsic motivation is tricky business, said Dr. Gould, a professor of kinesiology.  He said he has found that athletes who played for trophies (p. E8) or attention are more at risk of becoming sedentary as adults than people who have taught themselves to get off the sofa and exercise, those with "intrinsic motivation."


For the full story, see:

JILL AGOSTINO.  "Once an Athletic Star, Now an Unheavenly Body."   The New York Times  (Thurs.,  July 6, 2006):  E1 & E8.

Gateway Features

Source of graphic: online version of The Gateway article cited below.


The Gateway, the student newspaper at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, ran a nice feature article on on July 18, 2006, as the first installment of a projected series on blogs created by members of the campus community.


If you click the citation below, you will arrive at the online version of the feature:

Reed, Charley. "Meet the Blogger: UNO Professor Art Diamond." The Gateway (Tues., July 18, 2006):  3.


For your convenience, the text of the feature also appears below.

Continue reading “Gateway Features”

When Public Schools Fail, Give Parents a Refund

Writing on Weds., July 12th, libertarian litigator Clint Bolick, seeks to improve failing schools by using the courts to increase parental choice:


A world of education reform will change tomorrow when a group of families files a class action lawsuit in Chancery Court in Newark, N.J.  They are asking for an immediate and meaningful remedy for 60,000 children trapped in failing schools — by transferring control over education funds from bureaucrats to parents.

Seeking to vindicate the state constitutional guarantee of a "thorough and efficient" education, the plaintiffs in Crawford v. Davy ask that children be allowed to leave public schools where fewer than half of the students pass the state math and language literacy assessments that measure educational proficiency; and that the parents of these children be permitted to take the pro rata share of the public money spent on their children, to seek better opportunities in other public or private schools.  Supporting the families are three prominent New Jersey groups:  the Black Ministers Council, the Latino Leadership Alliance, and Excellent Education for Everyone.

The remedy these parents seek is fundamentally different from the one established by more than three decades of litigation across the country.  Courts in states like New York, Texas and California have ordered massive increases in school funding to fulfill state constitutional mandates for educational "equity" or "adequacy," all on the belief that more money will boost school quality and student performance.  The funds have produced new programs and bureaucracies, but too often they fail to trickle down to the students by way of improved educational quality.

In any area other than education such a remedy would be considered bizarre.  Suppose you purchased a car whose warranty promised "thorough and efficient" transportation, and it turned out to be a lemon.  If you sued to enforce the warranty, would a court order a multibillion dollar payment to the auto maker in the hope that someday it would produce a better product?  Of course not:  It would order the company to give your money back so you could buy a different car.


For the full commentary, see:

CLINT BOLICK. "Remedial Education." The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., July 12, 2006):  A16.

“giving individual schools more autonomy”

(p. A1)  SAN DIEGO — When San Diego’s school district began overhauling its science-education curriculum five years ago, it wanted to raise the performance of minority, low-income and immigrant students.

But parents in middle- and upper-income areas, where many students were already doing well, rebelled against the new curriculum, and a course called Active Physics in particular.  They called it watered-down science, too skimpy on math.

A resistance movement took hold.  Some teachers refused to use the new textbooks, which are peppered with cartoons.  They gathered up phased-out texts to use on the sly.  As controversy over the issue escalated, it played a part in an election in which the majority of the school board was replaced.  Now, further curriculum changes are under consideration.

. . .

(p. A11)  Mitz Lee, a parent activist at Scripps Ranch High, also a high-achieving school, continued quietly organizing opposition and eventually made it a cornerstone of her 2004 campaign for a seat on the school board.

Opposition to the program remained sharp among some veteran science teachers.  Tom Deets, who teaches at Patrick Henry High, argued that freshman who hadn’t passed eighth-grade algebra weren’t ready for physics.  Rather than teach the new course, he switched to math until the district offered him an administrative job.

Aiming to keep their hands on alternative teaching materials, an active underground sprang up, with teachers squirreling away old physics textbooks to make sure the district couldn’t collect them.  "At one time, I probably had 400 books," says Hal Cox, a retired submarine commander who teaches physics at Hoover High School.  "I put them in lockers, everywhere I could find."

The opposition came to a head with the school-board elections of 2004, when three critics of the district’s overall curriculum changes, including those in math and reading, were elected to its five-member school board.  The winners included Ms. Lee, who had campaigned for an end to "fuzzy" science and was elected by the widest margin of the new board members.  She has lately been pushing for giving individual schools more autonomy on course choice.  "I don’t want any more central mandates," Ms. Lee says.


For the full story, see:

ROBERT TOMSHO.  "Textbook Battle; Top High Schools Fight New Science As Overly Simple; San Diego’s Physics Overhaul Makes Classes Accessible, Spurs Parental Backlash; Test Scores Barely Budge."  The Wall Street Journal  (Thurs., April 13, 2006):   A1 & A11.

“My Merit Is My Caste; What Is Yours?”

NEW DELHI, May 22 — The problem of caste prejudice here is as ancient as the Hindu texts. The efforts to redress it date from the formation of modern India nearly 59 years ago. Today — as India enjoys awesome rates of economic progress and confronts the challenge of spreading the benefits to its needy majority — the nation faces a polarizing totem of public policy: a government plan to extend college admission quotas to certain "backward" castes.

Affirmative action is in some ways an even more emotional issue in India than in the United States. In recent weeks, a proposal to extend quotas for admission to some of the country’s flagship, federally financed universities has caused fresh turmoil.

Protests — particularly by medical students who say merit should be the only basis for admission to India’s intensely competitive medical schools — have spread across the country and, here in the capital, hobbled public health services. Advocates and opponents of the measure have exchanged often ugly rants.

. . .

Medical students have been particularly outraged because the plan would further restrict the limited number of seats. Medical education in India begins with a five-year undergraduate program, and the proposal could affect students’ chances of completing their training.

The central lawn of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, the pre-eminent public hospital, was occupied Friday by medical students on the fifth day of a strike that began last week and continued on Monday. "My merit is my caste. What is yours?" read one T-shirt.

. . .

The opponents say set-asides would diminish the quality of India’s best universities and divide students along caste lines.

"Why after 55 years are we still thinking in terms of caste-based reservation?" demanded Poojan Aggarwal, a third-year student at Safdarjung Medical College here. "We should talk now of total meritocracy. We know on this issue none of the political parties will support us."


For the full story, see:

SOMINI SENGUPTA. "Quotas to Aid India’s Poor vs. Push for Meritocracy."  The New York Times  (Tues., May 23, 2006):  A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

Leonard Read’s Comparative Advantage

When I was a student at Wabash College, Ben Rogge arranged for Liberty Fund to finance my attendance at a couple of weekend seminars at the Foundation for Economic Education in New York.  The seminars were taught by Rogge, Edmund Opitz, and Leonard Read.  I remember upon returning to Wabash after one of the seminars, Rogge asking me what I thought of Read.  I said something along the lines that I didn’t much like his presentation style.  I remember saying that he expressed himself in a way that I associated with used car salesmen.  (So unlike Rogge’s low-key, witty, intensity.)

My memory is that Rogge did not respond directly to my comment, but (perhaps with a hint of a smile) mentioned that among many audiences, especially in business, Leonard Read was an extremely effective speaker. 

I do not doubt that, and I also do not doubt that Read belongs in the pantheon of free market defenders.  His essay "I, Pencil" is by itself sufficient for admission.  But he did more than write and speak; he nurtured and called attention to others who had wisdom to offer.  For one small example, many of us learned about Albert Jay Nock’s "The Remnant" through Leonard Read’s The Freeman.

I believe that the last time I saw Read was at the memorial service at Wabash College for Ben Rogge.  I ended up sitting near Read and Opitz, who had flown in from New York.  I introduced myself as a Rogge student who had attended FEE seminars. 

I remember Read looking very sad, and depressed, and almost lost.  I also remember that he expressed some mild indignation that more of Rogge’s students hadn’t made it back for the memorial service. 

But as a serious reader of "The Remnant," Read on further reflection probably realized that the attendance at a memorial service is not a good measure of a teacher’s influence on his students.

Apparently one student, whom Read himself influenced, was Charles Koch:

(p. A8) Whereas the bookshelves of most of America’s leading CEOs are stocked with pop corporate management and "how to succeed" books, Mr. Koch’s office is a wall-to-wall shrine to writings in classical economics, or, as he calls it, "the science of liberty." The authors who have had the most profound influence on his own political philosophy include F.A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Joseph Schumpeter, Julian Simon, Paul Johnson and Charles Murray.  Mr. Koch says that he experienced an intellectual epiphany in the early 1960s, when he attended a conference on free-market capitalism hosted by the late, great Leonard Read.


For the full commentary, see: 

STEPHEN MOORE. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Charles Koch; Private Enterprise." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 6, 2006):  A8.

(Note:  In the quotation above, I have corrected the WSJ’s misspelling of Read’s last name.)