March 14, 2019

Admissions Scandal

“Fifty people, including Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, were charged Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents allegedly bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into some of the nation’s most elite schools.” AP News


Both sides argue that the current system of higher education is deeply flawed:

“All of those wealthy parents indicted yesterday stand accused of breaking the law. But they were also pretty obviously responding to incentives. If a society turns getting into one of the top 25 schools in the country into the Willie Wonka ticket, the Holy Grail, the alchemical formula — the one thing that parents believe will ensure their children will have a happy, financially comfortable, and successful life — then people will go to absurd and illegal lengths to get it.”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“It’s not just that higher education is literally prohibitively expensive… It’s not just that admission to an élite college—more than the education a student receives there—provides the foundation of future wealth by creating or, more often, reinforcing social connections. It’s not just that every college in the country, including public schools, makes decisions about infrastructure, curriculum development, hiring, and its very existence on the basis of fund-raising and money-making logic. It’s not just that the process of getting into college grows more stressful—and, consequently, more expensive—with every passing year. It’s not just that the process itself is fundamentally rigged and everyone knows this. It’s all of it.”
Masha Gessen, The New Yorker

“Meritocracy is an illusion—long before an application shows up at a school, the system is legitimately stacked in favor of the wealthy. Kids who aren’t from privileged backgrounds are at a steep disadvantage… Now here, with the government’s case, comes a wave of high net worth parents who allegedly aren’t even making a pretense of their children earning admission—mom and dad are just going to pay, and they’ll pay this underbelly of surrogates allegedly willing to make it happen, because the surrogates want the money, and they know the system is rigged.”
Jason Gay, Wall Street Journal

“The behavior described in this alleged fraud should be punished. But on a broader and more basic level, the case also sheds light on deep inequities in our college admissions system. Because if someone can get their kid into Harvard by buying a building, let alone by committing any of the alleged acts emerging from this case, the scandal isn't just what's illegal, but what's legal as well… There is a separate system of justice for the wealthy. There's also a separate admission system for rich people that's quite legal. But maybe with this indictment, we'll get just a bit closer to changing that unfair status quo.”
David Perry, CNN


Many on both sides also agree that elite colleges are not all that they're cracked up to be:

“If universities were primarily interested in educating students, bribery wouldn't be a problem. Academically unqualified applicants would be filtered out of the system by their inability to keep up. The fact that a rich kid can fake his way into a top university and still graduate with a degree tells you all you need to know about the state of higher education.”
Matt Walsh, Daily Wire

“The parents paying millions to get their kids into elite schools weren’t worried that their kids would fail out despite being unqualified. In other words, college can be a lot harder to get into than it is to pass…  The most valuable thing kids learn in college is probably the ‘soft skills’ acquired by adult(ish) members of a tight-knit community in a common pursuit. Better than in high school, and with lower stakes than in the real world, college students can learn how to work out differences, question their own assumptions, take leadership roles, and simply be adult members of a civil society.”
Editorial Board, Washington Examiner

“There's very little evidence that the actual education you get at an elite university is better than the education you might get at a less-prestigious school. In fact, there are some persuasive arguments to the contrary. The real value of a Harvard degree arguably lies less in what happens in the classroom than in the elite connections you make outside of class. But these connections are already available to the children of the elite; they only make a substantial difference to those who come from more humble origins. Why spend vast amounts of money for access to something you already have?”
Noah Millman, The Week

The perception that only elite schools produce elite leaders needs to die… Of the CEOs of the top 20 companies in last year’s Fortune 500, exactly one — Amazon.com Inc.’s Jeff Bezos — went to an Ivy League school (Princeton)... Maybe a Harvard diploma will give a graduate an easier shot at landing a first job out of school. Maybe. But that’s really the only advantage, and it doesn’t last long. Once you’ve landed the job, you have to perform. If you don’t, your Harvard degree isn’t going to be worth the parchment it’s printed on. And if you do perform, nobody is going to much care that you went to the University of Central Oklahoma.”
Joe Nocera, Bloomberg

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

The left is critical of Trump’s negotiating tactics, and argues that this deal will not solve the underlying problems with the immigration system.

“One popular defense of rising inequality is that it hurts no one: Sure, rich people keep getting richer, but if everyone else is also getting richer, albeit more slowly, why should the masses care, other than jealousy? Corruption, routine and pervasive, is why we should care… Excess wealth doesn’t just buy shiny things. It buys power and influence, it buys class and it buys permanence. It buys the corrupt certainty that every one of life’s problems might be evaded through some special side door, and it does so at the expense of not just the poor but all of us, shattering even the thin illusion of meritocracy that still somehow seduces American politics.”
Farhad Manjoo, New York Times

“A scam like this could exist only because competitive sports occupy a ridiculously large place in the admissions process… I have a lot of admiration for students who are talented enough and work hard enough to play sports in college. But they are not a different species. It’s time to end the extreme special treatment that colleges give to so many of them.”
David Leonhardt, New York Times

“This entire scheme was just another way for the rich to get richer and for the privileged to obtain even more privilege, all while exploiting a flawed and infinitely corruptible college athletics system that is primarily subsidized by the unpaid labor of men’s basketball and football players— predominantly black students who put their bodies and brains on the line without earning a dime for their talents.”
Lindsay Gibbs, ThinkProgress

“The simplest way [to fix this crisis] would likely be for selective institutions to stop being so selective and enroll more students… Selective institutions would undoubtedly take a ‘prestige hit’ because of that, but it could alter the way parents think about college: not as social capital to be bought, but as an opportunity for learning and growth… If elite schools enrolled more students and forfeited some prestige, maybe there wouldn’t be such angst about who does or doesn’t get into any one in particular.”
Adam Harris, The Atlantic

The political calendar and Trump's approach could give grounds for optimism. Kim, who has presided over a limited form of economic development inside North Korea, is under pressure to deliver improvements in the lives of his people… So he has an incentive to try to seek economic benefits or aid from the United States and wants punishing economic sanctions lifted — a potential opening for US negotiators… Kim must realize that his chances of basking in this kind of legitimacy with a US President other than Trump are slim. So if he fears Trump could lose in 2020, he may reason the time may be ripe for a deal. And Trump wants nothing more than a big diplomatic breakthrough months before the election.”
Stephen Collinson, CNN

Regarding the Cadillac tax, “high-premium employer-based plans raise the cost of health care for everyone by encouraging the overconsumption of expensive services. This means that even Medicare and Medicaid face higher prices. Quite aside from its benefits for the health-care market, the Cadillac tax would also have the effect of expanding the tax base and making the tax code more efficient. It would raise revenues by about $15 billion a year… Rather than killing or delaying the Cadillac tax, Democrats should be trying to make it operational. The tax would raise revenue, lower costs, increase the efficiency of the tax code and give the Obamacare individual market its best chance at success.”
Karl W. Smith, Bloomberg

“The two issues with which he is most often associated, support for a balanced budget and opposition to free trade, put him at odds with both of our major political parties. An old-fashioned, soft-spoken Southerner, he nevertheless held views on so-called ‘social issues’ that would be to the left of the mainstream of the Republican Party, both then and now. He was a fervent supporter of the Vietnam POW/MIA movement in the late '80s and early '90s, but he was not in any sense a hawk. Never mind 2003. Perot opposed the first war in Iraq in 1990… Perot's death should be mourned by all Americans who regret the fact that it is no longer possible to make reasoned, non-ideological arguments about questions of public import, and by the devolution of our political life into mindless partisan squabbling.”
Matthew Walther, The Week

From the Right

From the Right

“A college degree, no matter the issuing institution, used to mean something — it had a currency of reputability that indicated education, erudition, and a capacity for critical thought. But when we started pushing everyone to get a college degree, it lost its value

“Some people aren’t meant to go to college. They aren’t any less intelligent or hard working than those who are. They just have better things to do with their time and money… a diploma — without the hard work, careful intellectual labor, and painful critical thought — is worth less than the paper it is written on.”
Karl Notturno, Daily Caller

“The system is broken. It always has been, and working-class Americans are paying for it… students who earn bachelor’s degrees have higher lifetime earnings than students with only a high school degree. So why have lawmakers promulgated policies like loan forgiveness, the in-school interest subsidy, and even ‘free’ college, to remove financial responsibility from the elite one-third of Americans who obtain the highly sought-after bachelor’s degree? The hardworking two-thirds of Americans who have bypassed this system altogether should not have to absorb the cost [via taxes] for students who are far more likely to achieve high career earnings.”
Mary Clare Anselem, Daily Signal

“IQ points are not distributed in accordance with any model of social justice. Some people are a lot smarter than others, and this gives them an enormous leg up in life — arguably a more important advantage than having parents with a few million dollars in their bank accounts…

“That life is not fair used to be a truism. Now, it is an unspeakable truth supported by reams of data. Tall men make more money and live longer. So do good-looking people… There are genetic factors related to personality traits that have enormous impact on our lives, our success, and our happiness. None of these is distributed fairly.”
Kevin D. Williamson, National Review

Regarding his candidacy overall, “There’s a lot of conventional wisdom in Washington that the early front-runner always loses. And that’s true except when it isn’t… in 1999, George W. Bush dominated the polls and, except for a brief scare from Senator John McCain in the New Hampshire primary, essentially cruised to victory. A key part of Bush’s early success, not just in polls but in fundraising, stemmed from the fact that he was promising a Bush restoration…

“He was offering a referendum on the incumbent president and the scandals and partisanship that defined the end of his administration. He vowed to restore ‘honor and dignity to the Oval Office’ and to be a ‘uniter not a divider.’ The very different context notwithstanding, this is pretty much Biden’s campaign message. The ideological, activist, and Twitter-obsessed base of the Democratic party may not like Biden’s pitch. But it sure looks like rank-and-file Democrats do.”
Jonah Goldberg, National Review

“Not only did [Trump] attack the ‘squad,’ he managed to do it in a way in which no other prominent Democrat can continue to criticize them publicly, lest they be perceived as echoing the president’s contention that they should go back where they came from. At the exact moment the accusations and counter-accusations were set to do lasting damage, Trump just had to jump in and give them an attack that would unify them all. It often seems like Trump would rather have a bad news cycle that focuses on him than a beneficial news cycle that focuses on someone else… Everyone around the president can read a poll and knows that his rage-tweeting is a liability; it is perhaps the biggest liability in a presidency that, with prosperity and a perception of peace, ought to be comfortably cruising to reelection.”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“If Joe Biden can win his way through the primaries, he’s almost lab-engineered to beat Trump. He doesn’t cause Republican panic, he has the potential to connect with white working-class voters in a way that Hillary couldn’t in 2016, and he has a potential to connect better with black voters than Hillary did… if Biden emerges from [this] crucible, Trump will face a very different challenge than he faced in 2016.”
David French, National Review

“NBC and MSNBC embraced Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in the first debate of Democratic presidential candidates Wednesday night, treating her like the star of the show. The debate led off with Warren, who had a huge popularity advantage from the start… NBC anchor Savannah Guthrie started it off sounding more like Warren’s press secretary. ‘You have many plans – free college, free child care, government health care, cancelation of student debt, new taxes, new regulations, the breakup of major corporations,’ Guthrie said, before teeing up an economy question. Guthrie even used Warren’s plan to break up tech companies as the foundation for a question for Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey… the round-robin final comments also ended with Warren, as Maddow asked her for the ‘final, final statement.’ That let NBC bookend the entire debate with Warren and Warren.”
Dan Gainor, Fox News

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“The fans who avidly followed the men’s tournament certainly weren’t doing anything wrong. And it’s hard to argue that each of them had a moral obligation to be exactly as interested in women’s soccer. Even if we could stop them from watching the men more than the women, should we?…

“It’s tempting to answer that the fan choices aren’t innocent, they’re sexist. But since we can’t peek into their hearts, to say that definitively, we’d have to assume that men’s greater speed, strength and endurance definitely make nodifference to the sport’s quality. Fair enough, but then why do fans prefer to watch Megan Rapinoe play instead of the sedentary elderly who could presumably use some exercise? Alternatively, maybe pay should be equalized precisely because biology is unfair. But that seems to be an argument for curbing the pay of all top-level athletes, who have to hit the genetic lottery just to get on the field. It might be easier to focus on the distributions across society at large, rather than every individual industry, especially when fundamental biology is in play.”
Megan McArdle, Washington Post

On the bright side...

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