As promised (threatened?) some heavier lifting.
From the Chronicle Review, an interesting, relatively balanced, article about the state of the world economy. We’ve generally forgotten the contested nature of capitalism, but it’s only been 75 years or so ago that it was widely believed that capitalism had failed. (For a nice summary of all that, see the early episodes of a great PBS series The Commanding Heights. The later episodes are a little timebound, dealing with the Asian contagion. But still very interesting.) As noted in one of the earliest posts on this blog, I’m a total Third Way kind of guy: markets allocate resources efficiently, but there are a lot times and subjects where we need to, by government action, reward other ends than efficiency (equity, sustainability, etc.). The big problem, of course, is what are the alternatives? I remain a Keynesian, with the caveat noted in one of the comments to the article, that true Keynesianism (like true Marxism?!? but unlike unfettered capitalism) has never been tried: it’s politically easy to spend in hard times, but very hard to slow the economy down in good times.
All of this is Political Economy 101, but the fact that we haven’t settled on the appropriate role of government in a market economy, and really not even made significant headway on the issue, points to the fundamental nature of the problem.
Second, here’s an article on hearings on for-profit higher ed. The narrowest point is about how the for-profit sector does business. Talk to almost anybody who’s worked for a prop school (as they’re known in the business) and it won’t take long before you’ll hear horror stories about the push to get students, and to get them to take out loans, with almost no other consideration. The second, more significant point, towards the end of the article, is the extent to which this will spill over to threatening the entire peer accreditation system currently in place. Now, I’m not a huge fan of how the current system is working, but it’s hard to see (again) what the better, attainable, alternative is. (Well, alternative that is dramatically different. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement in the current, regional accreditor system.) Having spent the last 18 months dealing with government bureaucracy, I can swear that government oversight of higher ed will never work in any meaningful way. Finally, there’s the broadest, probably obvious point about market provision of goods like education that may not be most appropriate for market allocation. But I also hold dear the role of government in protecting the people from the worst aspects of markets (see point one, and topic one.) So there we are.