Category Archives: Forbes

Fast Food, Slow Read

Fast foodies: I wrote a piece for the March/April/May issue of the Washington Monthly about the fast food industry, wages, and imbalances of economic power. I know it’s potentially misleading that a magazine with the word monthly in it has an issue that covers three months, but it is important to keep you on your toes. Although nobody claims to have read it, the New York Times wrote about it and quoted from it, so at least one person skimmed it and copy-pasted some text.

Thanks for reading.

[Also, here’s my latest Forbes piece about higher education, to fill space on this blog:]

Making You Think, One Article At a Time

Rather than do what normal people do, which is post things on their blog, I will just give you links to places where I have written pieces so that these places can generate ad revenue. In this way, everyone wins, except, as per usual, the poor and the middle class.

Are Universities Charities? Why The ‘Nonprofit Sector’ Needs To Go

-I argue that everything we thought to be true isn’t really true. In 2,000 words!

The Farce of Meritocracy: Why Legacy Admissions Might Actually Be A Good Thing

-I make a case that many people have made before (legacy admissions are bad), but then I turn it on its head and add jokes.

The Past and Future of the American Social Contract

-My colleague and I explain that the proliferation of low wage work is part of a larger socio-historical context. NO JOKES.

Recent Forbes Posts, Consolidated Into One Easy-To-Click Post

To highlight some of the recent work I’ve done over at Forbes, I could do three individual posts. Or I could just put three links in one post.

Here are three links. I am a paragon of efficiency.

The “Typical” College Student Is Not A Typical College Student (And Other Fun College Demographics Data)

-I use the word “fun” loosely, but not in this case. The pie charts in this piece are fun.

Why Don’t Americans Have Enough Skills? The Answer Is Inequality

-On the plus side, it turns out that our broken higher education system is not primarily at fault for many of our societal injustices. On the not-so-plus side, our societal injustices run way deeper than we thought. Somewhere in the middle, I start yet another post with a question word.

When Students Are Rejected For Being Poor: The George Washington University And The Roots Of A Troubled System

-One of my biggest pet peeves is when schools put an unnecessary and awkward “the” at the beginning of their name (The George Washington University, The Johns Hopkins University). One of my other biggest pet peeves is when people think that higher education is a meritocracy when it is nothing of the sort (The George Washington University, The Johns Hopkins University, every elite school ever).

Why Price Controls Are The Best Way to Keep College Affordable

This post originally appeared in Forbes. You can read it there. It is a follow up to the last post. Ideally, you will read them together.

Every time a person uses the phrase “price controls,” I’m fairly certain the fire alarm goes off at the Cato Institute and the soundtrack to “Requiem for a Dream” starts playing in the lobby. A bunch of policy interns saddle up horses and ride through Washington holding lanterns to alert all of the members of Congress and the news media that someone has proposed the idea.

Yet the best plans for actual higher education reform are centered on exactly that: a system of regulations to control prices. Last week, President Obama proposed to tie federal financial aid to colleges’ performance based on a new college ratings system that takes into account the number of low-income students in attendance, tuition prices, and even outcomes like graduation rates and future earnings of students. Yet the President stopped short of more overt price controls, instead preferring to use the college ratings system only to provide incentives to schools that perform well.

The response from many policymakers and college officials has been to cry foul at the government going too far to intervene in the economy. The President’s plan, however, doesn’t go far enough: if we want to tackle the skyrocketing cost of higher education, price controls are the best option we have for keeping college affordable. [Cue fire alarms at Cato].

This idea might sound radical, but it’s not new at all. Rather, it looks eerily similar to a 2003 proposal by Republican House Members – including John Boehner – that called for a “College Affordability Index” and threatened to eliminate federal subsidies for schools that failed to improve their status. It can’t be that radical of an idea if House Republicans were the ones that were pushing the idea a decade ago. Nor are these types of regulations a new idea in the economy at large: prices for public utilities like electricity and water are set by the public sector, as are the fee schedules for Medicare.

Neither President Obama nor John Boehner will ever use the phrases “price controls” or “price regulation.” The phrases elicit a rather unpleasant visceral reaction, akin to the smell of a well-aged stilton. But they are crucial. Tying federal subsidies to something and using public leverage to stop the upward pressure on prices would finally get at the root causes of price increases in higher education. Continue reading

Why We Need The Government To Play An Active Role in Higher Ed

This post first appeared at Forbes, where I am now a contributor. You can read it there. Or here.

These days, everyone knows that college is expensive. And everyone has their own idea of how to fix it. When it comes to higher education finance, we’ve become a nation of backseat drivers.

Allow me to drive in the backseat here. College is expensive, and the government’s attempts to help make college more affordable for students has likely driven up prices even more. But there is a solution: Rather than remove itself from higher education, as many libertarian economists have suggested, we actually need — and want — the government to play a larger and more prominent role.

Higher education prices have risen far faster than other prices in the economy: across all institutions, undergraduate tuition, fees, and living expenses more than doubled in inflation-adjusted dollars. At private nonprofit four year schools, tuition and fees have nearly tripled compared to 40 years ago, while at four year public schools costs have almost quadrupled over the same time frame. Public two-year schools, which experienced a huge drop-off in state funding in the wake of the recession (and where most of the higher education in this country takes place), have seen tuition and fees grow nearly 50% in the last decade. Bloomberg estimates that the price of college has increased twice as much as that of medical care since 1978. In short, college has become more expensive – and the price continues to increase.

The reasons for the unstoppable growth in price are many. These include increasing demand for college among students, systemic incentives that encourage colleges to spend money and raise tuition, declining state subsidies in the last few years, increases in “merit aid”financialization, and the college costs arms race that encourages schools to try to use resources in socially unproductive ways. Continue reading