The destruction of graduate education in the United States

If and when you emerged from your happiness bubble to read the news, you’ll have seen (at least if you live in the US) that the cruel and reckless tax bill has passed the House of Representatives, and remains only to be reconciled with an equally-vicious Senate bill and then voted on by the Republican-controlled Senate.  The bill will add about $1.7 trillion to the national debt and raise taxes for about 47.5 million people, all in order to deliver a massive windfall to corporations, and to wealthy estates that already pay some of the lowest taxes in the developed world.

In a still-functioning democracy, those of us against such a policy would have an intellectual obligation to seek out the strongest arguments in favor of the policy and try to refute them.  By now, though, it seems to me that the Republicans hold the public in such contempt, and are so sure of the power of gerrymandering and voter restrictions to protect themselves from consequences, that they didn’t even bother to bring anything to the debate more substantive than the schoolyard bully’s “stop punching yourself.”  I guess some of them still repeat the fairytale about the purpose of tax cuts for the super-rich being to trickle down and help everyone else—but can even they advance that “theory” anymore without stifling giggles?  Mostly, as far as I can tell, they just brazenly deny that they’re doing what they obviously are doing: i.e., gleefully setting on fire anything that anyone, regardless of their ideology, could recognize as the national interest, in order to enrich a small core of supporters.

But none of that is what interests me in this post—because it’s “merely” as bad as, and no worse than, what one knew to expect when a coalition of thugs, kleptocrats, and white-nationalist demagogues seized control of Hamilton’s and Jefferson’s experiment.  My concern here is only with the “kill shot” that the Republicans have now aimed, with terrifying precision, at the system that’s kept American academic science the envy of the world in spite of the growing dysfunction all around it.

As you’ve probably heard, one of the ways Republicans intend to pay for their tax giveaway, is to change the tax code so that graduate students will now need to pay taxes on “tuition”—a large sum of money (as much as $50,000/year) that PhD students never actually see, that can easily exceed the stipends they do see, and that’s basically just an accounting trick that serves the internal needs of universities and granting agencies.  Again, to eliminate any chance of misunderstanding: PhD students, who are effectively low-wage employees, already pay taxes on their actual stipends.  The new proposal is that they’ll also have to pay taxes on a whopping, make-believe “X” on their payroll sheet that’s always exactly balanced out by “-X.”

For detailed analyses of the impacts, see, e.g. Luca Trevisan’s post or Inside Higher Ed or the Chronicle of Higher Ed or Vox or NPR.  Briefly, though, the proposal would raise taxes by a few thousand dollars per year, or in some cases as much as $10,000 per year (!), on PhD students who already live hand-to-mouth-to-ramen-bowl, with the largest impact falling on students in STEM fields.  For many students who aren’t independently wealthy, this could push a PhD beyond the realm of affordability, and cause them to leave academia or to do their graduate work in other countries.

“But isn’t there some workaround?”  Indeed, financial ignoramus that I am, my first reaction was to ask: if PhD tuition is basically an accounting fiction anyway, then why can’t the universities just declare that the tuition in question no longer exists, or is now zero dollars?  Feel free to explain further in the comments if you understand this stuff, but as far as I can tell, the answer is: because PhD tuition is used to calculate how much “tax” the universities can take from professors’ grant money.  If universities could no longer take that tax, and they had no other way to make up for it, then except for the richest few universities, they’d have to scale back research and teaching pretty drastically.  To avoid that outcome, the universities would be relying on the granting agencies to let them keep taking the overhead they needed to operate, even though the “PhD tuition” no longer existed.  But the granting agencies aren’t set up for this: you can’t just throw a bomb into one part of a complicated bureaucratic machine built up over decades, and expect the machine to continue working with no disruption to science.

But more ominously: as my friend Daniel Harlow and many others pointed out, it’s hard to look at the indefensible, laser-specific meanness of this policy, without suspecting that for many in Congress, the destruction of American higher education isn’t a regrettable byproduct, but the goal—just another piece of red meat to throw to the base.  If so, then we’d expect Congress to direct federal granting agencies not to loosen their rules about overhead, thereby forcing the students to pay the tax, and achieving the desired destruction.  (Note that the Trump administration has already made tightening overhead rules—i.e., doing the exact opposite of what would be needed to counteract the new tax—a central focus of its attempt to cut federal research funding.)

OK, two concluding thoughts:

  1. When Republicans in Congress defended Trump’s travel ban, they at least had the craven excuse that they were only following the lead of the populist strongman who’d taken over their party.  Here they don’t even have that.  As far as I know, this targeted destruction of American higher education was Congress’s initiative, not Trump’s—which to me, underscores again the feather-thinness of any moral distinction between the Vichy GOP leadership and the administration with which it collaborates.  Trump didn’t emerge from nowhere.  It took decades of effort—George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, Karl Rove, Rush Limbaugh, Mitch McConnell, and all the rest—to transform the GOP into the pure seething cauldron of anti-intellectual resentment and hatred that we know today.
  2. Given the existential risk to American higher education, why didn’t I blog about this earlier?  The answer is embarrassing to admit, and reflects no credit on me.  It’s simply that I didn’t believe it—even given all the other stuff that could “never happen in the US,” until it happened this past year.  I didn’t believe it, not because it was too far from me but because it was too close—because if true, it would mean the crippling of the research world in which I’ve spent most of my life since age 15, so therefore it couldn’t be true.  Surely even the House Republicans would realize they’d screwed up this time, and would take out this crazy provision before the full bill was voted on?  Or surely there’s some workaround that makes the whole thing less awful than it sounds?  There has to be … right?

Anyway, what else is there to say, except to call your representative, if you’re American and still have the faith in the system that such an act implies.

239 Responses to “The destruction of graduate education in the United States”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    The truth is that districts have been heavily gerrymandered, voter restrictions are rampant, and even a wave election the size of 2006 would be insufficient to turn over Congress.

    If we do get a wave election in 2018, and yet it doesn’t turn over Congress, then do we keep pretending that we actually live in a representative democracy?

  2. tas Says:

    I see three ways this will be “absorbed:”

    (i) Tuition is lowered, i.e., the money comes out of the university.

    (ii) Grad student stipends are raised, i.e., the money comes out of research grants.

    (iii) Grad students learn to make do with less, i.e., the money comes out of students.

    I expect it will be a combination of all the above.

    @Scott: Since you have experience with grants, can you comment on what will happen if suddenly grad student stipends need a bigger chunk from your grants? That is, how would (ii) impact the NSF -> PI -> student money pipeline?

  3. Jay L Gischer Says:

    So. Getting to go to classes, getting instruction, using University facilities and so on has a value. That value is captured in a figure known as “tuition”. In physics and computer science, very few grad students pay that tuition out of pocket. In other fields, this is not so. Some grad students in some fields actually pay tuition. So it’s not a made-up number. Tuition has a value attached, too. So if you are getting to take classes and use the library and the gym and whatever else, you are getting a benefit, and the defined value of that benefit is equal to the tuition.

    It isn’t fictitious money any more than the Social Security Trust Fund is fictitious money.

    The policy reason for exempting it from income tax is that grad students are valuable to us as a society, and that we should subsidize them, because if we didn’t we would have a lot fewer of them.

    I believe that the current Republican take on that policy and graduate students is “screw ’em, we don’t need ’em”.

    Of course, in the long run that’s like refusing to pay for spare parts for tanks and missiles and aircraft. Things will fall apart and we will end up with a bunch of rubbish that doesn’t work.

    I’m pretty sure there are some Republicans in Congress that understand this, and I wonder what they are up to? Maybe they are counting on the Senate to blow this thing up, so they can tell their working-class populist base “well, we tried”?

  4. Scott Says:

    tas #2: I’m pretty lucky to have a large DoD grant for the next 4 years or so (the Vannevar Bush Fellowship), with which I could afford to pay my students higher stipends—if university policies would let me, which is not a given! (I hope university policies can quickly adapt to whatever comes from above, but I’m not holding my breath, especially for e.g. state universities beholden to Republican legislatures.)

    But faculty on regular NSF grants can sometimes just barely afford one student at a time (who doesn’t come with their own funding)—so having to pay higher stipends to counterbalance the tax increase would obviously be a serious strain for them.

  5. pku31 Says:

    > By now, though, it seems to me that the Republicans hold the public in such contempt, and are so sure of the power of gerrymandering and voter restrictions to protect themselves from consequences, that they didn’t even bother to bring anything to the debate more substantive than the schoolyard bully’s “stop punching yourself.”

    I’ve heard an alternative theory that blue-state republicans already think they’ll be voted out, so they’re doing what they can to secure their ability to retire into high-paying lobbyist jobs.

    Either way, this raises the idea that political science has hurt democracy (and not just by increasing the ability to gerrymander). It used to be that politicians thought voters responded to their unpopular policies. Nowadays, it seems like the vast majority of races are determined by the national mood, which is largely caused by the economy and the president’s antics. The economy doesn’t respond fast enough for this to be a meaningful signal, and congressional republicans don’t control Trump, so they don’t believe their actions have any impact on their reelection chances.

    The bright side is that recent research suggests money isn’t as useful as people thought to getting (re)elected. But it probably does help with their retirement package, so I’m not sure it’ll stop having an influence.

  6. Scott Says:

    Jay #3: By “made-up,” I simply meant that the tuition could be raised to $200 million per year, without it having any direct effect on the student. The effect would be entirely on the behind-the-scenes accounting involving student’s advisor, the university, and the granting agency. So, that’s the reason to hope that additional creative accounting could compensate for the tuition being lowered, even all the way to zero.

    OK, here’s an analogy: suppose you work at Google. Should you pay tax, not merely on your salary, but also on the cost to Google of providing you with all the free food, gyms, beanbag chairs, busses from San Francisco, etc.? Obviously not, it seems: all that stuff is just part of what it means to work there, and is between Google and the government, not you.

  7. Observer Says:

    Actually, the tax authorities are threatening Google with treating the free food as taxable income.

    The universities are the ones doing phony transactions, by setting tuition high and not making students pay. They could solve the problem by lowering tuition in departments where no one pays it anyway.

  8. Scott Says:

    Observer #7: I’d be 100% fine with some alternative system where the universities just took what they needed directly from grants, and the grants paid enough to cover the full cost to the university of the students, without needing to go through the concept of “tuition.” For me, though, the orders-of-magnitude more important concern than the elegance and simplicity of the tax code is letting the research universities that are crown jewels of the United States continue operating—a concern that the current House Republican bill conspicuously fails to address.

  9. Russ Abbott Says:

    It makes economic sense to tax all employment benefits, including Google’s free food as well as employer-provided health care. In real tax reform, that would be part of the package. So would closing all the other “loop holes.” But that’s almost certainly not going to happen. So here’s an alternative approach.

    Graduate students must be students to earn tuition benefits. One might argue that the tuition they pay (or that’s paid on their behalf) is a cost of the business in which they are engaged, and therefore deductible from income. (If the law passes, I’d like to see a class action suit along those lines.) As you point out, the effect would be to balance the equation.

  10. Jelani Says:

    Any idea whether financial aid for undergrads will also be counted as taxable income?

  11. Scott Says:

    Jelani #10: No, I don’t know, though I do know that there are plenty of other provisions in this bill that will screw undergrads on financial aid. Anyone else want to weigh in?

  12. James Miller Says:

    Currently, if a grad student were to get paid $40k working at X, but spend $30k taking classes at Y he would pay taxes on 40K a year in income. But if this grad student works and teaches at X, and X gives him 10k in cash and a tuition waiver he would only pay taxes on 10k. This difference creates an enormous tax incentive for grad students to earn income at the same place they are enrolled, and it greatly penalizes grad students who do not get tuition waivers but earn income working at a place where they are not enrolled. Also, my understanding is that lots of Phds who want to get jobs in academia can’t find any. Usually such over supply is a sign of a government subsidy, and in this case part of that subsidy is a special tax break.

  13. Curious Wavefunction Says:

    But we saw this coming, right? Sarah Palin’s “fruit fly research”, Bobby Jindal’s “volcano research”. Those should have been the warning signs, but we dismissed them as anomalies, as temporary hiccups that would disappear. We believed this even when the rest of the GOP stayed silent when such ludicrous accusations were being leveled by mental imbeciles. This latest act of treason seems like the logical conclusion of the GOP’s plan to push America into intellectual and moral darkness. As an immigrant who grew up hearing stories of American greatness in science, technology and reason, I not only feel ashamed of my adopted country but feel like it has betrayed almost everything I and the world ever believed about it.

  14. Jonathan George Says:

    Charging tuition that no one actually pays seems to be a workaround in the existing system to compensate for an arbitrarily low G&A. Maybe I am missing something here, but if actual research overhead isn’t being reflected in grant G&A can’t universities simply raise G&A and asses it to the grants?

    Unless this “tuition” is a tax deducatible expense for the universities, and I don’t think it is because most universities are tax exempt, I see no benefit in the weird way the system works today. In fact the current system is arguably encouraging universities to raise tuition for those who do have to pay for it to make those who don’t have to pay for it feel like they are being better compensated. There must be some oddity in higher education accounting that I don’t understand that pushes them to this practice. Maybe the issue is due to classes being composed of both funded and unfunded graduate students.

  15. Ed Says:

    Does anyone know how this system arose in the U.S. (tuition waivers being treated as income in cases of grants, but not for purposes of taxation)? I think that context might be helpful in thinking about today’s treatment.

    Separately, my impression is that most of what Google does here really should be taxed as compensation (on both the payroll and income sides.) Indeed, my (layman) impression is that the existing tax code is pretty clear on this point – daily free food, and gym benefits are to be treated as income. Beanbag chairs (furniture) are acceptable as a business outlay. Treatment of commuting benefits is complex.

    It’s analogous to if I run a home office. I can expense some business lunches, and I can expense a fancy chair. But I can’t just write off my 3 meals every day. And I can’t deduct a fancy gym membership as a business expense. I don’t see any reason Google should receive preferential tax treatment over my personal LLC here. Certainly, if Google decides to pay its employees in gold bricks rather than US dollars, that should still be taxed as income.

    As far as taxing grad students’ tuition-waivers as income, I think it’s a bad idea; I’d prefer to see these funds treated as a work expense (except when benefits like gym memberships are involved, which should be taxed as income.)

    Now, I don’t doubt that this is partially (mostly? totally?) an act of political retaliation by Republicans against liberal grad students and faculty. And I’m open to the idea that student income should receive explicit, preferential tax treatment. But if that’s what we’re talking about, then we should come out and say it.

    On the issue of undergrad student aid, many universities’ own policies (like charging $65k/year) are far more harmful to students’ (and their families’) financial welfare than anything the government could reasonably do.

  16. Koray Says:

    > For many students who aren’t independently wealthy, this could push a PhD beyond the realm of affordability, and cause them to leave academia or to do their graduate work in other countries.

    Without defending the motive and methods of the proposal, I am torn about criticizing an outcome that I’ve long thought should happen anyway.

    The economics of academia doesn’t make sense. Most PhD students will not get an academic job or benefit from their academic work in their industry job. “The crown jewel” of the US seems to be held together by accounting tricks and exploitation of young people.

    There’s also the so-called “replication crisis”, journals full of nonsense, not-even-wrong science, etc. At one point one has to ask whether we really need so many research institutions and so many PhD students. We have to ask whether academics even have the management chops to oversee this quantity of people and money.

    If institutions had to be more serious about accepting temp employees who will receive on the job training (formerly known as PhD students) and be paid enough to afford more than ramen, then perhaps this problem wouldn’t exist in the first place.

  17. Yosarian2 Says:

    One reason to think why there’s some room that we still might be able to stop this (and why it’s worth calling your representative and Senators) is that the Senate bill does not currently have this particular toxic clause in it (although it has other dangerous stuff, like getting rid of the ACA mandate.) There is a significant chance that the bill will not pass the Senate at all, and if it does there is a significant chance that the final compromise bill will not include this graduate school tax.

    That’s not to say people shouldn’t panic; there IS a real chance that this passes, and it would be an absolute disaster. But it’s not a foregone conclusion at this point.

    This could go either way, in any number of ways, and there’s still a decent chance it can be stopped; but if it will be, organizing the same level of public opposition we had during the attempt to repeal the ACA last year is probably pretty important.

  18. Henry Says:

    Not all universities charge PhD tuition to grants. Mine, for example, waives tuition for PhD students, so only the stipends – which are already taxed – are charged to grants. Thus PhD tuition here is truly fictitious. But if we simply made PhD tuition zero, we still wouldn’t be in the clear – our legal counsel believes we would be challenged by the IRS because the students would still receive a benefit valued at 50K.

    The key legal issue is that PhD students are technically employees of the university. If they weren’t, then a university could give them scholarships that would not be taxable – just as scholarships given to undergrads and MS students are not taxable.

    Making PhD students non-employees might be a solution for some schools like mine, although it would not help schools that did want to collect tuition from grants.

  19. woodandsteel Says:

    This comes directly out of conservative philosophy. For one, conservatives believe that, except for a few things like the police and national defense, corporations are far better than the government. Secondly, they hate universities as cesspools of atheism, socialism, environmentalism, and, lately, Islamism.

    As a consequence, conservatives want to destroy the universities, and in particular take all scientific research away from them and government grants. Which this new tax law would do quite effectively.

  20. Lawrence D'Anna Says:

    It’s probably impossible for anyone to be calm and objective when their work and livelihood are being fucked with.

    But I’ll say it anyway: get some perspective.

    “a coalition of thugs, kleptocrats, and white-nationalist demagogues seized control of Hamilton’s and Jefferson’s experiment”?

    Trump is a reality game show host who pretended he’s never heard of David Duke. Jefferson was an actual slave owner, who raped his slaves. Jefferson’s only complaint about Trump in that particular regard would be that he wasn’t nearly white-nationalist enough.

    When I think of a “pure seething cauldron of … resentment and hatred”, I don’t picture George W Bush. W had his faults. Like the kind of hubris that gets a half a million people killed. But being a seething cauldron of hatred Isn’t one of them.

    When I think of seething cauldrons, I think of the protesters at Middlebury, and Berkeley, and Missouri, and Evergreen, and McMaster, and Yale. And then I think their professors taught them to do that, and their administrators tolerated it or even praised them for it.

    Did the universities really think they could join one side of the culture war and not become a target for the other? Or did they just think “hey, we’re going to keep winning forever. We can do whatever we want to them and never worry about what they’ll do to us if they ever get the chance, because they won’t”?

    Well they did. They won an election. And they think of the universities as enemy institutions the same way progressives think of the police and the NRA. And they’re not wrong to think that the universities and academics hate them and are fanatically opposed to everything they value. And elections have consequences.

    I don’t even agree with this tax bill, I’m not even defending it. I think it’s a bad bill. And I’m in the one of the classes of taxpayers that are being “cruelly” targeted by it. But I understand why they did it. And it’s not because they’re evil or stupid or they don’t know their own interests.

    It’s tragic. It’s deplorable that one side decided to turn the tax code into a weapon and education into a target. But they did it because the other side turned education into a weapon first. And that doesn’t make up for it or excuse it. It doesn’t mean what they’re doing is acceptable. It’s a new, disgraceful low in the cultural civil war. But it takes two sides to fight.

  21. Quintin Says:

    Education is (at least partially) a positional good. The value of your education depends in part on how it stacks up to other people’s education. This makes it a good candidate for taxation.

    To understand why this is the case, imagine the world where education is 100% a positional good, in which every year/dollar spent on education is devoted to a wasteful signaling competition with everyone else receiving an education. In such a world, the only benefit education provides to a student is to signal that they’re the sort of person who can receive an education.
    If we introduce a tax on education, then the effect on students will be to decrease the amount of education they receive, but because education is purely a positional good, this doesn’t actually impact the students. Employers will have to take note and adjust how they interpret education as a signal of ability. No doubt there will be some initial pain in the transition, but in the long run, the only impact is that money which was previously going to education providers is now going to the government.

    Of course, in the actual world, education is not a pure positional good. However, it is a partially positional good, which means the real economic situation is (approximately) a linear combination of the “pure positional good” scenario and the “normal good” scenario. Thus, it makes for a much better taxation target than things that aren’t partially a positional good (or at least, not as much of of a positional good as education).

    All in all, I approve of the Republican plan to tax graduate education. I personally voted for Clinton in 2016. I think Trump is a complete moron. I regard the Republican Congress with deep contempt. And, to top it all off, I’m currently an undergraduate who intends to get a PhD. This tax will affect me directly and severely. But none of that changes the economics.

    One last thing. You wonder how universities and grad students will adapt in response to this tax. The answer is obvious. There will be less grad level education, and people will adjust how they interpret education as a signal of competence (by, for example, accepting a masters degree where previously only a PhD would have been enough or by allowing students to complete a PhD sooner).

  22. John Says:

    Some numbers:

    “An MIT Ph.D. student who is an RA for all twelve months in 2017 will get a salary of approximately $37,128, and a health insurance plan valued at $3,000. The cost of a year of tuition at MIT is about $49,580. With these figures, we can estimate the student’s 2017 tax burden. We​ ​find​ ​that​ ​her​ ​federal​ ​income​ ​tax​ ​would​ ​be​ ​$3,993​ ​under​ ​current​ ​law,​ ​and $13,577​ ​under​ ​the​ ​TCJA,​ ​or​ ​a​ ​240%​ ​increase.​ We also note that her tax burden is about 37% of her salary.” [1]

    Yes, the Republicans have just passed a $9600 tax increase on a student with a $37,000 salary. This is all to pay for a tax cut for the billionaires, the Kochs and the Mercers. (But of course it doesn’t come close to paying for it.)


  23. aaaaaaaaaaa Says:

    As far as I understand, the Senate version of the bill does not mention repealing Section 117 (the exemption that makes grad student tuition waivers non-taxable), so it appears that the House plan is not going forward.

  24. amy Says:

    Hi, Scott. I’ve been hearing a lot of people suggest, as tas does above, that universities will simply waive tuition. I don’t think this is likely to happen in too many places, though I can imagine that public schools that actually want to keep their graduate programs running — and that’s not a given — may do as the arts and humanities programs have long since done, and charge in-state rates which are then left to the students to cover, often through loans. It’s not been uncommon for doctoral arts/humanities students to mostly self-fund. Nobody feels particularly sorry for them either. “If you don’t want to pay tuition, why don’t you get a job? It’s your choice to go to grad school” is the usual attitude.

    Don’t forget that the statehouses have also been bashing away hard and successfully at grad student unions over the last year or so.

    I cannot underscore firmly enough how little sympathy most people in the country have for what’s going on here. Don’t forget that a BA at an American public U now costs *nearly $100K*, and that all schools expect the parents to go jump deep into hock to get the kids there. Fulltime community college tuition alone costs upward of $5K/yr. All this is substantial enough if you’re making serious money, well north of the median HHI of about $60K, where you’re unlikely to be saving much of anything if you’ve got a kid or two. If you’re below median, lotsa luck. My kid will go mainly because I’ve been saving since before she was born. It’s not a usual practice, particularly among people who don’t have ample money for savings.

    In other words, it’s a minority of kids who can afford to go to college *at all*. Grad school? A whole 7% of the population in my state has an advanced degree of any kind. 93% of the population here doesn’t even know what grad school means, let alone why you’d need it.

    In comm circles, there’s been this desperate idea for the last decade or so that if we just explain at people enough about how important graduate education and scientific research are, they’ll wake up and say oh yes, of course, must fund now. I think this has always been…well, delusional. Most people really, truly don’t care. Wouldn’t notice if it vanished. Wouldn’t connect the delayed vanishing of other things to the first vanishing. Would probably refuse to believe that failing to fund research and grad ed had been the problem.

    We’ve relied for a long time — all along, maybe — on the commitment of a handful of elites. The Arlen Specters and Tom Harkins. The Obamas. The Roosevelts. The people who don’t get their seats because of their commitment to these fine and deeply important things, but who use their power to protect them. Now we’re in trouble. I don’t personally see a way out of trouble past the election of better people, but again, their election will have nothing to do with grad ed and science.

    In the meantime, I’ll say what I’ve been saying for the last year: I really wish that more scientists would recognize that they’re in the same boat that artists are, and start thinking much harder about how to work with no money, and how to bring the next generation along on no money. (By “no money”, incidentally, I mean “no money”, not “no scientist-level money”.) Fingers crossed that the planning won’t be necessary, but if it is and you guys aren’t ready, you’re going to lose at least a generation.

  25. Wavefunction Says:

    #20: “Trump is a reality game show host who pretended he’s never heard of David Duke. Jefferson was an actual slave owner, who raped his slaves.”

    Jefferson, a polymath and intellectual who owned two thousand books, wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, founded the University of Virginia and advocated separation of church and state. Are you seriously saying that the sum total of Jefferson’s achievements make him a worse human being than Trump? If Jefferson were actually transported into our times and informed of the progress that has happened since his own times, he would have considered Trump nothing more than an uneducated, savage, white nationalist imbecile.

  26. L Says:

    Though I’m all for subsidizing education, I’m a bit sympathetic to some arguments in favor of the bill. Let me try to give a couple points that a conservative might bring up.

    First, there are a lot of conservative thought leaders who believe higher education has gone too far and suffers serious market distortion. A college degree is needed for entry level jobs and a graduate degree is no guarantee for good employment, so one can argue degrees are more about signaling than about acquiring useful skills. And so you’ll find a lot of opinion pieces about the “higher education bubble” and what the policy response should be. Reducing government subsidies such as this tax exemption is one possible response. Of course it’s a bit disruptive in the short term, but any tax code changes are, and people manage to deal with it.

    Second, there’s growing concern universities are abusing their tax exempt status. Top schools have huge endowments that function basically as a hedge fund, but don’t owe the same taxes. It is debatable whether running the endowment really belongs inside a tax exempt entity. Though not directly related to grad student tuition, this concern leads to greater scrutiny on all educational tax exemptions.

    Third, though I confess I’m not familiar with all the accounting issues here, this does look like the sort of rule that could easily be exploited. Why wouldn’t the university claim tuition as large as possible to pad their expenses? There needs to be some control or the tuition-no-one-pays is just accounting fiction. (Perhaps the IRS already has some rules?)

    A couple earlier commenters brought this up, but normally when you receive a non-cash benefit for working, you still owe taxes on it. Where I used to work, for example, overtime meals (i.e. “free food”) were considered part of my income (after some IRS-approved threshold; I forget the details). I didn’t actually pay the tax myself though, instead the company paid it for me by increasing my pay. If tuition was subject to them same rules, you would owe tax on tuition waivers. (As Henry points out, grad students are legally employees, which is why they need to worry about this when undergrads don’t). Removing the tuition waiver exemption is actually reducing complexity of the tax law. If students can’t afford the tax, then universities can increase their pay to offset it.

    Anyway, as you might expect from a reader of this blog, I am generally in favor of subsidizing students’ education, and I don’t like sudden disruptions to educational finance (I mean, the least they could do is have a phase in period…). But it’s also important to understand there is growing momentum behind the idea that universities, especially elite schools, are getting too much support from the government. I am sure there will be more sources of funding on the chopping block in the next few years.

  27. Scott Says:

    James Miller #12: Let me try to relate what you say to the realities of PhD education in STEM fields, as I know them.

    Firstly, I’ve never heard of a single example of a STEM PhD student who earns $40K working at X and spends $30K taking classes at Y, or anything remotely like that. A PhD in STEM is a package deal—an apprenticeship, basically—that takes up all of your time. You take courses, you TA courses only slightly less advanced than the ones you’re taking, you do research as part of the coursework, you take “courses” that are independent research, and most of all you work with your adviser and with other students, and you learn by doing the work. The “working” and “learning” aspects are inseparable from each other.

    Second, your discussion of an “oversupply” presupposes that the main or only purpose of a PhD is to get a job in academia—but that hasn’t been true in STEM fields for a long time. Again, PhD students are apprentices, who are not merely learning and “consuming” education, but actually producing—i.e., moving science and technology forward just as the faculty do, and in many cases much more so. Some of these apprentices will continue in academia, in which role they’ll spend much of their time just trying to create an environment for the next generation of apprentices to move science forward. Others will go into industry and apply their research skills there.

    Surely the system can be improved—and yet if you were to rank all the institutions in the US from most to least broken, I doubt you’d get to this one until like page 973.

  28. Lawrence D'Anna Says:

    Wavefunction #25

    Yes, that is also true.

  29. Scott Says:

    Jonathan George #14:

      Maybe I am missing something here, but if actual research overhead isn’t being reflected in grant G&A can’t universities simply raise G&A and asses it to the grants?

    No, they’re restricted by the granting agencies in how much overhead they’re allowed to take, and as I said, the Trump administration has actually been trying to reduce the amount of overhead they can take.

    This also relates to the question someone else asked about why universities can’t just raise tuition arbitrarily in order to get an arbitrarily large cut of the grant money. The answer is that the granting agencies don’t let them.

  30. Scott Says:

    Ed #15:

      I’m open to the idea that student income should receive explicit, preferential tax treatment. But if that’s what we’re talking about, then we should come out and say it.

    I would say: the expenses that we’re talking are mostly just the basics of running a university that’s able to produce federally-funded research; they’re only “payments to the students” by an economist’s contortion. So then yes, the question does come down in the end to whether we agree that universities as a whole provide a societal value that justifies their having a different tax status than, say, corporations. (Though doesn’t the very fact of federally-funded research already presuppose an answer to that?)

  31. Pickle Jar Says:

    Scott, it appears that your personal stake in this issue might be preventing you from applying the same scrutiny in judgement as you would in other areas. I would not count on popular media to accurately describe economical consequence much more than I would for theoretical computer science or physics. Headlines like “Tax Plan to Make Millions of Americans Poor” come from the same people who bring us things like “New D-Wave Quantum Computer Threatens Internet Security”.

    Specifically, US corporate tax is the highest in the world. This is for a good reason since the US has the best economic environment in the world (broadly interpreted), so companies will want to come here even in spite of high tax rates. Estate taxes in the US are also on the high side as far as I know and checked (many countries have no estate tax at all). This only leads to sophisticated tax planning for the richest, and higher taxes on the “somewhat rich” (such as yourself). I therefore do not understand the suffix “… that already pay some of the lowest taxes in the developed world”.

    Regarding taxing tuition and taxing universities in general, I generally agree with commenter L (#26). I think there is a loophole here, and in general loopholes are bad for the tax code (since they deform personal preference and encourages setting the tuition to a number that exceeds its true economical value). If the country wants to encourage grad students they can pay a government stipend to grad students directly rather than exempting them from taxes on parts of their compensation. I think this is a consensus among economists, even socialist ones.

    US universities charge enormous overheads on grants (about 75% or more, compared to about 20% in Europe, and in many cases not even that). This is a reasonable way to provide public funding to universities based on merit (more grants = more money), although other countries do that in different ways (e.g. government matching funds for competitive grants). It appears that the university then tries to suck the remaining 25% of the grant money via weird tricks such as bloated tuition, which is somewhat of an abuse of the system (effectively raising the overhead without declaring it). Why don’t they just raise the overhead directly?

  32. amy Says:

    Scott, I think it’s worth recognizing that what we’re looking at is the breakdown of the postwar deal brokered with Congress: you pony up major money and then go away and leave scientists to manage it, we prevent the Depression from coming back and build an army of scientists through the universities, and take up the mantle of global scientific leadership, with the usual prizes shaking out in our wake: riches, health, might. It’s a 70-year-old regime, and it’s been a shaky bargain for decades.

    If you have a look at the AAAS graph of where R&D money comes from in the US, the change has been profound since the ’50s, even since the ’80s. The vast bulk of money’s coming from industry. Which is a tremendous triumph for V. Bush’s plan: it worked. I’d hazard most of that industrial R&D is built on science produced with federal money. But when you consider that we’ve already broken the commitment to students and society generally, when it comes to college ed — it’s no longer affordable, it’s become a tremendous reinforcer of polarization and inequality, and the notion of a liberal education for all has more or less vanished — I don’t know why it would be surprising that public support for apprenticing young scientists is seriously eroded.

    Which, again, is why I keep saying: you guys are going to have to be tougher than this. You can’t just stand there gasping about how you do beautiful, necessary, marvelous work that’s vital to yada. I mean artists do that very capably, too, and it really does not make money appear when your audience is not already sold. The artists manage to make things go anyhow: you may have to figure that out, too.

  33. Steven Landsburg Says:

    Oh, Scott, this is beneath you.

    1) Re the “massive windfall for corporations”, I am embarrassed to have to point this out, but all taxes are paid by *people*. The current tax bill will increase some people’s taxes and decrease others’. If you don’t like the mix, that’s fine, but then your issue is with the mix, not with the *kind* of income that’s being taxed. If, for example, you prefer a more progressive tax code, there are plenty of ways to achieve that without a corporate income tax. If you were anyone else, I’d be inclined to say that conflating the issue of capital taxation (or more specifically corporate taxation) with the issue of progressivity is the rankest form of demagogy. In the present case, let me just suggest that you had a weak moment.

    1A) I wonder whether you’re aware of the substantial literature, beginning with Christophe Chamley, arguing that the optimal tax on capital income should be zero (or at least should fall to zero over time) *regardless* of how progressive you want the overall tax code to be. There is a subtle mathematical error in Chamley’s paper, which, in my opinion, does almost nothing to undermine the clear and initially very surprising intuition that drives this literature. And before anybody says the words “trickle down”, let me observe that a) an epithet does not beat an argument and b) once again, this is in any event not an argument about progressivity; it is about the best way to achieve any *given* level of progressivity.

    3) With regard to grad students “not even seeing” the money that funds tuition waivers, I wonder how you’d feel if, in lieu of a salary, General Motors were to provide its CEO with $50 million a year worth of food, clothes, yachts, artwork, and travel. He’d “never even see” the money. Would you buy that as a sufficient reason for him to pay no income tax?

  34. joshua blumenkopf Says:

    Re James #12: Scott’s response proves nothing, because maybe no one works in one place and learns at another precisely because it would be so heavily taxed. However, it is clear that at least for some TAs there is no way the institution actually values the work at the level of stipend plus tuition refund. In graduate school I TAd an intermediate level undergraduate course for less than 10 hours a week, which nominally paid for 90k in tuition plus stipend. That is over $150 an hour which is clearly not reasonable. Also the school tried to jam every graduate student who needed a grant into TAing some class or another even if that class didn’t really need it, so clearly the tuition rebate is a fiction.

  35. Bill Says:

    Maybe, universities can cut down their bloated administrations.

    “… an analysis by a professor at California Polytechnic University, Pomona, found that, while the total number of full-time faculty members in the C.S.U. system grew from 11,614 to 12,019 between 1975 and 2008, the total number of administrators grew from 3,800 to 12,183 — a 221 percent increase.”

  36. jonas Says:

    Has Gil Kalai or Gowers written publicly about this bill yet? They both used to blog about U.S. politics and the state of research and higher education, and seemed to be more deeply immersed in that topic than you are. Although I do notice the general trend where the U.S. is trying to destroy its advantage in research that it’s gained in the last eighty years, I wonder if this bill is a significant step in this, and could take it more seriously if at least one of them spoke up.

  37. jonas Says:

    Update: ok, so apparently I can’t read. Gowers has written about this:

  38. jonas Says:

    No, darn it. That’s a different bill. Politics is confusing, I’ll just continue giving up on it.

  39. Scott Says:

    Ed #15:

      Does anyone know how this system arose in the U.S. (tuition waivers being treated as income in cases of grants, but not for purposes of taxation)? I think that context might be helpful in thinking about today’s treatment.

    To a first approximation, whatever is weird and distinctive about the American system for funding science can be traced to WWII and its Cold War aftermath, and to Vannevar Bush’s need to funnel huge sums of money into physics and engineering research in a university system that wasn’t originally set up for that.

    So, we ended up with a sort of hideous Rube Goldberg machine, where the federal government can’t fund universities directly, but it can do it indirectly via grants and overhead, and that’s what pays for the research without which the United States probably wouldn’t survive economically or militarily. Hideous, and yet it’s worked, better than most institutions on earth.

    Now, let me try to say this as clearly as I can: it’s easy to look at an ungainly system like that, and think, I could design this much better. But if you therefore advocate taking an axe to the current system, as if a new, more streamlined system would magically pop into existence in its stead—when you know perfectly well that what would actually happen, in the political climate that actually exists, is that most basic research would simply shrivel and die—then you’re being disingenuous. Your argument doesn’t do battle on the plane of reality, so it need not be answered on that plane.

  40. Hoi-Kwong Lo Says:

    Hi, Scott,

    Sorry to hear what is happening in the US. I guess one could never under-estimate a country’s ability to self-destruct. One needs to expect the unexpected.

  41. Scott Says:

    Koray #16:

      “The crown jewel” of the US seems to be held together by accounting tricks and exploitation of young people.

    I would say it a bit differently. The crown jewel of the US is held together by a lot of young people (including me, once) willing to work for near-subsistence wages to advance human understanding, when almost any of them could make a hell of a lot more at a software company or a hedge fund. And it’s held together by Vannevar Bush and the other visionaries who figured out how to fund it, in the American university system as it actually existed. And it’s worth preserving. At the very least, let’s not pay the young people even less.

      There’s also the so-called “replication crisis”, journals full of nonsense, not-even-wrong science, etc. At one point one has to ask whether we really need so many research institutions and so many PhD students. We have to ask whether academics even have the management chops to oversee this quantity of people and money.

    I’m honestly not sure what this has to do with the question at hand. Whatever are the problems, taking an axe to the funding will make them worse—the evidence being that, during WWII and the Cold War, when funding flowed like beer at a frat party, the system achieved the stuff of legend.

  42. Scott Says:

    Lawrence D’Anna #20:

      It’s probably impossible for anyone to be calm and objective when their work and livelihood are being fucked with.

      But I’ll say it anyway: get some perspective.

      When I think of seething cauldrons, I think of the protesters at Middlebury, and Berkeley, and Missouri, and Evergreen, and McMaster, and Yale

      They won an election. And they think of the universities as enemy institutions the same way progressives think of the police and the NRA. And they’re not wrong to think that the universities and academics hate them and are fanatically opposed to everything they value. And elections have consequences.

    So let’s be clear: you ask me to “get some perspective”—and then a few paragraphs later, in a discussion about how to fund the research that underwrites the military and economic survival of the civilized world, you unironically bring up the student protesters at Middlebury and at Evergreen State College? 😉

    Or to put it differently: we should defund the STEM PhD students who are trying to cure diseases and develop AI and lower the cost of clean energy, because of some shrill Marxists whose sit-ins the same STEM PhD students probably weave their way through with annoyance on their way to the lab?

    I actually agree with your analysis of what the Republicans might be thinking (“we get to pillage the hated universities because we won the election, and these are our spoils”)—but in this case, understanding is the opposite of sympathy. The closest analogue I can think of would be if, when Democrats won an election, they immediately proceeded to try to revoke the churches’ tax exempt status, no matter how many small-town churches it would force to close or communities it would devastate—because after all, some churches are hotbeds of right-wing extremism that teach their parishioners to hate liberals. The only reason why we don’t see that happen is that there’s an asymmetry between the sides, in terms of their interest in the public good.

    Still, let me bend over backward to acknowledge the places where we see eye to eye.

    Firstly, your comment will be useful to me, in the internecine war between (a) the serious researchers in STEM, social sciences, and humanities alike, and (b) the postmodernists and anti-science militants who’ve indeed been trying for several decades to eat academia from the inside and excrete it out. From now on, I can point to your comment whenever I’m trying to impress upon the postmodernists the practical fruit that their efforts have reaped.

    Secondly, I was indeed dismayed when, while researching this post, I visited the Chronicle of Higher Ed and Inside Higher Ed websites, and was confronted with headlines about identity politics—you had to look further before you saw the articles about the plausible imminent destruction of the entire universe that Chronicle of Higher Ed and Inside Higher Ed are about. (To its credit, though, Chronicle had several stories critical of identity politics—and also, both publications seem to have made their PhD student tax stories more prominent just from yesterday to today.)

  43. Scott Says:

    Quintin #21 (and L #26):

      Education is (at least partially) a positional good. The value of your education depends in part on how it stacks up to other people’s education. This makes it a good candidate for taxation.

    That, and the related idea of a “higher education bubble,” might plausibly be true about undergraduate degrees at elite universities. Or at least, that’s a separate interesting discussion we could have.

    But even if we fully granted the “positional good” and “bubble” theses when it comes to, let’s say, a Harvard BA, I still don’t see how that has much to do with PhD programs, and certainly not with STEM PhD programs (the kind I understand best). Again, STEM PhD students don’t pay an exponentially inflating amount of money for their diplomas, because they don’t pay anything at all for them: they get paid (though not much), to work as the apprentice scientists that they are.

    And also, didn’t there used to be a bipartisan consensus that STEM PhD students are exactly the kind of people that the country desperately needs more of—i.e., the kind who pump actual economic value into the system through new discoveries and inventions, rather than just jockeying for positional status in the way of so many other white-collar professions that decorum prevents me from naming? 🙂

  44. Scott Says:

    Pickle Jar #31:

      Headlines like “Tax Plan to Make Millions of Americans Poor” come from the same people who bring us things like “New D-Wave Quantum Computer Threatens Internet Security”.

    My rule of thumb: when journalists write about an imminent world-changing miracle technology, they’re probably grossly exaggerating. But when they write about how Congress is planning to screw you over, they’re probably not even telling you the half of it. 😉

  45. Scott Says:

    amy #24 and #32: Thanks as always for your comments. Yes, it’s entirely possible that scientists—or at any rate, those who remain in the US—will someday have to make do with “artist” levels of funding, moonlighting at Starbucks or whatever while they try to solve high-Tc superconductivity. Likewise, it’s plausible that someday, the only sensible responses to climate change will be things like: build seawalls where you can, retreat to higher ground where you can’t, fill the atmosphere with sulfur dioxide to lower the temperature, try to limit the displacement and death. For now, though, I guess we have a moral obligation to put up a fight to delay that day for as long as possible. (And yes, “I guess” is the closest to fighting words that I can muster.)

  46. Scott Says:

    Steven Landsburg #33: I edited the offending sentence, to clarify that the low tax rates to which I was referring were the ones paid by extremely wealthy individuals.

    For much of the rest, imagine a broker trying to get a poor person to sign on to a predatory mortgage. No matter how many laughs the broker is able to enjoy about the poor person’s economic illiteracy, so long as the poor person realizes that the broker is trying to screw him over, he actually has the main piece of economic literacy that he needs right then. On that note, do you agree or disagree that the proposed new tax would result, in reality, in a major contraction in STEM PhD research at American universities? I.e., is it that you deny this would happen, or that you simply think it would be—forgive the layperson’s term—good?

    Regarding the way economic analysis suggests tax codes should be designed, please refer to my comment #39—specifically, the part about cheering on ignoramuses who blindly swing an ax at existing imperfect institutions, on the apparent theory that better, more efficient institutions will magically spring up out of the rubble. The world-historic irony isn’t lost on me that this used to be one of the great errors of the Communists, but has now been fully co-opted by Trumpist “””conservatives.”””

    Regarding the hypothetical CEO who gets $50 million a year worth of food, clothes, and yachts: yes, we tax him for those luxuries, but not for his office chair, laptop, and other stuff that’s plausibly related to his work. Isn’t it obvious that the vast majority of a university’s expenses—certainly, as consumed by a grad student rather than by an undergrad—are more closely analogous to the office chair or laptop (indeed, some of them literally are office chairs and laptops) than they are to the luxury yacht? If anyone doubts that, I invite them them to come visit us at UT and see our opulent splendor for themselves. Unlike with Google employees, we pay for our own gym memberships, the free food is sporadic at best (and not covered by grants), and I even had to bring my own sofa to the office. 🙂

  47. Steven Landsburg Says:

    Scott: To answer your question in #46, I haven’t (yet) thought hard about this, but after I do think hard about it, I’m pretty sure my answer is likely to be something along the lines of “No, tuition stipends should not be taxed for exactly the same reason that interest, dividends, capital gains and corporate income should not be taxed —- i.e. graduate education is a form of investment, and the tax code should not punish investment.

    (It is absolutely true that if you don’t tax investment, you have to tax some other activity — call it $X$ — and one could glibly say “But the tax code also should not punish $X$”. But that would require substantial ignorance of the deep reasons why investment is a particularly bad thing for the tax code to punish.)

  48. Richard Gaylord Says:

    “Republicans hold the public in such contempt”. the Democrats show by their lies that they are equally contemptuous of the public (e.g. they say that thirteen million people will LOSE their health insurance if the individual mandate is repealed (note: a federal judge has already ruled the mandate to be unconstitutional ( which is not true – they are counting the number of people who will CHOOSE not to have health insurance. When i forgo something by choice, i am not losing it. there’s a big difference. note: i’m not discussing whether there should or should not be mandated health insurance for everyone. i’m just saying that the politicians of both parties are liars.

  49. MW Says:

    Probably if you’d propose to increase subsidies for STEM and other hard science fields, but defund pomo Literal Arts and Critical Studies, you could get a lot of Republicans / Trump supporters on your side.

  50. Scott Says:

    Richard #48: In the case you discuss, would you be OK with the formulation, “if the individual mandate is repealed, then 13 million people will no longer realistically be able to afford health insurance, and will therefore choose food and shelter instead”?

  51. Scott Says:

    Steven Landsburg #47: Thanks! So what about my other question: as a professional economist, do you predict that if the new tax is enacted (and, let’s assume, nothing else changes), then there will indeed be a significant contraction in STEM PhD research at American universities? If so, then is that something you support / think is good?

  52. Andrew Sutherland Says:

    I think many of the comments above miss the point of Scott’s post. This is not a debate about the pros and cons of the current tax code, what behaviors it should or should not encourage, or whether academia is currently producing too many PhDs.

    The sole aim of this provision is to harm. The additional tax revenue it will raise is negligible, but it will irrevocably alter the life trajectory of tens of thousands of students who will be forced to terminate their PhD programs (if you think our academic institutions will be able to instantly rework their business models to absorb the impact of this change, I have a bridge you might like to buy). This is a deliberate attempt to punish a very specific group of people via a legislative act.

    If that doesn’t bother you, it should.

  53. Koray Says:

    Scott #41:

    > I’m honestly not sure what this has to do with the question at hand. Whatever are the problems, taking an axe to the funding will make them worse—the evidence being that, during WWII and the Cold War, when funding flowed like beer at a frat party, the system achieved the stuff of legend.

    Let’s not pay young people less. We can do that also by employing much fewer young people.

    (Btw if you shower money into any endeavor, you’ll achieve their highest output. What matters is the bang for the buck, i.e. the derivative. Between the two data points we have, i.e. the normal funding and the WW2 level, we all wish that an exponential curve is the underlying reality. You obviously believe that. But, many of us are skeptical. There’s a lot of perverse stuff going on, like publish-or-perish and things that I already mentioned above, so the actual curve may have a much less favorable derivative.)

  54. Scott Says:

    Andrew #52: Thank you, and well said.

  55. Lawrence D'Anna Says:

    Scott #42

    I’m sorry, I “get some perspective” was the wrong thing to say. At least it wasn’t specific enough.

    I don’t mean get some perspective on the importance of the direct consequences of student protests vs. the tax bill. Of course you’re right that the tax bill is much more important.

    I mean get some perspective on why this happened and who should be blamed for it.

    The universities could have afforded being seen as biased. Most institutions are biased, in the sense of their individual members mostly leaning in one direction or another. What the universities can’t afford is to be seen as fully partisan institutions that despise 45% of Americans.

    In order to function as public or publicish institutions, the schools need a relationship of toleration and some minimum level of trust with the majority of Americans. They chose, mostly implicitly and cumulatively, to throw away that relationship with one half. Now they’re experiencing the consequences.

    And a whole bunch individuals who didn’t make that choice or even tried to stop it are experiencing the consequences of it too.

    I like your analogy of the churches’ tax exempt status. It is like that. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the democrats tried to do that next time they win an election. And the churches will howl and scream, and they will not see the massive role they played as institutions in bringing that disaster down on their heads.

    Maybe I don’t even know what I’m trying to say. I’m saying “it’s a culture war, not a culture pillow fight”. I’m saying “go win an election and fix it, but maybe consider having the kind of mercy on your enemies that they didn’t have on you, even though they don’t deserve it, for the sake of peace”

    I’m sorry. I think I was kind of a jerk to you in my previous comment. Maybe I’m still being a jerk. This whole situation just makes me so angry at everyone .

  56. Scott Says:

    Lawrence #55: +1.

  57. AnonPhD Says:

    Hi Scott-

    Thanks for writing about this. It has been frustrating to see the slowly growing awareness about this impending disaster on my campus- a rally in opposition to the tax bill on Thursday only gathered a few dozen students. The speed with which the bill was pushed through (as far as I can tell, nobody in the general public was aware of this provision until about ten days ago), combined with a population that is not that easy to mobilize, makes me worry that they really will get away with this.


    I would also like to reply to one point of Lawrence D’Anna above:

    “I like your analogy of the churches’ tax exempt status. It is like that. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the democrats tried to do that next time they win an election. And the churches will howl and scream, and they will not see the massive role they played as institutions in bringing that disaster down on their heads.”

    I agree that both actions are reasonably comparable. But let’s be clear: you are comparing a completely hypothetical action by the Democrats, which as far as I can tell has never been seriously considered, with what the Republican party has literally already done without any significant internal dissention. How can you, or anybody, say that this represents two equally misguided sides in a war? Indeed, it seems to me that, unintentionally, you are feeding directly into the prevailing attitude of “our political enemies are clearly trying to destroy us, so we won’t even wait for them to take or propose any action before we destroy them first” that is a big part of why we’re in the mess that we’re in. If you must condemn universities or the generalized left as taking part in a culture war, at least do so for what they are actually doing instead of something that someone might imagine they might do at some point! Perhaps, having done this, the radical asymmetry of this “culture war” will become clear.

  58. woodandsteel Says:

    I have been observing the conservative movement for many decades (and agree with some of its ideas). The arguments put forth by the tax change’s defenders illustrate something important that has happened to the movement in recent decades.

    Originally, conservatives would present their basic principles and goals in a straightforward manner. But often this proved unpopular. An example is that conservatives from the beginning have been opposed to social security, and want to abolish it outright. But when Bush proposed even modifying it, voters, even conservative ones, revolted. In response to such rejections conservatives have often taken to concealing their true intentions.

    We see this happening in this discussion. As I explained in an earlier, conservatives want to destroy the universities and take all scientific research away from them, to be done exclusively by corporations, and this is the goal of the tax changes. But it would be too unpopular among the majority of voters to admit this, and so the defenders here don’t address Scott’s arguments along these lines, and instead try to divert attention with various other arguments.

  59. woodandsteel Says:

    Let me add that this particular controversy is an example of a much larger problem with the Republicans and the Trump administration.

    Trump says he wants to make America great again. Well, one of the reasons this country was so strong for so long is that it has been at the forefront of technological innovation, and that was made possible in part to a huge investment in science by the government and universities.

    Trump and the Republicans, however, are trying to halt technological advancement. An example is how they are pushing coal, which was the tech cutting edge in 19th century, and are blocking renewable technologies to replace it. They are doing this in part because they hate objective science (for instance, at least half of Republican voters reject Darwin and are young earth creationists, and of course they reject the scientific consensus on global climate change).

    But it is not just science and technology. America became so great due to an openness to immigrants, strong support of multi-lateral free trade agreements, and political alliances with other democracies around the world. Trump is trying to get rid of all of these. The consequence would be an America that is not great, but poor and isolated.

  60. Steven Landsburg Says:

    Scott (#51):

    So what about my other question: as a professional economist, do you predict that if the new tax is enacted (and, let’s assume, nothing else changes), then there will indeed be a significant contraction in STEM PhD research at American universities? If so, then is that something you support / think is good?

    1) I do not know whether the new tax, if enacted, will lead to a significant contraction in STEM PhD research at American universities because I do not know enough about what’s in the bill. From the parts I’ve heard about, I’d guess that the answer is yes, but I’m sure there are a lot of parts I don’t yet know about, and that at least some of these will have effects that neither you nor I is yet aware of.

    2a) I am inclined to think that we currently have too little STEM PhD research, and therefore a contraction would be a bad thing.

    2b) I am also inclined to think that we currently have too much non-STEM PhD research, and therefore a contraction of that would be a good thing.

    2c) Even though I’m pretty sure of 2a), I also believe that there is a nontrivial probability that I’m wrong. I am sure that in the absence of subsidies, we’d have too little STEM research, that with sufficiently large subsidies we’d have too much, and that subsidies are currently quite large. I think they are probably not large enough to be “sufficiently large” in the sense just contemplated, but I don’t believe I can prove that.

  61. Atreat Says:

    Scott #50,

    Richard to help you understand…

    A small number of those 13 million will legit *choose* not to have insurance rather than not be able to afford it. And then this will cause premiums to go up. Which will cause more people to “choose” which will cause premiums to go up which will cause more people to flat out *not afford it*… in the end, the system will collapse.

    Think of it like this. What would happen if tomorrow you were no longer mandated to buy auto insurance to drive.

  62. MN Says:

    CS is playing an outsized role in the success of the US (and global) economy. And legislators of all stripes are aware of it.
    So why isn’t this a possible (albeit extreme) solution, if this bill indeed becomes law: all CS educators in the US should unite in protest and simply stop teaching/research until these changes are reverted.

  63. Jeff Says:

    Idea 1. Could the NSF help with new rules? Examples: Universities receiving NSF grants must advertise the expected after tax take home pay. Students loans may not be used in conjunction with NSF funds. Establish minimum after tax salaries for grant funded PhD students. These rules would help force universities to “Do The Right Thing” and either reduce tuition or pay PhD students more.

    Idea 2. In my NSF MSPRF, there was a fixed fixed tuition remission amount, and the university was forbidden from asking me for more, so presumably the university payed the difference. I wonder if harsher language applied to all NSF grants could force all universities, and state legislatures, to establish much lower tuitions for PhD students, probably not but maybe.

    Idea 3. If a state university cannot legally reduce tuition, then they might still be able to reduce total tuition payments by only requiring thesis level students to enroll only one semester per year, or even less frequently. In laboratory sciences, the PhD students would officially hold a coop position in which they switch back & forth between PhD student and laboratory technician positions.

    Also, I’m curious why the “largest impact [falls] on students in STEM fields”? A priori, I’d expect tuition remains constant across fields, but salaries does not. In other words, If a STEM PhD takes home a $30k salary with $50k tuition remission, and the humanities PhD takes home a $15k salary or less with the same $50k tuition remission, then yes the STEP PhD must pay more, but proportionally the humanities PhD student gets hit harder.. and seems more likely to be outright forced to quit. Are there states with schemes by which the university charges higher tuition in STEM fields because grants pay it? If so, ugh that’s already pretty ugly too.

    Anyways, if this passes, then tell your best & brightest to consder doing a PhD in Europe. 😉

  64. Scott Says:

    Jeff #63: I think the biggest impact is on STEM simply because the humanities have a lot less grant money, so not everyone actually gets the tuition waivers. (In other words, as Amy pointed out, the humanities have already been on the starvation diet with which STEM is now threatened.) But someone can correct me if I’m wrong.

  65. Jeff Says:

    Scott #64: I see. I think TAships frequently do exist in service humanities departments, mostly English, but frequently less well paid than STEM TAships. There must also exist despicable places that force grad students into debt for tuition plus negligibly-paid adjunct teaching for livelihood too.

    Anyways, I agree this will disproportionately impact STEM fields in the that every last STEM PhD student is effected, and we’ve far more PhD students in STEP fields. Folks should say this when calling their representatives.

    There is a very good thread on advices for lobbying against this in the reconciliation process :

  66. Brian Says:

    There are some misconceptions about overhead and graduate tuition in some of the comments above that should be addressed.

    First, universities negotiate the overhead rate with the federal government. In this negotiation they demonstrate a reasonable basis for the total indirect costs for the campus (e.g. 50% of our total use of electricity was due to research, so 50% of the electricity bill should be counted in the indirect cost.) This is compared with the total grant funding for the campus to determine the rate for the upcoming year. If the rate is too high in one year then it will be lowered in later years to make up for the excessive amount of money that the university got in the first year.

    Each campus has a lead agency responsible for negotiating the rate for all grants on that campus. Often the lead agency is the one that has the most money in grants at the campus, but sometimes funding patterns have changed. For example, my campus (located in the middle of the desert southwest) has the Office of Naval Research (ONR) as its agency. We don’t do much work for ONR anymore, but in the 1950’s when this system was created they were our major funder.

    The indirect costs attributable to sponsored research are the numerator in a fraction that ultimately becomes the overhead rate.

    The denominator in this fraction consists of the “modified total direct costs (MTDC)” of the sponsored research. This is all of the money that was spent directly on the sponsored research less certain exclusions. These exclusions are laid out in the federal regulation 2 CFR 200.68. For example, the costs of capital equipment are excluded, so that a university can’t collect $500K of overhead on the simple purchase of a $1M scientific instrument. Another important exclusion applies to subcontracts- you can only collect overhead on the first $25K of any subcontract to another institution- this effectively prevents double collection of overhead. Grant money that pays for “participant support” (think fellowships for graduate students with no work obligations or stipends paid to REU participants) is also excluded.

    The overhead rate is (but the devil is in the details of what’s included/excluded) the total indirect costs divided by the MTDC. Once the overhead rate is set, it is charged on the next year’s actual modified total direct costs by charging that overhead rate on each individual grant as money is spent. Overhead is not charged on parts of a grant that are excluded from MTDC.

    From the point of view of the negotiation between the university and the government, the overhead rate is not so important as the determination of how much indirect cost can be attributed to sponsored research since this determines the total amount of money that the university can collect in overhead.

    From time to time there have been proposals to fix a single nation-wide indirect cost recovery rate. This would leave lots of accountants unemployed and upset lots of university administrators who’ve played this game for decades, but would greatly simplify the system and probably wouldn’t hurt individual researchers. A commonly suggested rate would be about 50%.

    Another important point is that once the university has collected the overhead, they can spend on whatever they want (e.g. a new football stadium.) This seems unfair to many researchers, but grant overhead is one of the few sources of unrestricted funds available to administrators, particularly at public institutions.

    Graduate student research assistant salaries and benefits (health insurance if it is provided) are included in MTDC and universities collect overhead on these costs. Thus at a typical 50% overhead rate, a graduate student with a $30K stipend will actually take $45K ($30K + 50% overhead) of your budget.

    Some universities charge tuition for the RA’s to the grants. However, tuition remission is specifically excluded from MTDC, so overhead is not charged on this. To continue my example, if the university charges the grant $30K per year for tuition then the RA costs the grant $75K per year ($30K for the stipend plus $15K of overhead plus $30K for the tuition which is excluded from overhead.)

    Other universities waive tuition entirely for RA’s. In that case, the tuition waiver isn’t charged to the grant and the RA costs $45K again.

    Another common pattern is that many public institutions charge the less expensive “in-state” tuition rate to the grant. If the in-state tuition was only $10K per year in our example, then the RA would cost the grant $55K per year ($30K stipend plus $15K overhead + $10K for the tuition.)

    A much less common option (but the one my institution uses) is to pay a higher stipend to students who then pay (in-state) tuition out of their stipends. This makes the stipend look better than it actually is. In this case, the university collects overhead on the entire stipend and effectively gets overhead on the tuition too.
    Note that under current tax law, students in this situation can deduct the cost of their tuition and likely end up paying little or nothing in federal taxes.

    If you’re considering a job offer from a university that will expect you to get research grants, then it’s in your interest to understand how graduate student tuition for RA’s is handled at that institution.

    The proposal in the House tax bill wouldn’t do anything to change the total amount of indirect costs recovered by universities. However, for universities that currently charge high tuition to grants, it would add a huge tax burden to the graduate student RA’s. For universities that waive tuition to RA’s, the IRS would have to decide whether that waived tuition should be treated as income to the RA.

  67. amy Says:

    I’d like to point out that federal legislators are almost always lawyers, and that they went to law school, not STEM-PhD school, meaning that they have no direct experience with this apprentice system, and that most of them probably don’t know it exists or why the grad students can’t just take out loans like everyone else. I doubt very much that they connect it with US basic research productivity.

    Who’s at fault there? Well, we could yell a lot about AAAS, which is as toothless an advocacy organization as I’ve ever met despite all its nice T-shirt sales and policy fellowships, but there isn’t much point in it.

    Here’s one measure of things: we’ve got a congressional district office three blocks from campus; it’s a reliably safe D seat, or has been. I’ve known the office manager since long before the current rep got into office.

    They don’t care. They don’t even care to know about this provision. They don’t want to talk about it. Nor do they want to talk about federal science funding, nor have they since Trump was elected and I’ve been wandering in to bother people — as someone who was once a congressional district staffer and knows something about their office structure and what they can and cannot do. They know nothing about these things and don’t want their ignorance exposed. I’ve even been in a shouting match with the manager about this. As far as they’re concerned, it’s quite unimportant, even though an R1 university three blocks away relies on a quarter-billion in federal research funding annually.

    As far as I am aware, the Congressman has had no discussions about research funding outlook and advocacy under Trump with anyone — anyone — at the university. When I bring it up on the university side, the VP for research side, I get blank stares. There is no ongoing conversation, as far as I can tell.

    As for the starvation budget: let’s not forget staff in this picture. As programs shrink and labs shutter, staff positions are less and less justifiable; those that are attached to specific researchers just go away. Well-endowed schools with wealthy STEM alumni are in a better position to make up the money, but it’d be a disaster for state Us, which are staffing on a shoestring anyway. Lab techs. Low-level administrators who actually do take care of paperwork and HR and keeping post-award business rolling. Journal and other editors not paid by the journals themselves. There’s a whole support ecosystem there that’s also in trouble when the students stop coming.

    There’s also the possibility that students *will* take out the loans, which leaves us with some unconscionable arrangements. It’s bad enough when you get a delusional American Studies PhD person who really thinks he’s in line for one of the 1.7 job openings in his subarea and that that he’s got a perma-press doctorate, fresh all day. Or an MFA who’s sure that $70K in design-school tuition will totally pay off. I really don’t want to do the same thing to STEM kids who’re being told sure, kid, there’s a job for you, when it’s remarkable how many grads we still have just hanging around, or finding “jobs”. (Commission-based recruiter for STEM temp workers? That’s a job in STEM, right?)

    I also have no confidence that STEM fields will come around in any hurry to the thing the arts/humanities have accepted publicly, which is that the job market stinks and that alt-ac is a thing they actually have to help their grads with.

  68. jonathan Says:

    This works out to a tax on graduate programs. I doubt this will lead Harvard or MIT to shut theirs down, but it might cause some lower-tier schools to scale back or eliminate programs.

    It’s not clear to me that this is a bad thing.

    On the one hand, basic research is a public good which should be subsidized. Then again, it already is heavily subsidized in various ways; and there’s the view that universities are caught in a bad signaling equilibrium, a lot of academic research isn’t so useful anyway, and the market for fresh PhDs is oversupplied. It’s not clear why they need a tax break here.

  69. Boaz Barak Says:

    I also wrote about this here

    Regardless of how the final cost of this will be distributed between universities and students, the bottom line is that the GOP plan will result in a very significant reduction in funding for STEM research. (As Scott mentions, I think the main issue here is for STEM Ph.D’s that get the tuition waiver in the first place.)

    STEM research at American Universities has been a massive success story for both the U.S. and the world at large, and the outcome of such a cut will mean that less progress will be made. The amazing thing is that this cut is not part of some “general austerity” program but rather in the context of a plan that adds (much) more than a trillion dollar to the deficit. (See )

    Given that the tax plan is being pushed with such haste, and that it is clearly based on the philosophy of getting a short term “win” at any cost (pulling growth assumptions out of a hat, and using “gimmicks” such as “temporary” tax cuts that are planned on being extended) I don’t know if this attack on STEM research is accidental or intentional.

  70. ninguem Says:

    Scott, I mostly agree with you and, in particular, I find the argument in #39 particularly compelling. I also think that the final tax bill, if it passes the Senate, will be very different from the current one.

    But we can take this as an opportunity for reflection. Why does PhD tuition at MIT cost $50k and at UT $15k? The state of Texas only provides 15% of UT’s operating budget, so “it’s a state school” is not a good answer. MIT could lower tuition that it probably doesn’t really need. After all, UT functions pretty well as a major research university, does it not? Note I am not trying to compare undergraduate programs, only graduate and if the answer is that the revenue from grants is subsidizing undergraduate education, I think that’s bad.

  71. Boaz Barak Says:

    @minguem, what does it mean “MIT could lower tuition that it probably doesn’t really need”?

    You seem to be saying that MIT is grossly inefficient. Well, that may or may not be the case, but I don’t think anyone has ever given an example of a university which produces better results than MIT that runs at a much cheaper cost.

    Regardless of whether MIT could be more efficient, it is a bargain in the sense that what it (and other universities) contributed back to society far outweighs whatever was spent on it. (For example, the following article cites a report that MIT-alum founded companies generate an annual revenue of $1.9 Trillion .)

  72. Scott Says:

    Brian #66: Thanks so much for the detailed explanation—though I confess that reading through it almost made my head explode. The system is even more convoluted than I knew—though as I mentioned before, that’s of course not an argument for just blindly taking an ax to it, in fact quite the opposite.

    Many of the proposals I see make me think of a person with zero medical experience saying: “wait, you’re telling me that the optic nerve goes right through the front of the eye, which gives people blind spots? and then the visual cortex is in the back of the head? but that’s absurdly inefficient! why don’t I cut open the heads of all the people around me while they sleep, and try to fix this…” 🙂

    I do realize that the House bill wouldn’t directly affect indirect costs. However, it would mean that, if universities (at least, the ones that currently charge tuition to grants) wanted to counteract the crippling new tax burden on their grad students, then they’d need to either increase the stipends or else decrease the “tuition”—either of which would cut into indirect costs.

  73. Richard Gaylord Says:

    scott #50 – i am sure that there are a variety of reasons: e.g. (1) poor people can’t afford to pay for it, (2) young healthy people view themselves as indestructible and engage in short range thinking and so they do not feel the need to be insured.
    atreat #61 – i’ve read the CBO report and i have no problem understanding it (it’s not theoretical physics).
    note: regarding car insurance, i am disabled and wheelchair bound (and btw, i do not support the ADA, or for that matter, a military draft such as the one i evaded during the Vietnam War) so i don’t drive, but the insurance company forces me to pay for car insurance for both myself and my wife in order for my wife to have car insurance.
    What i don’t understand is why some people think it’s okay to extort (whether you support or oppose taxation, it is an act of extortion (look it up in a dictionary) and SCOTUS only approved the ACA by declaring that the mandate is a tax) people into having health insurance (or for paying via taxation for federal subsidies,for the health care of others). Libertarians believe that individuals have the right to make decisions about their life and they must then live with the consequences of their decisions. People who decide not to have health insurance (or flood insurance) should have to deal with the cost of becoming ill (or being flooded out of their home). It is not the responsibility of others to pay for their bad decisions (people can, of course, help them through charitable donations)

  74. Brian Says:

    Re Scott #72:

    Here’s a more detailed analysis of the effects of the two options you’ve mentioned on universities that currently charge grants for tuition remission. It becomes obvious which of the two options will be chosen…

    1. Universities increase stipends to counteract the new tax and leave tuition fixed.

    From the point of view of the PI in this scenario, the RA now costs more both in direct costs (stipend) and overhead. This means fewer RA positions or less money available to spend on travel, lab supplies, etc.

    However, since this doesn’t change the indirect costs at the institutional level, it will soon result in a decrease in the overhead rate (the MTDC denominator has increased while the indirect cost numerator remains constant.)

    For grants without RA’s (or where most of the costs are not for RA’s), the drop in the overhead rate will actually make more money available for research. On the other hand, grants that are more dependent on RA’s will still lose overall.

    One interesting incentive that this would create would be to make it relatively less expensive to pay postdocs than in the past (you’ve always paid overhead on their entire salary and benefits, but the overhead rate went down.)

    From the point of view of administrators, there’s no financial hit to indirect cost recovery- after the overhead rate is adjusted, they’ll still get back all of the indirect costs that they’ve been paying for. However, in the longer term, they’ll see lower tuition income from fewer students. That will hurt.

    2. Universities decrease graduate tuition and leave stipends alone.

    For the same reasons as in the first case, the administration still gets their indirect cost recovery. Furthermore, since MTDC hasn’t changed, the overhead rate doesn’t change.

    However, the big hit to the administration comes from lost tuition revenue. This option would cost more in lost tuition revenue than the first option would cost in higher stipends, because the tax rate isn’t 100%.

    Furthermore, there are situations in which students are funded by outside sources (fellowships, scholarships from foreign governments, etc.) The university would take in less tuition from these sources.

    PI’s would love this option because it decreases the cost of an RA without increasing the overhead rate.

    I think it’s pretty clear that if this bill becomes law, then the universities that charge grants for tuition remission will pick option 1 (raise stipends to cover the tax) rather than option 2.

  75. gentzen Says:

    Boaz Barak #71: Counting future successes of dropouts as your own successes (like Harvard apparently does in the article you linked) feels dishonest to me. At least in Germany, the one who dropped out gets a (perhaps small) social stigma, even if he dropped out to start a company. It would be OK if you counted the future successes of students with a bachelor degree as yours, because those at least got an academic degree from you.

  76. CS-Prof Says:

    Scott, this is an interesting discussion. But can you explain clearly, what do you think will eventually and concretely happen to the higher education sector in the US, and specifically in CS, assuming this bill will get the final stamp? IS the sector doomed?

  77. Scott Says:

    CS-Prof #76: Well, it’s clear that CS research, like every other kind of basic research, will suffer in the US if this becomes law. Even the Republicans on this thread seem to agree about that. 🙂 But will we be able to contain or route around the damage, or will it precipitate a downward spiral where the students and scientists who can go to Canada, Australia, or elsewhere, or leave science altogether, thereby causing others to do the same, etc.? I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone else does either. Of course, one doesn’t need to know the exact path of the bullet through one’s body, whether it will rupture an artery or merely some blood vessels, etc., to conclude that pulling the trigger would be ill-advised.

  78. Scott Says:

    Richard #73: No matter how much one loves the free market, the basic argument for nationalizing healthcare is that it’s inconsistent with medical ethics (or with human conscience as we understand it in the modern world) to refuse to treat a dying person who shows up at the emergency room because they can’t pay. Which means: one way or another, society is going to end up subsidizing poor people’s healthcare. But given that premise, we can actually save money over the long term if we can treat people before they get to the emergency room. At least, that is what the experience of every industrialized country on earth besides the US has shown.

    Now, could one provide that healthcare more efficiently than through the Byzantine complexities of Obamacare? Certainly. Personally, I’d support single-payer—or simpler and more elegant still, just a Universal Basic Income that would let everyone afford healthcare and other life necessities for themselves, in a market that’s otherwise as free and unregulated as we can make it.

    But then we’re back to the parable of the guy who cuts open people’s skulls and tries to rewire their visual systems because he realizes evolution could’ve designed them more efficiently. If, thanks to the Republicans, the only actual choice right now is between insuring poor people via the ACA Rube Goldberg machine, or taking a chainsaw to the machine and letting them go uninsured, or onto “insurance” that won’t actually keep them alive, then how does conscience not just immediately dictate the former?

  79. amy Says:

    UBI and a free and unregulated market would yield predation on a massive scale as a relatively small but not tiny set, the same we’ve got now, devoting themselves to separating people from their monthly payments. Unfortunately Madison had it right and firm regulation, mischief-making as it often is, turns out to be necessary. The interesting thing is that most people won’t notice it. The predators do, and the cheats do, and those few trying to do something genuinely innovative do, however benign.

    Interesting lesson too in the story of FB and twitter: you let them go, they’re largely unregulated, and it turns out they do what industrialists have always done: make customers out of deep-pocketed warmongers in part by helping them prey on the defenseless.

    I’m a fan of regulation. Including ADA, which I used to thank daily, when I had a child in a stroller, for curb cuts, elevators, wheelchair-ready buses, and automatic door openers. Do I love that these accommodations came because we could get rosily sentimental about vets but not caregivers, no. But I was glad that they were there, also glad that the regulations force people who wouldn’t otherwise to reckon with variously disabled people as though they exist and actually are people.

    Also, it’s not just medical ethics but ordinary human decency that demands we treat sick people who turn up in ERs.

    Since the Senate version’s taken out the tax on grad stipends, and grad ed is essentially just a kid on the corner with a roll of Smarties and not an undefended major-appliance store, my guess is that — assuming the Senate bill passes, which is not a given, especially now that they’ve been dumb enough to put the ACA-killer in — the grad stipend taxation will go out in reconciliation, after some maddeningly stupid conversation about how the Dems intend to pay for the tax waiver. And that in the process someone resentful about his own grad ed and/or STEM’s authority, someone who hadn’t known anything about all this, will make it a special future target. But that won’t mean anything unless circumstance allows it.

    I also wonder who’s responsible for its removal from the Senate version and will check.

    A curious and tangential thing I’m seeing lately, btw: libertarian-minded students at public universities insisting they’re paying every penny of their own way, and that their tuition should not be used in making financial aid available to others. It’s really bizarre — they seem not to know what the “public” part means. Also weird: they’re shocked when I tell them I’m glad to pay taxes to support their education, also to earn less money than I would at many other jobs, because their educations are important in themselves and also a social good, and besides, it’d be entirely hypocritical of me not to: other people have helped me, through taxes and not. (They’re even more surprised when it turns out I’m not asking some husband to subsidize me in earning less money.) They seem to have undergone some profound, delusion-ridden education in abject selfishness.

  80. amy Says:

    Also, Brian’s the undisputed champ here, no?

    Given the fainting over postdoc-salary increases under the now-extinct DOL rules, and university refusals to top-up, I would expect a real divide in how universities cope with Brian’s scenario 1 in #74. I have trouble seeing how struggling Us in the middle of the country are going to increase stipends far enough to erase the tax walloping. Don’t forget that if you do this, you’re likely looking at increasing the stipends for *all* your grad students, not just STEM grad students whose increases can be rationalized as an overhead bite (and, of course, the overhead’s been under attack, too).

    We haven’t talked about taxation of other tuition benefits as salary, which are also part of this story.

  81. Scott Says:

    amy #79: I’m less libertarian than a libertarian, but obviously more libertarian than you. 🙂

    Let me propose an amendment to the UBI policy. Suppose someone shows up at the emergency room needing a livesaving treatment that he can’t afford, because he’s blown his entire UBI on drugs and hookers rather than buying health insurance. Then he gets the treatment, but also becomes a “ward of the state”: from now on his necessities (food, health insurance…) are provided for free and deducted from UBI, since he’s proven that he can’t manage the money himself.

  82. Nilima Nigam Says:

    I don’t even know what to say, really. I’ve been reading through this thread this afternoon at the family table. Coincidentally, my kid asked me for a definition of ‘climate change’. So I did the obvious search: ‘EPA and climate change’. Here is what we get:


    It is hard to describe how profoundly depressing this stuff is, even though it’s happening South of the border from me. It truly feels like watching someone set fire to a beloved house in the neighbourhood.

    I grew up in an era where the US was that only crazy country that welcomed smart students from anywhere, let us study in these amazing universities, work in these crazy-cool labs… when our own countries wouldn’t, or couldn’t. Sure, there were challenges- but dammit, a kid could switch disciplines from physics to math, or actually challenge their own professors intellectually, or moonlight during their degree to create some shit-tastic search engine that suddenly wasn’t shit-tastic one day. We didn’t know _how_ your universities did it, and in some senses it didn’t matter: the system threw a lot of us international students a lifeline. And the system banked on us being both grateful and motivated to give back. Which we did.

    Was the system flawed? Of course. Could it have been better designed? Sure. Should it be fixed? Clearly. Clearly, those statements hold for anything.

    But, as Scott argues: it would be disingenous to claim that ‘this tax bill is helping to reform the current system of graduate education in the US for the overall betterment of both education and research.’ Such is not the intent of the bill.

    This is a slow-moving, quiet catastrophe in the making, for all the reasons articulated so much better above by others. And I’ve been around far too long to believe in the more optimistic
    scenarios described.

    What a depressing time.

  83. Raoul Ohio Says:

    A slightly bigger picture is that Republicans have been trying to destroy education at all levels for decades.

    And it is no mystery why this is: Educated people are more likely to realize that Republican policy is to screw pretty much everyone to transfer wealth to the wealthy. Keeping more people uneducated translates directly into more Republican votes.

  84. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    In full disclosure, I believe that the tax is a terrible idea and I hope that it won’t make it to the final version of the bill after the house and the senate bills are reconciled in conference. I agree with Scott that it would be a catastrophe for the US if it were to become law.

    With this said, I also want to push back a little bit against this notion of “evil Republicans killing knowledge”. No sir, what “evil Republicans” are after is the public subsidizing of a system that favors liberals overwhelmingly -if you count the political affiliation of professors – and that serves de facto as a system of indoctrination in liberal ideology. The question is, just as it is with NPR and similar, why should taxpayers as a whole subsidize the spread of liberal propaganda. Surely schools like those of the Ivy League are wealthy enough that they can continue to do their propaganda work without the assistance of the taxpayer.

    The reason I think that the tax is a bad idea is that these idiotic Republicans have chosen the wrong way to punish the system: the students. They would have gotten my support if for example, legislators would have chosen to decrease the amount given as “tuition waiver” from overhead costs, forcing universities to look at spending their endowments to pay for the things they now pay for with overhead costs. So punishing the students is as tone deaf as it comes. And to make it more specific, I would find a legislative way to ensure that only the wealthy universities (like Harvard or MIT) get punished, sparing the public ones from this. In turn, such a measure would probably increase the competitiveness of said public schools.

    Punishing the misuse of public funds to push for liberal intelligentsia is warranted. I am sure that the liberal lords of Silicon Valley and Seattle will step in to make up for any revenue loses due to the public saying “enough”.

  85. Scott Says:

    Gatekeepers #84: As discussed earlier in this thread, the tax-exempt status enjoyed by churches could be seen as a massive government subsidy that generally aids the spread of right-wing values. (Of course there are left-wing churches, but then there are also right-wing professors.) So, do you also support rescinding that subsidy?

  86. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Scott #85

    To be clear, I reiterate that I believe pushing students is a horrible, stupid idea, which is why I am against this provision, period, no qualifications.

    With respect to the question of equating subsidizing higher educations with subsidizing churches, there are clear differences. Some of them are historic. The issue of religious freedom was one of the pillars on which our country was founded. So much so that it is included in the first amendment. To be clear, I am not making the argument that the US constitution guarantees (or supports) public subsidizing of churches, what I am saying is that the issue of freedom of religion and getting any government interference out of the way from the individual’s right to practice the religion of their choice or no religion at all is at the core of the American value system, ie, something anybody calling himself “American” agrees. Subsidizing universities or mass media to spread a particular ideology isn’t. You would be in better ground if you would be asking that all newspapers and media get the subsidies that NPR receives from the tax payer, for example.

    Second: the loudest voices opposing the end of government’s subsidies to the spread of liberal propaganda (at universities or via mass media) tend to be quite wealthy. So it begs the question as to why any money from the taxpayer at all should be spent subsidizing this when the aforementioned Silicon Valley and Seattle lords that share said liberal values would have the money to make up for any revenue losses. Churches on the other hand -and this is true of both left leaning and right leaning churches/synagogues/mosques/temples/etc) would generally be unable to survive without their tax exempt status. You can find me probably some megachurch here and there that might be able to but property tax alone would put out of business many churches, particularly those located in areas with expensive real estate.

    To me is really an apples to oranges comparison. We should subsidize -as a society- those activities that we agree are for the common good, not for the good of those who vote liberal. Subsidizing churches, as long as we believe that freedom of religion is a common good- makes sense. Subsidizing Harvard so it can intoxicate the minds of the next generation of sociology students doesn’t, from my point of view. If Harvard wants to do said indoctrination, it is wealthy enough to do so without needing my tax payer assistance.

  87. Boaz Barak Says:

    Gentzen: I think that it is quite easy to make the case that institutions like MIT, Harvard, and other universities contributed to trillions of dollars of wealth, as well as improving the life expectancy and quality of life for billions of people. It seems silly to quibble on what effect Harvard had on Gates or Zuckerberg when their entire industry would not have existed if it wasn’t for academic research.

    This is also related to gatekeeper’s comment. As far as I know, it is not only people who vote liberal who use computers, take insulin, use medical imaging, or otherwise enjoy the fruits of academic research.

    There is no law that says that such scientific progress will always happen regardless of whether it is funded or not, and indeed humanity has known long periods of time where we made very little progress in both knowledge accumulation.

    Now I don’t think that a single U.S. tax regulation will plunge us to the dark ages. However, a regulation that amounts to a several thousand dollars new tax per graduate student will have a significant negative impact on research, regardless of how the cost is ultimately shared.

    I should say that there are other components in the GOP tax plan that are problematic for higher education. In particular the elimination of the state and local taxes deduction is likely to cause a lot of pressure on state budget. Since roads, police, and K-12 education are fixed costs, the victims of such pressures are quite likely to be public universities.

  88. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Boaz Barak #87

    To be clear, I am not saying that we shouldn’t subsidize higher education. let alone punish the students. My opposition to the house GOP proposal of taxing the graduate students themselves is without any kind of qualification. I think it is a really bad idea to punish graduate students for the sins of the administrators of the wealthy institutions they attend.

    Scott made a comment earlier that the current system originates probably in Vannevar Bush’s efforts. That onto itself means that it is probably outdated. It served well the United States during WWII and the cold war. It is less clear that it is a good system for the XXI-st century since back then defense (both in terms of actual hardware as well as ideological) took a big chunk of the R&D expenditures. The original GI bill and the so called “Sputnik moment” are usually credited as having spurred a great deal of the achievements of American higher education. These days the same agencies fund nonsensical research of the kind denounced every year by . The inventions you mention were produced during this time of warfare (actual as in WWII or ideological as in during the cold war). Currently we have a system that caters first and foremost to people who believe that because they are smart, they are entitled to live out of my taxpayer dollars.

    Another argument I forgot in favor of subsidizing churches: the fact remains that in the United States, churches are the first line of defense for people at risk of exclusion. Their contribution to society as a whole -irrespective of their ideology or denomination- is indisputable.

    In summary: what we have today is a system that was designed for a different time which is being “hacked” by people who have learned to make a living out of government subsidies. Just because Vannevar Bush’s ideas served well the US in the second half of the XX-th century, it doesn’t mean the same set of incentives serves well the US in the XXI-st century. I, for one, find the whole notion of giving more money to these schools (all of which have endowments above $1 billion) while these schools spend overhead costs and endowment in nice buildings and administrators’ fat paychecks obscene.

  89. Brian Says:

    Re/Amy #80, “undisputed champ”

    I’m not sure what Amy meant by “undisputed champ” in this comment, but just to be clear- I’m trying to analyze the likely moves by university administrators if this bill becomes law. I’m not suggesting that any of these would be good outcomes.

    I’m not in favor of the bill becoming law, and I won’t get to make any administrative decisions about how to respond if it does become law, but I’d have to deal with the some of the consequences which would be even worse for the graduate students then for faculty like me.

  90. Michael Mitzenmacher Says:

    #86 (and others):

    While this is admittedly a side issue, as a current professor and long-ago graduate of Harvard University, I have to say, many of your ideas on what Harvard is and what it teaches are, to say the least, remarkably odd. (And I imagine it’s the same for other similar institutions.) When you say things like, “Subsidizing universities or mass media to spread a particular ideology isn’t.”, you’re betraying your own ignorance as to how the world (at least in universities) works.

    I recall as an undergraduate taking two classes on political philosophy (of my own free choice, they fulfilled no requirement) from Harvey Mansfield, a well-known conservative voice. I took a class on the Bible and Its Interpreters, which was a sophisticated (and historically grounded) examination of the important book, taught by James Kugel, an orthodox Jew and religious scholar. I took wonderful courses on the history of Communism, which you apparently would be surprised to hear were not particularly complimentary, and on the history of the United States, which generally were. And again, to be clear, I was a math/CS major!

    The classes I took at Harvard taught me to think critically, and if the professor had a view on the subject that might arise, well, I was taught to be critical of their opinions too.

    I admit, these days my focus on courses at Harvard are on my own and other CS courses. I can assure we’re focused on teaching thinking skills, not indoctrinating students into whatever you think colleges are indoctrinating students into.

    Universities are naturally political places, as one would expect when gathering together primarily 18-2x year olds and asking them to think about the world they’re going to take responsibility for. One might also expect that students of that age would, on average, be more inclined to more progressive ideas than the rest of society. (That, at least, seems from what I know to have been the case for the last half of the 20th century on.) Your surprise at seeing “liberal” thinking at universities is, itself, surprising; the idea that its universal is, I’d say, remarkably uninformed. (For heaven’s sake, Greg Mankiw teaches Ec 10…)

    When I see people using phrases like “government’s subsidies to the spread of liberal propaganda (at universities or via mass media)”, I know I’m up against someone who doesn’t seem to have an idea of how universities work. It leads me to believe you’re presenting a politically-minded argument (of the form, “screw those universities that are teaching people to think, the results of which we might not like”), instead of an argument based on determining what policy outcomes are likely to mean for the long term US good (which Scott, and others, have tried to describe).

  91. I'm gonna get in trouble for this Says:

    I’m a grad student myself, and I find myself deeply conflicted on this issue. On the one hand, I believe the universities have too much power and am happy that someone is trying to take us down a notch; on the other hand, I’m worried for the financial well-being of myself and my friends.

    Imagine, if you will, that Jim is a mining equipment salesman out somewhere in Pennsylvania’s coal country; but additionally Jim is an ardent environmentalist. [If you think that’s unlikely, well, I’m a conservative grad student…] How would Jim feel about having a Carbon Tax — something he thinks is good for the country, but will hurt his friends, clients, and business?

    It’s common practice to tax things that you want to discourage. Want to buy that pack of Marlboros? You’ll have to pay through the nose (and lungs) for it! Universities are complicated — for all our problems, we do produce a lot of genuine knowledge here — but it’s very clear that one thing we also do is produce propaganda (and propagandists!) for a destructive far-left-wing agenda.

    A lot of otherwise-reasonable people I know seem to think that universities produce only truth — or, at any rate, that any non-truth produced is accidental. The idea that a major function of the university system is naked propaganda would baffle them. When they see a poster in the elevator advertising a talk entitled Is Islamophobia Accelerating Global Warming?, they see a bug in the system; whereas I see a feature.

    This propaganda wouldn’t be so worrying if we didn’t also have an internal censorship system that would make Metternich jealous — i.e. if right-wing counterpoints could reliably be made publicly. But no, why would we permit anything as tiresome as a genuine debate? The instances of right-wing (or even just insufficiently-left-wing) speakers being violently prevented from speaking on campuses are too numerous to list here. But Bernie Sanders — a Jewish super-progressive — was given a respectful hearing at Liberty University.

    In short, we’ve reached the point where Liberty University, of all places, better embodies the ideals of free discourse and independent thought than, say, UC Berkeley or Harvard. Maybe this tax will do more harm than good, I can’t really say; but shouldn’t something be done about this? If not a tax or some other financial penalty — then what?

    Why this sort of takeover happens is obvious. Universities have a reputation for producing knowledge and smart people, and this translates directly to political power — professors help craft public policy, university graduates staff all sorts of government offices and powerful NGOs, etc. It is very hard for me to imagine that such a powerful institution could remain “clean” for any length of time. Sure, some departments — e.g. Math for the most obvious example — still chase truth; but others are little more than propaganda mills disguised as “social science”.

    So! If we do get new taxes on universities, perhaps we will see just what we’ve become. “Those who fight monsters…”, after all. If forced to choose, will the universities decide to cut back on knowledge or on propaganda?

  92. Richard Gaylord Says:

    scott #78
    why is it that when i disagree with a non-Libertarian based on my Libertarian beliefs, they react as if i’m too ignorant or stupid to understand why they have the position they have and explain it to me? I’m not. i understand the basis for the argument regarding the cost ‘to society’ of providing health care for people who lack health insurance. but the idea that all doctors practice an ethical mandate to provide health care to everyone is simply not true. i have many doctors in my family (i am jewish LOL). a few of them have set up, at their own expense, medical clinics in third world countries while more of them have instead, only worked to maximize their income. and If doctors do feel ethically bound to provide care irregardless of the ability of patients to pay, they are free to do so. but they should do it at their own expense. they have no right to tax me in order to obtain the funds to pay for the cost for that medical care (or for their high salaries). Libertarians are not all members of the Ayn Rand cult. many of us are caring, benevolent individuals who encourage everyone to help others in need. we just reject the idea that it okay to steal (whether you support it or not, taxation is theft by definition) from some people to give to other people. I reject the State taxing me (for anything) just as my father rejected his synagogue’s attempt to levy a ‘tax’ on him as a ‘contribution’ to their building fund (he resigned from the temple; all i can do is look for tax loopholes).

  93. Scott Says:

    Richard Gaylord #92: Hey, if you thought my last comment was patronizing, then try this one. 😀

    My friend Greg Kuperberg likes to suggest to Libertarians that they think of the US government as simply the world’s largest corporation. So long as you remain a citizen, you agree to be bound by the corporation’s terms of service, including paying its annual service fee (i.e. income tax) and even being thrown in jail if you’re found to violate the terms. All of which is 100% kosher according to the strict Libertarian conception of what a service contract can stipulate. And if you ever decide this mega-corporation isn’t for you, you’re free to renounce the service contract, and move to a territory controlled by a different mega-corporation with more congenial terms—which is one thing that the US, unlike (say) North Korea or the former USSR, has hardly ever stopped anyone from doing.

  94. Jr Says:

    Tax reform will always hurt some people and to be honest my takeaway from this post is just that Scott and his friends happened to be among the losers of this particular reform. And cutting corporate tax rates and getting rid of many deductions are things I support.

    If graduate students are employees, certainly from first principles it makes sense to tax any income they receive for that and whether it comes in the form money or in-kind payments should not matter. Admittedly, drawing the line can be tricky and I am perfectly open to Scott’s point that getting rid of a screwy way of subsidizing STEM research without replacing it with a better one can be a bad thing. But the post would be much more convincing to me if this point was made with less vitriol and more reason.

  95. Scott Says:

    Problem with gatekeepers #88, gonna get in trouble (no you won’t) #91: Your comments are extremely useful to me—in a way, at least from my standpoint, you’re making the case against new taxes on higher education as well as I did if not better.

    For your comments clearly illustrate—if anyone was in doubt before—that what really animates this sort of Republican effort has nothing to do with raising necessary tax revenue, or making difficult financial tradeoffs, or anything like that: rather, it’s indeed just to punish the intellectual elites who think they’re oh-so-smart, to take them down a peg.

    Such resentment, we learn from history, is so strong a force that (incredibly) it can override even rational concern for one’s own job safety: there are intellectuals who are ready to suffer and lose everything, if only it means that other intellectuals will suffer more.

    But another thing we learn from history is that such resentment is a terrible basis for making policy. It was terrible when Lenin looked around for “rich bastards” to hang in the streets, when Mao sent the “bourgeois intellectuals” to labor and die in the countryside, when Pol Pot targeted the city-dwellers and anybody wearing glasses. And while the US has a long way to fall before it reaches that pit, resentment doesn’t suddenly become a better guide to policy when it’s right-wingers and nationalists looking for ways to force the hated intellectual elites out of the universities.

    Yes, even if the intellectuals are hardly perfect themselves. Even if, as a class, they’re wrong about some things that the less-educated are right about. If you believe that’s the case, then work tirelessly to convince the intellectuals that you’re right (even if doing so makes you a maverick “intellectual” yourself). I’ll always defend your freedom to do so using evidence and argument, and will oppose any intellectuals who try to censor you—I hope my record standing up for unpopular causes on this blog bears that out. But don’t give in to anti-intellectual resentment, because we know from history where it leads.

    And incidentally, it almost certainly won’t even work—at least, not unless the anti-intellectual mob really does take things to Pol-Pot extremes. As Scott Alexander wisely pointed out, if left-wing humanities professors and other “educated elites” see themselves as being under existential attack—as your comments suggest they should—then their reaction will be the pretty much the same as any human group’s in the same circumstances: namely, to hunker down, become even more intolerant of dissenting views than they were before, and despise the uneducated Trump voters even more deeply. Those on the fence will get radicalized.

    Or if that’s not what happens, then come back and tell me and the other Scott we were wrong…

  96. gentzen Says:

    Boaz Barak #87: Thanks for replying. I know I was going of on a tangent, but the idea to include dropouts in the alumni was really confusing to me. I looked at wikipedia now, and at least in Germany, only “Absolventen” (=graduates) are counted as alumni. The English wikipedia was forced to say “former student and most often a graduate,” because well… But this raises the question whether the study included every dropout as alumni, or only the dropouts which were later successful, or ??? It would be OK for me if there were a clear criteria, like a dropout who donated at least a 3 digit sum to the university is also considered an alumni, in addition to the graduates of the university.

    Don’t count what I wrote here as support, or disapproval of top US universities. I know that this place and time is not well suited for discussing such complicated matters. And in addition, I simply don’t understand the inner workings of top US universities. Nevertheless, I gave opinions about similar matters in the past, both in private to close friends, and more public to superficial acquaintances:

    On 19 Sep 2015 I wrote to AB among other things:

    On a personal note, I’m pleased to see that you came from IIT, and decided to continue on a European university and collaborate with people from everywhere. Just because European universities are less competitive than top US universities like Stanford or MIT doesn’t mean that you will achieve less if you go there.

    On 1 May 2016 I wrote to JS among other things:

    Mit Eugen hatten wir darüber geredet, wie die Rechner inzwischen kaum mehr schneller werden, dafür aber jetzt echte Anwendungen ernsthafte Fortschritte machen. Nach Katastrophen wie Deepwater Horizon und Fukushima wurde nur zu deutlich, dass die Entwicklung in der Robotik sich zu sehr auf die Imitation menschlicher Fähigkeiten (und das Ersetzen menschlicher Arbeiter) konzentriert hatte. Als man plötzlich wirklich Roboter gebraucht hat, um in großer Tiefe oder unter hoher Strahlungsbelastung Aufklärungs- und Aufräumarbeiten zu erledigen, waren sie dazu (noch) nicht in der Lage.

    Wenigstens war die damalige US-“Administration” in der Lage, diese Herausforderung in eine realistische Zukunftsvisionen zu verwandeln. Das sichtbare Aushängeschild dieser Vision war die DARPA Robotics Challenge, der von 2012-2015 lief, und mit 30 Millionen US-Dollar (23 Millionen Euro) direkt gefördert wurde, und durch Universitäten und Unternehmen indirekt zusätzliche Förderung erhielt.

    Auf YouTube gibt es Videos von den Roboterläufen, wenn man sie finden kann. Die Zusammenfassungen in z.B. IEEE Spectrum sind deutlich leichter zu finden, und verlinken ebenfalls zu vielen Videos.

    Die vorangegangenen DARPA grand challenge und DARPA urban challenge sind aus meiner Sicht nicht vergleichbar, weil selbstfahrende Autos zwar eine technische Herausforderung sind, aber nicht wirklich visionär.

    This was more personal than you can believe, because for me, Obama was a real change, a real vision, somebody trying to make a positive difference. And the Obama administration also embedded that vision. Yes, he made many compromises, but he had an underlying vision. Compare this to the Bush administration, which forced the German government for the first time to deny support (Iraq war) to our US friends.

    On 27 Oct 2017 I wrote to VN among other things:

    And this is also my main quibble with physics: I personally know far too many friends and acquaintances who started studying physics, but didn’t finish with a degree after several years: CR, HB, KS, WB, and probably some more.

    The recent and unexpected addition of another acquaintance (SL after 3+ years) to that list (yes, physics was the offender again) caused me to reply to that issue with the dropouts in the Harvard study. So the topic of dropouts is certainly something which touches me inside. This definitively started with CR, who was not yet at university when he showed me his experiments related to the second law of thermodynamics. I was still a kid of less than 10 years, but I could feel that he would not succeed at university. That was the moment were I decided that I would not do anyone the favour of failing at a degree in university. Much later I learned that CR really did not finish his physics degree, and of course his parents were unhappy about that. Dropouts are a deeply emotional topic, and playing funny games with this topic like Harvard does in that study in not the right way to gain public trust.

  97. Boaz Barak Says:

    Get in trouble.. I completely agree that you tax activities you want to see less of, and fund activities you see more of.

    You mention a hypothetical seminar talk on Islamophobia and global warming. The actual seminar talk I will see today is titled

    “Hashing-based-Estimators for Kernel Density in High Dimensions”

    I would posit that the title of the seminar I’m seeing is much more representative of the vast majority of activities at Harvard (and other universities) than the one you are suggesting.

    More pertinent, the particular tax that Scott discusses exactly targets the kind of computer science (and more generally STEM research) of the seminar I am seeing. As a result, this is the activity there will be less of.

    One can argue whether or not basic curiosity driven research in science is useful or not for society, but it has nothing to do with left wing or right wing propaganda.

  98. Scott Says:

    Jr #94: Actually, I believe Dana and I are in a high enough income bracket that we’d be “winners” from this horrible tax bill. But, strange to say, I actually care about the next generation of students and the future of science and technology in the US. It’s not just a game to me. It’s even something I get emotional about.

  99. I'm gonna get in trouble for this Says:

    Scott #95:

    Hey man, you wrote The Kolmogorov Option, not me. Let me quote you here:

    “It seems likely that in every culture, there have been truths, which moreover everyone knows to be true on some level, but which are so corrosive to the culture’s moral self-conception that one can’t assert them, or even entertain them seriously, without (in the best case) being ostracized for the rest of one’s life… [snip] In our own culture, those truths are—well, you didn’t expect me to say, did you?”

    So, these truths are being suppressed; obviously because they are distasteful to at least some segment of society, which would silence those who would speak. Furthermore, those truths have to be political in some way; at the very least those who want to suppress them will almost certainly have political motivations. Since you wisely neglected to mention exactly what truths you were thinking of, we are left with only guesswork. But I think we can deduce a few things.

    If these truths were only distasteful to the political Right, there should be no hesitation whatsoever on your part to come out and say it. Why should you be afraid? All the institutions and people with any power to fire you (or me), or get you (or me) ostracized, are on the Left. Let Fox News rant, everybody knows that Hannity is a twit (and he is, for the record); in the end, in your circles, it will only win you friends for your willingness to ‘speak truth to power’.

    There are no views sufficiently Leftist to justify the Kolmogorov Option. Chomsky is a respected professor, after all; so is Billy Ayers, who was an actual terrorist back in the day and allegedly planned for mass murder when his revolution succeeded. Open Marxists are found everywhere in the “social sciences”. The only truths which could necessitate the Kolmogorov Option are those the Left might want to suppress. It seems hard to escape the conclusion that by writing The Kolmogorov Option, you conceded my basic premise.

    Indeed, it didn’t escape my notice that you never actually disputed my points about propaganda and censorship. Instead, you decided to go all Dr. Freud on me. If I may quote you again:

    “Such resentment, we learn from history, is so strong a force that (incredibly) it can override even rational concern for one’s own job safety: there are intellectuals who are ready to suffer and lose everything, if only it means that other intellectuals will suffer more.”

    Next, I’m sure you’ll be telling me that I only think these things because my mother never loved me.

    Forgive me for taking umbrage at this kind of ad-hominem nonsense (to say nothing of that Pol Pot (!) comparison) but I’m worried you’ll hurt your back by stooping so low. My motivation has nothing to do with ‘wanting suffering’ or ‘resenting intellectuals’, and it’s troubling that even someone as committed to reasoned debate as you could slip into this kind of ugly rhetoric.

    I want the Leftist censorship and intimidation to end; indeed, to the extent that “suffering of intellectuals” factors into my thinking, I believe that this will greatly reduce it. For years I believed that academia could correct itself – that truth would win, the moderates would fend off the radicals, etc. You say I should “work tirelessly to convince the intellectuals that [I’m] right”, and that’s precisely what I was – and am – doing.

    I mean, what else could I be doing here?

    But the radicals keep gaining, and their trophy wall is replete with moderate heads, which they claimed not through debate but through intimidation and threats – Nicholas and Erika Christakis, Bret Weinstein, and Larry Summers come to mind. Forgive me if I fear that even the attempt to convince them puts me in professional danger.

    So fending off the censorious and illiberal far-Left will probably require outside help. I’m all ears for suggestions that do not increase the burden on young, eager, smart people; I would like nothing more than this. I would like nothing more than for genuine liberal academics, who respect open discourse, to beat the censors. You write that you will “always defend your freedom to [argue my case] so using evidence and argument, and will oppose any intellectuals who try to censor you” – I appreciate it, but I don’t feel terribly confident that this will actually protect me in any way.

  100. I'm gonna get in trouble for this Says:

    Boaz Barak #97:

    I admit some degree of ignorance on where exactly the burden would fall; would universities shoulder some themselves or put it all on the students? And certainly any loss of STEM (or really any loss honest truth-seeking) is a big negative in my eyes.

    As I mentioned in my original comment (admittedly, in the whole huge comment it was just a few sentences, but it was there), I’m completely willing to consider that the proposed tax will do more harm than good; but I’m against the idea that taxing the universities is somehow a pure evil foisted on the world by anti-intellectuals or swindlers or somesuch.

    To quote Raoul Ohio #83: “A slightly bigger picture is that Republicans have been trying to destroy education at all levels for decades. And it is no mystery why this is: Educated people are more likely to realize that Republican policy is to screw pretty much everyone to transfer wealth to the wealthy. Keeping more people uneducated translates directly into more Republican votes.

    This kind of rhetoric is what I’m against.

    Scott #95 misunderstands my intent. Like him, my goal is to protect the engines of knowledge; my difference with him is that he sees this tax as the big threat, and I see the increasing politicization and censorship as the big threat.

    Defending free inquiry and curiosity-based research is a hard problem to be sure. They may intellectually have nothing to do with each other, but the problem is that both the knowledge-creation and censorship/propaganda engines are controlled by the same institutions.

    As you say, knowledge-creation is still by far the bigger enterprise – but the censoriousness of certain parts of the academic set is ramping up fast, and I for one am quite worried. How can we fight the latter but spare the former?

    [By the way, the “hypothetical” seminar I mentioned actually did happen. I could name several more which, while not quite as absurd, are equally unsettling.]

  101. Boaz Barak Says:

    trouble 99: I think you have accidentally posted your comments in the wrong thread. Scott blogged about a proposal to tax PhD students in the sciences. You seem to think it has something to do with taxing left wing propaganda.

    Anyway, I am guessing this discussion is getting not very productive, and I have to get back to planning how to indoctrinate my Harvard CS 121 students in the far left ideology of Quantum computing and Simons’ algorithm. Let’s hope that they don’t discover that it’s also possible to multiply group elements from the right.

  102. JimV Says:

    Pickle Jar @31 (I scanned the next several comments for a reply and say none, so here goes:)

    Naturally I googled “US corporate tax is the highest in the world” since if Trump says it, it must be wrong, and found,

    a) it is the 4th highest in the world, as far as nominal rates, and

    b) it is full of loopholes which reduce the effective rate to below Japan, the UK, and a lot of other places – see:

  103. Richard Gaylord Says:

    scott #93. i didn’t say you were patronizing. as for your friend’s remark, rather than dealing with an old argument that has been IMO refuted by many Libertarian writers, i refer him to “No Treason. The Constitution of No Authority” written by Lysander Spooner in 1867. here, i will just say that he is wrong – his saying that by remaining a citizen, i’ve agreed to (whatever) is not true and his saying that i have doesn’t make it so. i have never agreed, either verbally or in writing, to be bound by any ‘service contract’ with the State. moreover, as a natural-born resident of the U.S., my citizenship cannot revoked against my will and i am free according to the Constitution, to both renounce any ‘service contract’ with the State and remain in the U.S. (and btw, Libertarians do not think of the State as a (legitimate) corporation. we think of the State as an (illegitimate) organized crime organization.

  104. Andrew Sutherland Says:

    At the risk of repeating myself, I think many of the comments in this thread completely miss the key point, which has nothing to do with economics, tax policy, education, or research. As Scott alluded to in #95, the question is whether you think it is a good idea to weaponize the tax code as an instrument of political vengeance.

    Aside from the immediate collateral damage of this particular provision (which will be substantial), the precedent it sets is extremely dangerous. If you think political polarization in the US is bad now, what will it be like when every change of control in Washington yields a new round of legislation meant to punish the losing side?

    No matter what your politics are, this should scare you. The net effect of this kind of warfare will be bad for everyone.

  105. JimV Says:

    Richard Gaylord @73

    “…whether you support or oppose taxation, it is an act of extortion (look it up in a dictionary) and SCOTUS only approved the ACA by declaring that the mandate is a tax) people into having health insurance (or for paying via taxation for federal subsidies,for the health care of others). Libertarians believe that individuals have the right to make decisions about their life and they must then live with the consequences of their decisions.”

    And statisticians and other mathematicians believe (and can show) that when everyone is in it together and shares costs and risks, the mean cost is lower for the population and the variance (low to High) is smaller. I.e., such populations will be more productive and have better lives than libertarian populations.

    That said, I have never owned a car and never plan to, so I don’t have to pay car insurance. I do get rides in other people’s cars sometimes to go to restaurants and movies with them, but in those cases I pay for the restaurant bill or movie tickets. It should be nobody’s problem but mine that I don’t own a car – I guess I am libertarian to that extent.

    It sounds like you do believe in charitable donations, as do I. That’s not very libertarian.

  106. ninguem Says:

    Scott, #93 is wrong (not about NK or the USSR, of course).

    While US citizens can up and leave any time they want, the US is the only country in the world that taxes the foreign income of its citizens permanently living abroad. To escape the clutches of the IRS one has to formally renounce US citizenship to the US authorities, a process that is expensive, difficult and uncertain. Ironically, some versions of the tax bill under discussion will do away with that.

    But don’t worry, you spout far less nonsense than the libertarians 🙂

  107. David Speyer Says:

    @Brian #66 You write “For universities that waive tuition to RA’s, the IRS would have to decide whether that waived tuition should be treated as income to the RA.” Everyone else I have seen discussing this issue (for example, the NYTimes piece Scott links) states that it definitively would be treated as income. For example, the NYT writes “under the House’s tax bill, our waivers will be taxed.”

    Can you clear up whether this is actually an open question, or settled by the text of the bill?

    Thanks for the very informative comment!

  108. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Scott #95

    Good try. I will reply in more detail later in the day (gotta go to work) but don’t impute me things I never said. I am not against intellectuals per se, rather, “LIBERAL intellectuals who think have a God given right to live out of my tax dollars”. It’s those intellectuals (everything between the quotes) not ALL intellectuals I have a beef with.

    These same LIBERAL intellectuals could ask the money to Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Sergey Brin (the aforementioned Silicon Valley and Seattle lords) and live out of their billions not my taxpayer dollars.

    I will always oppose any use of force by the government or anyone else to shut down the voice of ANY intellectual (left wing or right wing). This is not what we are talking about here. The reference to Lening and Mao is 100% insulting and a cheap shot from somebody of your intellect.

  109. MW Says:

    In case anybody is interested, here is that MIT talk about islamophobia accelerating global warming. That link goes directly to the MIT website and it does not appear to be a parody.

  110. John G. Says:

    Brian #66 and #74: First of all, thanks for the very insightful comments on how the accounting here is seen by university administrators.

    There is still one thing I’m trying to wrap my head around from your comment #74, and maybe you or somebody else can explain this. I do understand how, from a certain narrow accounting perspective, “[Option 2] would cost more in lost tuition revenue than the first option would cost in higher stipends, because the tax rate isn’t 100%.” But does this mean that, say, a 30K tuition currently “charged” to a STEM grad student, which is then immediately waived, represents actual money that is moving around university coffers, which administrators will see as “income”? If so, what sort of actual transference of funds is happening, which would be impacted by Option 2?

  111. amy Says:

    I keep wondering where these socialist-paradise academic indoctrination centers are that I keep hearing about, because as far as I can make out, I qualify as practically-out-of-peripheral-vision loony-left in US academia, and my politics also seem to qualify as ordinary center-left-EU. I remember something about marxists, don’t miss ’em, haven’t seen one in decades (though as a landlord I’ll cop to being a parasite). The guy next office down from me has a Jesus picture and a giant flag in his office. My boss likes to tell me snowflake-student stories as they bubble up through her social media, but they’re usually easily debunked.

    Anyway. Scott: nanny-state UBI for those who throw their money away on drugs and hookers? We already do that sort of thing with welfare; Medicaid, WIC, SNAP, TANF, LIHEAP, and housing vouchers are all separate, as are Head Start and free-lunch programs. Heavy restrictions on all that money. (The separations are partly, but only partly, paternalistic.) You might argue it’s why we bother with Soc Sec — when countries go free-market on old-age pensions, you wind up with a lot of destitute old people. Not always because people failed to take good care of their money, either. (Much more hopeful, I think, are the savings-incentive programs that provide personal-finance ed to people who’ve never had anything to save plus savings-accounts contributions for as long as they’re in the program. It’s the sort of thing middle-class people who grew up with birthday money learned in childhood.)

    The bigger predatory problems, though, are the same ones Upton Sinclair wrote about, only modern. If you’re destitute and get a cash benefit, for instance, you get it on a debit card. But your state will contract with a bank for debit-account management, and that bank will do its best to lift your money off you through transaction fees including balance inquiries, “abandoned account” claims for money remaining after some ludicrously short term, fat fees for insufficient-funds notices, that sort of thing. These are the sorts of thefts that stop only after someone notices and makes a stink and a regulation. The feds also have to stop landlords from rent-gouging voucher-holders by setting FMR bands for every area of the country, and stop them from slumlording by having a rather complex set of requirements for renting to voucher-holders — your property’s inspected regularly and apparently they’re rather officious about making you bring units up to their code, the property can’t be right next to a highway, etc. You’re also stopped from discriminating on the basis of race, disability, family status, etc. by regs that say you must take qualified tenants who show up wanting to rent.

    Brian: by “undisputed champ” I mean you come bearing useful facts and careful analysis.

    I see two outcomes, incidentally, if the tax waiver is stripped:

    1. Congress responds to noise from universities by quietly putting the tax waiver back, meaning a few years’ worth of students get screwed and some labs sink beneath the waves;

    2. Congress looks at the situation and decides it kind of likes it, and that it would prefer for TheFreeMarket(tm) to pick up all the R&D, in wilful ignorance of the fact that corporate R&D is heavily based on tax-subsidized basic research that happens in university groups, and is carried out by people whose education was paid for within those university groups.

    (2) wouldn’t surprise me gigantically, given the divorce between these people’s fondness for Ideas About The Free Market and how things actually go in free markets.

  112. Mike Says:

    MW @109

    A “feature”? I suggest anyone who would tend to agree with that conclusion go to

    That’s the web page from the month that (admittedly, a bit screwy) talk is advertised. Why not go through the entire list from May 2016, to the present? Or, go back in time as well as see what’s there.

    Even in a “softer” area like Global Studies and Languages (although Languages doesn’t necessarily look that soft), this talk doesn’t look so much like a “feature”.

  113. Another Scott Says:

    Is anyone else reading comments like #86 and feeling completely baffled? I’ve attended two large public universities (in different parts of the country) and now teach at a private religious college, and I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a single professor who is trying to indoctrinate or intoxicate anyone with liberal, or any other kind of, propaganda. As a professor myself, I couldn’t care less what views my students have and trying to indoctrinate them sounds like an awful lot of work.

  114. MW Says:

    Mike @112: my comment #109 did not contain the word “feature”. I guess you’re referring to comment #91 from gonna-get-in-trouble. I was merely providing some factual information in response to the misconception of Boaz Barak @97 that the given example was a hypothetical (that is, fictional) one.

    I’m sure that not all lectures at MIT are hard-left postmodernism to the point of being a self-parody, like that one is. Still, in May 2016 it’s 1 out of 7, and from randomly clicking a few other months, that seems to be a decent estimate for the overall ratio of explicit leftist rhetoric versus lectures that might have some chance of possibly being a politically neutral examination of a legitimate area of scientific research.

    How many explicitly conservative ones can you find?

  115. Scott Says:

    MW #114: If you were on all the seminar mailing lists that I was in my 9 years at MIT, I believe you would’ve found 0% of talks that contained “hard-left postmodernism.” I confess that I didn’t even know before today that MIT had a Global Studies and Languages program. But it’s a pretty big institution, with 10,000 students and 1,000 faculty, and I don’t know how many talks per day, so who knows how much postmodernism took place under my nose? 🙂

  116. John Says:

    MW @109

    You clearly know nothing about MIT. Global Studies and Languages (course 21G) is a small subset of the Humanities department (course 21) that mostly teaches foreign language courses (it used to be called foreign languages and literature). In a typical year they grant somewhere between 0 and 2 degrees (compared to about 3500 degrees institute-wide)

    In a typical department, there will be something on the order of 20-30 seminars every week that are open to the public (see for example, and there are 10-20 other departments of similar size). In a typical month there are easily more than 1000 lectures at MIT that are open to the public (seminars and colloquia), in addition to all the academic classes.

    You are cherry picking one example that isn’t even representative of the tiny sub-department you chose, which represents less than one percent of the academic activity at MIT.

    Please just stop.

  117. MW Says:

    Actually the cherry-picking of the example was done by gonna-get-in-trouble @91, and I was talking about that one department because it was brought up by Mike @112 who I was responding to. But yeah, we’ve definitely gotten too far off-topic here, so indeed I’ll stop.

  118. John Sidles Says:

    I am very grateful to Shtetl Optimized commenter MW, whose observations have alerted me to the existence of MIT’s on-line Said and Done Magazine, which is the public face of MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS).

    “Skilled practitioners of the hermeneutics of suspicions” (to borrow a useful phrase from the philosopher J. Thomas Cook) can of course cherry-pick plenty of culture-war topics to wrangle over in each issue of Said and Done.

    Such culture-war argumentation is however not the best feature of Shtetl Optimized (as it seems to me anyway).

    Rather, an MIT/SHASS article that *is* directly relevant to perennial Shtetl Optimized concerns (as I understand these concerns anyway) is David Kaiser’s “Learning from Gravitational Waves”, which appeared also as a New York Times op-ed (October 33, 2017, link here). More please! 🙂

    On some happy day (hopefully soon) when Shtetl Optimized returns its focus to quantum systems — dynamical and/or computational and/or observational — then I am prepared to argue, from evidence and by reason, that the 21st century’s flagship tech-enterprises, prominently including LIGO, are showing humanity how to navigate safely, freely, and creatively, between the destructive Scylla of the excessive scrupulosity of the far-left and the destructive Charybdis of the exploitive dark triad of the far-right.

    Does this mean that culture-war issues are substantially in-play, even in flagship high-tech enterprises like LIGO? And if so, are these same culture-war issues actively in-play, also, in the evolving quest to demonstrate (or refute) the feasibility Quantum Supremacy, in parallel with the evolving converse quest, namely, to demonstrate (or refute) the ECT?

    The simple answer to both questions being “yes” (in my opinion anyway), we all of us plenty of reasons to foresee no shortage of thought-provoking Shtetl Optimized discourse in coming months and years. Which is all to the good, and for sustaining this outstandingly civil discourse, we all of us owe appreciation and thanks to Scott and to Shtetl Optimized.

  119. Brian Says:

    Re David Speyer #107

    There’s an important distinction between tuition waivers and tuition remission. With a tuition remission, someone else (e.g. a grant) is paying the tuition for a student, and the university is still receiving the tuition revenue. With a tuition waiver, the university isn’t receiving the tuition revenue and no one is making a payment.

    I think it’s clear that the intent is to tax students on the value of tuition remissions (where a grant pays the tuition to the university.) In the case of tuition remission, it’s easy to put a $ value on the tuition.

    However, if the institution waives tuition for all of its graduate students (not just RA’s and TA’s but also self-funded students and students funded by foundations, foreign governments, etc.) and grants weren’t being charged for tuition it would be hard to assign a $ value to something that’s free to everyone.

    As is, universities change tuition from time to time, and some universities have recently substantially reduced tuition (these “resets” are a popular strategy at the undergraduate level.) If MIT decided to set graduate tuition at only $5K per year instead of $50K per year (and consistently applied that policy to students no matter what their source of funding) I don’t think that the IRS could really assert that a tuition waiver was worth $50K per year. There’s only a small difference between that and setting the graduate tuition to $0 per year.

  120. Brian Says:

    Re John G. #110

    Under Option 2, the university would still charge $30K tuition to the grant, and the funding agency would still turn $30K over to the university. The university wouldn’t lose that $30K, but the grants would have to pay (e.g.) $10K extra in stipend to the student. Furthermore, the university would almost certainly end up boosting the stipends of TA’s in the same way.
    In this scenario, the university doesn’t lose any tuition revenue, but the cost of its TA’s goes up (by the higher stipend) and its faculty ends up paying more out of their grants for RA’s.

    I think part of the confusion here is about the word “waiver.” There are situations where no one pays tuition, and other situations where a student’s tuition is paid out of a grant. The phrase “tuition remission” is used in the business to mean the second situation. What’s commonly called a waiver is typically actually tuition remission.

  121. Richard Gaylord Says:

    JimV#105″ It sounds like you do believe in charitable donations, as do I. That’s not very libertarian.” one’s position on charity is totally irrelevant to Libertarianism which is strictly a political philosophy. it has nothing to say about being charitable except that it should be voluntary (as should all activities). Many people associate Libertarianism with Ayn Rand (who was an awful human being) which is ironic because Rand absolutely despised Libertarianism and publicly denounced it many times. I’ll end this thread now.

  122. woodandsteel Says:

    Here is a new article in The Atlantic on the Republican war on higher education:

    Let me add I agree with some of the commenters that there is a strong left-wing bias in many departments, especially in the social sciences, along with some very unfortunate restrictions on free speech. is making some smart efforts to improve this situation.

  123. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Scott #95

    I already clarified in #108 what my beef in this debate is. It is not against intellectuals as people nor am I suggesting that anybody takes any form of coercive action against them.

    Once I got this out of the way, to me the debate of subsidizing certain forms of higher education, certainly the one targeted by this bill -although they have the wrong target when they seek to punish the students themselves- is the following: if you look at this graph you see that starting in the early 1970s there has been a sharp decrease of US citizens enrolled in PhD physics programs of the kind that are typically funded via federal government subsidies. Increasingly Americans have decided that being poor for the sake of science is not such a great idea after all and have been increasingly avoiding graduate school in the case of physics, that graph shows. That graph also shows that non Americans have been replacing them in increasing numbers since in the case of physics. These numbers would seem to suggest that what happened in physics is probably also happening in other STEM fields. Therefore, the question is, why should the American taxpayer continue to subsidize the training of foreigners. I get why the aforementioned Seattle and Silicon Valley lords want this (a constant supply of highly qualified and cheap labor force slaved under the H1B visa and similar). I get why professors like this (professors need students to justify the university having them on the payroll). The question is why the taxpayer -instead of the companies that most directly benefit from the bargain or their owners- need to continue to subsidize this.

    This connection between the constant supply of foreigners supplied by American universities that favor mostly Big Tech has been noticed not only by Trump or Republicans, but by people who cannot be accused of being Republican nutjobs such as this guy , see this .

    So that’s the point. If the different people who want to keep the current system are unhappy with those who seek to remove tax incentives to keep it alive, perhaps the solution is to beg for money to a different patron. As I said, it is not clear to me that the policies that served our nation well in the aftermath of WWII and during the cold war are now equally effective. Certainly, large numbers of American students think otherwise and refuse to enroll in PhD programs that don’t offer a clear path to a better life. Also it seems that certain Asian countries are now the biggest suppliers of students to the programs that in another time attracted mostly Americans. There is no obligation that the American tax payer subsidize their education, particularly when then companies like Apple/Google/Facebook/Microsoft -who benefit most from this system- then use every loophole in the book to avoid returning the favor to the American taxpayer.

    All this has nothing to do with the second coming of Lenin, Pol Pot or Mao. So please don’t be demagogic.

  124. Alex Zavoluk Says:

    “wealthy estates that already pay some of the lowest taxes in the developed world.”

    The United States has the most or one of the most “progressive” tax system in the world.

  125. Jr Says:

    Scott #98, I am not suggesting it is a game. I am suggesting some more acknowledgement of the inevitable trade-offs of tax policy would be good.

  126. Scott Says:

    Alex #124:

      The United States has the most or one of the most “progressive” tax system in the world.

    Are you seriously claiming that, after taking advantage of all the deductions and loopholes available to them, super-rich people in the US face a higher tax burden than their counterparts in (say) Western Europe or Japan?

  127. Lou Scheffer Says:

    Niguem #106 says “To escape the clutches of the IRS one has to formally renounce US citizenship to the US authorities, a process that is expensive, difficult and uncertain.”

    But here is process, from the Department of State:
    1) appear in person before a U.S. consular or diplomatic officer,
    2) in a foreign country at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate; and
    3) sign an oath of renunciation

    This does not seem particularly expensive or difficult. And the web goes into detail about how certain this is; it’s extremely hard to revert.

    Of course you cannot renounce your citizenship while continuing to live in the USA, unless you are a citizen of another country. This makes sense from a social contract point of view, since then you would be gaining the benefits of citizenship without the obligations.

  128. Scott Says:

    Jr #125: Inevitable tradeoffs? Do you mean, like, “if we didn’t impose this punitive tuition tax that will destroy STEM PhD programs, then we’d need to raise that $250 million per year from someplace else—for example, by giving the super-rich an 0.1% smaller totally-unnecessary tax cut than we’re in fact giving them?” (Feel free to correct my figures if they’re off.)

    Even the right-wingers on this thread have acknowledged that raising taxes on higher education has basically nothing to do with tradeoffs, or with needing the money for some other important cause—rather, it’s simply about punishing the universities for being hotbeds of smug liberalism, because the Republicans won the election so now they get to wield the tax code as a weapon against their enemies. (It’s just that many of the right-wing commenters actually support this.)

    So for anyone who cares about the future of STEM research in the US, or even just the public good more generally, why is outrage not a totally appropriate response?

  129. fred Says:

    Maybe the idea is that PhD students will solve this by taking extra loans, which they will repay more easily than ever once they graduate and take higher and higher paying Wall Street and Silicon Valley corporate jobs?

  130. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    To make things even more clear, quoting from the above article by Norm Matloff in the Huffington Post,

    “The industry especially asserts a need to hire H-1Bs with a PhD, citing the fact that 50 percent of computer science doctorates in the U.S. are granted to foreign students. What they are hiding in that claim is that it simply doesn’t pay for an American student (i.e. U.S. citizen or permanent resident) to pursue doctoral study, as the salary premium for a doctorate is too small. That small wage premium is due to the flooding of the market by foreign applicants, something correctly forecast (with approbation) by the National Science Foundation years ago. The industry claim is doubly deceptive, as they are not very keen to hire PhDs because this level of study just isn’t needed. We actually have a surplus of computer science PhDs; 11.3 percent of them are involuntarily working in a non-computer science field.”

    Now, as a non natural born American myself -though I am a US citizen now- who got his PhD from one of these top schools benefiting from the subsidized scheme, I risk being accused of being a hypocrite. And perhaps the accusation is at least partially right, but me being a little bit hypocrite doesn’t negate the merit of the above claim.

    So Scott, next time you go to Silicon Valley or Seattle, request a hearing their lords and explain to them that perhaps they should be a little bit more sympathetic to the taxpayers of the country that enabled their success by either lowering their abuse of the H1B program, paying more taxes to the US treasury or both. Until that happens, I do see merit in this attempt by the representatives of those who didn’t benefit from the scheme to stop subsidizing it, although I stress that punishing the graduate students themselves is a horrible/stupid idea.

  131. fred Says:

    ninguem #106

    “While US citizens can up and leave any time they want, the US is the only country in the world that taxes the foreign income of its citizens permanently living abroad.”

    In practice the US has tax treaty with many countries, which avoids double taxation for foreign citizen working in the US and US citizen working abroad.

    What’s very difficult or near impossible is for a US citizen to move his assets out of the US.

  132. Scott Says:

    Gatekeepers #130: But training foreign STEM PhD students is not some gift that the US gives to the rest of the world—to a much greater extent, the students are a gift that the rest of the world gives us. Even our Xenophobe-in-Chief has said that he wants “high-skill” immigrants. Well, who’s higher-skill than the people who get STEM PhDs from MIT and Stanford and so forth? A large fraction of these graduates (which could be an even larger fraction if we allowed it…) stay in the US to do research, start companies, and otherwise fuel economic growth here. Even by Trump’s professed criteria (!), why shouldn’t we be rolling out the red carpet for these people?

  133. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Scott #132

    Many decades back, there was a mantra that went along the lines “what is good for GM, is good for America”. That was probably true of other large corporations like GE. Unfortunately, thanks to the incompetence of the two Bushes, Clinton and Obama, we live in a world in which what is good for Google -speaking of a company co-founded by a well known immigrant- is not necessarily good for the US, at least not as directly good -when measured in terms of economic benefit and jobs- for the US as when GM and GE built an American middle class that was the envy of the world.

    As I said, I am being a little hypocritical here but only partially. Unlike many of my fellow immigrants who followed the path of getting into a good grad school in the US, getting a PhD in engineering, and getting a high paying job after graduation, I refused to live in a bubble of surrounding myself exclusively of people with this background or their American counterparts. I made an effort to reach out to other people from my community who were not so blessed. Primarily via my church, but not only through that. I am aware I am privileged to have had this opportunity, but I am also aware that many Americans paid taxes to build this system that were left out of the system. I am sorry, but the current system does not work for large portions of the American public as the system that followed WWII did. Taxing the rich is not gonna cut it. I don’t buy that either. That’s plain class warfare that is antithetical to American values. It is time to redesign the system of incentives to that global companies stop sucking the wealth that the US taxpayers built to benefit the few.

    With all this said, taxing the graduate students themselves is wrong. Taxing the endowments of wealthy universities -which is also in the tax bill- seems to be a better approach.

  134. amy Says:

    Might I gently remind the assembled that we have STEM programs outside math and CS. And even that most of our STEM programs lie outside math and CS. Most of our STEM doctoral students are already being taken wild advantage of: they’re giving their young adulthood to someone else’s science and teaching in exchange for $25K a year and an education that will leave many of them not only unemployed in their fields, but difficult to employ elsewhere. Many others will ride the postdoc carousel till they can’t anymore, leaving them stranded in midlife. I know this comes as an amazement to many with PhDs, but outside academia and a very few hiring areas, a PhD is a *liability*. It says, “I am expensive, snooty, and have better things to do with my brain. If you hire me I’ll be difficult and wish I were somewhere else.” I used to watch PhDs get stiffarmed routinely in favor of recent BA grads in tough job markets. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to leave a PhD off your resume. Less than honest and leaves a gap that’s difficult to explain.

    I’m not going to dignify the “why should I pay a few pennies a year to subsidize the education of furriners” mine-mine-mine argument beyond pointing out that your modern world is built on furrin-immigrant scientists’ work, also that most of the people who come here to study would like very much to stay, and become Americans.

    For the last forever, I’ve heard a remarkable number of grumbly tenured academics whispering at me that they can’t speak freely. Generally what they mean is that they can’t ogle women out loud or say the amusing racist things that pop into their heads (and are hoping I’m actually a nice lady who’ll take their sides and murmur at them that they’re so right). I have yet to see actual consequences for the dudes who go ahead and do these things in meetings anyway, beyond everyone else’s quietly deciding that they’re jerks and finding ways of not working with them any more than they absolutely must. Beyond that, I hear the same range of commentary you’d hear anywhere online, and have done for decades. People seem to go right on getting paid. I do wonder whether those claiming Speech Stasi in soc sci depts have ever lived in those depts, or whether they’re just repeating whatever they’ve heard on Zerohedge or wherever it is they hang out.

    Scott 132: right, of course we should. Their kids usually do well here, too. And we should do better with hooking immigrants up with professional jobs that suit their backgrounds, too. Was just working on a fellowship app with a guy whose dad was a scientist in Mexico; came here and wound up mostly picking fruit, best he could do here, but it gave his kids a better chance in life. So now his son will be a scientist and teacher. What a waste, though.

  135. Scott Says:

    Gatekeepers #133: So let me get this straight. We should tax university endowments specifically in order to punish the universities for being full of out-of-touch left-wing elites. But raising taxes on the rich, who control an increasingly staggering percentage of the country’s wealth, is off the table … because that would be “plain class warfare.” And it’s wrong to use the tax code as a weapon against class enemies.

    I’m impressed. You have almost the level of intellectual honesty and consistency that it takes to run for Congress.

  136. fred Says:

    Scott #132.

    “But training foreign STEM PhD students is not some gift that the US gives to the rest of the world—to a much greater extent, the students are a gift that the rest of the world gives us. ”

    What you’re nicely calling a “gift” is called an “unfair brain drain” everywhere else.

    It’s quite ironic that your commander-in-chief is undoing what made the US *great* in the first place in the name of “making it great again”.
    You’re a bigger patriot than he is!

  137. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Scott #135

    Oh dear. I also know how to make sarcastic comments. Your comment shows why the perception of the ivory tower academic disconnected from reality persists. Thank you for reinforcing the stereotype.

    That sarcasm out of the way, you have not addressed the substance of my comments in any significant way:

    – I get how the university administrators of these wealthy institutions benefit from the subsidies paid for by anybody who pays taxes.

    – I get how academics like yourself benefit from the subsidies paid for anybody who pays taxes.

    – I get how those foreign graduate students -life my former self- who enroll in STEM programs where foreign students make up a majority benefit from the subsidies paid for by anybody who pays taxes.

    – I get how companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft or Amazon benefit from a constant supply of underpaid highly qualified foreign workers on H1B visas thanks to the subsidies paid for by anybody who pays taxes.

    – I get how some of the taxpayers -the workers of the aforementioned companies and their American shareholders-benefit from the subsidies paid for by anybody who pays taxes.

    – I get how China and India benefited from the trade deals pushed forward by the two Bushes, Clinton and Obama.

    What I don’t get is how the current system setup during WWII and during the cold war benefits the American tax payers at large. During the decades following WWII you could make a national security argument that we were in an ideological war free world vs communism. During the same time you could make an argument that the entrepreneurship that came out of select American universities benefited the American economy at large and the average American worker in particular. The current system, as it is setup now, benefits the aforementioned clearly. How it benefits American taxpayers as a whole is less clear. You’d be on better ground if you were calling for the return of -killed by those science loving Democrats. But that’s not what you are calling for. In the purest of the communist traditions, you are calling for the majority of tax payers subsidizing the comfortable life of the few. All I am saying is that you should make your plea to the Seattle and Silicon Valley wealthy lords who share your values until you are able to articulate why the current system benefits Americans as a whole.

  138. Nilima Nigam Says:

    I’ve been returning to this thread often, hoping someone (anyone?) will identify these bastions of left-leaning grabby overlords at universities who manage to shut up anyone they disagree with. I seek to join them. Perhaps this way I will pre-empt the Nth manuscript which purports to prove the Riemann hypothesis AND show that the fully 3-D Navier Stokes equations are strongly well-posed.

    In the meanwhile, for no particular reason, here’s something refreshingly non-out-of-touch-elitist:

  139. Alex Zavoluk Says:

    Scott #126


    As far as I can tell, both of these data sources ignore deductions, havens, etc. because they simply measure tax receipts directly. The tax systems common in Europe are actually extremely regressive; consumption taxes hit hardest on those who spend more of their income.

  140. John Sidles Says:

    Did someone (#138) say “refreshingly non-out-of-touch-elitist”?

    Two 20th century high-profile yet non-elite personages are Grote_Reber and Michael Spivak.

    Now in the 21st century, is it still feasible to demonstrate non-elite research success at the level of Reber and/or Spivak? (my own opinion is “yes, definitely”).

    This question is closely coupled to the question: How much low-hanging quantum fruit is out there? (my own opinion is “there’s plenty”).

    Reasonable opinions may differ (obviously).

  141. Boaz Barak Says:

    (probably should stop posting but can’t help myself)

    gatekeepers @137. I don’t think it’s productive to try to convince you, but just for the record, the case for government funding and tax subsidies for universities and academic research is twofold:

    1) Learning more about the universe and our role in it is a good unto itself.

    2) Academic research is a hugely beneficial investment and historically has repaid itself many times over.

    It has nothing to do with helping academics like Scott or myself or subsidizing foreign Ph.D students. The U.S. should be thankful for Ph.D students that come from other countries to study here. Whether it’s positive or negative for the originating country can be debated, but it is most definitely a net positive to the U.S.

    Now I am not saying that all American citizens have benefited equally from the fruits of research. Clearly the trillions of dollars created through scientific and technological progress have not been equally shared. I am all for dividing the pie more equally, but this doesn’t mean you should get rid of the baker.

    p.s. You keep using the term “tax payer” where I think you mean “citizen”. In dollar terms, you are most likely not subsidizing the Silicon Valley “lords” but the other way around. (Apple was the biggest american taxpayer last year, ).

    More generally, “conservatives” are not subsidizing “liberals”, see

  142. Gil Kalai Says:

    Charging researchers toward Ph, D, tens thousands dollars as tuition seems quite absurd. Ph. D. researchers are part of university’s research workers much more than being students. This remind me that in Israel there were restaurants that charged waiters money for “training” in the first working period. But it was regulated away.

    Regarding economics, I am quite skeptical about Steve’s Lundsberg statement (#33) “conflating the issue of capital taxation (or more specifically corporate taxation) with the issue of progressivity is the rankest form of demagogy.”

    The first thing to note is that Steve’s view is debated among economists and law professors working on taxation. Another point is that in practice, indeed one effect of lowering corporate tax is lowering taxes for the very rich. Ironically, one reason that corporate tax is anti-progressive is precisely that General Motors and similar firms *do have* various ways to provide people in control with $50 million a year worth of food, clothes, yachts, artwork, and travel. 🙂 Of course, it is interesting to study the mathematical models that Steve mentioned arguing otherwise and examine how they fit reality.

  143. amy Says:

    Oh, I get it, Gatekeepers. You’ve got the wrong end of the stick altogether.

    The postwar science order was never about the taxpayers except in the most general sense. If you’ve never read Science, the Endless Frontier, you ought to, sometime. It’s the same rhetoric always dragged onstage in arguing for science funding: might, health, wealth. The rhetoric works because, shockingly enough, once in a while the science really works. But at the end of the war we actually had a national basic science program running — for the first time — and V. Bush wasn’t anxious to let that go. That’s all. The nature of the foe, incidentally, doesn’t matter when it comes to the “might” part of the argument. Could be anything. North Korea. Taliban. Fear of future imaginary rising competitor.

    In a more general sense, though, the argument is not about dollars returned to the taxpayer. The argument is about leaven in the culture, refreshing the culture. This is an immigrant nation. And it’s still, remarkably enough, a melting pot rather than a mosaic. Despite the everpresent xenophobia, we rely on wave after wave of talented immigrants. Talented, well-educated immigrants are a tremendous boon. They continuously bring new things to the culture, new pedagogies, new foods and styles, new…how shall I say it…new songs, and they build up the soil of whatever “American” means. And it happens rather quickly. I don’t think there’s really any more to it than that. They — you — make America more itself.

    One of the interesting things about this political time, incidentally, is how this administration has exposed how seriously, if cognitive-dissonantly, people in this country take that notion. The travel ban provoked the most violent and public reactions of any of the proposals we’ve had so far. There were efforts at the time to tell Americans that they weren’t an nation of immigrants, and this got nowhere. It’s an interesting thing.

  144. Scott Says:

    Boaz #141:

      I am all for dividing the pie more equally, but this doesn’t mean you should get rid of the baker.

    If I had room, I’d put that sentence as a second tagline of my blog, right below “Quantum computers would not solve hard search problems instantaneously by simply trying all the possible solutions at once.” 🙂

  145. I'm gonna get in trouble for this Says:

    I have to reiterate, contra several people – Boaz Barak #101, for example – that I do not view all university activity as being left-wing propaganda and in fact I view the vast majority of it as highly valuable knowledge-seeking. I would not be in grad school if I thought otherwise! I believe I’ve made this very clear in what I wrote, but if it wasn’t, then let this be a firm statement of that.

    For those who believe that I am advocating “weaponized use of the tax code” – Scott #95 and Andrew Sutherland #104 among them – let me point out that various pro-environment initiatives (both proposed and actually enacted) are of exactly the same type. A carbon tax does precisely the same thing, except to institutions the Left doesn’t like; so does giving government support (tax breaks, grants, etc.) to green energy companies. To quote Scott #135: You have almost the level of intellectual honesty and consistency that it takes to run for Congress. He who smelt it, dealt it. Unless you want to disavow any support for these pro-environment policies?

    [Disclaimer: I am environmentalist and favor e.g. grants and tax breaks for green energy. I’m on the fence about a carbon tax or cap-and-trade.]

    For the many comments puzzled at the assertion that universities by and large suppress non-Left-wing political views – and that this is a real threat to our traditional values of free and open discourse – one can always visit the websites of FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) or HeterodoxAcademy for examples.

    I’ll also give an egregious example that dropped just this week (hat tip: r/slatestarcodex’s Culture War Roundup):

    A TA at Wilfrid Laurier U showed, as part of a class discussion, a video of Jordan Peterson talking about gendered pronouns – without endorsing his views – so that the students could discuss it. One or more students (we don’t know, I’ll get to that in a second) then filed a complaint, and she was given a reprimand for causing “gender-based violence” (as an aside, don’t you just love the ever-expanding definition of “violence“?), and even accused of violating the Canadian Human Rights Code.

    [In a rather Kafkaesque move, the university never allowed her to read the complaint, nor even to know how many students complained. None of the complainants tried to talk to her either.]

    But she was recording the hearing, and published it; the university was forced to apologize. I’m sure a lot of you will consider this a one-off or isolated incident; but don’t you think that if we hear about one instance where it was surreptitiously recorded, that there wouldn’t be lots of other instances where the universities got away with this sort of censorship?

    And yes, it was a Canadian university, not an American one. But (a) there are lots of examples from American universities (an old one, the so-called “Harvard email controversy” from 2010, sticks out as an especially terrible instance); and (b) if Canada had hiked taxes on universities, it would have caused exactly the same reaction.

    Link to “Harvard email controversy” (archives of The Volokh Conspiracy blog):

  146. Nilima Nigam Says:

    Hmm, ‘Im gonna get in trouble’ – first, as others have pointed out, nothing you’re asserted here will get you into trouble. You’re posting on a more-or-less public forum, and your free speech rights are protected. (I understand these right are curtailed in the US in places of employment Are graduate students considered employees?).

    Next: if you’re going to draw analogies to the Canadian system, please ensure you provide salient facts around it. One big difference is that universities in Canada cannot charge government research grants overhead. We do not give tuition waivers in the same way that US universities do. At my instiution, for example, we award research assistantships; they pay tuition themselves. Students are taxed on this assistantship. Tax deductions allow them to deduct some amount per year from their declared income. Crucially, apart from ‘professional’ graduate degrees (MBA’s, data-science MS degrees), tuition for grad school is really inexpensive in Canada. So the deductions go a long way.

    And as far as squawking around the removal of tax credits etc – I’m sure you’ve been closely following the mass outrage in Canada over the removal of the federal education and textbook tax credits? No? There was little; that’s because taxpayers in Canada more or less prefer their tax dollars to go directly to holding tuitions down. (Also, we have very few private universities).

    All-in-all, the parallels are only worth drawing if you also describe the difference $\|1- \(US,Canada)\|$ in a norm and inner product of your choosing. But you at least need to let us know what norm, and what inner product.

    Perhaps it is different in the US, but there is a _routine_ amount of subversive recording in Canadian universities without the consent of people involved. Lectures are routinely recorded on phones without prior consent. And as for the incident you describe in Laurier (perhaps also highlight the Canadian mass of outrage over the university’s actions?) – is your intent to use the anecdote to establish evidence in support of your claim? And may I presume you are using the anecdote as a representative of a large sample?

    If so, for truth-seeking purposes perhaps you could also point us to such anecdotes where, say, left-leaning students or academics are surreptitiously recorded, and then a mess ensures? I ask this in sincerity. Perhaps no/very few such anecdotes exist. Me, I work at a university where a colleague has given evidence in court, under oath, that he believes homosexuals will go to hell. He’s still here, and last I checked, rather far up the food chain. He offers courses telling students that are about the primacy of religion. This is not intended as a representative anecdote, nor as evidence; I’m merely establishing that absent more information regarding the purported powerful liberal cabals (which I’d love to join), this stuff is mystifying to me.

    Finally, and most importantly: whether or not universities are left-leaning liberal institutions, you have not truly made the case that the proposed tax bill has any positive structural intent. If you are making this claim, it would be helpful to see the wording in the bill that establishes it. The intent of the bill, absent any other wording, is to be inferred at will – and some people (you and I, actually) see it as a means to punitively lash out at something the writers of the bill dislike.

  147. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Boaz Barak #141
    Amy #143

    Of course I, and those evil Republicans, can be persuaded. But starting the conversation saying that we represent the second coming of Lenin or that we lack intelligence because we don’t see the world the way you do is obviously a nonstarter and unpersuasive.

    To your points. Note that I have not said that increasing knowledge is a bad idea or that I am against endeavors that seek to understand humanity’s knowledge. Those arguments are persuasive when it comes to favor the funding of the aforementioned SSC or NASA -particularly outer space and planetary exploration where there has traditionally been bi-partisan support. They would even work to support the funding of Quantum Computing -and let’s not kid ourselves that the sudden interest in Quantum Computing by the federal government is driven first and foremost by national security considerations.

    When it comes to enabling a large talent pool of underpaid foreigners slaved under the H1B visa that serve to enrich Google/Apple/Facebook/Amazon/Microsoft, the argument is less persuasive. I get why these companies want the rest of us to fund the existence of said talent pool, but it is less clear how the rest of the country benefits. If these companies didn’t have this talent pool, they would still employ large numbers of Americans, only they would have to pay higher wages. The existence of this underpaid talent pool is one of the reasons American students avoid STEM education altogether for more lucrative alternatives. These are not companies of yesteryear, like say Intel, that created jobs for both the highly educated and the less highly educated. These companies enrich a particular segment of the American population relying on the infrastructure that the rest of the taxpayers fund with their taxes.

    Which takes me to Apple’s case. Sorry, I am not sympathetic to them. Apple would not exist in its current form if it were a China headquartered corporation. It relies on the American law system -ask Samsung about that and how Apple has been less successful in other jurisdictions against Samsung- to protect its intellectual property. It relies on the political stability that exists in Silicon Valley, which would not exist without the most powerful army on Earth that is staffed, for the most part, with redneck Southerners. Finally, it relies on the American soft power to market itself to the outside world. The most pathetic vignette I have ever watched is that of a European attending an anti-American demonstration who takes a pic with an iPhone, proudly shares the pic of the demonstration on Twitter or Facebook and then goes to McDonald’s after the demonstration to discuss how evil America is, all that under the comfort of living in a country that was probably freed from Nazis by American rednecks and that is currently being kept safe by American tax dollars and the rednecks deployed in Germany.

    I hope you get the idea. I don’t think that there is a very good argument on the table by those of your side to support the existing system of incentives at large. At least Trump is trying to change the system so that companies like Apple have incentives to bring their dollars to the US to invest it here. If you think his efforts are not having any effect, think again .

    The thing about Trump is that unlike his predecessors (the two Bushes, Clinton and Obama), he understand business and -as a billionaire himself-, he cannot be persuaded by fancy vacations in one of Richard Branson’s properties -as it was the case with Obama, for example. No wonder that the aforementioned Seattle and Silicon Valley lords hate him. But there is many of us who love the guy for that very reason.

  148. Anton Says:

    gatekeepers #147:
    a short question – which are these lucrative options that Americans are picking instead of “underpaid” IT sector? Can you support these statements with data?

  149. The problem with gatekeepers Says:


    Sure: American students pick fundamentally professional occupations such as law and medicine (pre-law and pre-med are still the most popular destinations of American undergraduate students) and business. Although a bit dated, this has the data . I believe the many analysis remains current, particularly the notion of picking a major mostly based on career prospects not on “vocation”.

    While there has been a recent uptick on Computer Science majors at the undergraduate level, the reason there was a sharp decrease in the post dotcom era was that around 1999/2000, the largest and most influential computer companies (like IBM and Microsoft) started the situation we have now: the outsourcing of most but those with the highest value add computing programming jobs to India, China (and to a lesser degree countries of the former Soviet block). Thus students understood that starting a career as a computer scientist was a sure path to getting your job outsourced or given to a lower paid foreigner 5 years into it.

    If you compare this list with this list you see a clear change in the makeup of the companies that sponsor the most visas/greencards. In the earlier part of the 2000s, you had what you’d expect: Microsoft, IBM, etc. In 2017, you have mostly Indian contractors who have built a business model out of putting American STEM majors out of work.

    So that’s the data and that’s the reason for the overhaul.

  150. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Anton #148,

    Further. Christine Brigagliano, partner at Van Der Hout, Brigagliano & Nightingale, denounces this situation as part of a talk she gave in UC Berkeley in support of the 2013 failed immigration reform attempt,

    Van Der Hout, Brigagliano & Nightingale, , is a very prominent immigration law firm in the Bay Area that has traditionally defended open immigration policies and has defended several high profile illegal immigrants. Even they cannot defend the abuse of the H1B visa.

  151. Anton Says:

    gatekeepers #149

    the point I was trying to make (too subtly, though) is that CS and STEM _are_ still pretty lucrative options, as lucrative as business and law:

    It goes against your theory that Americans were squeezed out of IT by a low pay.

  152. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Anton #151

    The starting salary is only one metric and it is very shortsighted. As it happens in every society I am aware of, not only in the US, when picking a profession most local people see the starting salary as one factor among many. Will my job still be here in a similar form 10 years after graduation? How much will this pay in 5, 10, 15 years? Is there a social benefit to making a living as X vs Y?, etc, etc.

    Under the larger -holistic- view, the average STEM career is not as lucrative as the average doctor career, lawyer or finance or management consulting career in the US. Foreigners don’t see things these way, of course. They only see the starting salary and how things compare with the salaries at home, which is why graduate STEM programs have so many foreigners.

    I also note the attempt at a red herring. I have made my case backed up with data and you tried the “starting salary” distraction tactic. As I mentioned in #150, even those who are otherwise big defenders of all sorts of immigration to the United States -including illegal immigration, check – and very lefty see what is going on. Marc Van Der Hout is the founder partner of Van Der Hout, Brigagliano & Nightingale.

    I rest my case. If you, Scott, Boaz, Amy, etc want to strengthen yours, I am all ears, but please avoid the name calling.

  153. Gil Kalai Says:

    Just on the issue of Scott’s claim about “massive windfall to corporations” that Steve Landsburg strongly dismissed (#33) on the ground that cancelling (or reducing) corporate tax may well lead to a more progressive tax system.

    As far as I know (based on the situation in Israel) the issue is vary simple.

    Suppose you have
    corporate tax A
    dividend tax B
    income tax C(X) where X is the income (C includes social security etc.)

    (In Israel A is 25% B is 30%. For large values of X, C is higher than A+B)

    An employee that gets X pay income tax C(X) (which is progressive.)

    Suppose you open a firm and the firm gets X, you draw a salary Y smaller than X, and draw a dividend Z

    Then you pay tax A(X-Y)+B(Z)+C(Y)

    In the very simple case that Z=X-Y you simply pay (A+B)(X-Y)+C(Y))
    Of course, A+B is usually smaller than the marginal income tax.

    Does reducing corporate taxes lead to more progressive taxing systems?

    This depends on what you mean by “reducing corporate taxes”.

    If the proposal is to make A=0 and combine B and C to the same tax (or move in this direction) this, in principle, will be more progressive (modulo some serious technical problems like the ability of firms to pay to owners benefits which are not taxed that both Steve and I mentioned regarding General Motors).

    If the proposal is to reduce A but keep B and C unchanged then this is very very non-progressive.

    So of course, the issue is what is the current US tax plan. (I’d guess that Scott is essentially correct and Steve is essentially wrong and that Steve’s analysis and references are irrelevant. In any case, it seems that Steve is certainly wrong in making context-free blatant claims not based on the details.)

  154. Boaz Barak Says:

    Gatekeepers, I think your case speaks for itself. You are basically arguing that:

    1) Salaries in STEM fields, and in particular Computer Science are low.

    2) They are low because of foreign immigrants.

    3) Because of the low salaries, majoring in these fields is unpopular, and American students shun them.

    4) This has something to do with taxing universities.

    I agree that this is a consistent theory. Our only disagreement is whether it conforms to reality.

    Happy thanksgiving.

  155. Jud Says:

    “At one point one has to ask whether we really need so many research institutions and so many PhD students.”

    Only if you wish the US economy to remain strong or get stronger, and the standard of living to remain high or get better.

  156. Anton Says:

    gatekeepers #152

    Starting salary is a piece of data, not a distraction tactic and not a red herring. Of course, it can’t cover such a complicated subject in a “holistic” way, but no single piece of data can. On the other hand, you have not provided any data to support support the idea that (1) STEM is less lucrative and (2) Americans avoid STEM b/c of that. The link from economicmodeling that you’ve provided has no data on neither of these questions. I am not saying that these ideas are wrong – they may well be true, but I wonder if there is any empirical support to them.

    On name calling – I don’t think I did any, which leaves me surprised to see you bringing it up.

  157. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Boaz Barak #154

    You almost got it right. For 4) I would say that the reason STEM studies are now subsidized by the taxpayer (for example the OPT extension that benefits F-1 students is only available to STEM immigrants not to business school ones) is because the current system reflects a thinking that was appropriate to the situation the US found itself in during the decades that followed WWII (during that time American students majoring in STEM fields at both the undergraduate and graduate level were a majority among STEM students). Right now that same system serves a variety of interests (the universities themselves, the professors, the immigrants, some high tech companies, etc). It not clear how it serves the interests of the United States as whole, thus I see nothing wrong in opening discussions as to whether American society benefits, as a whole, from its continuous existence, particularly since the American taxpayer subsidizes it.

    Take for example the case of MBA graduates on F-1 visas. International students continue to be admitted to Harvard, MIT Sloan, Stanford, etc, but they have to cover the entirety of enrollment fees from personal funds, loans or other funds. The American tax payer doesn’t subsidize their studies other than via the subsidizing of their institutions that comes via indirect costs of STEM grant money. The same could be the case for STEM students under an arrangement different from the status quo.

    Happy thanksgiving to you too!

  158. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Anton #156

    I think I have: the data is very clear that American students chose not to major in large numbers in STEM fields at the undergraduate or graduate levels. Unless you are ready to say that American students are stupid, this data -which makes more specific the data I presented earlier- says that the students attending the most prestigious American schools do not follow STEM careers. Obviously the subset of students that go to STEM heavy schools such as Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, MIT or Caltech will have STEM majors among their most popular, but these latter schools are not representative of the choices of undergraduate students at large while the other Ivy League ones are.

    On the other hand you seem to suggest that American students are “missing out” very lucrative careers in STEM.

    I think that American students, certainly those admitted to the aforementioned institutions, are pretty smart and their not choosing STEM careers has to do with a holistic cost/benefit analysis on their part: in 2017 STEM careers are less lucrative than other careers in professional fields like medicine, law or business.

    The name calling reference was not directed at you. In this thread I have been told that I represent the second coming of Lenin and that my intellectual capacity is so low that I qualify for running for congress. I think it is possible to have a meaningful discussion about these topics without resorting to this type of name calling.

  159. L Says:

    Gil Kalai #153: Unlike what you claim, in the US, C &lt A+B for the highest tax brackets. Even under the new tax plan, we would see something like C = 35%, A= 20%, B = 20% in the highest tax brackets. A small business with a single owner in the US will typically operate as “pass-through” where Y=X in your notation (all the business’s income is redirected to salary for the owner). So there is nothing non-progressive here.

    In the course of my career in finance, I got to see a fair bit of the financial engineering firms would go through on their taxes. I feel like the biggest problem with US corporate taxes is not so much the high tax rate as the repatriation tax. This is keeping trillions of dollars of cash in overseas subsidiaries of US companies, which would otherwise be brought back to the US. Not to mention a huge waste of resources on financial engineering to optimize around it. Most other countries do not have this tax. The one good thing I can say about the proposed tax plan is that it contains a one-time “holiday” for repatriated cash, which should cause many firms to bring their foreign cash back to the US.

  160. amy Says:

    gatekeepers, I can’t tell whether the issue here is that you’re in CS and don’t know any other world, or whether all of this is theoretical for you and connected to no actual, lived reality.

    1. Tech salaries are miraculous compared to salaries just about anywhere else. If your actual beef is that the shareholders and owners are making hella more money than the workers do, then…er, yes. This is how capitalism goes when you don’t regulate the daylights out of it.

    2. If your complaint is that this worker boon is tax-supported, then I’d urge you once again to notice that CS and math are just two slices of the STEM work going on. Good luck to you in finding a tech-salary job with your biochemistry or population-genetics PhD — you’ll have to be one of the best out there.

    3. Lucrativeness of other professions: law schools have suffered huge drops in enrollment because the jobs do not exist and the tuitions are large. The usual path for a law student who’s not off to go take over Dad’s smalltown practice is to go get eaten alive in the bowels of a giant corporate law firm. The ones who survive will, maybe, do okay, though “okay” will still entail round-the-clock work stints. The rest still have to pay off law school somehow.

    4. This is a program for getting non-USian suckers trained and on visas, and we know this because the American kids aren’t doing STEM so much: Most of the American kids who wander into undergrad biz programs are there (and have always been there) because they don’t have the intellectual chops for either science or humanities scholarship, and their K12 educations have left them miserably prepared for everything. They have trouble reading and can barely make themselves understood. They’re going to struggle. Lots will not only not get jobs, but not understand why they’re not getting jobs.

    It’s also important to remember that universities generally have little idea what “job skills” actually are. Few American universities have strong ties to industry, and not for lack of trying; it’s just that universities are full of…academics. Even the biz people tend to be academics. Academics are terrific at teaching kids how to do school. But I’ve been in rooms where people are putting together new programs, and, hand on heart, the least influential people in those rooms are the ones with most clue about the actual jobs that go with those degrees. Those people themselves are, just by virtue of being in that room, drifting further and further from the world they say they’re preparing the kids for. And that pertains to the graduate programs, too. The professional programs seem to be slightly better about knowing what the profession actually is.

    In some areas that’s not a bad thing. University is not supposed to be vocational training. University is about learning to think well, or was before it turned into high school remediation. This is the entire mission of the liberal arts. It’s something I’m careful to tell every crop of new students, and I go on telling them, because it’s a surprise to them. I just want them to recognize it when they finally see it for themselves.

    As for why more American students don’t do STEM PhDs:

    1. Beyond the undergrad numbers: yeah, there are plenty who don’t make the grade. Highly-motivated foreign students generally blow them out of the water.

    2. It’s not just the money. Becoming a scientist involves a tremendously long apprenticeship and delay of adulthood, 7-10 years v. 3 for law school — and then once you do get your degree, what do you do? It turns out there aren’t that many academic jobs. It also turns out that industry doesn’t need a giant number of PhD scientists, though they do need a lot of workaday BS/MSes.

    3. And then there’s the fact that in order to get through grad school, you really have to love this stuff and tolerate failure and disappointment exceptionally well, because it’s going to make your life miserable for at least the next five or six years even if you do love it. I’ve stopped counting the number of students who tell me they want industry or govt labs because they don’t want their bosses’ lives, always on the chase for grants, always overwhelmed with work. Lots of kids MS out because they’re bright enough to see where this is going and they see that it’s not for them. I should also say that med students who *should* be taking that route — who get far enough in to see they absolutely don’t want that life — tend more often to stay in because they’ve already borrowed the price of a small house for med school so far, and they can’t see any other way of paying the money back but going to MD.

    Finally — you’re still missing the point that an influx of bright, disciplined, hardworking foreigners is as much a boon to the nation as a whole today, in the cultural sense that you’re ignoring, as it was in 1910. And 1810. Does Apple get fabulously wealthy in the meantime, yes. How do we restore equity? A little thing called corporate taxes and actual collection of them. Magic! Taxpayers, recompensed.

    I really do think you have a lot of this backwards.

  161. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Amy #160

    Your long post is big on liberal “feel good” mumbo jumbo but short on analysis.

    Take for example these two contradictory quotes from your post,

    “Most of the American kids who wander into undergrad biz programs are there (and have always been there) because they don’t have the intellectual chops for either science or humanities scholarship, and their K12 educations have left them miserably prepared for everything”

    Essentially you seem to be calling most American kids stupid. Never mind that the Ivy League- that produced no other than the author of this blog- also shows a similar trend: graduates deciding not to enroll in STEM majors.

    Then you say,

    “And then there’s the fact that in order to get through grad school, you really have to love this stuff and tolerate failure and disappointment exceptionally well, because it’s going to make your life miserable for at least the next five or six years even if you do love it. I’ve stopped counting the number of students who tell me they want industry or govt labs because they don’t want their bosses’ lives, always on the chase for grants, always overwhelmed with work. Lots of kids MS out because they’re bright enough to see where this is going and they see that it’s not for them. ”

    Which one is it? Are American kids stupid or are they just smart enough to realize at the undergraduate level that the whole STEM thing is not worth the cost in terms of effort and opportunity cost and decide to do something else more lucrative? I have clearly stated that I believe it is the latter, leaving plenty of slots available in graduate school that need to be filled by foreigners if professors are to justify why their universities need to employ STEM professors.


    “Finally — you’re still missing the point that an influx of bright, disciplined, hardworking foreigners is as much a boon to the nation as a whole today, in the cultural sense that you’re ignoring, as it was in 1910. And 1810. Does Apple get fabulously wealthy in the meantime, yes. How do we restore equity? A little thing called corporate taxes and actual collection of them. Magic! Taxpayers, recompensed.”

    As I said, GE and GM during their heyday built industries that created plenty of well paying jobs in the US for all kinds of people: from the highly educated to those with only a high school degree. Today, Apple creates the latter type of jobs in China, not in the US. Apple, and the high tech lobby, convinced Trump’s predecessors that selling out American manufacturing to China was inevitable and those predecessors obliged giving China permanent normal trade relations - . As Trump said, China was only benefiting from having idiots running the US government back then. These globalist freaks were not as successful with their propaganda in the European Union, for example, and Germany remains a manufacturing nation.

    Increasing corporate tax rates will only cause Apple -and the like- to engage in even more aggressive financial engineering of this kind . The smart thing to do is to lower the corporate rates to a level comparable to that of other nations -which is what the house and senate tax bills do.

    Finally you say,

    “I really do think you have a lot of this backwards.”

    I believe that based on what you said you have little understanding of how the real world operates. You live in an imaginary liberal utopia that is at odds with reality.

  162. Sniffnoy Says:

    I think things in the style of Amy’s idea of how to help the unemployed has one notable advantage over things in the style of TPWG’s, and that’s separation of concerns.

    This idea that American companies should be hiring American workers because, you see, the American workers need help… no! Employment is supposed to be a voluntary exchange, a deal; that’s how a market works. You get the best you can for the lowest cost. Jobs aren’t something you hand out to help someone, they’re, you know, actual responsibilities, and we want them to be done well for the cost… hey, wasn’t Sarah Constantin just talking about that here a bit ago? 🙂

    Like, there’s this idea out there — and I realized TPWG hasn’t actually advanced this idea, but I feel like my point is most easily made in reference to it — that, you know, people need jobs, not handouts, because, you know, they need to feel like they’re earning their money.

    But here’s the thing — if you get a job by forcibly excluding others, rather than by actually being the best for the spot… then that money’s not earned. If you want to build a building, and the mob demands you employ them to do it (shoddily, and at well above market price) or you’re not going to live to see it finished, they didn’t earn your money. This isn’t a voluntary business transaction, it’s the facade of a business transaction to give an appearance of legitimacy to what is essentially a theft.

    “American companies should hire American workers” is no different. No, American companies should hire whoever does the best job for the lowest cost. Threatening to sic the government on them if they don’t is no better than what the mob does. It’s theft masquerading as trade — it’s corruption.

    I use the word “corruption” there because this sort of thing corrupts. That’s what happens when you lie about something, you need to maintain the lie, and it distorts and corrupts everything around it. (And obviously doing this sort of thing also distorts the economy, though I suppose that’s a different sense of the word.) Everything becomes confused and tangled together out of a need to keep the fiction going. Is this job a voluntary market exchange, or is it actually just a transfer of money? Well, it’s kind of both bundled into one, trying to fufill two goals at once — which means it’s going to be suboptimal at both of them. But we can’t admit that, so…

    Much better is to separate concerns. Let jobs be jobs and transfers be transfers. Do each separately, openly, and well. No need to lie about any of it. And done right taxes won’t distort the economy either (though whether they’ll actually be done right is, um, another matter…).

    (But wait, isn’t taxation theft? Rather than go down that rabbit hole myself, I’ll just refer you to Scott Alexander on the matter (see 13.3.1 in particular, see also here).)

    And if you say, no, we need to screw up the economy so that I can feel like I’ve earned my money — when in fact you’re just the equivalent of a mobster who believes their own lies — well, then I’m sorry but your feelings can go to hell!

    On a more general note… I feel like separation of concerns, unbundling, orthogonality, is underappreciated as a liberal principle. (Note I’m using the word “liberal” in the classical sense here.) Like everyone knows about freedom and truth and all that but I feel like unbundling is actually a really important liberal idea. But it rarely seems to get mentioned in that context. It’s a surprisingly powerful one!

    (Also, I realize IGGITFT has left, but I do want to state my one comment to them, which is… given that the parts of the academy you dislike don’t seem to rely on these tuition waivers in the first place, isn’t this tax selectively hitting the parts you *do* like?)

  163. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Sniffnoy #162

    “Like, there’s this idea out there — and I realized TPWG hasn’t actually advanced this idea, but I feel like my point is most easily made in reference to it — that, you know, people need jobs, not handouts, because, you know, they need to feel like they’re earning their money.”

    Thank you for saying this. Because too often I am accused of saying stuff I have never said.

    On the rest of what you say, I am partially in agreement, partially in disagreement. I am a big believer in free markets and in letting the best people earn their way up. At the same time, let’s not kid ourselves: the free market doesn’t solve every societal problem. For starters, no country that I am aware of will ever adopt “free market” approaches to areas like defense, food supply or energy supply. There is also the issue of people who are born with disabilities, for example. I do not think that the nanny state is a good idea, but I do believe that there is a role for government to provide a safety net for people who have no other sources of help. And yet, the very moment government steps in, it is distorting the proper functioning of the market and creating unworthy winners and undeserving losers. There are areas where this is justified, as much as it pains me to admit. In fact, you can see the current system funding STEM education -particularly at the graduate level- as a government intervention that started during WWII and that continued during the cold war. The problem it sought to address no longer exists -we won the cold war, despite Russian attempts at rewriting history- but the system exists pretty much intact. It is being exploited by the Seattle and Silicon Valley lords to ensure a constant supply of cheap labor towards their industries.

    I think that very few smart people I know are dogmatic about opposing the free market as a phenomenal wealth creation mechanism. Where it gets tricky is when discussing the areas that government should be stepping in. This is where reasonable people disagree and have passionate debates about. We all bring our biases to the discussion and nobody is free of them. Obviously Scott, admittedly, is biased because he has spent his entire professional life in the world of top notch academic research. So he wants it to continue to exist and he comes up with all sorts of rationales as to why it should continue to exist in its current form, subsidized by the American taxpayer. I have my own set of biases which include having seen both said world -during my years as graduate student and from friends who are still there- and having essentially made a living since graduation in the high tech industry. Decades back, the most prominent companies (like AT&T, IBM or Xerox) believed that having a central research lab staffed by the smartest people they could find was essential to their competitiveness. The world benefited from the inventions produced by Bell Labs, IBM research and Xerox’s PARC, but said companies reached at some point the conclusion that these labs didn’t measure up to their promise and essentially dismantled them (Xerox’s PARC exists as an independent subsidiary but it no longer produces the breakthroughs it produced in the 1970s). The new high tech companies (Cisco, Oracle, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, etc) proved that it was possible to build unbelievably successful businesses without having to fund said research operations and the idea of having them is no longer popular in high tech. Whether that’s good or bad for the US as a society in the longer term is a different question. I am of the opinion that it isn’t and that these new companies should have central research labs if only to return the favor to the society that enabled their success.

    All this to say, that these debates are nuanced and it is never a good idea to impute motives or lack of gray matter to your dialectical opponent when you disagree with his/her arguments.

  164. Anton Says:

    To recap, you’re saying that foreigners pushed out Americans out of STEM (though, you focus only on Silicon Valley) by lowering the salaries to the point where other careers are more attractive. Your only empirical support is that Americans are becoming less likely to pick STEM. There might be many reasons for that and you have shown zero data supporting that particular reason.

    Moreover, actual data shows that, not only starting salaries, but also lifelong earnings in many STEM areas are _the highest_:

    To conclude, there is no data supporting your theory and there is lots of data refuting it. I do not find any theoretical reasoning w/o empirical support to be convincing in such complicated matters – and am surprised to find that someone does. I am interested in discussing the actual reality, not one’s preconceived notions. So, unless you provide any empirical support, I see no reason to continue the discussion.

  165. amy Says:

    Sniffnoy: interesting point about the orthagonality. Hadn’t thought of that, but sure, that’s true. People are weird. No reason not to separate things and make those Rube Goldberg contraptions. That’s been the main lesson of biochemistry for me, incidentally: nature is a huge believer in the Rube Goldberg contraption, and is not at all interested in rectilinear efficiencies. Life is terribly inefficient. And alive.

    I’ll say this about the “need to feel they’re earning their money”, though — I think this is very narrowly constructed and highly gendered. If you take a look at the vast world of work that’s done for free (caregiving to the sick and elderly, childrearing, community volunteering, and most art, for instance) and carries no wage simply because it’s devalued in, again, a highly gendered way, I think a great many of those people would be very happy to accept a UBI, and would not feel parasitical at all. Similarly, if you look at the experience of WPA workers, much of their sense of whether or not they were doing makework was about whether or not it really was makework. WPA funded a lot of work that actually needed doing, and people were not only glad of the jobs but proud to do them at a wage that made some stab at respecting their humanity.

    I have never, incidentally, understood this ethic that says your job as a boss is to extort as much work as you can from your workers for as low a wage as possible. It seems stupid on its face. Work is part of life, and you spend a tremendous part of your life with the people you work with. Why would you set yourself up as their opponent, rather than trying to foster their wellbeing, the entire team’s wellbeing? Similarly, why would your aim be to murder your competition, rather than collectively, sociably looking to work yourselves into niches you enjoyed and were good at, so that you could all…live like human beings? I’ve been a working person now for…37 years, and I find that most of the people who insist at me that none of that is possible outside fantasy have just never seen it in operation. Every so often you get a true believer in rat races who actually sees it in front of his own eyes and still insists it can’t be so, but there’s nothing you can do with that.


    One, manufacturing in Germany is an altogether different animal than manufacturing in the US has been, and that’s been true for many decades now. I saw that one with my own eyes. The two are not comparable in terms of value, and the entry bar is far higher in Germany than it ever was in the US. We had illiterates wandering in and getting put on the lines here. You have to go further than blogs and polemical economists when it comes to these things. Actually if you want a very clear view of US mfring when things were sclerotic, just before its death, you should watch Moore’s _Roger & Me_. Not for Moore’s ridiculous theatrics and propaganda, but for the interviews with the former auto-plant workers. He got them right — or, rather, recognized who they were and allowed them to be who they were. I know because I was there, only a thousand miles east, at the other end of the rust belt. Same people in the factories and mines out there.

    Two, re your “which is it” question:

    Few American kids are able to get into STEM grad programs (though, to be fair, this is true all over the world; here we have “all American kids who managed to graduate with STEM BSes” v. “highly-motivated kids from everywhere else” competing for program spots). The ones who get in are generally pretty bright, even in programs that aren’t very good. Among the brightest of those are kids who’ll watch their bosses carefully and recognize that this is not the life they want.

    There you go. This is the sort of concatenation that my non-STEM undergrads have trouble following, btw.

    Three, re liberal utopias. You know, I spent my early adulthood in the world that Chainsaw Al made: a world of radical selfishness, theft, vicious racism, ill health, bad nutrition, a middle finger up to public welfare. Then I moved to a little university town that a Canadian friend once called “very Canadian”. I had an abused person’s contempt for it at first: grownups wandering around in the middle of the day! On bicycles! But I stayed here because not only was it kind to people who liked to read, but it was cheap as hell and was resisting the general trend to put up gates to keep out the poors. You could just walk in and use things — public things — well-kept public things — like you were an actual human being. There were beautiful libraries. Excellent, clean recreation centers. A well-kept and thriving downtown with a summer full of music and art festivals. Excellent, safe public schools. And healthcare. For a long time I stayed because I knew that even if I lost my insurance, I could get decent healthcare. It was a goddamned Brigadoon, this liberal utopia divorced from reality.

    I bought property here, and yes, the taxes here are high compared to surrounding areas. I pay them happily. I was still working myself sick, pulling all-nighters two or three times a week, because I was a single mother by then, and employed via internet by the world Chainsaw Al made. No benefits, race-to-the-bottom hourly wages. Picking out the gristle, turning down the many jobs that were expressly about preying on other people. But the town I was bringing my child up in was pleasant and safe and full of good things.

    Then I got a university job. A public university job. I became a state employee. And then, even though the wage was something you wouldn’t bother picking up in the street, I became a middle-class person. I can afford to be sick. I can take my daughter on trips, to a good museum, and help send her to college someday. Today I’m having a vacation. (Actually I’m doing work, but my bosses are yelling at me to stop it and go have a vacation. It’s hard to get out of the habit.) I have vacations now. Two summers ago I had two solid weeks in which I didn’t do a lick of job-related work, and just spent time with my daughter and friends in cities where I used to live — it was like a miracle. I never had anything like that in Chainsaw Al’s world. I am physically healthier than I’ve been in years. And I am paid for doing work that’s worth doing.

    I heartily recommend this liberal utopia divorced from reality to anyone.

  166. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Anton #164

    I am not sure you understand that what you wrote is self-refuting,

    “Your only empirical support is that Americans are becoming less likely to pick STEM. There might be many reasons for that and you have shown zero data supporting that particular reason”

    Economics 101: in any market where we have economic free agents making choices the implicit assumption is that these agents make rational decisions, ie, these agents make decisions motivated by self-interest. You seem to agree that the data I provided shows that Americans are less likely to pick STEM. My contention is that this is the result of American students making rational choices about what it is better for them.

    On the other hand, you seem to suggest that American students are stupid for not seeing how good STEM careers are. Are you also suggesting that the US economy be managed the way the Soviet Union economy was managed, ie, by central planers forcing students to do what these planners think is better for them in lieu of students picking what they think is better for themselves? I believe that this is the source of our disagreement: I believe in free enterprise while you seem to believe in government designed and enforced central planning.

  167. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Amy #165

    Thank you for the detailed explanations. I think that there is more agreement than disagreement between us, after all.

    Your description of “which is it” essentially captures what has been my main message all along: American students rationally decide not to pick STEM majors because the set of incentives for them to do so is not there. To what you say “among the brightest of those are kids who’ll watch their bosses carefully and recognize that this is not the life they want”, I added earlier that following the dotcom bubble many students reached the conclusion that it was even worse: getting a bachelors degree in STEM followed by a career in the industry all but guaranteed unemployment a few years into their careers due to outsourcing. The enrollment in computer science programs in particular plummeted in the first half of the 2000s and it is only in recent years that it has reached comparable levels to those prior to the dotcom bubble, fueled mostly by the success of a few Silicon Valley companies. Still, at the Ivy League, STEM majors are not the top choice, meaning, that the best and brightest American students do not, for the most part, pick STEM majors.

    With respect to you finding your nirvana in Canada, good for you. I found mine in the US with its free enterprise system. Where I came from, Europe, none of the 28 different versions of nirvanas offered by the European Union was attractive enough for me, so I decided to move here. From talking to Canadian friends, I get the feeling I wouldn’t enjoy the Canadian nirvana either. But that’s me. I am all for people finding their place in the world. My beef is with central planers imposing their version of nirvana on society at large. That’s so European, even Soviet if you will.

  168. Tiger Says:

    TPWG @167

    At Princeton, Computer Science is now the most popular major, with enrollments more than double the dot-com peek. Over 25% of Princeton undergraduates major in an engineering discipline (and many more major in science and math). Many of the “best and brightest” are choosing STEM majors.

  169. Rand Says:

    I haven’t read all the comments here, but a few high level points:

    1) If you’re really concerned about Trumpism and want to fight it you have to distinguish between Trumpism and Republicanism. This is, as Scott notes towards the end, a Republican plan, helmed by Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Steve Mnuchin (who seems like a pretty standard Republican treasury pick).

    This is where you want to engage with the plan seriously, rather than busting out the nazis are coming!, if you want to be taken seriously about the scarier aspects of the Trump administration. Whereas this plan would exist in more-or-less the same form in a Kasich administration, for which I would have sacrificed several major research institutions given the chance.

    (Corollary: It’s worth trying to understand these bills. Vox has run a few sympathetic articles, if you’re allergic to conservative media.)

    2) Has anyone gotten confirmation that this is the actual effect of the bill? Apparently the Cornell administration was operating under the assumption that grad student tuitions wouldn’t be subject to the new taxes. This blog post goes into some detail but the conclusion is unclear:

    3) Per above, I don’t think this is playing to the Republican anti-university base, given that they’re not playing this up. It’s probably part of a broader attempt to limit deductions. Here’s where we benefit from the Republican representatives being much better educated than their supporters.

    4) Note that in the worst case here, we’re talking about grad students costing ~$10,000 extra (the added tax burden, assuming ~$50,000 tuition, which is rare). That’s about an 8th of their cost. I guess in theory the granting agencies could refuse to make this work, but then they wouldn’t have reason to exist, would they? Scott’s concern about smaller schools that don’t have a lot of slack is real – but smaller schools get a vanishingly small percentage of the research grants to begin with, meaning they’re not affected much.

    5) The tuition is absolutely an accounting gimmick. A point in favor that wasn’t brought up in the first few comments: We don’t actually take classes. (At least, not past our second year or so.) So for most students, there isn’t even a benefit getting paid for.

  170. Boaz Barak Says:

    Tiger: The situation in Harvard (and every other school I am aware of) is similar, and there has been growth in non CS fields as well including applied math and stats. Of course this whole notion about American students shunning CS or STEM is absolute nonsense. (As are the suggestions that salaries are low, or that we need less academic research now because the cold war ended.)

    Rand: The republican party is becoming more and more the party of Trump, with the lone dissenters retiring at an alarming rate.

    This is absolutely not the same tax plan that would have been proposed in a Kasich administration. Unlike the Reagan tax reform, it is hastily written and designed to ensure a pre midterm election “win” at the cost of increasing debt and potentially harming the economy in the long term. (See for a critique of the tax plan; yes he served in the Obama administration, but he’s hardly a flaming progressive )

    Regarding student tuition, I live in blissful ignorance of the actual costs to a university, though I’ve often been told that in places such as Princeton or Harvard even the full sticker price of 60K or so tuition for undergrads is actually *lower* than their actual cost of education, and it is subsidized by the endowment.

    So, as much as I personally hate paying my grad students’ tuitions out of my grants, and it definitely seems like tons of money for me, I hesitate to say that it’s more than their cost to the university: I simply don’t know.

    In particular, even though the average grad student takes fewer classes per year than the average undergrad, it does not mean they are not using facilities, staff (including the advisor) much of whose cost is covered by the university.

    I very much hope this provision (and others) will not come to pass, but I agree that if it does it will not be the end of times. That said, if your calculations (which I didn’t check) are correct then this would be a net 12% cut in the funding for the most productive parts of academic STEM research. This is a *huge* cut in the investments in an area where I believe most rational observers, across different parties and in different countries, believe one should be investing more and not less.

    Moreover, I think for future (as opposed to short term growth), most knowledgeable observers would agree that it’s better to invest a dollar in research than a dollar in reducing the corporate tax, especially if you have to borrow that dollar in the first place.

  171. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Tiger #168
    Boaz Barak #170

    CS being the most popular major at Princeton or Harvard is dated (the link provided is 2 years old). Here is a more recent update (I already provided it earlier),

    At both Princeton and Harvard, CS comes at #3. There was an uptick in CS interest around 2010-2012 following the success of Google, Facebook and Apple, but the aforementioned data would seem to indicate the interest has receded.

    Rand #169

    I have been trying in my comments to convey also that speaking of this bill as “the second coming of Lenin” is not constructive. I haven’t been very successful. In fact, Boaz Barak #170 continues to make that distinction between the people out of their minds who prefer Trump to Kasich -that would be people like me- and the holier than though Republicans -or unicorns- who prefer Kasich to Trump.

  172. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Boaz Barak #170

    “Moreover, I think for future (as opposed to short term growth), most knowledgeable observers would agree that it’s better to invest a dollar in research than a dollar in reducing the corporate tax, especially if you have to borrow that dollar in the first place.”

    The “most knowledgeable” reference sounds No True Scotsman talk to me, .

    Before the term “fake science” entered the vernacular to refer to soft science, economics was already referred to as “dismal science”. There is simply no way to know whether you are saying is true, particularly when it depends on the type of research cuts we are talking about and what the tax cuts pay for. For example, if this provision were to be enacted -and I say this as somebody who thinks it is a bad provision and that the provision won’t make it to the final reconciled bill- a side effect could be that universities would cut nonsensical research of the kind denounces every year to focus only on high value add research (like certain STEM fields such as quantum computing) . Sure, some people would lose their jobs but as it happens every time a program that creates government dependency is cut, some of those would find better and more productive jobs in the aftermath. Similarly, if those cuts pay for a one time tax holiday that would allow companies like Apple or Google to repatriate their pile of cash parked overseas, the net effect for the US economy would be extremely positive.

    You can come up with all sorts of studies showing one thing and I could probably come up with all sort of studies showing the opposite. That’s what happens when we are dealing with fake science, that different hypotheses deliver different results.

  173. Steve Says:

    I say let it burn. There are more PhDs than academic jobs. A PhD—even a STEM PhD—is a millstone in industry. (It labels you overqualified and hard to manage.) So please, raise the costs of getting a PhD. Fewer people will make the disastrous life choice of pursuing one.

  174. Fly on the Wall Says:

    Out of 270 EECS undergraduate students at MIT (current enrollment), only 12 students out of 270 are enrolled in the 6-1 track, which is the electrical engineering track (electromagnetics, devices, circuits, microwave theory, etc.).

    Most of the 270 EECS MIT undergraduate students are enrolled in the computer science track, which is very light on classic EE subjects, and would mean that these students, when they graduate, would be ill prepared to take on physical implementation of a computer, electronics or transmission system.

    Twenty five years ago, fully half of the MIT EECS undergraduate students were enrolled the 6-1 EE track.

    The MIT 6-A five year masters co-op program was fully at 140 students twenty five years ago, and now has only 40 students.

    If the recent pattern is any indication, many of the computer science MIT undergraduates will not pursue a graduate degree in CS or EE. They’ll go on to work in other STEM fields such as medicine, or to financial institutions, to venture capital or to real-estate (yes, there are a number of recent MIT EECS alums working in real-estate.)

    The shift away from the 6-1 track is widely perceived among MIT EE alumni and professors to be an effect of offshoring of hardware and electronics manufacturing industries and jobs, and the heavy use by companies such as IBM, Intel, Apple, Broadcom, and Qualcomm of the H-1B visa, to flood the labor market with cheaper computer scientists and electrical engineers (from offshore, and from second tier institutions in the US) willing to work for compressed wages and benefits (relative to highly priced MIT EE graduates).

    Apple’s R&D investment is about 2% of top line revenue worldwide. The amount traditionally invested by a capital intensive high tech company is commonly between 10 and 20 percent.

    The combined effect of recent low investments in R&D by high tech companies, the effect of offshoring to countries who pay their workers $12/day subsistence wages and house them in prison camp like company dorms (ie Foxconn, don’t forget the suicide nets), and the flooding of the labor market in the US with cheaper engineers, means that EECS is an unattractive option for students who wish to pursue their careers in the US following graduation and be paid a professional level salary. Other fields such as medicine, finance or even real-estate offer more lucrative and secure long term opportunities.

    It is indeed tragic that the US government is going to tax graduate student tuition, but that that is only a blip in the long list of atrocities committed against American engineers and computer scientists (and other scientists).

  175. amy Says:

    Gatekeepers – so – it’s an interesting thing about the Ivies and the best/brightest, and as I say these things I’m aware that “Ivy” is a shifting object and that I’ve been looking at it now through my own eyes for um 35 years.

    40 years ago “Ivy” was primarily about social class, not educational chops. You went to H, Y, or P because your father had, and if he’d gone to Dartmouth, well, we’ll just leave that alone. The faculties were prime, sure, because the rich collect all sorts of tony objects. At that time, though, it actually was possible for a kid to put himself (or herself) through college mowing lawns all summer, and traveling was an expensive thing. People, bright and often very playful people, went to their state universities. Which also had smart people teaching, many of whom just wanted nothing to do with the suffocating air of the Ivies, or were too “ethnic” when their careers began to have made the cut.

    By about 30 years ago “Ivy” was attainable by kids whose parents had been the first in their families to become professionals *or were even (looks around) black*. The quotas were gone, ish. And all of a sudden it became the province of very bright kids with something to prove. This cohort, incidentally, was my dating pool for a long time. And holy crap, did the tension in that triangle of “prove something/maintain prestige/get stared down by Class” screw up a lot of people. Really damaged a lot of bright people for life.

    20 years ago I started seeing ordinary middle-class teenagers panicking at the prospect of not getting into Ivies — somehow they’d been sold on the idea that they’d be living in the gutter if they didn’t get in. That’s when Felicia Ackerman, at Brown, wrote her column tut-tutting about what was happening in admissions and how it was destroying late childhood and somehow convincing very bright young people that they were factory seconds because they hadn’t gotten in, and how these kids were all such good candidates that the only really sensible way of doing it was to run a lottery.

    The crop I see coming out now are a mix of fantastically wealthy kids completely divorced from reality and desperadoes. The ones I meet are E strings tightened to snapping, and they seem to require a tremendous scaffolding around them of coaches and sherpas, as well as continuous assurance that all the right people love them, really love them. Yes, they’re bright. Often they’re even thoughtful, genuinely thoughtful, not application-glib thoughtful. But they seem to me a level of high-maintenance that I never met in the most messed-up of my Ivy boyfriends. I not only don’t know what’s going on there, I’m not sure I want to know.

    So anyway I’m wary of using “Ivies/MIT” as a proxy for “best/brightest”. There have always been some of those there. To a greater or lesser degree, though, they’ve always been elsewhere, too.

    The current problem is that there’s now a significant gulf between the public schools and the Ivies and near-Ivies, which leaves the bright kids in a real bind. My kid’s decided against even applying because, in her words after watching the come-on videos, “they all seem like jerks.” There’s also the question of money. When neurologists are panicking about how they’ll send the kids to Penn, you know things are over the cliff.

    But then you turn around and look at the alternatives for really bright kids: where are they? The public American Us are threadbare, the faculty so busy with the email pinging and the desperation efforts at selling online classes and whatnot that they burn out a lot faster than they once did. The courses are remedial until you hit the top-level courses, and profs are under pressure there to lower that bar so enrollment can grow and the courses can survive. People have hired me to teach courses meant to, I kid you not, teach nearly-illiterate college students to read. The kids themselves are just bumping around in an increasingly expensive and understaffed Kafka machine, trying to figure out how to please their profs, collect enough credits, register for the things they need, and pay the bills to walk out with a degree in something that might, maybe, help them get a job. So the bright kids who haven’t been in Ivy Application Boot Camp since third grade also look at the selective non-Ivies, but there you’re looking at $60-70K a year with much less financial aid than you’d get at an Ivy. Most can’t go.

    In other words, the story here is really another Republican ed-funding story. The drain on US public universities began with Reagan. It’s been a 40-year fundamental assault on the entire notion of “public”, on Johnson’s world, and it’s strictly ideological. The shrugging at wasting talent and brains started then. difference now is that the people at the top who’re busy razing “public” actually no longer believe in democratic nations as a thing. They’re post-(or maybe pre)-nation-state in their thinking. They genuinely see absolutely no reason why they ought to be bound by such constructs or by the loyalties or sense of communal responsibilities that go with them. This is what makes the facebook/twitter hearings in Congress so sickening. Of course they aren’t being candid with the senators, those company reps. They don’t recognize the senators’ legitimacy. And the senators are failing to name the problem in plain language and open up that fight.

    I’m actually still in the US — my town’s just been a free-floating Canadianesque bit, though that quality’s slowly draining away, thanks to racism and years of Republican state rule (we recently had a local minimum-wage ordinance killed by the state, for instance). But one thing my kid’s been looking at is going to college in Canada. Int’l tuition there costs about what in-state tuition does here, and they haven’t got the crazy Running Man admissions process we do here, so the kids don’t get crazified through high school. Or the weird “you’re joining a (wildly expensive) club where we’re all pretty and love you” culture of US SLACs and Ivies. For the most part it’s just school with freedom and an apartment, unless you’re living at home. It’s shabby. You get a lot of smart (and mordantly funny, if my twitter circles are a representative sample) profs who know better than to waste their time on the kids who’re off to major in beer for a while before they drop out. It’s a bit of time capsule, frankly, from a USian pov. Can it last? I think it depends on how things go here, unfortunately.

  176. Rand Says:

    Boaz #170: Paul Ryan has been champing at the bit to change the tax code since the early 2000s. I have little doubt that the house plan is his plan. A Kasich administration might have had a bit of influence, but not all that much. (Relatedly, the idea of a 20% corporate tax rate has a history in the Republican party as well.)

    It’s hard to talk about the cost per student, because the marginal cost of each student is very low, and the universities’ various fixed costs are quite high. And that’s an issue universities have to address – their costs have skyrocketed over the years and a lot of those costs seem to be going to bloated administrations. And that’s quickly making education unaffordable.

    $10,000 was a worst case situation. In reality, it looks like most private universities charge PhD students ~$30,000 / year in imaginary tuition, and that drops dramatically when the student enters their dissertation phase. (Here I only have evidence from Penn.) I think at public universities it’s much less. And this also assume there’s no way to move the bill from “tuition” to some other kind of overhead. So all this is worrisome (a 5% decrease in grant money is also a big blow) but far from apocalyptic.

  177. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Fly on the Wall #174

    Thank you for this detailed analysis. I suspected things were serious at MIT from my own anecdotal observations but I didn’t know they were this bad. I am curious about the trends at other tech heavy schools like Caltech. If anybody has the info, I would love to learn about it.

    Amy #175

    Two short thoughts:

    – Like it or not, the Ivy League is a trend setter. What happens there, sooner or later, tends to percolate to the rest of the American higher education system.

    – Your post reads again like a tirade against evil/racist Republicans -never mind that the only American political party to have ever had racism in its platform is the Democratic party- rather than sound analysis. Enjoy your nirvana but please understand that those of us who fought hard to have the privilege of being Americans pursuing own interests freely, find your talking points pathetic and disconnected from reality.

    It seems to me that every number thrown here confirms what has been my analysis all along: American students don’t see a future in STEM majors; large American high tech companies rely on the supply of cheap STEM majors so they resort to every tactic they can think of to create it: from abusing the H1B program to enabling STEM graduate programs that are staffed first and foremost by foreigners. When somebody points out that this is a problem, some rush to cry “Hitler is coming” or “Lenin is coming” without providing actual solutions to remedy this trend. I believe we can all agree it is a bad thing for the future of the United States if we completely outsource high value added knowledge to foreigners.

  178. Fly on the Wall Says:


    Regarding your comment:

    “The ones I meet are E strings tightened to snapping, and they seem to require a tremendous scaffolding around them of coaches and sherpas, as well as continuous assurance that all the right people love them, really love them. Yes, they’re bright. Often they’re even thoughtful, genuinely thoughtful, not application-glib thoughtful. But they seem to me a level of high-maintenance”

    I somehow don’t see these engineers and computer scientists that require a lot of “scaffolding”, “coaches” and “sherpas.” No such thing exists in the technology workforce. The EECS community is just as go getter as it ever was, but they are struggling to deal with an ever shrinking research funding pool, ever more compressed product development cycles and increasingly plutocratic management.

    I don’t know what industry you work in, but it doesn’t sound like the mainstream tech workforce. Maybe your talking about your own immediate situation in the institution you work in?

    Regarding your comment:

    “The current problem is that there’s now a significant gulf between the public schools and the Ivies and near-Ivies, which leaves the bright kids in a real bind.”

    This is true in states like California. There are many states where the public schools are still great (think Virginia, Maryland, parts of Massachusetts, parts of Texas). Public schools in parts of Virginia outperform the best private schools in the Bay Area, for instance. From these four states alone (Maryland, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Texas) you could probably graduate enough STEM and Ivy qualified students to fill up the best forty universities in the country. Even in California, where good public schools are few and far between, more students graduate from public high schools with qualifying grades and test scores than can be absorbed by the UC system. So your comment that there is a hugh gap between public high schools and “the Ivys” is just wrong. Your sound misinformed on this issue.

    I should also add that parts of Virginia and Texas (don’t know about Massachusetts or Maryland) graduate highly qualified and highly diverse student bodies.

    Regarding your comment:

    “The public American Us are threadbare, the faculty so busy with the email pinging and the desperation efforts at selling online classes and whatnot that they burn out a lot faster than they once did.”

    This sounds like the public school system in California or some of the smaller public colleges. Again, this is not the situation country wide.

    Regarding your comment here:

    “The drain on US public universities began with Reagan. It’s been a 40-year fundamental assault on the entire notion of “public”, on Johnson’s world, and it’s strictly ideological.”

    I don’t disagree with you here.

    “This is what makes the facebook/twitter hearings in Congress so sickening. Of course they aren’t being candid with the senators, those company reps. They don’t recognize the senators’ legitimacy. And the senators are failing to name the problem in plain language and open up that fight. ”

    And I agree with you here as well. The Senators have probably been bought out. Pelosi I know has been plied with stock options from Apple, Visa, Twitter, and many others over the years.

    Eric Schmidt, back in June, arm twisted none other than Anne-Marie Slaughter of the New America Foundation to fire Barry Lynn of the Open Markets Foundation for questioning Google/Alphabet’s monopolistic position on Internet search:

    Senators and politicians from the right and left (not just Republicans) need to be called to order for their undermining of American “public” institutions through unfair taxation, corruption and other destructive policies and practices.

    Amy, one last thing, before you send your child to Canada, do be aware that the gender wage gap in Canada is poor (35th in the world) and only marginally better than the US, Canadian universities have a very poor record on indigenous rights and gender equality, and housing affordability relative to salaries in Canada is reaching the level of a crisis situation.

  179. Scott Says:

    Fly on the Wall #174: I taught in MIT’s EECS department for 9 years, and was a witness to the collapse of 6-1 enrollment and to a lot of hand-wringing about it. And if it had anything to do with outsourcing, or competition from cheap foreign labor, or anything like that, I didn’t see any evidence. Rather, it seemed to me that, given the huge role of Google, Facebook, Dropbox, and various Silicon Valley startups as employers of MIT grads, the students simply wanted to include CS, and got progressively more excited about that than they did about electrical engineering. Note that MIT also offers course 6-2, CS and EE combined, which remains very healthy, while enrollment in course 6-3 (CS) exploded exponentially until it became almost like half of the entire undergrad population.

    (UT Austin’s CS department didn’t undergo the same exponential explosion, but that’s only because it caps the enrollment, making it super-competitive to get into the CS major here!)

    One thing I disliked about MIT was the way CS and EE were rolled up into a single department, for historical reasons. I actually think both departments would be better off separate—that way CS wouldn’t have to make undergrads who just wanted to write code get through introductory courses on robotics and circuits, and EE (let’s say, rebranded as ECE) would be forced to figure out how to attract majors on its own two feet. I have no doubt that the graduates of both programs would do pretty well in today’s job market.

  180. Scott Says:

    Steve #173 and amy: You’ve both talked about jobs that view a PhD as an actual liability. I guess I’m lucky never to have encountered that phenomenon—though it’s hard for me to imagine any job that would reject people for being overqualified, being a job that I would want!

    It reminds me of how—to hark back to an earlier discussion in this comment section involving Amy (!)—many young nerds, both male and female, feel they suffer from the problem of “being too smart / too intellectual for anyone else to want to date them.” And indeed, I can’t honestly tell a nerdy guy that if he suddenly lost, say, 20 IQ points, I know it to be false that he’d instantly become more attractive. All I can offer is the usual advice about this subject: “anyone who’d want to date you, but only if you were dumber, is not someone who your higher self should want to date anyway.” And I feel the same about jobs: “anyone who’d want to hire you, but only if you were less educated, is not someone who your higher self should want to work for.”

    I vividly remember that, in the early days of the web, Phil Greenspun directly addressed both of these problems, or perceived problems—the first with his fake ad for a PhD expunging service, the second with his dating simulator game (warning: NSFW).

  181. Fly on the Wall Says:

    @Scott #180

    6-2 is not a historical course of study at MIT. It is a watered down conglomerate of EECS, Aero-astro (course 16) and Mech-E(course 2). It tends to focus on off-the-shelf hardware integration and software systems such as robotics, UAVs, self driving cars, etc.

    You are confusing cause and effect. The reason that there is such a steep drop in 6-1 enrollment is that employers in those area have moved their employment offshore.

    With regard to Google and Facebook, they are advertising companies, and invest very little in hardware R&D, and what little they have mostly involves software and integration of off-the-shelf systems mostly made in Asia.

    They’ve crafted their image by promoting their efforts in hardware development such as Google Glass, self driving cars, and “quantum supremacy,” which are mostly product failures, but achievement and productization of these physical systems is always somewhere off on the distant horizon.

    Google and Facebook spend very little of top line R&D on these advanced projects. Most of their efforts utilize ready made systems and light weight software integration to keep their search engine advertising financed server farms running.

    So little wonder that these companies don’t employ many EEs from the MIT 6-1 track.

    And their age statistics (average age of Google employees is about 30) show that most of the CS graduates (from 6-2 and 6-3) they employ are “aged out” by the time they hit 35 or 40, which would give an MIT PhD at Google about five to ten productive working years before they are expected to move along.

    Little wonder then that in general, MIT grads (EE and CS) are not that interested in graduate studies. And if it is like this at MIT, you can bet that it is worse at most other institutions.

  182. amy Says:

    FOTW #178 – in Canada, women’s reproductive rights are also not in question. That is a far more important thing, as far as I’m concerned, than wage gaps are. You cannot build an independent life if you can’t control your own fertility, but are going to be held responsible nonetheless for raising and maybe supporting children. Housing, well, it’s unlikely she’ll live anywhere near TO. But friends from Halifax to Vancouver and up to Edmonton seem to make out okay on normal jobs. (Another plus: friends.) It helps if you don’t have the threat of ruinous healthcare expenses and college for your children won’t run you the price of a house apiece. The First Nations problems are real, though I will say they’re far more often addressed openly by various Canadian govts than our govts manage to acknowledge our own history of enormities here.

    I recognize, to my regret, that while my kid might make out okay there, I probably wouldn’t. Too American, too NY. I’ll just have to stick it out here. And no, I’m not in tech, never have been. I’m a writer in a science department. Very NSF, despite all the leaping at NIH. As for Ivy grads, “the ones I see” very definitely means “the ones I see.”

    About “public schools” — I should clarify; by that I mean “public universities.” (An aging Americanism.) While I agree that there are still some actual public Ivies, there aren’t many, and there’s a serious problem: they work only for the wealthy and for kids who live in those states. Kids with money can go wherever they want. But the public universities were built with the purpose of educating kids without that kind of money. (Hence “public”.) When out-of-state COA runs $50-60K, and a kid’s not going to be eligible for university scholarships because they’re reserved (as they ought to be) for in-state kids, that’s the end. I’ve had sharp students who’ve gotten into some very nice public out-of-state universities, but just didn’t have the money. So they stay here instead and try to make something happen in a university that is no longer built for them — and it’s not easy. They have to find the right professors in a giant school pretty early in the game, before they have any idea what’s going on. I used to see more kids playing the “establish residency” game to go out of state, but it’s just gotten too expensive for a not-rich kid to hang around somewhere pretending it isn’t for school for a year or two. Anyway, the upshot’s that while those public Ivies might do a nice job of generating workforce, that does nothing about the problem of nonwealthy brains and talent going to waste in the large majority of states that aren’t home to public Ivies.

    About threadbare public university systems…this is a nationwide crisis, one we’ve been talking about but not dealing with successfully for at least a decade. And it’ll get worse as the state-employee retirees pile in and states have to confront their public pension malfeasance. Illinois’ public university system is already collapsing — they just don’t have the money to pay people and keep the lights on. Connecticut’s system, I think it was, was seeking a $3B no-interest bond issue with a balloon payment a few years ago because they were having trouble servicing their existing debt. North Carolina is heavy on the debt scale, too, and they’ve even got the Research Triangle going for them. The flyover state systems have been scrambling for years — we’re now at a point shared by many others where we’re having to tell legislators that we cannot physically do the things they want us to do, not without more money. There’s noplace to put all the kids, nobody to grade the papers, nobody to teach extra sections even if you could rent a building to hold the classes in — nobody will take the jobs at the money offered, in some of these disciplines. If you’re in Boston, you can find an underemployed desperado in your field who’ll take the adjunct peanuts. If you’re in Grand Rapids, not so much. And again, for a long time we’ve had governments in power that just don’t see this as a problem. Raise the tuition, they say. If that means hundreds of thousands of kids can’t go, well, then they can’t go…though of course if they want to sign up with our bank’s indentured servant program, where they’ll major in the things we choose, and turn over 15% of their income over a number of years….

    K12 is another story, one I know some about, as I used to make my living writing state-specific K12 curriculum. The disparities, state to state, are vast and depressing; Common Core, while well-meant, was developed by a team with little understanding of what’s actually possible in the classrooms that exist, with the teachers and kids and parents and local cultures and attitudes toward education that exist. (I’ve worked for and know some of those people.) The guy at the head of that project is, if I’m remembering right, a Yalie who grew up with two Jewish professional parents in Manhattan; it shows. Cares a lot about ed. Doesn’t, as the song goes, know the territory.

    About Congressional corruption — I’m sure it doesn’t help a bit, and if they had been less corruptible the tech emperors might’ve had more respect for longer, but I think this is actually about something deeper, a change that started with the rise of transnational corporations in the 60s and 70s and accelerated tremendously with the globalization of the internet in the 90s. I do not think these guys (almost always guys) regard themselves as bound by citizenry, by the concept of the nation-state. I think they believe they’ve not only superseded it but that they’ve got every right, given the scale of their money and reach. The arrogance regarding government — what it is, how it works, its necessity, how hard it is to hold together and run, the necessity of understanding, and serving rather than exploiting, people who are not essentially themselves — is not surprising, but to me that doesn’t make it less galling. It seems to me they view the entire thing as vestigial. They were sitting in that hearing room like they were tolerating a visit to an old-age home that was about to be knocked down. I get the impression that the entire notion of a public servant is truly baffling to some of those people, like asking “What time is up?”

  183. Scott Says:

    Fly on the Wall #181: Is it possible that what you perceive as the US giving up its good EE jobs to foreign competition, others would perceive simply as some of the traditional subject matter of EE being “already more-or-less solved problems” and “already commoditized”—and hotshot MIT undergrads always gravitating toward whatever they see as the current frontier? (Whether that’s web apps, machine learning, or now cryptocurrency?)

    E.g., my best friend from undergrad was a brilliant EE major who worked for a time as a communications engineer at JPL—but who then decided to go back for a PhD in medical imaging, not because he couldn’t make a living building antennas, but simply because he “wanted to do something whose basic physics wasn’t already worked out by the late 1800s.” Other EE folks I’ve talked to have told me similar things.

    Actually, how to entice smart students into “less sexy” fields that are essential to civilization is something I worry about. If we can’t solve that problem, then I think we’re at risk of losing a lot of technological abilities that we had in the 50s and 60s, if we haven’t already done so.

    E.g., to fight climate change, the world desperately needs new nuclear engineers, and a lot of them—but who majors in nuclear engineering anymore? We also desperately need civil engineers, to build the seawalls, and fortify cities against floods and hurricanes, and rebuild what will get destroyed in the “500-year disasters” that will now happen every year or so, and repair crumbling infrastructure more generally.

    Or: how come the US used to be able to build subways and train networks at reasonable cost, but is no longer able to? There are many possible explanations, from political and bureacratic bloat to a probably-justified refusal to accept dangerous working conditions—but I can’t help wondering whether part of the problem is just that it’s hard nowadays to entice the most brilliant students to major in how to build and maintain subways. Wasn’t that, like, solved a hundred years ago? Who’d want to study that in preference to deep learning or Ethereum? And so we end up with a country where subways fall apart and nobody remembers how to fix them.

    In a pure free market, you’d imagine such problems would solve themselves, by the wages going up for unsexy engineering jobs until the demand was met. But it’s not a pure free market, and the students have extremely limited information, and for whatever other reasons the problem doesn’t seem to be solving itself. Any ideas?

  184. Fly on the Wall Says:

    @Amy (#182)

    Thanks for you well thought out and expressed comments. I’m in with many of your comments about affordability and education, but first I feel inclined to raise some red flags about Canada.

    Suffice it to say that reproductive choice is not a fait accompli in Canada, especially in provinces like Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia, and especially in rural areas.

    In addition to Toronto, residents in Vancouver and Calgary are experiencing horrendous housing prices compared to their salaries. I would say that the gap between take home salaries and housing prices is worse in Vancouver than anywhere in California:

    Regarding Canada’s healthcare system, it is not perfect, and many students, if they move between provinces, and newcomers to Canada, have trouble finding a primary care physician. Finding a good primary care physician in Canada can often take months and even years. In Canada, if you cannot get a good primary care physician, you cannot adequately access the health care system.

    Many universities in Canada do not provide dental or vision insurance for their students.

    Regarding students not being able to attend university out of state because of the very high out of state tuitions, yes, I agree that this is an injustice, but again, this problem, to a lesser extent, exists in Canada as well. For instance, out of province tuition to attend McGill is about $10,000 / year. Add on top of this the cost of living, which is at least $20,000/year in most Canadian cities, as well as the requirement to pay tax on tuition, and tax on RA or TA money awarded in Canada, and you can quickly see that a PhD is not affordable for most out of province Canadians. There are no Pell Grants (or similar) in Canada, and the NSERC award is reserved for only a very small number of students.

    On top of this, student loans are subject to a limited interest free period (6.5 years for undergraduate and Masters students, and 7.5 years for PhDs). Once you pass this time period, you are subjected to personal loan interest rates (7-10%, which accrue from the date of graduation or the limited interest free period, whichever comes first.)

    This is very different than in the US, where traditionally, the Pell Grant was held at very low interest rate for a very long period while it was being paid off.

    I do think it very sad that so many bright young people in Canada and the US cannot go to university because of affordability issues. This does then raise the question: Why are we importing so much cheap, minimally trained “skilled” foreign labor in Canada and the US, while we ignore many willing and able young people who could be trained or apprenticed into these jobs??

    Also, why do we turn a blind eye to the many students who do graduate with a STEM degree, at considerable personal costs of time and money, who cannot then find employment?

    This has been going on for years, both in Canada and the US.

    Given all of this, I’m not surprised that many people who have been sidelined from being able to get an education, or access the professional labor market, now shrug their shoulders about the taxation of graduate student tuitions.

    Amy, about this insight:

    “I think this is actually about something deeper, a change that started with the rise of transnational corporations in the 60s and 70s and accelerated tremendously with the globalization of the internet in the 90s. I do not think these guys (almost always guys) regard themselves as bound by citizenry, by the concept of the nation-state. I think they believe they’ve not only superseded it but that they’ve got every right, given the scale of their money and reach. The arrogance regarding government — what it is, how it works, its necessity, how hard it is to hold together and run, the necessity of understanding, and serving rather than exploiting, people who are not essentially themselves — is not surprising, but to me that doesn’t make it less galling.”

    I cannot agree with you more. I would say that I think the list of offenders is composed also of a few women, and I would add Laurene Powell Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg, Alice Walton, and a few others, to the list.

    Amy, thank you also for your comments on the sorry effects of trying to apply the K-12 common core without sensitivity to individual cultures and experiences. I worked a few years ago with the Blackfoot Native Americans, who exist in both Montana and Alberta, and I couldn’t help but think about what a great loss it was that more wasn’t done to allow them to integrate their own culture and language into the development of a school curriculum. They have worked hard to do this, but what a tough slog it’s been, with the governments of Alberta and Montana pretty much fighting and talking down to them all the way.

    I’m sure there are many other communities who are not well served by a blind application of common core standards.

    Thanks for your sensitive thoughts, Amy. Keep up the good fight.

  185. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Here is somebody who, I am sure, has plenty of money to distribute among like minded professors,

    “Jeff Bezos is the world’s newest $100 billion mogul.

    The Inc. founder’s fortune is up $2.4 billion to $100.3 billion, as the online retailer’s shares jumped more than 2 percent on optimism for Black Friday sales. Online purchases for the day are up 18.4 percent over last year, according to data from Adobe Analytics, and investors are betting the company will take an outsized share of online spending over the gifting season.”

    Somebody has to explain to me how I, and other taxpayers, should continue to subsidize a constant supply of cheap highly qualified labor to fund this monstrosity that has put so many small retailers -and others not so small- out of business.

  186. Fly on the Wall Says:

    @Scott (#183)

    “Is it possible that what you perceive as the US giving up its good EE jobs to foreign competition, others would perceive simply as some of the traditional subject matter of EE being “already more-or-less solved problems” and “already commoditized”

    I’m with Andy Grove on this one:

    Many supposedly “solved problems” are required skills needed by a large swathe of people to scale those “next frontier” successes toward manufacturability and profitability.

    When we offshore these supposedly “solved problems” to low cost centers offshore, we reduce the base of engineers who can move “next frontier” research projects forward toward manufacturability and high volume profitability.

    So, no, I don’t think that “solved problems” are so easily relegated to offshore low labor cost hubs without impacting our ability to move forward.

    I think most accomplished engineers do move around a lot, and some go back to school in different sub fields like your antenna design friend did. This is, however, not an inexpensive or risk free proposition, especially when many corporations will not hire engineers as they get older, regardless of how up to date their skills or training might be.

    Your comment:

    “I think we’re at risk of losing a lot of technological abilities that we had in the 50s and 60s, if we haven’t already done so.”

    Case in point: I happen to have taken quantum mechanics at the graduate level, nuclear physics, and some other obtuse subjects that most engineers today don’t take. Other people I know have taken subjects like quantum electrodynamics. So . . . I was watching the congressional hearing on quantum computing that someone put up on this blog a few weeks ago. One of the speakers in the video wrung their hands about what we should do about the lack of quantum trained engineers in the US. I had to laugh. Perhaps because I work mostly as a circuit designer, I guess people assume that I’m only specialized in this area. OK, I never actually worked in quantum computing. But to have this hand wringing and sky is falling discussion about people not being trained in QM is ridiculous. I bet there are thousands of still working engineers out there who have taken QM or nuclear physics who never were able to directly use it in the course of their careers. Is there a database of classes taken by working engineers in these supposedly desperately needed STEM subjects? (If there is, I’m still waiting to hear from these people.) Or is it assumed that if one hasn’t taken these classes in the last five years that complete brain erasure has occurred? I really don’t know, but there does seem to be a Chicken Little quality to these Congressional Hearings on our lack of STEM research and training.

    Regarding nuclear power, Canada does have its act together on this one:

    And, no, it wasn’t free market forces or self sacrificing engineers that enabled Canada’s nuclear program. What did enable it was a good regulatory relationship between Ontario Power Generation, private energy companies, and universities and Ontario’s Long Term Power Generation Plan.

    Subways? Come on! If there aren’t many infrastructure projects in the US right now, it probably has something to do with the lack of tax dollars to fund these very expensive projects. I strong doubt that the lack of infrastructure projects such as “subway building” has anything to do with a lack of willing and able structural and civil engineers.

    Scott, your comment:

    “But it’s not a pure free market, and the students have extremely limited information, and for whatever other reasons the problem doesn’t seem to be solving itself. Any ideas?”

    Here you go, my ten point wish list:

    1. Stop listening to cries about a STEM shortage and do more to employ engineers over the course of their careers at salaries that are reasonably competitive with other professions,

    2. Pressure companies that heavily offshore to bring some manufacturing back to the US,

    3. Enforce the use of the H-1B visit so that it is used primarily for highly trained STEM degree holders with Masters and PhD with high demand skill sets (and not bachelor degree holders with basic computing skills,)

    4. Set a wage floor for H-1Bs at $100K/year minimum,

    5. Enforce tariffs to limit manufactured goods coming into the US (if these goods are otherwise produced here, or could be,)

    5. Encourage corporations to increase the level of manufacturing R&D to at least 10% of top line revenue,

    6. Develop long term plans (10, 15, 20 and 25 years) for long term infrastructure and energy projects (and ensure that stake holders come on board),

    7. Regulate Wall Street so that it does not hobble long term infrastructure projects with unrealistic short term profitability requirements,

    8. Regulate monopolies, and if necessary, break them up,

    9. Block CEOs and other powerful board members from lobbying federal agencies and politicians,

    10. Leave taxes as they are until unemployment is lower and outsourcing has been reduced,

    There you go, Scott. That would be my ten point wish list.

    : )

  187. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Fly on the Wall #186

    “Or is it assumed that if one hasn’t taken these classes in the last five years that complete brain erasure has occurred?”

    This is a very good point. Nobody makes this point for lawyers or doctors, and yet, the notion that engineers are unable to keep up with new technology seems a given. I think that ageism is another reason bright American students shun STEM fields. Those getting into medicine or law don’t have to worry about being declared obsolete after the age of 40, in fact, quite the contrary.

    Another pernicious effect of the raise of Google and Facebook has been, indeed, ageism. Unlike say, Microsoft or Apple whose founders grew with their companies, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Sergey Brin never “grew up” together with their companies, rather, their explosive growth was due to the hiring of very experienced people at the top together with very young people at the bottom. The fiction was created that people older than 40 were useless and all three have proudly promoted the mantra that older people need not apply to their companies with very few exceptions such as Ken Thompson.

    Ir remains to be seen if these same people, as they grow older, will change their minds and acknowledge the damage they have done to American innovation. I am a bit hopeful given Mark Zuckerberg’s recent recant of his atheism and his touring of the United States. But even if the trend is reversed, the damage they have already inflicted to American innovation is profound and it will take decades to reverse.

  188. amy Says:

    Gatekeeper, you’re reminding me of a moment I had in class a few weeks ago. The kids were reading a Masha Gessen piece that was largely over their heads, and I hadn’t read it in a while. All of a sudden I was struck by the resemblance in her tone to Ayn Rand’s. Same hair-on-fire woman kind of tone — different warnings, but a very similar tone, and similar cadence. Escapees. I remember it because the first time I read Atlas Shrugged — I was the students’ age — it pissed me off so hard that I actually threw it across the room. I mean not just the poverty of the political thinking but the incredibly miserable fiction, not that you can expect a lot more from propaganda. But it pissed me off *so* much that a couple of years later I went back and read it again, just to see what it was that had aggravated me like that. And that time I heard the woman with her hair on fire. It was a genuinely pathetic thing, as in “involving pathos”, not “contemptible”. But I could see better why she was pounding and insisting like that, so breathlessly.

    When I say that the dismantling of “public” began with Reagan, that’s not invective; it’s fact. I was alive for it — working for a Congressman through part of his time — and remember the change. Under Reagan, grants for students were decimated, public universities were pushed to go behave like corporations. Anything with “public” in the name — public televisions, public museums, public utilities, public recreation programs, everything but public libraries (reprieved for a while) were pushed to become “public-private partnerships” or simply privatised outright. “The public sector” was for slobs — including teachers, government scientists, government anything. And suddenly the political question from the right wasn’t “why should we pay so much?” but “why should I pay at all?” Which was at the time a shocking question, because the answer, obvious to nearly all, was: because you’re not the only one here, mister. Those are trends that have intensified over the last fortyish years, nearly unabated, as far as I can tell. And “why should I pay at all?” is a question I hear routinely from the mouths of outraged youths enjoying a taxpayer-subsidized education, a remnant of the old world.

    I don’t worry that the US will become a land of capped salaries, government-selected occupations, and government-issued apartments. (Except for black people, because that’s been our story all along there.) These things just have nothing to do with this place and its history. Even serious censorship is an iffy proposition: we’re spectacularly bad at shutting up, though it’s a bad sign when Rich Uncle Pennybags shows up at Senate hearings — if we’ve got that kind of humor, things are bad. Nationalism is proving a tough sale, too. Our big abridgments of personal rights, outside a few I’ll get to in a minute, run all the way to things like: you can’t endanger your workers’ lives. You can’t foul the air and water freely. Your kids must have some sort of education, you must take care of them, etc. You must contribute to the maintenance of public facilities even if you don’t use or want them. The ways in which you can endanger yourself and others are limited. You must be licensed to practice professions. The details of these things are often onerous and expensive, sure. So are the details of many other worthwhile endeavors.

    (I’m also remembering the outrage of a suburban guy I knew at the loss of his high-flow showerhead. The guy wanted to shower under a waterfall, apparently, and the whole “you’re not the only one here” thing was lost utterly on him. And this was a major issue in his life, the showerhead. See, Ayn Rand comes to this in the end, she misnamed that other novel.)

    When I look back over our history, the only real usurpations we seem to be much good at involve enslavement or near-enslavement of nonwhites, the poor, and women; foreign wars of exploitation, and taking of land — from Native Americans, from city dwellers during urban-development projects, that sort of thing. Intellectual usurpations, intentional thwarting of talent, geographical corralling — beyond our eternal race war and misogyny, I don’t see that we’ve had much push in these areas. Corruption…yeah, we know how to block paths with corruption. But it seems to me that’s always sat side-by-side here with genuine shock at corruption and places that don’t operate that way. We don’t seem to lock it up very tight.

    So — anyway, no, I’m not very worried about the prospect of people’s being blocked, officially or subtly, from pursuing interests here…so long as the people you’re talking about are mostly white, mostly male. My expectation is that the biggest danger there will remain the increasing difficulty of getting there if you start out poor. Now, if you’re talking about pursuing interests while being paid handsomely for it, that’s another story, but I’d probably give it a big laugh and go off to get another cup of tea.

  189. Finn Says:

    @The problem with gatekeepers (185)

    >Jeff Bezos is the world’s newest $100 billion mogul.

    >Somebody has to explain to me how I, and other taxpayers, should continue to subsidize a constant supply of cheap highly qualified labor

    Jeff Bezos is an argument against public education, because he’s getting richer?

    Yes, we all benefit from an educated workforce in the United States. It’s good for the people and good for the companies. Which is why Trump’s tax plan that cuts taxes for people like Bezos is so harmful.

  190. amy Says:

    FOTW, thank you for the kind comments. The funny-not-funny thing about our new post-nation-state titans, btw — most of them are so *intensely American*. They appear to have no idea that there’s an entire culture, with a culturally-generated set of infrastructures, supporting their ability to do the things that they’re doing, and that it’s not a permanent feature of the universe.

    About Canada: yeah, I’m aware of prairie-province movements, like Wild Rose, that are much the sort of thing we’ve had trouble with here; otoh, compared with the situation and its fragility here, it doesn’t look bad at all. We’re one Supreme pneumonia case away from undoing a sadly-eroded Roe. (And you do get NDP surprises, though I don’t understand them.) Also aware of health-system shortcomings and deficits in dental/optical and also mental healthcare, and my sense is that some of this is not just a national/provincial-health problem, or a matter of cultural historical pressures to do with not actually needing any healthcare right now thank you, but also a problem of relative population sizes and national wealth. I had a Congolese student last year who’d been in med school in the Congo, was giving it another go here, and he asked me one day how it was that America had so *much*, when it came to healthcare, not just stuff and buildings sitting around but people, medicines, technologies…I blinked, and then I said, well, first you have an America, and then you have a world war that leaves America the wealthiest country in the world by far, and you bring all the scientists here, at which point he understood that there are things you probably cannot go home and recreate.

    On the other hand, rural areas here (as you know) are in some pretty desperate conditions medically. And of course depending on what goes on with ACA we could shortly be back in the bad old days, when you’d simply be terrified of getting sick enough to have to go to the doctor, and parents would stand in a sick kid’s room debating whether it was worth poisoning the insurance to take the kid to the doctor.

    As for student loans etc. – we’ve eroded the hell out of the Pell Grant program; you have to be quite poor to get one now, and it’s peanuts relative to in-state COA. Even our GI Bill students can’t cover costs on what they get. So the way they work it with loans is: you can probably get a subsidized loan in varying amounts, depending on what kind of student you are, and your grace period lasts six months post-graduation. After that you’re paying interest, which was pretty steep for a while; I don’t know what they charge now. Your loan will likely be sold to some loan-servicing corporation that will do its best to rob you, so you have to look sharp and be prepared to spend time fighting on the phone. Those loans, incidentally, won’t cover your COA, so your parents will be expected to take out private loans at shocking interest rates, too.

    I’m aware too that there’s been creeping Americanization of attitudes when it comes to university in Canada, with some of the wacked-out competition emerging and some obsessive interest in ranking. Also some of the less happy impulses towards quotas. But I don’t know how accurate my read is. An interesting thing, when we were looking at colleges a while back: I have a spookily clear sense of what kind of kids you find at colleges all over the eastern and midwestern US, but all that stops cold at the border.

    More to the point: it’s pretty easy to be a student in a new country, but not so easy for most people, I think, to make a life. I think that really would be the main thing.

  191. Tiger Says:

    The Business Insider data are for Class of 2016. The data for Class of 2017 and 2018 show continued surges in computer science majors at Princeton, Harvard, Penn, and other Ivies. Here are two more links.

  192. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Amy #188

    “I was there” sounds too anecdotal thinking to me. I was also “there” when the European Union was being sold to Europeans of my generation as the best thing to ever happen to humankind but I and other people saw the propaganda for what it was and said thanks, but no thanks. The notion that Ronald Reagan dismantled a utopian nirvana that was working for most Americans is demonstrably false if you take a look at unemployment rates, economic growth and importantly the defeat of Communism as a reasonable government system. In its current tradition, American academia back then was uber leftist. In the 1980s, the economics book written by Paul Samuelson -the Nobel Prize in Economics winner- said “the Soviet economy is proof that, contrary to what many skeptics had earlier believed, a socialist command economy can function and even thrive.” American academia has been living in its own bubble with its own sense of reality for a long time. I am not surprised you then thought things were great. They were probably great for you. I know a lot of people from Russia and other countries of the former Warsaw Pact that still cannot wrap their minds around the persistence of pro-Communist thinking in American universities. A long stay in one of Cuba’s prisons for political reasons will probably change their minds of many of these academics. Also, when it comes to Canada, people vote with their feet: the number Canadians -both in relative and absolute terms- who leave the Canadian utopia for the American “nightmare” surpasses the number of Americans who do the trip the other way. Something doesn’t add up in your narrative. I feel we are back to Jonathan Gruber’s “Americans are too stupid to understand…” -I am not saying you explicitly said this, but that’s how I feel reading your posts.

    Finn #189

    There is a huge connection. My contention all along has been that the current system of subsidizing STEM graduate education does not benefit Americans as a whole but people like Mr Bezos in particular. Scott, and those who believe the system should continue to exist in its current form, should ask Mr Bezos for financial assistance rather than the rest of us until they are able to articulate how the current system benefits American society as a whole.

    Tiger #191

    Thank you for the updated information. It seems the uptick of interest in CS is still happening. I also note that despite this uptick, Economics remains Harvard’s most popular major.

  193. Mirko Says:

    There’s just one thing to be said:


  194. Gil Kalai Says:

    I hope that it will be possible to remove the apparent drastic and unreasonable change concerning graduate students in US universities. Regardless of the ongoing legitimate right-left debate on taxation and other economic issues, this specific change regarding graduate students seems very bed to academia, science and engineering in the US. (And unjustified).

    Let me mention that I personally like the European and Israeli system where student’s tuition is kept low and is subsidized also and mainly for undergraduates! Tuition in Europe is very low compared to the US. Part of the reasons many people who are not independently wealthy are not pursuing PH D studies in the US (even now) is the extremely high cost for undergraduate studies in the US.

  195. Scott Says:

    Gatekeepers #185, #192: Jeff Bezos isn’t a “professor.” I may have missed something, but I’m not aware of any ties that he has to the CS research community, or any donation to basic research (even a small token one) that he’s made. I do know that he invested $30 million in D-Wave. Of course he’s free to spend his fortune on whatever he likes, but the idea that we can just “go to him for funds,” after the Republicans have finished burning down the entire post-WWII infrastructure of science in the US, is obscene.

    Like, what do we know from Jeff Bezos? I actually did meet Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and they were nice enough, but somehow it never came up in conversation whether they would take over the funding for American science in perpetuity. And even if they would, do you actually want a world where the whole scientific enterprise exists at the mercy of one or two companies or billionaires—especially companies and billionaires that you seem to hate?

    Hard as it might be for you to fathom, there are scientists in this world who don’t see themselves as working for Jeff Bezos or Google or any other person or commercial interest. They see themselves as working for clarity of thought and against ignorance, and in order that the future might be slightly less horrible than the past and present.

    You keep repeating that the post-WWII scientific funding model is obsolete and needs to be replaced, but I see no evidence that that’s true. As far as I can see, the model still delivers spectacular results wherever and whenever it’s still allowed to function. To a significant extent, the people you despise are the people who carry the American economy on their shoulders.

    Your unhealthy obsession with Bezos and Brin and Page, bordering on a verbal tic, makes me think, frankly, of some Russian bureaucrats who first prevent impoverished Jews in the Pale of Settlement from entering professions or trades—and then, when the Jews beg for lenience, laugh and say that if they need any money, they should just go to Lord Rothschild. Despite its odd specificity, this is actually a pattern that’s recurred over and over in the annals of human hatred: the screwing over of a relatively powerless group (Jews, nerds, grad students, kulaks), and its justification in terms of an alliance that exists, almost entirely in the oppressors’ fevered imaginations, between the oppressed and some rich and powerful bogey-individual (Lord Rothschild, George Soros, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page).

    Gatekeepers, the hatred and resentment on display in your comments, the unconcealed thirst for the destruction of the entire world that this blog is about, have gotten tiresome to me. You’ve said your part, again and again, and keep returning Tourette’s-like to the same rhetorical tropes. For the remainder of this thread, for however many days I’ll leave it open, I think I’m going to give other commenters a chance to discuss. Thanks for participating.

  196. amy Says:

    Well, it’s funny about what gatekeepers says about the EU. As it happens, “I was there” too. I was one of the many working in Brussels and elsewhere to make the EU happen, even though at the time I found the project very, very dubious. Not because the referenda sold hot air, which they did, but because I really did not believe that Europe was going to find it that easy to put to bed millennia of internecine and unbelievably bloody war. And, later, because it seemed obvious to me that trying to marry north and south like that economically was reckless and asking for trouble.

    I was right — and wrong. I understood at the time, as did most everyone working on the project, I expect, that the rationale was legit: Europe had no choice. It had to have a massively intrusive trade union and become a real single market, based on a single currency, if it was going to survive economically. And that once you go that far, you’re probably going to have to go at least the rest of the road to confederacy, so you may as well build for it. And I was right about the harmonisation hot air, and the lies about “it’s not about political union”, and the readiness with which old enmities would reëmerge, and the trouble about linking north and south.

    But I was also wrong about how well the project would succeed. It succeeded marvelously well — well enough to develop a culture, or make a new life for very old bits of culture. Only a few years after “Europe” I began meeting young people who called themselves Europeans, rather than [country]men, and seeing art and entertainment that regarded Europe in a place in a way I hadn’t seen as a living thing before. It was quite remarkable. It was sturdy enough to absorb the DDR; it was attractive enough that the whole ring of countries around wanted in. Twelve to 28. You can see the trauma in Remain, in the UK — it skews young, because these are people who’ve grown up seeing themselves as Europeans. Economically…I don’t pay the same kind of attention I used to, but it appears to me that in the main it’s been a success, with the serious exception of the continuously dangerous north/south problems and the reality that Germany — a unified Germany — was indeed calling the shots, meaning that the continent was and is relying very heavily on Germany’s good citizenship.

    As far as the revisionist 70s/80s US economic history up there goes: We had a bad time of it economically in the 70s largely because our industrial infrastructure — including our unions — refused to acknowledge that it was no longer 1955 and that the rest of the world had mostly caught up to us, and that we actually had to be competitive. I was there for that, too, and I doubt I’ll forget the slap in the face it was the first time I saw a modern plant in operation overseas. We were decades, even a century behind, dead man walking and didn’t know it. There are vacant corporate hqs and plantsite brownfields still left as monuments to the time. The GOP solution to the problem introduced a new and radical era of poverty, inequality, and violence in this country. I had a bitter taste of it before I moved here, where I’ve had a long reprieve.

    As for Communism in US universities at the time: someone’s been telling gatekeeper fairy tales. Marxism, big M and small, was passé in universityland by the 80s. Era of yuppies, investment banking, biotech, personal computing, jet sets and fancy shirts. It was an unbelievably hot party if you were too young and dumb to think about where the money was coming from. Small-m marxism, btw, is the stuff that survived through that time, and it has not to do with governance and economies but with social power relationships.

    Finally, as for Samuelson: oh, my Samuelson. I would have to see that quote in the ’89 edition to believe it, because I read my earlier (’83?) edition to bits and ain’t no praise of either command economies or autarky in there. Nothing in there to support such praise, either. I will say though that it did seem, and still seems, to me weirdly inconsistent. I mean sure, the bit about command economies, nobody thought that was a good idea, I mean I don’t know how many baloney NEPs you want before you’re forced to reckon with that. But the big argument on this side against Soviet economics was that you only get happy economies with vibrant free trade, which is why you can’t have a happy economy in a closed, autarkic system. The world, however, is only so big, and as far as I know we still don’t have those warp-drive intergalactic trading vessels. And if you look at US trade, it accounted at the time for something like, I think, all of 15% of GNP. (We still spoke in GNP then.) So it always did seem like a very iffy sort of argument to me. I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that Japan’s MITI, with its massive government-directed industrial investment programs, seemed to be crushing the competition everywhere at the time, so everyone was scrambling to figure out what the secret was, how they got it right so often and how to copy them.

    Anyway, what Scott says is right. I remember a long-ago interview with Mirsky where he’s fuming about, I think, NASA, saying the problem wasn’t that they wasted money, the problem was that they wasted ALL the money. The WWII-era program does not waste all the money, and — what can I say? — the hits keep coming. The massive stack of industrial R&D that uses the federal R&D as a basis seems to me proof enough of its success.

    Anyway anyway, I think gatekeeper’s thinking isn’t just paranoid; in the Gessen/Rand mode, it’s about the wrong country. It’s not trivial, the way that countries find their tunes and keep on playing them. Though maybe the Eagles said it better: “Aw but she can’t take you any way/you don’t already know how to go.”

  197. Mirko Says:

    This thread deserves a more differentiated one than the one I gave in #193 “give up and come to Europe”.

    #20 says ‘we won the election, the universities are the enemy, and now we harm them’.

    Why are the universities the enemy? Are the professors terrorists? Anti-Trump? Not bible-believing?

    The answer to this question is of utmost importance. If the universities have done something to harm the US, indeed something must be done. But I rather think that “the universities” just have the wrong opinion – anti-Trump, anti-Bible, whatever.

    But for these things a punishment is not adequate. In a democracy anyone can say whatever he thinks without having to fear a punishment. And winning an election doesn’t give anyone the right to do what he likes. I live in Germany, and sometimes I write in the internet very clearly that our governing party is a bunch of idiots wanting to turn Germany into a surveillance society. I do this on purpose, because a theoretical freedom isn’t worth anything. Only if I write this and suffer no consequences I can be sure to be free.

    Look at Poland. The PiS won the election and assumed they could do anything – overthrowing judiciary and so on. This is not how democracy works. A governing party cannot do whatever they want just because they won an election. And someone having “the wrong point of view” is not the enemy.

    Trump is a bad fate, but if more than a few senators assume they could do anything they like because they won an election and harm the enemy because of a wrong opinion, the US is no better than Poland or Hungary. And I fear this is the case.

    Thus my point is that democracy in the USA has ended because of a culture war. People and parties in the USA have to learn that there are two parties and different opinions all of which have a right to exist. Without this basic assumption a democracy becomes impossible.

  198. Fly on the Wall Says:

    @Amy (#196)

    “But I was also wrong about how well the project would succeed.”

    What about Greece? The reality on the ground in Greece is that taxation on revenue is about 80%. Here we are on this blog getting upset about a 10-30% tax on student tuition, and calling it the end of the world, while in Greece, an 80% tax is applied to all business revenue: you name it, taxi business, electronics shop, design and modeling consulting firm, regardless, an 80% tax is applied to satiate the demands of Merkel and Wolfgang Schauble, and punish the Greek people, for a financial situation that Germany itself created.

    Unemployment is Greece is approaching 50%, with most young people leaving the country en masse. Even educated people with advanced degrees from top institutions in the EU cannot find work. Old people on fixed incomes are starving and freezing to death.

    I also am familiar with the French ex pat community here in the US and can attest that they are more than happy to get out of France, and escape its high taxes.

    I am neither right, nor left, in my politics, and am not adverse to an intelligent fiscally viable application of social programs (my great uncle was the chief actuary behind the Canada Pension Plan for 30 years), but calling call the EU a success story is a joke.

    Your comment:

    “I doubt I’ll forget the slap in the face it was the first time I saw a modern plant in operation overseas. ”

    Which operations are you talking about overseas?

    A friend of mine worked for Hewlett Packard years ago, and was sent to China to visit one of their PCB manufacturers there. She told me that the workers were essentially bathed in acetone for 12 hours a day. And things haven’t really improved either:

    Have you visited an American manufacturing plant in the last 30 years? Probably not. We do have great manufacturing facilities in the US. We could have more, if dumbos like Apple weren’t so intent on paying their workers $12 a day. And don’t foul yourself that Tim Cook and the Apple board don’t know about what actually goes on at Foxconn. It’s very telling that dear Tim rubs elbows with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and many other senior Chinese officials, but hasn’t even met the mayor of Cupertino, and doesn’t pay a dime of tax locally in the place where Apple’s products are supposedly designed.

    All of this is to say that there is nothing wrong with American workers or American manufacturing facilities except that we are obligated by law to basics like overtime pay, a living wage, benefits, EEOC requirements, which corporations like Apple don’t want to adhere to, and therefore take their operations overseas.

    I don’t entirely agree with “gatekeeper”, but calling him paranoid and totally off the mark about the EU is a fail as far as I am concerned.

  199. Michael Says:

    I think Amy is wrong when she insists there’s no more Communism in United States universities. People are very bad at noticing what other people consider offensive. I’ve had to explain to liberals that there’s very good reasons aside from racism that an Eastern European might think of W.E.B. Dubois the same way they think of Richard Spencer. Generally, people like the Hollywood Ten are viewed as martyrs without acknowledging that they were apologists for ethnic cleansing. Many academics downplayed the extent of Soviet espionage before the 1990s. Haynes and Klehr wrote an entire book on the subject- “In Denial”.
    As for Samuelson, that quote appears on many websites, both left and right, including his entry on Wikipedia.
    I DO think that economics is now right-leaning but for example, historians of the Communist movement in America tend to be Communist apologists. The analogy Haynes and Klehr use is the Lost Cause of the Confederates- they couldn’t have sacrificed so much for slavery/ Stalinism- they had to have better motives. Of course, the real answer to gatekeepers’ complaints is that while their might be left wing bias in history or sociology, it’s hard to conceive of left-wing bias in STEM.

  200. amy Says:

    FOTW #198 – my language is still economist-bland in discussing these things. Greece’s near-black-hole state is subsumed in “dangerous north/south economic problems” — Greece (south) is in trouble because of the tremendous debt it really cannot pay back to Germany (north) and because of the Germans’…Germanness about it, the palpably strained forbearance and irritation and insistance on economic measures that might be tolerable (might) in Germany but haven’t got much to do with Greece. You can trace it all back to the pre-single-currency efforts at harmonisation, which was the best you could do while retaining sovereignty, but not good enough. I haven’t heard talk about Spain or Portugal lately but there were similar problems, and frankly I haven’t been listening for less world-headlines ones.

    Factories: At the time it was steel mills. We had a giant but dying steel industry at the time, and it was night and day, what was going on inside the mills here and elsewhere. And it was a real shock to see it firsthand, both sides. Unmissable, how deluded we were about our own place in the world. We were in the early-mid 20th c; they were in the 21st already. I understand that I was being shown showpieces. But I didn’t see showpieces like that here. And the thing is that you have two choices in big commodity industries, right: you can be a killer at the bottom or you can do the very expensive stuff up top. We’d lost the advantage at the bottom, because other countries were making creditable steel while treating workers like slaves, and we were kidding ourselves mightily about our prospects at the top, because management refused to believe how far ahead the others had run. Wouldn’t put the money in, wouldn’t admit we were behind. Hence very large aging post-industrial brownfield sites in the US rust belt.

    Factories in the last 30 years: I’ve not only visited, I’ve worked in a couple. I don’t know what to say except that the rust belt is…rusty. “Bending metal” is still a thing, it doesn’t pay, it’s commodity work. What distinguishes us, or did distinguish (I don’t know, I’ve never been) from China and others further down the chain, is that we have some semblance of labor regulations. If you’re going to poison your workers, you have to do it so slowly it can’t be pinned on you, or you have to do it all of a sudden and then get the lawyers ready. You can’t just poison them routinely and noticeably and then throw them away for a new crop; the feds will eventually arrive. People on the right complain bitterly about this sort of thing, but I notice that they’re not generally the ones disabled at 47 from industrial poisoning and accidents. Same thing with the footstamping for coal mining — I remember talking to coal miners out on strike. These guys looked 20 years older than they were, and a rough 20 years older. These aren’t jobs you’d wish on anyone, let alone want for your kids. I doubt that most of the people who are championing them have ever been anywhere near a mine or miners.

    France: had an interesting visit last spring visiting a govt-scientist friend in Provence; she’s got two college-aged kids, husband’s an exec. They live pretty beautifully on his salary alone, which is monklike compared to US counterparts’; it’d leave you wondering what you were going to do for money for your kids’ education in the US. They don’t worry about healthcare. Their food is beautiful and less expensive than ours; my daughter still rhapsodizes over the bread and butter. In a tiny village there are dozens of buses a day connecting to other towns and Marseille; public transit works. Roads in good shape, too, if congested. Art and culture of all kinds are free and open and ubiquitous in a way I haven’t seen since NYC of the 1970s: they want the kids to know, they want this stuff to be part of life. The kids are either in college for nominal money or are actually being paid to take quite rigorous courses, and after graduation they have a great deal of choice about where they can live and work; they can go seek opportunity. They travel regularly. Yes, my friend beats her forehead bloody on the wall of regulations about doing so much as ordering supplies for her lab, and there’s never money, and she’s not likely to go any further up the ladder careerwise because she made tactical errors 20 years ago. On balance? She ain’t moving back.

    When people are running away from social-dem tax regimes I think it tends to be the most able and impatient, the ones who feel personally thwarted and personally attacked by it. And they get what they’re asking for, usually, when they go to live in a place that’s far more cruel, like this one, and then their luck runs out — they have a child with a disability, or they get sick themselves, or their industry evaporates and they’re superfluous and not young anymore, or suddenly much bigger fishes emerge, and they find that the flip side of “do what you want” is “to hell with you, you don’t exist”. I don’t think it’s a goer, that kind of selfishness. I mean I’ve run up against it too: I’ve sometimes worked in organizations where I wasn’t union, but the workforce was mostly union and my job was union-inflected, and I’d get bosses physically turning off my computer in front of me and telling me to go home and not work at home. Which, of course, made me crazy. There were things I wanted to do. But I also recognized that I’m an outlier in this regard, and that the way I work is not only terrible but impossible for most people. And that I’m not the only one here, mister, and people have to be able to make a living in some tolerable way that doesn’t use them up by the time they’re 45. So I’d go home and develop other things to do, do my own work. I live in absolutely zero fear of being told to stop it. Could I be stopped from publishing, or getting paid for writing? We’ve had that sort of thing before, briefly; it could happen. Would I be stopped from *working*, from writing? No, I don’t think so. We don’t really do intellectual gulags here; we’d have to change pretty substantially for that, I think.

    Along those lines, incidentally: Gatekeeper went lowering around about Cuban prisons. As it happens I’m in the middle of reading Václav Havel’s letters from prison to his wife, 1979-1983. That was a decent test of being shut up. Limited to four pages a week, limited strictly on subject, cut off from his milieu, heavily censored and harassed by the prison boss, not to mention neurotic as hell and unrelenting in his demands for vitamins and cigarettes, and yet he still managed to work seriously around the censors and come out with stuff that would be foundational for work he did when he got out, maybe foundational to his trajectory to the presidency. You really have to go a very long way to stop someone from doing their work when they have powerful motive to do it.

    Gatekeepers’s paranoia: I was referring to his fears for life in the US. And no, I don’t think he’s correct on his old deep suspicion of the EU. It’s a little hard, from here, to remember just how creaky the European economies were in the 70s and 80s, how expensive it was trying to do business in a dozen little countries at once and in a dozen currencies, and how substantially removing those barriers opened up commerce. The other connective structures weren’t around yet — the $20 two-hour flights across Europe and of course, for most people, the internet. You still had to take a boat to the UK, schlep to Calais or wherever and ferry across. Poland was forever away, exotic. The deformities of 90s/00s finance hadn’t inflicted themselves on the societies yet, either. But on the whole I see a Europe that’s much stronger, and indeed more powerful, than it was 30 years ago.

  201. amy Says:

    Michael #199, I’d want to see that quote in the actual book, in its context. All kinds of things are repeated endlessly online and written into wikis; it doesn’t mean they’re true. My guess is that I’m part of a very small minority in that conversation who has actually read a Samuelson intro econ text extensively, and I have real trouble squaring “command economy, sure, why not” with the edition that came one or two before.

    I can also see why Eastern Europeans of a certain age would look at things going on here and see terrible warning signs. The problem, as I mentioned before, is that they’re looking at the wrong country, with the wrong history. Is it impossible that those things could happen here? No. Is it unlikely? Yes. We have our own themes, our own cycles, and they’re not the same ones. It’s why Baldwin went to live in France. Sure there’s racism there. But racism there against blacks is not the same thing as racism against blacks here; the history is different, the songs are different, the intent is different. And that made France easier, a more likely place to live as a human being, be treated as a human being. Is it unreasonable that an Eastern European would misinterpret what he’s seeing here? I don’t think so. You know what you know. But that doesn’t mean that it’s an accurate read.

  202. Fly on the Wall Says:

    @Amy (#200),

    Greece is not a near “black hole state”.

    It has one of the most educated populations in Europe, a tourism industry, a fashion industry, a food industry, very good universities, a functioning health care system and even a fragile high tech sector. All of these industries, with a few carve outs for things like tourism and health care, stagger under one of the highest taxes on revenue in the world.

    And why is this? It has been imposed to pay off the debt, which Greece took on in the 1990s and early 2000s, when German banks (and some French banks) decided to ply Greek officials with easy money for unneeded mega construction projects (and carried out by German engineering firms and employees of Germany to prop up their economy.)

    Contrary to the phony baloney story that you constantly read in the press, Greeks are not lazy, and do not want to retire early. The only reason they retire early is because their formerly profitable businesses are no longer viable due to the 60-80% tax.

    Germans (and Europeans and North Americans) love to vacation in Greece, and Greeks are invariably gracious hosts, but even that is now wearing thin. Greeks are not really interested in wiping out their history and becoming a faceless and nameless satellite of Germany. Should it become necessary, they will pull the plug on the EU.

    I also don’t know that much about the economies in Spain, Italy, and Portugal, but I can say that Spain, like Greece, seems to be burdened with a lot of huge megaprojects (toll super highways, monstrous airports) that they didn’t really need and that benefitted mostly the lenders and firms in rich European countries.

    So, anyway, I would not consider the EU to be a success.

  203. Michael Arc Says:

    If the US is becoming a rogue nation, shouldn’t we hope that it does things in the right order and drives its scientists out first? Think how much better off the world would have been if the Soviet Union had driven out (and allowed to leave) their scientists rather than putting them in relatively protected bubbles and directing their efforts primarily towards military applications.

  204. Scott Says:

    Michael #203: Congrats; that’s the first comment in this entire thread that actually made me pause to consider whether the destruction of graduate education in the US might be good!

    But I’m not ready to give up on the US yet—especially since we learned from Brexit, and from the surge in far-right parties across Europe, that whatever forces brought Trump to power actually afflict the entire Western world—succeeding in some places and failing in others only because of the details of electoral systems and other contingent factors. I’d rather stay in the US and keep fighting for Enlightenment norms.

    Incidentally, if it does become impossible to do science in the US, where do you suggest American scientists should pack up and go: France? (And if Macron loses to Le Pen in the next election?) Australia? New Zealand? Singapore?

  205. amy Says:

    FOTW #202 – again, I was speaking from economicsland; when I said “black hole state” I meant the economic implosion Greece’s default threatened, not just for Greece but for who knew who else in the EU. I don’t argue with anything you say about the German debt, though I’m aware of German arguments with what you’ve said. Again, though, this problem was baked in when the EU architects tried to paper over the economic disparities that existed among the twelve.

    Scott #204, if the American postwar scientific order collapses here, and the far right takes over in Europe, I think that’s game over, no? I don’t see that anybody else with this cultural setup has money on that scale. You’d have to rebuild. I will see I’m seeing a whole lot of interest in Australia, though, and I was surprised during the March for Science organizing to see how very active the Australian M4S groups and how many of them were. I think the scientific activity is underappreciated here.

  206. Raoul Ohio Says:

    MA #202 and SA #203,

    Given that there would not be any free democracies anywhere without the US, you better hope we get stuff fixed here.

  207. jonas Says:

    Scott #204: see, that is exactly what worries me. Five years ago, when I heard about how the U.S. denies visa for some asian students, or doesn’t allow them to return to the U.S. after they visit their family even once during a whole Ph.D. program, I would have heartily recommended everyone to move to Europe and hold all the conferences and graduate programs here. But the situation has suddenly gotten much worse in Europe since. It’s much harder to get funds for research, and visiting scientists are denied their visa here as well.

  208. GS Says:

    Scott #204. France, sadly, does not need Le Pen. I am a European citizen. I was living in France as a PostDoc. The French authorities were repeatedly denying the cart de sejour (residence permit) to my wife, a non-EU citizen, for 16 months _despite_ a bunchload of EU regulations. I stress out that according to EU laws, they were _obliged_ to give residence permit in the presence of her passport, our marriage certificate, and address within 6 months from the date of application.
    I took the case to the European court. They couldn’t care less (probably busy buying yet another Porsche). We were fed up and left France (and any prospect of academic development in France).

  209. Pickle Jar Says:

    JimV #102, please, petty nitpicking is all you have to offer? I was addressing Scott’s claim from the post that was referring to the “developed world”. (One could argue about the validity of the “counterexamples” that make the US “only” fourth, but that would only be further nitpicking.)

    Your point (b) is irrelevant. I wasn’t advocating for lowering the corporate tax rate. In fact, I specifically mentioned the reason why the US can sustain higher corporate tax rate compared to other countries. I also think that closing loopholes is probably the most important revision of the tax code that one can support (“low and flat”). Scott’s claim was that lowering the corporate rate will only help those filthy rich people (that we hate, of course) who already enjoy low tax rates. I think there are good reasons to argue that this claim is not supported by fact.

  210. Pickle Jar Says:

    FOTW #202, so a country that is ruled by corrupt politicians that take on debt and the refuse to repay it is your model of a successful state?

    I didn’t hear the claim about Greek people wanting to retire early. However I did hear that only a sucker would pay their taxes in Greece, since there is no enforcement and the social norm is of evading. The tax rate can be 150% if you want, it doesn’t matter if nobody actually pays.

  211. T.J. Babson Says:

    Let’s look at things from the perspective of an ordinary American.

    The median personal income in the U.S. is about $31K. Grad students make almost this much, especially if you consider that grad students pay no payroll taxes. And–let’s be frank–most grad students are not killing themselves. They may put in long hours, but a lot of that time is spent socializing or browsing the internet. Also, most foreign students do not have to pay U.S. income taxes.

    So the ordinary American sees that graduate students make about the median income, have pleasant working conditions, and don’t work particularly hard.

    So when people start saying “the sky is falling” because some grad students may have to pay an extra $1000 per year in taxes, the average American just rolls his eyes.

  212. Scott Says:

    amy #205: I think that “game over” for science would mean “game over” for civilization itself, with perhaps a generation or two of time lag. So as long as there’s any country on earth, even one, that was still willing and able to support basic science, I would urge scientists to move there. Or, in the likely event that no one country could absorb them all, I’d urge scientists to disperse among all the countries that still upheld Enlightenment norms and values.

    In the sad future you envision, I suppose the scientific community could learn from the Jewish one, which managed to survive (barely…) according to this basic M.O. for 2000 years.

  213. Boaz Barak Says:

    Babson #211, the grad students I interact with are the absolute top graduates of CS programs worldwide.
    Most could easily step into Google/Apple/Microsoft/etc.. at any point and quadruple their salary for a job that would require them fewer hours with working conditions that are no less pleasant.

    They stay because they want to be part of discovering something new and expanding human knowledge. I think it’s a good thing in itself, and historically the work of scientists like them has contributed more than anything else to raising the quality of life of people everywhere including the so called “average Americans”. This is not a “zero sum game” and it is in the interest of humanity at large and the U.S. in particular that this work continues.

    I would not say that the “sky will fall” if this tax plan goes through, and of course even if it does, I hope that it
    will be reversed in 2020 with a Democratic legislature, though I hope they would try to think what’s best for the country as a whole rather than playing a game of “let’s punish the other party’s voters”. But this will do a very significant harm, e.g., see

  214. jonas Says:

    Re GS #208: yes, I heard people in Sweden have similar problems obtaining the necessary legal papers for entering or re-entering the country.

  215. Scott Says:

    T. J. Babson #211:

      graduate students … have pleasant working conditions, and don’t work particularly hard.

    Hahahahaha. Counterpoint: every PhD Comics for the last 20 years. Or to summarize my own experience in a sentence, I’d say that academic research is a job with extremely flexible hours … so flexible that they expand to fill what the rest of the world knows as “time off.”

    And don’t worry, if grad student life ever becomes too easy, there are always advisers like me to pile on some more work… 😀

  216. Raoul Ohio Says:

    For another inning with “I’m going to get in trouble …”, I quote: “To quote Raoul Ohio #83: “A slightly bigger picture is that Republicans have been trying to destroy education at all levels for decades. And it is no mystery why this is: Educated people are more likely to realize that Republican policy is to screw pretty much everyone to transfer wealth to the wealthy. Keeping more people uneducated translates directly into more Republican votes.

    This kind of rhetoric is what I’m against.”

    And I reply: Is this statement not at least 99% correct?

    If you know of some other reason for the Republican war on education, please let us in on it.

  217. Scott Says:

    Raoul #216: To be perfectly fair, I have no idea whether the Republicans actually think about this causally, as in “if we can prevent people from getting advanced degrees, then they’ll be more likely to vote for us.” All I’m sure about is that they want to punish the kind of people who are likely to get advanced degrees, in order to flatter the self-conception of the kind of people who don’t (even if they’re not actually helping the latter kind of person in any concrete way, and indeed are making life harder for them).

  218. Jay Says:

    Scott #204,

    At the risk of stating the obvious, the word you’re looking for is ‘Canada’. 😉

  219. fred Says:

    Scott #215

    My experience from 20 years ago is that foreign graduate students are literally squeezed like lemons.

    I had friends who came from Europe and did some Master program thesis at UCLA that dragged on and on for years (the work equivalent of a PhD). But they had no choice because their immigrant status was tied to their student status.

    Hearing this, I was smart enough to get a Master at C.U. where no “thesis” was required… and I turned down all the PhD offers I got there.
    After graduation I ended up working at a spinoff startup created by a C.U. professor who also “recruited” all the PhD students from his department (who had been toiling on their PhD for a few years already).
    At some point the PhD students realized they had been totally screwed over (regarding their stock options), so they all decided to quit together.
    There were threats and intimidation from the main investors in the startup, to no effect, so the professor eventually retaliated by canceling their PhD thesis.
    They each had to find a new adviser back at C.U. to finally finish their PhD thesis and maintain their immigration status.

  220. John Stricker Says:

    Scott #204:

    Well, to Germany, of course! A reverse “Operation Paperclip”, if you will…

  221. Scott Says:

    John #220: Well, I read the articles about the few hundred American Jews who are moving to Germany because they no longer feel safe in Trump’s America. I reflected that 70 years might be some kind of time-constant for world-historic irony.

  222. Scott Says:

    Jay #218: Yes, of course! When I reread my comment this afternoon, that omission just aboot leapt off the screen at me—forgive me, O Canada!

  223. amy Says:

    Scott #218, I’m sure you’d make out okay in Canada, but that’s a limited-capacity scientific boat for sure. Funding is already tight and while Harper’s gone, a lot of the people who worked with him aren’t. And I’d been thinking about Berlin for lots of reasons, not least the subscription to the Berliner Philharmoniker’s digital concerthall that I’ve been burning up lately; you can’t watch the movies about Abbado and the terrible Wim Wenders one about the building without being struck by how deliberate the effort to look at the past and make remedies has been. I’ve also got an old student who’s doing fine in Chicago but really ought to go to Berlin, and it hit me anew that cities have moments that pass, and that he should go now, if he’s going to go.

    Anyway. Maybe things will continue as they’ve gone, ish. And maybe not. Which is why, again, I keep suggesting to scientists that they think about this: how would you go on doing your work without the grants and social standing, what could you do without those. How would you teach. How would you look after your students so that they can come and learn. How would you help other established scientists who’ve been less nimble or fortunate (more thought along those lines needs to be given to the many displaced by war and other disasters recently anyhow). How much of what you teach now is actually training in how to get along in the current basic-scientific world, what would you jettison, what would you teach instead. A bit of planning is not a bad idea.

  224. Fly on the Wall Says:

    @Pickle Jar (#210):

    “so a country that is ruled by corrupt politicians that take on debt and the refuse to repay it is your model of a successful state?”

    I don’t think you would get too much argument from Greeks that their politicians are corrupt.

    “I did hear that only a sucker would pay their taxes in Greece, since there is no enforcement and the social norm is of evading.”

    Well, Pickle Jar, I guess you heard an ethnically motivated, hateful, stereotyped and incorrect statement.

    Greeks for the most part, do not, and actually cannot, evade the 24% VAT (value added tax or sales tax), which is applied to all goods, cars, furniture, including clothes, food and restaurants.

    All businesses are obligated to pay a 29% tax on profit.

    Greeks must also contribute, at a rate of 25% of each employee’s salary, to the national pension fund. [note that in US, the employee pays 6.2% of their income into Old Age Security, up to a maximum of $135K per year, and the employer matches this. The total amount paid between employer and employee percentage wise in the US is less than half of what is paid in Greece.]

    Between the 24% VAT, the 29% tax on business profits, and the heavy burden of employer shouldered pension fund payments, it is not uncommon for Greek businesses to end up running at a deficit and shut down.

    Some information on Greek taxes:

    Before 2010, the VAT was at 19% (not 24%) and the business tax on profits was at 25% (not 29%). It is notable that most Greek small businesses have failed in the last five years, and cannot shoulder the additional 10% combined burden imposed in 2010 of a 5% increase in the VAT and a 5% increase in the business tax on profit.

    It is true that some small Greek businesses do not declare all of their income and operate on a cash only basis, but that is not different from here in the US, where hair stylists, gardeners, taxi drivers, some auto mechanics, etc, want to be paid in cash, in order to avoid declaring their full income. Other than that, I think you would be hard pressed to say that Greeks pay less tax than other Europeans. In fact, they probably pay much more on a percentage basis of their income, compared to Germany or France.

    Looking at the expenditure end of things, about half of the current Greek debt (300 billion euros), went to too generous pensions and benefits since 2006.

    The other half (300 billion euros) went to infrastructure projects, large and small. Infrastructure projects in Greece since 2002, such as the Egnatia Odos, the Athens Ring Road, the North South Highway and the Athens Airport, were nice to haves, but were not affordable for a small scale economy such as Greece. And German banks and contracting companies did make out quite nicely “lending” this money to a small country which they knew could not realistically repay it.

    In any case, Pickle Jar, Greece is tired of being the whipping boy for the EUs lavish and mismanaged ways, and is quite prepared to go it alone, if necessary.

  225. I'm gonna get in trouble for this Says:

    Scott #195:
    Am I to understand that you’ve now blocked gatekeepers’ comments on this thread? If so, fair enough as this is your blog, but you should really say so in explicit terms; this wishy-washy “it’s time to let other people discuss” (as if they haven’t already been doing that this whole time?) nonsense feels weaselly at best.

    Raoul Ohio #216:
    I can’t speak for Republicans in general (I’m not really even a Republican myself), but your statement strikes me as extremely not correct. And your phrasing demonstrates the lack of clear, honest thought that you’ve given to the subject: “If you know of some other reason for the Republican war on education, please let us in on it.” You know that famous example of the loaded question, i.e. ‘Have you stopped beating your wife’? You’re doing precisely the same thing, and there’s a reason that this sort of thing is considered dishonest, dirty rhetoric.

    As far as I can see, progressives are a far greater threat to education than Republicans are, because the progressive intrusion (political propaganda, censorship and intimidation) threatens our core principle of the free and civil exchange of ideas. Republicans, on the other hand, represent at worst a monetary threat. If we’re gonna talk about a systemic ‘war on education’ the former is a better fit. It’s more consistently waged; it’s more inexorable; and the damage it does is more permanent.

    And to view the monetary threat as existential is to ignore the obvious fact that many top universities are at their absolute peak in wealth and influence and have been trending upward in both for decades. Endowments, for example, are far larger now than they were even ten or fifteen years ago (especially at the top universities). And yet Scott rants about how this tax threatens “the destruction of graduate education” – as if graduate education was in a state of ruin in 2003 because Harvard back then only had $20 Bil, rather than the $40 Bil it now controls.

    In personal terms, I can’t be happy about this tax because it does present an immediate threat to my own financial security and the financial security of my friends. But I recognize a distinction between my own interest (and of my friends), and the fate of the world – something that often seems to elude the tribally-minded Scott.

    Scott #217:
    In some ways this is better than Raoul’s position – Hanlon’s razor and all – but in some ways it’s just as terrible. You effectively postulate that a huge segment of voters consistently votes against its interest; and you effectively chalk this up to “they’ve been bamboozled by sinister Republicans and they’re too dumb to see otherwise”, or (in an occasional post) “they just have terrible values and are willing to lose money to indulge those terrible values”. This kind of cavalier attitude is a good indicator that you haven’t been looking hard enough for why they might feel the way they feel.

    You can turn on any kind of fashionable media – Last Week Tonight is the epitome of the kind of thing I’m talking about – and see the raw contempt that we, as a class, have for the poor benighted “small-town conservatives”. At the Rally to Restore Sanity, Jon Stewart said in his ‘Moment of Sincerity’ speech:

    “This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith, or people of activism, or look down our noses at the heartland, or passionate argument, or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are, and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times.”

    Have you ever wondered why Stewart said that? Why he felt the need to clarify that his rally wasn’t about ‘[looking] down our noses at the heartland’? He had to say that because every dog on the street knows that the demographic his rally catered to – the same demographic that dominates the universities – absolutely seethes with contempt for the ‘Red Tribe’ (as Scott Alexander, one of the few actually respectful Blues, calls them).

    So, duh, of course the Red Tribe might feel a tiny bit of dislike for the Democratic Party and the constellation of media entities and “social science” departments orbiting it. Wouldn’t you do the same, if someone with way more power and money than you had spent decades seemingly doing nothing but spitting on you from a great height? [I know that ‘spitting’ isn’t the usual word used here; but I presume you wouldn’t want me to type the idiom in its usual form]

    And if you think I’m accusing you of being part of the problem, rest assured that I absolutely am. What’s funny is that after posting insult after insult at the Red Tribe, as a people, you think you should be able to win them back over to your side with paltry economics. In fact, you’re shocked and dismayed that this doesn’t work, and take it as proof that they really are stupid, or have “horrible values”!

    [And besides, Scott, how confident are you that, with all your unquestionably powerful mental artillery, you really understand economics and know what policies will help the typical rural conservative? What reasons have you to expect them to believe you after the way you’ve insulted them?]

    I’m sure you’ve read this, but I want to remind you of it:

  226. I'm gonna get in trouble for this Says:

    Nilima Nigam #146:

    Thanks for your reply, but I think you misunderstood my post.

    I’m not drawing a parallel between the Canadian and American systems. I was pointing out an instance of obvious left-wing academic censorship and intimidation; I picked that example because it was very recent, as in happened-this-week (at the time). I can give dozens of cases involving American universities too (and I gave one in that post too, the ‘Harvard Email Controversy’).

    I will say that I am drawing a parallel between the academic cultures prevalent in Canada and the United States (as opposed to funding systems or what-have-you); perhaps you feel that they differ significantly, and if you do I welcome a discussion of this. But to me, American and Canadian academics are basically part of the same larger milieu of the greater Western academy – a child of the post-war American university system. When I mentioned the Wilfrid Laurier U incident, it was as an example of the tendency in this wider milieu towards more and more explicit leftist political propaganda, censorship, intimidation, etc. Some countries’ universities may be further along in the process than others; but with very few exceptions I see the whole system trending this way.

    PS. As far as my name – “I’m gonna get in trouble for this” – it is partly tongue-in-cheek. I don’t expect to get in trouble, though I also consider it a non-negligible possibility. The Wilfrid Laurier U student was, in general terms, accused of making the university space ‘not safe’; I obliquely defended Larry Summers in an earlier post, maybe I can be accused of being anti-woman, etc. And the fact that this is a public forum is no defense; the student involved in the ‘Harvard Email Controversy’ was punished for something she wrote in a private email:

    Again, not something I expect to happen per se, but something which doesn’t strike me as implausible.

  227. The problem with gatkeepers Says:

    Hi Scott,

    Again, I do not expect this to be published, but this is my only way to communicate to you.

    I echo “I’m gonna get in trouble for this”‘s sentiment that I also believe that you are part of the problem although in all fairness at least you are willing to engage people like me for a while. Other interlocutors I have had over the years accused me of having the “level of intellectual honesty and consistency that it takes to run for Congress” much earlier in the conversation.

    The thing you don’t seem to understand is that the moment you tell somebody that he/she is “acting against their interests” you have crossed the line of being patronizing. Each of us has a different vantage point colored by our beliefs and previous experiences. You might believe that cracking the potential of Quantum Computing is the greatest endeavor a computer scientist can engage in in 2017. I respect that but other computer scientists think differently which is why not every computer scientist in 2017 works on Quantum Computing. When it comes to one’s life choices the difference is even more dramatic. You might be unable to understand why somebody would prefer, after high school, to join the military but that’s what General Mattis essentially did -from his wikipedia page it seems he went to college as ROTC- and our country benefits greatly of having had somebody of his courage and intellect serving in the military first, now as Secretary of Defense.

    And I say this while at the same time acknowledging your courage confronting the Social Justice Warriors that tried to destroy your career. But you see, the two things can be true at the same time: you being patronizing towards the so called “Red Tribe” and you being courageous confronting the nonsensical SJW.

    As you grow older, you’ll realize that there isn’t any human being who is 100% hero and that there are very few who are 100% villains. Praising somebody in some respects doesn’t mean that one agrees with that same person on everything or that one doesn’t have to criticize that person when he/she crosses an offensive line.

    I encourage you to watch this excellent video by Simon Sinek on how millennials like the world . Admittedly somebody born in 1981 is borderline millennial but having met closely people born around that year, I see some of those tendencies in your posts. For example, saying that I represent the second coming of Lenin for writing what I wrote is definitely millennial-ish as is your habit to use social media to tell the world about your life and your thoughts. Even this whole post can be seen under the lenses of the millennial impulse to “have an impact” as if the people writing the bills cared about what you have to say -they don’t. And in fact, many Democratic lawmakers -those who represent traditionally Democratic working class districts- don’t give a damn about your rants either. It’s only the bicoastal elite that resonates with this post. Being generous that’s at most 15% to 20% of the American public. As much as this elite has dominated the Democratic Party for years with their money, they are not even a majority among the base of the Democratic Party.

  228. amy Says:

    trouble etc: I teach small-town conservatives and work with people who grew up amongst them. I am absolutely a late-in-life convert to the idea that they’re voting en masse against their own interests and have no idea that they’re doing so. The ignorance is profound, resistant, and intentionally promoted. The shock and dismay when they do realize how deeply they’ve been conned and misinformed is also profound. They aren’t a bit stupid, most of these kids (okay, some are, but you get this anywhere), and they’ll put up a spirited promotion of whatever garbage they’ve been taught. But because they aren’t stupid, or mendacious, they’re susceptible to reason. You often have to clear away multiple sets of garbage-“facts” marshalled in defense of whatever tenet they’re defending, but, like I said, they’re not dumb, and eventually they realize that a good bit of what they were told growing up cannot be, and likely never was.

    I will also say that I get quite a few young firebrands lately who’re considerably left of anything I know anyone to be teaching. I mean some real old-fashioned stuff. Wherever they’re getting their politics, it’s not this commie godless bastion of parasites, hopheads, and rootless cosmopolitans.

    Remember that media map showing red and blue media bubbles, and how the red one turned out to be all huddled up against itself far over to the right, while the blue bubble was far more diffuse, sprawly, and likely to have connections with red sites? You might take that as instructive.

  229. Sniffnoy Says:

    You effectively postulate that a huge segment of voters consistently votes against its interest; and you effectively chalk this up to “they’ve been bamboozled by sinister Republicans and they’re too dumb to see otherwise”, or (in an occasional post) “they just have terrible values and are willing to lose money to indulge those terrible values”. This kind of cavalier attitude is a good indicator that you haven’t been looking hard enough for why they might feel the way they feel.

    You can turn on any kind of fashionable media – Last Week Tonight is the epitome of the kind of thing I’m talking about – and see the raw contempt that we, as a class, have for the poor benighted “small-town conservatives”. […] He had to say that because every dog on the street knows that the demographic his rally catered to – the same demographic that dominates the universities – absolutely seethes with contempt for the ‘Red Tribe’ (as Scott Alexander, one of the few actually respectful Blues, calls them). So, duh, of course the Red Tribe might feel a tiny bit of dislike for the Democratic Party and the constellation of media entities and “social science” departments orbiting it. Wouldn’t you do the same, if someone with way more power and money than you had spent decades seemingly doing nothing but spitting on you from a great height?

    I don’t think your argument goes where you think it does. You start out trying to argue that these people are not in fact voting against their own interest, but your actual argument is about how they feel. However, acting on one’s feelings is not in fact a way to consistently advance one’s interests. You are really not making much of an argument that they are, in fact, acting rationally.

    (I’ve noticed leftists/SJers do this a bunch too — excusing rioting or other destructive and counterproductive behavior with, oh, but they’re justly angry! And therefore this is the right thing to do! No. That doesn’t follow.)

    So yes: Voting based on a feeling of spite or anger is, in fact, likely voting against your own interests. Moreover, if you have enough awareness to recognize that you are voting based on anger, and choose to do it anyway because you believe that voting based on such feelings is just the right thing to do regardless of the actual results, I would absolutely call that having terrible values and being willing to lose money to indulge those terrible values.

    If you want to make the point that they are not, in fact, voting against their own interests, you have to show that their votes will actually help them, or are based on good reasons, not just that they’ll feel good about it, or that of course it’s what anyone would do if they felt such a way.

  230. Nilima Nigam Says:

    Dear IGGITFT,
    thank you for clarifying your intent. Allow me to clarify mine. I questioned some strong statements you’d made concerning the situation in Canadian universities, as well as the validity of the notion that the systems are parallel. These seem reasonable questions, given the strength of your claims.

    The way you phrase it in your last comment is clearer: “…with very few exceptions _I_ see the whole system trending this way.”

    This is a reasonable assertion of an opinion. This is all distinct from an assertion of fact. Opinions carry different epistemic authority than do claims of fact.

    To state the obvious: you’re entitled to opinions, as is anyone else. _You perceive_ an encroachment of whatever culture it is you are concerned about; others may perceive things a tad different. If you claim that it is a _fact_ that there is an encroaching left-wing propaganda problem at the policy level at universities, then you’d have to provide significant evidence; point us to Senate documents, point us to large program-level changes (where large means programs reaching, say, \geq 15% of the student body), etc. Until that point, it is hard for me to assess the strength or veracity of your claim. I _perceive_ the SJW crowd at my university to be about as large and as vocal as the white conservative crowd, both amongst students and faculty. I do not _claim_ their influence is the same, similar, or distinguished at the level of policy. (In fact, at the level of university policy, perhaps the ancient Greeks, and certainly Oxbridge, have outsized influence on our governing documents).

    And none of this – fact or opinion – gets to the heart of Scott’s original post, nor to mine: the proposed tax is not, through its written intent, supposed to achieve a positive restructuring of higher education in the USA. The intent is left open to interpretation and opinion. The stuff about leftist universities is a bit of a red-herring, unless the tax is explicitly claiming to address this as a stated problem.

  231. I'm gonna get in trouble for this Says:

    amy #227:

    First, I’d like to point out that you keep trying to slip in little accusations with your posts; I don’t know intentionally or not, but you’re remarkably consistent about it. Previously it was the suggestion that I hang out at ZeroHedge (I don’t); now it’s that little “rootless cosmopolitan” phrase, whose history I am well acquainted with (since I’m Jewish).

    It does not reflect well on you when you do this sort of thing. I suggest that if you want to accuse me of being anti-semitic, come straight out and say it (though such an accusation is, to put it lightly, laughable); and if you don’t want to accuse me of anti-semitism, then stop using language that hints at it.

    As for the red-vs-blue media bubbles and the supposed “superiority” of the blue side, I don’t have the space to address it in full (though I’ll point out that the blue side has plenty of “garbage-facts” as well), but I can cite someone who did a much better job than I ever could.

    Incidentally, you might “take it as instructive” to note that this is a Shtetl-Optimized-approved source, not ZeroHedge.

    I made the journey from the opposite direction as you. I grew up true-blue, believing in the idea of the open-minded liberal versus the dogmatic conservative; but eventually I could not keep ignoring the raw cultural contempt directed against the Red Tribe that I saw everywhere around me.

    I like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, etc. but it is very hard for me to view many of their segments without being reminded of the Two Minutes’ Hate. And what really stunned me was the hypocrisy of the Blue Tribers on this issue – they would denounce the Republicans as the “party of hate”, and then without pause launch into a mocking caricature of a “hillbilly”. If you want pure, 200-proof contempt, there’s hardly anything better than this:

    Don’t you think that Zach might know something about his audience – that this sort of thing might play to their, um, prejudices?

    For a decade I was as guilty as anyone of this. But eventually I began to see this for what it was – rank hypocrisy, shield-thumping tribalism, nothing more. Not that the Republicans are innocent, of course – I mentioned that I don’t consider myself one of them either, and I don’t vote for them in general – but the holier-than-thou attitude I kept seeing really rankled.

  232. I'm gonna get in trouble for this Says:

    Sniffnoy #228:

    This is a reasonable argument, but I don’t think it holds up to scrutiny. The Red Tribe (I know, it’s an overgeneralized lumping-together of people; can’t help it in a forum discussion) is suffering primarily from the slow decay of their culture, which is under constant assault by left-leaning cultural entities such as Hollywood. The traditional pillars of that culture – e.g. local churches – are losing attendance; the traditional values of that culture – e.g. Christian values – are disappearing. And if we look at outcomes in that culture, church attendance is highly correlated with better health, more wealth, more happiness, etc.

    Even the poorest parts of America are, in absolute terms, far wealthier than most of the world; and far wealthier than America was in, say 1960. But the culture is on the way out, and perhaps that matters more to some people than all the money in the world.

    Not to say that all cultural values are good; far from it. Racism is a traditional cultural value in some places; in other places, honor killings are a traditional cultural value. Still, to view cultural values in general as somehow “not real” or as never worth preserving is a big mistake.

    [By the way, if you’re wondering, I’m not a Christian; I’m quite firmly secular / atheist.]

    I have the benefit of a seemingly impeccable true-blue background, upbringing and education; and as a consequence it is often assumed by people I know that I will be friendly to denunciations of Red Tribe culture. So I hear quite a few things that probably aren’t said more openly. And whenever I watch blue-bubble media – The Daily Show and its various offshoots, for example – I often see naked cultural warfare.

    From these experiences, I conclude that the blue side has plenty of culture-warriors (I mean, The Young Turks has an audience, right?). And we are clearly on the attack if you look at any long-term trend whatsoever.

    So the traditional Red Tribe culture is falling apart, at the same time that the richest and most influential circles in America (media – especially Hollywood – and academic) seem to be attacking it. Maybe it’s coincidence; the Red Tribe culture might fall apart regardless in the face of e.g. modern technology and trade networks. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to put two and two together here.

    I agree that just because this is happening, it doesn’t mean anything goes. I don’t intend to defend every reaction, many of which deeply disgust me (Charlottesville probably being the worst example I can immediately think of).

    But I will contest the charge that the loosely-defined Red Tribe in general are just horrible bigots, “upset at losing their privilege”, “waging a war against education”, and so forth. And I will stick to my claim that if it appears that someone is voting against their interest, it is generally the case that a deeper understanding will show that they are actually acting ‘rationally’.

  233. I'm gonna get in trouble for this Says:

    Nilima Nigam #229:

    Sure, I phrase things as opinion. I consider epistemic humility – respect for what I don’t know – to be very important. I’m not perfect at hewing to this ideal, but I try.

    Nevertheless, I don’t just throw my opinion out there unsupported. I give examples, or statistics, or whatever. You can evaluate the strength of my claim by the evidence I give.

    Your perception of the relative sizes of SJWs and “white conservatives” interests me, as it runs counter to what I see. Can you give me some examples which run converse to my own left-silences-right examples?

    [Maybe in terms of absolute numbers, “white conservatives” are not so much at a disadvantage; but in terms of political power and ability to silence opposing views there is no contest. For example, I can cite many cases of silencing of conservative – or even moderate-progressive – public speakers on campuses. I don’t know of any similar litany of incidents targeted at left-leaning speakers.]

    As for Scott’s original post, it was the framing I found objectionable – evil right-wingers attacking the source of all that is good and just in the world. It might not have been clear from my tone of writing, but I do not support this tax in particular.

    In fact, let me state clearly, in one place, my opinion on this specific tax: (a) I am very much against it out of personal interest; (b) I am also politically against it, but only weakly.

    I consider the university system to be suffering from politicization (and I’ve given several examples of why I think that), and that this stems directly from the fact that the universities have acquired too much political and cultural power. On the one hand, this means that such political power should be checked in some way; on the other, I don’t think this tax was meant to act as a check, nor do I think it will have any effect like that.

  234. Michael Says:

    @Iggitft#231- Nobody is disputing that left-wingers often treat Red Staters with disdain- indeed, Scott’s made the point that just as leftists stereotype nerds as Nice Guys TM living in their mother’s basements, they stereotype rural Red Staters as dumb bigots. (And then wonder why nerds and rural Red Staters view them with disdain.) But telling someone that they’re acting against their interests is not the same thing as patronizing them. (It CAN be but it’s not always.)

  235. Scott Says:

    OK, I’m closing down this thread by the end of today, mostly because I’m at Cornell this week to give 6 lectures (!!) (the Messenger Lectures) and I don’t have time to moderate and respond. Yes, I did leave the comments of Gatekeepers in moderation (I thought that was clear), but I’m in a good mood—not about the world in general, just about being back at Cornell and having so many interesting conversations—so I’m allowing them in again, as a 1-day special. (But I won’t be commenting further myself.)

  236. I'm gonna get in trouble for this Says:

    One last addendum to my ravings:

    I agree with gatekeepers #227 that Scott is admirable for his willingness to engage with opposing viewpoints rather than simply trying to silence them – even when those viewpoints are rather hostile to his. Even if I disagree with him on many issues, and even if I often find his viewpoints and debate tactics objectionable, this openness to debate is a great credit to him.

    I spent a lot of time on this thread bashing him, and while I don’t take any of my actual criticisms (of e.g. his positions or rhetorical tactics) back, I do think my tone went over the top. So I want to clarify that I have no personal beef with him and indeed find far, far more to like than to dislike about him.

    So, to conclude:

    Thanks, Scott, for allowing this discussion to happen, and sorry if my tone got too belligerent. In future, I’ll try harder to rein it in.

  237. The trouble with gatekeepers Says:

    Thanks Scott for letting my comment #227 in, I wasn’t expecting it :-).

    I agree with trouble in #236 and generally with his thoughtful commentary in this thread. Although we started our lives in different points, in a way I feel we have followed similar paths to our current position of skepticism with respect to the official globalist tune that is promoted in Western academia.

    I don’t want to give out too much about me but if there is there is anybody the European Union has benefited is people like, allowing me -at the time- to pursue higher education in several countries, and leveraging that experience to then come here to the United States. And yet, I am also capable of self-criticism and reflection. It is clear that while a few privileged like me benefited from the system, the EU left lots of misery along the way. Other than the fact that Germany and France have not gone to war -as they used to prior to War World II- it is hard to see how the EU has benefited the average person of a EU member state. A Brussels based bureaucratic elite that is accountable to none has more impact in their lives than their duly elected representatives at the member state level. And in general, globalism has always been about power of the same type: a selected unaccountable elite controlling the destiny of everybody else because they think they know better than ordinary people who usually vote against their interests. That’s a concept I vehemently oppose and why I find the federal structure of the United States, the electoral college and the separation of powers such visionary concepts. In the United States, it takes a lot more than the domination of a few institutions -like academia or the media- or a few states -like California, New York and Massachusetts- to have control over the average American.

    Good luck with your lectures at Cornell!

  238. T. J. Babson Says:

    I would like to challenge the notion that people are stupid if they don’t vote for what is in their narrow self interest, such as increased government benefits.

    For example, I can easily imagine an African American voter who votes Republican because he believes the identity politics practiced by the Dems is toxic and will eventually damage the fabric of society beyond repair.

    I would not regard such a vote as irrational, or the voter stupid.

  239. A. Charman Says:

    It is my understanding that it is even worse than what Scott has suggested. Even if universities decided to change their internal accounting rules to zero out graduate school tuition, and Federal funding agencies were somehow allowed to change rules for indirect costs, if the IRS decides something is of economic value, and the tax code does not explicitly consider it deductible, then it is taxable. In principle, a neighbor giving you eggs is considered income. And if the IRS declares that a graduate education that some university considered “worth” $50,000 in 2017 is still “worth” $50,000 a year in 2019, then no amount of accounting legerdemain on the part of universities could alter that. This is pure weaponization of the tax code to punish the “reality-based” community.