Scenes from the Ron Paul Revolution
Rep. Ron Paul is definitely the best Republican running for president this year ("Scenes From the Ron Paul Revolution," February), but I fail to see how he can call himself a libertarian with his anti-choice views on abortion rights and his diatribes against immigration.
I am not a libertarian and would never vote for Ron Paul. But I did admire his adherence to principle in a context, the Congress, where it could bring him no favor. Brian Doherty shows that he is like other candidates in that he will trim his message to suit his audience.
That's fair reporting on a candidate you are bound to like. I am probably disappointed in him. But it does make him more human.
New York, NY
Legacies of Injustice
On the specific topic of legacy-based university admissions I am neutral, though I did not find "Legacies of Injustice" (February) convincing. I'll comment on two aspects of the article that are common to much advocacy relating to universities.
The U.S. is generally recognized as having the best universities in the world. In my view this reflects what has risen to the top in the vast, competitive market that is U.S. higher education. Although many schools have ties to state governments, the degree of state control is limited and variable, and competition across states works to advance quality.
Even so, the quality of education would be better advanced if the market in higher education were freer. In the long run more government control can only hurt, opening the door to greater intrusions and more bureaucracy.
So I was displeased to read the argument that universities could legitimately be regulated because of their receipt of federal funds. All such funds are targeted to specific purposes. Universities are no more creatures of the government than any other organization paid by the government, such as defense contractors, road construction companies, and local charities. Attaching requirements to funding that are spurious to its purpose is a recipe for increased bureaucracy, decreased quality, and corruption.
Opponents of local control of admissions standards hold up the ideal of "strict, merit-based admission" as the standard they would prefer to impose. Yet no such standard makes sense. Easily quantified measures, including GPA and especially test scores, are limited predictors of success in college and in life. The kid with a 3.5 GPA who worked through high school to help support the family has a good chance of outperforming the lazy but smart silver-spoon with a 3.9 GPA. The challenge of admissions in a high-end school is to bring together a collection of young people who can flourish at that university and succeed in life after that.
This is a complex challenge, as are the challenges faced by most businesses. Universities should develop their own approaches based on their own analyses.
R. Paul Drake
Ann Arbor, MI
Shikha Dalmia replies: The proper standard for judging an industry is not its standing in the world, but whether it provides value to its customers in terms of price and quality. Unfortunately, American higher education fails on both counts. On price, in-state tuition costs at colleges such as the University of Michigan, where Drake works, went up 85 percent between 1990 and 2003—more than twice the rate of inflation. On quality, one big appeal of elite universities—public or private—to prospective students is the caliber of their peers. When these universities dilute their admission standards to give a leg up to students based on family connections, race, or other irrelevant factors they ought to forfeit their elite status. Yet their admission practices are cloaked in secrecy, making it impossible for students to make informed decisions.
The question, therefore, is how to make universities more accountable. Drake's claim that U.S. higher education is a "vast, competitive market" is preposterous. It is a cartel in which state funding for virtually everything (not just "targeted" research projects) has created a huge barrier to entry for new competitors. Withdrawing this funding and genuinely privatizing all universities is politically impossible. Therefore, it is hardly unreasonable to require them to reveal their admission criteria so that students can decide if they want to attend them and taxpayers can decide if they want to fund them. But I agree that they should be completely free to use GPAs, SAT, or shoe size for that matter.
Ending Global Apartheid
"Ending Global Apartheid" (February) made me think. Guest worker programs work well in countries like Singapore and Kuwait: largely culturally homogeneous, geographically compact, and, if not autocratic, at least socially tightly controlled. In a diverse, open, and fluid society like the U.S., managing such a program as suggested by the economist Lant Pritchett in his reason interview may well be impossible.
Pritchett contrasts the fluidity of people to the fluidity of "goods" in the world market. While the comparison is strictly apt in an economic sense, it's somewhat less compelling in a larger perspective. An imported shoe, for instance, doesn't bring a cultural heritage along with it. A cheap Chinese toy is eventually consumed and discarded. Labor, as a good, is another story. As demonstrated in both today's France and classical Sparta, imported labor is not so easy to integrate and consume without massive social costs.
Pritchett's solution to this issue (the creation of economic rights without political rights) is wise but politically impossible: It ignores the fatal instinct of statist politicians (and their counterparts in the mass media) to pander to interest groups in order to acquire power. How long would it be after the institution of a large-scale guest worker program before a liberal politician demanded equal rights and full benefits of citizenship for all guest workers in tacit exchange for their votes?
Current immigration policies seem poorly reasoned and driven by desires for cheap labor and the tendency to pander to Latino voters. But before we take off on a trip to re-regulate immigration, would it not be reasonable to think ahead and develop programs that take into account both the long-term consequences of unrestrained population growth and the types of people that blend most synergistically and productively with our economy?
Growth considerations should include impacts on remaining pristine habitats and resources, contributions to urban sprawl, and some general environmental quality-of-life factors. After generating some reasonable growth targets, we should set criteria for the types of people we want to see as future additions to the American "family."
I know all this smacks of government planning. But there is a time and place for everything. Government without consensus planning results in government by those driven by the most greed or lust for power. If we have trouble seeing the evidence of this around us, we need only look at Russia in the early 1990s and Africa today. There must be balances in everything, and to imagine immigration policy left to the whims and vagaries of the open market is to invite chaos, cultural fractionation, increasing social burdens, and a general reduction in the quality of life for all life forms.
I would like to speak in defense of the "global apartheid" described in reason's interview with economist Lant Pritchett. The obliquely maligned "arbitrary boundaries of a nation-state" do matter to me.
At the risk of sounding Buchananesque, I believe the United States is more than a collection of consumers for whom the aggregate standard of living is the highest good. It is also a set of shared customs, experiences, mythology, language, history, and, to the extent we have any, culture. It's not that I wish harm to others living in clearly worse conditions elsewhere in the world but rather that after careful consideration I find that their problems are a far lower priority for me than those of my fellow Americans. That quaint nationalism puts me beyond the pale of the indignant humanism of Democrats, the preachy love-they-neighborism of Republicans, and the open borders fiesta of Libertarians.