President Coleman, U of Entitlement

5 01 2012

While her students were busy cramming for finals last month, UM President Mary Sue Coleman bravely took on the college tuition bubble. . . by penning an open letter to America’s Man of Action, Barack Obama.

I’m glad I was too busy studying to notice the story. I would have blown a gasket.

Never mind the fact that Coleman – one of the most generously compensated university presidents in the nation – can bemoan the endless upward climb of tuition rates while raking in over $750,000-a-year in salary, deferred pay, bonuses, and benefits. Her gall is endemic in the industry that is modern-day higher education.

It's good to be so revered by the establishment that you are completely beyond reproach for your hypocrisy–just ask either of these two

Ranting about Coleman’s hypocrisy is satisfying – but it is neither groundbreaking nor constructive. So I read the full text of her open letter (if you enjoy digesting such pap, you can do so here). But there’s only one statement in the letter that matters – and it is as clarifying as it is brief:

Higher education is a public good currently lacking public support.

In one fell sentence, Coleman justifies virtually unlimited future spending (much of it taxpayer-financed) on public education and reveals the disastrous mentality behind so many of our nation’s failing enterprises, from the Postal Service to Amtrak to higher ed.

Once something is declared a “public good,” normal laws of economics go out the window. For if something is a public good, we must have more of it at all costs. Even those who don’t enjoy the good directly become indirect beneficiaries. Criticism is self-defeating; it is anti-social. Hence, calls for more state support for universities that most folks will never attend – along with more grants and more federally-backed student loans. More, more, more.

But to advance this argument is to claim that every labor-saving, productivity-increasing, or wealth-creating technology or product is also a “public good” needing public support, since more of those goods increases the wealth of society as a whole. Just imagine if the government tried to guide the production of, for example, cars through a series of incentives, subsidies, and mandates. The results would be horrifying. And costly.

If we assume that increasing the number of workers with a four-year college education is beneficial – and then assume that our universities are equipped to provide that education in the first place – we should subject the process of attaining a degree to efficiency-maximizing market forces, not cry for more public aid.

Coleman’s statements demonstrate higher ed’s pathological inability to diagnose its own deepening problems. Barring a shared epiphany, we can expect Coleman and her colleagues to continue demanding that society foot the bill for academia’s costly indulgences.

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2 responses

5 01 2012
Vincent Patsy

Since the very concept of public goods is rubbish see the mises wiki on it (http://wiki.mises.org/wiki/Public_goods) the institutions promoting it are contradicting their own reasoning.

Checkmate.

5 01 2012
Graham Kozak

Yeah, that was my point without getting into a deeper discussion of the nonsense conception of a good as “public.” This was originally for the Michigan View so space was somewhat limited.

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