Saturday, September 15, 2007

The great divide...

between administrators and academics, from a NYT article on the growth of tuition-paying master's programs (conspicuously centered on Chicago's MAPSS program):

“Sometimes there is unused capacity in graduate classrooms,” Mr. Mehaffy said. “If there are 10 people in a graduate course one year and 15 the next, there is a 50 percent growth but no real drain on the institution.”


(I feel odd either expanding on what's wrong with this, which would seem pointless to those who have taught or taken graduate seminars, or not doing so, which would seem snobbish to those who haven't. Suffice it to say that the number of chairs in the classroom is not the only relevant measure of "capacity.")

The article itself is fine. I used to worry that these programs were purely exploitative of tuition-paying MA students. I then taught enough of them who were able to springboard into better doctoral programs than they otherwise could have done, and enough who were able to discover that grad school in the long term wasn't for them without going through the soul-crushing experience of leaving a doctoral program partway through, to decide that the students often seemed to think they were getting their money's worth.

Now I worry about something oddly unmentioned in the article. Elite undergraduate education has an ocean of financial aid and scholarships supporting it. Doctoral programs pay (meager but still measured in positive numbers) stipends that allow the students to get by, and typically don't charge tuition. To the degree that we arms-race our way into a position where this other credential is needed either for competitiveness in the job market or for competitiveness in doctoral admissions, we've introduced a stage that is wholly dependent on prior resources-- that is, a class-reinforcing rather than a class-mobility stage. This is already at the margins undermining some of the good of the wonderful American system of financial aid for elite undergrad education-- some undergrads are getting to the end of their BA and finding that they think they need a new degree, @ $30,000-$40,000 of tuition p/a for 1-2 years. And it seems likely to accelerate-- as the article notes, the interests of the students who can pay and the interests of the universities getting paid are simpatico here and will spiral. (The competitive value of the credential drives ever-more people to think they need it.)

This is less an indictment than a worry. I don't know how far along this path we are. I don't know how unavailable financial aid for those programs is. But I worry that a new piece is getting put into place in American higher education that works at cross-purposes to some of the existing pieces.

(Disclaimer: MA programs in the liberal arts disciplines such as political science are routine in Canada, and typically needed for admission to PhD programs-- bu tthe financial structure of them is very different, and the dynamics of the whole system are changed by the expectation that everyone will get such an MA. I'm not sure what I think about the Canadian system yet, but any problems with it are different from those described here. No one has to drop $35,000 to get one of our MAs in political science.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Graduate conference in political theory

Call for Papers

Princeton University
Graduate Conference in Political Theory: April 11-12, 2008

The Committee for the Graduate Conference in Political Theory at Princeton University welcomes papers concerning any period, methodological approach, and/or topic in political theory, political philosophy, and/or the history of political thought. Approximately eight papers will be accepted.

Each session, led by a discussant from Princeton, will be focused exclusively on one paper and will feature an extensive question and answer period with Princeton faculty and students. Papers will be pre-circulated among conference participants.

The keynote address will be given by Professor Alan Ryan (Warden of New College, Oxford).

Please limit your paper submission to 7500 words and format it for
blind review (the file should include your title but also be free of personal and institutional information). Submissions are due by December 15, 2007 via the conference website, . Acceptance notices will be sent in January, 2008. Papers will be refereed on a blind basis by current graduate students in the Department of Politics at Princeton.

Assistance for invited participants’ transportation, lodging and meal expenses is available from the committee, which acknowledges the generous support of The Dean of the Graduate School, The University Center for Human Values, The Council of the Humanities, The Department of Classics, The Department of Politics, and The Department of Philosophy.

All papers should be submitted through the online form. Submissions by email or snail mail will not be accepted.

Questions and comments can be directed to:

For more information, please visit the conference website at:

Monday, September 10, 2007

It's that time

Friday's high: 92 degrees.

Sunday's low: 46 degrees.

Just sayin.'

Sunday, September 09, 2007


Brad DeLong posts a terrific and fascinating paper on economic history and the history of economic thought and the generations of development economics. Two tastes:

Thus in Marx's view, economic historians and development economists were or ought to be the same. In fact, all economists and economic historians ought to be the same. In fact, everybody ought to be an economic historian: studying the social and industrial history of England, and then applying its lessons everywhere around the globe, was the most important task. Economic historians ought to rule the world, for they held the key to the lock that opened the door behind which was concealed the answer to the riddle of human destiny. There was one qualification. As a secondary task one needed to be a political historian--and not a political historian of England, but of France. As Friedrich Engels said in a revealing moment, "Generally speaking, for the economical development of the bourgeoisie England is here taken as the typical country; for the political development, France." But the politics was added-on superstructure: the economy was fundamental base.

Now the cup that Marx offered turned out to be a poisoned chalice, and I think there were three reasons for this.

First, as a matter of historical understanding--well, (the mind does boggle at the grafting of France's political history onto England's industrial one. No country, anywhere, anytime has had the political history of France and the industrial history of England. A focus on politics tends to make one anticipate revolutions and seizures of state power and expect state-led economic transformation. But thumb-fingered states are capable of only certain types of economic transformations, and the free society of wealthy and productive associated producers that Marx tried to order was simply not on the menu. Taking France's political and England's economic history leading to mass revolution that produces a left anarchy as the model, and trying to explain every deviation from that as second-order factors imposing transitory disturbances on a dominant tendency--well, that is not an easy task.


Adam Smith had said, in lecture: "Little else is required to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism but peace, easy taxes and a tolerable administration of justice." For Rostow much more was required: The traditional economy. The creations of the preconditions for takeoff--an honest government, good market institutions, and commercial and financial sophistication. The "takeoff" itself--a substantial rise in the savings and investment rate made possible by the opportunities in leading sectors opened up by modern technology and financial mobilization, and that would transform the economy from an earth-bound to a sky-free creature. Followed by the drive to maturity, and the age of high mass consumption.

But in the decolonization age of the High Cold War the first priority of the Dulleses and the Rusks was to line up newly-independent countries and the older states of Latin America on the U.S. team for the great tug-of-war. And this required gaining the favor of the new princes who ruled. And as Machiavelli taught us long ago, there is nothing more difficult than being a new prince: all of one's energy must be devoted to state-building so that one does not rapidly become an ex-prince.

State-building requires that you make friends who will be your supporters, which requires that you make people who want to be your friends happy, which often means rich, which requires that you give them some other people's money, which requires that you find some other people with money whose money you can give, which tends not to be great for economic development. Rostow went with Kennedy to Indonesia. Rostow had primed Kennedy to negotiate on how the U.S. could aid Indonesian economic development. But Indonesian dictator Sukarno, stuck between a large rural land redistribution-seeking Communist movement and an army officered by the relatives of local notable landlords, did not think he could take the long view. Kennedy talked about the Peace Corps and aid and technical assistance and economic development and a South Asian Development Bank. Sukarno's response? "Mr. President, development takes too long. Give me West Irian instead"--West Irian being the western half of the island we westerners call New Guinea. Sukarno got West Irian, and the Year of Living Dangerously.

This should not have come as a great surprise. State-building, the pursuit of empire, and political organization always had an uneasy relationship with economic prosperity and growth.