Month: March 2012

Esquire Magazine Knows Its Target Demographic

Stephen Marche, “The War Against Youth,” Esquire. H/T LSFFP

Marche lays into the privileges Boomers have received over the years.

I try not to indulge in intergenerational warfare, but if I do, I try to be honest about the score. Marche overreaches in points like this.

“Only 58 percent of Boomers have more than $25,000 put aside for retirement, so the rest will either starve or the government will have to pay for them.”

There are three things to say about Boomers.

(1)  They lost all their equity in the housing bubble. They meant to Ponzi their land off to young people–which is a problem in itself–but that won’t happen because young people have no money and little desire to buy underwater houses in a short-sale.

(2)  The Boomers paid for their Social Security. It came out of their paychecks. They deserve it back. For example, when Marche writes:

“The biggest boondoggle of all is Social Security. The management of entitlement programs, already weighted heavily in favor of the older population, has a very specific terminal point that coincides neatly with the Boomers’ deaths. The 2011 report by the Social Security trustees estimates that, under its current administration, the fund will run out in 2036, so there’s just enough to get the oldest Boomers to age ninety.”

We should call bullshit. (a) Social Security is a pay-as-you-go system. (b) The trust fund was set up to ensure that there was enough money in it for Boomers to retire on; it was never meant to last forever and most of the scheduled benefits will continue to be delivered after 2036 because there will still be younger workers paying into the system. (c) We can increase the payroll tax brackets (or add new top ones for the super earners) to recover the shortfall. So no, Social Security isn’t a boondoggle.

 (3)  If the median Boomer has little in assets (slightly greater than $25,000), then the above graph is misleading. Marche concurs in part:

“This is no conspiracy; no nefarious backroom deal by political and corporate overlords. The impasse of the moment is, tragically, the result of the best aspects of the Boomers’ spirit. The native optimism that emerged out of the explosively creative postwar world led them to believe that growth would go on forever; that peace and prosperity were the natural state of things.”

The reality of the situation isn’t that the Boomers were overoptimistic, nor are we doomed to decline. This situation occurred because a minority of Boomers are parasites and did cut backroom deals with political and corporate overlords. They hosed other Boomers during the Dot-com and housing bubbles, and now they’re feasting on the young. This is the ideology of America: Make money without having to build anything that people need.

Here are six ways to get back on track for everyone:

(1)  Close the trade deficit, even if that means adopting bold ideas such as Keynes’ recommendation of an international currency like the “Bancor.”

(2)  Adopt a universal healthcare system like every other civilized country, i.e. one that doesn’t pay for every single frivolous medical test and procedure but doesn’t tell poor people to shut up and die.

(3)  Tax rents, not wages and interest. Shift taxes onto land values as Henry George argued. Force landowners to build on their property. Reurbanize America. Rent out the EM spectrum, geosynchronous orbits, and taxi medallions. Tax pollution and congestion. Enact severance taxes on those who harvest our natural resources. Return our shared property in the form of a citizen’s dividend like the commie-run Alaska Permanent Fund. Stop extending copyrights because Disney Corp. can’t come up with anything better than Mickey Mouse. In fact, recognize that we no longer live in the Holy Roman Empire. Copyright is obsolete. Embrace the future with new ways of supporting the arts and the public domain. Publicly fund drug research instead of giving away patent monopolies, and let depressed people smoke pot instead of paying out the nose for SSRIs. Use Linux instead of Windows or Snow Leopard.

(4)  Reduce people’s housing and student debt burdens.

(5)  Decisively confront global warming.

(6) Stop building aircraft carriers to fight the Soviet menace. Bring the troops home.

See? Society saved. 下課.

On a slightly brighter note, here’s Japanese mega-group L’Arc~En~Ciel at Madison Square last Sunday. No, they didn’t play for a week straight to sold-out crowds like Yes did in 1978, but they sure were glammed out. My seats were in the third tier (there’s that phrase again…) perpendicular to the stage so I got to watch an audience watch a show. Truly an alienating experience.


ABA Journal Discovers U.S. News’ Debt Rankings

Debra Cassens Wiess, “Average Debt of Private Law School Grads Is $125K; It’s Highest at These Five SchoolsABA Journal

The average education debt for law grads at private schools last year was nearly $125,000, while the average for grads of public law schools was more than $75,700, according to new figures released by the ABA.

This refers to the numbers found in this ABA document (PDF). No, the law schools don’t send 45,000 graduates’ debt numbers to the ABA, they take the average of their students’ debt loads and send that, which the ABA then averages again. It’s a deceptive number, and the ABA never says how many law schools are reporting their average student’s debt levels each year. Thus for the average of private law schools’ average student’s debt to go from $106,246 to $125,000 is completely incredulous. Indeed the average of the average private law school that reported to U.S. News was $116,744 (112/116 reporting). Speaking of which…

Meanwhile, U.S. News & World Report has released its own figures on the “10 law schools that lead to the most debt.” At those 10 schools, average student debt was more than $147,000 in 2011.

This has been out since the rankings. I know because I looked at this and dorked it into my spreadsheets before bothering with “Oh my God, Harvard’s number three! Wowohwowohwow, &c.” Actually, I didn’t do that. Point is, this is old news.

Also, take a good look at how many people took on debt at John Marshall (IL): 50%. Bullshit. It didn’t have or send all the data.

<editorial mode> Omitting detailed debt figures for each law school from the Official Guide is utterly irresponsible. Why the public gets more accurate numbers from a for-profit magazine before the non-profit accrediting authority is similarly baffling. Maybe people would’ve flinched at law school if they’d seen how much it cost, but instead, they get the Official Guide we know and love, which shills things like this in its “Types of Employment” section (PDF page 42):

Business and industry jobs may include positions in accounting firms; insurance companies; banking and financial institutions; corporations, companies, and organizations of all sizes, such as private hospitals, retail establishments, and consulting and public relations firms; political campaigns; and trade associations.

TheGuideforgets to mention it may include retail. It gets better:

Law-trained individuals also pursue a wide variety of nonlegal careers outside the practice of law itself. Lawyers also work in the media and public relations; as teachers at colleges, graduate schools, and law schools; and in politics and administration.

Again, this what the ABA says. It does not come out and say, “There aren’t enough lawyer jobs for everyone, many of these careers don’t need law degrees, and the people who don’t report their employment or salaries do so because they were hosed.” See for yourself; it’s a gold mine. Between U.S. News‘ “5 Ways to Strengthen Your Law School Application” and the ABA’s whitewashing of legal education’s value, I wonder why there aren’t more scam blogs. Pravda has nothing on contemporary American institutions. </editorial mode>

There Was No LSAT Surge

Readers of the Wall Street Journal Law Blog were likely confused by a few statements in a recent post “Whither the LSAT Takers?

Author Joe Palazzolo writes, “Recently released LSAT stats show a steep slide in the number of tests administered. The roughly 130,000 tests in February were the fewest in more than 10 years.” That 130,000 figure is the total LSAT administrations for the 2011-12 testing year, not for February. It’s the lowest since the 2000-01 testing period.

But this post isn’t about Palazzolo’s innocent typo—that was just to set up the topic—it’s about the persistent belief that wave after wave of college students took the LSAT once Lehman Bros. collapsed.

Palazzolo quotes the LSAT Blog:

This is a major turn of events. The tide is turning, folks.

You see, for most of the past decade, the number of LSAT test administrations was somewhere in the neighborhood of 142,000 per year. Then, in sudden reaction to the recession (or to Netflix’s acquisition of old Law & Order episodes), we saw a major spike in LSAT administrations — the highest number of LSATs ever administered in a single admission cycle (just over 170,000). This represented a 13.3% increase in LSATs administered over the previous year. It looked like the lawyer glut was going to become unimaginably worse, but something changed.

The eager stampede to law school stopped slowly, then all at once.

…And then he adds, “[LSAT Blog] notes the numbers may also be affected by changes in LSAC policy on when test takers can withdraw their registration.”

Nope. In the mid-2000s law schools stopped averaging repeat-takers’ scores and instead accepted their highest scores. This greatly increased people’s incentive to retake the test. Instead, the thing to look at is the number of first-time LSAT takers, which is buried in LSAT statistical analyses and shamefully isn’t up to date. Using the percent of first-time test takers from the last available testing year (60 percent, 2009-10), I’ve projected the number of first-time takers for more recent years.

This past year was probably just above the nadir of mid-1990s. However, given that the percentage of first-time takers has been declining for the last decade, it could very well be lower.

More importantly, peak first-time LSAT takers in 2009-10 was 102,948, only a few hundred more than the previous peak in 2002-03 (102,313). Specifically, the decline can be traced to October 2010, before David Segal’s New York Times coverage began, and after law the number of law school applications peaked well below their 2004 level.

Point is, contrary to the WSJ Law Blog and the LSAT Blog, the “major spike in LSAT administrations” was due to repeat takers and not throngs of unemployed college grads flocking to test centers to escape the Lesser Depression. Rather, we should be surprised that more people didn’t take the test in circumstances than we’d normally expect them to.

BLS Updates Its 2020 Employment Projections: For Law Students, It’s Very Bad

It turns out the Bureau of Labor Statistics updated its Employment Projections in February, though the Occupational Outlook Handbook will have to wait until later this month. Data for 2010-2020 are now available.

For lawyers, the 2010-2020 projection is even worse than 2008-2018, when the BLS predicted that the legal profession would add 98,500 new jobs and replace 141,900 lawyers who left the field by the end of the ten-year period. The new projection revises the number of lawyer jobs downward to 73,600 new jobs and 138,400 due to replacement. Note that the difference between the two sets of numbers places most of the loss on new lawyer positions. Incidentally, the BLS calculates 31,000 lost attorney jobs in 2009 and 2010. By comparison, dentists and doctors both saw job gains between 2008 and 2010, and both professions should encounter shortages by 2020 based on recent (albeit slightly older) graduation rates.

Alarmingly, extending the BLS’ 2018 projection to 2010, we find that there would’ve been 879,800 lawyer jobs, so the new projection sees a legal profession with 78,000 fewer positions than before, an 8.8 percent loss.

Here’s a chart to clarify.

Yes, the projections include self-employed lawyers, and yes, I still believe that the Current Population Survey greatly overstates the number of employed lawyers. That doesn’t make the employment projections correct, but I think they’re more accurate given the legal profession’s attrition rate relative to the number of J.D. holders.

And for those of you who think the Lesser Depression is the culprit, once again the BLS says that it’s projecting full employment in the target year:

“How do the BLS employment projections account for recessions?

The analysis underlying the BLS employment projections focuses on long-term structural change and growth and assumes a full employment economy in the target year. To the extent that recessions can cause long-term structural change, they may impact the projections. However, BLS does not project recessions.

How were the BLS 2010-20 employment projections affected by the recent recession?

The BLS employment projections are based on analysis of long-term structural changes to the economy, not short-term business cycle fluctuations. BLS does not attempt to project the peaks and troughs of business cycles, and the BLS projections model assumes a full employment economy in 2020, the target year. The 2010 (base year) employment for many industries still had not recovered to pre-recessionary levels when the 2010-20 projections were developed. This low employment, coupled with an expected return to full employment over the 10-year projections period, means faster growth rates and more numerous openings than might have been expected in these industries and their occupations had the recession not occurred.

Now, to ask, how does this look for new lawyers, to say nothing of the bottleneck that’s been swelling for the last decade at least?

Assuming graduation levels are flat, i.e. ~44,000 as they were in 2010, then we have 440,000 new law grads for 212,000 jobs, a projected employment rate of 48 percent.

If there are more grads as new law schools open or receive accreditation (Indiana Tech, North Texas, UMass, and others), then the ratio will be that much worse. If enrollments start dropping, more people will find work.

What does this mean precisely? The projection is over a long period of time, which can cause some unexpected distortions. For instance, law jobs that have high turnover rates will be held by multiple graduates who will be counted as employed in NALPian terms. If your garden variety new Biglaw associate position lasts exactly five years, then on average between two and three graduates will fill it every 10 years. Likewise, lawyer positions that have shorter life expectancies, especially solo practitioners, will have even higher turnover rates and will be filled by even more graduates. Moreover, as the BLS’ FAQ answer points out, as some industries recover to full employment they will refill lost positions and then add the new ones.

This is better news for law schools than for law students because it will skew graduation-plus-nine-month employment numbers upward, even though the medium- and long-term value of a law degree won’t be available to prospective law students. Remember, when two grads lacking other options form a law firm, they’re in “J.D. required” positions at 2-10-person law firms, even if the firm has a high chance of collapsing within a few years and the principals move on to more consistent work.

March 2011: Economists Discover Tuition Increases

It’s really not as glamorous as it sounds. The main impetus for the discussion is the November election. Candidate Obama said:

“We’re putting colleges on notice: you can’t assume that you’ll just jack up tuition every single year … If you can’t stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down.”

Meanwhile, candidate Romney responded to a question about college tuition by a high school senior who, as far as I’m concerned, is the frontrunner for the “millennial of the Year” award:

“Don’t just go to one that has the highest price. Go to one that has a little lower price where you can get a good education. And, hopefully, you’ll find that. And don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on.”

Paul Krugman—an economist I like but who has so far ducked the student debt question and does so again here—lays into Romney.

“For the past couple of generations, choosing a less expensive school has generally meant going to a public university rather than a private university. But these days, public higher education is very much under siege, facing even harsher budget cuts than the rest of the public sector. Adjusted for inflation, state support for higher education has fallen 12 percent over the past five years, even as the number of students has continued to rise; in California, support is down by 20 percent.” (“Ignorance is Strength,” New York Times)

Here’s what he’s talking about, from Digest of Education Statistics data.

Since the early 1980s recession, there’ve been two broad humps in tuition increases, caused by cuts in state subsidies to public universities, coinciding with the next two recessions. I have two problems with Krugman’s characterization of the situation.

(1)  Cost is important, but spending is more important (in the long run). Digest data indicate that our 4-year public undergraduate institutions have increased spending per student by 5.5 percent between 2003 and 2008. I wish I could find longer term data easily, but I’m guessing it’s grown as public universities have tried to keep up with private ones. For instance we see this in legal education where state law schools like Michigan charge $46,800 for residents and Virginia $44,600 as well. These law schools are public in name only and should be treated as such.

(2)  The problem of subsidizing state schools boils down to whether the state needs the graduates and whether they stay in the state. Sure, adjacent states often have reciprocity agreements, but that doesn’t do a whole lot of good if jobs have moved south and west over the years or if the degrees provide questionable value to the state. Again in legal education, last week I questioned the point of public law schools. There isn’t much demand for new lawyers, and they’re not bound to staying in the state anyway, which is actually an argument for state rather than national accreditation for public law schools. Worse, even if we were to take the moderate view that some public legal education is necessary, some states have far more public law schools than they need, e.g. Ohio, which has five public law schools out of nine total.

We can contrast Krugman’s editorial with an article by Alex Tabarrok (“Tuning in to Dropping Out,” in the Chronicle of Higher Education)

“Our obsessive focus on college schooling has blinded us to basic truths. College is a place, not a magic formula. It matters what subjects students study, and subsidies should focus on the subjects that matter the most—not to the students but to everyone else.”

Tabarrok (who, let’s be honest, also has a badass name) is right, though I prefer comparing education to the mushroom power-ups from Super Mario, which I never really played because I’m not into console games. We can observe Mario growing when he eats the mushroom, but we never know what properties in the mushroom cause his gigantism. Same holds for education: it correlates to higher wages, but there’s no reason to believe that classroom learning directly causes this.

…Which leads us to our last economist, Robert H. Frank, who argues that taxing higher incomes will reduce the motivation of people to go to college based on salary outcomes via prestige:

“We might consider taking more direct aim at the component of tuition inflation that is attributable to growing salary gaps. Raising taxes on top salaries would be a good idea for American society in general, and not just for higher education. It would not only shrink the effect of salary disparities, but would also generate some much-needed revenue.” (“The Prestige Chase Is Raising College Costs,” in the New York Times)

I’m not sure if low income taxes on the wealthy is the precise cause of income inequality, but Frank, who, like Krugman, avoids discussing student debt, is right. If we actually cared about creating living wage jobs for productive young people, then college would be one path for people who are a good fit for it and not a toll booth on the road to “the middle class.” Spending and costs would drop accordingly.

In the meantime, we still have the candidates’ comments. Romney, like all spiteful Republicans believes that debt should be permanent, which makes sense since he’s a member of the class that carelessly lent the money and believes living wages and full employment are optional. With direct loans he’s not, as the tax burden has been shifted from him to poor people. The joke, if there is one, is on him. Obama’s solution to joblessness is to double-down by sending everyone to college and then throwing them into Income-Based Repayment. He’ll be able to get it both ways: college education remains sacrosanct in American ideology and no one goes broke because of it. Policy solutions that include everyone and offend no one are essentially political Enron accounting: the CFO lifts the problem from the books in the hope that it solves itself before catastrophe strikes. Except it does, leaving Obama’s successors to clean up his mess after he’s retired.

Good luck to Romney’s high school student until then.

(Fine, here’s some Mario…)

New York Spared a 16th Law School, for Now

Emily Melas, Daniel O’Connor, and Nate Fleming, “Plans for law school tabled by BU officials,” in Pipe Dream (State University of New York (SUNY) Binghamton newspaper)

It appears SUNY Binghamton’s law school has gone wherever law schools go when they’re tabled indefinitely, like Wilkes-Barre in Pennsylvania.

“There are law schools right now who are not filling up their seats, there are graduates from law schools who aren’t getting jobs, and so the environment right now to found a new law school isn’t a particularly favorable one,” [Vice President for Academic Affairs Brian] Rose said.

Remember, it’s good to open law schools as long as it appears that law schools are doing well. Graduates’ long term outcomes aren’t to be considered. Okay, that’s not true; they do consider graduates’ long term outcomes but only in the most outrageously irresponsible manner conceived, such as Indiana Tech.

In order to create an accredited law school, the University took steps to gain approval from the New York State Division of the Budget, the SUNY Board of Trustees, the Board of Regents and the governor, as well as the American Bar Association. The University secured $3 million in state funding for the initial design and planning stages of the law school.

Please don’t say the $3 million has already been disbursed.

As to more law schools in New York … Query: What are the actual graduation plus nine-month outcomes for SUNY Buffalo and City University of New York law grads? What are their five-year career outcomes? Twenty-year outcomes? What about New York’s other 13 private law schools? The rest in the region? The J.D. plants in New England?

Also, since law degrees are very easy to find in the northeast, why should New York’s taxpayers (esp. the ones who already have to subsidize all the real estate speculators midstate and upstate who just got their property taxes capped) subsidize training for something they can import from elsewhere? Or worse, subsidize training that can be exported to different states?

Public legal education may be cheap, but is it necessary?