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Saturday, March 21, 2015

American Students View College as Job-Training: Forsaking Education?

“What is your major?” is a mantra (and undoubtedly a pick-up line too) on college campuses. In giving students some exposure to a variety of academic disciplines, distribution requirements are meant in part to help students make more informed decisions of what to major in. According to an analysis of twelve randomly-chosen American colleges and universities in 2015, an increasing percentage of students since the recession of 2009 were circumventing this help by declaring their respective majors during their freshman year.[1] The reason, according to the business newspaper, is pragmatism, student debt-loads, and a difficult job market. “In 2012, nearly half of college graduates between the ages of 22 and 27 were unemployed or had jobs that didn’t use their degrees.”[2] In response, a higher proportion of students were going to college to get a job. Although The Wall Street Journal lauds the reduction of education to vocation, even more striking is how even academic administrators mischaracterize the intellectual mission of colleges and universities. 

The full essay is at “College as Job-Training.”

[1] Douglas Belkin, “Freshman Are Picking Their Majors Earlier,” The Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2015.
[2] A 2014 paper by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Quote taken from Belkin, “Freshman.” 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

California’s Elongated Drought: Warming to a Changing Status-Quo

With the winter of 2014-2015 failing to deliver much of a snowpack to California, Californians entered a fourth year of drought. The measurement on March 3rd of the snowpack was the water equivalent of five inches, or 19% of the average for that date.[1] The drought’s extension ran counter to the conventional wisdom that droughts last three years in California. Such “wisdom” is problematic not only for its specific content in this case, but also because of the underlying presumption of epistemological infallibility. Ok, I’ll unpack this bit of creative verbosity. Without being aware of it, we tend to assume that we can’t be wrong about things we have not studied. In fact, we even dismiss the knowledge of those who are learned in a given subject in favor of our own belief that we can’t be wrong about what we suppose we know. This tendency of the human brain gets our species in a lot of trouble, yet we as a species are nearly blind to underlying drought.

The full essay is at “California’s Elongated Drought.”

[1] Adam Nagourney, “Alarm Rises For a State Withered By Drought,” The New York Times, March 18, 2015.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

On the Suitability of Starbucks’ CEO Triggering Conversations on Race

Should a company’s CEO use the vast tentacles of the local retail stores to prompt public discourse on race in America? Even though improving race relations is a good cause, extending a CEO’s personal influence beyond the products societally requires its own justification. For a week in March 2015, baristas at 12,000 Starbucks coffee shops implemented CEO Howard Schultz’s intent to “spark customer conversation on the topic of race.”[1] Schultz even made a video in which he told the baristas how they should steer their respective conversations. If this sounds a bit like George Orwell’s Big Brother in the novel, 1984, the question may be whether such societal influence is legitimate from a position of management in business.

1. Bruce Horovitz, “USA TODAY, Starbucks Tackle Race Relations,” USA Today, March 17, 2015.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Affordable Care Act: Healthcare as a Human Right?

Did the Americans who were in favor of passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 believe that access to healthcare is a human right? Did the Americans who opposed “Obamacare” reject that assumption and thus favor treating health insurance as a commodity? We can look at political and economic indications to reach an answer.

The full essay is at “Healthcare in Obamacare: A Human Right?” 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The German Government Refuses to Pay Down Its Debt: How Un-German!

How should a government spend a budget surplus? In California, the Californian government put some of its surplus in a “rainy-day fund” in 2014. The following year, the German government made plans to use any surplus in 2016 “to increase investment instead of repaying debt.”[1] This means the government “could spend more to support the German economy and that of its neighbors.”[2] Undoubtedly, the E.U. economy would benefit, especially if the U.S. dollar were to continue to appreciate against the euro. However, the decision not to use even a portion of the anticipated surplus to pay down some of the government debt is problematic.

The full essay is at “German Budget Surplus.”

1. Andrea Thomas, “Berlin Moves to Spend Now, Save Later,” The Wall Street Journal, March 14-15, 2015.
2. Ibid.