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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Economics: The first refuge of scoundrels

    Justyn Dillingham columnist
    Justyn Dillingham
    columnist

    Arizona’s universities are about to receive a crash course in governmental thoughtlessness.

    Apparently satisfied with the effect the extortionist No Child Left Behind Act has had on K-12 education, the bureaucrats in the state Senate are considering using its chief strategy – determining the value of a school based on its student performance and graduation rate, and withholding funds from schools that don’t pass muster – on universities.

    In this case, as the Arizona Daily Star reported Friday, the strategies used could include withholding 25 percent of a university’s per-student funding until the student graduates.

    Is this act necessary to improve the quality of education at the UA? Obviously not. It is clearly an extortionist move to encourage the UA to divert funds toward certain “”useful”” departments, and away from less useful ones. And, because the UA is struggling for funds, the move will probably work.

    Rep. Jennifer Burns, chair of the House Committee on Higher Education, told the Star the move was necessary “”to make Arizona more competitive”” (the Star’s paraphrase) and increase the state’s “”degree production”” of science and engineering graduates.

    In other words, the market requires it; therefore, we will do it. Ah, economics -ÿas political writer Walter Karp put it, “”the first refuge of scoundrels in America.””

    Why are science and engineering more useful than, say, English and history? According to Burns, as paraphrased in the Star, the state needs more “”qualified workers”” in the useful fields.

    What about qualified citizens, who might see themselves as more than workers? Not to be thought of; let us subordinate all other educational goals to the grand, exalted duty of supplying the “”workforce”” with workers. Let the word go forth that science and engineering are “”serious”” majors, compared with which the rest of the curricula are frivolous, unserious, vaguely pointless.

    Why else should it matter that the UA does not produce as many science and engineering graduates as universities in other states? Why should Arizona even seek to compete with other states?

    In truth, there is no reason – just as there is no reason the United States should care about whether it is “”falling behind”” other countries, no reason we should make industrial supremacy a priority. What difference does it make to our citizens whether the gross national product of Kenya exceeded ours? None at all, but it matters very much to those who wish to see themselves as citizens and the rest of us as mere workers.

    “”Compared with the young, energetic Indians and Chinese, too many Americans have gotten too lazy,”” Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times in 2005, foreseeing a terrible crisis for U.S. business. “”We are not producing enough engineers and scientists.”” (Why doesn’t he set an example for us by quitting his job as a writer, at which his talent is minimal at best, and going to engineering school?)

    Of course, Friedman’s “”crisis”” is only a crisis because he dismisses the notion that America might pass laws to protect its citizens from being abandoned by companies in favor of cheap labor abroad. Friedman, an avowed champion of globalization, dreams of the day when the market may be freed from the petty considerations of voters altogether. What do the wishes of mere people matter beside the overwhelming needs of the “”world market””?

    It is well to indoctrinate students with this scoundrels’ doctrine – that is, that the needs of “”the economy”” are paramount always -ÿearly on. It is something they will never escape.

    When a president’s fate seems cinched by some scandal, the pundits shrug and proclaim that since the economy is doing well, the president will survive. No matter if the economy is good only for the wealthy and powerful. Mere broken laws are as nothing beside the overwhelming power of the economy.

    When a president is re-elected despite dismally failing to serve the people, economists gripe that ordinary Americans cannot grasp that the “”real”” problems in America are economic. If only we could dismantle this inconvenient voting system altogether and hand the country over to the economists, as one bestselling author called for in his recent, acclaimed book, “”The Myth of the Rational Voter.””

    In truth, all this prattle is simply an excuse for undemocratic rule. Shall we have election reform? Not if it interferes with the “”free market.”” Shall we have universities that are havens of intellectualism, of research, of originality and free thought? Not if it deprives us of a “”workforce”” in the only fields that matter.

    What is “”rational”” about this? I ask. I do not know.

    Justyn Dillingham, the wire editor for the Arizona Daily Wildcat, is a senior majoring in history and political science. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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