Grading on the Progressive Curve

It used to be a joke.

Tom Lehrer made it about his military experience. “One of the many fine things (one has to admit) is the way that the Army has carried the American democratic ideal to its logical conclusion … not only do they prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, creed and color, but also on the grounds of ability.”

Now it’s becoming reality. At least at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

A fairly recent set of directives from the august institution’s faculty senate called for “proportional participation of historically underrepresented racial-ethnic groups at all levels of an institution, including high status special programs, high-demand majors, and in the distribution of grades.”

We’re told that these goals were buried in a huge document, and the academics who approved it may not have known what they were approving, exactly.

Sounds like they’re ready for Washington, DC, where lack of reading skills can be compensated for by spin skills.

The idea that the thing to be achieved is some sort of demographic microcosm of the social macrocosm, proportioned at all levels, doesn’t hold water. Apparently, if 5 percent of the population were Lower Slobovian, the institution simply must mirror that five percent in its ranks.

Including a proportion of Slobovians getting high grades.

Whether this “proportionality” means what Katherine Timpf says it means — “good grades should be distributed equally among students of different races” — I don’t know.

But I do know the standards being scuttled here: ability, achievement, merit.

It’s obvious: trendy, “progressive-minded” academics and activists have so little sense of proportion (and so little sense of humor) that they can’t tell when their earnest efforts are themselves nothing more than jokes.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Google Mugged By Reality?

Google says health care is unhealthy.

Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla has conducted what he calls a “fireside chat” with Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. In one much-cited passage, Brin observes that although he is excited about making gadgets like glucose-measuring contact lenses, health care, because “so heavily regulated,” is “just a painful business to be in. It’s not necessarily how I want to spend my time. . . . [T]he regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that I think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs.” Page echoes his colleague.

A blunt, and fair, observation. But it makes one wonder why these super-entrepreneurs have not been more critical (at least so far as their search engine can tell me) of Obamacare, which multiplies mandates and prohibitions in the medical industry by an order of magnitude.

Top Google executives are known to be liberal in their politics, and presumably have been sincere. It seems, though, that reality is not cooperating with any ideological tilt they may yet harbor in favor of government paternalism.

It’s in fields with which a businessman is best acquainted that he is most likely to recognize the value of freedom — at least his own, if not always that of competitors. So perhaps we should hope that Brin, Page and other Google principals try to achieve something great in every industry there is. That way, they can come around to consistent, principled support for freeing markets.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Overkill America

The death of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old Staten Islander, by police chokehold, not only sparked in me the usual combination of sadness, anger and frustration — there was an additional element: would this do it?

Would the nation’s shock, incredulity, indignation amount to anything?

Lots of questions. But one thing not being focused on in the standard reports was noted by Scott Shackford of Reason. It’s not merely a question of why the bust went so violent. Why, he asks, a bust at all? “We should be concerned that the reason why the police swarmed Garner in the first place is getting lost. He allegedly possessed ‘untaxed cigarettes.’ That is it.”

A tax matter.

The police are arresting people — and going into overkill mode in the process — on tax matters.

Couldn’t this such issues be handled by mere citation, followed by a court summons? With an arrest the last resort?

Why go all violent when violence is not really in order?

But maybe it’s not just about the taxes. Or “contraband.” Maybe this is also about “drugs.” (Yes, tobacco’s a drug.) We’ve long had a “War on Drugs” in this country. It has not gone well. As I suggested last week (as well as yesterday, on Townhall), the effects have not only been wide and deep, but inevitable.

War is like that. Expect the “unintended consequences.”

Scott Shackford suggests that New York lower the city’s high sin taxes on cigarettes.

But maybe the whole mindset of the modern state needs changing. Big things, like murder, slavery, etc., those are worth fighting about. Let’s not go to war over the little things.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Townhall: Blame the Drug Lords, or Our Warlords?

Over at Townhall, the problem, left and right, in not acknowledging the failure of big government. Especially as it pertains to the border crisis.

Back here, some back-up:

 

Video: The NSA Grabs Information from Non-Suspects

Ninety percent of those spied upon are under no suspicion:

Six Flags Over California

Though the Democrats who run the failed state of California insist that Governor Jerry Brown is leading them to a new era of prosperity, the results are mixed at best. The state is riddled with public employee pension problems, environmental over-regulation, and high taxes, to list just a few.

The problem? The whole system of representative democracy is skewed to insiders. The ratio of voters to representatives is way too high — twice as high as the next nearest state.

The best thing California has going for it is the right of citizen initiative. Typically, it (and the voters) get blamed for the unwillingness of their “representatives” to stay within their means.

Enter Timothy Draper, Founder and Managing Director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, a billionaire Silicon Valley professional. He has been promoting an initiative to split California into six smaller states: provisionally dubbed Jefferson (northern counties that have a long history of separatist unrest), Silicon Valley (which could become the richest per capita state in the union), North California (a coastal region from San Francisco south to Monterey County), Central California (a big expanse of many interior counties), West California (four west coast counties including Los Angeles), and South California (five counties including San Diego). Draper insists that his idea is the “something structural, something fresh” that the state needs to prevent further decline.

The initiative has received enough petition signatures to qualify for a 2016 ballot.

But is it a waste of time? Even if Californians vote for it in great numbers, the U.S. Constitution requires a formal request from the state legislature. And the California Assembly is not likely to cede so much power.

Which would provide another valuable lesson about how anti-Californian California’s leaders are.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Let Us Drive

How about letting us drive?

Who’s us? Passengers—taxi-ride buyers. Plus anyone else who participates in the market transactions that take us places.

Many Orlando, Florida cabbies are eager to work with the ride-sharing company that makes the smartphone app Uber. They’re tired of leasing cabs for $129 a day while scrambling for enough price-controlled fares to earn a decent living after paying that steep cost. Uber drivers provide their own car and let the firm’s technology connect them to customers. Uber gets 20 percent of fare revenue.

The politics are mostly hostile to the innovation in places like New York City where markets are mangled by super-high license fees and other regulations. The politics are also tough in Orlando, which has been cracking down on Uber drivers. But the mayor and Uber executives have been talking about a deal under which Uber could operate if it submits to . . . regulation. (Sigh.)

Cab companies in the City Beautiful expect to rapidly lose revenue if innovators like Uber and Lyft get to operate freely. But Orlando taxi drivers expect to gain.

“If you talk to 1,000 drivers,” says one, “950 will tell you they are going to Uber.” Says another: “Let Uber come here. It’s going to be good for the customer and the driver.”

Let them come. Also kill all regulations, including fare caps, that make it harder for cab companies to adapt. Let terms of trade be driven—regulated—by traders. Not by governments.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.