Assaulting the Golden Goose

Photo: Jacquelyn Martin, AP

Hunt Lawrence and Daniel J. Flynn, writing in The American Spectator make some interesting points on how they think Big Business gaming the Tax Code parallels Hollywood stars bribing their kids into elite colleges. Let’s take a look.

In the wake of Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman, and other parents allegedly using the foul means of their considerable means to gain admittance for their children to elite schools, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) wants to end deductions for parents who donate to schools their children attend. Wyden cites deductions for the naming of campus buildings and scholarships, and for sports tickets, as of particular concern.

This is, apparently, not Ted Kennedy’s Democratic Party.

“[H]eadlines about the wealthiest Americans buying access to our elite colleges and universities is just a new version of an old story,” he explained after the scandal broke. “While the prosecutor attempted to distinguish these crimes from payoffs in the form of buildings or stadiums to secure access for the undeserving, it is all part of the same corrupt system.”

Is it? I’m not sure. Bribing your kids into a school is certainly wrong, no question at all, and it hurts the kids that might otherwise have been admitted, they are the victim here.

But giving scholarships and or donating building is quite a lot different, I think. Yes, a few kids might not be admitted for a (possibly) unqualified offspring of the donor to be. But data suggests that legacy admittees are well above average, so it is questionable.

What is not questionable is that the building or the scholarship, or for that matter the golf course, will benefit many other students and the local population than the donor’s descendants. I don’t think it is the same thing at all. It is an (at least) quasi-public benefit.

Remember my Alma Mater, Purdue got its starts because John Purdue a wealthy local businessman contributed $150,000 plus a hundred acres of land to another $400,000 in contributions. That gave Purdue a good start to becoming an exceptional University and greatly benefitted the Lafayette area as well. Not the same at all as buying admittance for your kid, is it? But yes, he got his name on the whole joint. Most universities have similar stories.

The authors go on to compare this with Amazon paying not taxes again this year.

Amazon, certainly as famous as Lori Loughlin, manipulated the tax code in such a way as to pay zero in corporate income taxes for the last two years.

“Amazon, the ubiquitous purveyor of two-day delivery of just about everything, nearly doubled its profits to $11.2 billion in 2018 from $5.6 billion the previous year and, once again, didn’t pay a single cent of federal income taxes,” the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy points out. The online behemoth, in fact, reported a tax rebate of $129 million for 2018. Just as YouTube celebrity Olivia Jade took a deserving kid’s spot at USC, Amazon took a tax rebate better used to fix a road, pay a soldier, or reduce the debt.

Amazon, like parents who time donations to colleges in anticipation of a child seeking admittance, does not break the law. But to most it seems like they take advantage of the existing law, which begs for reform.

Amazon, like Laughlin and Huffman, did not alone transgress decency here. They merely acted as the most famous of those who did. They used shortcuts. But they did not create these shortcuts.

In the case of Amazon, the same government deprived of revenue created the shortcuts. And despite political rhetoric decrying the Trump cut of the corporate rate, the rates do not represent the problem. The labyrinthian loopholes do.

This is simply poppycock. The politics of raw envy in action. Nobody is insinuating that Amazon even lobbied for these loopholes. They exist. I’m no great fan of Bezos but, there is no shame in paying the lowest tax that one can legally. In fact, it is immoral for a company to deprive its shareholders, whether one or millions of them, of the profits of the company, derived legally. Judge Learned Hand* said it best:

Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes. public duty to pay more than the law demands.

The only time that would change is if Amazon (or its stockholders) bribed Congress or the President, or for that matter the IRS to put in the loopholes. That many of them are unfair is pretty much a given, but they exist, and they exist for all taxpayers that they apply to equally.

Would a very low flat tax without deductions and only on individuals be more fair? Yes, Yes, it would. But to essentially accuse Amazon of tax evasion for doing what is not only legal but their fiduciary duty is well beyond the pale.

*Judge Hand was, in fact, a Progressive, although also believed in judicial restraint to a point, although he did indulge in legislating from the bench. What many conservatives today would call a “Hack-in-Black”.

College-Admissions Fraud; Color Me Unsurprised.

So the completely unsurprising scandal of celebrities buying their stupid offspring into elite so-called universities for credentialing purposes continues. In truth, nothing could be less surprising. Heather MacDonald in City Journal writes:

The celebrity college-admissions cheating scandal has two clear takeaways:  an elite college degree has taken on wildly inflated importance in American society, and the sports-industrial complex enjoys wildly inflated power within universities. Thirty-three moguls and TV stars allegedly paid admissions fixer William Singer a total of $25 million from 2011 to 2018 to doctor their children’s high school resumes—sending students to private SAT and ACT testing sites through false disability claims, for example, where bought-off proctors would raise the students’ scores. Singer forged athletic records, complete with altered photos showing the student playing sports in which he or she had little experience or competence. Corrupt sports directors would then recommend the student for admission, all the while knowing that they had no intention of playing on the school’s team.

None of this could have happened if higher education had not itself become a corrupt institution, featuring low classroom demands, no core knowledge acquisition, low grading standards, fashionable (but society-destroying) left-wing activism, luxury-hotel amenities, endless partying, and huge expense. Students often learn virtually nothing during their college years, as University of California, Irvine, education school dean Richard Arum writes in Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. They may even lose that pittance of knowledge with which they entered college. Seniors at Princeton, Yale, Cornell, Duke, and Berkeley scored lower in an undemanding test of American history than they did as freshmen, according to a 2007 study commissioned by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. College is only desultorily about knowledge acquisition, at least outside of the STEM fields (and even those fields are under assault from identity politics).

Yep, pretty much covers it, for me at least.

What the pay-to-play admissions scam does not demonstrate, however, is that “legacy” admissions are somehow more corrupt than race-based affirmative-action admission policies—which seems to be the primary lesson that left-wing commentators and politicians are taking from the scandal—or that meritocracy is a “myth” that has now been debunked. Racial preferences are a far more significant deviation from academic meritocracy than legacy preferences, which are not even implicated in the current scandal. An underreported but salient detail in the Singer scam is that he “falsified students’ ethnicities,” according to the New York Times, because “some families and students perceive their racial backgrounds can hurt or aid their chances of getting in to schools that consider race in their admissions decisions.” This is not a mere perception; it is the truth. […]

To be sure, legacy preferences and racial preferences should both be eliminated.

Colleges should adopt a transparent, purely merit-based admissions system based on quantified tests of academic preparedness. Such a system would guarantee that entering freshmen were all equally prepared to compete academically, and would have the additional benefit of putting most college admissions officers out of a job. These self-important bureaucrats view themselves as artistes, using their exquisite insights into character to curate a utopian community of “diverse” individuals. The Harvard racial-preferences trial put such airs on nauseating display. In fact, admissions officers are simply allocating a scarce resource based on their own prejudices and inclinations.

Yes, anything else is smoke and mirrors, or in good flyover country English: Bullshit. If you are going to college, and fewer than half of our kids have anything to gain from it. I personally found two years in that I didn’t. Luckily Purdue was a land grant University so I wasn’t saddled with huge debts for my trouble, and I learned quite a lot, and like most alumni, love the place (as you know). But not finishing has not hurt my career, which has been pretty satisfying and paid the bills, as well.

The real losers here though, are the kids who thought they were getting an education but instead have found out their parents were buying them credentials, but without the skills that must go with those credentials to be useful in the real world.

Until the ‘elite’ schools once again teach how to think instead of indoctrinating leftists, I, as a business type person would simply shitcan any resume with a degree other than engineering, or other stem fields. And yes, Purdue would be favored, I’m a bit corrupt, as well, I prefer excellence over mediocrity.

A Mild-Mannered Radical

Courtesy of Mitch Daniels’ office

In Reason’s April issue, Katherine Mangu-Ward interviewed one of my favorite people, Mitch Daniels, President Bush’s Head of the OMB, former Governor of Indiana, and since 2013, President of Purdue University.

It’s really good stuff about a guy that in a fell stroke revamped much of the public sector in Indiana, Who while building further one of America’s great world-class universities, has not increased tuition in 7 years.

Who took the initiative to adopt verbatim the University of Chicago’s Chicago letter on free speech, and earning again the green check mark from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, (FIRE). Only three schools in Indiana have, Purdue, Purdue Fort Wayne, and Purdue Northwest. That school down south has a yellow one, and Notre Dame a red one.

The best University president in America? I think he may be, but then, I would, wouldn’t I? Here’s some of the interview.

At first glance, Mitch Daniels seems rather bland. His hair is straight and tidy. His suits are understated but tasteful. He speaks slowly and in quiet tones. He gently declines to answer questions about the failings of other politicians. And he seems genuinely mortified when he accidentally refers to his interviewer as Meghan.

But Daniels’ record as governor of Indiana could best be described as radical. During his governorship, which ran from 2005 to 2013, he decertified all government employee unions on his first day in office, managed to defeat teachers unions in a pitched battle for school choice, imposed tough spending austerity and raised taxes to balance the books, and inspired the Democrats in Indiana’s legislature to walk out at the beginning of his second term over a right-to-work bill. In his previous gig as the head of George H.W. Bush’s Office of Management and Budget, his nickname was “the Blade.”

In his regular Washington Post column, Daniels seems to delight in triggering his readers. He has advocated relocating all the major federal agencies away from Washington, D.C., defended the morality of genetically modified foods, and most recently called for the abolition of the “tasteless, classless spectacle” of the State of the Union.

He also rides a motorcycle and was indicted for marijuana possession as an undergrad at Princeton.

In 2010, he told The Weekly Standard that the next president “would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues” in the face of a mounting fiscal crisis. Between the kerfuffle caused by those remarks and his desire for privacy about an unorthodox relationship history—he and his wife married each other twice, with a break in between—he ended up stepping back from politics.

Since 2013, Daniels has been running Purdue University. If you talk to one of the people on his team, they refer to him as “President Daniels.” On the phone, it’s all too easy to imagine he’s calling from an alternate dimension where he actually ran for president of the United States—as many of his associates and the national media believed he would in 2012—and won. And after a wide-ranging conversation in January, it’s hard not to think that might have been a better, freer, calmer timeline than our own.

In January, Daniels spoke with Reason‘s Katherine Mangu-Ward about free speech, the power of unions, and whether it’s already too late to avert a full-fledged American economic collapse.

Reason: These days, our national politics can sometimes feel like it’s oriented around student debt and educational availability. You’re trying some unusual solutions to these problems as president of Purdue University, including not raising tuition over the last seven years.

Daniels: The tuition freeze began as a one-year time-out, a gesture to indicate sensitivity to what was plainly—even in 2012 or ’13—a growing burden. Often when people ask for an explanation, I’ll tell them what we didn’t do. They want to know what kind of voodoo we practiced and I say: Here, let me allay all your suspicions. We didn’t cheapen the faculty. We had one of the highest ratios in the country of tenure-track faculty. We didn’t downshift to so-called contingent or temporary or part-time teaching. We didn’t get any more money from the state. In fact, slightly less. We didn’t dip into the reserves—they’ve been growing every year. We didn’t resort to a sleight of hand through other fees in lieu of tuition. There haven’t been any of those either. So the way I usually frame it is that, if a place like ours can do those things and run in the black on an operating annual basis while investing, while maintaining quality, why would you raise tuition? It ought to be the last resort, not the first instinct.

Sometimes we solve the equation for zero. Zero meaning zero increase in tuition. If you start with that premise—that’s our objective, that’s our goal—you can frequently make systems and budgets and practices adapt to that. It serves the very same purpose that a balanced budget requirement can in government or a flat topline sales number or revenue number can in business. When you have to, you do. And sometimes it’s easier than you thought it’d be.

Income share agreements (ISAs) have been somewhat controversial but also now seem to be potentially a Silicon Valley darling. These are arrangements where students sign a contract and some or all of their education is paid for. Then when they get a job, they hand over an agreed-upon percentage of their income for a fixed period of years. Purdue has been experimenting with them. How did you come across the idea?

It has been out there since Milton Friedman a half a century ago. I’d read it somewhere and knew about it. I got cornered into going down and testifying in Congress; I usually try to avoid those things. The subject wasn’t ISAs or even higher education finance—it was about innovation in education. I offered up a few thoughts about ways the federal government should get out of the way of innovation, some regulations and so forth. And almost as a throwaway example, I mentioned ISAs. If there were less ambiguity around some of the tax laws, I thought, this idea might finally take wing. I was astonished by the amount of press interest in it. I got engulfed as soon as the hearing was over, over this throwaway line.

I immediately began hearing from what turns out to be an incipient industry out there of people who like this, who want to see this idea get airborne. And I discovered that there were people hoping to operate businesses to administer these things and funds to invest in ISA contracts. So away we went.

Do keep reading, it’s a fairly long article, but a very good one.

CPAC: Trump

I’m going to delay the Sunday Funnies, this week. Because I want you to watch America’s best comedian, America’s best cheerleader, and best of all America’s president, at CPAC, for a bit over 2 hours.

 

One of my British friends commented:

The CPAC speech today, by Donald Trump, is a must watch, much of it off script. Everything you would want from a speech. I cannot imagine any of the lamebrains in this country ever being able to do anything like this.

Well, he’s correct, but I can’t imagine many people anywhere who could do this. We got very lucky when Donald Trump decided to run.

And yes, there is an executive order coming that will deny federal funding and research to universities that do not protect free speech. Good.

And more and more, decent honest people all around the world, are seeing through the globalist and media (redundancy alert) deceit, and recognizing what we saw in 2016, a good basically decent man who loves America, and knows that generally what is good for Americans is good for the common people everywhere.

Puritans to the left of me

I’m not especially comfortable talking about social issues, so mostly I don’t. Although I do read about them, and sometimes comment elsewhere on them. A lot of leftists and mixed up folk have found out that I’m an orthodox Christian that way. Nor am I ashamed of it, its just that other people do a better job of talking about it. But sometimes it gets so egregious and silly, that I decide to talk about it as well. Like now. From William Murchison in The American Spectator.

[A]s Cole Porter slyly reminds us: “In olden days a glimpse of stocking/Was looked on as something shocking/Now heaven knows/Anything goes…”

Well, you know: depending on the state of Puritan politics at a given moment. The Puritan habit of scolding, and gazing sourly, on others for Improper Behavior is a human constant. And not just among long-faced conservatives, I beg to point out.

Let us contemplate — if we have to, and I guess we do — the current attempt to deplore a non-Porter song written before most living Americans were born, having fun with a guy’s attempt to coax a girlfriend into staying put amid the warmth of his apartment. The song, of course, is Frank Loesser’s rollicking duet, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” written in 1944 as a Hollywood party act for Loesser and his wife; subsequently made famous, and Academy Awarded, in the movie Neptune’s Daughter. The song is a hoot: “I really can’t stay (But baby it’s cold outside)… My mother will start to worry (Beautiful, what’s your hurry)/My father will be pacing the floor (Listen to the fireplace roar)… But maybe just a half drink more…” And so on. No wonder we’ve been listening to it ever since Truman was president.

But wipe that smile from your face. Various “woke” folk launched an initially successful movement to ban “Baby” from the airwaves: their idea being, the song covers up bad male behavior, including date rape.

Which aside from being ridiculously judgemental, is very demeaning to the woman played by Esther Williams who does just fine standing up to Ricardo Montalban, not to mention the delightful reprise, where the roles are switched and Red Skelton becomes the pursued. When this first brewed up, I ran the video, you can find it here. It’s been covered by almost everyone and is a very fun number.

And that is the problem, increasingly the left is reminding me of H.L. Mencken’s comment, “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” And that is increasingly the definition of the left.

Well, you know in some ways, I kind of like it. Used to be that us religious traddies had a reputation as blue-nosed, censorious, killjoys and to an extent it was true. But we were always more concerned about conduct and beliefs, we weren’t against fun (in modern times) we just had higher standards. We might tut-tut Montalban in the song for what he has in mind, but we can be very proud of Ester Williams for not succumbing. Yeah, that might be true, but it’s still bullshit, it’s very simply a very fun song with two (really four) appealing characters.

The moral understanding in “Baby” is that a morally educated girl has to watch out, and will. But life in the Truman era wasn’t a Stalinist indoctrination class. You could laugh and smile and yearn — man or woman — within the rule system, enjoying the richness of life. That privilege, seemingly, gets rarer and rarer as the Puritans and control freaks of the left shake scandalized forefingers.

Dumb? Put-upon? The women of pre-Weinstein times? They were smart in that most of them, most of the time, knew what was what and what to do about it — to the wonder of whoopee-wide-open modern folk.

Few, I trust, depreciate the awfulness of date-rape. But “Baby It’s Cold Outside” doesn’t celebrate violence and brutality. It celebrates the rituals of moral understanding that keep brutality at bay. It celebrates normal, everyday human relationships, carried on with devotion, decency, and, not least, a sense of humor.

Boy, they don’t write ’em that way anymore, do they?

The Progressive Synopticon

After the election, Victor Davis Hanson has a look around, and it’s not a pleasant sight. Not in his eyes, and not in mine. Here’s what he says.

Republicans, in deer-in-the-headlights-style, appear shocked that they are increasingly prone to winning the vote on Election Day only to lose it in the ensuing weeks when absentee ballots and what-not filter in with astounding Democratic majorities. Someone is spending a lot of money to get the absentee voting ballot out, correctly marked, and returned. And whatever that “lot” is, it is killing Republican candidates.

Yet there is a larger obstacle to achieving that long-term 51 percent Trump solution along with the shorter-term strategy of matching Democratic absentee ballots with Republican absentee ballots. Conservatives have lost entirely the culture and establishment wars. The result is that they are besieged by a circle of hostile progressive, but quite establishment institutions that are relentless.

He’s right, you know. I’d bet I’m far from the only one who has, even more than cut the cable, pulled the plug on current entertainment. I listen to some classical and classic rock music, watch a few old movies and TV shows, but unless I’ve read something about their stupidity or foibles (usually the same) I couldn’t tell you who any of the current cultural icons are. Worst of all, I don’t care. Not even enough to rail against them

Escape! No Escape!
Popular culture—from rap and pop music to corporate advertising—is progressive hip, a sort of non-ending assumption that the Life of Julia and Pajama Boy are the way of America. Pick up a comic book, download a tune, or watch Ellen on airport TV: the messaging is all the same—the old creaking brontosauruses are heading for the tar pits, and being replaced by far cooler, better, and smarter youthful raptors—even as the society grows ever more callous, indebted, factional, and dysfunctional, from the now normal tarmac nightmares to going into the DMV. It is hard to find a TV sitcom, a song, or a billboard that is not in your face about something.

Maybe one can turn then to sports either to find at least an escape from 360-degree progressive surveillance? No luck there. If an NBA figure were to speak out as conservatively as the vast majority of owners, players, and coaches do progressively, his career for all practical purposes would be over—and so none do—even if there are any who are not genuinely progressive. Ditto the “take the knee” NFL. From the National Anthem pregame observance to the Super Bowl halftime show, professional football is now mostly politicized entertainment. It is only apolitical in the sense that everyone is assumed to be on the same progressive team. ESPN analysts talk as if they are MSNBC and CNN news anchor leftovers.

There is no real need to reference Hollywood.

Imagine the traditionalist as living in synopticon—a suspect that is the target of 24/7 viewing, indoctrination, and conditioning by progressive auditors. In other words, a 40-45 percent minority of Americans is relentlessly lectured, sermonized, demonized, and neutered by a 360- degree ring of prying institutional overseers.

There is no escape. There is no respite. There is no quarter given. […]

More implicitly, the university accepts that its huge administrative superstructure, swelled by “diversity” and “inclusion” six-figure fixers, ensures that federally subsidized tuition goes up higher than the rate of inflation, and that students leave (not always with diplomas) with massive debt. Their degrees cannot guarantee that encumbered students can even pay the interest on their educational debts.

No wonder that a generation will have to postpone marriage, put off child-rearing, and live as perpetual adolescents, and urban apartment-renters. Their bitterness over poverty, and their angst at being uncompensated for supposedly brilliant college degrees often translate into progressive solidarity.

There’s more, read it all at The Progressive Synopticon

Round and round it goes where it stops, nobody knows. Except if you’ve read history, you do. It ends in the collapse of civilization, in poverty and anarchy, the Hobbesian war of “all on all, red in tooth and claw”. We are already seeing this aren’t we, in Portland, in Tijuana, in Chicago, in London, in France. Everywhere, really.

Can it be stopped? I don’t know, often I think not, and then I think, maybe we can, maybe we can’t, but don’t we owe it to our ancestors to try and save what they bequeathed to us at the cost of so much blood and so many tears. And don’t we owe it to our sons and daughters to try and carry that Burkean burden to one more generation,

Good luck to us all.

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