Quote of the Day from College

Overheard in the college dorm:

Male floormate: "What’s up Ben."

Me: "What’s up big man."

Floormate: "I’m about to blow my whistle."

Me: "Huh?"

Floormate: "My rape whistle." (We were all given rape whistles during orientation.)

Me: "Huh?"

Floormate: "I’m about to start my math homework." (I.e.: Math is going to rape me.)

Robert Day Donates $200 M to Claremont McKenna

Claremont McKenna College, where I am a student, today announced a $200 M gift from Robert Day. The gift, which will create the Robert Day Scholars Program, is the largest recorded gift to a liberal arts college, the largest gift in the field of economics and finance, and among the top 20 gifts ever given to a college or university. The Los Angeles Times writes about the gift on its front page:

His gift is unusual for its huge size in relation to the small college, which enrolls just 1,140 students and specializes in public policy and economics.

The gift, which has sparked some debate on campus, would create Claremont McKenna’s first graduate program, a one-year master’s for 50 students that would entail the hiring of eight professors. In addition, as many as 50 students from all five undergraduate schools at the Claremont Colleges consortium would be eligible for senior year grants requiring them to take courses in finance, accounting and leadership psychology.

Day said both programs, collectively called the Robert Day Scholars, would offer financial training to future leaders of business, government and nonprofits, with an emphasis on ethics. The goal is to create a cadre of young people "who show leadership and who have judgment, which is the hardest thing to find," he said Wednesday.

CMC has long been among the most distinguished undergraduate colleges in the fields of economics, government, and leadership. With this gift, Claremont will maintain its eminence in these fields. It is no mystery that Claremont’s intellectual roots are in the classical economics tradition. Ward Elliot, professor government, wrote about the econ department ten years ago:

Also, the economics department has been profoundly different from, and hence nicely complementary to, our Straussian government department. Its heroes have been the classical economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo and their great Chicago-school expositors, such as Frank Knight, Milton Friedman, and Thomas Sowell. All of these were eloquent defenders of consumer and investor sovereignty in the economic realm. None was bashful in the least about judging the high — government policy — in the light of the low — impact on ordinary people’s economic options. De gustibus non est disputandum was the title of a famous essay by Chicago Nobelist George Stigler, and CMC economist Procter Thomson put it even more tersely: "Greed," he said, echoing Adam Smith, but defying Leo Strauss, "is good."

But, like the government department, the economics department differed from "mainstream" Keynesian economics departments, and it helped its students grasp many things to which most other departments were blind. And it, too, has had massive impacts on public policy (IV below). I owe one of my own principal discoveries, congestion charges and HOT lanes, to our econ department, and I am almost embarrassed at the frequency with which visiting social scientists oblivious to the economic dimensions of public-affairs issues, get mauled by our students in question-and-answer sessions, simply because our students, even non-economists, are much better trained in economic perspectives than most people from other colleges.

Our econ department has been one, again not the least, of a half-dozen or so departments in the country which did not go completely Keynesian in the postwar years — others being Chicago itself, UCLA, University of Virginia, and, more recently, Clemson, Auburn, and George Mason. I don’t know whether any of the others on this list have their own journals. They have had more regard for producers, savers, risk-takers, and market-equilibrium mechanisms than most mainstream departments have had, and less regard for government command-and-control regulations, especially wage and price controls and import restrictions. They have paid more attention than most to monetary policy — printing dollars — and have been more skeptical than most about government subsidies, guarantees, and entitlements, and Keynesian pretensions to "command" or "fine-tune" the economy. They have been more inclined to expand the range of economic choices than to restrict it. They have been more doubtful than most about the power and enforceability of collusion, whether among competing domestic firms or among nations trying to enhance their oil revenues with cartels. They have also been more doubtful than most that the government could spend people’s dollars better than people could spend them themselves.

I will comment more on Claremont, this gift, and higher ed in the near future.

Weather and Quality of Life


That‘s the view from my dorm room in Claremont, although in real life the St. Gabriel mountains are much closer and clearer. We endured a heat spell my first week here, but lately the weather has been Southern California at its best.

I think people highly underrate climate’s effect on one’s day to day outlook. Weather matters. In a communal, emotionally-infectious atmosphere like college, it matters even more.

Sex Ed in College

Yes, I’m settling in here in Claremont in my single room in an air conditioned dorm on campus. Freshman orientation activities — a whirlwind of social meet-and-greet — have concluded. They were largely well-run, though I think colleges could steal more from business conferences which try to facilitate networking — after all, social bonding is the goal of most of orientation, and there are ways to facilitate this beyond simple "two truths and a lie".

The most amusing and complex orientation session was about "life, sex, and relationships". Among other things, the session leaders presented a series of disturbing stats about sexual assault and rape on college campuses. The men in the room were made aware of our legal liability especially if alcohol is involved. The message came through loud and clear:

  • "No" means no.
  • "Yes" means no.
  • "Maybe" means no.
  • "Fuck me harder" means no.

In today’s Wall Street Journal ($), a recent Princeton grad reflects on what he calls "sexed-up sex ed" — his freshman orientation session that undermined "traditional values" and discussed about the serious issues of rape in the same sentence as games like "Sex Jeopardy". I don’t believe in traditional values, but it’s not something I observed in my own session anyways.

It’s clear, though, that sex and its associated discussions, rumors, and accusations are a big part of what American college life is about.

Ward Elliot’s Laws About Life

Ward Elliot, a professor of government at Claremont, has an amusing personal web site. He has two pages of "laws and insights" — some from himself, some from others. Below are my favorite nuggets from both categories.

From others:

  • Greed is good.
  • Behind the populist rhetoric lies the mailed fist of vested interest.
  • There is no passion more powerful than the desire to change the world.
  • Error is infinite, but truth is finite.
  • These are the calipers by which we take the measurement of an event: Is it interesting? what causes it? is it good or bad?
  • Most new ideas are wrong. Most old ideas are wrong also, except that, having stood the test of time, an old idea is apt to be better than a new idea.
  • One man asks: what did I get today?; another asks: what did I give today?; still another: what did I learn?; and yet another: what did I enjoy? But I ask: why does it matter what I did today?
  • Though all progress is ultimately illusory if it does not redound to the advantage of the common man, progress itself is made by the uncommon man.
  • One generalization is worth a thousand correlations.
  • Ensnared by the universal but unusable truth that everything depends on everything else, a complicated theory is always a bad theory. Good theory is simple; but simplicity is not a simple concept.
  • Misfortunes test the soul. The weak man dwells upon them and sinks beneath them, the shrewd man lives around them, while the wise man meditates upon them and goes beyond them.
  • Ideas without passion illuminate but do not inspire.
  • Ideas are the capital of civilization and words are its media of exchange.
  • We live by words and die for slogans, yet who can define truth, or beauty, or humor?
  • All charity tends to corrupt, and absolute charity corrupts absolutely.

From him:

  • Immigration is the sincerest form of flattery.
  • Population control is a form of arms control.
  • Ambition craves jurisdiction.
  • The Constitution is not a blank check to posterity.
  • If an ounce of something is good, it doesn’t mean that a ton of it is better. Conversely, if a ton of something is bad, it doesn’t mean that an ounce of it is bad.
  • If it’s not worth doing, it’s not worth overdoing.
  • If it’s a commons, people will overuse it.
  • The invisible hand is not the one that changes most diapers.
  • If assumptions were horses, economists would ride.
  • You can’t marry everyone you love.
  • My students were put on earth for my amusement and enlightenment–and I for theirs.
  • My colleagues, by contrast, were put on earth to be my straight men.
  • Having a cause enlarges you.
  • Life is like Latin.  If it were easy, the teacher would not have assigned it.