Archives For Education

Paul Fain has an interesting update today on the issue of two-tier pricing for California’s community college system. Santa Monica College rocked the boat in March when it announced plans to start using a two-tier pricing schedule that would charge higher tuition rates for high-demand courses.

Santa Monica–and most all community colleges in California apparently–have been slammed with would-be students looking to take classes that would help prepare them for better jobs or for further education and training (that would prepare them for better jobs).  The problem is that state funding for community colleges has been drastically reduced, thereby limiting the number of course offerings schools can offer at the subsidized tuition rate of $36 per credit hour. Santa Monica had the radical idea (well, radical for anyone that fails to understand economics, perhaps) of offering additional sections of high-demand courses, but at full-cost tuition rates (closer to $200 per credit hour).

Students protested. Faculty at other community colleges complained. Santa Monica College relented. So students don’t have to worry about paying more for courses they will not be able to take and faculty at other colleges don’t have to worry about the possibility of more students wanting to go to their schools because the overflow tuition at Santa Monica drives students to find substitutes. Well, that, and no more worries for those faculty at schools who charge even more than $200 for students to get those core courses that they cannot get into at their community college. It didn’t matter much anyhow, since most agreed that Santa Monica College’s proposal would have violated the law.

Now there is a proposal before the California legislature that would allow schools to implement two-tier pricing, but only for technical trade courses, not for high-demand general education-type courses.

Aside from complaints that “the state should be giving away education–even if they are not” (which are the most inane because they have nothing to do with the issue at hand), there are a few other arguments or positions offered that just cause one to scratch one’s head in wonder:

1) Fain reports that Michelle Pilati, president of the Academic Senate of California Community Colleges, asserted that “two-tiered tuition is unfair to lower-income students because it would open up classes to students who have the means to pay much more.” Apparently, Ms. Pilati would prefer all students have equal access to no education than to open up more spaces (to lower-income students) by opening up more spaces to higher-income students at higher prices. Gotcha.

2) The Board of Trustees at San Diego Community College seems to agree, having passed a resolution opposing the proposed legislation because it “would limit or exclude student access based solely on cost, causing inequities in the treatment of students”. Apparently the inequity of some students getting an education and some not is more noble because explicit out-of-pocket costs are not involved and other forms of rationing are used. And yet…

3) According to Fain,  Nancy Shulock, director of the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy at California State University at Sacramento, asserts “wealthier students have a leg up when registering for courses. She said research has found that higher-income students generally have more ‘college knowledge’ that helps them navigate often-complex registration processes. That means wealthier students could more quickly snag spots in classes, getting the normal price, while their lower-income peers would be more likely to pay the higher rates under a two-tiered system.”

So, community colleges have created overly complex registration systems that disadvantage lower-income students. Yet, all that suggests is that the current system already punishes lower-income students because wealthier students can more easily “snag” the limited number of subsidized sections. Perhaps community colleges could make their enrollment processes less complex?

Regardless the fate of the “two-tier pricing” legislation, there is already a two-tier system in place; only the current two-tier plan prevents people from getting educations at any price.

A Macro Conference

Paul H. Rubin —  14 October 2011

I was invited to attend the Financial Times Global Conference “The View From the Top: The Future of America” and since I was in New York anyway I thought it would be fun.  I don’t hang around with macro types much, and even less with liberal macro types.  I will not summarize the entire conference, but a few observations:

  1. Reinhart-Rogoff was a hit, mentioned several times.  Aside from the merits of the book, I think people were trying to give Obama cover for no recovery.  R-R apparently says it takes an average of 7 years to get out of a financial crisis.
  2. The first speaker (Gene Sperling) was late and the Gillian Tett of the FT, the moderator, took some informal polls of the audience (mainly business journalists.)  Pretty pessimistic: Thought that there would be a double-dip, the EU would lose at least one member, and yields would not increase.
  3. Sperling (Director of the National Economic Council) spent a lot of time talking about how bad unemployment is and arguing for the President’s Jobs plan (which the Senate has already rejected.)  Not much new to propose.
  4. Peter Orszagh (former OMB Director, now with CITI) made a few interesting points.  He said that the Administration got the original forecast wrong, and did not realize that the recession was “L” and not “V” shaped.  He also predicted that middle class incomes will not return to their original level and that policy should not fool people into thinking they would.
  5. Several speakers (Laura Tyson of Berkeley and former CEA Chair; Steve Case , AOL founder) argued for better immigration laws (no quarrel there: the Republicans have got themselves into a terrible position on immigration).  Tyson in particular argued for more STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education.  I asked her if she thought the increasing gender imbalance in colleges (now about 2 women per man) was responsible for the STEM problem and she indicated that it might be part of the problem.  Really something worth further examination and some policy analysis.  Of course the immigration mess makes this problem worse since it is harder to import engineers from abroad.
  6. Someone (I think Steve Rattner, former Auto Czar) made the point that while the American economy is doing badly and unemployment is a real problem, American companies are doing very well, in part because of foreign earnings.  There were also several inconclusive discussions of a tax holiday for repatriation of foreign earnings.  Some said that this would be “unfair” but others understood that future effects, not past fairness, was what was relevant.  Not clear what the effects would be, however.
  7. A few mentions of Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank, but mostly the role of regulation was ignored.  Health care was mentioned but not, I believe, Obamacare.  Everyone agreed that businesses were “afraid” to spend money but little discussion of the source of the fear.
  8. Most were not worried about conflict with China.  I asked about Chinese demographics (aging population, gender imbalance with too many males.)  Whenever I hear discussions of China I raise this issue since people seem to ignore it and it is a serious issue.  Michael Spence (Nobel Laureate, now at NYU) said that China was in a position to establish a viable retirement program (no details) but that the gender issue was not one that was being dealt with.  There seemed to be almost envy of the ability of the Chinese to do what they wanted independent of the desires of the people.
  9. Laurence Fink of BlackRock made the interesting point that the current situation seems a lot like the 1970s, including the widespread pessimism.  Martin Wolf, Chief Economics Commentator of the FT, agreed.  But the lesson he drew was that we need more and wiser regulation.  I spoke with him briefly and indicated that I was in the Reagan Administration, and that last time we got in a pessimistic mess like this deregulation al la Reagan was the solution.  He rejected this approach.  But I am hopeful.

My first economics professor, P.J. Hill, is retiring tomorrow after forty or so years of teaching at Wheaton College.  I wanted to take a few minutes to publicly thank him for all he did for me and for the thousands of other students who had the great fortune to sit at his feet in Wheaton’s Blanchard Hall.

I stumbled into P.J.’s Principles of Microeconomics class as a sophomore philosophy major looking to check off my gen-ed social science requirement.  From the first class session, I was hooked.  P.J.’s “economic way of thinking” (which was also the name of our terrific textbook, to which I still regularly refer) made so much sense to me.  And P.J. made sure we really understood the material.  I still remember some of the “Microthemes” he had us write.  One was a response to a kid who was embarrassed because his commodities trader father, unlike his friends’ dads, didn’t “make” anything.  I was happy to reassure the kid that his father did, in fact, make something quite important:  information.  I thought about that Microtheme when I drafted this blog post.

I also remember the day P.J. curiously began to eat a ripe, juicy apple in the middle of his lecture.  I and the other students in the front row were a little put off when he sprayed us with apple juice and blew bits of pulp on our desks.  We settled down, though, when he finally got around to the day’s topic: negative externalities.  We left class with a pretty good understanding of the concept.

The other two courses I took from P.J. – Environmental Economics and Public Choice – were similarly terrific.  In the former, I learned how an absence of property rights can create environmental degradation, while the existence of clearly defined, enforceable and transferable property rights helps accommodate both conservation and appropriate resource exploitation.  Again, the object lessons stick out – like the time P.J. had four students “fish” for paper clips (by picking them up off the floor).  The paper clips, which were redeemable for ten cents each, would be worth a quarter each in 30 seconds.  Sadly, one student figured he’d do best to jump the gun and swoop up the “fish” before they could mature.  His competitors dove to the floor after him, and the fish were quickly “caught.”  We got a different outcome when P.J. made an X on the floor with masking tape and gave each fisherman a property right to the fish in his or her quadrant.  That time around, everyone waited for the fish to mature.  Tragedy of the Commons, anyone?

P.J.’s Public Choice course helped me understand that individuals don’t cease to be rational self-interest maximizers when they enter “public service.”  That implies that a market failure is not a sufficient condition for a government fix.  One must always ask whether the governmental solution, limited by the planners’ imperfect knowledge and tendency to act self-interestedly, is likely to improve things.  You can see the influence of P.J.’s Public Choice course in these posts.

In all of his classes, P.J. peppered lectures with examples and insights from his own research.  He is a first-rate economic historian, and his written extensively, often with Terry Anderson (and once with Nobel laureate Douglass North), on the evolution of property rights.  We students would hang onto every word as he would describe, say, how the Wild West was tamer than you’d think or how the advent of barbed wire transformed property rights in the West.                

In addition to teaching me lots of stuff, P.J. helped set me on the path I now tread.  The weekend of my college graduation, he told me about a research position at the Center for the Study of American Business (now the Murray Weidenbaum Center) at Washington University in St. Louis.  When I expressed interest, he recommended me to Murray Weidenbaum, CSAB’s director and the former chairman of President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers.  I ended up getting the job.

At Wash U, I met some law professors who seemed to have pretty enviable jobs.  I also had the opportunity to delve into environmental policy and test the waters of academia.  P.J. had me out to Bozeman, Montana to give a presentation at the Political Economy Research Center (now Property and Environment Research Center), with which he is affiliated.  The research I presented was the basis for a couple of articles, one in The Public Interest and the other in the Yale Journal on Regulation.  Publishing those articles helped get me into law school, and into a clerkship, and into law teaching.  So, were it not for P.J., I would not be doing what I’m doing.

More importantly, though, I would not be who I am.  P.J.’s courses turned me on to the economic way of thinking.  His passion for learning lit a scholarly fire within me.  The clarity with which he communicated sophisticated ideas disabused me of the notion that “rigorous” means “inscrutable.”  The way he wove his own scholarship into classroom presentations – sort of inviting students to join him on his own intellectual journey – helped me see that there’s no dichotomy between teaching and scholarship, that the best teachers are scholars, and the best scholars, teachers.  His integration of his Christian faith with his teaching and scholarship helped me view teaching as a divine calling, a perspective that makes a sweet profession that much sweeter.  I am, in short, a product of P.J. Hill.  And I am grateful.

I’ve been in a blue funk since last Tuesday, when my home institution, the University of Missouri Law School, fell into the third tier in the U.S. News & World Report annual ranking of law schools. Since the rankings began, Missouri has pretty consistently ranked in the 50s and 60s. Last year, we fell to 93. This year, to 107. That’s pretty demoralizing.

It’s completely ridiculous, of course. On the metrics that really matter (academic reputation, student quality, bar passage, etc.), we do pretty well – near the top of tier 2 (schools 50-100). With respect to scholarly productivity, our faculty ranks sixth among law schools outside the top fifty. We do less well with employment, but that’s largely because (1) we don’t manipulate the numbers, as many schools do, and (2) many of our graduates go into prosecution and public defense, where hiring decisions are not made until after the bar examination. Where we really get beat up is on expenditures per “full-time equivalent” student. Last year, we ranked 173 out of 190 on that measure. In my view, that means we’re efficient – we get a heck of a lot out of our financial resources. According to U.S. News, though, the fact that we spend less money educating our students means that the quality of our educational offering must be sub-par. Non sequitur, anyone?

Despite the stupidity of the U.S. News rankings, they matter. We will have a harder time attracting top students next year. In the past, we’ve been able to attract sharp students that were accepted at, say, Iowa, Illinois, or Washington University because our tuition (especially in-state tuition) is much, much lower. Given all this talk of higher education bubbles and the widespread questioning of whether law school is really worth the steep price, this should be an ideal time for Missouri to exploit its low tuition. Unfortunately, that’s tougher to do when you’ve fallen into the U.S. News third tier and prospective students, who don’t yet realize the insanity of the rankings metrics, wrongly perceive that you’re selling a shoddy product. We may also have a harder time attracting high-quality faculty, though this fall’s outstanding class of entrants (two John Roberts clerks, a Jose Cabranes clerk, and an outstanding Virginia J.D./Ph.D) will surely help on that front. We Missouri professors may even have a harder time placing our scholarship, given that the third-year law students who select articles for publication tend to evaluate scholarship, in part, on the basis of the author’s “prestige” as measured by the ranking of her home institution.

So what should we do? If I were dean, I believe I would simply opt out of U.S. News. I’m serious. We know the rankings are a joke, and they’re actually hurting us. I would simply refuse to fill out the magazine’s survey form and then take out explanatory ads, on the day the 2012 rankings were released, in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Reed College has taken this sort of principled stand in the U.S. News college rankings and has gotten loads of favorable media attention.  I believe its stance has actually boosted its excellent reputation.

Of course, if a school fails to fill out the U.S. News form, the magazine will simply incorporate a somewhat punitive “estimate” of the uncooperative school’s data, so its ranking may be artificially depressed. But at this point, what do we at Missouri have to lose?  We’re already down to 107!  Anyone who does the slightest bit of investigation will see that Missouri Law – one of the oldest law schools west of the Mississippi River, the flagship public law school in a fairly populous state with two significant legal markets, the home of a productive faculty that also cares deeply about teaching – is not what participants on the Princeton Review’s old message board used to call a “Third Tier Toilet.” If we opt out of the rankings (a decision U.S. News will have to note), readers will surmise that our low ranking results from our decision not to play with U.S. News. Right now, they think there’s something wrong with Missouri, not with the screwy rankings system. Our opt-out would at least draw attention to the stupidity of the ranking metrics.

Of course, this move would entail significant risk. As it did with Reed College, U.S. News would likely adopt punitive estimates of the data we refused to provide, causing us to fall further in the rankings. Readers might not notice the disclaimer that we refused to return our survey and that our ranking is therefore based on estimated data. The media (mainstream and other) might not draw as much attention to our bold stand as I expect they would. While I think it would take a perfect storm for an opt-out strategy to tarnish our reputation even further, such storms do occasionally occur.

We could reduce the riskiness of our strategy if we could persuade some other law schools – perhaps other low-tuition, efficient schools that find themselves similarly disadvantaged by the rankings’ inapposite focus on expenditures per student – to withhold data from U.S. News. This would require U.S. News to include more “based on estimated data” asterisks, which would reveal the punitive nature of the magazine’s estimates and undermine confidence in the flawed ranking system.

But would this sort of concerted strategy run afoul of the antitrust laws? Initially, I thought it might. After all, what I’m contemplating is essentially an agreement among competitors to withhold information from a publication that tends to enhance competition among those very rivals. Moreover, the cooperating rivals would be withholding this information precisely because they think the competition stimulated by the publication is, to use the old fashioned term, “ruinous.”  It smells pretty fishy.

The more I think about it, though, the less troubling I find this strategy. The fact is, the methodology underlying the U.S. News rankings is so unsound that the rankings themselves are misleading.  And the misrepresentations they convey actually hurt a number of schools like Missouri.  I believe we who are unfairly disadvantaged by the U.S. News methodology could, without impunity, bind together in an attempt to undermine the flawed rankings.  Indeed, it is in our individual competitive interests to do so.

So how would a court evaluate a boycott of U.S. News by a group of law schools that perceive themselves to be disadvantaged by the magazine’s ranking methodology (say, less expensive, more efficient law schools with low per-student expenditures)?

First, the court would likely determine that the agreement not to participate in the ranking survey is ancillary, not naked.  As Herb Hovenkamp has explained, “[a] serviceable definition of a naked restraint is one whose profitability depends on the exercise of market power” (i.e., on a constriction of output aimed at artificially raising prices so as to enhance profits).  The agreement I’m contemplating makes perfect business sense apart from any exercise of market power. Each law school that would participate in the agreement is personally injured by the screwy rankings scheme, and each has an independent incentive – regardless of what other schools do – to refrain from participation. The participating law schools, it is true, would prefer to have others join them, but that is not because they are seeking to exercise market power; rather, they realize that the message their non-participation will convey (i.e., that U.S. News’s rankings methodology is nonsense) will be stronger if more schools join the boycott.

Since the restraint I contemplate is ancillary, not naked, it would be evaluated under the rule of reason. Indeed, any court that sought to utilize a less probing analysis (per se or quick look) would have to confront the Supreme Court’s California Dental decision, which held that a pretty doggone naked restraint among competing dentists was entitled to a full rule of reason analysis because it could enhance competition by reducing fraudulent advertising.

Under the rule of reason, the arrangement I’m contemplating would likely pass muster. Because widespread misinformation among consumers reduces the competitiveness of a market, an effort to reduce such misinformation, even a concerted effort, is pro-, not anti-, competitive.  Because the “agreement” aspect of my contemplated restraint increases the degree to which the arrangement undermines the misleading, competition-impairing U.S. News rankings, it enhances the restraint’s procompetitive effect. 

So what do others think?  Am I underestimating the antitrust risk of this strategy?  The business risk?  My TOTM colleagues from Illinois and George Mason, both of which do quite well under the U.S. News formula, probably have little personal interest in these musings.  But I suspect others do.  What do you think?

David Leonhart points out the new Dale & Krueger study on the value of an elite undergraduate education.  His punchline:

A decade ago, two economists — Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger — published a research paper arguing that elite colleges did not seem to give most graduates an earnings boost. As you might expect, the paper received a ton of attention. Ms. Dale and Mr. Krueger have just finished a new version of the study — with vastly more and better data, covering people into their 40s and 50s, as well as looking at a set of more recent college graduates — and the new version comes to the same conclusion.

Indeed, check out the Dale & Krueger abstract:

When we adjust for unobserved student ability by controlling for the average SAT score of the colleges that students applied to, our estimates of the return to college selectivity fall substantially and are generally indistinguishable from zero. There were notable exceptions for certain subgroups, [namley] for black and Hispanic students and for students who come from less-educated families.

So — college prestige doesn’t matter much.    Right?  Not so fast my friend…

The devil is in the details.  Or in this case, the regression tables.  And the real story is that college prestige matters quite a bit for men, but not women.  Robin Hanson is on the case (the study itself is in italics):

To find the truth, you have to study Table 4 carefully, and note footnote 13:

For both men and women, the coefficient was zero (and sometimes even negative) [in] the self-revelation model.13

[footnote:] 13 This lower return to college selectivity for women is consistent with other literature. Results from Hoekstra (2009), Black and Smith (2004) and Long (2008) all suggest that the effect of college selectivity on earnings is lower for women than for men.

Table 4 shows that attending a college with higher SAT scores clearly lowered the wages of women 17-26 years after starting college (in 1976) — a school with a 100-point higher average SAT score reduced earnings by about 6-7%!  The two estimates there are significant at ~0.01% level! (The other three, for other periods after starting college, are significant at the 5% level.)

One obvious explanation is that women at more elite colleges married richer classmate men, and so felt less need to earn money themselves. Why don’t the study’s authors want us to hear about that?

See also here and here.

I find it interesting that many on the left, so intent on maintaining their anti-market narratives, distort reality so badly that black is white and up is down–and “government” is “corporations.”

I’ve highlighted this before when discussing the misdirected criticisms (and solutions) of self-described privacy advocates who point the finger at Google when really they should be concerned about the government.

Now comes Brian Leiter referring us to an article on “Corporate Attacks on Law School Clinics.” That’s the title of his post which contains nothing more than a heated admonition to read a linked article, so the title says it all:  Corporations are attacking law school clinics (and this is a huge problem that should concern everyone).  And I have no doubt many corporations are upset with many law school clinics.  But what’s so fascinating is how, when you click through to the article, you discover that the actual attacks on law school clinics are, in every single example adduced in the story, actually emanating from governments.  It’s pretty amazing.  Here are the relevant snippets from each example in the article, but I recommend reading the whole thing:

In spring 2010, a law-clinic lawsuit against a $4 billion poultry company triggered a legislative effort to withhold state funds from the University of Maryland unless its law school provided the legislature with sensitive information about clinic clients and case activities.

The attack plan included the introduction of legislation that would forfeit all state funding if a university offered certain types of law-clinic courses.

The first occurred in 1968 at the University of Mississippi, where the appointments of two untenured professors were terminated following complaints that their new clinical program participated in a desegregation lawsuit.

In efforts to terminate the program, clinic opponents sponsored a bill in the legislature to withdraw state funding for the entire law school.

In 1993, then-governor Edwin Edwards was so upset at statements the clinic’s director made that the governor threatened to deny financial assistance to state residents attending the university and to prohibit Tulane medical students from working in any state hospital unless the director was fired.

A few years later, the clinic’s success in representing a low-income, minority community opposed to a proposed chemical plant led then-governor Mike Foster and business interests to threaten to revoke Tulane’s tax-exempt status and deny it access to state education trust-fund money, to organize an economic boycott of Tulane, and to refuse to hire its graduates.

When the university still refused to terminate the course, clinic opponents successfully persuaded the Louisiana Supreme Court to impose restrictions on whom law school clinics can assist and what kinds of representation students can provide.

When state legislators expressed disapproval of a law school clinic’s representation of citizens concerned about a proposed highway, university officials began charging the clinic for the university’s overhead costs, prevented it from approaching funders unless it agreed to avoid certain cases that might upset legislators, and pressed it to separate from the school and move off campus.

The clinical program at Rutgers University is defending itself against a lawsuit brought by a developer, who was defeated in a clinic case and is now seeking to use the state’s public records law to gain access to internal clinic case files that would otherwise be beyond the reach of a party to a lawsuit

A dispute in Michigan this past winter demonstrates that attacks also can occur when students get in the way of powerful government interests. The district attorney in Detroit, upset with the efforts of a University of Michigan innocence clinic to exonerate a man it alleged was wrongfully imprisoned for ten years, sought to force the students to testify at trial against their client, an unprecedented effort to interfere in the students’ attorneyclient relationship.

Perdue persuaded legislators to attach a rider to the university’s appropriations that conditioned $750,000 in funding on submission of a report detailing clinic cases, clients, expenditures, and funding, much of which is confidential information.

An even harsher attack occurred in Louisiana this past spring, where the Louisiana Chemical Association (LCA) pushed for legislation, subject to narrow exceptions, that would forfeit all state funds going to any university, public or private, whose clinics brought or defended a lawsuit against a government agency, represented anyone seeking monetary damages, or raised state constitutional claims. The bill also would have made clinic courses at the state’s four law schools subject to oversight by legislative commerce committees.

This isn’t cherry-picking.  Unless I made a mistake, this is every single example of “attacks on law school clinics” in the article.  And every single one involves government actions or the threat of government actions.  Wow.  How on earth could anyone read this article and feel comfortable calling this a problem of corporations?  Don’t get me wrong–I understand that there are often corporate interests behind these actions, spurring them on.  But to call this a “corporate” problem rather than a “government” problem–with the implicit call for government to do something about the problem–is to fail so utterly to understand the problems of government power that it boggles the mind.

Like Brian Leiter, I find this list troubling.  I am appalled at how much inappropriate  government interference this represents.  But it is simply delusional to call this a problem of corporations.  You want to fix the problem?  Rein in the ability of governments to interfere to thoroughly with private life that special interests don’t have access to such a powerful and, often, invincible bludgeon.

I have recently joined my colleague Bruce Johnsen as a co director of the Robert A. Levy Fellowship in Law and Liberty at GMU Law.  It is a very generous fellowship for economists who have their PhD’s or “ABD” status to come to law school on our dime along with a stipend of roughly $27,000 annually.   Several Levy Fellows have successfully ventured into the legal academic market over the past few years, and we continue to look for economists and economists-in-training with an interest in the economic analysis of law and legal institutions.  Levy Fellow alumni include Jonathan Klick, now at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law.  If the opportunity is of interest — please contact me via email, or check out the details in the advertisement below, as well as the website with further details on the application process.

GMU Law is a great place to do law and economics.  The Law and Economics Center, with a new and ambitious research agenda under Henry Butler, is a wonderful asset for a law and economics scholar in the making, and the law and economics faculty here are interested in a wide range of legal topics and play an integral part in the Levy Fellow program.  The program isn’t for everybody.  We’re looking for economists who are interested in understanding legal institutions and plan on entering the academic job market.  Experimental economists interested in the special opportunities available at the Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science and Center for the Study of Neuroeconomics might also find the program especially attractive.

The full text of the advertisement is below the fold.  Contact me if you have questions.

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Intel Chairman and CEO Paul Otellini recently gave the keynote address at the Technology Policy Institute’s Aspen Forum on the US regulation environment and its effect of innovation and economic growth (HT: CNET, WSJ).  The speech got some play in the media because of its overall depressing tone for the US, and its frank criticism of the current state of US regulatory affairs.  Here’s CNET’s description of the speech:

Otellini’s remarks during dinner at the Technology Policy Institute’s Aspen Forum here amounted to a warning to the administration officials and assorted Capitol Hill aides in the audience: unless government policies are altered, he predicted, “the next big thing will not be invented here. Jobs will not be created here.”  Intel CEO Paul Otellini, who warned this week that the U.S. faces a huge tech decline.  The U.S. legal environment has become so hostile to business, Otellini said, that there is likely to be “an inevitable erosion and shift of wealth, much like we’re seeing today in Europe–this is the bitter truth.”  Not long ago, Otellini said, “our research centers were without peer. No country was more attractive for start-up capital…We seemed a generation ahead of the rest of the world in information technology. That simply is no longer the case.”

I watched largely to see if Otellini discussed the recent, and controversial, FTC antitrust and consumer protection settlement.  It didn’t say much about antitrust — though there is much about education, the National Broadband Plan, and corporate taxes — other than one might stretch to find an implicit reference in Otellini’s remark that “we must resist the urge to pick winners and losers.”  But the speech is a good one overall, despite being as worrisome as advertised, and is available on webcast here (fast forward to the 4:45 mark).  Stick around for the Q&A (around the 28 minute mark), including Otellini’s take that regulatory uncertainty is creating significant drag on the economy.

In what has become an annual affair, around this time of the year, I like to make the case for law students to take antitrust. Each year, the post is edited and tweaked a little bit.  So, without further ado, here is this year’s edition of “Why Take Antitrust?”

As the start of the new academic year inches closer, and students are deciding what courses to take, I thought I’d give a little plug to antitrust law. I’ve seen enrollment in antitrust courses vary dramatically over the past 10 years or so since I was a student and now as a professor. I certainly know the three-pronged case against taking antitrust: “its not a bar course,” “you have to know a bunch of economics, right?”, and “its really difficult.”  But I hear this question from students frequently and I thought I’d share my typical answer to the titular question here:

First, antitrust is flat out interesting stuff.  We’re talking cartel arrangements in rooms filled with smoke, complex price-fixing arrangements,  rent-seeking and use of government restrictions to exclude rivals, and all forms of cutthroat competition between firms to stay alive in a competitive marketplace.  You know, movie material.  For some reason antitrust has earned the reputation of being a “boring” class for specialists who are interested in economics.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  Sure, antitrust will force you to learn some economics because the law itself has incorporated economic concepts (see, e.g. the Merger Guidelines).  But this is a feature, not a bug.  Economics is a tool that can help one understand how the world works and provide some interesting insight on business practices that we observe in the world and impact us everyday at the gas pump, the grocery store, the computers we all work on, and just about everywhere else.  Supply and demand graphs might be boring to some, and I don’t mean to suggest that antitrust is for everyone all the time, but its fun to think about questions like how the Sirius-XM merger will impact prices, whether premium, natural and organic supermarkets are a relevant market (the issue in Whole Foods/ Wild Oats), and the economic and business organization of the National Football League, and just about every business venture involving Google, Microsoft, Apple and Yahoo.

Second, antitrust law is become an increasingly important component of the international business landscape.  Take a look at this photo (the countries in red have antitrust laws on the books). Over 100 countries currently have passed antitrust laws (see here). Having at least a passing knowledge of antitrust is increasingly an important asset for corporate lawyers generally.  With antitrust enforcement now in India, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the EU-US antitrust convergence/divergence debate growing in importance, challenging legal and economic debates will continue to rage in the antitrust space for years to come (Between you and I, these changing market conditions have also increased demand for antitrust law professors and economists in recent years, not to mention — and most importantly, for antitrust lawyers).   After a slowdown for a few years with the economy, some casual empiricism suggests that merger activity is starting to pick up, antitrust and consumer protection litigation is increasing, and antitrust practices are going to need to reload.

Third, the bar exam issue.  While its true that antitrust law is not going to help you on the bar, neither are a bunch of interesting courses. And one shouldn’t conflate inclusion on the bar exam with general importance in terms or, of course, intellectual interest (which so far as I can tell, is still an acceptable reason for enrolling in courses).  Besides, there is at least some evidence that courseload choices have little to do with bar passage rates.  On top of all that, in light of #2, it is a good time to pursue a career as an antitrust lawyer.

If you are a law student — and haven’t thought about adding antitrust to your dossier — give it some thought.

Nicolas Petit, who blogs at Chillin’ Competition and teaches at the University of Liege, has started an ambitious, new LLM in competition law and economics at something called the Brussels School of Competition.  It strikes me as interesting and helpful for being an academic law and economics program focused very clearly on practitioners and practical application of the ideas.  The Internet brochure for the program is here.

Here’s its description:

The LL.M. programme has been designed to meet the needs of companies and their counsels, faced with the increased complexity of the competition rules and unprecedented economic risks arising from its enforcement. It targets in particular:

  • Companies, not only in-house counsels, but also managers, executives and public affairs experts who come across competition issues in their daily business activities;
  • Business lawyers (junior and senior), seeking to expand, improve or refresh their knowledge of competition law ;
  • Civil servants from competition agencies, sectoral regulators, public administrations and State-owned companies, who regularly have to deal with situations involving competition law.

The LL.M. programme in Competition Law and Economics has five unique, defining, features:

  1. It offers practical training, thanks to an experienced contingent of high level competition lawyers, economic consultants, and senior officials;
  2. It provides high-level lectures given out by outstanding academics;
  3. It proposes a flexible training programme compatible with the requirements of professional practice;
  4. It seeks to offer a modern approach to training, which embraces fully the interdisciplinary (law and economics) nature of competition policy
  5. It gives its students opportunities to socialize and meet fellow competition professionals on a regular basis