Hilarious Calculus of Liberal Altruism

I had to say that this, from Janna Goodrich as quoted by Kevin Drum, is absolutely hilarious:

Education is one of the best engines for upward mobility and poor
students cannot afford to pay for higher education on their own. Their
families don't have the physical collateral to borrow money in the
private financial markets nor the savings to pay for the tuition
outright....But if we gave poorer students mostly grant-based aid we'd
be asking for the rest of the society to subsidize those who are one
day going to be wealthier than the average citizen. Two different
concepts of fairness or equality are at play here and I'm not sure if
both of them could be achieved at the same time.

Can you just see the liberals getting twisted in knots?  Oooh, helping the poor is good, but if we send them to college and they get rich, then we are helping rich people, and that's baaaad.  Its like that logic problem where a card says "the statement on the other side is false" and on the other side says "the statement on the other side is true."  Only a liberal could take the happy story of a poor kid going to college and getting rich and turn it into bad news.  I never thought about what a problem education was for liberal ethics, in that it converts sainted victims (e.g poor) into evil exploiters (e.g. rich).  Maybe that explains why they oppose school choice?

By the way, I have about zero sympathy for this whole grants in education discussion.  From an incentives standpoint, it is perfectly reasonable to ask people who are getting public money for self-improvement to share the risk with the public through the debt and repayment obligation they take on.  A lot of people today already don't take good advantage of the opportunity they have while in college, and this is certainly not going to get any better if we give them a free ride rather than loans.

The second problem I have with public funding of grants for education is that colleges and their alumni groups can decide to fix this problem privately if they so desire.  My school (Princeton) makes a commitment that everyone who gets into the school, not matter how poor, will get a financial aid package that will make it possible to attend.  And, the financial aid is all in grants such that the student graduates from one of the most expensive schools in the country debt-free (and yes, the incentives problem worries me some).  All with private money.  We are able to do this because our school makes it a priority and our alumni give the money to make it happen.

I know what you are going to say -- Princeton is full of rich people, so they can afford this.  Yes and no.  First, our alumni do pretty well for themselves, but they also have to help fund financial aid for the highest tuitions in the country.  Other schools with lower tuitions have a lower bar to clear.  Second, while Princeton alums may be wealthier per capita, our alumni population, because we are a small school, is probably one tenth the size of a Berkley or a Texas.  As a result, schools like Texas almost certainly have a much wealthier alumni group in total.  But few of them give back.  It's not a priority for them to create financial aid money for incoming students (instead, T Boone Pickens gives $125 $165 million to the OU OSU football program).  So don't come crying to me that students at your schools need government grants -- you could have funded such a program at your school privately if you had made it a priority.

Postscript: My dad ran numerous fund raising initiatives at the University of Iowa for years.  After decades of effort, I think he has finally despaired of getting state school alumni to donate money for something other than the sports program.

Update:  OK, that's what I get for making a throw-away statement without fact-checking.  Boone Pickens actually gave $165 million to the athletic programs of Oklahoma State, not OU.  I got a bunch of aggrieved emails on this.  Sorry.  Being from Texas, I get all that stuff up in the trans-Red-River region mixed up.


  1. CTD:

    I just read the whole comments thread. It never occurs to a single person that the more free or subsidized money you give for higher ed, the greater the demand will be. This inevitably leads schools to simply raise tuition in tandem with the new "investment." The more free/subsidized cash you give people to spend on thing x, the higher the price of thing x will go. Mush-brained romantic liberals need to realize that education is no different than any other commodity when it comes to supply, demand and price.

  2. steve:

    T Boone Pickens gave his dough to Oklahoma State. If I were him, I'd ask for my money back.

  3. Rob:

    I always chuckle when I hear Democrats claim they are the party of the working class. For the most part, people are trying to improve their conditions which includes financial. That is where the catch-22 comes in, because Democrats seem to despise the rich and successful (except Hollywood).

    So, if Democrats truly supported the working class, wouldn't they support rich/successful people and the product of their labor (money, business, corporations, big houses, cars, etc.)

    But no... the people of the working class who unconsciously try to improve their conditions are actually held back and punished (via taxes) for working hard.

  4. Sharpshooter:


    The Democrats are for THEMSELVES and for POWER. Rich or poor, old or young, makes no difference: Get out of our way or we'll squash you like a bug.

    Much the same with "Animal Rights" nutbars: they don't love animals, they hate PEOPLE.

  5. Matt:

    The policy at Princeton may even be self-reinforcing. Students who graduate from a university and are immediately subjected to graduates of the Bruno and Guido Academy of High-Impact Debt-Collection are less likely, when they reach their peak philanthropy years, to think of their alma mater as an institution equivalent to a charity.

    The university I attended received every penny to which they were contractually entitled, plus every penny their collection agents fraudulently stole from my bank account without my consent and subsequently neglected to report on my balance sheet, and they will never see another dime from me unless they send men to my house who can outshoot me. If I'd attended someplace with a Princeton-like policy, I'd probably be inclined to a more generous reaction to their pleas for donations.