November 29, 2017
Republican Education Bill Would Boost Profits for Private Student Lenders and Raise Financing Costs for Students (Michael Simkovic)
House Republicans recently voted along party lines in favor of a tax bill that specifically targeted higher education institutions and students for tax hikes, while providing large tax cuts for corporations and wealthy individuals. The Wall Street Journal reports that House Republicans are proposing an additional higher education bill that would make the terms of federal student loans less flexible and less generous and limit federal student loan availability. Specifically, the bill would eliminate Public Service Loan Forgiveness and reduce the availability of flexible repayment plans for all borrowers. It would also cap maximum borrowing from the federal government at a lower level.
These measures, if enacted, would be a boon to private student lenders like Sallie Mae, who would be able to both increase their prices and increase their market share as federal student loans become less competitive and less available. Consequently, expected financing costs for students will likely increase, to the detriment of both students and educational institutions.
According to a study by the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Education, loans to graduate and professional students are the most profitable in the government's portfolio--even after income based repayment and debt forgiveness. Capping loans to these attractive borrowers may reduce the overall profitability of federal student lending, and pave the way for arguments for more cuts to federal lending in the future.
The bill reportedly will also reduce regulation of for-profit college sales and marketing, and provide greater funding for 2-year degrees and apprenticeship programs. Labor economists who have studied 2-year degrees and apprenticeship programs typically find that these programs provide relatively low benefits (in terms of increased earnings and employment) compared to 4-year college degrees and graduate degrees, even after accounting for differences in the costs of these programs and differences in student populations. Thus, increasing funding for apprenticeships while reducing funding for 4-year degrees and advanced degrees is likely to impede economic growth.
These educational priorities, may however, provide Republicans with political advantages. Political scientists and pollsters have found that as education levels increase--after controlling for income, race, sex, and age--individuals become more likely to identify as Democrats and less likely to identify as Republicans. The association is particularly pronounced among scientists and others with graduate degrees.
November 17, 2017
Following up on my previous post, Republican Tax Hikes Target Education,
[U]nder the House’s tax bill, our waivers will be taxed. This means that M.I.T. graduate students would be responsible for paying taxes on an $80,000 annual salary, when we actually earn $33,000 a year. That’s an increase of our tax burden by at least $10,000 annually.
It would make meeting living expenses nearly impossible, barring all but the wealthiest students from pursuing a Ph.D. The students who will be hit hardest — many of whom will almost certainly have to leave academia entirely — are those from communities that are already underrepresented in higher education. . . .
The law would also decimate American competitiveness. . . .
Graduate students are part of the hidden work force that drives some of the most important scientific and sociological advancements in the country. The American public benefits from it. Every dollar of basic research funded by the National Institutes of Health, for example, leads to a $1.70 output from biotechnology industries. The N.I.H. reports that the average American life span has increased by 30 years, in part, because of a better understanding of human health. I’d say that’s a pretty good return on investment for United States taxpayers."
November 06, 2017
The draft tax plan unveiled last week by House Republicans targets students and educational institutions for tax increases. The Republican proposal would eliminate the lifetime learning credit (worth as much as $2,000 per year per student), tax graduate students on tuition waivers, eliminate the (already limited) tax deduction for student loan interest, and tax endowments at leading research universities.
The plan would also eliminate the tax deduction for most state and local taxes. If taxpayers react by demanding state and local tax cuts, this move will put pressure on budgets at K-12 public schools and at public universities. It will also make it more challenging for local and state governments to fund police and fire protection and economically vital physical infrastructure. A lower cap on the mortgage interest deduction for new buyers might cause property values to fall, further eroding local tax revenues.
Cuts to funding for education and local government will help defray the costs of major reductions in corporate income tax rates, tax cuts for passive income, and elimination of taxes on inherited estates larger than $5.5 million.
In aggregate the Republican tax plan is expected to increase federal debt levels by more than $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. Repaying this debt without future tax increases will likely require significant cuts to funding for Social Security, Medicare and the U.S. military. These programs account for the overwhelming majority of federal spending.
Reductions in funding for education and infrastructure could hurt economic growth. A few Republicans claim that the tax cuts will dramatically boost growth, but many acknowledge that this is unlikely. In the 1980s, and again in the early 2000s, Republicans claimed that tax cuts would cause the economy to grow so fast that the ratio of debt to GDP would fall. Those predictions proved to be incorrect. Tax revenue lagged projections and the ratio of federal debt to GDP grew from from 30 percent in the 1981 to more than 100 percent today.
September 25, 2017
It is often assumed that the only way to become a lawyer is to attend an ABA-approved law school. That is true in some states and, indeed, the ABA has at times expressed the view that it should be true in all states. But it is not the case in large jurisdictions such as New York or California, nor is it the case in the majority of jurisdictions. Claims that ABA-approved law school have a monopoly on entry into the legal profession are exaggerations. Rather, the most popular—and probably most likely—way to become a lawyer is to graduate from an ABA-approved institution.
In leading jurisdictions such as New York, California, and Virginia, an individual who wishes to become a lawyer may sit for the bar examination with between zero and 1 years of law school and between 3 and 4 years of apprenticeship and study under the supervision of a licensed attorney (this is also known as “law office study” or “reading for the bar”). In California, graduates of non-ABA-approved law schools are eligible to sit for the bar examination. This includes schools with extremely low-cost, technology-driven approaches to teaching, such as online and correspondence schools.
In fact, non-ABA law school graduates are eligible to sit for the bar examination in most jurisdictions (31 in total as of 2017) according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners.** This includes extremely large and important jurisdictions such as California, Florida, New York, Texas and Washington D.C. Graduates of online and correspondence law schools are eligible to sit for the bar examination in 4 jurisdictions.
Very few people choose the apprenticeship route, and only a minority opt for non-ABA law schools. Among those who do, relatively few successfully complete their courses of study or pass the bar examination. But those who do will have the same license to practice law as someone who graduates from an ABA-approved law school and successfully passes the bar examination.
Why then do so many prospective lawyers choose ABA-approved law schools?
The most likely explanation is that prospective lawyers choose ABA-approved law schools because those law schools provide a valuable and worthwhile service that supports a higher price point than other options.*
Many employers value legal education. That’s why they typically pay law school graduates tens of thousands of dollars more per year than they pay similar bachelor’s degree holders, even in occupations other than the practice of law. When law school graduating class sizes increase, and a lower proportion of graduates practice law, graduates don’t typically see a noticeable decline in their earnings premium.
In other words, the benefits of law school are versatile. Graduates of ABA-approved law schools also seem to be much more likely to complete their studies and pass the bar examination than students attending more lightly regulated and lower cost alternatives.
September 09, 2017
New American Foundation fires a prominent researcher who criticized one of its largest donors (Michael Simkovic)
The powerful Washington D.C. think tank New America Foundation, which has ties to the technology, finance, and aerospace industries, recently fired a researcher within days after the researcher praised the European Union for fining Google for antitrust violations. Google and its CEO are among the largest donors to New America Foundation, as well as other think tanks. The head of New America Foundation claims the firing was for a lack of collegiality, but declined to discuss specifics.
The firing echoes similar incidents at other think tanks, including the American Enterprise Institute and Brookings Institute, where researchers have been fired shortly after offending other important donors or political patrons.
As the Economist magazine explains:
[Think tanks suffer from] a fundamental flaw. Unlike other institutions designed to promote free inquiry, such as universities or some publications, think-tanks do not enjoy large endowments, researcher tenure or subscription revenue to insulate thinkers from paymasters. And thinking costs a lot.
The New America Foundation has played a prominent role in efforts to privatize student loans by making the terms of federal student loans less attractive and making the loans less widely available.
August 25, 2017
Todd Henderson (Chicago): Lawyers make better CEOs in industries with high litigation risk (and worse CEOs elsewhere) (Michael Simkovic)
Professor Henderson finds that: "CEOs with legal expertise are effective at managing litigation risk by, in part, setting more risk-averse firm policies. Second, these actions enhance value only when firms operate in an environment with high litigation risk or high compliance requirements. Otherwise, these actions could actually hurt the firm."
July 31, 2017
Focus group of California lawyers defends tight restrictions on entry into the legal profession (Michael Simkovic)
California is an extreme outlier in the extent to which it restricts entry into the legal profession compared to other U.S. jurisdictions. Two examples of this include an unusually high minimum cut score on the bar exam and a refusal without exception to permit experienced licensed attorneys from other jurisdictions to be admitted without re-examination.
California lawyers are relatively highly paid, and relatively few in number considering the size of the workforce in California. Restrictions on entry into the profession may help maintain this status quo. There are serious questions about whether this protects consumers, or is economic protectionism. Economic protectionism could benefit California lawyers, but it would likely also harm consumers of legal services by making legal services less available, more expensive and perhaps lower in quality because of reduced competition. Protectionism would also reduce economic opportunity for those denied the option of practicing law in California, much as immigration restrictions deny economic opportunity to those excluded from high-income countries.
The Supreme Court of California, concerned about the anti-trust implications of a licensed profession establishing criteria for entry, instructed the California State Bar to prepare recommendations on revising the California bar cut score.
Stephen Diamond reports that the California State Bar recommended that its bar examination should either stay the same or be made even harder.
The California Bar arrived at this conclusion by asking a panel of California lawyers how hard the bar exam should be. To be more specific, panelists read essays, categorized them into good, medium and bad piles, and, with the assistance of a psychologist who specializes in standardized testing, used this categorization to back-out an extremely high recommended bar passage score.
Finding that people with high multiple choice scores also tend to write better essays is about as surprising as finding that cars that Consumer Reports rates highly are also often highly rated by J.D. Power. It's also about as relevant to the policy decision facing the California Supreme Court about minimum competence to practice law.
The relevant question for restricting entry into the legal profession is not whether good (and presumably expensive) lawyers are better than mediocre (and presumably more affordable) lawyers. Rather, the relevant question is when consumers should be able to decide for themselves whether to spend more for higher quality services or to save money and accept services of lower quality. Most people will agree that a new Lexus is likely a better, more reliable and safer car than a similar-sized used Toyota. But this difference in quality does not mean that the government should banish used Toyotas from the roads and permit to drive only those who are willing and able to buy a new Lexus.
Is there evidence that a bar examinee who would be permitted to practice law in Washington D.C. or New York or Boston or Chicago, but not in California, would routinely make such a mess of clients' affairs that California clients should not even have the option to hire such a lawyer?
Is there evidence that consumers of legal services cannot tell the difference between a good lawyer and a dangerously bad one?
If these problems exist, could they be addressed by simply requiring lawyers to disclose information to prospective clients that would enable those clients to judge lawyer quality for themselves?
The California Bar has not yet seriously addressed these questions in arriving at its recommendations.
The California Bar also reported that other states have sometimes recommended increases or decreases to their own bar examination cut score. But these states are almost all starting with much lower bar cut scores than California's baseline. It appears that few if any other states recommended bar examination cut scores as high as California's.
July 05, 2017
The Wall Street Journal closed several of its blogs on Monday, including its Law Blog. The WSJ has maintained its blogs with broader readership, such as those about economics and personal finance.
June 23, 2017
Least educated county on Oregon's Pacific Coast shuts its last public library rather than increase taxes by $6 per month per household (Michael Simkovic)
Douglas County in rural Oregon recently shut its last public library rather than increase property taxes by around $6 per month per household. Less than 16 percent of the population of Douglas County has a bachelor's degree or above, making it the third least educated county on the Pacific Coast of the United States and the least educated coastal county in Oregon.
Across the Pacific, cities like Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai have built globally competitive workforces by investing heavily in education and infrastructure and embracing global trade. In the United States, excessive anti-tax movements have contributed to disinvestment and have slowed U.S. economic growth.
Update: Michelle Anderson (Stanford) and David Schleicher (Yale) debate policy responses to local economic decline and migration of educated populations away from depressed areas. Hat tip Paul Diller. (Willamette).
April 18, 2017
Mark Hall and Glenn Cohen have extended Brian Leiter's approach to ranking faculty by scholarly citations (based on Sisk data) to the field of health law.
According to Hall and Cohen, the most cited health law scholars in 2010-2014 (inclusive) are:
|Rank||Name||School||Citations||Approx. Age in 2017|
|2||Mark A. Hall||Wake Forest||480||62|
|3||David A. Hyman||Georgetown||360||56|
|4||I. Glenn Cohen||Harvard||320||39|
|5||John A. Robertson||Texas||310||74|
|6||Michelle M. Mello||Stanford||300||46|
|10||George J. Annas||Boston U||270||72|
The full ranking is available here.