why does college cost so much?

If you read popular coverage of higher ed, one of the biggest recurring questions is “why does college cost so much?” There’s no really good answer to this question, in part because it’s poorly phrased. Higher ed is a big field containing several different organizational populations that look very different when it comes to costs and revenues (and student bodies, etc.). The chapters by Scott and Ruef & Nag in this edited volume do a nice job of laying out some of the contours of that diversity. Applying that basic insight suggests that the question “why does college cost so much?” might have very different answers for public research universities, community colleges, private liberal arts schools, the elite research universities, for-profits, etc. The relative weight of the various popular explanations (including administrative bloat, Baumol’s cost disease, lavish expenditures on amenities, higher levels of federal financial aid, and declines in state support) may differ radically.
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southern heritage and hate can’t be independent factors

L.J. Zigerell, a political scientist and frequent commenter here, has a new post on The Monkey Cage about attitudes towards the Confederate Flag among Southern Whites. Zigerell runs some regressions on attitudes data from 1994 and 2004 to show how attitudes towards the South in general and attitudes towards racial minorities predict support for the flag. Zigerell finds that even controlling for responses to racial attitudes, attitudes towards the South predict support for the flag. Here’s the conclusion:

Nevertheless, the results from these two surveys suggest a more qualified conclusion about the correlates of support for the Confederate battle flag. Surely racial attitudes reflect one such factor, but Southern heritage appears to be another.

This strikes me as wrong in an important way, but I’m curious if you all agree. Specifically, to me this conclusion rests on a “variables” conception of “heritage” and “hate”, where “heritage” means “responses to questions about love of the South” and “hate” means “responses to questions about attitudes towards racial minorities”. But that seems, well, wrong. It requires begging the question (in the sense of assuming the answer) that “Southern heritage” is a distinct thing that is separate from racism. But it isn’t. That’s not what racism is or how racism works. Zigerell adds some reasonable caveats about the age of the data, but I think misses this larger problem. The regression produces sensible seeming output, but the underlying constructs simply don’t make sense.

What do you all think?

new guidelines for transparent and open research

The journal Science has just published details about a new framework for encouraging better scientific research and publishing practices, titled Transparent and Openness Promotion Guidelines. The New York Times has the story here, including a quick description:

The guidelines include eight categories of disclosure, each with three levels of ascending stringency. For example, under the category “data transparency,” Level 1 has the journal require that articles state whether data are available, and if so, where. Level 2 requires that the data be posted to a trusted databank. Level 3 requires not only that data be posted, but also that the analysis be redone by an independent group before publication.

The guidelines come from the Center for Open Science, and scatterplot’s own Jeremy Freese is among the authors. Go Jeremy!

if your business model requires that your employees not be recognized as employees, maybe you need a new model?

A California court just ruled that Uber drivers are employees. Here’s the (pro-Uber) coverage from Business Insider. Note how the story accepts Uber’s versions of the facts about who counts as an employee:
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the new economic imperialism: methods not models

Two economic graduate students affiliated with Duke’s Center for the History of Political Economy have just released a new working paper on the history of quasi-experimental methods in economics. Panhans and Singleton document the dramatic takeoff of the use of techniques like regression discontinuity, difference-in-difference, and instrumental variables in the top economics journals, and most of its subfields. The paper’s a nice introduction to this history, and for readers unfamiliar with the older approaches, sets up a nice quick contrast between a 1970s “structural” approach to the returns to education vs. a 1990s “quasi-experimental” approach. What really struck me, though, was an ending reflection on the nature of economic imperialism.
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davis and mizruchi on “corporations and capitalism”

The newest issue of the Economic Sociology section newsletter Accounts was just published. The first piece in the issue is a conversation Mark Mizruchi and Jerry Davis about their research on corporate political power and the contemporary capitalism. Unsurprisingly, it’s simultaneously provocative and hilarious. Here’s a snippet:

Mark: You just gave a good example of why democratic management might not be the way to go.

Jerry: Oh, really?

Mark: Yeah, the problem is, if you’re going to run a company democratically you have to spend 20% of your time in meetings.

Jerry: Okay, some of that 20% is HabermasticationTM. Sometimes meetings are worthwhile because you’re sharing information and figuring things out, but sometimes meetings are a waste of time. Some decisions could be more efficient because we have the technology to be more democratic and local than we used to (say, using a voting app). The alternative less-democratic version of that is let’s say Uber, where you use the same technology to create a class of Student Loan Activated Volatile Employment… it’ s an acronym.

Mark: …Slave.

Jerry: Yes. In Ann Arbor there must be 5, 000 people driving for Uber this second who are recent sociology undergraduates, who have discovered that they are unemployable but they have to repay their student loans. That’s the digital immiseration version of this technology.

Check it out!

black/white mortality differentials and american politics

There’s a new paper from Social Science and Medicine making the rounds with the provocative title “Black lives matter: Differential mortality and the racial composition of the U.S. electorate, 1970–2004.” The Monkey Cage has a write-up with a blunt (clickbait-y?) title that emphasizes the paper’s main question, Blacks die sooner than whites. How many votes has this cost Democrats? Something about this framing bothered me.

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