“As much education as they can afford”

Mitt Romney’s tone-deafness is really quite amazing.

There are only two viable theories to explain Barack Obama’s extraordinary run of luck in finding self-destructing opponents to run against: if he’s not under Divine protection, then he must have sold his soul to Satan.

Latest example is Mitt Romney, who appears to be competing for the coveted gold medal in Tone-Deafness.

Mitt thinks that children should get “as much education as they can afford.”  (Where “affording” includes, no doubt, borrowing from your parents.) Of course his preferred policy is largely the current policy: a child in the bottom quartile of measured intellectual capacity but whose family is in the top income quartile has a better chance of finishing college than someone in the brightest quartile intellectually but the poorest economically. But the American Dream is still about a place where a child’s future isn’t limited by his parents’ means.

Romney isn’t alone in dreaming a different dream. But most of his fellow plutocrats and plutocrat-friendly pols are smart enough not to say so out loud.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

19 thoughts on ““As much education as they can afford””

  1. projecting from current trends and assuming no major realignment of the parties, i see hereditary titles and a noble or royal class developing out of the top 0.01% within the next 50 years.

    i desperately hope i’m wrong.

  2. Why should they take the titles when they can have the substance instead? We’ll remain proudly “classless” as (if) we descend into plutocratic oligarchy, just as Rome remained a “republic” for five centuries (fifteen, counting Byzantium) after Octavian Caesar announced himself “princips” (first citizen) and took the titles of Augustus and Imperator.

    Now is the time for all good Americans to come to the aid of their party.

    1. The Greeks early on gave the Roman Emperors the title basileus, which is unambiguously royal or imperial: it was used of the Persian Great Kings and by Alexander the Great and the diadochoi. The Latin titles were apparently dropped in 628 CE, when the only part of the Roman Empire left was the eastern, Greek=speaking one.

    2. Surely I am not the only one who has noticed the analogy between the Roman allergy to the term “Rex” (king) and the adoption of the euphemism “Imperator” (which roughly means commander) and the increasing use of the term “Commander in Chief” to refer to the President?

      1. Not nearly the only one. Whenever someone refers to the President as “your Commander-in-Chief”, I point out that like most American citizens I do not wear a military uniform. I have no Commander-in-Chief, whether upper or lower case. When asked by someone who would appear to be a chicken hawk (like Rmoney), I ask when and where they wore the uniform.

    3. Sorry to be a pedant–OK, maybe not sorry; it feels good to occasionally remember my schoolboy Latin–but it’s “princeps,” not “princips” (the “i” shows up in the genitive).

      I think that Cato book on militarism had something to say on the Commander-in-Chief title, and I suspect Maddow’s *Drift* does as well.

      But I agree with Mark that we should chase the effectual truth, not the words. Proconsuls became the really scary people in late-Republican Rome (they had the public-turned-private armies) even though the term itself isn’t any more ominous than “ex-President.” Conversely: it’s in concept pretty scary that Presidents have started to sling around the commander-in-chief title where it’s not at all appropriate. My undergraduate students are astonished when I point out that when any civilian is asked the name of “your commander in chief,” the correct answer is “nobody; I’m not under military discipline.” But a president who awaits with fear and respect both opinion polls and the opinions of the country’s head lawyer is very, very far from one close to being able, or eager, to exert martial authority over civil life.

  3. To me, by far the most interesting part of that post was “a child in the bottom quartile of measured intellectual capacity but whose family is in the top income quartile has a better chance of finishing college than someone in the brightest quartile intellectually but the poorest economically.”

    I would like to explore that idea further. Do you have a cite to a study for that proposition?

    1. The easier explanation is that Republican candidates are torn between the need to appeal to swing voters and the need to appeal to the extremist part of the Republican base. I imagine that it is pretty hard to get some coherent policy-making and messaging going under these circumstances.

      1. sure…but that doesn’t explain how the most powerful political couple in American history can go from LBJ level mastery to a couple of dunces who couldn’t figure out how to run in a caucus. Not to mention Gerldine Ferraro’s transmongrification from Feminist Icon to George Wallace.

        I mentioned this on LGM, and Joe from Lowell added these two datapoints:

        “I’m going to be the next Senator from Illinois! But first, I think I’ll take my unwilling wife to a swingers club and act like a cad in public, derp derp.”

        “Sure, I’m the incumbent for this state legislative seat, but I’m going to blow off my filing documents, derp derp.”

        I mean, how else to explain how OBL can avoid detection by 2 US Presidents. Then along comes the Big O and what the hell does he do: “duuuuh…think I’ll go live in huge mansion right next to the Pakistani West Point.”

        Clearly, he zapped the whole republican party. I mean, these guys were so depressed after Obama 86ed Osama that you’d think Jesus just reappeared on earth to declare; “Tax cuts don’t pay for themselves.”

        1. To be honest, this list may be colored a bit by confirmation bias?

          I don’t recall the Clintons to behave Dunces — they ran a pretty good primary campaign, but Obama just ran the better one (with the expertise of some veteran Democratic campaigners).

          With respect to Geraldine Ferraro, I give you the Reverend Wright.

          What I can agree with is that Obama, unlike a lot of other US politicians, could flourish in a parliamentary system, too, in that he has a pretty deep understanding of policy issues and can actually speak about them without preparation (as in how he handled his 2010 meeting with the Republicans). There are a few others (Bill Clinton and Bernie Sanders come to mind; Bill Clinton is particularly good at explaining complex policy in terms that everybody can understand), but in general, this level of casual competence when it comes to public oratory and debate is not actually all that widespread in American politics (in contrast, it’s an essential survival skill in Westminster).

          Yet, we kinda don’t notice it when a politician actually has this skill, because … well, that’s how they should be able to talk about their field of expertise, shouldn’t they? We expect it, and just lower our expectations a bit if it isn’t quite there. We only really notice its absence, especially with a gaffe like Romney’s.

  4. There’s very little point in building the world’s best treehouse and then not pull up the ladder, now is there?

    Qua houses, treehouses aren’t very good. They’re small, hard to get to, and lack a lot of amenities.

    The ladder is sort of the point of the operation.

  5. And yet the worrisome fact exists that Obama is running neck and neck with perhaps the least talented presidential candidate we’ve ever seen.

    Obama may be extraordinarily lucky, but I also wish the Democrats and the President used political jujitsu more often. Luck, tempered by aggressive tenacity, wins more elections and awards than luck alone.

    1. And yet the entirely-predictable fact exists that Romney is running neck and neck with perhaps the darkest incumbent president we’ve ever seen.

  6. This “borrow it from your parents” idea has permeated everything, and I am experiencing it currently while trying to buy a home. I’m not wealthy, but I have worked hard to save up the 20-30% down payment, and have been pre-approved by various big lenders, and simply want a little house in which to live a life landlord-free and able to have a cat. Next step: find a suitable home and buy it, right? Wrong.

    Every house I’ve tried to purchase has been sold to an investor who has all-cash to offer, even though my offers are sometimes higher than theirs. The very fact that I need a mortgage has locked me out completely; my money is worth nothing.

    People’s response to this turn of events? Like Mitt Romney, they tell me I need to obtain a loan from my parents. Apparently even home ownership, even at the low end, now requires one to have a parental “bank” to draw from. Romney and his ilk would, I’m sure, see that as being quite reasonable, because they are happy to report that the American Dream is now dead. If you don’t have family resources upon which you can draw, tough luck.

    Meanwhile, among all the sellers of real estate, I wonder how many of them could have purchased their own homes for cash in the first place. Likewise, I wonder how many college graduates from thirty years ago could have financed their own educations, by themselves, at current prices.

    The ladder has been pulled up and securely fastened.

  7. It is not only this “all they can afford” quote which ought to plague Romney, but his very recent denouncing Obama for wanting more firefighters, as if the Pres did not get what the voters of Wisconsin were saying in the failed recall election of their goobernator. There are going to be more wildfires during the summer, and that Romney quote should be used against him (just as Romney is using the “private sector is doing fine” quote against Obama). However, to date, I have yet to see any TV ads with the firefighter quote; I have seen dozens of airings of the “private sector” quote by the Romney camp.

    If the Dems do not actually use the “afford” and “firefighter” quotes in TV ads, it is as if they were never uttered.

  8. Back to the Imperator/Commander in Chief thread. I think it’s time for a re-read of Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” The things I remember most from the early sections is that (according to Gibbon) the decline began when the emperor Marcus Aurelius chose his worthless son, Commodus, as his successor (sound familiar…?). The other point is that, soon afterwards, it became the custom for any would-be emperor to bribe the Praetorian Guard–IOW, the man with the most money often got to be emperor (sound familiar…?). Perhaps the next thing we’ll see is President/Imperator Jamie
    Dimon dividing the country into four sections, appointing Vikram Pandit as his co-emperor (Diocletian’s title was ‘Augustus’) with perhaps the Koch brothers as co-junior emperors (‘Caesars’)….

  9. Even from a heartless-republican point of view, “all they can afford” is an incredibly stupid maxim. If education reliably improved people’s earnings prospects, there would be a much more efficient market in educational financing, and “all you can afford” would be instead “all you can absorb”. If you’re looking at education as a financial transaction, you should buy the amount that maximizes your return. Unfortunately, a fair number of folks have made Romney-level fortunes selling poorer people “education” that doesn’t improve either their earnings prospects or their inner lives.

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