Why is America the Best Country?

Piety, the Constitution, apple pie, our especially excellent mothers: all these gifts contribute to the overall wonderfulness of our country, but the underlying rock of greatness has to be big-time college sports, especially football. This industry builds balanced scholar-athletes, deep thinkers with finely-tuned, healthy bodies, prepared intellectually and morally for demanding careers. It legitimizes the effete and self-indulgent lives of professors who just want to sit around reading and writing stuff, and allows them to make a real contribution to society. It raises the moral plane of alumni, especially those at the rarefied level of trustee and at the summit acme ultimate peak of booster, so they can be beacons of honesty and right thinking in the larger community.

It makes me sad to see all those other countries trying to fight corruption, racism, exploitation, and ignorance without this essential arrow in their quivers, but we have it and they don’t, and that’s obviously how the Lord intended it to be. Every now and then a clueless malcontent like this Prof. Gundlach tries to make trouble, but Auburn will be rid of him in a year, and the republic is secure. Still, he may turn up on your campus, and you may have people like him undermining the program from within already, so keep an eye out. If eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, it’s even more critical to higher values like a bowl bid.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

12 thoughts on “Why is America the Best Country?”

  1. While you are bashing College Fb you could note that UCLA under the current coach runs a clean and upstanding program that evryone can be proud of. It is the SCs and the Auburn's of the world that have the criminals and illiterates on their team.

  2. Wow, more than half the players graduate!
    Proud indeed. And I bet those football players are all over the campus, taking hard courses in biochemistry and Renaissance history, and acing my friend Mark's public policy class, too; no gut courses for athletes at UCLA. The ones who don't go to the NFL are curing cancer, captains of industry, elected to high political office, running community nonprofits, etc.
    If you have some data to support my sarcastic conjectures, I'd love to see it. There's nothing wrong with football as a sport or a business, it's just profoundly toxic to the host when operated inside a university for profit.

  3. The imbalance of time and resources devoted to athletics in just about every education institute in this country is appalling to me. But is could possibly be worse me thinks. Just imagine what will happen when high schools and universities start thinking about all the money now swirling around in NASCAR. What will collegiate stock car racing and it's attendant "scholarship" look like?

  4. What would the economies of small towns look like if ex-college and high school football starts were not able to play on their past celebrity to open up used car dealerships, diners, and real estate offices? I'm not sure you've thought through the implications of attacking the foundations of these pillars of their communities.
    Okay, okay.

  5. Reminds me of the tournament where our highly-rated Division III basketball team was getting rolled by a rival we were expected to crush. Luckily the EE350 midterm finshed up by the end of the 1st quarter, so our two stars were able to suit up and get in the game by the 2nd half and come back from behind. When the student newspaper asked them why they hadn't petitioned to have the test rescheduled they said the possibility had never occured to them.
    No (athletic) scholarships for those boys of course.

  6. Wow,
    How did we get off of what the NY Times article was actually saying about what the academics of Auburn University? STAY FOCUSED!

  7. Wow, Georgia graduates almost half its football players, and more than a quarter of its black ones! Go Georgia, dang if those bulldogs aren't hitting the books!
    Check the link in my earlier reply; read'em and weep. (and the Cal numbers are pretty miserable, too)

  8. Arthur Ashe, Jackie Robinson, John Wooden, Kareem Abdul Jabaar are towering figures any school should be proud of. UCLA's athletic tradition is nothing to be ashamed of. And Coach Karl Dorrell is now one of only 3 (maybe 5) black coaches in all Division 1, which makes him one of the most visible black men in a leadership position in the country. If you insist on being completely obtuse to the importance of sports to the American culture, often for the better (Hint, Jackie Robinson was really important) than you really should re-evaluate your role as commenter on society at large-you just don't understand the country well enough.
    Look at the class years from the Stanford report, it's from the Pete Dalis/Bob Toledo/Steve Lavin era when UCLA was not being as rigorous as it should about player admissions. The school, and coach Dorrell, have raised the bar quite a bit as any fan who follows UCLA recruiting will tell you. UCLA has nothing to be ashamed of with the current set of coaches. And educating these athletes may well have a greater marginal effect on society than another 4.0 student.

  9. CalDem, I'll be delighted to see indicators that UCLA football players are performing academically in real courses and graduating, when they're available; I notice you aren't telling me that football players, black or white, at UCLA are getting what most people would consider a real UCLA education, by the way. I predict that if it occurs, it will trash the team's performance on the football field, which is actually OK with me.
    My sense of the importance of sports in American culture is that there's altogether too much selling it as a passive entertainment to a population that's getting fat and sick from watching instead of getting out and doing some.
    And as to role models for minorities: the NFL hires about 500 football players a year from all America, for a job that lasts on the average five years. Do you think the average big strong black American kid is well served by believing he should bet everything on getting through that tiny tollbooth, or that he'd be better off spending all that practice time doing homework? Frank & Cook, The Winner Take All Society. …that society in general is well-served by believing that the brass ring in life is to make a lot of money before you're thirty and create no value from then on, and by extension, that people who have real careers going to work in the morning and bringing home forty years of paychecks are losers?
    I remember Jackie Robinson well, having watched him play in Ebbetts Field as a kid, and I have a royal blue hat with a white B on the front in my closet to this day. He was a hero, along with Branch Rickey, and his teammates, actually even more for his courage and self-control than his athletic skills. But as a service to black youth, I'd trade three-quarters of the ink spilled over him and the other stars you mention for publicity for black neurosurgeons, corporate execs, painters, poets, college professors, etc.
    Playing sports for a living is a career bet that makes no sense for any but a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of teenagers and college students, and bigtime college athletics departments are exploiting players' misreading of reality cynically and abusively to get cheap labor they can discard like used Kleenex, for an entertainment sideline that has nothing to do with the mission of a university. The consistent big differential between black and white graduation rates only adds an odious racist overlay to the situation.

  10. I think there are two seperate arguments here:
    1) College sports are corrupt and racially discriminatory and it would be much better if they were dropped/replaced with a minor league, etc.
    I agree with that completely. But remember as well that the Ivies are relatively just as bad about admitting unqualified students who can play lacrosse, row, etc. ( my dumb as rocks HS friend who was a HS lacrosse star got admitted to Georgetown w/a full financial aid package – and his story is by no means unique.) So this is really a sports and university question as much as a bigtime Div. I sports question.
    And sure I'd like the U.S. to be more like France and appreciate intellectual endeavors more than sports achievements.
    But that isn't the country we live in. A large portion of the population sees society, culture, business, through a sports metaphor , football specifically, and that is not going to change despite our fervent wishes. For that reason,
    So given that we come to the 2nd, argument, which is the part UCLA plays in the admittedly corrupt system. I think UCLA can play a beneficial role by admitting athletes that can make it through real majors and do well on the field. Also, taking a chance on qualified minorites by promoting them to highly visible roles,like UCLA did with coach KD, is a good thing and a good example for the larger society. Jackie Robinson was important precisely because sports play a uniquely important role in society and as much as you and I wish that Ralph Bunche was the better known UCLA alumnus, that isn't the country we live in.
    As to wether UCLA sports is trying to perform honorably by only admitting students who can graduate in real majors, it will take time for actual graduation numbers to go up becuase kids are in school for five years. But you could easily talk to Coach KD and howland about their extensive efforts to recruit and support the kids. Coach KD is a highly intelligent black UCLA alumni and I would bet that he has thought quite a bit about athletics, black men, and academics. If you can get a chunk of his time I bet it would be a very interesting conversation.
    the final issue at UCLA in particular is that without DI sports admission breaks UCLA would quickly decline to single digit numbers of black men in the entering classes. Again, I would prefer other solutions like affirmative action, but those aren't available. So its a real issue.

  11. Education is social capital.
    Football, as practised in American colleges, is part of what American universities are about: alumni loyalty, alumni donations. It seems to me there is a problem of suboptimal equilibrium here, because it pays a university to get better athletes and worse students– the university which tries to be 'clean' and graduate its students is not going to excel in sports.
    We ignore the role of social capital at our peril. Americans do not primarily go to university to learn something, they go to get a credential that allows them to work in middle class white collar jobs.
    Interestingly, there was some study (Malcolm Gladwell quoted it) that college jocks tend to do rather well in life, post college. They tend to go for sales oriented and/or financial services jobs that pay well.

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