Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Vanity, Law School Hiring and Subsidizing Ourselves

If markets works, a lower demand for what is being produced means decreased need for labor which means either lay offs or attrition.

But when they do not work, decreased demand may be unrelated to the purchase of inputs and, in fact, inertia may mean keeping capacity at the same level. One of the best instances of institutions not responding to markets is legal education.

I have written before about the capture of law schools by faculty who then determine based on self interest what will be taught, when it will be taught, how many will be taught, and virtually every other aspect of the business. Think of it as something like General Motors with the workers making the decisions and those deciding are all based on what feels good to them regardless of how many cars are produced or their quality. The difference is the GM workers would not do that because GM would fold. Law schools don't fold.

One thing that law professors like to produce is cute little compact cars (courses) for which there is little demand but which they really like working on. These are the so called vanity courses or courses that would not be offered but for the presence of a particular professor on a faculty. Otherwise the course would be on the shelf indefinitely or not even in the catalogue.

What appears to increasingly fuel hiring needs is the unwillingness of faculty to be less vain in what they teach and their insensitive to costs. For example, suppose you are on a faculty of 60 and teaching "International Poverty Law for Accounting Majors" to 15 students a year. The school has a desperate need for someone to teach evidence and virtually any law professor could do that. But, it might mean giving up your beloved International Poverty Law Course. (Actually it would not but that would mean teaching more than the minimum possible number of hours and you know that ain't going to happen).

So, in a declining market, law schools continue to hire and increasingly the costs are passed onto students and the end result is to ask them to subsidize the teaching of a course that only exists to please a faculty member.

When push comes to shove we know that faculty always vote to subsidize themselves and their follies.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Class at the Movies: Elysium

Tonight I saw Elysium. Yo! It was pretty crazy. The Earth becomes a dump and all the rich people move to a steering wheel in outer space. Max, homage to Mad Max, gets into a peck of trouble down in the dump and wants to get to the steering wheel to get rid of his troubles. I'll not tell you what the troubles are but I think he got his childhood sweetheart pregnant. Not sure on this because I was sleeping waiting for the next big fight scene to start and because the fumes from the bourbon the guy behind me was guzzling was over powering. And his girlfriend had this annoying laugh (not Max but the guy behind me) -- you know the kind, not really a laugh because she is laughing but laughing to let you know she "got it." (I wanted to slug her.) In fact, she got nothing because she did not laugh at all at the funny parts assuming there were funny parts which I cannot be sure of because of the nap between fight scenes.

Sorry for the digression. Anyway, Jodie Foster is in the movie with a wardrobe I would kill for -- all slick, beautiful fabrics and stunningly accessorized. She, unfortunately, developed a bit of a sore throat at the end was not able to complete the film. I was so looking forward to the next ensemble. Either that or she was seeing her tailor.

It all ends well. We stop sending aid to Egypt and instead reroute it to Earth. Jessie and Walt go back to cooking but only soup at a homeless shelter. Max and his girlfriend reconcile after a bit of a scuffle up on the steering wheel and live happily ever after except for one exception that is pretty insignificant in the scheme of things.