Friedman and Bruni

The Moustache of Wisdom has a question in “What If?”:  What if the eras of the E.U., high growth in China, expensive oil and newly independent nations’ economic foundations are all over?  In “Rethinking College Admissions” Mr. Bruni says a new report suggests that we’re on the cusp of important, necessary changes in the way colleges evaluate applicants.  Here’s TMOW, writing from Zurich:

Just get me talking about the world today and I can pretty well ruin any dinner party. I don’t mean to, but I find it hard not to look around and wonder whether the recent turmoil in international markets isn’t just the product of tremors but rather of seismic shifts in the foundational pillars of the global system, with highly unpredictable consequences.

What if a bunch of eras are ending all at once?

What if we’re at the end of the 30-plus-year era of high growth in China, and therefore China’s ability to fuel global growth through its imports, exports and purchases of commodities will be much less frothy and reliable in the future?

“Now that this debt bubble is unwinding, growth in China is going offline,” Michael Pento, president of Pento Portfolio Strategies, wrote on CNBC.com last week. “The renminbi’s falling value, cascading Shanghai equity prices (down 40 percent since June 2014) and plummeting rail freight volumes (down 10.5 percent year over year) all clearly illustrate that China is not growing at the promulgated 7 percent, but rather isn’t growing at all. The problem is that China accounted for 34 percent of global growth, and the nation’s multiplier effect on emerging markets takes that number to over 50 percent.”

What if the $100-a-barrel oil price era is over and all these countries whose economies were directly or indirectly propped up by those prices will have to learn to grow the old-fashioned way — by making goods and services others want to buy? Thanks to steady technological advances in America for fracking, horizontal drilling and using big data to identify deposits,OPEC’s pricing power has disappeared. Countries that have set their budgets based on $80- to $100-a-barrel oil will find themselves vastly underfunded just when their populations — in places like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Indonesia and Venezuela — have surged.

What if average is over for countries? During the Cold War you could be an average, newly independent state with artificial borders drawn by colonial powers. There were two superpowers ready to throw foreign aid at you, educate your kids in America or Moscow, build up your armed forces and security services and buy your crummy manufactured exports or commodities.

But what if the rise of robots, software and automation mean that these countries can’t rely on manufacturing to create mass labor anymore, that the products they can make and sell can’t compete with Chinese goods, that climate change is pressuring their ecosystems and that neither Russia nor America wants to have anything to do with them because all either wins is a bill?

Many of these frail, artificial states don’t correspond to any ethnic, cultural, linguistic or demographic realities. They are caravan homes in a trailer park — built on slabs of concrete without real foundations or basements — and what you’re seeing today with the acceleration of technology, climate change stresses and globalization is the equivalent of a tornado going through a trailer park. Some of these states are just falling apart, and many of their people are now trying to cross the Mediterranean — to escape their world of disorder and get into the world of order, particularly the European Union.

But what if the E.U. era is over? Reuters reported this week that Germany is telling other E.U. countries that if they don’t prevent the influx of more refugees into Europe from the Mediterranean and “relieve Berlin of the lonely task of housing refugees, Germany could shut its doors.” Some Germans even want a border fence. One senior conservative was quoted as saying, “If you build a fence, it’s the end of Europe as we know it.”

What if the era of Iranian isolation is over, just as the Arab system is collapsing and the two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians is history? How will all those molecules interact?

And what if all this is happening when the two-party system in America seems to be getting most of its energy from the far left and the far right? Bernie Sanders’s platform is that we can solve our most onerous economic problems if we just tax “The Man” more. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are running on the theme that they are “The Man” — the strongman — who can magically fix everything.

What if our 2016 election ends up being between a socialist and a borderline fascist — ideas that died in 1989 and 1945 respectively?

And what if all of this is happening at a time when our government’s ability to stimulate the economy through either monetary or fiscal policy is constrained? Unless we go to negative interest rates, the best the Fed can do now is rescind the tiny rate hike made in December. Meanwhile, after all the vital government spending to stimulate demand after the 2008 crisis, there is no consensus in the country for another big round.

These what-ifs constitute the real policy landscape that will confront the next president. But here’s the worst “what if”: What if we’re having a presidential election but no one is even asking these questions, let alone “what if” all of these tectonic plates move at once? How will we generate growth, jobs, security and resilience?

There’s still an opportunity for someone to lead by asking, and answering, all of these “what ifs,” but that time is quickly coming to an end, just like the last dinner party I ruined.

I’m sure he can ruin a dinner party just by showing up…  Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Over recent years there’s been a steady escalation of concern about the admissions process at the most revered, selective American colleges. And little by little, those colleges have made tweaks.

But I get the thrilling sense that something bigger is about to give.

The best evidence is a report to be released on Wednesday. I received an advance copy. Titled “Turning the Tide,” it’s the work primarily of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, though scores of educators — including the presidents and deans of admission at many of the country’s elite institutions of higher education — contributed to or endorsed it. Top administrators from Yale, M.I.T. and the University of Michigan are scheduled to participate in a news conference at which it’s unveiled.

“Turning the Tide” sagely reflects on what’s wrong with admissions and rightly calls for a revolution, including specific suggestions. It could make a real difference not just because it has widespread backing but also because it nails the way in which society in general — and children in particular — are badly served by the status quo.

Focused on certain markers and metrics, the admissions process warps the values of students drawn into a competitive frenzy. It jeopardizes their mental health. And it fails to include — and identify the potential in — enough kids from less privileged backgrounds.

“It’s really time to say ‘enough,’ stop wringing our hands and figure out some collective action,” Richard Weissbourd, a senior lecturer at Harvard’s education school, told me. “It’s a pivot point.”

Weissbourd is one of the directors of the school’s Making Caring Common project, which produced the report. He’s also the author of research that was one motivation for it — specifically, a survey of more than 10,000 middle- and high-school students that asked them what mattered most: high individual achievement, happiness or caring for others. Only 22 percent said caring for others.

The new report contemplates how the admissions process contributes to that psychology and how it might be changed. Some of those alterations would simultaneously level the playing field for kids applying to college from less advantaged backgrounds.

“Colleges spend a huge sum each year sending signals that influence the behavior of millions of students,” the report notes. Why not rethink those signals to reshape that behavior?

The report recommends less emphasis on standardized test scores, which largely correlate with family income.

It asks colleges to send a clear message that admissions officers won’t be impressed by more than a few Advanced Placement courses. Poorer high schools aren’t as likely to offer A.P. courses, and a heavy load of them is often cited as a culprit in sleep deprivation, anxiety and depression among students at richer schools.

The report also suggests that colleges discourage manic résumé padding by accepting information on a sharply limited number of extracurricular activities; that they better use essays and references to figure out which students’ community-service projects are heartfelt and which are merely window dressing; and that they give full due to the family obligations and part-time work that some underprivileged kids take on.

Stephen Farmer, the vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, praised the report as consistent with his school’s desire “to be humbler and more alert to the many ways in which people can stake a claim on a place here.”

He said that the school had already, for example, downgraded the importance of “A.P. everything,” which doesn’t necessarily measure true ability or intellectual hunger.

“Just making people jump through hoops because we can — we don’t want to do that,” he told me, especially when some hoops are so arbitrary that “we might as well be admitting these people on the basis of their height or the size of their neck.”

“Turning the Tide” follows other reexaminations of the admissions process. A growing number of colleges have made the SAT or ACT optional. And late last year, more than 80 colleges, including all eight in the Ivy League, announced the formation of the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, which is developing a website and application process intended in part to diversify student bodies.

Colleges are becoming more conscious of their roles — too frequently neglected — in social mobility. They’re recognizing how many admissions measures favor students from affluent families.

They’re realizing that many kids admitted into top schools are emotional wrecks or slavish adherents to soulless scripts that forbid the exploration of genuine passions. And they’re acknowledging the extent to which the admissions process has contributed to this.

But they still need to stop filling so much of each freshman class with specially tagged legacy cases and athletes and to quit worrying about rankings like those of U.S. News and World Report. Only then will the tide fully turn.

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One Response to “Friedman and Bruni”

  1. Mo' Jo Says:

    I was wondering about just the same thing Tom. And here’s what I thought. What if the markets are pricing in President Donald Trump and Vice President Sarah Palin?

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