The New York Times's attempt at a right of center columnist, David Brooks, has a column today referring readers to an October 30, 2008 essay by Michael Porter in the October 30, 2008 issue of Businessweek. Among Professor Porter's suggestions: welfare for universities and their students. He doesn't call it that, but here's the key language: "U.S. colleges and universities are precious assets, but we have no serious plan to improve access to them by our citizens. ... Instead of mounting a serious program to provide access to higher education, like the G.I. Bill and National Science Foundation programs of earlier years, Congress grandstands over the rate of endowment spending in our best universities." With all respect to Mr. Porter, who is a professor at Harvard, the federal government has been pouring money into colleges and universities, and the colleges have been using it to build fancier dormitories, pay their presidents and professors higher salaries, and build bigger parking lots for the students and their parents to park their BMWs in, all while raising the sticker price of tuition. One assessment, provided by the Heritage Foundation, found that federal financial aid programs for college students grew to $63 billion in 2000 from $19 billion in 1990, with little impact on enrollment. Another study, by the Urban Institute, found, "State and local educational officers have an incentive to raise tuition in order to capture the increased financial aid, attenuating or possibly eliminating the expected positive effect of aid on enrollment." The Urban Institute estimated 2003 federal spending on aid to college and graduate students at $20 billion, with an additional $11.8 billion in tax expenditures on things such as Coverdell accounts and Section 529 plans. That doesn't include the billions more in research funding for colleges and universities.
Mr. Porter also complains about immigration, writing, "legal and illegal immigration of low-skilled workers cannot help but make the problem worse for less-skilled Americans." He writes, "Republicans keep repeating simplistic free-market thinking, even though the absence of all regulation makes no sense. Self-reliance is preached as if no transitional safety net is needed." It's disappointing that this is the best Mr. Brooks can recommend, because in its own way it's just as simplistic as Mr. Porter's caricature of free-market thinking.