Showing posts with label socioeconomics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label socioeconomics. Show all posts

Thursday, January 18, 2024

It's education and healthcare, stupid

CC0 Pixabay via picryl
Experts are puzzled over American discontent while economic indicators ride high. Yet they consistently fail to recognize what seems to me an obvious factor: the exorbitant cost of education and healthcare.

My feeds have been awash in stories and analyses of the disconnect between economic indicators of a prosperous America and people's simultaneous sourness on their economic prospects. The Atlantic tackles the problem perennially (e.g., Apr. 2022, Oct. 2023, Nov. 2023, Dec. 2023, Jan. 2024). Yesterday I caught up on my podcast backlog with Paddy Hirsch and Darian Woods enumerating five explanations for The Indicator earlier this month.

To be fair, the explanations are multiple, complicated, and interrelated. Almost every writer fairly points to inflation as a capstone problem. As Hirsch put it, Americans care less about mathematical formulae than about strain on the wallet at the gas pump and the grocery checkout. 

Moreover, The Indicator helpfully told me, data show that even if wages are keeping up with inflation on average across the economy, that's not the experience of many, if not most, Americans. Wages in volatile markets, especially for young people who have the economic flexibility to change jobs more readily, are outpacing inflation times over. But wages in career tracks, for middle-aged and older Americans tied to mortgages and other responsibilities, are failing to keep pace with inflation. So yes, we're rightly frustrated when a smiling employer gleefully announces a wage hike, yet we somehow have less money in our pockets at month's end.

At the same time, I have been frustrated repeatedly by writers' and analysts' failure to recognize an elephant in the room: the exorbitant cost of education and healthcare in America. The problem is amplified by inflation, but it's not a byproduct of inflation, and it won't be remedied by any number of interest-rate hikes.

Let me interject that there is an overarching problem as well that analysts often fail to recognize, which is simply that economic indicators are not interchangeable with human happiness. American culture habituates us to equate, mistakenly, economic prosperity with personal joy. Yet ample social science data gathered around the world show that wealth, whether societal or personal, does not necessarily correlate with happiness; much less is it causal. And see Matthew 6:19-24. A productive society by economic measures is not necessarily a society that produces art, that affords opportunity for recreation and leisure, or that values freedom for individual and interpersonal fulfillment.

Even by economic measures, though, healthcare and education are anomalous sectors. As a matter of morality, healthcare cannot be left to the free market—and I say this as an economic conservative—because the essentiality of healthcare for survival makes any bargain inherently unfair, any playing field invariably unlevel.

Similarly, education, at least in part, also must operate extrinsically to the free market for goods and services. Education does not guarantee upward economic mobility. But upward economic mobility is profoundly unlikely without education. And a market has no incentives to provide educational opportunity as long as labor is abundant.

Consider: A society based on slave labor might look marvelous by economic measures: full "employment," efficient resource distribution, pyramid-building productive capacity. Yet there is zero potential for laborers' upward social or economic mobility. In America, we purport to abhor servitude and to prize socioeconomic potential as "the American dream."

Both healthcare and education are therefore imperative in our society; their absence, or unattainability, is hard felt. But the free market will provide neither in adequate supply. Healthcare will be unattainable for those unable to pay the going price. Education is a byproduct of a healthy economy only insofar as it is necessary to ongoing productivity. The economy won't provide for retraining as long as labor is abundant, and upward mobility is not even on the board.

This isn't an abstract problem. This is what Americans feel on the ground.

I went to the ER in the fall.  I was in the hospital for maybe seven hours, out-patient.  I am lucky to have insurance that covered most of the roughly $15,000 cost.  I am blessed with employment that allows me to cover without much strain the roughly 10% of the cost allotted to me. 

But for many Americans, in many instances, medical treatment is unaffordable or entails bankrupting medical debt. People choose to live with pain—not economic pain, but real pain, sometimes a toothache, sometimes terminal illness—because they can't afford healthcare. 

Why would we expect that people suffering with pain and ailments, unable to see doctors, would ever report feeling good about the economy?

My wife and I make decent money (for now). By some measures, our U.S. household ranks as high as the 93rd percentile by income. By tightening our belts for a few years, we mostly managed to put our one child, after public K12, through a bachelor's program. Still, she had to borrow about $50,000, much of it at 6.5%, to close the gap for four-year university. And we co-signed on those loans even while we were still, in our 40s, paying off our own higher-education debt. Neither our education debt nor the mortgage on our modest home discounted our income on the FAFSA that blithely informed us of our ample capacity to pay for college. And again, we're lucky and blessed. We could make it work.

For too many Americans, the cost of higher education is crippling or prohibitive. To my point, the economy doesn't care about education other than an efficient means to an end. The only relevant question is whether the hamster wheel is still turning. There's no need for people to better themselves, their lot. 

Why would we expect that people without hope for a better life for themselves or their children would ever report feeling good about the economy?

Education costs and debts work an enormous strain, financially and emotionally, on Americans. Healthcare costs, sometimes risks, sometimes debts, work an enormous strain, financially, emotionally, and physically, wearing us down, day after day.

And here's what really gets my goat: Things don't have to be this way. My cousins in Canada and Europe don't suffer under these strains. They have affordable healthcare and education. They are free to move about their lives.

My cousins pay more in overall tax burden—but not much more, and maybe less if I factor in my lifetime healthcare and education costs, as well as property taxes. And don't get into it with me over quality. As to education, I teach in Europe, and my students there are, to be frank and on average, better equipped as liberal arts undergrads than my American 1Ls, not for lack of work ethic. As to healthcare, I haven't met my primary care doctor since three primary care doctors ago. The reason I went in the fall to the ER, where I waited for five hours to be seen, was that neither my primary care network nor any area urgent care had a single opening. My "best healthcare plan anywhere in the world" must have been mislaid with my jetpack.

Can you imagine an America in which a university degree or a hospital admission would not have to be followed by years or decades of monthly payments? in which people could retrain for better jobs without incurring crippling debt? in which people could change jobs without sweating the burden of massive debts or the risk of losing access to life-saving medicine for themselves or their families?

That would be a free market. A level playing field. 

That's not what American corporations want. So that's not what Congress wants.

It's ludicrous (ludacris?) to expect that people—consumers—would radiate joy about a rosy economy as long as they're shackled, compelled to run the hamster wheels of a market that's not really free.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Bahamian development, identity stall between Columbus, Atlantis; tourist dollars seem not to land

Columbus is absent from Government House, Nassau.
Bowen Yang's amusing portrayal of Christopher Columbus on the Saturday Night Live "Weekend Edition" season premiere in mid-October reminded me of an empty pedestal I saw in Nassau, Bahamas, recently: a sight sadly symbolic of stalled development. 

(All photos and video by RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.)

I was in Bahamas on the country's National Heroes Day on October 9. Bahamas replaced its Discovery Day, recognizing Christopher Columbus, with Heroes Day in 2013. The idea is to honor homegrown Bahamian heroes and shed the cultural domination of the islands' colonial past.

I've written before on my conflicted feelings about Columbus Day. So I was curious when my Lonely Planet told me that I would find a Columbus statue presiding over the capital at Government House in Nassau. Indeed, my pre-pandemic Planet was outdated. The statue was vandalized just in advance of Heroes Day in 2021 and moved into storage in October 2022. 

I found not only an empty pedestal with a crumbling top, but closed gates at Government House. Neglected surroundings, outside the gates, unfortunately spoke to my overall impression of economic development in the Bahamas.

Two bridges connect Nassau to Paradise Island.
Infrastructure is in a sorry state. Roads are a mess, and signage is almost non-existent. Business outside Nassau and island resorts is minimal. I tried walking to a purported national park on New Providence, and I gave up the effort halfway for the lack of walkways alongside merciless speeding traffic. Later, I drove to the park to find little more than a set-aside green parcel walled by chain link.

K9 Harbour Island Green School subsidizes most students' tuition.
Besides the country's relentlessly cheerful people, little thrives on the islands, economically. There is the tourism sector, the stunning natural beauty of the islands, and expat enclaves such as Harbour Island and Spanish Wells. To walk from grimy downtown Nassau across either bridge to the touristic sector known as "Paradise Island," where the famous Atlantis development is located, is to transport oneself between worlds. 

A Disney ship departs Nassau before dusk.

I wondered what shop workers on Paradise Island think when they leave the artificiality of the plaster-and-paint retail village, with its Ben & Jerry's and Kay's Fine Jewelry, for dilapidated, rat-infested residential buildings in the city's corners. I wondered whether tourists see the contrast when they are whisked through downtown en route from the airport to Paradise.

The heart of the city undergoes an equally striking transformation almost daily. Cruise ships pull into the port and unleash a legion of passengers into the downtown district. Western stores such as Starbucks and Havianas open up alongside overpriced jewelers and T-shirt purveyors.

(Video below: A funeral procession for Obie Wilchombe, Parliamentarian, cabinet minister, and tourism executive, proceeded through the heart of the tourist district while cruise passengers were in port on October 11. I watched, I admit, from the balcony at Starbucks. Tourists who didn't see the coffin must be forgiven for assuming the lively music signified joyful festivity. Embodiment of the tourism-government complex himself, Wilchombe likely would have approved.)


Bahamas declared independence from Britain in 1973.
Then in the late afternoon, the passengers return to their ships, and the downtown becomes a ghost town. I walked the streets at dusk and came across a few port workers commuting by foot, a few teens joking about, and a scarily ranting homeless man who caused me to cross the street. Every business was shuttered. It was hard to believe the same space had been dense with vacationers only hours earlier.

A night street party in Nassau reverberates.
Walking Nassau at night, the relative silence was punctured by a raging street party. A man told me that it was an anniversary celebration of the most popular local radio station, and entry, food, and drink were free. He invited me to join, and I did. It was a raucous party inside with a rapper dancing wildly on a stage, flashing lights, and, he was right, free drinks and heaps of homemade local eats. I felt like I was crashing an after-hours cast party at a Caribbean Disney World. I was having fun, but I must have looked out of place—I couldn't help but attract attention as the only person not of color—as a couple of well meaning partygoers asked if I was all right or needed help finding my way.

Signs all over Eleuthera Island promise happy Disney jobs to come.
Determined as it purports to be to carve out a national identity free of colonialism, there is a painful dearth of evidence that the Bahamanian government is accomplishing that. The government imposes a hefty 12% VAT on goods and services, and I'm sure the port fees are substantial. Where is the money going?

The International Trade Association (ITA) well described what I saw: "The World Bank recognizes The Bahamas as a high-income, developed country with a GDP per capita of $25,194 (2020) and a Gross National Income per capita of $26,070 (2020).  However, the designation belies the country’s extreme income inequality, as statistics are driven by a small percentage of high-net-worth individuals, while most Bahamians earn far less." The only evidence of infrastructure investment I saw was that which directly benefited tourists and expats.

True to form, on a ferry between Eleuthera and Harbour Island, I overheard a couple of Americans in golf outfits discussing the plusses and minuses of potential investment in an island hotel. They seemed oblivious to the fact that the hotel name they bandied about was sewn into the breast of the short-sleeve work shirt of a local commuter sitting right beside them.

The historic "British Colonial" hotel, Nassau, lost its Hilton affiliation,
but is under renovation with plans to reopen under independent operation.

 
The one-two punch of Hurricane Dorian and COVID took a heavy toll, to be sure. And tourism income is not yet back to pre-pandemic levels. Still, that can't fully explain the development stagnancy I saw in and among local communities.

Perhaps naively, I expected to find the Bahamas more a reflection of the western sphere of influence than of the developing world. It's only a 30-minute flight from Miami to Bahamas, and 85% of imports come from the United States. But on the ground on New Providence and Eleuthera Islands, the Bahamas reminded me less of Florida and more of Guinea-Bissau—a country plunged into darkness last week for failure to pay a $17m debt to its exclusive power provider, the offshore ship of a Turkish corporation.

Two years since Columbus was vandalized and one year since he was packed away, the solution to native identity at Government House is a rubble-topped pedestal and closed grounds. The people outside the gates have embraced National Heroes Day. But there is little information in circulation about who the Bahamian heroes are or why they should be celebrated. 

The government owes its people better. And I wouldn't mind seeing American- and British-owned tourism companies taking some corporate social responsibility—if that's still a thing—to ensure that something of what they pay into the country is reaching the people and lands that truly give life to today's Bahamas.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Wide-ranging social commentary in Peele's 'Wendell & Wild' pillories privatization, school-to-prison pipeline

Released by Netflix in October 2022, Wendell & Wild is a delightful stop-motion horror animation and none-too-subtle commentary on the school-to-prison pipeline.

Jordan Peele and Henry Selick co-produced and co-authored Wendell & Wild, which is based on an unpublished book by Selick and Clay McLeod Chapman. Comedic genius Peele was fresh off Nope (2022), which I thought was much better than the confused Get Out (2017), though the newer film won zero Academy nods to the earlier's screenplay win and three noms in 2018. Selick is a Hollywood legend, but doesn't perennially produce new work for our pleasure. He co-masterminded The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and James and the Giant Peach (1996) in the animation vein, and he did the visual effects for a favorite film of mine, the quirky and underrated Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004).

Wendell & Wild follows teenager Kat (Lyric Ross, Déjà on This Is Us) as she battles demonic forces, including an eponymous demon pair (voiced by Peele and comedy partner Keegan-Michael Key), intent on evil works, including construction of a prison, in the down-on-its-luck earthly town of Rust Bank. Critics harshed on the film for jamming too much social commentary into one vehicle, and, admittedly, Wendell & Wild fires head-spinningly at innumerable targets.

To me, that's the fun of it. Race, education, employment, the institutional church, and the criminal justice system only outline the low-hanging fruit. Through subtleties such as plot device, semantics, and imagery, the film digs deep into nuances, even the socioeconomic layers of natural hair.

Whatever your pet peeve of social dysfunction, you can find it in Wendell & Wild, which is why I first saw the film as a commentary on transparency and accountability in urban development. The demons and their mortal allies are in the privatization-of-state-services game. They plan to build a prison that will do nothing in the way of rehabilitation alongside schools that will do little in the way of education, as building each institution to serve its purpose would be bad business for the other.

What I was inclined to see as a problem in freedom-of-information law, informed as I was by a former student's recent publication on private-prison abuse in Arizona for The Journal of Civil Information, to be fair, is just one angle on the broader problem of the school-to-prison pipeline. In this vein, I shared a scene from Wendell & Wild with my law students.

It happened that Jose Vazquez, communications director for the ACLU of Alabama, keyed in on the same scene and posted it to Twitter (embed below). In the scene, mean-girl ringleader Siobhan (Tamara Smart) starts to put together the evil plot of her parents, urban development power couple Lane and Irmgard Klaxon (David Harewood and Maxine Peake), owners and directors of Klax Corp. How sweet is that multiplicitous naming?

Wendell & Wild is worth the watch. As Vazquez wrote of the above clip on Twitter, "I really hope it can be used in classrooms."

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Lawyers be a-ballin'?

Canadian lawyers protest legal aid de-funding in 2014
(Sally T. Buck via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
My wife was a legal services attorney after law school.
Her salary could not have paid both law school debt
and even a modest mortgage.

A student loan specialist giving advice on The Takeaway this morning said, "Don't live like a lawyer when you're a student, and you won't live like a student when you're a lawyer."

Betsy Mayotte, founder and president of The Institute of Student Loan Advisors, was repeating an aphorism, she said, as a caution against students borrowing more than they need for higher education. Don't count on any program for loan forgiveness, she warned; rather, assume that you'll have to pay back every dime.*

That's sound, conservative economic advice, especially for an America stretched thin on credit card debt and short on long-term savings. But for anything, I could not work out how the aphorism embodied the message.

What does it mean to "live like a lawyer"?

Mayotte had just cautioned students that they should take the time, however boring the task sounds, to read the whole of their promissory notes. The notes well explain what borrowers are in for, she advised, and "no one told me that" will not later be an excuse to default on debt.

Also good advice. But doesn't living like a lawyer mean being supremely attentive to the fine print and acting conservatively in anticipation of adverse circumstances?

In her informative and insightful book, How to Be Sort of Happy in Law School, Professor Kathryne M. Young related research that successful lawyers are more often natural pessimists, marking a contrast with the successful optimists who have the lead in the other professions, clergy and medicine. That's because a lawyer's job is to prepare for the worst, while clergy and doctors are busy instead coaxing their clients toward a joyful salvation of one kind or another.

Did the aphorism mean to be an optimist when a student, so you don't have to be a student when you're a pessimist?  What does that even mean?

You, dear reader, are no doubt quicker on the draw than I, so you've probably worked it out. It dawned on me an hour or so later:

Don't live like a baller when you're poor, or you'll be poor when you're supposed to be ballin'.

The problem is that "lawyer" doesn't mean rich to me. 

I'm a lawyer. Not rich. My wife's a lawyer. Also not rich. I checked.

The vast majority of my former students work in public service jobs, if they're in JD-required positions at all. And even the few in private practice: not rich. Okay, I can think of one. But I think he was rich already.

Don't get me wrong. We're not struggling. Two JDs put our household income in the 90-something percentiles, according to the DQYDJ calculator, with me in the 90s as an individual and my wife, who has a master's degree, as well as her law degree, in the 70s. 

But income is only one measure of wealth, and, I daresay, not the most important. We both went into serious debt to get those JDs. Our home is mortgaged. We had not paid off our graduate education by the time our only child went to university. And we could not afford to get her through four years without her going into debt, too. 

Neither of us started off loaded. We still buy our clothes at Goodwill and Savers. Habits die hard. I just threw away my wife's socks with holes in them while she was out of the house. She won't do it. But I think she deserves better.

When I left law practice in 1996, I was making $50k, which is about $95k adjusted for inflation. I left that for my first job in academics, where I made $35k—$15k less than the IT guy. "Supply and demand," the dean said.

Now I make more. But after advancing in academics for 25 years, I still make less than the average lawyer in the mid-Atlantic, where I practiced, and just a little more than the nationwide average starting salary for a first-year associate.

The takeaway is that I don't associate being a lawyer with being rich. And it's alarming if people are going to law school with that expectation, or if that's how the public sees lawyers. "Kill all the lawyers" was the suggestion of a butcher.

I just finished some physical therapy for an injured shoulder. The bill for that, to my insurer, was $355 per hour. I saw a podiatry specialist recently. That was billed at $122 for what I think was scheduled as a 15-minute appointment, though it took less than 10.  We'll call it $488 per hour.  I like both those providers, but neither is a superstar gracing the cover of Physicians Weekly.

A very gross number, but the average U.S. lawyer's billable hour now runs about $300. The lawyer has more investment in education than the physical therapist, if a bit less than the doctor. The lawyer is a bargain. Clergy is a better bargain, but that's their thing.

Why isn't the saying, "Don't live like a doctor when you're a student, and you won't live like a student when you're a doctor"?

Well, of course, not everyone in healthcare is rich, either.  My wife had an ER visit and hospital stay, no procedures, last summer that was billed at about $13,000 for two days. At the same time, one of my nieces and one of my brothers work as nurses in hospitals; neither of them is making bank. Where's the money going?

I don't know what the right graduate school investment is to get rich. I didn't make it. Maybe whatever gets you to be a healthcare CEO. Be the owner of the hospital, not a provider in it.

Law and medicine can open the door to opportunity, to improve your lot if you're not living comfortably. I'm not knocking that. But no one should go into educational debt without a plan at least to do better than status quo. And plans should be based on realistic expectations.

The aphorism doesn't fit. Worse, it's dangerously misleading. We've got a problem in America with access to education and upward socioeconomic mobility. Simplifying the narrative to suggest that a professional degree will necessarily afford return on investment is not part of the solution.

* I've been reading about the challenges against the Biden student loan forgiveness order. You can follow the legal story at Reason. I'd love to see the plan go through; my daughter would benefit. I'm sorry to say, though, I think the challengers are right: the President exceeded his authority. The unfortunate political outcome, I predict, is that the Administration will be blamed for breaking a promise, and the Supreme Court will be blamed for enforcing the law, both thereby suffering unwarranted further damage to already embattled credibility. Meanwhile, Congress, which in fact held the key to untie the President's hands, but can't ween itself off addiction to money, and especially Democrats, who passed on a real opportunity to make a difference for access to education and socioeconomic opportunity, will escape accountability.

With regard to the title of this post, you can read more about the circumfix a-/-ing at Wiktionary. Read more about "the habitual be" at Slate.

I've been away from the blog for a while owing to an exhausting, if variably rewarding and challenging December and January. I'm back in the saddle now and look forward to catching up on some matters I'm eager to share. Thank you for your patience, and stay tuned!

Friday, September 17, 2021

Can 'inclusive capitalism' pull us back from the brink?

1957 U.S. propaganda poster (NARA)
"Welcome to late-stage capitalism!," DeepKarma tweeted @me earlier this month.

The exclamation was a response to my tweeted complaint that Hertz rental car quoted me a higher price when logged in as a "Gold Plus Rewards Member" than when I compared rates in an anonymous browser.  Dynamic pricing is a known feature of online retailing that rubs people the wrong way yet pours through America's dysfunctional consumer protection sieve.  I did not expect it to be a feature of Hertz's so-called "loyalty program."

Pushing the button of my angst over corporatocracy, DeepKarma's term intrigued me. My subconscience might have remembered Annie Lowrey's "Why the Phrase 'Late Capitalism' Is Suddenly Everywhere" in The Atlantic in 2017, subtitle: "An investigation into a term that seems to perfectly capture the indignities and absurdities of the modern economy."

The term dates to early 20th-century German economist Werner Sombart. Twentieth-century socialists mispredicting the demise of capitalism were fond of the term, which in turn made it unwelcome in polite democratic company.  Now our feverish commitment to deregulation, dismantling of social safety net, and bottom-line-driven abuse of human capital, etc., resulting in, inter alia, an enormous wealth gap and aforementioned charade of consumer protection regulation, have brought the term back into fashion.  I'm an economic conservative, by the way, but there is no free market if people are not free to enter into it and make free choices once they're there.

Coincidentally, I recently mentioned the work (and kind support for my work) of Syracuse law professor Robert Ashford.  It happens that Ashford is a leader of a community of scholars who have for decades been advocating, often screaming into the wind, for economic policy solutions to come from economics itself.

More often than not, the field of economics posits only descriptive research or resorts to classical norms such as laissez-faire regulatory policy without critical introspection.  Ashford is the founder of interdisciplinary "socio-economics," which strives for "inclusive capitalism": in my words, to use economic science to actually make life better for everyone, rather than for some at the expense of others.

A short but steep learning curve is required before one digs into the potential of socio-economics, in the vision of Ashford and colleagues.  Here is an introductory kit:

As these titles indicate, the interdisciplinary nature of socio-economics and inclusive capitalism make the sub-field accessible to scholars, for both understanding and participation, in a range of disciplines, both soft and hard sciences, besides law and economics, and also understandable to anyone.  Professor Ashford is always willing to invest time and energy to help potential believers come up to speed, and he is a captivating speaker for conferences and classes.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

So now you care about academic mobbing

Angry Mob by Robert Couse-Baker, CC BY 2.0
Princeton politics professor Keith E. Whittington (on the blog) has a wisely worded op-ed, on The Volokh Conspiracy at Reason, on the too often abdicated responsibility of university administrators to push back against viewpoint-based campus mobbing of faculty.

"It is now a familiar pattern," he writes: attack, petition, social media campaign, demand for termination.  Of the university's duty, he writes:

University presidents have a responsibility in such a situation. It should go without saying, but unfortunately it does not, that they have a responsibility to actually live up to their constitutional and contractual responsibilities and refrain from sanctioning the faculty member for saying something that someone finds controversial. They should insist that harassment and threats directed against members of the faculty will not be tolerated. Professors should at least be confident that when the mobs arrive, pitchforks in hand, that university leaders will not flinch and give in to the demands of the mob.

I hope the piece hits the desk of every university president in the land with a thunderclap of j'accuse.

Yet it is fascinating to me to see described today as cliché what was once fringe.  Canadian sociologist Kenneth Westhues, professor emeritus at the University of Waterloo, published his Workplace Mobbing in Academe (2004) seventeen years ago, and that book was built on his earlier Eliminating Professors (1998).

By the time I met Ken in 2009, he was already the world's leading expert on academic mobbing.  He still is.  Westhues's website is still the online clearinghouse on mobbing as a sociological phenomenon. But he's almost never cited, at least in the legal lit.  I find eight references to Westhues on Westlaw's JLR database, and none in the last dozen years.

At a program at the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) in 2010, I accepted the invitation of Westhues and Syracuse University law professor Robert Ashford to speak of my experience.  Ashford perceived a worthwhile connection to his inventive work in socio-economics, and Westhues flattered me with my name as a participle

The splash we made at AALS and in legal academics eleven years ago might be described well as mostly indifferent curiosity.  Mostly modifies indifferent, not curiosity.  

I wrote in the Journal of College and University Law in 2009 about the need for broader academic freedom, beyond published research and into the professorial "penumbra."  I presented at AAUP, besides AALS.  The article was cited once in a 2011 bibliography and once in 2013.  (Thanks, Profs. Benson and Jones.)  And that was that.

Not until cancel culture reached the well known coastal scholars of academia's elite institutions did mobbing hit the mainstream.  Now a lot of important people are wringing their hands over academic freedom and waning tenure.

Too bad they don't seem able to find my article.  Or Westhues's work.  Is there really a wheel until it's invented at a "top" school?

It's nice to see serious people having serious thoughts about academic freedom, at last.  But it's too late to give solace to a generation of victim-scholars.  And it's probably too late to resuscitate intellectual liberty on campus, for at least a generation yet.