• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Friday Fragments

Baumol’s cost disease, Trump, the move back to Jersey.


July 31, 2015

There’s a piece making the rounds about Baumol’s cost disease that’s both smart and confused.  

It starts by implying that explanations of tuition spirals that draw on Baumol’s cost disease are mistaken. But it sort of shifts ground halfway through, implying that it actually has been true until now, but that technical innovations will render it moot.

Then it claims that people use Baumol’s cost disease as an excuse not to innovate. At that point, it’s both factually incorrect and in tension with its claims in the first part of the piece.

People who put stock in Baumol’s as a driver of cost increases -- and I am one who does -- often use that as an argument for innovation. Either we change what we’re doing, or we’re locked into a cost spiral indefinitely.  Very few people just shrug at the prospect of an indefinite cost spiral. (To be fair, Baumol himself sort of does in his recent book. I took him to task for that.)  

Arguing that the status quo is structurally flawed is not arguing in favor of the status quo. If anything, it’s creating space for innovations to thrive.


As a writer, seeing the phrase “the collected works of Donald J. Trump” in The Washington Post is sort of bracing.  It tends to generate a crisis of purpose.

Still, the review is worth reading. I salute the author’s tenacity.


On the topic of disruptions, I’m thoroughly convinced at this point that the real estate industry needs to be disrupted. Interstate moving is a nightmare.

Here’s an occupation waiting to be born: an event planner for long-distance moves. Basically a project manager who knows the sequence of what needs to happen, and who can follow up on the cascade of phone calls, emails, and requests to fax (!) documents. (My favorite was the request for a copy of a check I deposit two weeks prior. I’d love to make a copy but, um, I deposited it…)  

The number of calls and emails with variations on “I need this obscure document faxed to me RIGHT NOW” is absurd. Everyone acts like it’s the first time they’ve ever worked over distance. That cannot possibly be true.  

On the bright side, though, I’ll finally be able to bid Comcast adieu. There’s something deeply satisfying about that.


Program note: every summer, I take a week-long break from blogging. Most years, it’s for a vacation. This year, it’s for moving a house full of stuff.

Assuming catastrophe doesn’t strike, the blog will be back on Monday, August 10, once again reporting from New Jersey.


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