Which system should be redesigned from scratch?

Here is another question I didn’t get to answer from last night:

Your blog talks about making small marginal improvements, but if you could redesign one system entirely from scratch, which one would it be, and how would it look compared to what is currently in place?

One answer would be “blogging, I would have much more of it.”  But my main answer would be higher education, especially those tiers below the top elite universities.  Completion rates are astonishingly low, and also not very transparent (maybe about 40 percent?).  I would ensure that every single student receives a reasonable amount of one-on-one tutoring and/or mentoring in his or her first two years.  In return, along budgetary lines, I would sacrifice whatever else needs to go, in order to assure that end.  If we’re all standing around in robes, arguing philosophy under the proverbial painted porch, so be it.  At the same time, I would boost science funding at the top end.

I also would experiment with abolishing the idea of degree “completion” altogether.  Maybe you simply finish with an “assessment,” or rather you never quite finish at all, since you might return to take a class when you are 43.  Why cannot this space be more finely grained, especially in an age of information technology?

At lower ages, I would do everything possible to move away from having all of the children belong to the exact same age group.  The Boy Scouts are a better model here than “the 7th grade.”

The NBA is one institution that I feel is working really well at the moment. and I don’t just say that because I root for Golden State.  Though that doesn’t hurt any, either.


A lot of low hanging fruit in higher ed. Separate out the lab sciences where students need to do hands on work with test tubes, machines, or patients etc. You could hire a big empty mall with good parking, public transport, and food nearby, and create lots of classrooms with whiteboards and chairs, small classes and good teachers ,and do just about as well.

But that presumes students are not there for "the college experience."

I think there are a few defunct malls that have been repurposed into schools. There's apparently one that has been repurposed into a hospital so even the lab stuff is not a limitation

One of the older core malls in the Nashville area was bought out by Vanderbilt Hospital and remodeled into a nice campus.

It is a good thing that a large percentage of college students drop out in their first year. Separate the wheat from the chaff. Efforts to keep them in school is essentially keeping the chaff in with the wheat. Why? It is a simple natural process. Are you ready yet at age 18 or so to actually study and do the work with a goal to complete four years or not? Why spend time and money on those who are not ready?

Bryan would say it’s all about signaling. Surely we can move to mastery based advancement rather than time-based. Toyota figured that out decades ago.

I read lately that most colleges go to extreme lengths to hide their costs from enrollees, by, e.g., treating loans as though they were grants. So much corruption.

A lot of wisdom in these recommendations & I agree emphatically with them & you.

Health care and the system of insurance. The dog’s breakfast “system” is a mish mash disaster of bureaucracy, overly expensive and potentially unnecessary care coupled with a parallel systems that includes lack of basic care coverage with high out of pocket costs that disincentivizes the very people who might benefit from seeking regular care.
Even if you want to argue that the high costs drive innovation, there just has to be a better way to set up if innovation is your goal.

The health care system deserves a massive reset.

In the US at least, obesity runs rampant and contributes to many other health deficiencies. Never before in world history has a society been so overstuffed with food. And drink. But just keep scarfing down those donuts, they're working on a cheaper form of gastric bypass surgery.

Totally agree. See if you agree with any of my proposals to fix it below...

It's amazing how basically everyone thinks ours education systems are completely wrong and still it seems impossible to change them.

You have a very, very large set of people who have incentives for maintaining the status quo in some manner. A large bureaucracy in DC is set up for the current system, redesign would at least shake up all their normal working lives.

The accreditors also would have much less to do in a new system.

While you might be able to convince the professors that a new system is in their best interests, there are legions of administrators who might lose their high status positions.

Then there are the students and alumni. Redoing the system means that the value of those expensive degrees may lose value. Even if you most likely would gain from rejiggering the BS/MS/PhD system, there is a strong loss aversion bias to overcome.

Ultimately I think we have a problem that we do not like people having unaccountable life altering power (e.g. who gets into universities), so we grow safeguards into the system to protect against unfair treatment. Those end up overtaking the system and we lose sight of the original goal. Unfortunately by the time we realize this, a new entrenched set of interests will vociferously defend their patch of the status quo.

'A large bureaucracy in DC is set up for the current system, redesign would at least shake up all their normal working lives.'

Not that large, compared to even a single company like Aetna, where a major change to something like single payer (which I personally consider foolish, but America will never have something like Germany's system) would cause more problems than a mere shake up of their normal working lives.

America's health care system is unlike any other in the industrialized world, and the main money sinks are motivated by profit, and have nothing to do with the government. Obamacare changed basically nothing in that regard.

A concrete example is how many people in an American doctor's office do nothing but handle insurance matters with their counterparts in the insurance companies. This entire and 'normal' part of the American health care industry does not exist in Germany, essentially. Anecdotally, I have read that if an American doctor has a total of 5 people working in the office, 2 to 3 of them do nothing but handle insurance matters, which seems quite plausible based on my decades old knowledge. It is also a reason that a HMO like Kaiser Permanent is more cost efficient - they basically have no need for such services.

In single payor systems there is still a lot of administrative work--though it is easier to only deal with one payor.

The cost effectiveness of HMO's has very little to do with a lower administrative and more to do with better care coordination and incentives that align with low-cost high quality care rather than simply a fee-for-service more quantity the better.

'In single payor systems there is still a lot of administrative work'

There will always be administrative overhead, of course. And Germany is not single payer, but the system is quite simple here - present card to person at the PC, the doctor does their job, and what was done is entered. That is pretty much it, actually - there is nobody employed at the doctor's office just to handle dealing with such routine administrative work, because it might take up an hour of the person handling patients during the day.

HMO's do a number of things to reduce costs, of course - but not employing an entire layer of people whose job is dealing with billing insurance companies is not trivial.

Our education system are supposedly so bad, yet the world's elite send their children here to study from K-12 to the Universities and US schools rank at the top of rankings. Tyler, the eternal hipster contrarian, I hope soon flips to the "US education good" camp soon. You know, to sate his inner edgelord and need to be a trendster.

You're a Warriors fan too? I knew I liked the cut of your jib.

I don’t recall Tyler expressing any interest in Golden State back in, say, 2012. Front runner. Like Patton said “America loves a winner, and will not tolerate a loser.” If the cliche fits...

Further, I thought TC was rooting for underdogs like the New Orleans Pelikans (Sveshnikovs), so indeed the Warriors comment seems a bit contrived/bandwagon effect. BTW I did not watch more than five minutes of the NBA, I think it was game four of the finals that an inlaw had on TV here in the NBA-crazed Philippines, but was struck how the playoff series leading to the final all seemed to stretch to the seventh game before the designated two teams of destiny were to meet. It's about as real as WWE wrestling in my mind.

Professor Cowen's recommendations are too unrealistic. People have been suggesting variations of this sort of recommendation for a long time (smaller class sizes, more advisers, etc.). But who is going to pay for it? "...sacrifice whatever else needs to go" is like when the Republicans say "government inefficiency!".

Who is going to define "reasonable".

This is all wishy-washy.

Where did he say "reasonable"?

All soccer in the USA.

"mentoring in his or her first two years"

I think the mentoring is more needed during high-school. When the student already chose university, major and got into debt...mentoring may be a bit late.

Guidance is needed during middle and high school, mentoring is need by most people well into their 30s.

Guidance counselors at high schools are 100% focused on funneling kids into college.

One change that could be made easily is for all government grants for tuition and education at the college level to be treated as flat dollar grants, not based on the cost of education. As it is, the possibility of grants supporting poor students based on the nominal tuition gives schools the incentive to have a high list price and no incentives to lower overall tuition. A fixed tuition voucher of (for example) $25,000 for capable but poor students would benefit institutions that could promise students a top education for a flat fee rather than asking for say, $40k a year but discounting it for certain kids.

"The NBA is one institution that I feel is working really well at the moment."
-- Interesting, since they're completely immune to the strictures of 'diversity and inclusion' currently afflicting most of society.

They are not 'completely immune' - 'The NBA has always been a progressive sports organization. Historically, players are freely able to speak their political views and have autonomy over their career. However there is one glaring issue — the lack of diversity in head coaching positions.

In many ways, the NBA is the benchmark for what a major organization should be like. Players have a lot more freedom to speak their minds, the atmosphere is family friendly and the league protects its players for a future after basketball, unlike the NFL.

The root of the issue of black coaches having extremely limited tenures comes from the very top of the food chain, where representation of people of color is almost non-existent.' http://www.daily49er.com/sports/2018/03/13/diversity-in-coaching-has-reached-a-low-point-in-the-nba/

He means that there are Black people in the NBA and most players are (presumably) .

... heterosexual.

For years I've been campaigning to increase Japanese representation in the NBA. Unfortunately, the legacy of internment camps and racist WW2 propaganda is still preventing Japanese athletes from getting a fair opportunity in the NBA.

+1 for a telling example.

Obviously there should be 50% women. With a mandate for equal playing time. And more inclusive goal height. And I think I’ve even noticed that some ethnic groups are present in proportion different than in the general population, even in this day and age. And the age discrimination is just, well, glaring. How many over 50 players do you see? They have a lot of work to do.

It's just possible that people don't care about diversity in basketball because basketball is not the entry point to the future livelihood of pretty much everyone in society.
College admission is different than basketball. A lot more is at stake in the admissions process.

College admission is different than basketball. A lot more is at stake in the admissions process.

No, not much is at stake for the vast majority. In ordinary circumstances (when political patronage and athletics are not at issue), the "admissions process" determines whether the applicant is understood to be best adapted to a Tier N school such as ours or a school of a lower tier. It's only in the case of the most marginal students that the question is whether or not the student is college material at all.

If “entry point to future livelihood” of a broad population in the criteria to care, then we can forget about board membership on public companies, university faculty, casting of tv shows, and hiring decisions for fire departments.

Just to add to that, about 1.8 million baccalaureate degrees are issued every year. Currently, resident young adult cohorts have a population of about 4.5 million per birth-year, so we're looking at perhaps 40% of the youth of the nation cadging baccalaureate degrees. Arguably that's wretched excess, but many people still prepare for satisfactory jobs without that credential. When we're talking about 'the admissions process', we're talking about the injury to your income stream from studying at a 3d tier college v. a 4th tier or a 2d tier college.

The games are fixed.

Your point being what, exactly? That it should be totally cool if only white people get to go to college?

No, we should be totally cool if blacks with the grades and test scores characteristic of students admitted to 3d tier colleges were admitted to and attended 3d tier colleges rather than being stuffed into 2d tier colleges (or 1st tier colleges) in order to satisfy witless imperatives of faculty and administrators at those institutions (imperatives rooted in social fiction, status competition, and disdain for their institution's common-and-garden clientele). The current admissions process incorporates the fallacy that black youths with ordinary board and achievement test scores are (each and every one) have some sort of secret sauce that makes their presence imperative. (When what happens is you get a student ill-adapted to the pace of the institution, demoralized, and surrounded by honkies to whom he seems dissatisfied and kinda messed up).

'“blogging, I would have much more of it.”'

So, back to the Internet of 2006? Probably a good idea.

'But my main answer would be higher education'

And it takes just a few more words to understand that 'American higher education' is actually what is meant.

'The Boy Scouts are a better model here than “the 7th grade.”'

As an Eagle Scout, I am not really sure that I agree - a lot depends on the adults.

"So, back to the Internet of 2006? Probably a good idea."
Make the Internet great again.

"As an Eagle Scout, I am not really sure that I agree - a lot depends on the adults."
The same is true about parents vs jailers, your government vs invaders, criminals vs police. The devil is in the detail.

Tyler is hinting at more experiences for 10-17 year-olds as opposed to tighter age bands. Meeting high-school kids as a middle schooler was certainly eye opening. Church groups are another good opportunity to have mixed age groups. Older youth at our church help 5-10 year-olds perform a summer musical.

My take - take the current public cost of funding education post 16 years old per 16 year old and put that amount in cash in an savings account for each 16 year old. The 16 year old is allowed to use the money only for education, if they don't use it then they have to keep it in the account until they are 65 (if they die, it goes to their heirs). I would bet that 95% of kids would be better off leaving the money in their savings account.

Only 10% of entering freshman complete the requirements for a four-year degree, but 90% of those who complete two years go on to complete the requirements for a four-year degree. That was the case back when I was in college, and though the precise percentages may have changed, what they reflect has not. Cowen is right: it's in those first two years that students need help making it through or, and this is perhaps even more important, finding an alternative (to a four-year degree) that's better suited for them. I encourage high school and college students to find a summer job that will teach them a skill, plumbing, electrical, air conditioning, carpentry, any number of what I call "useful" skills. I remember one summer working construction and one of the other workers was a law student. At the time I thought he was crazy, but he knew what I did not know.

As for Cowen's second point, lifetime learning, I'm a lawyer so I have no choice (my state Bar has mandatory CLE, but lawyers have no real choice anyway because they can never learn and retain all of the law, law that is ever changing). Colleges could encourage lifetime learning by providing periodic re-certifications of their degrees, obtained though continuing education on campus and online. It's one thing to have a degree obtained 25, 30, 40 years ago, another to have a re-certifications from last year. I would not require an exam, but proof of completion of the continuing education requirements.

A third point: citizenship. It's definitely lacking. Maybe it never actually existed, not universally, but today it's lacking across the population, from the least to the most "educated". I remember a college professor who told us that we should have public educators, or "readers", whose job would be to educate the population on citizenship. This may seem very strange, but a hundred or so years ago, some companies paid "readers" to lecture (i.e., read to) factory workers while they worked. No, not propaganda (like the "problems in American democracy" class in my high school), but the classics in a variety of subjects including history and philosophy. I suppose we don't have the number of factory workers today, so the "class" in citizenship would have to be offered in different ways, but with the internet it would be much easier to reach a much larger number of people. How to motivate them to watch/listen would be a challenge (the factory workers had no choice in the matter), but that's the real point anyway: to motivate one to learn throughout one's lifetime.

Only 10% of entering freshman complete the requirements for a four-year degree, but 90% of those who complete two years go on to complete the requirements for a four-year degree.

And why is that? Perhaps it's the same reason that someone who was on a high school basketball team is much more likely to be on a college basketball team than someone who was not. It's partly what was learned on the high school team but it's mostly that kids on the high school team were more athletic and more interested.

Students who complete two years are smarter and more interested in academics. Guidance and mentoring may be of limited use, unless it can point them to non-academic possibilities that they are more interested in and qualified for.

Reform Public Bathrooms!

The long lines/waits for Ladies" Room are a National Crisis. End Male Privilege and Toxic Masculinity.

[" if you could redesign one system entirely from scratch"]

Think BIG -- the U.S. Federal Government 'system' desperately needs a complete makeover. The original design (Constitution) has been largely abandoned in favor of constant, disjointed, ad hoc "modifications" to the system -- with terrible results.

Does anybody here seriously believe that the U.S. Congress, Presidency, and SCOTUS work efficiently and effectively for the American citizenry ?

As to education (pre-school thru PhD) -- all the dysfunction noted above is ultimately caused by unnecessary and counter productive government interventions.

Not to mention the tax code. I would love to see this overhauled with a complete rewrite from scratch!

You all are missing the key problems regarding what college fundamentally is.

And it is (1) a jobs program for the otherwise unemployable, and (2) a signalling mechanism to employers who are banned by law from using all the other possibilties.

You aren't going to fix this with "more mentoring" and standing around in robes.

How are you seriously going to fix this?

>The NBA is one institution that I feel is working really well at the moment.

By having the same Finals matchup four freaking years in a row?

Try again.

The real problem is that there are no rules, in the sense of ones that apply across the board. Its boring and infuriating. A foul against Curry is not a foul against other players. Wether a screen is moving depends on team, player, situation. Travel rules depend on the player. Its a "sport" about like the WWE. Not that its fixed, it can't be becuase there are no rules to begin with.
Its boring and eventually its going to crash.

I also would experiment with abolishing the idea of degree “completion” altogether. Maybe you simply finish with an “assessment,” or rather you never quite finish at all, since you might return to take a class when you are 43. Why cannot this space be more finely grained, especially in an age of information technology?

This is a good idea.

Health care markets

Stanford has a Freshman and Sophomores program to assist students in getting past the critical first two years. However, this F&S program is just a euphemism for "Tutoring for Minorities and Athletes who shouldn't have been admitted in the first place."

While Stanford boasts approximately 13% of Black students, UC Berkeley which is forbidden to have affirmative action has only 3%. Part of this difference is that if you are a high achieving Black student, Stanford (and Harvard, Yale and the other private institutions) are ranked highest than Berkeley. Why pick the number 1 public school when it ranks behind 24 private schools?

Nevertheless we see that minorities and athletes have to be dragged kicking and screaming into their third and fourth years. If only better qualified students had been given those seats, there would be less of a college mismatch. Those struggling students at Stanford might have been better served by a community college, of which California has excellent ones.

Let's also remember back to our own college years. Junior and Senior level courses are orders of magnitude more difficult than principles classes. Students who can't get through F&S years simply aren't capable of rising further even if they were placed there without regard to prior performance. Grades actually mean something with regard to probability of success. Merely getting through F&S years isn't the test of sufficiency to handle upper class work.

I'm intrigued by the suggestion of doing away with degrees. Transcripts can show what you have learned and how well you did, and you can leave at any time an employer thinks you are ready. This gives some meaning and credit to the "Some college" demographic.

Alas there is some value in signalling of meeting a fixed standard to completion. I just don't know how powerful the signal is.

Scouting compartmentalizes Cub Scouts, Weeblos, and Boy Scouts. Within each group are ranks that serve as hierarchical distinctions.

But your suggested approach in lower ed is the "one room schoolhouse" model. It worked well for quite some time because of low scale. But apparently there are economies of scale in teaching, a quasi public good. With more students, it makes more sense to tailor material to students of similar readiness.

Teaching is an excellent vehicle for learning though. Perhaps some time can be reserved for students to teach lower grade students.

With more students, it makes more sense to tailor material to students of similar readiness.

Unfortunately, age often has a rather loose relation to readiness. Preparation and intelligence matter a lot. In an "inclusive" age-cohort system, some students are always bored cause they already get it and other students are bored because they don't get it. My department head used to say, "Teach to the 25th percentile."

Exactly. And since kids are learning little of value in any case, they may as well learn social skills and mental maturity, which is where mixed-age groups REALLY help.

Who said anything about teaching to age cohorts?

I said "similar readiness."

And even if the top and bottom quartiles of an age cohort are bored as you say, that still means the majority of the class is approximately equally prepared.

Tyler as a San Antonio Spurs fan I have to deeply disagree with you about the state of the NBA. The cap spike that led Kevin Durant to make the cowardly and unsportsmanlike choice to go to the Warriors has led to a lack of suspense unrivaled by any previous period in the NBA.

This is the correct answer. The outcome of the 2018 playoffs was known back in the preseason. If this makes a healthy league, you have a different definition of healthy than I do.

So game 6 and 7 of Warriors vs Rockets was also preordained?

Don't give me that 'they almost lost!' BS. Lots of things almost happened.

Waaah! I don't want to hear about reality! Get your facts out of my face!

It was known that the Warriors would overcome a 3-2 deficit against the Rockets?

Air traffic control. Yes, its mostly safe to fly. However, the systems, processes and infrastructure are not efficient or effective, in terms of moving people around, or coping with future growth. And lets not get started on airport security..

The whole purpose of higher education is to winnow out those capable of the challenge.

The goal isn't to graduate everyone who applied so they can practice medicine or be an engineer and design bridges. It is to have competent doctors and engineers.

Those who don't make it either shouldn't have tried or should stop borrowing money they never will be able to pay back.

The problem is that there isn't a place, or enough places for them elsewhere. That is what I would redesign.

The whole purpose of higher education is to winnow out those capable of the challenge.

So basically you're saying that medical schools don't teach medicine. They just winnow out the people who are natural born doctors.
Because people are just born knowing how to perform surgery. It can't be learned. It's innate.

No. But if you can’t make it through Physics 101, it probably a waste of time to invest your time or the universities resources to try to make you an engineer. Similar hurdle for people who think they are pre-med and would like a place in med school. Winnowing for capability. One might debate exactly how best to do this, and there will be the rare late entry walk on, but in general the earlier the winnowing occurs the better.

If a student can't complete Physics 101, ok, then they can't enroll in further classes that have that prereq. But they should have the right to purchase membership in a Physics 101 class. And if they do perform well in Physics 101, they should be able to purchase membership in further classes with that prereq. What is absurd, is the current model where college admissions board decides who gets the right to purchase membership in Physics 101 class at government schools and who doesn't. They make that decision on not merely ability but on race/ethnicity, religion, political ideology, or as a political favors, or in exchange for large financial donations. And they make those decisions in secret and don't have to explain their decisions at all. They can take great students and deny them admission so they can't even purchase membership in Physics 101 and give that right to more mediocre students instead.

The idea that the problem is limited university resources to offer classes is ridiculous. Today, I can buy all the piano lessons I can pay for. Or I can go to the grocery store and buy twenty hot dogs if I want to and can afford it. There is no problem of scarcity in those areas.

And if people want to buy Physics 101 education and waste it, how is that different from being able to buy piano lessons and waste it, or buy hot dogs and waste them?

The entire education system should be redesigned from scratch starting from pre-school. Higher education is way too late to start.

Good points on mixing kids of different ages, and on eliminating or reforming degree requirements. We should rethink the entire process, including admissions and "acceptance". We is getting access to a good education treated like a prize in a competition that only some people can win?

I guess that depends on whether teacher-student ratio matters? If it does, then you have a limited # of slots. And given the limited number of slots, they need to go to the students who will get the most out of the lessons.

If you really care about learning, there are great MOOCs to accommodate you, right? We're really talking about credentialism?

Well, there's an awful idea: require people to recertify their degrees every ten years, because knowledge is ever-changing, people need to be life-long learners, etc.

We think the education industry takes a big chunk of GDP now ...

Don't require anything.
If some colleges want to offer "recertification" and if employers care about that, it could be a useful way for older employees to prove that they still have the chops.

"Which system should be redesigned from scratch?" (in the US)

(many of these weren't designed to start with so redesigned might be a stretch)

Mail delivery
Medical system
Primary education system
Copy Right system
Voting system
Tax system
Prison system
Court system
Air traffic control system
War Department
Social Security system

What system to redesign? How about the human respiratory system? Sharing organs with digestion and speech may have some efficiencies, but it certainly has drawbacks, in particularly with regard to diseases. If you were designing a respiratory system from the ground up, would you necessarily want shared intake and outtake openings, or a nasal opening that fills easily and drips excess right into the mouth? And nasal cavities? Their evolutionary function appears to have been to make the skull lighter, but the design is flawed, an invitation to infections.

The prison system. The system we have is like finishing school for criminals.

Broadly, i would rather see a system where those who are redeemable are put on a good path upon release. Those who are not should be sequestered separately.

Prison needn't be a pleasant experience, but it should be a safe one, physically.

good one.
right now prison just functions are temporary quarantine. We keep the criminals our of society for a while, but don't do anything to turn them into non-criminals.

If Twitter and Medium were braver they'd do a meld. The Twitter view would be the headline space, and Medium would be the article space.

IMO that would be blogging again, but better. The old trackback system had insufficient integration.

That's a great idea. You should start a new social media network based on that concept.

Also, one thing I would add is to eliminate "likes" and make the number of followers, shares and such visible only to the original commenter. That way there is no social status reward for making comments that are popular or for having a lot of followers.

Thank you, but I'm afraid ideas are a small part and network effects are everything.

Of course if MR wants to anchor such a space, contact me.

Iow you want education to be more about merit and less about signaling. Or perhaps you want to make signaling more democratic?

How about the justice system, which too slow, costly, and complex? More here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1978017

Abolish admissions. If someone wants to take a class, for example calculus or probability, why would our society want to stop them and deny them entry? And what moral grounds exist to deny people entry to take classes? Especially schools that run primarily on government money or land grants or oil money grants.

Compare to a gym or group exercise facility: they can require payment and they can kick out ill-behaved members, but on what other grounds can they legally or morally refuse entry and refuse service to customers? Educational facilities should operate under the same rules.

Do you really think anyone would be prevented from doing this right now? I could walk right into virtually any college class in the country, couldn't I?

I'm arguing that people should be able to purchase membership and get full normal class credit for the classes that they take and have full, normal access to class resources, the official class website, office hours, email access to professors and TAs, and normal permission to be in the classroom or lecture hall.

I'm not arguing that people should be able to do this absolutely weird gonzo thing where they just walk into classrooms that they aren't registered for, and worry that someone might notice them and call security, and can't submit assignments or tests for grading, and can't access the class website or email the professor, or join student groups. This is one of Bryan Caplan's worst arguments on education.

The NBA actually has a MONSTROUS competitive balance issue. I don’t know how Dr. Cowen can think this league is well run.

It’s basically ruled by a cadre of elite superstars, who at any moment can radically shift the makeup of the league. Maybe the hot stove aspect of the league makes it compelling plus the fact that the sport is basically ruled by 5 to 8 elite superstars and then everyone else is irrelevant.

Basically Lebron and Kawai Leonard have to collude to Join forces to get a shot at beating the warriors.

Plus the league has issues with refereeing. First it was ethical concerns and now it is issues of efficacy.

I’m sorry but I can’t agree with you on this one Dr. Cowen.

I think Cowen is right. What other industry is able to attract so many dollars with so few people? You basically have about 320 NBA players that command the attention of millions of people and revenues that have skyrocketed over the past 30 years. Bird, Johnson and Jordan must be green with envy. The NFL, MLB and NHL don't compare on a gross margin basis. That says nothing of the $millions the owners are left with in profit. With all the problems you correctly mention, the NBA is easily one of the most profitable enterprises per capita in the world. If they make the changes you mention, they will continue to do so indefinitely.

You have this wrong. Are you entertained by the product put out by the NBA? I and millions of others are enthralled. I can't wait for Lebron vs the Warriors 2019. Balance, schmalance.

The NBA is one institution that I feel is working really well at the moment. and I don’t just say that because I root for Golden State. Though that doesn’t hurt any, either.

I am unhappy with great players trying to get on great teams. Like Kevin Durant going to GS and talke of LeBron going to Houston.

It's the inevitable result of the salary cap and the nature of the game. They want to compete at the highest level.

Don't be unhappy, it's a self-regulating problem. Great players expect great salaries, and ball teams being businesses, they consider such things as marginal cost and marginal revenue. If you're the Golden State Warriors, you have less use for Lebron James right now, than does a mediocre team...like, for instance the Cleveland-Cavaliers-minus-Lebron.

Besides which, no NBA team would ever hire more than five superstars.

"Completion rates are astonishingly low..." It also occurs to me that part of being young requires trying things and quitting them. Perhaps completion rates should be low.

Mentors are very important, but I tend to be skeptical of mentor "programs." Something about a mentor is too personal to be easily administered.

Rather than adding another bureaucratic layer to universities, I wonder what would happen if universities raised the bar for admittance at age 18 and then lowered it to average by age 21.

Another note in response to a prior comment. It's possible we overrate post-secondary education but underrate the "college experience."

How would you start with higher ed and not primary and secondary?

It seems to me that, for all it's flaws, the higher education system in the US is at least not completely failing. The same can't be said for primary/secondary ed.

Agreed. The public school system is a vestige of the agricultural age. In the digital age, it makes no sense. Every school age child has at least one digital device that will access the accumulated knowledge of the ages. It makes no sense to force children to spend their days sitting in stuffy classrooms.

In addition, the public schools have become bloated bureaucratic monstrosities. When I attended public schools back in the agricultural age, they were in the business of teaching. Each school I attended had a principle, a secretary, a custodian, and a corps of teachers. The teachers taught. Today's schools are in the transportation business, the restaurant business, the social work business, the day care business, the labor union business, and who knows what else. The teachers hardly have time for teaching.

So long as we are talking fantasy, the most profound systematic change for Americans would be a overhaul to the food, nutrition and health system. The following changes would also simultaneously significantly improve the environment: 1. Ban sales of soft drinks, processed meat and dairy products to schools.
2. Eliminate all subsidies to the animal industry while providing those same subsidies to plant-based growers of human food. 3. Eliminate the USDA oversight of nutrition policy and subsidies for promoting animal food products while banning any influence of the processed food, drug or animal industries over nutrition policy. 4. Impose a 100% tax on all refined and artificial sweeteners (sugar, HF corn syrup, etc.) and vegetable oils. 5. Subsidize all whole food plant-based products for all food stamp, school lunch and other government food programs while eliminating subsidies on all processed and refined foods and animal-based products. 6. Mandate plant-based nutrition as a primary tool by doctors for prevention and treatment of all chronic disease (heart, diabetes, blood pressure, cancer, etc.). 7. Ban any influence of the drug or medical procedure/ device industries on the prescription use of drugs and medical procedures. 8. Finally, mandate the education of whole food plant-based nutrition through pre-K through 12th grade.

These changes would quickly and drastically reduce health care costs and environmental pollution. Universal health care could be provided at a small fraction of the current cost to taxpayers and would eliminate unnecessary and deadly medical and drug treatments that the current system is designed to sell. The Medicare and Medicaid programs would be instantly salvaged and become redundant with universal care. All of this would happen while the overall health and productivity of Americans would be greatly improved. Although a temporary depression would probably ensue, a vast army of medical device, drug and processed and animal food makers would be freed to do something more useful with their lives than taking payment for performing services that put band-aids on chronic diseases that are completely preventable and, in some cases, reversible with whole food plant-based nutrition. Vast acres of land used to graze and grow food for animals would become fallow with attendant reduction to air and water pollution. I can't think of a single system change that would remotely compare to the benefits of this one.

Was just thinking that all the people who become unemployed by improving our food, nutrition and health system could be employed to do the teaching suggested in Cowen's education reforms. Win/ Win!

It sounds suspiciously like you're simultaneously blaming government actions/programs for American diet and health issues while wanting to create a mandate for putting the government more in charge of diet and health issues in place of individual choice in those areas.

I'd much prefer we try simply removing the governmental heavy hands on the scales of diet and health and then see where we end up there first.

I don't think your plan removes the incentives which created many of the problems in the first place, rather, it makes them worse over time as various people/industries capture new, more powerful, diet and health regulatory organizations.

[ Freedom, it's not just for lunch! ]

I agree governmental actions to favor industry over health are definitely to blame for the epidemic of chronic diseases we currently face. There is every incentive for these industries to not only produce unhealthy food, but create chronic health problems that artificially support the medical and drug industries at taxpayer expense. In fact, eliminating all subsidies would by far be preferable to the current state of affairs.

I generally favor a libertarian approach to industry, with little or no regulation outside of safety standards and warnings. Survival of the fittest and let buyer beware most of the time with no government intervention should be the standard course of action. I'm assuming, however, that a universal health system is unavoidable due to popular demand. Further, there should never be a profit motive to treat chronic diseases that can most often be avoided with healthy food. The practical problem we face today is that past governmental subsidies have encouraged addictions to sugar, processed food and meat that is killing millions and producing unsustainable waves of food-related epidemic diseases on the health system. At the same time, existing programs to feed the poor are assumed to continue. You'll notice all of my subsidies mentioned simply switch from disease causing foods to evidence-based healthy foods. If we must feed the poor (which a significant majority of voters favor), then we should only provide them foods that are healthy and don't contribute to a crushing burden on the health system. In fact, these foods would significantly contribute to their overall health and probably reduce the burden of health care for the poor below the norm, since the rich and upper middle-class would probably eat whatever they wanted, with or without subsidies and taxes.

The only exception to this general rule of switching subsidies is the tax on sugar and artificial sweeteners. These foods are so cheap and addictive that they would exact a disproportionate health toll on the assumed universal health system. One could argue for a tax on meat and processed foods, but the health effects are less apparent and the prices would naturally increase significantly without the subsidies. I would ensure that all of the environmental and other actual costs of producing meat are borne 100% by those industries. So, the sweetener tax is simply a means to charge consumers for the actual cost they exact on the health system with a cheap and addictive product, not unlike cocaine or heroin in terms of death toll. I would increase or decrease the tax based on the estimated cost it exacts on the system. It's an unfortunate side affect of the assumed universal health coverage.

So, yes, I agree the universal health system and continuation of food programs are an intrusion on freedom. My solution addresses those as givens and forces the consumer to pay for the cost.

I'd assign more regulatory oversight of business to the U.S. states.

The Forefathers judged high concentration of political power as bad. Even if it means those who are most efficient at political power can't stay there long.

Isn't the concentration of economic power equally as bad? As with government, efficiency is a vital-but-not-sole aim of an economy; opportunity is vital too...over time paying for itself in the form of engagement and happiness.

It's harder to consolidate an industry and diminish local opportunity if a business must face 50 regulatory authorities (the states) rather than one (Washington).

Active government anti-trust is hard and legalistic. What other "natural" forms of anti-trust might we think of? We have term limits, after all...simple and effective.

P.S. and do not let Sprint and T-Mobile merge. Competition, please!

Given the frequent land-use discussions here I'm surprised no one has mentioned systems such as zoning and rent control. Of course these vary from place to place rather than being monolithic federal systems

I would change the way we deal with drug use.

I would treat all non prescription drugs the same way we treat alcohol: establish a minimum age, punish those who harm others while under the influence, and provide treatment for those who ask for it if they need it.

When did you become a golden state fan? 2015?

Tax system could use a from-the-ground-up rewrite.

1. K-12
2. Public Higher Ed

The free market will fix 2 if the state doesn't do something foolish like free college for everyone.

The entrenched special interests, like the teacher's unions, will block 1.

Of course you cheer for Golden State.

Basketball, and the NBA, is great if you have the Protestant obsession with time. Every aspect, every movement in basketball must be completed within a specified time span, the throw-in after a basket, getting across the "time line", time spent in the key, time being guarded, and most significantly, the time spent between initial possession and a shot that either scores or hits the rim. There are rules that require the teams to play the game. The referees are always counting something. The game is a perfect fit for a society with the attention span of three-year olds.

Tabula rasa: What about abolishing sports in schools and universities?

'I also would experiment with abolishing the idea of degree “completion” altogether.'

Great idea. In terms of prestige and employability, the difference between dropping out after your junior year, and staying one more to get that diploma, is huge. But why should it be so? I don't remember undergoing any kind of accelerated intellectual growth during my senior year of college. If anything, by that eighth semester I was already kinda coasting.

A PhD program is different of course. That there's a big perceived difference between just taking classes, vs completing a thesis that passes muster with three established scholars (your committee), is as it should be.

The tax code, you mother fuckers!

Well said! As a tax professional for over 30 years, I can say with certainty that it's a mess and peerless in its absolute ability to confound and wreak havoc on Americans. A complete overhaul is long overdue, but I'm not optimistic given the political forces aligned to keep it in place.

The problem with universities in the United States is that they are immensely expensive as opposed to Europe in comparison, they tend not to drive you towards what you want to do, that happens a lot with how they educate you in high school where the US is sorely falling behind in light of the rest of the world.

University buildings are empty half the time. Use the buildings at night, on Saturday, Friday afternoons. That alone could cut down building costs by 20-30%.

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