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Judt: US a Third World Country

by DowneastDem Fri Dec 16th, 2005 at 10:04:28 AM EST

I'm in the middle of Tony Judt's excellent Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. The folks at Atlantic Review mention this provocative interview with Prof. Judt in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that I had missed from last week. Here Prof. Judt calls the US a "Third World Country" because of the growing gap between the intellectual (and economic) elite and the great mass of citizens:

Natürlich sind die amerikanischen Forschungsuniversitäten phantastisch, darum bin ich ja auch hier und nicht in England. Im Vergleich mit Oxford haben die 50 besten amerikanischen Universitäten viel bessere Mittel, bessere Einrichtungen, bessere Bibliotheken. Aber unterhalb dieses Levels ist es eine Katastrophe, und da könnten die Europäer mit ihrem Bildungsstand locker konkurrieren.

Europa könnte eine Bildungsschicht schaffen, die Ideen, Wissen und Fertigkeiten in einem Maße generiert, das Amerika in eine prekäre Lage bringen würde. Amerika ist das wahre Drittweltland - mit einer unfassbar reichen, gebildeten und mächtigen Elite und einer zunehmend verzweifelten, verarmten, medizinisch unterversorgten, ignoranten und schlecht ausgebildeten arbeitenden Bevölkerung.

This is Europe's opportunity - according to Judt - to surpass the US with a educationally superior workforce, supported with a broad social saftey net.

From Friday's NY Times:

The average American college graduate's literacy in English declined significantly over the past decade, according to results of a nationwide test released yesterday.

The National Assessment of Adult Literacy, given in 2003 by the Department of Education, is the nation's most important test of how well adult Americans can read.

The test also found steep declines in the English literacy of Hispanics in the United States, and significant increases among blacks and Asians.

When the test was last administered, in 1992, 40 percent of the nation's college graduates scored at the proficient level, meaning that they were able to read lengthy, complex English texts and draw complicated inferences. But on the 2003 test, only 31 percent of the graduates demonstrated those high-level skills. There were 26.4 million college graduates.


Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape
by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Fri Dec 16th, 2005 at 10:33:00 AM EST
The 1992 numbers are sad, but I'm not surprised.  A lot of people go to college for the parties and don't take the subjects seriously.  They read the bare-minimum and are really just looking for four-to-six more years of high school.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Dec 16th, 2005 at 02:07:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Paul Craig Roberts, who used to be Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Reagan, has been writing about the dismal state of the US economy under Bush for at least 2 years (that I am aware). A sample:

Counterpunch: Welcome to a Has-Been Country

The US Labor Force: One Foot in the Third World

In May the Bush economy eked out a paltry 73,000 private sector jobs: 20,000 jobs in construction (primarily for Mexican immigrants), 21,000 jobs in wholesale and retail trade, and 32,500 jobs in health care and social assistance. Local government added 5,000 for a grand total of 78,000.

Not a single one of these jobs produces an exportable good or service. With Americans increasingly divorced from the production of the goods and services that they consume, Americans have no way to pay for their consumption except by handing over to foreigners more of their accumulated stock of wealth. The country continues to eat its seed corn.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Dec 16th, 2005 at 03:14:21 PM EST
One thing that Tony Judt mentions in the interview is that the United States benefited enormously from the migration of European (espectially German) intellectuals in the 1930s and '40s. The great US research insitutions can still attract talent today, but I wonder if the US on the whole has ceased to be magnet for talent (both scientific and artistic). That thought is also explored in Richard Florida's book "The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent".

Dialog International
by DowneastDem (david.vickrey (at) post.harvard.edu) on Fri Dec 16th, 2005 at 03:38:48 PM EST
If it hadn't been for Hitler, we'd all be speaking German now.

There is the following remark attributed to the great German mathematician David Hilbert:

Hitler: So, how is the University of Göttingen now that there are no Jews in it any more?
Hilbert: There is no University of Göttingen any more.

Ouch, mein Führer.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Dec 16th, 2005 at 03:55:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This was still the case in the 80s and 90s, with a lot of talent coming in from Asia (and Europe).

This may have changed dramatically since 9/11; the war on science waged by the conservatives (with the Administration help) isn't helping either, Id assume...

Tony Judt also underlines the large gap between the upper-crust of the US higher education institutions, where pretty much all of the US based Nobel Prize laureates hail from, and the rest of the US colleges that are struggling.

My personal experience in the valley also tend to confirm this: I've been mostly (not always, though) impressed by a  few people who went through post-grad degrees at Stanford or Berkeley, or places like that...

by Bernard (bernard) on Fri Dec 16th, 2005 at 05:14:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Intellectual? No . . .  intelligence and intellect are profanities in the New Amerikkka -- not allowed, those elitist intellectuals, they are all LIBERALS.

"Liberal" in the US now means something much different than what it used to mean, now "liberal" means "go to Europe you commie!" in the American vernacular.

Clearly Herr Judt doesn't have a good contemporary snapshot of the US. Half the country is begging to maintain our thread-bare democracy, the other half is pushing the wheels of totalitarianism faster and faster, like lemmings to the sea . . .

"Intellectuals and elites" in the States are roundly hated and critized and have been for many years now, by the Right, who dominate the discourse in media and politics. We are in the midst of a culture war in the US, and the intellectuals and elites are loosing to the Right Wing Phillistines driven by their petty greed, corrpution and power accumulation.

Share. Share resources, share delight, share burdens, share the healing. If we only could realize that sharing will bring us back from mass suicide.

by Isis on Sat Dec 17th, 2005 at 12:57:42 AM EST

thanks for referring to the Atlantic Review and encouraging this discussion!

The Sueddeutsche has another very critical article today. This time about Harvard ;-), Yale and Princeton. The author says that they don't choose the best students, but those who are best for their image and for future endowments. What a shame. They are rich enough to let the best students from the ghettos and the poor parts of rural America study and pay them good stipends.

Harvard, Yale und Princeton als Luxusmarken: Die amerikanischen Ivy-League-Universitäten suchen nicht die besten Studenten aus, sondern die, die am besten sind für ihr Image.


Die Konstante an den drei großen Unis sind damals wie heute die reichen Kinder weißer Eltern. Mehr als 35.000 Dollar kostet ein Studienjahr in Harvard, Yale und Princeton. "Aber in allen drei Institutionen", so Karabel, "sind die meisten Studenten in der Lage, ihre Gebühren selbst zu bezahlen - schlagender Beweis dafür, dass die großen Drei auch heute die meisten Studenten aus der reichsten Gesellschaftsschicht rekrutieren."

"Wen würden Sie denn zulassen", fragte noch in den Achtzigern entnervt ein Angestellter in Princeton, "den hochmütigen Millionärssohn, der zwar heute keine guten Noten schreibt, aber eines Tages ein Erbe antritt, mit dem er Gutes für die Gesellschaft leisten wird, oder den Einserschüler?"

All three universities are considered as liberal. Why is that? Why don't they follow liberal values?


Atlantic Review - A press digest on transatlantic affairs edited by three German Fulbright Alumni

by Atlantic Review (bl -at- atlanticreview dot org) on Sat Dec 17th, 2005 at 10:13:40 AM EST
A bit too simplistic. Those universities do give preference to legacies (children of alumni) who are obviously better off. They also give preference to those with athletic abilities (mixed) blacks and latinos (on average worse off) and to some extent those from poor backgrounds and from underrepresented states (effectively anything outside blue america). That means at most a slight tilt to the well off. But even that isn't clear - it could be that straight academic merit admissions would produce an even wealthier mix.  Nor are the legacies mediocre students, any more than blacks and latinos admitted under affirmative action are (very similar academic qualifications), they are just not quite as stellar as those admitted without any special preference.  

One should also note that admissions are need blind meaning that they don't look at the financial situation of the student in the admission process until after they have been accepted. Once that happens they calculate how much the family can pay towards tuition, room and board, and other costs and then provide the rest. The financial aid used to be a mix of loans, work-study, with a bit of grants thrown in. Now the wealthiest universities have been eliminating loans in favour of grants.  A majority of the students get financial aid at a place like Harvard which has also recently decided to completely eliminate any family contribution from families earning under $40,000.  For Princeton take a look at the financial aid stats

The real problem is not with the elite universities but the horrible quality of public schools in poor neighhbourhoods. Rich kids on the other hand get outstanding educations and expensive private schools and benefit from top notch preparation for the standardized tests, plus advice on how to 'sell' themselves to the admissions people.  If the schools looked at academic merit alone you would be likely to get less rather than more poor kids, with some shift from the wealthy to the upper middle class due to the elimination of legacy preferences.  You would also get a lot more Asians and a lot less blacks and latinos and perhaps less whites as well.

Can't stand uninformed articles.

by MarekNYC on Sat Dec 17th, 2005 at 05:18:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The MIT is doing a great job of educating non-wealthy people and the poor.

Here's their OpenCourseWare project:

And the $100 laptops project, which might make a huge difference in the third world one day:

Are Harvard, Princeton and Yale doing anything like that? This is not a rhetorical question. I honestly don't know. I could imagine that they are, but I just have not heard about it. I am not interested in bashing anyone from these schools.

Atlantic Review - A press digest on transatlantic affairs edited by three German Fulbright Alumni

by Atlantic Review (bl -at- atlanticreview dot org) on Sat Dec 17th, 2005 at 10:22:52 AM EST

The Ivy League institutions you mention certainly deserve criticism for their admissions policies.  Harvard, at least, recoginzes the problem and has begun to address it:


Is it enough? No, it doesn't change the dynamics of class at these universities.

But maybe you would care to say something about the German system that shunts working class kids into the Realschule at an early age, so they never have the option of taking the Abitur to gain admission at a University?

Dialog International

by DowneastDem (david.vickrey (at) post.harvard.edu) on Sat Dec 17th, 2005 at 01:08:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"the German system that shunts working class kids into the Realschule at an early age,"

Or the Hauptschule, which is even worse. In Hauptschule you are stuck.

Re early age selection: In Berlin highschool starts with the 7th grade rather than fifth grade, which indeed is a bit early.

The SPD has pushed for more Gesamtschulen as an alternative to shutting working class kids into Realschule at an early age.

"so they never have the option of taking the Abitur to gain admission at a University?"

Not true. Our Gymnasium had an Aufbaustufe in 11th grade for the graduates from the Realschule. Those who passed this Aufbaustufe, could make their Abitur with everyone else in our Gymnasium. I am pretty sure, our Gymnasium was not the only one offering this service.

Besides, there are Fachhochschulen, Berufsakademien and specialized Abendschulen for those who don't have the Abitur.

Still, I agree with you that there are far too few children from working class families in our universities. (The talk about more) Tuition fees discourage many as well.

One of the many things we should adopt from the US is more competition and more philandrophy.

Atlantic Review - A press digest on transatlantic affairs edited by three German Fulbright Alumni

by Atlantic Review (bl -at- atlanticreview dot org) on Sat Dec 17th, 2005 at 03:39:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"But maybe you would care to say something about the German system that shunts working class kids into the Realschule at an early age, so they never have the option of taking the Abitur to gain admission at a University?"

Graduates from Realschule can attend also attend an Abendgymnasium in order to gain admission to university.


Establishment of the so-called Zweiter Bildungsweg at which adults can attend evening classes to obtain the general higher education entrance qualification (generally 3 and not more than 4 years). Applicants must provide evidence of a vocational qualification or evidence that they have been in steady employment for at least three years. Generally aplicants must also have the Mittleren Schulabschluss or a qualification recognized as equivalent.

Source: Secretariat of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and cultural affairs of the Länder"

Atlantic Review - A press digest on transatlantic affairs edited by three German Fulbright Alumni
by Atlantic Review (bl -at- atlanticreview dot org) on Sat Dec 17th, 2005 at 04:58:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And then there is this UN report: http://tinyurl.com/9qocm

The official statistics released in his report to the U.N. show that over 12 percent of the United States population--or about 37 million people--lived in poverty in 2004, with nearly 16 percent--or about 46 million--having no health insurance.

The report indicates that more than 38 million people, including 14 million children, are threatened by lack of food.

Dr. Sengupta's report also shows that ethnic minorities are suffering more from extreme poverty than white Americans. Compared to one in ten Whites, nearly one in four Blacks and more than one out of every five Latinos are extremely poor in the United States.

by Boudicca (badgerval at hotmail dot com) on Sat Dec 17th, 2005 at 04:07:51 PM EST
No the US is not a third world country. It is a fourth world one.Or the future of any country whose citizenry simply become consumers of things. There is no need for a population to be well educated, nor informed. If one's experience is that no matter how bright or educated, the "winner" is always those with power and money. This is a country about greed, and avarice. If you are intelligent, you must be a liberal, and a threat to those who have the power and money. It's that simple.

Science and engineering are not rewarding fields. MBAs, especially marketing, are paid very well. We have outsourced most of our jobs requiring high level skills,except for marketing because of the inherent cultural knowledge required to be successful.

Unfortunately, I don't see any meaningful change either. Our political system produces only those who can be sold to the consumer populace ( a very much dumbed down one at that, witness the literacy scores. Anyone with the courage to run counter to the marketplace,is doomed. And, our only way out of this mess is to run counter to the marketplace.

A frustrated american

by zorba on Sun Dec 18th, 2005 at 12:30:45 AM EST

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