Politics & Policy

Thinking that Makes the World Worse

Reunited and it feels so bad.

These are some public examples of campus radicalism in action. Yet the big embarrassing stories aren’t the only reason we should be concerned about universities. The real crisis is the grinding, daily bias on college campuses that’s so bland it’s easy to ignore.

I was reminded of this insidiousness when I returned to Harvard for the five-year reunion of my graduation from the Kennedy School of Government. I looked forward to catching up with friends, but the weekend was classic KSG. In addition to the usual cash-bar receptions and class dinner, the school offered panel discussions with names like “The UN’s Footsoldiers,” “Mobilizing Adaptive Work,” and “What We Can Learn From Non-Profits.”

Now that’s the self-important, government-celebrating, liberal elitism that I remember! These titles brought back memories of countless lectures celebrating the nobility of “public service.” The message was always the same: While businesspeople are fueled by an ugly desire for dollars, government officials are servants of the people. Self-sacrificing and motivated by the public good, those toiling in agencies and public offices deserve a special kind of reverence.

It’s perhaps understandable for a school of public policy to celebrate government officials, many of whom sincerely want to make the world a better place. Yet the sanctimonious reverence surrounding “public service” conceals a darker message: “Only we are fit to comment on or craft the country’s future–people concerned with pedestrian concerns like business or family should leave governance to us.”

An amusing aspect of attending a school of government was witnessing the regular triumph of bad management. The cash bar at the welcoming reception featured a line that unnecessarily twisted into the next room. In Soviet fashion, guests first paid for a drink ticket, moved two feet, handed over the ticket, and repeated their orders to a bartender. A make-work program, no doubt.

No reunion would be complete without fundraising. During the dinner, for example, class officers encouraged us to donate to a scholarship program. Two current recipients took to the podium to thank the class and describe why they needed the support.

One student, an immigrant from Africa named Daniel, had been putting himself through school by renting out an apartment in Chicago. That plan collapsed when the renter stopped paying. Daniel went to court–four times–for an eviction order but was shocked at the difficulty of removing the squatter. All the laws, he said, favored the tenant over the property owner. So far he’s out more than $20,000 in foregone rent, with thousands more for legal bills and plane tickets from Boston to Chicago. Yet the tenant still was living in his home, rent-free, with no penalty. Daniel told me he’s given up hope of recouping the lost income and now is focused simply on reclaiming his stolen property. If it weren’t for this scholarship, he would have had to drop out of school.

Daniel shouldn’t have had to thank the Harvard alum for his scholarship. It is the thoughtless liberalism inculcated at such “schools of government” that have created the very laws that made him financially needy in the first place. At dinner, my fellow graduates applauded Daniel and shook their heads in sympathy at his desperate situation. But if we were back in school (likely in a class named something like “Creating Equality Through Access to Affordable Housing”) they would readily have been cheerleaders for laws that favor the poor tenant–unable to afford the market rent–over the greedy property owner.

No one dug further into the true lessons of Daniel’s story or considered what it says about the liberal policies that universities like Harvard promote. The honored alum instead toasted their noble sacrifice to “public service,” patting themselves on the back for helping a victim that they helped create. A more fitting metaphor for government today I can’t imagine.

Carrie Lukas is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex and Feminism and the vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women’s Forum.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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