The Agenda

Jonathan Last Replies to Ruy Teixeira

I was surprised and disappointed by Ruy Teixeira’s review of Jonathan Last’s What to Expect When No One’s Expecting. Last has written a short post addressing some of the review’s claims. There is much more to be said about the review, e.g., his take on how we might address the sources of cost growth in higher education (“expanding government programs”) doesn’t line up well with the best work on the subject (require colleges and universities to release basic data on student learning and employment outcomes, replace tuition tax credits with direct assistance to low-income students, foster new accreditation channels for specialized instructional providers, i.e., expand some programs, get rid of others, replace bad regulations limit transparency and competition with regulations that increase both); he dismisses the notion that recognizing the human capital investments parents make in children might help ease the challenge of financing pay-as-you-go old-age social insurance systems rather than addressing the underlying argument; and he fails to acknowledge the unanticipated scale and speed of the global fertility decline, choosing instead to trust the institutions that got it wrong in the first place. That’s fair enough — but he claims that Last dismisses U.N. Population Division projections out of hand when in fact he offers pretty detailed arguments as to how these projections have gotten things wrong in the past and how they’re flawed. There is no way of knowing if Last is right, obviously. But one could at least engage his arguments. 

Regardless, Last says that he’s a fan of Teixeira and so am I. Teixeira is probably America’s most important political demographer, and he has successfully identified trends that have blindsided other political analysts, myself included. One review shouldn’t change our opinion of his body of work.

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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