Magazine | February 7, 2011, Issue


Objectively Socialist

Kevin D. Williamson’s “Socialism Is Back” (January 24) is a very informative, delightfully written piece. But I want to dispute what may seem like a minor point: his characterization of the Marxist theory of prices as “objective” vis-à-vis “the radical subjectivism of Mises.”

Respectfully, I suggest that the exact opposite is true. The Marxist theory of prices lives only inside the head of whichever Marxist is trying to think about it. It is whimsical, capricious, and arbitrary, and thus is markedly subjective by any reasonable definition of the term. Mises’s theory of price, by contrast, is anchored in the objective facts of reality, i.e., in the behavior of the market itself. That the market responds to the irrational as well as the rational desires of people does not mean that the market itself is subjective or irrational.

Henry E. Blackwell

Via e-mail

Kevin D. Williamson replies: I wrote that Marxists believe prices to be objective, which they do. And Austrians believe prices to be subjective, in the sense that the price is not inherent in the thing itself but dependent upon the buyer’s valuation of the thing.

Educational Penny Stocks

Kevin A. Hassett (“Ivy Chase,” January 24) is correct to point out that education at public colleges and universities can be an excellent investment. However, his conclusions are hardly as surprising as he suggests, the data he uses are fuzzy, and his basic assumption is misguided.

First of all, asserting that private schools are better than public ones may be “conventional wisdom,” but asserting that they are several times as good, and so worth the several-times-higher tuition, is not.

Moreover, Hassett provides no evidence that the Payscale data he cites are controlled. Might there be a difference between the pool of students who go to the University of Delaware versus those who go to MIT versus those in the control group of high-school graduates? Might they have different abilities, and choose different careers? And might these discrepancies affect the results?

But the biggest problem is that calculating a “return on investment” (ROI) for one’s tuition money yields a meaningless figure. If, as Hassett writes, you’ll make a 12.3 percent ROI at a private school and 13.4 percent at a public school, does the smart money shell out a few grand for the public school and park the rest in pork-belly futures? Also, not everyone pays retail price. If Siwash State offers enough financial aid that you have to pay only a few thousand dollars, should you give up on Swarthmore in favor of this super-sweet ROI?

Most students are trying to find the best place to spend four years of their life while gaining an education, not the best place to spend their parents’ money. For those concerned with such things, the cumulative lifetime return on their education is much more important than the return as a percentage of tuition. And by that measure, as Hassett concedes, private schools are, in fact, better.

Adrian Nelson

St. Cloud, Minn.

NR Staff — Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

In This Issue



Books, Arts & Manners

Country Life

Tap, Tap, Tap

Winter is the Stasi of the animal world, stripping away privacy. Snow is a surveillance camera, tracking movement, taking notes: You have been here, and you, and you, and this ...
Politics & Policy

Roots of Success

If you are looking for a comprehensive autobiography of former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, or even a comprehensive autobiography of her younger years, this is not the book for ...


Politics & Policy


Objectively Socialist Kevin D. Williamson’s “Socialism Is Back” (January 24) is a very informative, delightfully written piece. But I want to dispute what may seem like a minor point: his characterization ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ The climate of Palin-hatred, on the other hand, may carry on as usual. ‐ Clarence Dupnik, 75 years old, has been sheriff of Arizona’s Pima County since 1980. When tragedy ...
Politics & Policy


VOGUE Playing with princesses, coloring pages Inked in a magazine drawn from the ages, Muscle and modishness meet the ideal. Marionettes in contempt of a meal Hang — without strings — by the strength of ...

When Asterisks A***ck

It’s been a bad year for free speech so far. Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, for example, is undergoing one of its periodic Bowdler-bouts. So far the name’s unchanged, but give them ...

Most Popular

PC Culture

When PC Comes Back to Bite You

Political correctness run amok is a popular topic on the right these days. Indeed, the conservative bookshelf is chock full of best-sellers devoted to the topic. Subject matters vary. One may focus on the hypocrisy of campus speech codes, another on the revisionist attempt to indict our founding fathers, yet ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Charles Krauthammer, R.I.P.

It’s not often that the loss of an opinion writer can be said to be a loss for the country, but that is true of Charles Krauthammer, the Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist who died yesterday. In a fractured media environment where almost no one commands universal respect, where crudity of expression and ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Time Stands by Misleading Cover Photo

Time magazine on Friday defended its decision to feature a photo of a crying toddler who was never separated from her mother on the cover of its July issue detailing family separations at the border. “The June 12 photograph of the 2-year-old Honduran girl became the most visible symbol of the ongoing ... Read More