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Letters

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The imperiled middle-class, money-managers' pay, New Orleans

March-April 2006

I believe Erin O’Donnell’s statement (“Twigs Bent Left or Right,” January-February, page 34)—that “people are much more purple than anything else. You don’t find nearly the polarization suggested by the media, or, frankly, by scholars”—to be a correct characterization of today’s political reality. However, this reality goes unnoticed, if not deliberately ignored, by the two national parties.

The Republican and Democratic parties have essentially become competing entities for the acquisition and maintenance of power without true regard for the responsibility of governance. The populace, although “purple,” is forced to choose between hard-line red and blue ideologies in the voting booth.

There are liberals and there are conservatives to be sure, and although they are clearly numerical minorities, they still manage to control the political process of this country, while avoiding the needs of the vast “purple” majority. There never seems to be a single thing that a Democrat proposes that is acceptable to a Republican, and vice versa.

The most profound observation by O’Donnell is, “This polarization of the parties raises the stakes for the electorate, since it decreases the likelihood of moderate or centrist governance.” I would submit that the risk is now one of whether governance is likely at all.

Gary W. Farneti ’71
Binghamton, N.Y.

Your article shows the usual liberal bias and a lack of knowledge of the South and its politics. First, the Southern voter has always been conservative. In Texas, where I have lived since 1967, the philosophy has not changed. Prior to the 1978 to 1990 period, the Democratic party had both liberals and conservatives, who fought in the primaries. After 1978, when the Republican Bill Clements won the governorship, the Republican party demonstrated that their candidates could win. At the same time, the national Democratic party moved farther to the left and farther from the conservative mainstream in the South. Your author quotes Robert Blendon, who would like to blame the switch on the race issue, but this was not the fact. As an example of your lack of knowledge, former Senator Phil Gramm’s name is incorrectly spelled “Graham.”

Frederick R. Meyer, M.B.A. ’58
Dallas

Editor’s note: The editors regret the error with Senator Gramm’s name.

O’Donnell quotes associate professor of government and Radcliffe Institute Fellow J. Russell Muirhead as saying that Republican candidate Barry Goldwater, running in 1964, argued that “there wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the two big parties.” But surely it was George Wallace, running as an American Independent in 1968, who famously made the “dime’s worth of difference” critique of our two-party system. That both a Harvard professor and Harvard Magazine should commit such a blunder in print is both depressing and alarming.

Frederic Stout ’65
Stanford, Calif.

Russell Muirhead replies: Of course it was Wallace. Mr. Stout is right. Neural slips afflict even Harvard professors.

O’Donnell gives Nathan Glazer’s explanation of why many Jews are liberals as follows: “Jewish voters take a liberal position, which is seen as less protective of income and property, despite the fact that they are a higher-income group.” Why do they vote against their apparent economic best interests? “The self-perception and historical experience as a threatened minority keep them on the liberal side, particularly because liberalism is so much oriented now to the defense of minorities,” Glazer says. “There is a suspicion that the American conservative is just not going to be sympathetic to minority concerns.” And so for Jews, he says, a desire for protection as a group trumps economic interest.

This is an odd explanation, not because it is wrong, but because it bypasses a much more natural explanation. I am not a Jew who identifies strongly with Jewish cultural tradition, but I do know that meeting the needs of the poorest members of the community has been a core value of the Jews throughout their history.

I suspect that a disproportionate number of the voters who swung to the left in response to the Great Depression were Jewish; and if so, I would explain this by that core value; the “defense of minorities in general” explanation would not work nearly as well for this. There was some basis in fact for the popular misconception on the part of many Americans during the McCarthy era that “Jewish” and “Communist” were synonymous.

In an article which deals with issues of altruism, among others, it is mildly disturbing to have a phenomenon which has an obvious altruistic explanation being explained instead by political self-interest, and the altruistic explanation not even mentioned as a possibility.

Tony G. Horowitz ’76
Sarasota, Fla.

O’Donnell makes the important point that people are not, nor should be, wedded to party-line ideology. Her piece, however, perpetuates inaccurate assumptions that have confounded efforts by others to find a rational center. The very notion that to be “conservative in some places and liberal in others” is to reject ideological consistency assumes that those labels in fact represent ideologically consistent belief systems. Yet, to cite one conundrum, conservatives generally oppose right-to-die laws, while passionately supporting capital punishment. Is there sanctity of life or not? Recognizing that the party lines are already inconsistent would greatly lower the barriers to rational debate.

The second, and bigger, misconception is that liberals are comfortable with big government while conservatives “harbor a deep suspicion of government power.” The example above illustrates that conservatives are in fact quite comfortable with government power, e.g., over life and death. Meanwhile, during the Vietnam war, it was liberals who conducted tax strikes, spoke of Big Brother, and even brought down their own president. Now the Democrats are widely seen as the party of heavy-handed government, largely because of their refusal to divorce progressive goals from redistributive methodologies.

By embracing this definition of themselves, liberals give conservatives a free pass on the real issue which divides them, which is not whether government should weigh in, but to whose benefit. Republicans parlayed that pass into their 1994 “revolution.” The current poor standing of the Republican Party stems in part from the widespread realization that it never really did stand for small government, but was simply awaiting its chance at the trough. As a fiscally conservative, socially moderate, and culturally liberal Republican, I believe I speak for millions of “purples” who are sick of demagoguery and betrayal, and would gladly support a true “third way.”

Charles Hsu ’79
San Francisco

The Imperiled Middle Class

Thanks to Elizabeth Warren for her essay (“The Middle Class on the Precipice,” January-February, page 28) depicting the deepening economic travail of this nation’s once abundant and confident middle class. There is a profound shift taking place in our society and the steady, tacit erosion undermining the security of millions of hard-working families is an unsettling reality that is becoming impossible to ignore.

Warren does not discuss another growing segment of American society that is far beyond the realm of middle-class reckoning: the working poor and the unemployed. Homelessness is an accelerating phenomenon engulfing not only the mentally ill, the addicted, and the uneducated. Today millions of earnest citizens are employed in thankless, dead-end, boring, and abysmally paying jobs that we as a society expect someone to do. Many such individuals cannot afford to rent a simple room: that is, if such a simple room can even be found. Burgeoning numbers of these workers now sleep in their vehicles or in homeless shelters. At one time, these citizens might have been on their way to a more secure and prosperous existence in this nation’s middle class. They are now stuck in the dreary nether world of economic marginalization. It is a limbo that could become the destination for even greater numbers of citizens now overwhelmed by the fiscal demands of an economic order that cossets the rich at the expense of everyone else. It would seem that in the course of this nation’s rightward drift, we have slowly taken on numerous characteristics of a third-world country. Where is the outrage?

Joseph Martin
Seattle

The author—in true Harvard faculty, liberal-left, politically correct fashion—is so intent on belaboring credit-card and mortgage companies that she slides over without more than a passing allusion one of the major contributors to the present difficulties of the middle class. In the early 1970s, your “typical” family paid 24 percent of its $42,450 income in taxes. In 2004, the “typical” family paid 30 percent of its income in taxes. If the tax bite had remained at 24 percent, the “typical” 2004 family would have had an additional $2,938 in discretionary income—a higher, rather than lower, total amount than in the early 1970s.

The runaway costs of government are worse than indicated by the heightened tax bite. First, military spending in 2004 is a substantially lower percentage of both total government spending and GNP than in the early 1970s. Second, taxes paid do not come close to meeting the actual costs of government. Not simply is there the massive federal government deficit, but government at all levels has untold billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities for public employee-retirement and health benefits.

John Braeman ’54
Champaign, Ill.

Warren claims that having two earners has made the family more insecure. Her rationale is that the housewife represents spare earning capacity that the two-earner family does not have, which can be deployed if the male earner loses his job. But further thought reveals that if the husband in a two-earner family loses his job, the wife is already in a job, probably a considerably better one than the housewife could get. If the wife in the two-earner couple loses her job, she can be deployed to look for another. At an unemployment rate of 6 percent, the likelihood that the one-earner couple will have zero wage income is 17 times the likelihood of a zero income for the two-earner couple. The two-earner family is likely to have a higher net worth to fall back on if unemployment strikes.

The advent of the two-earner couple is one of the main causes of the improvement in women’s status we have seen over the last half-century. Among other good things, it has allowed Elizabeth Warren to be a professor at Harvard Law School, which 50 or so years ago did not accept women even as students. It passes wonder that she has put herself in the business of manufacturing arguments for Phyllis Schlafly.

Barbara R. Bergmann, Ph.D ’58
Washington, D.C.

Living with Dying

“Life lessons,” by Debra Bradley Ruder (January-February, page 44), wonderfully set forth the need to teach young doctors about compassion and listening to ill patients, thus: “By putting themselves in their patients’ shoes, the students grasped the value of hope and the need for seriously ill people to set realistic goals.” But I wish she had written about dealing with patients who lucidly decide that they do not want to protract their suffering further. Too many doctors feel that they are defeated by death, and even that a patient who welcomes it is not mentally competent.

As a lawyer, I litigated a situation comparable to the Terri Schiavo case in all respects except that the husband and adult children of the victim uniformly wanted to carry out her wishes to remove her feeding tube (McConnell v. Beverly Enterprises). The original judge on the case had to be replaced because of prejudice against such removal, but eventually the superseding judge and the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld the removal. Later, the Connecticut Law Tribune reviewed the matter and gave the following year-end awards: To the original judge, Howard Moraghan, the Rambo Sensitivity Award; to the judge who tried the case, Anne Dranginis, the Rock and a Hard Place Award; and to Attorney General Joseph Lieberman (now Senator), who fought the removal until he ran out of appeals, the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing Award.

Mrs. McConnell had no living will, but she was a nurse in a hospital emergency room, and her wishes not to have her life protracted had been so clearly and repeatedly expressed that they had to be honored. I note another matter in which an elderly Yugoslav client of mine asked for a living will. Since his English was poor, I had my secretary listen as I read it aloud to him before asking him what it meant. He answered: “It mean ven my time come to kick de bucket I don’t vant anyone to hold it down.” Such thinking has to be recognized and honored by doctors.

Stephen A. Wise ’46
New Canaan, Conn.

Debra Bradley Ruder replies: Although physician-assisted suicide, living wills, and other “right-to-die” issues were not the focus of this piece, they were addressed during the “Living with Life-Threatening Illness” course. In addition to classroom discussions, the students and faculty organized an evening forum about the Schiavo case, covering such complex topics as the definition of life and a patient’s right to refuse treatment. (Editor’s note: See James Vorenberg and Sidney Wanzer, “Assisting Suicide,” March-April 1997, page 30.)

 

Stained-Glass Veritas

Your “Treasure” about the stained-glass “Veritas” window retrieved from the old Appleton Chapel (“Word to Live By,” January-February, page 92) leads me to ask whether you can suggest the origin of the shield depicted in the photograph attached. It is 12 inches in diameter, seems to have been made with some of the flashing technique described in your article, as well as the colored glass, and was obviously made for hanging, with a wire embedded in the heavy outside lead frame.

It reached me through the family of John A. Sessions ’21, whose father and brother were also both Harvard men, and whose grandfather—my great-grandfather —was Frederic Dan Huntington (1819-1904), the first Plummer professor of Christian morals at Harvard. He reportedly took great interest in the building of Appleton Chapel, completed in 1858.

David M.G. Huntington ’48, Ed.M. ’54
Shorewood, Wis.

Editor’s note: Robin Carlow of Harvard University Archives searched thoroughly through all likely sources and could find no mention of the piece. Perhaps a reader can provide a clue?

Managers of the Endowment

On December 21, Harvard announced 2005 bonuses, totaling $57 million, for six managers of its endowment. Five of them no longer work at Harvard, having resigned earlier this year. One received a bonus of $17 million. Two years ago, this person received $35 million.

How can Harvard justify paying these six people nearly three times the amount it collected from our entire Class of ’69 during our thirty-fifth-reunion fund campaign? Harvard presents itself to alumni, and to the U.S. government, as a philanthropy. No other philanthropy pays any employee $17 million per year. To reward them with eight-digit bonuses is inappropriate, unnecessary, and contrary to the values of a great university.

The administration claims that “the market” determines these bonuses, but Yale pays its fund manager far less, roughly $1.1 million per year, and its endowment has outperformed Harvard’s in recent years. Where and what is this “market”? It’s a group of people sitting around a table—people who are not accountable, people whose identities Harvard refuses to reveal.

In the past, Harvard has defended these bonuses as incentives. Not this time. These people are gone. What’s more, Harvard has set aside half a billion dollars of endowment money for them to manage, without reporting their earnings.

In the 40 years since we entered college, adjusting for inflation, tuition has nearly tripled. Room-and-board charges have doubled. In more than half of the past 23 years, Harvard has raised tuition at the College by more than twice the rate of inflation. Professional school tuitions have risen even faster. Many graduates leave Harvard’s business, law, medical, and other professional schools with staggering debt, often well over $150,000. This requires many of them to work for whoever can pay them the most, making it far more difficult for them to enter public service, teaching, the arts, or wherever else their ideals might lead them. Meanwhile, the endowment has quintupled, in constant dollars.

We call upon the University to freeze tuition throughout the university, eliminate student loans for undergraduates, and create a program of debt forgiveness for recent graduates of all schools who enter public service, the arts, or other modestly paid professions.

What we expect, however, is that Harvard will announce in March that it must yet again raise tuition by more than inflation, yet again pushing up student debt burdens to unprecedented levels. And then, come next fall, it will yet again announce a new round of eight-digit bonuses for its fund managers.

Amid its annual self-congratulation over the size of the endowment, Harvard’s current leaders should do what their predecessors have done over three centuries. They should manage the greatness of the University’s wealth to justify the greatness of its reputation.

We call on the university to hold a public forum on the endowment, open to all members of the university community.

Stanley Eleff, David Kaiser, and William Strauss, on behalf of nine members of the class of 1969.

 

Misplaced Mice

In your “Open Book” on the admirable Charles C. Burlingham, Class of 1879 (January-February, page 26), George Martin claims that CCB’s handling of the 1935 commencement “won praise on all sides.” This cannot have been so, since Harvard’s department of the classics would have winced when CCB declared that Harvardians were free to be propagandists “only extra mures,” that is, only outside the mice. Presumably he meant to say, “outside the walls,” for which the Latin is extra muros.

Admirers of CCB may at least cling to the hope that he has been misquoted by Martin or by Harvard Magazine.

Clifford W. Weber ’65
Boston

Editor’s note: Martin misquoted Burlingham, and the editors, several of whom should remember their Latin, slept.

 

Pain in New Orleans

Reading “Rethinking New Orleans” (January-February, page 15)—in which Ashley Pettus reports that Glimp professor of economics Edward Glaeser does not believe that it is in the national interest to restore New Orleans to its former size—as a person in the process of moving back to the city, I found it not only unhelpful in the task of figuring it all out, but hurtful. Certainly, the evacuees who do not wish to return should be helped where they are. Certainly, there is a need to rethink, and many people here are engaged in doing just that, but there is no way to do that without being in the same room with those people. The solution cannot be outside in.

Of course, with New Orleans the problem is not just the problems the city had before Katrina—all stemming from racism and poverty, a trademark of many American cities—but its location on low land in the hurricane gulf. It’s hard to attract new businesses with the prospect of packing up for four months a year with a

couple of days warning. But for any business to continue—even the port, oil, and tourism Glaeser focuses on—the levees will have to be decently rebuilt, and that will leave room—even with a smaller footprint—for more. New Orleans has several prominent universities and hospitals, and a thriving arts and music community that is not just a tourist attraction. It is a city with history, beauty, and character. It does not currently have, but it has the means to have, a well-balanced economy.

But right now it is hard living here—and that, I have to say, is where I was disappointed, not so much with Glaeser, but with Harvard Magazine. One of the difficult things about Katrina is watching one’s city endlessly dissected in the media by people talking as if New Orleans was the only city that had not rid itself of racism or corruption. Pundit after pundit stepped out of their glass houses to throw stones. It was like something from the psalms: we became “a taunt to our neighbors.” So much of the media, Harvard Magazine included, seems to write as if no one in the city is reading or watching what they say, or as if they wouldn’t understand it if they did. There are lots of sensationalized emotional reports, and there are lots of cold-hearted economic analyses. The two need to be put together.

I had it easy during Katrina. My friends and the people I meet have lost houses, jobs, and security. (Five of the eight teachers at the pre-school I ran for 11 years lost their homes.) They wait for keys to their trailers, responses from their adjusters, return phone calls from roofers or headhunters. But for most of them, this is home and they want it to stay home.

There should be a rational way for people willing to make a commitment to this city to stay. But you cannot have a genuine conversation about the future of New Orleans without acknowledging what the people of New Orleans have been through and listening to what they have to say.

Christina Albers ’79
New Orleans

Glaeser suggests New Orleanians may want to “move on to brighter prospects in growing cities like Houston, Atlanta, or Las Vegas,” and their hometown “may not be worth rebuilding.” It was my hometown for 25 years, and I know firsthand its poverty, crime, and social distress. So why do I still feel the irrational “sentimental attachment” to New Orleans that this article so neatly dismisses? Perhaps, as Eudora Welty said, “It is through place that we put out roots, wherever birth, chance, fate, or our traveling selves set us down; but where those roots reach toward &is the deep and running vein, eternal and consistent and everywhere purely itself—that feeds and is fed by the human understanding.”

Charles F. Sanders, M.Arch. ’73
Boulder, Colo.

 

Missed Opportunity

Christopher Reed’s vivid article about Frank Stella (“Them Apples,” January-February, page 40) rekindles very old embers. I was at Andover from 1952 to 1954. Andover in those days had a fabulous studio art department. The studio classes had about a dozen or so kids each and were exceedingly well taught. I believed I had inherited good creative art genes, and I was convinced that I was pretty hot stuff in studio art, even better than one particularly talented classmate. But how can I now be faulted for regarding my own work at the time as superior to his because in 1952 to 1954, Frank Stella was not yet Frank Stella.

In college I realistically reappraised my limited artistic talent and eventually went on to a long career in investments on Wall Street. Never in those 35-plus years on the Street did I ever have (and miss) as big an investment opportunity as I had in 1952 to 1954, when all I had to do was bend over and pick up off the studio art-class floor, and save, the things that Frank Stella was discarding, as he was finding his way to becoming the great treasure for all of us that he is today.

Kenneth E. MacWilliams ’58, M.B.A. ’62
New York City

 

Crimson Creativity

Beginning this fall, Harvard Magazine will expand its coverage of arts, culture, and creativity, as practiced by alumni, faculty, and students. Reviews of books—the principal focus of “The Browser”—will remain important. But reporting, profiles, criticism, and interviews focused on works in other media (painting, sculpture, film, video), performance and recordings (theater, music), and other creative realms (architecture, design, fashion), as examples, will join the roster.

Deputy editor Craig Lambert, editor of “Right Now” for 16 years, will direct this new effort; he welcomes ideas and suggestions (e-mail him at [email protected]). Given the magazine’s bimonthly frequency, coverage will emphasize context and depth over reviews of ephemeral presentations or sheer publicity. Managing editor Jonathan Shaw will edit “Right Now,” continuing its focus on developments in research.

 

Breaking News

For coverage of breaking news at Harvard, the editors invite you to visit the magazine’s website, www.harvardmagazine.com.

On the website, you may also register for “Editor’s Highlights,” a summary of the contents of each new issue e-mailed just as it is posted on the website. Readers outside the United States, who don’t automatically receive the print edition, may find this an especially helpful way to keep in touch with the University and each other.

 

Amplification

Harvard Magazine reported (“Brevia,” January-February, page 69) that Jun-ying Yuan, professor of cell biology at the Medical School, was one of 13 recipients of the 2005 Director’s Pioneer Awards, conferred by the National Institutes of Health to recognize innovative individuals. Among the other recipients were Leda Cosmides ’79, Ph.D. ’85, Pehr A. Harbury ’86, Ph.D. ’94, Thomas A. Rando ’79, Ph.D. ’87, and Nathan D. Wolfe, S.D. ’99.

 

Speak Up, Please

Harvard Magazine welcomes letters on its contents. Please write to “Letters,” Harvard Magazine, 7 Ware Street, Cambridge 02138, send comments by e-mail to [email protected], use our website, www.harvardmagazine.com, or fax us at 617-495-0324. Letters may be edited to fit the available space.