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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Letters

Cambridge 02138

September-October 2010

Economic Action

Concerning the post-bubble economy (“After Our Bubble,” July-August, page 38), what now? We should increase the deficit to reduce unemployment drastically, but do it intelligently, based on two principles.

First, government should direct its efforts toward jobs and unemployment benefits. When consumers can buy, investors will invest. An effective, relatively inexpensive way to reduce unemployment is the Treasury paying for Medicare for all retired people between 62 and 65 years of age. Many would retire who otherwise would fear that reduced income would leave them unable to pay medical bills. Their retirement would create jobs for others or prevent layoffs of junior employees.

Improving the lot of workers by increasing the demand for their services (usually by artificial stimulation of the economy) is not as efficient as decreasing supply (such as shortening the work week, as suggested by John Maynard Keynes in 1945.)

Second, we should enact future tax increases now. It would show we are serious about fiscal responsibility. The present Congress may have the best opportunity to set sensible tax rates for several years in the future in accordance with the principle of counter-cyclical fiscal policy.

Donald Marcus, LL.B. ’58
Brooklyn, N.Y.

 

Dropout Dichotomy

I usually delete the e-mails from Harvard Magazine without even opening them. It was pretty much by chance I opened the one for the current issue, and the story on “Dropouts” (July-August, page 32) caught my eye. It’s lovely. I enjoyed reading the tales of this trio’s life arcs, and I don’t see that they’ve done too badly for themselves. My father often encouraged me to take time off—I doubt he would have freaked if I had dropped out—but I was too conservative (in the personal, as opposed to political, sense) to do anything but sail right through Harvard and graduate on time. But it surely ain’t the only way to go.

David Loftus ’81
Portland, Ore.

 

As the son of a college professor and proud graduate of the Harvard community, I was dismayed to see your article “Dropouts.” Though the article was voyeuristic, I would rather read about folks that had the courage, gumption, and fortitude to stay in school and complete their Harvard education and then go on to either an interesting simple life or grand careers. Harvard is arguably one of the best education institutions in the world, with many people struggling to just to get in as well as finish. Their invitations to attend should have gone to someone who would earn their Harvard diploma (even if after a short break to “find themselves”). And I sure as heck would not waste trees and ink in our fine magazine on “dropouts” because anyone can take the easy route and quit.

B. Dan Berger, M.P.A. ’99
Alexandria, Va.

 

Having attended Harvard College for a few years in the 1970s, I enjoyed reading “Dropouts.” However, the statement that the College routinely contacts those who have left is not consistent with my experience. I was never contacted about returning, and one brief conversation with my head tutor revealed that there was little interest in my doing so. This may have been because I was involuntarily withdrawn from Harvard for disastrous grades. It may indeed have been a wise policy on the part of the College or of my residential House. Nonetheless, I think the article gives a misleading impression.

Martin Markovich ’78
Tallahassee, Fla.

 

Craig Lambert replies: The circumstances of withdrawal are a factor. The article’s dropouts all left voluntarily, and all received occasional invitations to complete their degrees. Associate dean of Harvard College Paul McLoughlin II says current policy is to use a case-by-case approach, and that the dean’s office no longer proactively contacts dropouts regarding their options.

 

Caregiving Counsel

Readers of Arthur Kleinman’s poignant and important “On Caregiving” (July-August, page 25) should be aware of the existence of a national organization which specifically addresses the needs of spousal caregivers and partners: Well Spouse™ (www.wellspouse.org). This nonprofit organization advocates for and addresses the needs of spouses caring for a chronically ill or disabled wife, husband, or partner by offering peer-to-peer support, and by educating healthcare professionals, legislators, and the general public about the special challenges and unique roles “well” spouses face every day.

My husband, then a college professor, was diagnosed with a dementia in 2004 at the age of 60, and Well Spouse, an organization which deserves to be better known than it is, has since been of immense help to me, as it has been to many others.

Rachel Hadas ’69
New York City

 

Thank you for Dr. Kleinman’s article. Sadly, I think it’s important to note that caregiving is not limited to those over 60. I am 44 and have spent a third of my life the sole caregiver of my very ill wife, with most likely another 30 years ahead of me. I appreciate his perspective that caretaking sustains the world and on that very cosmic level, perhaps it does. However, to those of us in the middle of it, what is most relevant is what caregiving does to hope. It eradicates it. Mercilessly. Make no mistake.

Vivienne Esrig
Associate Director, Administration and Operations
New England Primate Research Center
Southborough, Mass.

 

Shakespeare for Sale

Andrew Wylie’s claim that the First Folio of Shakespeare is not in print—“a hole in the market”—is wholly wrong (“Fifteen Percent of Immortality,” July-August, page 44). The second edition of The Norton Facsimile, based on the Folger Shakespeare Library’s unrivaled collection of first folios and published by W. W. Norton, has been available in print since 1996, and remains so. It can be ordered from the Norton website, from the Folger Library museum shop, or from any bookseller. Several copies of the First Folio are also accessible online. It defies imagination that Wylie is unaware of these facts.

Werner Gundersheimer, Ph.D. ’63, JF ’66
Director Emeritus
Folger Shakespeare Library
Williamstown, Mass.

 

The Truth about Sleep

Daniel Cohen (“Lost Sleep Is Hard To Find,” July-August, page 11) needn’t have gone through all that trouble researching sleep. He could simply have asked Harvard’s own Benedict Gross (’71, Ph.D. ’78, former dean of Harvard College), who had the answer years ago.

I recall, somewhere back around 1969, Dick telling me of a discussion he had just had with his roommates concerning the relationship between sleep and wakefulness: “It wasn’t how much sleep you got the previous night, but the amount of sleep you got two nights before.” “No, it was how much earlier you got up than usual.” “No, it was how much later you went to sleep than usual.” Theories abounded, Dick recalled, until, in a “Eureka!” moment, he proclaimed, “I have it! Whenever you’re awake, you’re tired.”

Jack Perron ’70, M.T.S. ’81
Peterborough, N.H.

 

Admissions Hubris?

As a graduate of both the College and GSAS, I would like to suggest that the fraud perpetrated by Adam Wheeler is not a joke, and that it is emblematic of the unbalanced culture of selective college admissions.

At this year’s Baccalaureate [see “Laugh Lines,” July-August, page 56], President Faust commended graduates on their superior accomplishments, adding that those accomplishments, in light of the Wheeler scandal, would be carefully scrutinized. This quip, made to a group of young people heady with the sense of their status as Harvard graduates, got a big laugh!

The facts are appalling. Wheeler gained admission to Harvard by submitting a completely false collection of documents. In addition, he won two prestigious writing awards, including a Hoopes Prize, based on plagiarized work.

Other schools were also deceived. Stanford had apparently admitted Wheeler for the fall and Bowdoin College awarded him a literary prize for a plagiarized poem. This leads one to speculate about possible reasons for Wheeler’s near success in deceiving everyone. One is laziness or lack of interest. No one wanted to take the time to evaluate either his application or his academic work. How many students are admitted to the College with exaggerated résumés that simply don’t rise to Wheeler’s enormous level of falsehood? Another disturbing possibility is that Harvard, and other prestigious institutions, have come to believe their own inflated image; hence his ridiculous résumé seemed plausible.

At his arraignment, the district attorney referred to Wheeler having defrauded all those students who had submitted truthful applications to Harvard. Actually, the University is more responsible than one disturbed adolescent who was clever enough to exploit the weaknesses of the system. Perhaps it is time for Harvard and other universities to acknowledge that their vaunted “holistic” process of evaluating thousands of applications needs to be reformed. Greater transparency is urgently needed in the process of choosing students to participate in such a privileged environment.

Emily M. Schneider ’80, Ph.D. ’90
Cedarhurst, N.Y.

 

Protecting Fashion Designs

“Real Fashion Police” (July-August, page 9) promotes Jeannie Suk’s view that the U.S. needs copyright protection for fashion designs. But existing trademark and anti-fraud laws provide sufficient protection. Even though Suk and C. Scott Hemphill argue for a “narrowly defined” ban on “virtually identical replicas” of designer clothing, large design houses would rely on the threat of litigation to maintain dominance. Indeed, innovative young creators may find themselves unduly hindered by added limitations.

How far would the protection extend? Would it only be for the upscale designers? Or could Target, Forever 21, or other retailers file their own claims—arguing that their knockoffs were not “virtually identical replicas” of the original inspiration, while trying to prevent others from selling similar “designer-inspired” garments?

American designers are not about to lose their cachet among high-end customers. Part of what makes couture clothing special is not just the design elements, but materials, workmanship, and the fit. When the article contrasts a Bottega Veneta gown with a $250 knockoff version sold online, it does not compare differences in materials and workmanship. Nor does mass-produced clothing look as good as its original design inspiration if the fit isn’t perfect. That often involves making clothing to order, or doing personalized alterations in a way that doesn’t detract from the design.

On the flip side, duplicating designer elements is how younger designers learn. Every garment from big-name designers includes elements copied from others—right down to how seams are sewn or how zippers go in.

And why stop with designer garments? I’m sure there are folks out there who would love to copyright doorknobs, chairs, or even toilets. There’s a good reason that copyright does not apply to useful items. Let’s leave well enough alone.

Kathiann M. Kowalski, J.D. ’79
Fairview Park, Ohio

 

The article omits any discussion of the foundational purpose of American copyright law, expressed in the Constitution, which is “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” Copyright is about promoting innovation. Has anyone yet shown that the fashion industry so lacks innovation that it needs new incentives to spawn it? Indeed, the rapid pace of “adaptations and interpretations,” and indeed copying, by secondary companies in the fashion industry may itself supply the right incentives for fashion houses to innovate. (Without the benefit of copyright law, Cervantes got the incentive to write part two of Don Quixote because someone else had already written a sequel to his original, and he felt the need to articulate his own vision in competition with the sequel writer.) Those suggesting expansion of copyright law must justify how expansion would promote innovation, and not just promote more profits for politically influential industries.

Andrew P. Bridges, J.D. ’83
Woodside, Calif.

 

Google’s Library Glitch

As a prime example of how printed sources have been made more widely available by new technologies, “Gutenberg 2.0” (May-June, page 36) mentions Google’s digitizing of 12 million books. It distresses me that neither the author nor any of the Harvard librarians quoted seem to be aware of one of the serious deficiencies of that project—and I speak as someone for whom it’s become an indispen-sable research tool. In virtually no case, for any of the hundreds of nineteenth-century books and journals I’ve consulted, have any of the folded plates been digitized, and in at least 10 percent of the works one or more—usually many more—pages are missing or blurred. In other words, it would be a disaster if libraries assumed that hard copies had been rendered superfluous just because Google has digitized them. I’m very grateful for what Google has done, but I wish they’d exercised appropriate quality control. Will such deficiencies ever be rectified?

Kenneth L. Caneva
Professor, Department of History, UNCG
Greensboro, N.C.

 

The ID Department

Dan Gerstein ’89, quoted in “Sticking to the Union” (July-August, page 70), worked for Senator Joseph Lieberman, not for then-Senator Joseph Biden. We regret the error.

The note on the Murty Classical Library of India (Brevia, July-August, page 65) overlooked the Harvard ties of general editor Sheldon Pollock ’71, Ph.D. ’75, Columbia’s Ransford professor of Sanskrit and Indian studies. We regret the oversight.

Assistant professor of organismic and evolutionary biology Kirsten Bomblies pointed out that the critter on page 24C of the July-August issue is not a kudu, but a sable antelope. The caption information provided to the magazine was incorrect. Our thanks to Bomblies and other astute correspondents.

Executive Pay, Part 2

Re: “The Pay Problem,” by Jay Lorsch and Rakesh Khurana (May-June, page 30), I like to compare the outlandish and astronomically high CEO compensation to the relatively grounded pay of top executives in the public sector, which rarely rises above $250,000. Or to teachers, architects, engineers, or nurses, whose incomes usually top out at around $100,000.

Does a CEO making $10 million or $25 million a year actually provide 100 times more effort, work, or benefit to society than any of these other occupations? Of course not. That’s just the marketplace logic and valuation in the United States in the year 2010—a value system that is increasingly corrupting our nation, distorting our values, degrading our economy, and undermining our middle class.

The ever-increasing expectations of executives are matched by shareholders as the corporate structure increasingly places aside all considerations other than profit—including producing safe and effective products for their customers, providing decent livelihoods for their workers, and protecting the environment from the impacts of their production. The farther removed corporate executives are economically from the other stakeholders, the more cavalier and careless they become.

In addition, the outlet for this excess wealth has had the effect of distorting and degrading our economic and political systems—through increasingly frequent boom-bust market bubbles and ballooning political campaign contributions, which result from obscene and excessive wealth in the hands of a small and increasingly disconnected elite.

Fortunately, the American people don’t have to wait to seriously address the deleterious effects of exorbitant executive compensation. The millionaire surtax—an additional 5 percent tax rate for income over $1 million—would help rein in the destructive, rapacious obsession with profit and unlimited compensation.

In fact, while we’re at it, we could use a $5-million, $10-million, and $20-million surtax as well, even bringing back the 70 percent tax bracket that existed for nearly 50 years in this country, from Roosevelt to Reagan, during the greatest uninterrupted rise in middle-class affluence and living standards in U.S. history. With reasonable tax rates on unreasonable compensation, the corporate world can pay their executives whatever they choose, while the American public can rest assured that their economy does not spiral out of whack. And think of all the green energy, infrastructure, and education investments we could make with that extra revenue!

Ricardo Hinkle, M.L.A. ’90
New York City

 

Lorsch and Khurana assert that “The recent economic crisis...require[s] a holistic re-examination not only of compensation but of the assumptions and values underlying the economic system we have created.”

At the risk of bludgeoning the obvious, I would suggest that many other aspects of our society—certainly including our governmental structure and processes—require similar re-examinations of the fundamental relation to social context and values if we are to “build a more inclusive and sustainable economic future.”

Mike Koetting, Ph.D. ’79
Chicago