Cambridge 02138

Teaching writing, legacy admissions, the sly Slive, louts

Taxing Carbon

It was exciting to see the cover story “Taxing Carbon (and boosting the economy)” (September-October, page 52). Taxing carbon is likely the most effective way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. However, I would like to question two points of Professor Dale Jorgensen’s plan. 

First, he states that the most effective way of recycling the revenues would be to reduce taxes on capital. Given the sad, and growing, income disparity in the United States, yet another tax break for the wealthy would be quite unfair.

Second, he states that the damages from emissions can be approximated as $30 per ton of CO2. He seems to say that this amount of tax is the most we can “afford” and would be good enough. However, our goal should be the elimination of emissions. To drive a changeover to renewable energy, we need a carbon tax that steadily, and relentlessly, increases. This would send a signal to the market that we are entering an era of renewable energy.

A carbon tax-and-dividend that addresses these points has been proposed. It starts at $10 per ton of CO2 and is increased every year by $10. All of the revenue is returned to households. A major study of the economic consequences by Regional Economic Models Inc. of Washington predicts a positive effect on GDP. Further, the report states, “Because of the economic stimulus of recycling carbon fee revenue back to households, in 20 years, 2.8 million jobs would be added to the American economy.”

Fortunately, there are many proposals for ways to reduce carbon emissions. Now is the time to compare them carefully. 

John F. Schivell ’63, Ph.D. ’68 
Princeton, N.J.


Regarding “Time to Tax Carbon,” I am reminded that whenever a Big Government solution is proposed, individual freedom is reduced. Do citizens really want to turn their lives over to the central planners? I cannot disagree that it empowers and enriches the central planners and crony capitalists. And the little people get littler.

Donald Boyd, Ph.D. ’68


A carbon tax is an efficient way of achieving reductions in carbon emissions, says Dale Jorgenson. In the real world, his learned thesis will not work. The so-overwrought climate-change agenda must focus on these realities: China, India, and the United States are the world’s biggest (but not the sole) carbon emitters. Unless (at least) these three work in concert to reduce their emissions, we’re just whistlin’ Dixie. Yes, even as emerging nations become more efficient in energy use, their absolute amount of emissions growth will increase as their industrial output increases. Natural gas is now plentiful, and will help the U.S. reduce its aggregate carbon emissions from relatively cheap coal, but won’t make a dent in global emissions for decades. Carbon taxes or cap-and-trade impositions are too burdensome to specific, basic industries. (Australia repealed its carbon-dioxide tax this year.) Wind, solar, nuclear—lotsa luck depending on these. The only feasible, present “solution” is for the world to actively adapt to the presence of carbon emissions—with gradual mitigation in the longer run.

Steve Susman ’57, J.D. ’60


Dale Jorgenson highlights the potential for a carbon tax to encourage use of “green” manufacturing techniques while improving the economy. However, a tax focused on U.S. manufacturers is of limited value; it affects pollution by non-U.S. manufacturers only if there is international cooperation based on shared concerns about climate change, and, in the absence of international adoption of a similar tax regime, U.S. manufacturing is put at a competitive disadvantage.

An alternative would be to apply a carbon tax along the supply chain to the point of use, similar to the way value-added taxes operate. An item imported into the U.S. would be cumulatively taxed based on the carbon load created by its production and shipping. Goods arriving without reliable certification as to the means of production would be taxed at the highest rate.

cover image September-October 2014

This method would have the advantage of using U.S. power as a consumer, rather than solely as a manufacturer, to influence global change. International governmental cooperation would not be required to create a global effect. Other countries would be incentivized to impose similar taxes on their own production and imports. Assuming taxes assessed by other countries on their own production were used to promote environmentally responsible behavior, the U.S. could give a credit on goods imported for the taxes paid elsewhere.

Carbon taxes have the potential to be regressive, since the unrecognized carbon load of inexpensive products consumed by low-income consumers may be larger in proportion to their price than the carbon load relating to more expensive items. To address this concern, low-income consumers could be provided with a rebate, possibly even at the cash register. This, too, could be structured to reward selection of “green” products. 

Stephanie R. Breslow ’81
New York City


Dale Jorgenson has quite a “deal” for us: industrial producers of carbon will accept reduced profits (via carbon tax) so long as this is offset by reductions in capital taxes. These capital-tax reductions should increase efficiency and productivity which will trickle down to the masses. Hmm. Yes, the 1 percent will become much more wealthy and inequality will become more severe…but the poor and remnants of the middle class will have cleaner air now, won’t they?

In other words, don’t even think of asking producers to pay higher taxes unless you give them something to offset it. He calls this “recycling” (Orwell, take note). 

How about this: recycle this revenue toward bringing renewable/alternate energy to scale, improving public transportation, and addressing our crumbled infrastructure. This will create sustainable jobs and broad efficiencies that will increase demand for products and services by wage-workers…which translate into real economic growth and reduced inequality.

Stuart Zeiger ’72


All conversations about the levy of a carbon tax should begin with this admission: a carbon “tax” is already in place. As Jonathan Shaw points out, the social cost of emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere equals approximately $1.6 trillion annually. These costs are not internalized by the producers of fossil fuels and represent, in effect, a subsidy that supports their production. A carbon tax would put an end to the subsidy that fossil-fuel producers enjoy, and redistribute that wealth back to the world’s domestic economies.

Dale Jorgenson correctly identifies the issue of carbon taxation as “what to do with the resulting revenue.” His prescription for the U.S. is to use the resulting revenue to reduce capital-tax rates. The result, he predicts, will be “large gains in the efficiency of the economy overall, as goods and services are produced less energy-intensively.” In fact, the U.S. economy is increasingly energy efficient already: according to the U.S. Department of Energy, the amount of energy needed to produce a dollar’s worth of goods and services fell by more than half between 1949 and 2004. During that time U.S. GDP increased more than six times. What is urgently needed now is a transition to a de-carbonized U.S. economy. Revenues resulting from a tax on carbon should be used to compensate taxpayers for the increases in the price of energy and other commodities that will necessarily occur when fossil fuel producers pass the cost of the carbon tax on to consumers. This approach would sustain consumer demand, provide for uninterrupted economic expansion, and encourage the producers of goods and services to reduce the cost of their energy inputs by investing directly in renewable energy, which will compare much more favorably in price to then-unsubsidized fossil fuels.

Joseph Larusso, M.P.A ’00
Roslindale, Mass.


I have always thought economists lived in a different world than we human beings, but Dale Jorgenson shocked me. His was a fine number-crunch on the possibilities of a worldwide carbon tax, but his suggestion of what to do with the revenue generated convinced me that economists don’t even live on the same planet as I do.

Jorgenson suggests that revenues from the carbon tax should be used to accelerate the growth of our economy and presumably those in Europe as well. If, however, the economies of the West continue to grow, they will overwhelm supplies of the world’s resources. The planet cannot support nine billion humans and the ever-demanding advanced economies as well as the needs of the underdeveloped economies to catch up.

Professor, please throw away your growth glasses and start to work on how we might have an equitable and prosperous life without the ceaseless demands of economic growth. Please, as you set about your new task, don’t think about hiding under the umbrella of possible advances in technology. The record shows the advanced technological economies keep demanding more and more of the world’s resources.

Sam Bass Warner ’50
Needham, Mass.


Taxing carbon is absolutely necessary to save humanity and the planet, but your story is an obvious cover (as it were) for Harvard’s refusal to divest from fossil-fuel investments. Harvard doesn’t have the power to enact a carbon tax. But Harvard does have the power to divest, which would send an incredibly strong signal to other universities around the country. What are you waiting for?

Charles R. Miller ’73
Senior Writer and Editor
Environmental Defense Fund
Washington, D.C.


I read “Time to Tax Carbon” with mixed feelings—on the one hand, I was encouraged that Harvard Magazine devoted its cover story to research demonstrating that pricing carbon emissions isn’t necessarily “bad for the economy”—as the fossil-fuel industry and their allies in Congress and the media claim. On the other hand, I was disturbed that Professor Jorgenson, although acknowledging the importance of considering “both efficiency and welfare,” failed to explicitly acknowledge the extent to which using the proceeds from emissions pricing to reduce tax rates on capital would produce a massive redistribution of wealth from the poorest 90 percent of the population (who would pay higher prices for energy and other necessities) to the wealthiest 10 percent (who own the vast majority of the country’s capital and would benefit from the reduction in capital-tax rates). 

There are compelling reasons for incorporating the cost of CO2 emissions into the price of fossil fuels as soon as possible; claims that doing so will impose “too high a cost on global economic growth” simply fail to recognize that the cost of emissions is real. Failure to account for the cost of emissions in calculating “economic growth” results in an artificially inflated GDP figure, pumped up by the incurrence of a pernicious (because unacknowledged) debt that cannot easily be avoided. Pricing emissions and returning the revenue generated through periodic payments to individuals (a “carbon fee and dividend”) would unleash market forces to slow climate change without penalizing the large majority of citizens whose well-being would suffer from the increased cost of energy. 

John H. Steed, J.D. ’74
Santa Barbara


Jorgenson concludes that a carbon tax would stimulate the economy if the tax is reinvested, and that the most effective reinvestment would be to cut taxes on capital. Unfortunately, not all tax cuts on capital result in greater investment in actual capital. Also, cutting taxes on capital primarily benefits the rich, which is problematic in a society under the strains of increasing wealth disparities.

Can a carbon tax be reinvested to maximize capital investment while benefiting everyone? One possibility might be applying the carbon tax to a Social Security Augmentation Fund. The carbon tax would be distributed to the accounts of each man, woman, and child with a Social Security number. The distribution could be flat or progressive. Each person would have control of investing their own account, but could only invest in instruments that primarily create capital. Withdrawals would be restricted according to rules similar to current Social Security rules. Account holders who did not invest the monies in their accounts would have the funds invested for them. The government could be kept out of making investment decisions by investing these monies in the same way as the top 30 percent (or some other percentage) of investments made by active investors.

Though there would be significant economic drag in this system due to the government bureaucracy necessary to support it, there would also be economic drag created by most schemes that reduce capital taxes but do not result in efficient investment in actual capital. This scheme might be as good for the economy as capital-tax cuts, while also reducing national wealth disparities and providing more retirement savings for the “99 percenters.”

Michael Biales, A.M. ’72
Acton, Mass.


The Jorgenson interview was timely and provocative. As a lukewarm supporter of a carbon tax, I find his economic arguments compelling. However, his optimism on passage of his plans is quite shaky on political grounds.

To take the United States, the world’s second leading CO2 polluter:

(1) To vote for a measure leading to a 24.4-cents-per-gallon levy on gasoline is legislatively unthinkable at a national level and state level—outside, perhaps, of a handful of very Blue states. Until the impact of anthropogenic global warming hits hard enough to concentrate the attention of the majority of the citizenry, such a magnitude of taxation has a snowball’s chance in hell in the national legislature. (Unfortunately, by the time AGW gets to center stage, it will be too late to lower its centuries-long trajectory without geo-engineering.)

(2) Supposing that some more modest but still significant tax could get some traction in the legislature, the wrangling between factions over the use of the revenue would be intense, long-lasting, and potentially stalemating. That 100 percent would go to reduction of capital tax rates would raise such a howl from the Left and much of the Middle that even Republicans would back off. And if they didn’t, and there were a Republican majority in the Senate, you might find the Democrats resorting to a filibuster. (Count me among the howlers, by the way.)

(3) A swarm of lobbyists in the hire of carbon polluters would choke the halls of Congress. The fallback position of fossil-fuel interests might be to push carbon capture and storage (CCS)—they could make money both generating CO2 and sequestering it. But as Jorgenson points out, CCS is at present not commercially viable, and has not been tested at significant scale. Furthermore, CCS is so iffy scientifically that its growth will lurch along in small hops rather than leaps.

Internationally, similar political obstacles loom, although not so intense. In most industrial countries where the reality of AGW is taken seriously, the plan in modified form has a solid shot (although Australia’s recent repeal of its carbon tax is instructive). As for the “recycling” of the revenue, in democracies it will invite more political battles, while its likely use in kleptocracies makes one’s heart sink.

As for the impact of Jorgenson’s plan on income disparity, he avoided a direct answer to the question (posed at least three times in different forms, most notably near the top of the third column on page 78). His view appears to be of the rising-tide-lifts-all-boats variety, while the form of implementation is up to the separate governments.

Politically, the critical weakness of Jorgenson’s plan is similar to that of any measure directed at AGW—the time frame. He asks us to postpone gratification—the economic boom that would eventually result from the tax plan—in order to solve a long-term problem that many people believe not to exist, or that exists as a matter of “natural cycles.”

Sadly, it’s time to take the cheaper but riskier path of geoengineering very seriously.

Mark Heinicke ’67
Ruckersville, Va.


Jorgenson asserts that there would be a “double dividend” from imposing a tax on carbon and using the revenue generated to reduce taxes on capital: reducing emissions (which contribute to global warming) and promoting economic growth. That taxing U.S. carbon emissions would have any significant effect on climate change is very doubtful in the opinion of this environmental lawyer, law professor, and economist, but what should be clear is that such a tax would have a severe negative impact on the U.S. economy.

Taxing carbon would increase the price not only of electricity and gasoline, but everything that we buy that has to be manufactured or transported—food, medicine and medical devices, communications services and equipment, national defense, and public safety—literally everything in the economy. This first-level effect, as acknowledged in the article, would fall disproportionately on lower-income populations who could least afford it. This regressive impact would then be compounded by using the revenue generated to reduce taxes on capital—a reverse-Robin Hood policy of taking from the poor to give to the rich.

The idea that this regressive economic policy would stimulate investment and economic growth was the one tried by the last Bush administration, with results that should deter further attempts. Moreover, the notion that Congress—with an increase in revenue of some estimated $150 billion—could resist spending it is academic fantasy in an area where longer memories and realistic thinking are required.

William J. Jones, J.D. ’60
Warren, N.J.


Applause for your featuring of “carbon tax” on the September-October Harvard Magazine cover. Yet the politics of realizing such a tax is the big challenge, in particular where that revenue goes, and only a few voters will be attracted by Professor Jorgensen’s recommended destination: reducing capital tax rates. As an alternative, Citizens Climate Lobby is championing a dividend equally divided among all tax-payers. Wouldn’t such an outcome encourage every individual citizen (and business customer) to make some continuing effort to maximize her personal net dividend? And, because we all contribute to global warming, wouldn’t the sum of such individual efforts give us the best chance of its minimization?

Jorgensen argues that capital tax reduction will favor economic growth and full employment. But will such an analysis be convincing to voters increasingly skeptical of “trickle-down”-sounding economic theory, and perhaps aware that capital is already currently available at very low interest rates? Personally, I doubt it.

Richard D. Cramer ’63
Santa Fe


Your excellent and deep-digging interview on carbon taxes with Professor Jorgenson inaccurately described the issues in two important ways. 

First, it said that only a carbon tax can raise revenue, thus allowing cuts in other taxes and leading to a “double dividend.” But a cap-and-trade system in which the permits to emit are auctioned is economically equivalent to a carbon tax. All existing and seriously suggested carbon cap-and-trade approaches in this country provide for at least some auctioning. 

Moreover, a cap-and-trade system may be easier to enact than a carbon tax, since the ability to give away free permits allows vested interests to be compensated—perhaps only for a transitional period until the full auction kicks in. 

Second, the article states that a carbon tax would simply be layered onto the existing Clean Air Act regulations, since in this country there is little overlap between conventional pollution control and carbon control. 

In fact, the Obama administration projects that the air-pollution-control benefit of its proposed power-plant carbon standards clearly exceeds the climate benefit (and either benefit taken by itself far exceeds the control costs). This overlap between the two control efforts would make it highly possible to scale back or eliminate many Clean Air Act programs if a carbon-control system were enacted, since the new economic incentive for cleaner energy would reduce both types of pollution at once. 

William F. Pedersen ’65, LL.B. ’68
Washington, D.C. 

Editor’s note: Cap-and-trade is similar to a carbon tax if the permits are initially auctioned, rather than given away to polluters. As the letter points out, the main attraction of cap-and-trade systems actually put into place is that the permits are given away: hence, no revenue potential for the government to use to stimulate growth, as in Dale Jorgenson’s model.


The most efficient way to improve the U.S.A. and reduce the CO2 level and enhance O2 is proper management of the U.S. Forest Service lands that have been a scandal of wasted resources and neglect of the most efficient suppressor of CO2: the simple tree. The U.S. government, the largest owner of timberlands in the U.S.A., has neglected its obligation to manage its lands, which would be the quickest, largest, most efficient way to reduce CO2. Until current policy is reversed, there should be no tax on carbon. No legislation is needed, just leadership.

It was disappointing that this obvious abatement of CO2 was not even mentioned in the article.

Gordon Connor, M.B.A. ’61


Ninety percent of your readers, and the entire Harvard faculty, are surely in agreement that the principal cause of global warming is the carbon-dioxide emissions addressed in the carbon-taxation article. These emissions have greatly increased worldwide since 1998, and work on the subject has conclusively agreed that we are therefore in danger of overheating the globe.

This has not happened: 1998 saw the peak for average worldwide temperature. 

It may be, then, that we are ignoring factors that accompany the emissions. These would include the water vapor and particulates clearly shown in your photos on pages 52 and 55. Water vapor and particulates are generally agreed to reflect and absorb photons from the sun, and thus cool the atmosphere. If carbon emissions are reduced, that could have the effect of increasing temperatures. While emissions must be reduced, we must also consider that we may not know everything about what drives the world’s climate. The paradox of the 1998 peak in temperatures suggests caution.

There is a method, though not yet tried, of reducing world temperatures. This would not require new laws or international agreements, has a cost that is negligible, and does not require any change in people’s behavior. The high-altitude dispersal of reflective mylar particles would necessarily reflect photons away from the earth, and if testing showed its worth, it could be a useful means of cooling the earth, now or in the future, should the reduction in emissions prove to have adverse effects on temperature.

Thomas N. Cochran, M.B.A. ’61
Far Hills, N.J.

Editor’s note: See this magazine’s cover story from July-August 2013, “Buffering the Sun,” for the issues surrounding geoengineering approaches to climate change.


I was agreeably surprised to see the interview with Dale Jorgensen. I have followed Dale’s work on this subject for many years and have agreed with his conclusions. As a physicist, I have some additional comments to make. Carbon as it comes out of the ground is burned and becomes carbon dioxide within 12 months. The time scale of concern about adverse effects of carbon dioxide is tens or more of years. This suggests that a carbon tax or charge be applied early in the carbon cycle as it comes out of the ground or passes the port of entry. Here, also, it is easy to do. It is here that the amount is already reliably known: Someone pays for it. This would therefore be far superior to taxing emissions which are in most cases not reliably known, its source a matter of dispute, and derived from air pollution measurements accompanied by an unreliable model.

Richard Wilson
Mallinckrodt professor of physics emeritus


I find a few significant flaws in Jorgenson’s thinking. He assumes that “taxing energy and reducing the cost of capital leads to large gains in the efficiency of the economy overall.” Isn’t it possible that the money that corporations would save by having access to cheaper capital might encourage them to continue using carbon because they could use their savings to pay for the tax? In fact, that is probably what they would do. They have to change nothing and would stay in the same place.

He argues against one alternative, reducing the labor tax, with the following thinking: “when income taxes are lower, people work more and take less leisure time.” Why would anyone work more if he is taking home a larger paycheck? But let’s assume Mr. Jorgenson is right. He goes on to say, “[T]hey consume more, too, while saving and investing less, and that turns out to produce a less favorable impact.” What makes him think that workers will save less if they earn more? And if they do consume more, isn’t that good for the economy?

Jorgenson’s assumptions about the behavior of corporations and individuals is questionable, to say the least. But his prescription for tax policy will be welcome by corporate America because under his plan corporations stand to gain, while the vast majority of American workers are reassured once again that they will benefit in another form of the trickle-down theory.

It is all too transparent.

Steven Kovacs, Ph.D. ’73
San Francisco


I question the basic premise of Jorgensen’s article: namely, that due to global warming we put the planet at risk. His solution is to place a tax on carbon emissions. He posits a solution to a problem many agree doesn’t exist. In fact in a 1970 edition of Newsweek magazine, several highly regarded scientists aver the problem is that the climate is cooling—and thus the title of the article: “The coming ice age.” To such opinions, the trenchant retort is that global warming is “settled science.” Such a response is oxymoronic. Science by definition is never settled. As technology allows us to dig deeper into scientific matter, our knowledge and understanding evolve and expand. Cancer research is a good example. Drugs that once were thought to be harmful are now used in conjunction with other drugs to prolong or even cure several forms of cancer.

From a purely economic consideration, the carbon tax he proposes would by his own admission increase the cost of a gallon of gas by 24.4 cents. This seems a rather high cost to solve a problem many believe doesn’t exist.

Gerard Cassedy ’61
Springfield, Mass.


Please tell me how taking $180 billion out of the economy through taxation and then putting $180 billion back into the economy causes a bigger economy? (And that doesn’t account for the cost-consuming bureaucracy to facilitate the “recycling.”)

The authors should use “income regurgitation” not “recycling” is a more proper description...consuming wealth from private, self-sustaining jobs, swallowing it, and then regurgitating what’s left on their own “special babies”—pet projects, self-named grants or the biggest special baby of all...quid pro quo to big campaign donors’ “businesses.”

The authors of this arduous research need to grapple with common sense, government consumes does not create wealth. If government spending actually created growth then all we really need is a printing press and worldwide prosperity would reign. No person and no country ever got rich by spending. 

Please prove me wrong! I hope I am, since it seems the future of our country and the very world depends on government spending.

Eldon Johnson ’91, Esq.


The article about taxing carbon promises a betterment if this approach succeeds, and I personally hope it does.

But what is the back-up plan if it doesn’t? Many great ideas have not succeeded, for a variety of reasons. Every proposed system needs a back-up, whether it’s disarmanent, the brakes on your car, or the law. The scientific method (Bacon, 1620) allowed error correction via repeated experiment—an implicit expectation of intellectual failure.

A back-up plan might include public air filtering in cities. And carbon-dioxide capture technologies. These amelioration approaches are not perfect, but they might be good enough, particularly if no agreement can be reached. Plan B for failure.

Wilson’s League of Nations had the aim of eliminating war. As Britain (then the foremost power) disarmed under the influence of Bertrand Russell and others, Hitler armed. As the hoped-for system was failing, there was no effective back-up plan to stop the free rider.

In sum, I think this discussion should include consideration of options like clean coal, pollution amelioration. Yes, these seem like compromises, but they may actually help an overall better plan by showing the alternative to doing nothing.

John Brookes ’66, G ’73
Clinton, N.Y.


As the excellent interview indicated, a tax on carbon would suppress the economy and the author proposes to offset the oxymoron with a cut in capital-gains taxes, thus increasing economic activity. However, it requires a bodacious leap of faith, hardly justified by history and our Byzantine tax code, to think that this juicy new revenue stream would be left in peace for its original purpose. 

A compelling case for the carbon tax is made by the use of the awful photos of India and China that beg for solutions and remind us of LA and Gary in the 1960s. However, cleaner air followed after the catalytic converter was invented and developed by the free market—the driver of the most prosperity for the most people, ever. Yes, the market will shift to other technology [solar, wind, more natural gas, and yet-to-appear sources], but beware the dogma of central planners with their government meddling. Predicting rising seas and melting ice caps is scary stuff, but this past winter was the coldest in recent memory and as of this writing [9/15/14] it has already snowed a foot in Wyoming, with the Antarctic ice cap at a record level. Maybe the “accepted” dogma of climate change, née global warming, is calling for yet another name change.

Peter McKinney ’56


Jorgenson makes the very sensible case that the nations of the world should cooperate on imposing a tax on carbon to slow the increasingly catastrophic effects of burning fossil fuels. So far, so good. Econ 101 teaches us that “externalities,” such as health and environmental impacts, should be included in the cost of production.

Unfortunately, Jorgenson then veers off course with his discredited trickle-down proposal to “recycle” this newfound revenue by cutting the capital gains tax—a tax that is paid overwhelmingly by the top 1 percent. Why? Because, Professor Jorgenson responds, it will stimulate investment more effectively than cutting taxes for workers.

History, however, has repeatedly demonstrated that extreme wealth concentration—exacerbated under Jorgenson’s proposal—stimulates reckless investments, or investments not sustainable without more broad-based prosperity. We saw this phenomenon play out a few short years ago when overheated investment by the super rich, without a comparable increase in middle-class income, created a bubble economy that burst, destroying wealth and jobs.

An alternative vision would recycle this new carbon-tax revenue where it belongs—as compensation for people and communities who are bearing the high cost of our carbon-based economy, or who may be adversely affected by the necessary transition to a solar-wind economy, like coal miners and oil workers. We should also use this revenue to make more public investments in producing green energy and in cleaning up the enormous environmental devastation caused by burning fossil fuels.

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


Teaching Writing

John Casey and others like him who claim that writing cannot be taught (“Bears, Oars, Metaphors,” September-October, page 59) do immeasurable damage to education. We have a nation which for the large part is illiterate not only in reading but in writing, a nation where school teachers do not assign written assignments, a nation where invective and sophistry characterize much of the national dialogue. Why should teachers submit themselves to reading student compositions when Harvard-educated masters of literature such as Casey and others tell them that writing cannot be taught?

Casey may not be able to teach writing, but writing can be taught. Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian believed writing can be taught. I suggest anyone interested in writing have a look at Edward P. Corbett’s Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student (1965). In its preface Corbett says, “No system, classical or modern, has been devised that can change students suddenly and irrevocably into masters of elegant prose, but the ancient teachers of rhetoric, refusing to be impressed by the notion of ‘creative self-expression’ until the student had a self to express and a facility for expressing it, succeeded in large part in developing a method which, when well taught, could help students to write and speak effectively.”

Thirty-five years of teaching high-school students and reading mountains of student compositions have taught me not only that writing can be taught but that reading and writing are symbiotic. And that effort taught me an even greater lesson: writing can go a long way toward helping students to know themselves.

James W. Downs ’51
Suffern, N.Y.


Francis Parkman

Re “Vita” (September-October, page 50): A recent visit to Cambridge demonstrated to me the continuing power of Francis Parkman’s post-Harvard travel experiences to electrify. Surely the climax of his adventures was attained during the post-Law School trip out West: the fever pitch of the Indians’ mass buffalo hunt on horseback into which Parkman flung himself in 1846 and then recounted in The Oregon Trail. When, entering the Peabody Museum for the first time, I spotted a small object which on further inspection proved to be a small riding whip of Oglala Sioux manufacture, my heart started to pound in anticipation. Sure enough: “Gift of Francis Parkman.” How breathtaking to encounter this talisman of his youthful excitement and purpose in light of the massive historical accomplishment they fueled! Happily, thanks to generous donors and a sympathetic College administration, the life-changing experience of travel for research is now within the reach of a far broader portion of the undergraduate socioeconomic spectrum than in the Brahmin Parkman’s day. 

His monumental France and England in North America contains a heartening reminder of another enduring aspect of the student experience: the inspiration and motivation that we draw from our fellows. The central volume, La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West (1869), begins “To The Class of 1844, Harvard College, This Book is Cordially Dedicated by one of their number.” I hope he enjoyed his twenty-fifth reunion!

Jody Armstrong ’78
New York City


In his otherwise laudable study of Francis Parkman, Castle Freeman Jr. twice describes the Seven Years War and its run-up as a conflict between “France and England.” Er, no. The latter political entity was Great Britain, comprised of England and Scotland. It was a Scottish regiment that spearheaded the storied ascent to the Plains of Abraham.

Freeman is far from the first thus to conflate England with the United Kingdom (as the entity is presently known), thereby air-brushing the Scots out of the polity. The point may become clearer if the Scots, weary of the air-brushing, vote for independence on September 18.

Martin Margulies, LL.B. ’64
Sandy Hook, Conn.


Legacy Admissions

I was disheartened to read the letter by Gretchen Bachrach about diversity (September-October, page 8). Although Bachrach seemingly does not understand the enriching and enlarging educational value of diverse thought and experience to any university, including Harvard, “the pinnacle” of higher education, my main area of contention with her letter was the admissions category she omitted: legacy. If Harvard is to accept students only on the basis of “past demonstrations of academic effort and achievement,” then surely there will be many offspring of Harvard alums who will have to get their education from the non-pinnacle university. If we are to eliminate awarding points to applicants based on “race, religion or gender,” then let’s do away with all such categories, including that awarded to the privileged who, through no effort on their part, happened to be born into a Harvard family. Not all Harvard students who “look” the part are there solely on sheer “academic effort and achievement.”

Phyllis Levinson, MCR ’79
Gaithersburg, Md. 


Tibet’s Status

I read “Tibetan Literature, Digitized” (September-October, page 23). It said, “…an enormous number of Tibetan texts disappeared during the Cultural Revolution, which affected the Tibetan plateau as much as it did the rest of China.” The statement is saying that the Tibetan plateau is China, but Tibet is not China any more than France was Germany after Germany invaded France during the Second World War. Tibet has its own culture, literature, history, language, that China is trying to suppress along with its ethnic cleansing of the Tibetan people. I appreciate that the politics of the situation are difficult but the truth remains. It is still inappropriate to baldly misstate and thereby deny Tibet’s invaded and subjugated status. If the sovereignty of Tibet had not been violated, there wouldn’t be the same need for Harvard to try to protect the country’s remaining literary heritage.

Nancy J. Gawlowicz
New York City


Crimson vs. Cardinal

When I was an undergraduate at Stanford in the early 1960s (“Is Harvard Cool?” September-October, page 2), there was a standing joke that Stanford might be the Harvard of the West, but you still never heard anyone say that Harvard was the Stanford of the East. It took The New York Times to finally say it. It’s all in good fun. Out of my class and the preceding class from my fraternity at Stanford, six of us went on to Harvard for graduate school, and we all felt we were very fortunate indeed to be able to do so.

Chris Moore, J.D. ’64
Torrance, Calif.


Slive on the Sly

It was lovely to see Professor Seymour Slive presented with an honorary degree this past June. [His subsequent death was reported in Brevia, September-October, page 29.] He provides one of my favorite Harvard anecdotes. 

I took an art-history course with Slive that included a tour of the Busch-Reisinger Museum. We spent some time with several ornately carved German wooden pieces from another era. As he stood next to one, he put his hands lovingly upon it, exploring all of its nooks and crannies. He said something which I now find absolutely unbelievable: “Sometime when the museum guard’s back is turned, you must touch a piece like this and feel how much the artist cared about it.” I have never had the nerve to follow his advice, but I tell this story as frequently as I can.

Clarissa Bushman ’79
New York City


Wonderful Widener

President Drew Faust wrote in the September-October 2014 issue (The View from Mass Hall, page 5) that as Widener begins its second century it has accumulated 3.5 million volumes in 10 stories of stacks. That pales in comparison to that majestic edifice’s accumulated billions of memories.

When I think back to my time on campus, there are numerous places, things, and events that come to mind, but none any more vivid than wandering Widener. I will never forget sitting on the floor, between those narrow stacks, that could be seen continuing mysteriously through the slabs of stone to the floors above and below, engrossed in one book or another and watching the lights wink on and off as someone else moved through the floors, turning their light on as they entered an aisle and off as they exited, only to repeat it at the next one, sometimes bright and close and sometimes dim and far away. It was magical then, even more so now with time. Hail Widener!

Bill Lacey, M.Arch. ’76
Manhattan Beach, Calif.


President Faust’s paean to Widener Library reminded me of a delightful discovery I made there while trying to find material for a term paper for an economic history course. I came across a huge bookstack packed floor to ceiling with hundreds of English detective novels. They had the bookplate of a Harvard professor of Egyptology. He must have spent his evenings in the desert reading them, and then donated them to Widener. Needless to say, I spent too many of my own evenings reading them.

Barbara R. Bergmann, Ph.D. ’58
Bethesda, Md.


I was very interested to read Faust’s piece on the importance of libraries in her life and in the Harvard community. I easily relate to her experiences as a young girl discovering libraries and books, and have the same passion for the instrumental role the libraries play in education, research, and enlightenment. That said, I have been disappointed by the very limited access that alumni have to Harvard libraries. We are treated as if we never walked through those halls before, although most of us spent countless hours there. We have no digital off-campus access, and even on-campus access has different limitations. For those of us who graduated and want to continue to gain access to the unique trove at Harvard, regardless of where or who we are, the policies on alumni access should change. Harvard has the ability to put its foot down in its negotiations on database licenses, while also sending a message in support of the trend towards free access to information and open access to research. 

Lama Hassoun Ayoub, S.M. ’11


How to Deal with Louts

I enjoyed “How the Faculty Feels” (September-October, page 21). Of special interest was the figure titled “Work/Life Balance,” which showed that, on average, both men and women put in the same hours on the job. In contrast, the women with children spend roughly twice as many hours as men on housework. While I was the director of residency training at the University of Louisville ophthalmology department, my unpleasant task was reprimanding those trainees who did not measure up to our standards. The males who caused problems did so in a variety of ways: some were late for clinics or failed to answer emergency calls; others dressed inappropriately or showed little respect for the technicians or their female colleagues. In contrast, all the female trainees who got in trouble shared the same failing: on the annual Ophthalmic Knowledge Assessment Program they had terrible scores—sometimes below the tenth percentile. These women weren’t hitting the books.

When I called them into my office for their quarterly reviews, each told the same story: they had to spend many hours every day feeding the family, cleaning the house, bathing the kids, etc., before collapsing in bed exhausted. When I asked what their husbands were doing, again came the same complaint: they were either watching television or studying for their own knowledge assessment program. Some women begged me to dress down their wayward spouses because of their selfish habits.

Keep in mind that all these women were the cream of the crop: only the best students got into medical school, while our department averaged 100 applicants for each training position. So here is the question that has plagued me for decades: why did those bright, ambitious women put up with such dreadful treatment? In retrospect, I wish I had bribed my stepson Arthur—six feet six, 300 pounds, a professional bouncer for 10 years—to take those lazy bums aside for an intimate discussion.

John Gamel ’66


Several disturbing statistics emerge from the survey of Harvard faculty members by the office of the senior vice provost for faculty development and diversity. Over a quarter of faculty members are dissatisfied with their pay. Like Oliver Twist, and no doubt with equal justification, they want more. Forty-three percent of women feel that Harvard’s “climate” discriminates against them. (Perhaps this is because these women have developed super-sensitive feminist antennas capable of detecting not only actual but also potential and apparent examples of sexism.) And then there is the “yawning gap between men and women’s household responsibilities.” Unmentioned—perhaps because it is too embarrassing—is the even more yawning gap between men and women who bear children and breast-feed them. I think that the first gap will narrow as soon as the second one does.

 Incidentally, I trust that the racial and gender makeup of office etc. for diversity mirrors that of the country’s general population. But what about continent of origin? Since Asia’s population is four times that of Africa, does it employ four times as many Asian Americans as African Americans?

Roman Foxbrunner, Ph.D. ’84
Silver Spring, Md.


Saluting Skocpol

In the inspiring story about the Scholars Strategy Network (“Citizen Scholars,” September-October, page 24), Professor Theda Skocpol describes the challenge of cross disciplinary collaboration: “In academia of late, the conversations have turned inward—each specialty talking in its own private language.” 

While sharing classes with Theda as a graduate student in William James Hall during the 1970s, I experienced this reality firsthand: in seeking to do a cross-disciplinary doctoral thesis on different explanatory styles in law, history and sociology, I had assembled a thesis committee with leading scholars from each of these fields. Unfortunately for me, my committee had great difficulty communicating with each other! A painful proof of the challenge Theda describes. My first thesis project was not accepted. But thanks to the influence Professor Skocpol then exercised as the senior grad student representative in our department, I was able to do a completely different, and much “safer” empirical thesis on the epidemiology of infant mortality in my home country of Canada.

Theda’s leadership, then as now, has made a great difference. Initially denied tenure in our old department, she persevered to become the first woman tenured in sociology at Harvard and a champion for gender equality and gender equity at Harvard and beyond. Her leadership, when dean of the Graduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences, played a decisive part in pointing Harvard toward a new senior administrative team and toward new policy directions. I salute her courage and her long record of concern, both to do the right thing, and through her work at SSN, as in her outstanding scholarship, to advance the public good and assist the most vulnerable.

Bravo Professor Skocpol!

Brian Richard Joseph, Ph.D. ’80
Commissioner, The Law Reform Commission of Nova Scotia


How to See

I never noticed the image reversal on the cover of the July-August issue of Harvard Magazine until Dr. Vaillant’s letter in the September-October issue pointed it out, but recently I saw an old picture of Heinrich Himmler and noticed immediately that the swastika on his armband was backwards. No doubt an image reversal, too. But why did I notice one and not the other? Answer—I grew up during the Second World War and, perhaps more to the point, I grew up next to an Indian reservation that used the backward swastika, and everyone in the area was very, very careful to emphasize the difference.

Hmm, I wonder if my attitude towards that other political party—you know, the one that’s always wrong—was formed the same way.

Jim Caprio ’59
Fort Worth



On page 74 of the July-August issue, there is a lovely, informative article about a recent golden anniversary celebration of Peabody Terrace Children’s Center (“Playing Together, Staying Together”). It quotes liberally from a report written by Sarah Bennett-Astesano who “researched the history of childcare at Harvard.” I would like to correct a glaring error on page 76 which clearly was caused by Bennett-Astesano’s admittedly “scant records”: “Bennett-Astesano says it appears that for most of the 1950s and early 1960s, there doesn’t seem to [have been] any childcare operating on the Harvard campus.”

In 1953-54 I was a graduate student in the School of Education—working toward an Ed.M. in early childhood education. I did my practice teaching at the Harvard Preschool—in the “two Quonset huts on Kirkland Street” referred to in the article. Two years after earning my degree I was hired to teach at the preschool, and in 1958 I became director. The school was under the aegis of the Graduate School of Education and in fact I also had an appointment as a teaching fellow at the Graduate School. Our enrollment consisted of three- and four-year-olds, many but not all of whom were children of Harvard-connected parents; we supervised student teachers from Wheelock and Lesley Colleges (Lesley was not yet a university); we had a steady stream of student doctors, dentists, psychiatrists, and social workers hoping to learn from us about “normal” children, and we were visited frequently by teachers from other schools wanting to learn about our methods/theories about child development. Each year we had a waiting list of over 200 families hoping to enroll their children.

I knew that the Quonset huts were originally put up to accommodate veterans’ families but I don’t know when the Harvard Preschool (as I knew it) was founded. From 1953—and I don’t know how much earlier—until 1956, the director was Judith Schoellkopf, a highly regarded expert in child development. I don’t remember the name of the woman who succeeded her and held the position until I was appointed director in 1958.

At the end of the 1960-61 school year I left Cambridge to follow my husband-to-be to Washington, D.C. We were married in June of 1961 and in September I started my year of teaching Caroline Kennedy and 12 other three-year-olds at the White House.

The Graduate School of Education announced its intention to discontinue its support of the Harvard Preschool just as I was leaving. My understanding is that the school continued for one or two years as a private institution with a board of trustees made up mostly of parents. 

Jaclin Marlin, Ed.M. ’54
Washington, D.C.


Sarah Bennett-Astesano replies: My thanks to Jaclin Marlin for bringing this additional background material to light.



As a former urban-parks activist, I know few bounds to my admiration for Frederick Law Olmsted. Thus, your report on a visit to his home and studio in Brookline—now deservedly a National Historic Site (Harvard Squared, “A Park of One’s Own,” September-October, page 12H)—reinforces a long-held intention to pay homage there myself.

However, I must admit to some confusion with regard to the article’s brief mention of Olmsted having selected a “palate of greens.” Search for a more thorough review of the menu offered in some sort of café at the visitors’ center produced no further info. Please advise.

Alan Weaver ’69
Augusta, Me.


Your writer meant—and Olmsted intended—a “palette of greens.”



Rhode Island

Thank you for sharing the dreary world of Jean McGarry ’70 (“Rhode Island Blues,” July-August, page 71). How refreshing, indeed uplifting, that McGarry has replaced the awful vestiges of her “Catholic” upbringing with the hip world of academia. I give credit where it’s due— author Craig Lambert’s review hits most of the usual anti-Catholic and Irish stereotypes but includes a few new ones. I count at least 10:  abrasive families, clannish culture, secretiveness, drinking (of course!), dad’s temper, ward heeling, ironclad hierarchies, blue-collar Irish, living in the Middle Ages, and misogyny. What, no shillelaghs? Not a single Blarney Stone? And the omission of any reference to priestly child abuse is a telling one and very much a lost opportunity. Ah, but this is how “common people” live in Rhode Island, notes our infatuated reviewer. McCarry has lived it and that permanent scowl affirms! Income equality redefined and ready for bashing!!

What future nonsense on these topics can we expect from Harvard Magazine? A soulful look at African-American friends living in the ghetto? Perspectives from hillbilly cousins living in the backwaters of the Appalachians?

Shameful and beneath the dignity of this institution.

John Corcoran ’79
Waltham, Mass.



“Harpsichords Extraordinaire” (Treasure, July-August, page 88) served as a reminder that Harvard, which owns many other notable instruments as well, played an important role in establishing what is now called HIP (historically informed performance), that is, the use of historical instruments and techniques for early music. Two years after building the 1906 harpsichord shown in the article, Arnold Dolmetsch made a clavichord now also in Harvard’s collection; a photo of it illustrates an article I was kindly invited to publish last year in the Harvard Library Bulletin. These and many other instruments were at one time stored in the music building, though many were unusable, and the Dolmetsch harpsichord for some years served an essentially decorative function in the Aldrich Room, silently presiding over graduate seminars. During my senior year it was restored, and I was privileged to be able to practice on it. Several of the Houses also have harpsichords, and during my college years Charles Kletzsch, long-time librarian and composer-in-residence at Dunster House, made his personal collection available to students, including an eighteenth-century clavichord.

Once merely a quaint sort of local antiquarianism, HIP is now a major sphere of activity in scholarship as well as for public concerts worldwide. Ralph Kirkpatrick, named in the article, was only one of many twentieth-century alumni who went on to distinguished careers in the field, performing and teaching at Yale for many years. Others whom I happen to have known include John Koster, one of the world’s leading authorities on historical keyboard instruments; Erich Hoeprich, soloist and expert on eighteenth-century clarinets; and Robert Mealy, director of the Historical Performance program at The Juilliard School. Even Yo-Yo Ma [’76, D.Mus. ’91], with whom I once had the uniquely inspiring experience of rehearsing on a Harvard harpsichord, has recorded on Baroque cello. The significance of Harvard’s instruments extends beyond HIP; the late Elliott Carter [’30, D.Mus. ’70], regarded by many as the greatest American composer of the later twentieth century, might not have written his pioneering harpsichord quartet or his double concerto for piano and harpsichord without having known Kirkpatrick and the Dolmetsch harpsichord.

The Boston area and Harvard in particular remain important centers for HIP, but this would not have been possible without the far-sighted collecting, restoration, and maintenance of instruments—as well as the unparalleled collections of relevant books, recordings, and historical documents in Harvard’s libraries. Harvard’s unique resources have made it a mecca for students of historical music of all types, and I hope we can count on it to remain such, even as academic fashions, like styles in music, continue to evolve.

David Schulenberg ’76
Professor and chair, Department of Music
Wagner College
Staten Island, N.Y.


Christensen, Continued

The Lepore/Christensen dispute, begun (with assistance from The New Yorker) in the July-August issue [“Disruptive Genius,” page 38] and continued in the Letters column for the September-October issue [pages 2, 4, 8, and online], shows that scholars from different parts of the Harvard campus pursue research following different scholarly standards. The gist of Christensen’s response to Lepore, in the Business Week article mentioned in the Letters column, is that he fixed everything she critiques in subsequent publications. In essence then, Christensen countenances publishing material whose conclusions he knows are provisional at best, responding to the business world’s craving for fads. Lepore, by contrast, publishes pursuant to the more rigorous and principled standards that underpin the best humanities and social-science research.

Bruce C. Johnson ’63
New Haven, Conn.



Errors and an Emendation

In reviewing Andrea Louise Campbell’s Trapped in America’s Safety Net (“Ensnared” September-October, page 63), we failed to check the finished book against an earlier reading copy. The quoted last sentence in the first paragraph of the review should read, “She will need a wheelchair and round-the-clock personal care assistance indefinitely.” We regret our oversight.

In the article on the faculty climate survey (“How the Faculty Feels,” September-October, page 21), the $5 million in funding for income-based childcare subsidies, made available to junior faculty members, was incorrectly attributed to decanal (i.e., school) funds. The source of the funds in fact is the University’s fringe-benefit pool.

The wording of “Is Harvard Cool?” (7 Ware Street, September-October, page 2) may have suggested that Stanford’s rising yield rate among admitted applicants (79 percent) has now exceeded that of Harvard College (82 percent); it has not.

Freeman Dyson, identified as a Nobel Prize winner (“Synthetic Biology’s New Menagerie,” September-October, page 42), in fact has not been so honored. We apologize for the error.

Noah Feldman, quoted as Bemis professor of international law (“Loeb Classical Library 1.0,” September-October, page 12), was named Frankfurter professor of law after the issue went to press.

~The Editors

Sub topics

You might also like

Harvard Overhauls Disciplinary Procedures

To cope with violations of University statement on rights and responsibilities

Harvard’s Development Chief Departs

Brian Lee to step down at end of 2024

Immigrant Workers— America’s Engine?

Harvard economist Jason Furman on immigration and the U.S. economy.

Most popular

Mechanical Intelligence and Counterfeit Humanity

Reflections on six decades of relations with computers

A Chaucer Tale

When teaching was gendered, Porsche populism, and Harvard’s presidential symbolism

Is There Better Than Better?

Ellen Langer rejects binary thinking, embracing instead a “third way.”

More to explore

Relabeling Medical Definitions for Obesity in the United States

For obesity patients, improved treatments and a nuanced understanding of the disease may lead to better health.

How Was Brooklyn Bridge Park Planned?

Michael Van Valkenburgh and the making of Brooklyn Bridge Park

The Mystery Behind an Incan Tunic

Unraveling an Inca masterpiece’s secrets