“[W]e don’t say very much about greed, not comfortably at least. Perhaps that is the inevitable price of an economic system that relies on the vigor of self-interested pursuits, that it instills a kind of moral quietism in the face of avarice, for whether out of a desire to appear non-judgmental or for reasons of moral expediency, unless some action verges on the criminal, we hesitate to call it greed, much less evidence of someone greedy. We don’t deny the existence of such individuals, but like Bigfoot, they tend to be more rumored than seen.”

It is curious, this “moral quietism in the face of avarice,” and it’s curious for many reasons. (UD‘s thinking about this quietism today because Paul Krugman – see the two posts below this one – is being greedy.)

If one human being – University of Southern California trustee John Martin – happily accepts $180 million in one year’s personal compensation, American commentators might drop a dollop of rhetoric on it (“obscene”) … Our satirists (see Tom Wolfe, Bonfire of the Vanities) might ridicule it in fiction … But it’s not as if anyone in a position of, say, legislative authority in the country is going to say or do anything about it. On the contrary, it’s much more likely that our elected greed-apologists (Eric Cantor, Mitt Romney, legions of others) will lustily applaud; while our unelected apologists, the most famous of which is currently Tom “Kristallnacht” Perkins, will both 1.) express outrage that anyone would express outrage over, say, nurturer-of-insider-traders and Brown University trustee Steve Cohen hoarding nine billion dollars in personal wealth, and 2.) warn that lack of moral quietism in the face of avarice is tantamount to a violent fascist revolution.

But, really, the very phrase moral quietism in the face of avarice is the problem, no? Every element of this phrase - moral, quietism, avarice – is thoroughly rejected by most Americans. There is no level of money acquisition – acquisition in comparative terms, like Krugman’s, where his salary and work load at CUNY is humiliatingly disproportional to the salary and work load of anyone else at that public institution, and acquisition in absolute terms, as in Cohen’s household billions – which could ever rise to avarice. In this country, the correct moral position to take in regard to the personal acquisition of disproportional and astronomical sums of money is admiring approval. And… quietism? John Paul Rollert is incorrect to interpret the deafening silence at, say, the money managers at one American university receiving from that non-profit institution $25 million in yearly compensation as a kind of uncomfortable quietism. Think of it as an awed hush.

And please. Avarice? A word out of, what, Everyman? Take me back, baby. Avarice. At once a delicate word (vampire squid is vulgar) and a retro word, a tea-with-doilies word and a dead-lo-these-many-centuries word… Here comes Avarice onstage, his pockets lined with greenbacks! …

There is no avarice. There is only (as defenders of Krugman are saying today) a free market in a rich country. There is only what the market will bear. And, like most Americans, the current market (in which there is less and less “non-profit”) will bear absolutely anything.

Paul Krugman’s Hypocrisy Goes Viral.

The blogosphere is having fun with Paul Krugman today (see my own take on things in the post just below this one). But lest we forget: Krugman has always been hypocritical about making his own big bucks. This is from Andrew Sullivan’s website, years ago:

KRUGMAN IN HIS OWN WORDS: “Economists also did their bit to legitimize previously unthinkable levels of executive pay. During the 1980′s and 1990′s a torrent of academic papers — popularized in business magazines and incorporated into consultants’ recommendations — argued that Gordon Gekko was right: greed is good; greed works. In order to get the best performance out of executives, these papers argued, it was necessary to align their interests with those of stockholders. And the way to do that was with large grants of stock or stock options.

It’s hard to escape the suspicion that these new intellectual justifications for soaring executive pay were as much effect as cause. I’m not suggesting that management theorists and economists were personally corrupt. It would have been a subtle, unconscious process: the ideas that were taken up by business schools, that led to nice speaking and consulting fees, tended to be the ones that ratified an existing trend, and thereby gave it legitimacy.”

- Paul Krugman, criticizing the subtle, unconscious corruption of academic economists being paid nice speaking and consulting fees, October 20, 2002.

“My critics seem to think that there was something odd about Enron’s willingness to pay a mere college professor that much money. But such sums are not unusual for academic economists whose expertise is relevant to current events… Remember that this was 1999: Asia was in crisis, the world was a mess. And justifiably or not, I was regarded as an authority on that mess. I invented currency crises as an academic field, way back in 1979; anyone who wants a sense of my academic credentials should look at the Handbook of International Economics, vol. 3, and check the index…

I mention all this not as a matter of self-puffery, but to point out that I was not an unknown college professor. On the contrary, I was a hot property, very much in demand as a speaker to business audiences: I was routinely offered as much as $50,000 to speak to investment banks and consulting firms. They thought I might tell them something useful… The point is that the money Enron offered wasn’t out of line with what companies with no interest in influence-buying were offering me. You may think I was overpaid, but the market – not Enron – set those pay rates.”

- Paul Krugman, January 21, defending his getting paid $50,000 for a two-day weekend Enron Advisory Board meeting because the market set the fees.

If UD May Paraphrase Tip O’Neill:

All greed is local. The polite perplexity of a recent CUNY PhD in the face of wealthy Paul Krugman having accepted a CUNY professorship that pays him $450,000 to teach one seminar over the next two years overlooks the fact that Krugman, for all his attacks on American greed in his New York Times column, lives in a certain world. In this world (New York City, hedge fund managers), $450,000 (more than that, with various perks) is a slap in the face. You cannot spend decades surrounded by people who make twenty million dollars a year and not revise your greed radically upward.

The same awkwardness arose from Harvard professor Larry Summers indulging his hedge-fund-level greed while… being a professor…

[Harvard University professor Lawrence Summers] consults not only for hedge fund DE Shaw but for venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, asset-management and advisory firm Alliance Partners, stock-exchange operator Nasdaq OMX Group Inc., and for financial services firm Citigroup. He also has a healthy income from speaking — more than $100,000 earlier this year, for example, for a single speech to a conference organized by Drobny Global Advisors.

That is a busy schedule for a full-time faculty member who, like other professors, is allowed only a day a week for consulting — and Summers also chairs the advisory board of the Minerva Project, an online university startup, and holds an administrative role as Director of the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School.

This is the same Lawrence Summers who told Professor Cornel West to stop spending so much time on his outside activities and get back to his scholarship — because more was expected of a University Professor.

It’s all very postmodern: Krugman is a highly-paid professor-simulacrum whose function is to appear in CUNY advertisements. Big money, big promo, big nothing.

I’d urge Krugman to quantify that esteem for CUNY by donating a significant portion of his earnings, say $100,000 a year, to a scholarship fund for students or the Professional Staff Congress welfare fund, which provides much-needed health care benefits and emergency assistance for CUNY adjuncts.

Yet why should Krugman do that? He has – is asked to have – nothing to do with CUNY.

“Payers will no longer pay rising prices for marginally improved new products and pharmas must now justify those higher prices by demonstrating substantially greater benefits. That means new drug development requires more time and cost to make the case for improved cost-benefit and, more often than not, the effort fails. As a result the sales revenues for new drugs suffer both initially and over time. Then in their insatiable demand to maintain a profitability that exceeded all other industries over the past thirty years, pharmas have turned to the emerging countries as their golden goose. There local conditions and the inexorable greed of pharma companies combine to produce a way of doing business that is intrinsically corrupt.”

In case you were wondering why pharma is intrinsically corrupt. And will remain so. After all, this writer didn’t even mention pharma’s impressive capacity to make up bogus ailments, frighten the shit out of us about them, and provide pills.

To such squeaky clean enterprises as SAC Capital, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase…

… we must add GlaxoSmithKline, which only this morning has had to – in the words of one headline - “deny systemic corruption.”

Which is awkward. Who wants to have to be all defensive on such a basic matter as that? To have to deny systemic corruption. Heavy.

And this isn’t – like those other outfits I just mentioned – simply a temple to Mammon we’re talking about. This is a benevolent dispenser of surcease to suffering for people all over God’s green earth! GSK has got the whole world in its hand!

WHY stingy doctors refuse to prescribe the number of pills GSK requires to hit its yearly profit mark is the real question. What the hell’s that about, I’d like to know? Take it up with the damn prescribers! It’s not GSK’s fault if it has to bribe physicians all over the globe – all over the globe – to dish out pointless and destructive excess pillage to patients. I’m thinking in terms of conspiracies here… I’m thinking that – in this latest case – some Polish doctors got together and decided to – what?? – use clinical criteria in prescribing medication? And this forced GSK’s hand, making it increase its bribes until the system became too grotesque to ignore…

******
UD thanks Barney.

Let’s start here: Ninety percent of American paper money has traces of cocaine …

on it.

More broadly and less literally, Gillian Clarke, the national poet of Wales, describes her own currency:

If money were water, the contents of my wallet might have flowed through pure streams and filthy gutters, might be guilty, bloodstained, diseased. The pesos passed through the fingers of drug dealers and gunmen, maybe. The cheque could be traced from its innocent signatory back through bank, investor, to hedge funds, futures, skulduggery, I am sure. They are just paper promises, earned for writing, for reading, for teaching poetry. The coins we throw into the charity box have passed through the hands of saints and thieves, without a doubt.

Clarke’s capsule history of filthy lucre is part of an argument she’s making against some of the finalists in a poetry contest dropping out of consideration when they discovered the prize money came from a hedge fund.

Broadening out yet more the problem some people have with money, Philip Larkin writes that money is filthy because it “sings” the long human history of twisted compulsion, acquisitiveness, and grubbiness… Money is about our sad, grandiose, never fulfillable, and often intensely destructive dreams…

I listen to money singing. It’s like looking down
From long french windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.

Spartan, dour Larkin would perhaps have agreed with spartan, dour Christopher Lasch that “Luxury is morally repugnant,” that in democracies there should be “a moral condemnation of great wealth.”

******************

So okay. But universities – like everyone and everything else – still need money, and most people believe that educating people and making research possible are good uses of it. That’s why universities get amazing tax breaks; but, again, the discomfort about immense accumulation and/or inappropriate use of university money is also why many people think continued tax breaks for multi-billionaire schools like Harvard and Princeton are wrong. It’s why some people are unhappy when billionaire alumni choose to direct hundreds of millions of dollars in donations to these same multi-billionaire schools. As Lasch suggests (other political theorists, like Michael Sandel, seem to agree), there’s something icky – something positively undemocratic – about grotesque huge personal fortunes and – in the case of universities – about grotesquely huge endowments.

And then there’s the problem of where university dollars come from. Apartheid South Africa was an overwhelmingly uncontroversial sort of divestment target, involving too many traces of cocaine, if you will, for many people to accept.

More subtle is the provenance of dollars from individuals like the Koch brothers, who hold libertarian, Tea Party-esque social and political views many people find repellent.

Catholic University has just accepted a million dollars from the Kochs to study that elusive and evanescent thing, “principled entrepreneurship.” A vocal group of Catholics has protested the gift, citing “the Kochs’s opposition to the expansion of Medicaid, hostility to public unions, and support for global warming denialists,” and pointing to the current Pope’s excoriation of “unfettered capitalism.”

Virtually all popes, far as I know, rail against unfettered capitalism, so that one (I’m sure Catholic U. has in the past taken lots of money from unfettered capitalists) doesn’t really fly; and libertarianism is certainly a respectable political position… Hell, all of the Koch’s positions, while maybe not smelling like a rose, are within the bounds of civil discourse.

You’re on safer ground when, as with apartheid, you look at what people and institutions actually do. So, for instance, when a Koch-funded group offered, a few years ago, to fund two economics professorships at Florida State University on the condition that people from the Koch-funded group get veto power over the appointments (the professors had to be sufficiently free-market and anti-regulatory in their orientation), a clear line was crossed. Similarly, also at FSU, “BB&T, the bank holding company, funds an ethics course on the condition that Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’ be required reading.”

These two seem pretty obvious examples of outside groups using their money to influence what goes on in the classroom.

Body…

bag.

The vexing question of how sickeningly you want to prostitute your school…

… has always been a problem for American universities, especially in the heartland. The University of Iowa’s amber waves of grain alcohol (UI, the nation’s number one party school, has an enthusiastic promotional relationship with Anheuser Busch) are getting ruffled lately by folks who think using your university as a promotional arm of the gambling industry as well as the alcohol industry is unseemly. The university points out that it’s all very nuanced:

Iowa … is paid to advertise Riverside Casino & Golf Resort, but removes the word “casino” in signs at Kinnick Stadium.

So what’s your problem?

And as for all the scratch-ticket game deals between the Iowa Lottery and UI … hello? Have we heard of ca-pi-tal-ism? UI’s got a brand new Adzillatron, and the only naughty thing college students love that isn’t being shriekingly massively constantly hawked on that screen is sex.

UD understands, however, that UI is in negotiations with Roxxxie’s Iowa State Fairest of Them All Bawdy House even as we speak. The plan is to drop the word “bawdy.”

“At one point in the e-mails, they proposed that they receive honoraria of $5,000 apiece for a four-hour meeting at a hotel near the FDA offices.”

Professors Robert Dworkin (University of Rochester) and Dennis Turk (University of Washington) are feeling no pain!

Read their hilarious emails about how they’re making tens of thousands of dollars off of pharma – which wants to listen in on American professors conversing about new developments along the Oxycontin line (We Americans ♥♥ LOVE♥♥ our Oxycontin. Just look at any town in West Virginia. Eli Lilly’s got us eating out of its hand!).

’20k [to attend a meeting] is small change, and they can justify it easily if they want to be at the table,’ Dworkin wrote to Turk in July 2003, after an Eli Lilly representative bridled at the price.

Dworkin’s absolutely right. Once you’ve got a national (soon to be international!) epidemic going, you’re talking real money. Dworkin knows Lilly routinely pays billions in fines every year for illegal this and that, and it really don’t make no never mind since when your profits are zillions you can laugh at billions. So this Lilly asshole has the gall to bridle at paying twenty thou to sit in a room for twenty minutes? UD finds it amazing the Dworkin/Turk gang isn’t demanding twenty million per meeting.

Possibly Dworkin and Turk are low-balling because they’re professors and not businesspeople and there’s a learning curve for them. This might be helpful for context:

[There's a new rule,] unveiled by the S.E.C. … requiring companies to disclose the ratio of the C.E.O.’s pay to that of the median worker. The idea is that, once the disparity is made public, companies will be less likely to award outsized pay packages… [Yet C.E.O. compensation continues, and almost certainly will continue, to rise.] Sunlight is supposed to be the best disinfectant. But there’s something naïve about the new S.E.C. rule, which presumes that full disclosure will embarrass companies enough to restrain executive pay. As [one expert] told me, “People who can ask to be paid a hundred million dollars are beyond embarrassment.”

If Dworkin and Turk find themselves at all hesitant, they can tape this article to their refrigerators and reread it just before talking price with Lilly.

This semester’s…

college casual.

‘Millennium and its founder say they gave $2 million to the University of Washington in 2010 to study pain … and $250,000 to a Duke University professor in April to host “a business summit on ethical practices in the medication monitoring industry.”‘

It’s awkward. How entangled do universities want to get with businesses like Millennium?

A federal grand jury in Boston is investigating Millennium Laboratories of San Diego, a fast-growing private company selling urine drug testing services to pain clinics across the United States.

The company not only is under investigation by the Justice Department for allegations of health care fraud but also for intimidating former employees, one who was portrayed in a slideshow at a company meeting as a corpse in a body bag…. [It is also accused of] getting doctors to order unnecessary urine tests [-- the testing, amid an epidemic of pain pill use, reveals whether patients are abusing the drugs --] and charging excessive fees to Medicare and private insurers.

I mean, nothing wrong with industry money, but you do want to keep an eye on the particular representatives from industry offering it.

Millennium sales tactics [it is alleged] included a chart showing doctors how much they could boost their own income by increasing the number of urine drug tests they ordered. For instance, a $15 payment to test for one drug could balloon to about $800,000 a year if 20 people a day were tested and each urine sample was tested for 11 drugs, the chart said.

It is a beautiful synergy, when you think about it. Keep prescribing the pain pills — the medical profession almost has the entire American population on them — and then, concerned at the shocking escalation in their abuse, make your patients pay for urine tests. It’s funny to think about how America’s hundreds of thousands of pill mills will be giving the test to make sure their customers are taking their Oxy and Roxy. If you’re in the urine testing biz, like Millennium, you get them coming and going, as it were.

So, you know, a very becoming business altogether, and if you’re Duke or Washington you might want to keep an eye on the Justice Department proceedings and ask if you want to continue whitewashing the reputation of these outfits.

“Until recently, these drugs were used to treat a few serious psychiatric disorders. But now, unbelievably, these powerful medications are prescribed for conditions as varied as very mild mood disorders, everyday anxiety, insomnia and even mild emotional discomfort.”

Richard Friedman’s “call for caution” on the use of anti-psychotic drugs in the American population comes a bit late in the day. Professors like Joseph Biederman remain at places like Harvard.

… Biederman is a leading proponent of the off-label use of antipsychotic drugs to treat bipolar illness in children. His work is widely seen as contributing to an explosive growth in such prescriptions, and much of his support came from companies that benefited from his research.

Friedman doesn’t even talk about the grotesque over-prescription of these drugs for children.

The professors putting together the upcoming edition of the DSM are also doing their bit, pathologizing moods like “mild emotional discomfort” so that everyone will feel comfortable medicating them with powerful anti-psychotics.

Rope ‘em in…

… is the motto of many American universities, whether diploma mills or for-profits. Their admissions requirements are can we get you to come and stay long enough for us to collect federal money?

The latest recruiting practices lawsuit is against San Francisco’s Academy of Art .

“The suit claims there were no other legitimate criteria on which the recruiters were judged” beyond hurling bodies forward.

ILLUMINA NOS AGERE…

… will serve as a
temporary motto
for Columbia University.

Its actual motto is
IN LUMINE TUO
VIDEBIMUS LUMEN
.

But Columbia has just sued a
biotech company, Illumina,
for mucho money, because they
say Illumina stole some of
their gene sequencing patents.

So instead of IN THY LIGHT
SHALL WE SEE THE LIGHT, it’s
ILLUMINA, WE SUE YOU.

And speaking of corrupt, the First Nations University of Canada….

… used since its inception as an ATM by administrators, has scored its first guilty plea. A vice-president stole tens of thousands of dollars. But he’s doing okay:

“You go to bed with it, you wake up with it. You have good days and bad days, but it’s always there,” he said. “Thank God for medication and professionals [helping me] through all of this and my family.”

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