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Jewish World Review Sept. 24, 1998 / 4 Tishrei, 5759

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell Costs and power

ONE OF THE MOST DANGEROUS POWERS that anybody can be given is the power to inflict high costs on others at little or no cost to himself.

The American Bar Association has used its powers of accreditation to penalize law schools that do not do all the costly things that the ABA would like to see done. The most recent victim is the Massachusetts School of Law, which the ABA refused to accredit, even though 89 percent of the school's graduates pass the state bar examination.

You might think that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, but the American Bar Association wants to prescribe the recipe and the cooking. It wants to prescribe how many seats are in the school's library, as well as how many books. It wants to say whether the school can hire practicing attorneys as part-time faculty.

All the stuff that the ABA wants done costs money and the Massachusetts School of Law does not charge the kind of tuition that Harvard or Yale charge. It provides a lower-cost education that provides more bang for the buck for people who cannot afford Ivy League law schools.

What the ABA is doing is essentially forcing up costs, so that places like the Massachusetts School of Law will have to charge what more prestigious law schools charge. Put bluntly, it is protectionism for the Harvards and the Yales, masquerading as a concern for quality.

In most states, graduates of unaccredited law schools are not even allowed to take the bar exam, so their quality never gets tested. Nor do the arbitrary requirements of the ABA. If a law school is bad, how come its students pass the bar exam at higher rates than students from some of the law schools that the ABA accredits?

The abuse of licensing and accrediting powers has been the curse of most occupations in which it has existed. Whether it is beauticians, taxicab drivers or lawyers, the first order of business is to restrict numbers, either directly or by piling on costs that price many people out of the market.

To drive a cab, for example, it is not enough that you have a good driving record, a good personal record and a good knowledge of the city. In many cities, you have to buy a license that costs tens of thousands of dollars each, because the supply has been arbitrarily limited. In New York City, the cost of a taxi medallion runs into six figures.

Beauticians have been forced to take courses that neither they nor their customers require, but which force up the costs of entering the field and thereby limit the numbers. California women who braid hair without a license are being prosecuted.

The American Bar Association is not unique, even among academic accrediting agencies, in throwing their weight around under the pious pretence of protecting quality. Some of the agencies that accredit colleges and universities have imposed group quotas in faculty hiring under the magic word "diversity."

Political correctness requirements flourish when accrediting agencies can use star chamber proceedings, with neither charges nor evidence, nor even an explicit statement of what they require. When the head of one accrediting agency was asked what he wanted by the president of Baruch College, the reply was: "Social justice." Thomas Aquinas College was asked by an accrediting official why they did not teach African philosophy.

A belated revolt against one meddlesome accrediting agency, led by Stanford president Gerhard Casper, forced some back-pedalling by that agency. But the Massachusetts School of Law does not have the clout of Stanford, nor did the previous president of Stanford choose to oppose that agency.

What we really need is a more general understanding of the dangers of putting unaccountable power in the hands of any little band of busybodies -- whether they are licensing boards, accrediting agencies, coastal commissions or an ever-increasing number of other unaccountable little tin gods.

There is never a lack of pious rhetoric to justify all the meddling and second-guessing that have increasingly become part of our lives. Instead, there is a lack of the brains and guts to stand up to this pious rhetoric and tell the busybodies to buzz off when they want such powers put into their hands.

The American Bar Association would be a good place to start.

9/18/98: Are we sheep?
9/16/98: Judicial review
9/15/98: Hillary Rodham Crook?
9/14/98: Taking stock
9/11/98: Moment of truth
9/04/98: Random thoughts
8/31/98: The twilight of special prosecutors?
8/26/98: "Doing a good job"
8/24/98: America on trial?
8/19/98: Played for fools
8/17/98: A childish letter
8/11/98: Hiding behind a woman
8/07/98: A flying walrus in Washington?
8/03/98: "Affordability" strikes again
7/31/98: Random thoughts
7/27/98: Faith and mountains
7/24/98: Clinton in Wonderland
7/20/98: Where is black 'leadership' leading?
7/16/98: Do 'minorities' really have it that bad?
7/14/98: Race dialogue: same old stuff
7/10/98: Honest history
7/09/98: Dumb is dangerous
7/02/98: Gun-safety starts with
parental responsibility
6/30/98: When more is less
6/29/98: Are educators above the law?
6/26/98: Random Thoughts
6/24/98: An angry letter
6/22/98: Sixties sentimentalism
6/19/98:Dumbing down anti-trust
6/15/98: A changing of the guard?
6/11/98: Presidential privileges
6/8/98: Fast computers and slow antitrust
6/3/98: Can stalling backfire?
5/29/98: The insulation of the Left
5/25/98: Missing the point in the media
5/22/98: The lessons of Indonesia
5/20/98: Smart but silent
5/18/98: Israel, Clinton and character
5/14/98: Monica Lewinsky's choices
5/11/98: Random thoughts
5/7/98: Media obstruction of justice
5/4/98: Dangerous "safety"
5/1/98: Abolish Adolescence!
4/30/98: The naked truth
4/22/98: Playing fair and square
4/19/98: Bad teachers"
4/15/98: "Clinton in Africa "
4/13/98: "Bundling and unbundling "
4/9/98: "Rising or falling Starr "
4/6/98: "Was Clinton ‘vindicated'? "
3/26/98: "Diasters -- natural and political"
3/24/98: "A pattern of behavior"
3/22/98: Innocent explanations
3/19/98: Kathleen Willey and Anita Hill
3/17/98: Search and destroy
3/12/98: Media Circus versus Justice
3/6/98: Vindication
3/3/98: Cheap Shot Time
2/26/98: The Wrong Filter
2/24/98: Trial by Media
2/20/98: Dancing Around the Realities
2/19/98: A "Do Something" War?
2/12/98: Julian Simon, combatant in a 200-year war
2/6/98: A rush to rhetoric

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.