Posts Tagged ‘Illinois Legislature’

Why Research Universities Merit the “Freedom of the City”

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

What I shared with university colleagues on 5/6/12–

Colleague,

I’ve been thinking of implications of the various [Illinois] pension bills in the light of the larger question of the need for economic development in Chicago and in Illinois.

Yale economist Robert Shiller, the co-originator of the Case-Shiller housing index, recently made a dire prediction, that the housing market may not recover for a generation, meaning “in our lifetimes.”

The implications of this prediction, if correct, are profound. The political game of chasing around and announcing “jobs, jobs, jobs” may shortly be practically useless. Longer-term sources of economic growth besides tax incentive gimmicks to attract and retain businesses will have to be found.

Cities have historically grown and thrived because, as centers of commerce, they were in some sense free economic zones that became magnets of opportunity for both migrants and for entrepreneurs. But our generation of legislators, whether federal, state, and local, have somehow embraced bureaucracy and regulation as a solution, and are locking out opportunity.

By reducing constraints upon UIC’s [University of Illinois at Chicago] growth as an urban, state research university, Chicago and Illinois could become a greater research and educational magnet, drawing more scientists, more businesses, and more students, and rival Boston or LA within two or three generations, if we collectively make the right decisions to unshackle our research universities and institutes and let them grow and thrive. The “freedom of the city” must be extended to the University of Illinois (both UIC and UIUC [University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign]) and to partner institutions as research leaders.

In order for such a strategy to succeed, civic leaders who are alumni of NU and U Chicago will have to drop their elite snobbery and allow UIC to thrive as well, since UIC in the long term can “bring the big numbers” of both graduates and researchers to help Chicago and Illinois thrive. But even these three Chicago research universities are not enough to build a “rival Boston” strategy for this region.

That is why legislative action that drives away research talent, and the dollars that senior professors and principal investigators bring with them, is exactly the wrong economic development strategy for Illinois.

As long as state research universities are lumped into legislation covering all matter of non-research institutions, and subject to numerous unintended consequences and unpredictability, the state research university will not thrive to the extent that it could in Illinois. We already see talented colleagues voting on the expected results of such election-year legislation with their feet before the final votes are cast.

Infrastructure alone will not bring Illinois or Chicago back. We have to have a “somewhere” to where the roads and bridges lead. Because real estate will not be an answer for perhaps a generation, state and other research universities do help answer the question of “somewhere.” So let’s not sandbag research universities with bureaucratic disincentives for success, OK?

There are so many encouraging changes taking place at UIC, especially UIC College Prep–there should be dozens more such Chicago and Illinois high schools!–that I’m sad to see some of our colleagues go at this critical moment for UIC.

But we do have a great opportunity, even in these awful times for Illinois, to actually make the right legislative decisions to shape a better future.

Regulatory freedom for the Research Universities of Illinois is part of the answer. The sooner the University of Illinois, including UIUC and UIC, can be set apart with its own legislation freeing the development of research and the attraction and retention of talent from regulatory constraints, the better.

But who will take the lead in spreading this message? Who’s got the guts to do this in an election year?

Much easier to add more bureaucracy and to call it “reform.” Yet where is the economic development–which is what we really need–in that?

So far, the legislature has taken the safe DMV approach–more rules and more roads. But rules and roads leading to what?

Cordially,

Albert Schorsch, III

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

Share

Comment on 3/28/12 Huffington Post story on Illinois legislative tuition waivers

Friday, March 30th, 2012

I was heartened to read that apparently the Illinois Board of Higher Education reported some legislative tuition waiver discrepancies to the FBI, according to the Huffington Post on 3/28/12.

Here’s hoping that the U.S. Attorney some day gets to review the
complete file of legislative tuition waivers for all Illinois state
universities.

If a few legislators finally do get indicted over legislative tuition waivers, I hope Judge Abner J. Mikva and other members of the Illinois Admissions Review Commission might be willing to modify their earlier comment on the previous University of Illinois admissions scandal that “The University now finds itself in a full-fledged crisis purely of its own making.”

It it galling that the University of Illinois lost irreplaceable reputation, and stands weakened in the face of self-serving interests, while political rascals got off scot free.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

Share

On Chicago and Illinois casinos

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

On 5/31/11, the Illinois Legislature approved more casinos for Illinois, including one for Chicago. The measure awaits Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s signature.

In response, I return to my op-ed essay published in the Chicago Sun-Times on 4/18/92, and then offer some additional comments.

Don’t gamble with the future of Chicago

At far ends of our American cultural history stand the figures of the thrifty Benjamin Franklin and the expansive Thomas Jefferson. Franklin retired among the wealthiest in the nation, turning to statecraft in midlife after franchising his printing enterprise. Jefferson, although a former president, died more than $200,000 in debt – a staggering sum in today’s dollars – and was reduced in his final years to offer his beloved home, Monticello, up for sale in a lottery – a lottery, by the way, that failed.

Jefferson found that it is one thing to build a beautiful building, but quite another to keep it. For all his fastidious record-keeping, he did not have the economic skills to match his ideals.

There is something very prophetic for us today in Chicago as we again take up the question of legalized casino gambling.

The debate contrasts the themes of thrift and largess. It also highlights the clashing views of those factions who think they know how to run a city.

If we did know how to run a city, we Chicagoans would not have lost more than 100,000 housing units since 1970. We would know the empirical limits to local taxation. We would know how to encourage businesses to remain, and we would know how to run our schools. But we are failing at all these things, despite all the movers and shakers who, for all the glitz, account for but a fraction of our city’s economy. Our industrial and commercial shopkeepers and our landlords account for much more.

To build casinos in Chicago, we must forget what it took for us to close down our infamous “levee” district, since we are about to make possible another one. We must forget the painful experience of cleaning up Chicago – and our police force – in the 30 years that followed Al Capone. We have to forget the difficulty our police have in curbing penny ante crimes, and proclaim our great confidence that our police can keep up with criminals with access to millions.

We also have to forget the warnings of careful research by respected economists following Rutgers’ George Sternlieb, who have demonstrated that gambling soaks up key dollars for international hoteliers that are not cycled back into local economies. The “jobs, jobs, jobs” are on the front end of casino development. After that, you start looking for places to build an industrial park, as Atlantic City has done.

We would also have to forget how Nevada gambling authorities could not prevent the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund here in Chicago from being tapped for more than $100 million to capitalize Las Vegas mob operations in 1974. They couldn’t prevent the Chicago mob from skimming Las Vegas casinos and vendors (where today’s real money is) time and time again. It is ironic that, just as the federal government is crushing the mob leadership, we provide the crushees with a convenient pl ace to cycle their dough. The casinos might mean “jobs, jobs, jobs” – but we might get stuck with mob, mob, mob.

We Chicagoans like to think that, despite our confusion about how to keep a city, somehow it will all work out if we have big shoulders and make no small plans. Some local columnists have long called for legalized gambling, drawing parallels between investing in stocks, bonds and options, and plain old gambling. But while both involve risk and chance, investment at least can lead to economic wisdom through hard knocks. Legitimate investment provides a hedge for agriculture and enterprise against the vagaries of weather and recession, during which most of the uninformed and superstitious investors either get out of the market or lose their shirts.

Yet casino gambling is chance, pure and simple, and it reinforces economic ignorance and superstition. When we use the power of the state to encourage people to bet their horoscopes, we lead entire populaces away from economic wisdom to state-reinforced stupidity. And when you destroy a civilization, the physical destruction of the city necessarily follows.

Like the lesson of Jefferson gambling on his magnificent home, it is one thing to build a city, but quite another to keep it. When we do not know how to keep a city, we must build it, and build it, and build it again, because it is we who through our ignorance continue to destroy it.

If the proposed casinos are built, I ask one thing. Let us place a plaque in front of them on which would be permanently inscribed the names of all public figures, business and labor leaders and editorialists who boosted the idea. Above their names should read: “These people thought this would work.” Then let us see whether the casinos deliver on their grand promises over the decades. Maybe then, finally, we’ll get the idea out of our system that we can keep a city alive by violating the tenets of our civilization. After that, we can do what it takes to build a city that we can keep.

A few additional comments:

  • Illinois, connected by history, rail, and culture to the Deep South, threatens now to equal the Deep South in terms of reliance on gambling for public finance, in terms of political corruption, and in terms of wealth frozen by an accompanying hornet’s nest of bureaucracy.
  • The Catholic Church in the US, which normally would have something to say about the morality of gambling for public finance, long ago compromised its position by relying on gambling for fundraising, making itself dependent on the state for permission to continue small-scale gambling. Therefore, the response of the Church, and religious bodies in general, has remained muted toward state-controlled gambling.
  • As large-scale state-supported casino gambling expands and becomes entrenched in local economies, watch for pressures to legalize prostitution in order for regional casinos to remain competitive with casinos in other regions. For that reason, casino legislation should always include permanent provisions that prostitution should not be legalized within the municipalities or regions surrounding the casinos or gambling establishments. Since religious organizations have not compromised their positions on prostitution, I would expect that they would join in calling for such anti-prostitution provisions to be included in all casino legislation.
  • The state, by trying to engineer and to tax vice, often becomes dependent upon, and thus perpetuates, the very vice that it seeks to limit.
  • The state best limits vice by developing and supporting legitimate pathways to wealth, and by containing vice without establishing its own financial dependency upon it.
  • Franklin’s strategy of thrift, and not Jefferson’s strategy of largess, is still the best financial pathway for government. We may be a Jeffersonian democracy in many ways, but our public finance must follow Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton.
  • Please see my earlier post on the connection between Parkinson’s disease, a class of drugs called dopamine agonists, and chronic gambling.
  • © Copyright 1992, 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
    All Rights Reserved

    Share