In both the Sept. 8 and Sept. 20 issues of The Northern Light, the paper has run an Op-Ed by “TNL Staff” displaying an astounding lack of education about, quite frankly, very simple facts about finances and economics. That the editorial staff not only apparently wrote the article themselves, and then didn’t bother to vet the article through any of the dozens of staff members working at our university who might be able to clarify their concerns raises significant questions about the efficacy of its current editorial staff.
First, let’s look at the first paragraph of the Sept. 8 article, “’Not enough money’ is a poor excuse for tuition hikes,” which I quote in its entirety:
“The tuition increase proposed for the University of Alaska system is unwarranted. While most people can understand and appreciate the fact that the proposed 2 percent increase is the lowest in ten years, what can’t be understood is why the increase is necessary.”
Not only is this statement flat-out false, it displays an outrageous lack of even bothering to investigate the underlying cause of the increase. In The Northern Light’s own interviews with Bruce Schultz in the July 25 issue, he explains outright what the increase is covering:
“It’s important for students to understand that at UAA, tuition accounts for about 33% of the cost to provide educational service,” explained Schultz. “Just like everything else, our costs increase over time with inflation. If you look at the consumer price index increase from last year, we are actually on par nationally.
Since this apparently needs to be literally spelled out to TNL’s purposely-ignorant staff, what this means is that the tuition increase is not “real,” to you and I because the increase is only accounting for the fact that the dollars is your wallet lost its value by the same percentage. Everything you buy is getting the same percentage increase in price! Food, gas, movie tickets, clothes, beer, you name it. To call out the UA system as trying to somehow “rob” students of an extra whopping $4 to $5 per credit (which, let’s be honest here, is complete pocket change that you would have no worries blowing on some unneeded expense anyways) to complete garbage and sensationalism to the highest degree.
I’m actually paying for you to print this? Allegedly, these staff members are (or were) students here and would at least know what the term “homework” means, even if their current classes may not require much of it. I would hope you could spend 2 minutes on the Wikipedia reading what inflation means instead of printing an article blasting something you obviously know nothing about nor care to.
Next, we tackle the recent article from the Sept. 20 issue titled, “Permanent Fund Dividend amount disappoints Alaskans.” Let’s again take a look at the very first sentence of the article:
The announcement Tuesday of the first dividend payment below $1,000 in many years caused recipients to question the fairness of this amount.
This article stuns me on two levels. Let’s get the obvious out of way: TNL staff decided to interview four people for this seven-paragraph article, three of which are UAA staff, none of which were members of the Economics, Accounting, or Finance department. Are TNL staff members really so stupid? Is this just pure laziness? Is there some malice at play? A grudge by TNL staff members against people who might actually know what they’re talking about?
Second: the first staff member chosen to be interviewed (poorly chosen as he might have been), Bill Hogan, explains the reason for the decrease in the PFD amount, and I quote:
He noted, however, that the dividend is figured at the average of five years of fund income and that this included some years of the economic downturn.
Yet, TNL staff completely blows off this explanation as if it’s not correct or even relevant. Once again, let me spell it out for you: This is how the system is set up. You aren’t Tom Brokaw and this isn’t The Fleecing of America. If TNL staff spent 3 minutes researching before running their mouth off (roughly the amount of time I just spent finding the PFD website, downloading the pdf form of the guide sent to every Alaska resident every year and copying this next quote) they would have found this paragraph:
Each year, the dividend distribution is calculated using a formula set in state law. The formula is based on an average of the Fund’s income over five years in order to produce a more stable flow of dividend amounts from year to year.
There is nothing “unfair” about your PFD check this year. The only thing unacceptable here is your feeling of entitlement to a certain minimum of “free” money that is be collected from sources that are, I’m confident is saying, highly ironic considering how often TNL staffers rail on big business, big oil, and land investments (hint: that’s where the yearly gains of the Permanent Fund come from). If you have to blame someone, blame the stock market, blame the economy, blame TNL staffer’s hero Barack Obama (to ward off ad hom attacks, I voted for Obama and considering how Romney is doing, will most likely do so again).
This analysis also demonstrates that there is someone just as equally to blame for this shameful display of pathetic journalism: UAA staff. The Journalism department and TNL editorial staff are obviously not doing their jobs if this crap gets published in a print newspaper. Isn’t the adage: “Check, check, and check again?” Do you really expect me to believe that your writers couldn’t find the time to put forth even the most basic efforts in researching before writing your articles? I put more effort into this article, and I’m just sitting in RH on a break between classes, and I’m not even getting paid for this.
Next: I’m both blaming and calling out our Economics department especially. For a field of social science that so loves to proclaim that it is the oldest and most essential of them all (despite myriad intra-field disputes), and espouses the need to make sure that what happens in theory is actually what happens “on the ground” (i.e. in real life), they sure don’t know what happening on the ground on their own campus. I waited until now to submit this article hoping that any UAA staff member would submit their own response; after two subsequent issues since the tuition increase and no such response, I have to do it myself it seems.
Finally, I call out the UA system, UAA department heads, and Economics departments in all the UA schools: This ignorance of incredibly basic financial and economic institutions displays your failures. The viewpoints portrayed in the TNL articles are the norm, even while being false. You pack our degrees with years and thousands of dollars in coursework that doesn’t apply to our fields with the justification that it makes us “more well-rounded individuals,” yet you obviously miss a curriculum that would provide a demonstrable level of necessary education to the student body.
We need a course entitled “Economics for Everyday Life,” it needs to be required for all degrees, and it needs to be taken the first semester of school for every student. Full Stop. It won’t address Macro or Microeconomics on anything more than a superficial level. The goal will be to educate students on the fallacious arguments that are so common in society: obviously, inflation and how our wallets are actually affected; supply and demand in terms of the “necessity” of big business; how the stock market and actually helps you and me overall, even when things that get bad are really bad; how both outsourcing and the illegal immigrants in the southwest are making our economy stronger. These are things that will actually make people change their views, and promote the general welfare of everyone.
If TNL staffers really want to help its peers, put your anger where it’s most productive, put this dead center front page, and prove it.