Primary Sources

Grade inflation at Cornell; what the Saudis are teaching Muslims in America; what the UN does better than the United States

Coalition of the Generous

Late last year the Congressional Research Service set out to quantify international contributions to the rebuilding of Iraq, and found that some of the biggest checks have been written, or at least promised, by Iraq's neighbors. Kuwait has donated $1.5 billion to the reconstruction effort, making it second only to Japan among nations other than the United States; and Saudi Arabia, with pledges and loans of around $1 billion, matches the United Kingdom for the third largest contribution. Significant aid has also flowed in from Qatar, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. As for the European countries that opposed the war, Germany has donated $155 million—whereas the French have put up only $10.7 million, barely edging out the $10 million donation from … Iran.

"Post-War Iraq: A Table and Chronology of Foreign Contributions," J. M. Sharp, Congressional Research Service


Sexual Pension?

George W. Bush might have better luck getting the American people to support changes in Social Security if he cast his argument in different terms—for instance, by arguing that Social Security is partly responsible for the nation's birth dearth, as two new studies from the National Bureau of Economic Research imply. The first study reviewed data from fifty-seven countries, and found that pay-as-you-go pension systems like Social Security depress fertility—and also saving and investment in human capital more generally—because they fix old-age income at a set amount, making it independent of both one's personal contributions and the contributions of one's children. The second study compared fertility rates over the past half century in America and Europe; it found that they have been consistently lower in Europe (and the gap is widening), and suggested that Europe's much larger system of government-funded pensions accounts for up to 60 percent of the difference. Given that Europe's drop in fertility rates poses a far greater demographic and economic challenge than that in the United States, a pension-privatization plan might meet with a warmer reception on the other side of the Atlantic.

"Social Security, Demographic Trends, and Economic Growth: Theory and Evidence From the International Experience," I. Ehrlich and J. Kim, NBER; "Fertility and Social Security," M. Boldrin et al., NBER


Gut Check
primary sources chart

In 1997 Cornell University began posting median grades for every course online, so that students could put their own grades in a larger perspective. (After all, an A in "Physics for Poets" is presumably less impressive than an A in "Physics for Physicists.") The university's theory—which reveals an astonishing naiveté about human nature—was that this would encourage students to choose more-challenging courses. Instead, according to a paper published early this year by two Cornell economists, the policy provided a case study in how to pump up GPAs. Armed with accurate, official grading information, students used it to pick easy classes and avoid difficult ones: once-hidden guts were now readily identified, enrollment in them ballooned, and since the new policy was instituted the overall rate of grade inflation—already a subject of concern at Cornell, as in the academic world in general—has more than doubled.

"Quest for Knowledge and Pursuit of Grades: Grade Information and Inflation at an Ivy League School," Talia Bar and Asaf Zussman, Cornell University

Steal From Gay Muslims

Saudi Arabia has long been generous to Muslims in America. Not only does the House of Saud supply funding to build mosques in the United States, but it provides a wealth of religious literature to stock those mosques' libraries and study halls. What does that literature say? Representatives from the human-rights organization Freedom House spent a year sampling Saudi-supplied literature at mosques in major American cities, and encountered a variety of troubling texts. Among other things, Muslims are urged to avoid befriending Jews and Christians; to treat their time in the United States as they would a trip behind enemy lines; to revile Sufism, Shia, and other non-Wahhabi variants of Islam; to rob and inflict violence on Muslims who engage in homosexual acts; and to kill Muslims who convert to other faiths. The usual anti-Semitic slurs are recycled (The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, for instance, is treated as a historical document in Saudi-donated textbooks), and many of the publications urge that women be required to wear veils and banned from various jobs. The report allows that most of these documents were supplied in the 1980s and 1990s, and that the government of Saudi Arabia claims to be "updating" its books and study materials. But the researchers add that the titles in question remain "widespread and plentiful" in the United States, and continue to be used in the education of Muslims here.

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