The Arizona Desert Lamp

Principles of Baseless Assertions, Second Edition

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 7 May 2009

Interesting contest over at the Fraser Institute (HT: Radley Balko):

We want to hear from you on what public policy issues you would like to see measured. In particular, we would like your comment on an economic or public policy issue that you feel has not been measured or has not been measured adequately.

We seek to identify issues that matter

Following the Institute’s motto “If it matters, measure it,” we seek to measure topics that matter. We want your ideas on an economic or public policy issue that is of consequence to the residents of a country, region, or city and that could potentially shape their future in a positive way. These should be related to the impact of markets on individuals, or the impact of government interventions on the welfare of individuals.

Here’s a local suggestion – what about the actual effect of Arizona legislation on book prices? This old canard was offered once again in the administrative show of support for their outgoing student satrap:

Over the past two years, President Bruce worked to pass legislation saving students thousands of dollars on textbooks and fought for affordability, accessibility and predictability in tuition.

Like a catechism of the ASUA/ASA faith (in this case, the conflation is justified), the textbook legislation is invariably brought up as somehow justifying the organizations’ existence. Well, as we say in the dark tubes of the Internet, [citation needed]. No numbers have ever been provided regarding comparative price levels, no numbers have been released on the aggregate amount students are spending on textbooks. One is left to assume that the “thousands of dollars” figure is complete and utter bullshit, concocted from thin air.

When one looks at the actual legislation, it becomes apparent how weak the actual bill was. To quote heavily from my own comment on another post:

The provisions of HB 2230/SB 1175 of the 2008 session are as follows:

1. Requires a publisher to provide staff with information about their books.

2. Schools must inform faculty of this policy and “encourage faculty and staff to place course material orders with sufficient lead time for the university or community college bookstore or contracted bookstore to confirm availability of requested material.”

3. ABOR must also tell the faculty and staff about this disclosure policy.

4. Faculty and staff can’t get free things from publishing companies.

5. Book publishers can’t provide free sample copies (essentially, 4 in reverse)

6. “Requires a publisher to comply with the ABOR and community college district policies on course materials.”

But don’t take it from this biased author; instead, read the words of ASA’s Michael Slugocki, one of the signatories of the letter:

Michael Slugocki, a political science senior and vice chair of the Arizona Students’ Association, which helped draft the initial legislation, said the new bill is not nearly aggressive enough with the amendment.

“The bill is essentially meaningless without the price disclosure,” he said.

Slugocki said the bill now is basically a statement from the legislature to publishers that only says they don’t like their practices, but doesn’t do anything about it.

“It loses all power,” he said.

Funny what time can do to a person’s memory.

If you’re going to make such claims about textbook prices, you need numbers to back them up. Especially given recent events, repeating talking points will no longer be taken at face value.

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3 Responses

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  1. Vishal Ganesan said, on 8 May 2009 at 3:41 pm

    Evan, I recently decided to end my career with criticalpolitical. I’ve started a new blog at vishalganesan.wordpress.com. Looking forward to a fresh inter-blog relationship!

  2. […] It’ll be very curious to see what metrics the Senate plans on using, seeing how other “accomplishments” on textbooks have been […]

  3. […] is referred to something real, an ill-fitting term for something like textbooks, where exactly no evidence has been presented showing the efficacy of its programs. Amusingly enough, ASA’s page on […]


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