This is an archived version of the PW Sources newsletter from Saturday, May 4, 2024. Sign up to receive PW Sources directly to your inbox here.


In the past month, students have occupied 142 universities across the world to demand an academic boycott and divestment from companies and institutions that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. More than 2,000 protesters have been arrested across US campuses. 

In a 2016 article, CHARLIE EATON, JACOB HABINEK, ADAM GOLDSTEIN, CYRUS DIOUN, DANIELA GARCIA SANTIBANEZ GODOY, and ROBERT OSLEY-THOMAS consider US higher education’s growing reliance on financial investment returns:

“Endowments play an increasing role in financing US higher education. Since the 1980s, more institutions have sought to build endowments and thereby assume the role of financial investors. NACUBO reports show that just 148 undergraduate-enrolling systems reported operating endowments to NACUBO in 1977 and just 36 of them were public. By 2009, the number of public systems reporting endowments had grown to 158, with an increase to 501 for undergraduate-enrolling systems overall. The total endowment asset values reported by NACUBO increased tenfold in 2012 constant dollars from $39.8 billion in 1977 to a high of $456 billion in 2007. From 2003 to 2012, when more detailed data are available, assets at public institutions doubled from $61 to $122 billion, while private college endowment assets grew by 49% from $201 billion to $300 billion,

Together with fundraising, investment returns provided for net growth of both public and private endowments. Although the use of endowments has diffused to less wealthy colleges, the growth in asset values has been concentrated disproportionately at the wealthiest institutions. Among the nine undergraduate-enrolling private institutions that held more than 1 billion dollars in endowment assets in 1977, the total endowment assets more than quadrupled from $17.2 billion in 1977 to $77.8 billion in 2003, an average of 594 thousand dollars in assets per FTE student. Using more detailed data for years since 2003, we find that the exponential growth of endowment assets has continued among the wealthiest institutions.”

“Schools with very high dependence on endowments may continue to be challenging targets for activists.” Alexander Baron, Rachel Venator, Ella Carlson, Jane Andrews, and Junwen Ding track the progression of fossil fuel divestment in US higher education. Link

 “What Columbia does publish is enough to show us that at least in financial and economic terms, Columbia is not one simple thing—an educational institution, or an alumni social network. It is a $5.8 billion-revenue organization consisting of at least seven main entities.” Adam Tooze on protesters’ demands and Columbia’s financial structure. Link. “As universities become more active in the financial markets, their credit ratings become an important metric of their success.” Alex Katsomitros on the emerging university bonds market. Link.

+  UN special rapporteur David Kaye details forms of anti-BDS legislation currently in place in over two dozen US states. Link. And see Catalina Gaitán on Evergreen State’s agreement with student activists. Link.


Environmental shocks

JHIH-YUN LIU recently defended her dissertation on rural resilience in the Department of Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota. In her job market paper, she examines how the Dust Bowl influenced inter-generational occupational choices in agriculture.

From the paper:

“Using the historical census data with the DiD model that relies on the variation of topsoil erosion across counties, I explore how children of farmers choose their occupation after experiencing the Dust Bowl, one of the remarkable environmental catastrophes in the U.S. mid-20th century. This study contributes to a better understanding of the Dust Bowl’s possible consequences on inter-generational occupational choice in agriculture. The findings show that the Dust Bowl plausibly decreases the probability of occupational persistence in agriculture, even though the magnitude is not substantial (approximately decreasing by 2%). While living in high-erosion counties appeared to deter children of farmers from being self-employed farmers, a portion of them opted to work as wage-paid farmers. This shift towards wage employment in the agricultural sector implies that some of the children of farmers remained engaged in agriculture but chose to work for other farms as employees, potentially as a strategy to mitigate the impact of environmental shocks. Furthermore, relocating to non-Dust Bowl states was identified as an alternative strategy during this period. Children of farmers who chose to move out of the Great Plains were more likely to pursue non-agricultural occupations.”

+ + +

+  “In its nation-building ethos, Tata stands apart from the extravagance and aggressiveness of the new tycoons. Despite these differences, it now appears to be just as firmly embedded in Modi’s agenda as Ambani or Adani.” New on PW, Mircea Raianu examines Tata’s history, and the salt-to-software conglomerate’s investment in domestic manufacturing. Link.

+  “The continued gamble on political attrition in the farm bill process may be lengthening its own odds. Since the 2012–14 negotiations, Freedom Caucus-types have demanded unacceptable cuts to nutrition programs and, now, a ban on the mailing of the abortion pill mifepristone.” Also new on PW, Ariel Ron on the IRA’s climate goals and agricultural policy coalitions. Link.

+  “A shareholder proposal calls for the company’s utility subsidiary, Berkshire Hathaway Energy (BHE), to disclose Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions. That sounds compelling, but, digging in, it’s apparent that this ask is about form over substance.” Nolan Lindquist on emissions reporting and the upcoming Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. Link.

+  Maximilian Kotz, Friderike Kuik, Eliza Lis, and Christiane Nickel identify global warming’s contribution to welfare losses and price instability by modeling the causal effects of weather variations on national-level inflation across 121 countries. Link.

+  An analysis prepared for The New York Times by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center shows that President Biden, while promising corporate tax increases, has cut taxes overall. By Jim Tankersley. Link.

+  Yuxuan Jia, Wendy Wu, and Zichen Wang examine China’s low consumption and unusually high savings rates. Link

+  A new publication on the militarization of European space policy, edited by Thomas Hoerber and Iraklis Oikonomou. Link.

+  “Maricá in Brazil serves as an empirical backing of a theoretical proposition about the productive interaction of UBI and EBI, and should inform current policy reflection on pandemic preparedness and the role of basic income within this perspective.” By Jurgen De Wispelaere, Leticia Morales, and Fabio Waltenberg. Link.

+  “Instead of stockpiling financial assets, the UAW is investing in high-visibility strikes and ambitious organizing programs that are capturing the imagination of workers throughout the world.” By Chris Bohner. Link.

+  “The excavation of a large administrative building at the city of Tell Brak in northern Syria saw the recovery of a considerable quantity of charred cereals dated to the mid-third millennium B.C.E. This remarkable discovery provides a rare snapshot into the nature of agriculture in Upper Mesopotamia during the Early Bronze Age. The material has been studied using a combination of primary archaeobotanical analysis, crop stable isotope determinations, and functional weed ecology to deliver new insights into cultivation strategies at Tell Brak as well as to contribute to the wider debate regarding trade and crop importation in this region. Specific crop regime choices also reveal how the farmers of Tell Brak were able to reduce the overall risk of crop failure by careful water management, a vitally important factor in this semi-arid region, with potential implications for the analysis of other large-scale urban agro-economies in the Middle East and beyond.” By Charlotte Diffey, Geoff Emberling, Amy Bogaard, and Michael Charles. Link.

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