In case you were wondering whether any group in America is more completely out of touch with the economic disaster facing them than law professors at ABA-accredited schools, there may actually be one: the editorial staff of the New York Times.
It seems like half the newspapers in America have already gone bankrupt, while the others are just taking numbers and waiting to be called. The once-mighty Times now has a total market capitalization of $950 million, which means the whole shooting match is worth less than 5/1,000ths of Google. When you figure that the Gray Lady is holding $550 million in cash and short-term investments, the value of the actual publishing business is — well, about equal to the loose change you could probably pull out of Warren Buffett’s living-room sofa.
Yet the Times has actually been doing a heroic job of keeping itself alive. Every day its product loses relative value to purchasers (who are flocking to free news providers on the Web and to immediate news on cable television) and its advertising revenues go down (because it’s losing those readers). This sounds like a sure recipe for a death spiral. But the Times, amazingly enough, has done a great job of keeping the presses running, and it even managed to make money this year. You’d think that its employees would be happy that the nation’s most prestigious news organ was taking the steps necessary to keep itself alive and their paychecks coming out regularly.
Well, if you thought that, you’d be wrong. Times reporters have gone public with a web site, SaveOurTimes.com, that shows that the real threat to the paper isn’t that people aren’t reading it and businesses aren’t advertising in it, but that employees may be forced to switch to a defined-contribution 401(k) retirement plan instead of the existing defined benefit plan. This apparently is such a horrific concept that some staff members are talking about having to eat cat food or commit suicide when they retire. (No, I’m not making this up. Look at some of the videos on the site.)
What makes the reporters seem particularly deluded is not merely that they think that the 95% of the people who already have lousier pensions than they do will care. It’s that they’ve managed to convince themselves that in demanding more money they’re not merely looking out for themselves. No, the reason they want those nice, hefty pensions is so that the Times can continue to attract high-quality reporters like them, who are necessary to its continuance as a high-quality operation. In other words, they’d have to quit and take a higher-paying job if the Times cuts their pensions, which means the Times would become a worse newspaper, which means that the public would suffer from the loss of everything the Times means to the world.
I’ve heard law professors argue that if we lost our cushy guaranteed job security, got our pay cut to market levels, and had our teaching loads increased ten or twelve hours a semester, our students would suffer because highly talented folks like us wouldn’t want to teach under those conditions. It’s not that we want more money, fewer hours, and lifetime job security, it’s that our students need us to have more money, fewer hours, and lifetime job security. Heck, the whole fabric of American justice would collapse if we had to work under the same conditions as other lawyers. We’re not thinking of us, we’re thinking of justice.
I’ve found many students who are dubious about the idea that the more money I make and the fewer hours I have to teach, the better off they are. Maybe we should think about a web site explaining the point.