Senator Wants to Play Airline Executive

Are airlines unfairly conniving to keep capacity low and thus drive up fares? According to Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, they are—and he’s asked the Justice Department to investigate.

Unfortunately for airlines and their passengers, Blumenthal has succumbed to a particular Washington, D.C., affliction: thinking he can run a business better than the people actually running it. If they had their druthers, Elizabeth Warren would moonlight as a banker, Joe Barton as a college sports administrator, Jay Rockefeller as an oil company executive, and Hank Johnson as a geographer.

Based on a New York Times report on an airline industry meeting, Blumenthal is concerned that “many of these [airlines] publicly discussed their strategies to remain ‘disciplined’ in their decisions to manage capacity across their flight routes.” Continue reading “Senator Wants to Play Airline Executive”

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The Birth of the American Bankers Association

A massive construction bubble, driven both by speculative investments and government subsidies. Investment houses with excessive leverage in that very same construction bubble. A stock market crash, a spike in unemployment, global panic, a wave of domestic bank failures and resounding political consequences.

If this scenario recalls to you the past several years, then you’ll well understand the drama into which the American Bankers Association was born in 1875.

The construction bubble had been in railroads, whose growth had been jumpstarted by the completion of the first transcontinental line in 1863 and the need for rebuilding after the Civil War. From 1868 to 1873, more than 30,000 miles of new track were laid, and speculators piled into railroad stocks.

Continue reading “The Birth of the American Bankers Association”

Stronger Together

B. J. Cassin is no stranger to the idea that small investments can generate outsized results. That is the foundation of the venture capital industry—the business in which Cassin has earned his fortune over the last 35 years. So it is no surprise that Cassin’s next big move in K-12 education philanthropy will invest in carefully selected schools, educational entrepreneurs, and school networks with the intention of “transforming” faith-based and private schooling.

Cassin was one of the most important funders behind the growth of Chicago’s acclaimed Cristo Rey Jesuit High School from a single site in 2000 to a network of 28 high schools in 18 states and D.C. today (with more on the way). These Catholic schools now serve 9,000 students per year, the vast majority of them racial or ethnic minorities from ­low-income homes. With its innovative work-study model of four students sharing a job at a company, the network is affordable for families and fiscally sustainable. In 2014, all of its graduates were accepted to college.

Now Cassin is seeking to amplify this success. Continue reading “Stronger Together”

Would-Be NYC Mayor Would Gut Central Park

This is why we can’t have nice things, New Yorkers might have muttered when they heard the news: Bill de Blasio, a shoo-in to be elected mayor next month, supports a plan to gut one of New York City’s most successful policy innovations of the past three decades.

That innovation is Central Park, the crown jewel of America’s urban parks. De Blasio made headlines when it was revealed that he supports a plan to redistribute money from Central Park’s operating budget to other, smaller parks throughout the city.

That may sound innocuous, but take a closer look. It would be one thing if de Blasio was proposing to move money around within the city’s $380 million parks and recreation budget. Instead, de Blasio has endorsed a plan to raid the assets of the private nonprofit group that runs Central Park. Continue reading “Would-Be NYC Mayor Would Gut Central Park”

Fly High

On November 8, 2006, Dick DeVos woke up with nothing to do. The day before, he had lost the election for Governor of Michigan. “If you’re not elected, you’ve basically cleared your entire schedule for the foreseeable future,” he chuckles. “You’ve got time on your hands to reflect on, ‘What should I be doing?’”

It wasn’t a feeling DeVos was used to. The former CEO of the multi-billion-dollar direct-selling firm Amway and head of the Orlando Magic NBA team, DeVos had also been involved in civic activities, including serving on the State Board of Education and on numerous non-profit boards. He was a mentor with Kids Hope, a charitable group in his native Grand Rapids. Continue reading “Fly High”

Desert Educator

There are few institutions that generate more affection in the hearts of donors than excellent small colleges. And no college in America is smaller, nor really more excellent, than Deep Springs, an idiosyncratic place nestled a mile above sea level in the California high desert bordered by the White and Inyo mountain ranges. At any one time, Deep Springs is home to two dozen of the most academically qualified young men in America, who are attracted by its offer of two years of intense academic study, hard ranch work for 20 hours per week, and practical lessons in self-governance—all 100 percent free. Its graduates usually go on to complete their degrees at America’s most prestigious universities, and more than half of all attendees have ended up with doctoral degrees.

All this is precisely as Lucien Nunn intended. Continue reading “Desert Educator”

Eclectically Orthodox

Ralph Waldo Beeson was legendarily cheap when it came to treating himself. Once, when given some new corduroys, the insurance executive turned them down on account of already owning a pair. At his modest house just south of Birmingham, he often chose not to operate the air conditioning during brutal Alabama summers, saying it “costs a fortune to run that thing.” But just down the hill from his house, he had a view of Samford University—to which he was nothing but generous.

As a 29-year-old life insurance salesman, Beeson had poured his savings into the stock of his company, Liberty National, just after the crash of 1929. The bet paid off handsomely, and he cashed in for $100 million in the 1980s. Continue reading “Eclectically Orthodox”

High-Adventure Haven for Boys

The Boy Scouts of America had a problem. Fort A. P. Hill in Virginia had for nearly two decades been home to the Scouts’ national jamboree, which draws 45,000 boys and up to 300,000 friends and family from across the country. But throwing up the temporary infrastructure needed for each quadrennial jamboree cost the Scouts as much as $16 million every time, and the Scouting leadership realized that they needed a more permanent fix.

That solution came in the form of a 10,600-acre site in the rugged Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia, near the deep and wild New River Gorge. (The gorge is cut by the only river that rises east of the Appalachians yet manages to find a slot through the mountains and reach the Ohio River Valley.) The location was perfect: 70 percent of Scouts would be within a 10-hour drive of the site, and it would provide not only a jamboree location but also an eastern “high adventure” base to supplement Scouting’s famous Philmont ranch in the west. Continue reading “High-Adventure Haven for Boys”

From Bees to Trees

Roxanne Quimby moved to Maine because she had $3,000 in savings and Maine land was cheap. By a couple decades later, she had decided that that same land was priceless. Now she is hiking a trail blazed by some major philanthropists before her: trying to create a national park.

In the mid-1970s, Quimby relocated to rural Maine to live close to the earth, without electricity or running water. A decade later, she partnered with beekeeper Burt Shavitz and began making beeswax candles, polishes, and eventually the lip balm that turned Burt’s Bees into a multimillion-dollar personal-care company. Continue reading “From Bees to Trees”