Wed Mar 23, 2011

The Dues are Too Damn High

Jeremy comments on the proposed large increase in ASA dues set out in this month’s Footnotes issue. To be honest, I think the “Rationale” for the increase in terms of fairness and progressivity comes across as a piece of sanctimonious handwaving. To be clear, I am completely in favor of a tiered, progressive system of membership dues for the ASA. The Footnotes article convinced me that the income brackets in the current system are outdated, and that they should be changed. What it did not do, however, was offer any justification for why the ASA’s overall take from its members needs to increase substantially, as opposed to just undergoing a revenue-neutral readjustment. I am quite sure the ASA Council — maybe several Councils over the past few years—have determined the Association really does need the extra money this new system is plainly designed to generate. But there’s nothing in the Footnotes article explaining what those reasons are. It’s insulting not to even attempt to explain this to the people you’re asking to pony up. The closest we get is this:

In a wide variety of ways, ASA provides professional public goods: It organizes key journals in the discipline; gathers and disseminates data on sociologists and academic departments; provides timely information on the job market for sociologists and brings potential employers and employees together; promotes public dissemination of sociological research through the media; facilitates the building of strong networks among sociologists in the different settings in which sociologists work; organizes the annual national meeting of the profession at which new scholarship is shared; represents the discipline of sociology in the activities of many inter-disciplinary scientific and professional organizations; advocates along with those organizations for increased federal funding for social scientific research and graduate training; and has an experienced staff that responds quickly to public issues affecting the discipline, sociology departments, and individual sociologists. These are real public goods for the community of sociologists, and thus the equal burden principle has been relevant to the ASA for decades.

This is what the ASA has done for years. What’s needed is an explanation for which of these professional public goods has gotten so much more expensive that the ASA requires a large net increase in overall revenue from members, or which new ones have been added to its list of activities. Why is the extra money needed? How is it going to be spent? Perhaps it’s needed for all sorts of worthwhile projects and programs. That’s great! Tell me what they are. In the meantime, don’t bullshit me about progressivity and fairness in taxation, as if I—or the ASA membership generally—haven’t already been committed to that idea “for decades” to begin with.