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Malcolm Gladwell doesn't tweet often. But when he does, it's to slam Ivy League schools.

Malcolm Gladwell: not a Yale fan.
Malcolm Gladwell: not a Yale fan.
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Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell doesn't tweet a whole lot. But he makes periodic exceptions to go on tirades condemning contributions to rich research universities like Harvard and Yale. His last one, on hedge funder John Paulson's massive $400 million gift to Harvard, was particularly good.

But on Wednesday, a New York Times op-ed attacking Yale for paying $480 million a year to private equity firms to manage its endowment — while spending only $170 million on financial aid and prizes — set him off on a more misguided rant:

Gladwell picked up the thread again Thursday, noting that elite universities get far more from the government per student (largely by virtue of their tax-exempt status) than even public universities do. And that's not even taking research grants or property tax exemptions into account.

The specific criticism of Yale's private equity spending is a little unfair. It's quite possible that the university's investment strategy yields higher returns, which means more money for worthwhile expenditures like research and financial aid. And Yale's returns suggest that's actually happening: Over the past 10 years, it netted 11 percent annually on average, compared with 8.4 percent average gain for stocks as a whole.

The bigger problem is that Yale spends a ludicrously low percentage of its endowment, choosing instead to rack up billions in savings, tax-free, every year. And all the while, it keeps getting hundreds of millions of dollars in donations for things like performing arts centers, even as actually cost-effective charitable causes — like distributing anti-malarial bednets, or providing cash directly to very poor people in Uganda and Kenya — have room for funding. This costs taxpayers billions (as Gladwell's second tweetstorm noted) and provides precious little in the way of societal benefit.

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