Archive for January, 2009


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Comedy Central Edition

1) Colbert on the turbulent chicken-wing market

2) Stewart on the stimulus and CEO spendthrifts

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If you’re in need of a laugh, Dating a Banker Anonymous can help. This is the hidden side of the recession, I suppose- the story of suffering that goes untold. Thankfully, NYT picked it up.

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Windows Crash


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Not what you think

Once you put down the flags and shut off all the television ads with their Heartland, apple-pie America imagery, the truth of the car business is that it transcends national boundaries. A car or truck sold by a “Detroit” auto maker such as GM, Ford or Chrysler could be less American — as defined by the government’s standards for “domestic content” — than a car sold by Toyota, Honda or Nissan — all of which have substantial assembly and components operations in the U.S.


as of 2006 about 25% of the parts used in vehicles assembled in the U.S. came from overseas, and another 25% were manufactured here by foreign-owned parts makers. The Detroit companies wave the Stars and Stripes when they advertise their wares or look for loans in Washington, but when they talk to investors or the business press, they stress their aggressive efforts to promote “global sourcing,” a code for, “Buy More Parts from China and Mexico.”

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You can’t escape the questions these days: “Is capitalism dead?”  Twisted around: “Can we save capitalism?”

Benjamin Barber has a different question: “What kind of capitalism?”

The issue is not the death of capitalism but what kind of capitalism–standing in which relationship to culture, to democracy and to life?

Barber’s worry is that, given President Obama’s centrist “Rubinite” economic team, reforms won’t do much to affect the issues at the core of the economic mess.

But it is hard to discern any movement toward a wholesale rethinking of the dominant role of the market in our society. No one is questioning the impulse to rehabilitate the consumer market as the driver of American commerce. Or to keep commerce as the foundation of American public and private life, even at the cost of rendering other cherished American values–like pluralism, the life of the spirit and the pursuit of (nonmaterial) happiness–subordinate to it.

The fix: a revolution in spirit.

The crisis in global capitalism demands a revolution in spirit–fundamental change in attitudes and behavior. Reform cannot merely rush parents and kids back into the mall; it must encourage them to shop less, to save rather than spend. If there’s to be a federal lottery, the Obama administration should use it as an incentive for saving, a free ticket, say, for every ten bucks banked. Penalize carbon use by taxing gas so that it’s $4 a gallon regardless of market price, curbing gas guzzlers and promoting efficient public transportation. And how about policies that give producers incentives to target real needs, even where the needy are short of cash, rather than to manufacture faux needs for the wealthy just because they’ve got the cash?

Easier said than done, in my opinion.

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Weekly Meeting 01/22/09

Our reading this week was “Ethics in Economics” by Charles Wilber from the PAE Review.

Some Q’s:

1) How would our educations/textbooks change with the acknowledgment of value-permeation and the always “theory-laden” character of any analysis?

2) How does the policy conversation change?

3) What are the implications of seeing mainstream economic theory (or any theory, for that matter) working within a bounded paradigm?

Some links:

In this paper, Wilber alluded to the work of Thomas Kuhn and Deirdre McCloskey.  Here are links to their wikipedia’s.

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Stanley Fish discusses a new book, “The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the University,” at his NYT blog. It raises some interesting questions, that may or may not directly related to the economics department split at ND. The basic gist of the book is that given the transformation of higher education into an enterprise (see University of Phoenix), a liberal arts education filled with tenure-track scholars will soon become a thing of the past.

“Such a vision of restored stability,” says Donoghue, “is a delusion” because the conditions to which many seek a return – healthy humanities departments populated by tenure-track professors who discuss books with adoring students in a cloistered setting – have largely vanished. Except in a few private wealthy universities (functioning almost as museums), the splendid and supported irrelevance of humanist inquiry for its own sake is already a thing of the past. In “ two or three generations,” Donoghue predicts, “humanists . . . will become an insignificant percentage of the country’s university instructional workforce.”

How has this happened? According to Donoghue, it’s been happening for a long time, at least since 1891, when Andrew Carnegie congratulated the graduates of the Pierce College of Business for being “ fully occupied in obtaining a knowledge of shorthand and typewriting” rather than wasting time “upon dead languages.”…

The best evidence for this is the shrinking number of tenured and tenure-track faculty and the corresponding rise of adjuncts, part-timers more akin to itinerant workers than to embedded professionals.

Humanities professors like to think that this is a temporary imbalance and talk about ways of redressing it, but Donoghue insists that this development, planned by no one but now well under way, cannot be reversed. Universities under increasing financial pressure, he explains, do not “hire the most experienced teachers, but rather the cheapest teachers.” Tenured and tenure-track teachers now make up only 35 percent of the pedagogical workforce and “this number is steadily falling.”

The author of the book, Frank Donoghue, does not hold out much hope for the future:

And as a corollary “professors will come to be seen by everyone (not just those outside the academy) as unaffordable anomalies.”

I’ve been chewing on this for a while, trying to think about how it relates to the situation at ND. I think ND, and many of its aspirational peers, come closest to living up to the ideal that Donoghue says is dying. However, you could also argue that this is more of a trend that is creeping in slowly, and that even universities like ND are putting more of an emphasis on “marketable” skills, rather than a liberal arts education. From that perspective, the application to the economics department split becomes obvious. I’m not sure if it’s the correct one, though. There are a number of forces at work at this university, and others: ideology, an emphasis on research, and others. At very least, Donoghue’s argument that the liberal arts university holds little hope in the future makes me think that a return to the pre-split days is well out of reach.

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Bonus points to anyone who can find me the source of this quote I read, which I know I read in the last two days, but cannot find. According to google, some person who reviewed a book on Amazon saw it too, so I’m not making it up. Please help.

Basically, the article was talking about hedge fund managers and their confidence amidst the financial crisis. A bunch of them were in a room, and one said something like, “the invisible hand will make it OK”. To which someone else, another hedge fund manager I presume, replied, “Don’t you realize, we are the invisible hand!”

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Keep Your Coins…



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