Archive for October, 2011

Happy Columbus Day

[ht:cr] In honor of Columbus Day, here’s a great quotation from the explorer:

They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane…. They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.

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With increased media attention, everyone is offering up their opinions about the Occupy Wall St. movement. Find out who said what at the New York Times [ht:cr]

1. “I for one am increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and the other cities across the country.”

2. “I think it expresses the frustration the American people feel.”

3. “They blame, with some justification, the problems in the financial sector for getting us into this mess, and they’re dissatisfied with the policy response here in Washington. And at some level, I can’t blame them.”

4. “Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!”

5. “We are the 1 percent.”

6. “God bless them for their spontaneity. It’s young, it’s spontaneous, it’s focused and it’s going to be effective.”

7. “This is like the Tea Party — only it’s real. By the time this is over, it will make the Tea Party look like … a tea party.”

8. “I think it’s dangerous, this class warfare.”

9. “What they’re trying to do is take away the jobs of people working in the city, take away the tax base that we have.”

10. “I’m very, very understanding of where they’re coming from.”

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Service to Society

Universities face a real dilemma with regards to their mission in the world. Most research universities proclaim in a mission statement that they strive to use knowledge in the service of society. However, the academic structures and reward systems currently in place largely dismiss interdisciplinary, real-world relevant research projects – exactly the type of research necessary for the betterment of society. This is all too true in economics, where “policy relevance” seems to be used synonymously for “easy” and “uninteresting.”  But academics in other disciplines as well are taking a real risk with their career when they spend too much time working on interdisciplinary and policy-relevant work.

It’s no secret that academics from various disciplines struggle to collaborate on projects. This is often correctly attributed to that fact that academia has become so specialized, that people working in different fields do not have a common language with which they can communicate. Even within one department, the labor economists may very well have little idea what the growth theorists are up to. But there is another factor at work, and that is the lack of credit and prestige that comes from working on such projects. Specialized academics gain little in the way of reputation and useful citations when publishing this sort of interesting, interdisciplinary work, and so there is little incentive for them to try to learn another discipline’s language even if they might want to do so.

The next time I hear a university Provost speak, I  want to ask them how their university is dealing with an academic structure that impedes creative and  collaborative research done in the service of society. In addition, this highlights once again the importance for both students and faculty to play a meaningful role in the decision making process of the university, which has been increasingly relinquished to the Board of Trustees and the business side of private American universities. Reclaiming that power would go a long way towards shifting the American university back to its role as an institution of service to society.

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The New York Times Magazine “Food & Drink Issue” has arrived! [ht:av].

The entire magazine is dedicated to food (even the travel section!). It features many interesting sections, such a Food Policy section that deals with eating sustainable fish (try Bristol Bay Alaskan Salmon), prospects for eating algae, and the adequateness of food stamps. Michael Pollan answers reader’s questions, and in doing so gives his thoughtful views on food innovations, the role of government, and how to create a healthy and sustainable food economy.

Importantly, this issue of the magazine grapples with the ethical, philosophical, technological, economic, political, and cultural aspects of food production and consumption. Only through this type of conversation will our society succeed in building a healthy, sustainable, and just food system.

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From The Guardian:

We might do well to consider the collapse of the European colonial empires. It certainly did not lead to the rich successfully grabbing all the cookies, but to the creation of the modern welfare state. We don’t know precisely what will come out of this round. But if the occupiers finally manage to break the 30-year stranglehold that has been placed on the human imagination, as in those first weeks after September 2008, everything will once again be on the table – and the occupiers of Wall Street and other cities around the US will have done us the greatest favour anyone possibly can.

This movement is, above all, a call for a renewed imagination that another world is possible. People are frustrated and bewildered with the world that we have created, and The Left has thus far been unable to mobilize an effective response.

If interested, you can find an “Occupy Wall St.” solidarity event near you [ht:cr]

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