Saturday, May 8, 2004

My very own public intellectual feud

Devoted readers of are aware that on occasion, sometimes, I've been known to get into the occasional intellectual scuffle with a another blogger or public figure. Most of them have been minor tempests that quickly faded into obscurity.

Alas, obscurity is harder to come by when a dispute is carried out in the Letters page of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. To see Jagdish Bhagwati's reply to my review of In Defense of Globalization, as well as my response to Bhagwati's response, click here.

I'll confess to being genuinely puzzled by Professor Bhagwati's obsteperous response -- as my lovely wife put it, between Bhagwati and myself, our opinions on globalization range from A to A'. I thought I gave the book a pretty favorable review, and I certainly think it's worth reading. Trust me, if I don't like a book, I can be much more scathing in my comments.

However, read my original review, then read the exchange of letters and judge for yourself. After this Sunday, this disagreement will hopefully fade into onscurity as well.

And for those of you who wish to make a living by being a critic (or a book author), learn this lesson well -- don't write angry. Or rather, if you feel the urge, write angry, but then be sure to crumple up that effort and try again with a cooler head.

Why? It's exceedingly difficult to translate anger into polished prose -- particularly anger directed at another person, as opposed to a more abstract target -- without seeming either petty or undisciplined. Angry writing is also, more often than not, completely humorless. And wit is a valued commodity in almost every writing venue known to man.

This is a tough lesson to digest, because the exceptions to this rule are the most coveted critics of them all. A critic that manages to focus their anger into an righteous but humorous vivisection of someone else is the ne plus ultra of entertainment. If you can do it, I'll tip my hat in deferential respect.

However, I strongly suspect that this skill is much rarer than is commonly perceived.

posted by Dan at 10:34 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (2)

Friday, May 7, 2004

Ethnic cleansing in Sudan

The Sudanese government is aiding and abetting the killing of African Muslims in its western Darfur region. According to Bloomberg:

Government forces have helped so-called Arab Janjaweed militias kill thousands of members of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups, according to the [Human Rights Watch] report. More than one million civilians have been driven into camps and settlements from their homes, and in excess of 110,000 others have fled into neighboring Chad....

The conflict escalated in February last year when the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement started a rebellion in Darfur, complaining that the region, particularly its black population, is marginalized by the government. Since then, the Janjaweed militia, who are also Muslim, has targeted civilians from the same ethnic groups as the rebels, according to the report.

The Janjaweed, supported by government forces and helicopters, have killed civilians and religious leaders, destroyed mosques, burned homes, and looted food and livestock, the report says.

"Government forces oversaw and directly participated in massacres, summary executions of civilians, including women and children, burnings of towns and villages, and the forcible depopulation of wide swathes of land long inhabited by the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa,'' the report says. The Janjaweed militias "have destroyed mosques, killed Muslim religious leaders, and desecrated Korans belonging to their enemies.''

Human Rights Watch documents the killing of more than 770 civilians in 14 separate attacks between September and February, and says the conflict has caused more damage than that. The HRW team spent 25 days in and near West Darfur investigating the abuses, entering from Chad.

"Our report covers particular villages in one small area,'' said Rone. "The killings are much more widespread.''

Here's a link to the actual Human Rights Watch report, "Darfur Destroyed." You can read HRW's press release by clicking here.

This looks like a job for the U.N. Human Rights Commission!! Oh, wait...

UPDATE: The Economist has a nice story encapsulating the Sudan problem.

posted by Dan at 12:30 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Alexei Izyumov's Swiftian jobs program

Izyumov, an associate professor of economics and director of the Center for Emerging Market Economies at the University of Louisville, makes a modest proposal in the Boston Globe about dealing with the real villians behind recent job losses:

While corporate CEOs do send thousands of jobs abroad, someone else steals them by the millions. Patriotic citizens can easily identify the corporate wrongdoers -- as Senator John Kerry does in his campaign speeches and CNN's Lou Dobbs does in his list of the 200-plus worst outsourcers -- but confronting this other enemy is much more difficult. Because this enemy is the US consumer.

In 2003, the United States imported close to $1,500 billion in products, mostly consumer goods such as cars, electronics, and textiles. Assuming that each $50,000 of this spending could support one domestic job, imports killed off close to 30 million American jobs last year. Compared with that, the employment impact of offshore outsourcing is peanuts: The highest estimates put those job losses at no more than 300,000 a year for the last three years....

We hereby appeal to all professional economic patriots, especially these among state and federal legislators: Do not waste your energy fighting the paper tigers of corporate outsourcing. Have courage and go after the main enemy. Make these traitorous consumers repent! Lead them by the way of personal example: Allow no more Italian suits, French perfume, German cars, or Chilean wine in your households. And no more foreign trips either -- you know that every vacation spent in Paris or Cancun means tourism jobs lost in Chicago or New Orleans or Boston.

posted by Dan at 11:34 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (2)

Good job numbers

The Bureau of Labor Statistics employment figures for April are out -- and the U.S. economy created 288,000 jobs last month. The number of persons unemployed for 27 weeks or longer declined by 188,000. Revised figures show that since
January, manufacturing employment has increased by 37,000. Over the course of this year, average hourly earnings have grown by by 2.2 percent, and average weekly earnings have increased by 2.5 percent.

In 2004, the economy has averaged the creation of over 200,000 new jobs per month.

In related news, the Financial Times reports that:

First-time claims for unemployment support in the week to May 1 fell by 25,000 to 315,000 - the lowest since October 2000. Continuing claims for unemployment benefit, which tend to provide a better indication of hiring activity, also declined sharply, dropping 69,000 to 2.9m during the week to April 24.

Much of this is due to continued strength in the service sector.

Of course, the economy has had to struggle to create jobs this year in the wake of massive job losses due to offshore outsourcing. Oh wait, according to this BLS breakdown, the economy has created over 200,000 jobs in the "professional business and services" category in 2004, the sector designated as most vulnerable to job losses from offshoring (to be fair, employment in "computer systems design and related services" has fallen by 6,000 since January).

So, great news -- but I'd really like the Bush administration to take the following warning from Alan Greenspan seriously:

The resolution of our current account deficit and household debt burdens does not strike me as overly worrisome, but that is certainly not the case for our yawning fiscal deficit. Our fiscal prospects are, in my judgment, a significant obstacle to long-term stability because the budget deficit is not readily subject to correction by market forces that stabilize other imbalances.

Read the whole speech.

UPDATE: Bruce Bartlett points out that due to the economic recovery, the Congressional Budget Office projects tax revenues for this fiscal year to be up by $100 billion.

posted by Dan at 11:04 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

A minor Friends carp

Like an estimated 51.1 million Americans, I watch and mostly enjoyed the Friends finale last night. It was much better than Seinfeld's finale, though that's a low bar to set.

I am glad that Matt LeBlanc will have his own show in the fall -- truth be told, Joey was always my favorite (though as an academic, I did appreciate how adeptly the writers skewered Ross' academic pretensions).

One minor complaint, however -- during the episode, Monica explains that they've named the twins Erika (after the birth mother) and Jack, after Monica's father. Which is great, except for the fact that Monica Geller is Jewish. Jews (well, Ashkenazi Jews at least) do not name their children after living relatives.

Now Friends, like many shows (Mad About You) was always skittish about discussing religion, even though three of the show's characters (Ross, Monica, Rachel) were Jewish. They inevitably celebrated Christmas, for example.

Which is fine -- there are certainly Jews who do this. However, there was no need for the show to have a Jewish character do something that even a non-practicing Jew would never even have considered.

The show's creators, David Crane and Marta Kaufman, are both graduates of Brandeis. They should have known better.

posted by Dan at 10:26 AM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (1)

Thursday, May 6, 2004

News flash -- Michael Moore massages the facts

I'm shocked, shocked to discover that Michael Moore might have stretched the truth a wee bit in his latest kerfuffle with Disney. According to the Independent:

Less than 24 hours after accusing the Walt Disney Company of pulling the plug on his latest documentary in a blatant attempt at political censorship, the rabble-rousing film-maker Michael Moore has admitted he knew a year ago that Disney had no intention of distributing it.

The admission, during an interview with CNN, undermined Moore's claim that Disney was trying to sabotage the US release of Fahrenheit 911 just days before its world premiere at the Cannes film festival.

Instead, it lent credence to a growing suspicion that Moore was manufacturing a controversy to help publicise the film, a full-bore attack on the Bush administration and its handling of national security since the attacks of 11 September 2001.

In an indignant letter to his supporters, Moore said he had learnt only on Monday that Disney had put the kibosh on distributing the film, which has been financed by the semi-independent Disney subsidiary Miramax.

But in the CNN interview he said: "Almost a year ago, after we'd started making the film, the chairman of Disney, Michael Eisner, told my agent he was upset Miramax had made the film and he will not distribute it."

Nobody in Hollywood doubts Fahrenheit 911 will find a US distributor. His last documentary, Bowling for Columbine, made for $3m (£1.7m), pulled in $22m at the US box office.

But Moore's publicity stunt, if that is what is, appears to be working. A front-page news piece in The New York Times was followed yesterday by an editorial denouncing Disney for censorship and denial of Moore's right to free expression.

Well, it's a good thing that except for the NYT, the media didn't take the bait on this one. Oh, wait....

posted by Dan at 10:31 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (2)

Bwa ha ha ha!!

The Los Angeles Times reports that the political tide may be turning on offshore outsourcing:

Although public opinion polls show Americans are worried about this outsourcing of jobs, few people appear willing to back that up if it means spending more money or more time.

Even those who have lost jobs sometimes express more resignation than outrage. The lack of widespread passion on the subject, some say, helps explain why dozens of measures in Congress and state legislatures for limiting outsourcing have failed to gain much traction.

And the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, who in February characterized executives who outsourced as traitors, lately has toned down his rhetoric on the subject.

Against this backdrop, the nation's unemployment report for April — to be released Friday — becomes crucial. A strong report, coming on the heels of March's impressive net gain of 308,000 nonfarm jobs, will diminish remaining incentives to restrain outsourcing.

Sluggish job growth, on the other hand, will conjure up the slack reports of last winter. Outsourcing became a prominent election issue in December after a string of poor job reports sparked fears that U.S. job creation was in a long-term slump.

Opponents of outsourcing aren't sure how they were put on the defensive so quickly.

"It was shocking to find a Democratic-controlled House in the liberal state of Washington could not pass a significant piece of legislation dealing with the offshore-outsourcing issue," said Marcus Courtney, president of the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers. The bill would have prohibited state contracts from being sent overseas.

Courtney blamed "a nationally coordinated lobbying effort by corporate America" for the fact that none of the 80 bills in Congress and legislatures has passed.

It's just coordinated lobbying?! What about well-honed rhetoric backed by cogent analysis and hard data? [Yeah, you know it's actually the lobbying, right?--ed. Allow me my meager illusions of influence, OK?]

Part of the Times' reasoning is based on the E-loan experiment that I blogged about in March. Consumers are given a choice between having their paperwork processed in 10 days overseas or 12 days in the United States. According to the LAT, "In the three months that ended Monday, 85.6% of 14,329 loan applicants chose processing overseas."

Meanwhile, Miguel Helft writes in the San Jose Mercury News that data privacy concerns with regard to offshore outsourcing are grossly exaggerated:

like most issues in the polarized debate over outsourcing, the privacy fears are stoked by hype, misconceptions and a dose of xenophobia. Preventing personal data from going overseas will do little to keep Americans safe from privacy violations and identity thieves. Unless Americans get better privacy protections at home, they'll continue to be victimized by unscrupulous businesses and criminals.

To be sure, there have been some well-publicized privacy horror stories overseas. But American companies have been handling credit cards and financial records offshore for years with no evidence that there are any more privacy abuses or breaches overseas than domestically.

"The security of data is not determined by where it is geographically,'' says Dave Wyle, president and CEO of SurePrep. Wyle's California-based company employs a largely Indian workforce to help accounting firms with data entry and other tasks involved in tax preparation.

Wyle describes SurePrep's Indian operations as airtight. Customer data is stored at a highly secure data center in Irvine. All electronic correspondence with India is scrambled with the highest level of commercially available encryption. At the Indian offices there are no removable data storage devices, no printers, no Internet connections or telephones that reach outside the building. Workers aren't even allowed to bring paper and pens to take notes or cell phones to make unauthorized calls.

By comparison, Wyle says, at U.S. firms you'll find paper files stuffed with sensitive data lying around, data stored in removable hard drives and e-mail everywhere. "SurePrep has better security than any firm I've ever seen,'' says Wyle.

I have no way to confirm Wyle's claims, and it's likely that many other firms are less careful than SurePrep.

But Wyle makes a good point. American companies have been hacked countless times. Rogue employees have stolen and sold data from the most pedigreed blue chip companies. Once stolen, data is only a click away from Romania, Russia or any other organized crime haven. Because privacy laws in the U.S. are weak, at best, companies that are lax about data security rarely face consequences.

"We need to get our privacy protections in order first, before we start chastising other countries,'' says Chris Larsen, CEO of E-Loan.

Read both pieces.

posted by Dan at 01:01 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (1)

Pretty good

As a first step to overcomung my funk, it's worth looking at the good news coming out of the country of Georgia. The Economist reports:

Almost all post-Soviet states are failing, but some fail more than others. That rule helps in understanding the success this week of Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgia’s youthful president, in reasserting control over the breakaway region of Ajaria. In the days of his predecessor, Edward Shevardnadze, this comic-opera statelet in Georgia’s south-west corner functioned a bit less badly than the rest of the country: it was a fief of its diminutive leader, Aslan Abashidze, who enjoyed cosy relations with local Russian generals and a share of the spoils from cross-border trade in oil and other commodities. Compared with the chaos in the rest of Georgia, Ajaria was a haven of normality; streets were swept and opposition barely existed.

But things are different under Mr Saakashvili, who forced Mr Abashidze to flee the country on Wednesday May 5th—calling him a “mini-Saddam Hussein”—and then flew to Batumi, Ajaria’s capital, to savour victory. The new Georgian leader has brought fresh dynamism, plus a thumping popular mandate, to the task of making his country more of a proper state.

Mr Shevardnadze was swept from power six months ago in a peaceful uprising that became known as Georgia’s “rose revolution”. The 37-year-old Mr Saakashvili won the election that followed by a landslide and took office in January. Since then, he has managed to collect more taxes, raise the pay of customs officers, pay pensions and arrest some very rich people. The way these folk have been hauled in and induced to pay large sums of money to the Georgian treasury might not always satisfy Mr Saakashvili’s erstwhile law professors at New York’s Columbia University. But it has started to look as though Georgia is the real state—and Ajaria the failed one.

That is how Mr Saakashvili was able to raise the pressure on Mr Abashidze to step down and seek haven in Russia. “The time for babbling is over,” the president said, as he ordered his army—whose abilities American advisers have struggled to improve—to stage exercises on the statelet’s boundary. “We will never again allow the appropriation of any part of Georgia by bandits, narcotics dealers and local feudal lords.” For all his subsequent defiance, Mr Abashidze’s power melted away. His coastguard—one seaworthy ship—sailed to Poti. The commander of an army brigade based in Batumi declared his loyalty to Mr Abashidze, only to find most subordinates going the other way. Thousands demonstrated in support of Mr Saakashvili in Batumi (he claims to have 90% support in the region). Finally, late on Wednesday, a former Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, who had helped to ease out Mr Shevardnadze last November, performed the same trick with Mr Abashidze. A jubilant Mr Saakashvili told the people of Batumi “you are heroes”. He added that “Georgia will be united”.

It may also become a bit less poor as a result of Mr Abashidze’s departure. Having introduced presidential rule in Ajaria, Mr Saakashvili can now get his hands on its port, which handles 200,000 barrels of oil per day, and a busy customs post on the border with Turkey. These could provide much-needed foreign exchange for the central government’s depleted coffers.

Glenn Reynolds links to The Argus, who has a passel of useful links and information, including the U.S. role in assisting Saakashvili.

posted by Dan at 11:45 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Not good

It's hard not to be discouraged about the information coming out from the Taguba Report, as well as the additional pictures and private correspondence suggesting that the pattern of prisoner abuse was wider than originally thought. Josh Marshall links to this Sy Hersh quote last night on O'Reilly:

First of all, it's going to get much worse. This kind of stuff was much more widespread. I can tell you just from the phone calls I've had in the last 24 hours, even more, there are other photos out there. There are many more photos even inside that unit. There are videotapes of stuff that you wouldn't want to mention on national television that was done. There was a lot of problems.

There was a special women's section. There were young boys in there. There were things done to young boys that were videotaped. It's much worse. And the Maj. Gen. Taguba was very tough about it. He said this place was riddled with violent, awful actions against prisoners.

On top of all this, the White House's official "I want it publicly known that I'm displeased with Rumsfeld but I'm not actually going to say it or do anything about it but leak it to the press" policy is, as Jacob Levy observes, truly bizarre.

You can say, as Victor Davis Hanson did, that at least the U.S. is now coming to grips with the problem -- and that the system worked in exposing these abuses. Glenn Reynolds and Tacitus offer their useful perspectives of what to do now.

Me? I've moved beyond denial and anger and into depression. It's not good any time Matthew Yglesias and Ramesh Ponnuru agree that things are bad. As Phil Carter put it:

We are advancing an idea of Western liberalism (small 'l') against an ideal of Islamic radicalism.... To win this war, we must be seen as the guys wearing the white hats. Suffice to say, these images utterly destroy that effort, and will make it very hard to convince foreign nations and nationals of our commitment to the rule of law, and to Western liberal ideals.

posted by Dan at 11:29 AM | Comments (57) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Behold my mighty marginal influence

John Hawkins of Right Wing News has used Alexa to compile a list of "The Top 125 Political Websites On The Net." John Hinderaker estimates there are 35 blogs on the list.

Yours truly is there at #119, but I suspect that if the various blogs that reside at Blogspot were disaggregated, I'd fall off that list pretty fast.

Until then, I'll just use my lofty perch to advance the forces of good -- or try to get a BMW. I haven't made my mind up yet on this one.

posted by Dan at 04:53 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Arts & Ideas, R.I.P. (1997-2004)

The New York Observer's Rachel Donadio reports that in September, the New York Times will be eliminating its Saturday Arts & Ideas section from the paper.

To which I can only say, Amen.

I've never forgiven that section of the paper from running an article back in the summer of 2001 claiming that Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's Empire was "the next big idea" in international relations theory. Based on that article, I purchased the hardcover edition of the book and wasted several hours of my life wrestling with their turgid prose and nonfalsifiable nostrums (Alan Wolfe efficiently dissected the "meandering, wordy, and incoherent book" in this The New Republic review from late 2001).

According to Donadio, it appears I was far from the only one to dislike this section of the Saturday paper of record:

Since its launch in 1997, the section has become a favorite punching bag for intellectual journalists of all stripes, with Mr. [Lee] Siegel shouting where others have only dared to whisper. (In a New Republic article in 1998, he famously called Arts & Ideas "a weekly banana peel dropped in the path of human intelligence.") "The problem with the section was the nature of the section," Mr. Siegel said. "You just can’t isolate ‘ideas’ from the rest of culture, of life."....

Its on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand approach makes for toothless coverage of ideas that already don’t necessarily lend themselves to newspaper word-lengths or style. As one intellectual journalist and Times-watcher summed up the problem: "They don’t use semi-colons."

"I never felt it had a very strong identity," Jay Rosen, a press critic and professor at the New York University School of Journalism, said of the section.

The Observer also quotes from Siegel's hysterical parody of the section:

"Professor A thinks that all urban Americans more than 20 pounds overweight should be exterminated in order to increase leg room on buses and subways. Professor B thinks this violated the civil rights of overweight people. Of course, this is an old argument, one that goes back to the first century, when the Romans would routinely shorten their slaves in order to have a clearer view of the street during rush hours. Professor C thinks that this argument will continue ‘for as long as people share the public space with other people.’"

posted by Dan at 03:21 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (2)

The ultimate BMW ad

In their wildest dreams, there is no way that the managers of BMW could have hoped for this piece of good news for their male drivers (according to Reuters):

BMW drivers have more sex than owners of any other cars and are much more active than Porsche drivers, a new German car magazine has found.

The German magazine “Men’s Car” found in a survey of 2,253 motorists aged 20 to 50 published in its inaugural May issue that male BMW drivers say they have sex on average 2.2 times each week while Porsche drivers have sex 1.4 times per week....

Among women, French car drivers were top with 2.1 times per week followed by Audi (2.0), Italian (2.0), and BMW (1.9) with Porsche again at the bottom of the scale at 1.2 times per week.

One does have to wonder if Porsche's poor performance is correlated with the car's paucity of space, which can lead to.... er... maneuvering difficulties, if one were to attempt to perform the deed in the car.

This is a job for Mickey Kaus' Gearbox if there ever was one -- although he's not a big fan of the Porsche anyway.

UPDATE: Mickey e-mails to say, "they [male BMW drivers] only SAY they have sex 2.2 times a week." Of course, male Porsche drivers only say they have sex 1.4 times a week. This leads to one of two possibilities:

1) Male BMW drivers have more sex than male Porsche drivers; or,

2) Male Porsche drivers are more discrete about their sexual activities than male BMW drivers.

Given the styling of both auto brands, I have to think that (1) is more likely than (2). In my mind, Porsches seem flashier than BMWs. One would therefore expect Porsche buyers to be more flamboyant/open than the buttoned-down BMWers, not less so.

Furthermore, the fact that the poll shows a similar gap among female responsdents -- who one might expect to be more modest in their survey responses due to historical double standards on this question -- leads me to think that this isn't a response bias problem.

Yes, I just wasted ten minutes on this addendum that I will never have back.

posted by Dan at 01:08 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (1)

Fun with BLS numbers

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a Mass Layoff Statistics program, in which firms that lay off 50 or more workers must provide as reason for such a move to the BLS. Those reasons range from automation to product line discontinuation. Offshore outsourcing is not one of the options, but "import competition" and "overseas relocation" are options. So, it's possible to estimate the extent to which offshore outsourcing is respinsible for job destruction via mass layoffs [How do you know that the firms aren't lying to the government?--ed. You don't -- but since the names of the firms are kept strictly confidential, there's no reason for them to lie either]. You can do it too -- just click here to create your own table.

Here are the percentages of jobs lost through mass layoffs because of either import competition or overseas relocation for the last seven years:

1996: 1.78%
1997: 1.87%
1998: 2.10%
1999: 2.50%
2000: 1.82%
2001: 2.88%
2002: 1.89%
2003: 2.41%

Now, these figures do not cover instances when a firm let go less than 50 people, so clearly there's a bias in the data towars multinational corporations over small businesses. That said, these numbers reveal two important facts:

1) Offshore outsourcing is not responsible for a significant percentage of the jobs that have been lost.

2) There is no evidence that offshore outsourcing is responsible for an increasing number of jobs lost over time.

Finally, some have argued that the massive increases in U.S. labor productivity are due to sloppy GDP accounting: "[T]he work done by Indian software firms is being recorded as US economic activity and growth because it's been offshored." If true, this would be a serious measurement error, since the government would be overstating both economic growth and labor productivity

The BLS issued a memo in late March on this very issue back in March that's worth perusing. The highlights:

[W]e have experienced nearly 13 years of faster productivity growth. While a number of explanations have been put forth and to this list some have added measurement issues related to outsourcing and offshoring, any set of explanations should cover not just the last few years, but the entire 13 year period....

Offshoring affects business sector productivity change only through changes in the composition of domestic production and its effect is likely to be small. In manufacturing, the combination of domestic outsourcing and offshoring has contributed about 1.5% per year to sectoral output per hour growth through 1995 but only about 1% per year thereafter and as a result, they do not appear to be an explanation for the productivity speed-up.

This conclusion must be qualified in two ways. First, there is no information on the relative importance of offshoring relative to domestic outsourcing and so it is not known if foreign suppliers have become a growing substitute for domestic suppliers of intermediate inputs. Even if they have, under reasonable assumptions, offshoring appears to explain only a small fraction of the productivity speed-up. Second, not all BLS data extend beyond 2001 and so it cannot be ascertained if there has been a sudden shift in trends. Even if there has, the impact of outsourcing and offshoring on productivity change is likely to be small.

posted by Dan at 12:47 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Insourcing roundup

While we're talking about offshore outsourcing, here are a few stories about the benefits that accrue to the United States from insourcing. The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Stephen Koff reports on Honda's Ohio operations as an example of this phenomenon:

Honda, celebrating its 25th year here this summer, has provided a multibillion-dollar boon for central Ohio, with five large factories plus research and engineering facilities and a test track. Last year, it spent more than $7 billion just on parts from 175 suppliers in the state.

Bush cited its success in March when he said that global trade flows two ways, and without it Ohio would not have Honda and its jobs.

In pure dollar terms, insourcing -- whether from Japan-based Honda, or Switzerland-based Nestle, or Dutch-owned Tops markets, to name three firms in Ohio -- has had a significant impact on the American economy. Even counting the steep dropoff that followed the terrorist attacks and recession in 2001, Commerce Department figures show that over the last 10 years, foreign-based companies poured more money into U.S. operations than U.S. companies sent abroad.

Furthermore, most of the foreign investment in the United States came directly from abroad - whereas Commerce Department data show that nearly half the American money sent abroad was actually reinvested earnings.

The Associated Press' Charles Sheehan makes a similar point in analyzing the effect of outsourcing and insourcing in Pennsylvania:

economists note that globalization is a two-way street: States like Pennsylvania also benefit greatly from foreign companies sending jobs to their American subsidiaries, offshoring in reverse.

Dozens of jobs at C&D Technologies, a Lancaster County company that produces electrical power storage and conversion products, are being shipped to Mexico this summer because C&D was losing money. Yet Nissin, a Japanese company also operating in Lancaster County, has 248 employees making dried noodle soups.

In neighboring Berks County, Agere Systems Inc. sent 3,000 jobs to Mexico and Spain after it announced a plant closing in January 2001.

On the flip side, about 190 miles west, Sony's Technology Center-Pittsburgh in Westmoreland County employs 2,400 people, about 20 percent from neighboring Fayette County, where unemployment is consistently above state levels. And they may have to hire more with digital television orders booming.

To be fair, some of the numbers on insourcing are contested. The Economic Policy Institute's Robert Scott and Adam Hersh argue that the number of jobs created due to insourcing isvastly overstated, because those figures include cases of acquisition rather than greenfield investment -- i.e., Daimler's takeover of Chrysler. Unanswered is whether foreign acquisition prevents those firms and jobs from disappearing entirely. For a counter, read the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's April report, "Jobs, Trade, Sourcing, and the Future of the American Workforce.”

posted by Dan at 12:00 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Outsourcing roundup

Some odds & ends on outsourcing:

1) For the most recent spate of reporting on the phenomenon, you could do far worse than what's been written by the Portland Press Herald's Edward Murphy or Fortune's Jeremy Kahn. The first article looks at the effect that offshore outsourcing is having on medical transcription. The latter looks at how offshore outsourcing is affecting small businesses. Both are complex tales, but there's a familiar pattern -- the jobs being outsourced are the ones that could also disappear through automation.

2) I received an illuminating e-mail from a call center manager at America Online's Arizona facility:

I'm not sure what all the hand wringing is about, but anybody who is worried about job losses should come talk to our Tucson job recruiter -- she can't find enough people to fill the jobs we have. We are hiring big time!

As far as jobs lost, well it's true, America Online sent about 1200 jobs to Bangalore, India, but the net result means our own employees no longer have to work graveyard shifts. Thus, their quality of life is improved because they can spend more time with their families, and single parents don't have to sweat finding day care for an 11pm to 7am shift anymore. We haven't closed a single call center in the US, and there are PLENTY of jobs available at any of our call centers in Arizona, Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Florida. My own employees earn between $40,000 to $60,000....not a bad wage for Tucson, Arizona let me tell you.

posted by Dan at 11:40 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Wal-Mart vs. Jesse Jackson

Dan Mihalopoulos has a story in today's Chicago Tribune on the contentious neighborhood politics Wal-Mart faces in trying to open new stores in the Windy City:

When the City Council votes Wednesday on whether to make zoning changes to allow the West Side Wal-Mart store and another store on the South Side, aldermen will decide a furious dispute that has opened rifts in the predominantly black neighborhoods where the world's largest retailer wants to open shop.

With each side invoking Scripture, the debate has unleashed complex passions among area African-Americans, whose public policy opinions frequently--and mistakenly--are seen as monolithic.

Concerns largely center on wages and benefits at Wal-Mart, and critics recite widely reported complaints that the company abuses workers, particularly those who try to unionize its 1.4 million employees.

But many blacks say they are tired of having to travel miles to hunt for bargains and they view Wal-Mart's entry into Chicago as validation of black buying power.

"I'd rather spend my money in my neighborhood than go to somebody's suburb," said Krystal Garrett, a 27-year-old public school teacher and homeowner in Chatham, the South Side neighborhood where Wal-Mart wants to build a store.

As a fellow South Sider, let me just second Krystal's sentiments there. This is not a case where Wal-Mart would put "mom & pop stores" out of business, since there are appallingly few retail options in these neighborhoods.

However, local African-American leaders have taken a different and depressingly predictable position:

Proponents also say the 300 low-wage jobs at each store are better than having no jobs at all.

Such attitudes reek of "desperation and ghettonomics," according to Rev. Jesse Jackson. Pastors at nine black churches, including the 8,500-member Trinity United Church of Christ, have called for boycotting Wal-Mart.

William Lucy, president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, sarcastically noted that slaves technically had jobs too.

"If Wal-Mart comes, it will come recognizing that this is not Tupelo," Lucy said on Jackson's TV program recently. "This is Chicago, where you have got to deal with the political and religious and community leadership." (emphasis added)

I can see the campaign commercial now: "Chicago's political and religious and community leadership -- keeping jobs out of your neighborhood until we get ours!!"

UPDATE: Kevin Brancato -- who helps run a blog devoted exclusively to Wal-Mart -- links to this Business Week article about Wal-Mart's devastating effects on urban centers:

The Wal-Mart at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in South Central Los Angeles sits across the street from the kind of stores you'll find in any struggling big-city neighborhood. There's Lili's Wigs and King's Furniture and Mama's House, which promises the "Best Soul Food in Town." Last year, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. took over a space that had been vacant since Macy's left five years ago. Since then, it has lured black and Latino shoppers with low prices on everything from videos to toothpaste. And now that people can stay in the neighborhood for bargains, something else interesting is happening: They're stopping at other local stores, too.

"The traffic is definitely there. We're seeing more folks," says Harold Llecha, a cashier at Hot Looks, a nearby clothier. The same is happening at other nearby shops, say retailers. They acknowledge that these shoppers don't always buy from them. On some items, Wal-Mart prices can't be beat. And a handful of local shops have closed. But the larger picture is that many that were there before the big discounter arrived are still there. There are new jobs now where there were none. And a moribund mall is regaining vitality. In short, Wal-Mart came in -- and nothing bad happened....

A new Wal-Mart can indeed gut a small burg's downtown. But urban big-box retailing is so new that economists are just beginning to get a handle on it. A 2003 study by Emek Basker at the University of Missouri found that five years after the opening of Wal-Marts in most markets, there is a small net gain in retail employment in counties where they're located, with a drop of only about 1% in the number of small local businesses. That is consistent with what seems to have happened in Baldwin Hills. Basker has also found significant price benefits: Retail prices for many goods fall 5% to 10%.

You can read Basker's paper about Wal-Mart by clicking here.

Thank goodness the good Reverend Jackson is here to prevent these pernicious effects from taking place in Chicago!!

posted by Dan at 05:58 PM | Comments (30) | Trackbacks (2)

Gore TV!!

Reuters reports that Al Gore has found a day job -- trying to become the next Rupert Murdoch:

Former Vice President Al Gore plans to build a youth-oriented cable television network he hopes will become an independent voice in a media industry dominated by large conglomerates, he said on Tuesday.

Gore led an investor group that bought Newsworld International from Vivendi Universal for an undisclosed sum. He plans to relaunch the yet-unnamed channel to focus on public affairs and entertainment for 18-to-34-year-olds and it will not have a political affiliation.

Speculation has swirled that Gore would launch a network to counter Fox News Channel, which unseated CNN as the No. 1 U.S. cable news channel with a formula of combining hard news coverage with brash talk shows that some have criticized as conservative.

"This is not going to be a liberal network, or a Democratic network in any way, shape, or form," the former vice president said.

Rather, he said, the reason for buying the network was to create an independent source of information.

"The trend toward consolidation and conglomerate ownership, while understandable due to business dynamics, does present some problems for the American people," Gore said. "Having an independent voice is a very important value to safeguard."

Gore will serve as chairman of the new network and told Reuters he would be spending most of his time on the project.

"I will be extremely active in this venture and I will not hesitate to state a point of view on the issues that affect the industry," Gore said....

Gore and [business partner Joel] Hyatt gave little information on what would replace the current programing.

"It's going to be programing young people care about," Hyatt said. "The documentary is a format we'll use. We're going to use the comedic format. We're going to be irreverent. We're going to be bold."

Readers are invited to submit programming ideas here -- beyond the obviously brilliant suggestion of hiring lots of bloggers.

UPDATE: For those hard at work trying to come up with program ideas, this Zap2it story quotes Gore more extensively on the desired content:

"We are launching an exciting television network for young men and women who want to know more about their world and who enjoy real-life stories created with, by and for their own generation," says Gore, who will serve as chairman of INdTV. "These stories will be in a voice that young people recognize and from a point of view they identify as their own."

Well, that clears things right up.

ANOTHER UPDATE: So far, my faves are the reality TV suggestion "Alpha Male Makeover" and the game show called "The Lock Box".

posted by Dan at 05:27 PM | Comments (76) | Trackbacks (4)

Useless international organization dept.

Patrick Belton links to this Associated Press report:

African nations have ensured that Sudan will keep its seat on the U.N. Human Rights Commission, a decision that angered the United States and human rights advocates who cited reports of widespread rights abuses by the Khartoum government....

Under U.N. rules, regional groups decide which countries are nominated to fill seats on U.N. bodies.

The African group waited until late last week to present its list of four candidates for four seats -- guaranteeing election for Kenya, Sudan, Guinea and Togo.

The United States scrambled to get another African nation to apply in an effort to make it a contested race and unseat Sudan. But with so little time it was unsuccessful, U.N. diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity....

In recent years, Human Rights Watch has complained that the growing number of nations on the 53-member commission with poor human rights records have been sticking together to cover up abuses.

The coalition has backed a proposal endorsed by over 100 governments to create a permanent United Nations democracy caucus. One of its goals would be to press for more democracies on the Human Rights Commission, said Ted Piccone, executive director of the Democracy Coalition Project.

Last year, the United States walked out of the U.N. Economic and Social Council to protest Cuba's re-election to the Human Rights Commission, which it called "an outrage." Russia, Saudi Arabia and several African countries with poor human rights records also won seats and Libya chaired the commission.

Click here for a previous post that discusses Sudan.

Here's a thought -- why not just disband the U.N. Commission on Human Rights? At this juncture, its sole purpose for existence seems to be to whitewash the activities of authoritarian regimes, bestowing undeserved legitimacy on these governments. Wouldn't a caucus of democracies be more likely to speak its mind outside of the United Nations system?

[Why not just disband the whole UN?--ed. Because in a world of sovereign states, it is necessary to have an organization that encompasses all of them. Besides, the organization has its uses.]

posted by Dan at 10:36 AM | Comments (45) | Trackbacks (2)

North Korea talks to Selig Harrison

The Financial Times reports that North Korea has told Selig Harrison -- a North Korea expert who has acted as a conduit for North Korean diplomatic proposals in the past -- that it has no plans to sell its nuclear material to Al Qaeda:

North Korea, probably the world's most secretive and isolated nation, has offered an olive branch to the US by promising never to sell nuclear materials to terrorists, calling for Washington's friendship and saying it does not want to suffer the fate of Iraq.

Senior members of the communist regime have spelt out proposals for solving the simmering crisis over their nuclear weapons programmes in an unusually frank series of interviews with Selig Harrison, the Washington-based Korean expert....

Kim Yong-nam, deputy to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, said in a two-hour interview: "We're entitled to sell missiles to earn foreign exchange.

"But in regard to nuclear material our policy past, present and future is that we would never allow such transfers to al-Qaeda or anyone else. Never."

Paik Nam-soon, foreign minister, denounced al-Qaeda and other terrorists and said George W. Bush, US president, was using the shock of the September 11 attacks to turn Americans against North Korea. But he said: " The truth is that we want and need your friendship."

Mr Kim rejected the notion that North Korea would never give up nuclear weapons. He argued that Pyongyang - branded by Mr Bush as part of the "axis of evil" - was developing nuclear weapons purely to deter a US attack. "We don't want to suffer the fate of Iraq," he told Mr Harrison....

Mr Kim told Mr Harrison he thought Mr Bush was delaying resolution of the North Korean issue because of the war in Iraq and the US presidential election later this year.

But he said: "Time is not on his side. We are going to use this time 100 per cent effectively to strengthen our nuclear deterrent both quantitatively and qualitatively. Why doesn't he accept our proposal to dismantle our programme completely and verifiably through simultaneous steps by both sides?"

The problem with these kind of dimplomatic messages is that they merely confirm the predispositions of the different elements of the Bush administration. To Powell the pragmatists, this is evidence that North Korea's government is willing to strike a bargain in return for its continued existence. To Cheney the conservatives, North Korea's prior duplicity means that the government cannot be trusted under any circumstances. Overtures like these are merely evidence that the regime is close to cracking.

I'm betting that Bush will side with the conservatives on this one.

posted by Dan at 12:40 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

The Asian brown cloud

The Chicago Tribune's front-pager yesterday was a James P. Miller story about the effect of Chinese air pollution -- the "Asian brown cloud" -- on U.S. weather. Some of the tidbits:

Add one more item to the long list of things Asia exports to the United States: air pollution.

The contaminated air that rides the jet stream to Trinidad is laced with the sulfates and soot from Asia's industrial smokestacks, and nitrogen oxides that emerge from tailpipes of Asia's rapidly growing fleet of automobiles. It contains particles from fires set to clear jungles for farming, and from the millions of households that burn coal, wood or animal dung for heating and cooking.

Scientists identified the phenomenon five years ago. The Asian brown cloud, researchers now know, routinely climbs high enough into the atmosphere to hitch a ride on the fast-moving jet stream heading east to North America. In April and May, when seasonal winds are strongest, the high-altitude pollution can cross the Pacific in as little as four days....

So far, the increase in ground-level pollution that the Asian brown cloud causes in the United States is "not catastrophic, or even critical," said David Parrish, a research chemist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Aeronomy Lab in Boulder, Colorado....

A cloud heavy with particles of dust or pollution is whiter than a non-polluted cloud, because water droplets condense around the particles, explained [scientist V.] Ramanathan.

"Double the aerosols, double the droplets," he said. That means polluted clouds reflect sunlight more efficiently than a clean cloud. And that, in turn, affects the weather.

When clouds scatter sunlight, ground-level temperature declines. Such unnaturally high reflectivity also can suppress rainfall, or it can hold rain back so long that when it finally does fall to earth, it comes in the form of a damaging downpour, said Ramanathan.

Some researchers, in fact, think the extra-white clouds caused by dirty air are helping to offset the global warming effect. That would offer an explanation for the unsettling fact that "the planet hasn't warmed as much as the models suggest it should," given the amount of greenhouse gas that humans have released into the atmosphere, the researcher said.

The Asian cloud is only the first and largest of a number of high-atmosphere brown clouds scientists have discovered. This summer, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is funding a major study of a similar blotch found hovering a mile or more above the eastern U.S. (and which sends a plume of dirty air trailing toward Europe.)

It's not clear if there are any policy implications from this -- but I hadn't seen the phenomenon reported previously.

posted by Dan at 12:28 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, May 3, 2004

Random quote of the day

While reading a Philip Pettit paper for the U of C's Political Theory Workshop (a forum I attend maybe once a year), I came across a priceless quote. It's by John Wallis, a 17th century mathemetician at Oxford, about one of his rivals, a Mr. Thomas Hobbes, author of Leviathan and, in many important ways, the father of modern political science. It would be safe to say that Wallis was not a real Hobbes fan. The quote reads:

Mr. Hobs is very dexterous in confuting others by putting a new sense on their words rehearsed by himself: different from what the words signifie with other Men. And therefore if you shall have occasion to speak of Chalk, He'll tell you that by Chalk he means Cheese: and then if he can prove that what you say ofChalk is not true of Cheese, he reckons himself to have gotten a great victory.

posted by Dan at 04:13 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

I apologize for not posting this earlier

Jacob Levy's latest TNR Online essay is about the art and politics of apologizing. The key paragraph:

Apologies are a tricky business in politics. Bill Clinton was endlessly apologizing, both for his own misdeeds and for those of other people. He apologized so often, for so many things, and accompanied these apologies with so little substantive action, that it led to a kind of apology inflation--a devaluation of the worth of any given apology in the political sphere. And yet, compared with the adamant refusal of Bush and his cabinet officials to take any responsibility at all for anything having to do with 9/11 or the Iraq war, Clinton's substance-free brand of apology is beginning to look better and better. Even an acknowledgement that "mistakes were made"--a notorious passive-voice, bureaucratic quasi-evasion of responsibility--would be music to our ears just about now.

OK, sorry, but I lied -- the whole piece is nothing but key paragraphs.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 03:09 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (1)

Health care and techological innovation

Newt Gingrich and Patrick Kennedy have co-authored a New York Times op-ed on the need for the health care sector to embrace the information revolution. [Hey, wasn't this Catherine Mann's point in her essay on IT and outsourcing?--ed. Why, I believe it was one of them, yes.] They have some fascinating data:

The archaic information systems of our hospitals and clinics directly affect the quality of care we receive. When you go to a new doctor, the office most likely has little information about you, no ability to track how other providers are treating you, and no systematic way to keep up with scientific breakthroughs that might help you.

The results are predictable. For example, approximately 20 percent of medical tests are ordered a second time simply because previous results can't be found. Research shows that 30 cents of every dollar spent on health care does nothing to make sick people better. That's $7.4 trillion over the next decade for duplicate tests, preventable errors, unnecessary hospitalizations and other waste....

In addition, most referrals and prescriptions are still written by hand; computerized entry would eliminate errors caused by sloppy handwriting. Computer programs can warn doctors of possible adverse drug and allergy interactions, and remind them of new advances in evidence-based practice guidelines. Patients could also have easier access to their important health information, allowing them to be active participants in their own care.

Moreover, in a post-9/11 world, electronic health information networks would allow doctors, hospitals and public health officials to rapidly detect and respond to a bioterrorism attack.

Unfortunately, health care providers are famously stingy investors in information technology. The primary reason is that when new technology reduces the duplication, errors and unnecessary care, most of the financial benefits don't go to the providers who generate the savings, but to insurers and patients.

Therefore, widespread adoption of technology will depend in large part on federally organized public-private partnerships. Treasury dollars could help bring providers in a particular part of the country together to map out plans for a regional health information network, and to divide up the costs and the savings fairly between them. Medicare could sweeten the pot by reimbursing providers for money spent to use electronic health records connected to a regional network.

The one thing that Gingrich and Kennedy do not discuss is privacy concerns -- although if people are willing to have their financial information computerized, it's hard to see how health information is qualititatively different.

posted by Dan at 12:01 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (1)

Sunday, May 2, 2004

Back on the telly again

My outsourcing mediafest continues -- I'll be on CNNfn's Dolans Unscripted this Monday morning at around 10:10 AM Eastern Daylight Time.

Outsourcing will be the topic -- but it's unscripted, so who knows what could come up in conversation!!

UPDATE: Well, that went better than my last CNN experience. I'm sure the 2,000 household that get CNNfn enjoyed it.

C'mon, Lou Dobbs -- if CNNfn and CNN International are willing to interview me on outsourcing, what are you so afraid of?

I dare you, Lou. I double-dog-dare you.

posted by Dan at 08:20 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (1)

Warning -- technical difficulties may be ahead

Over the past 24 hours I've been inundated with a few hundred spam comments. This is forcing me to do something I should have done a long time ago -- download MT Blacklist to deal with the problem.

However, given my lack of html-savviness, this may not take place in a completely smooth fashion.

So, if there's no posting for a while, you know the reason.

UPDATE -- Oh, man, this is awesome!! I should have done this ages ago. Thank you, Jay Allen!!

posted by Dan at 06:38 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (1)