Saturday, May 27, 2006
Why limit the free trade rule to economists?
I'll believe that this is all about altruism when I see an open letter from economists demanding that we scrap the complicated H1B visa system and instead allow unrestricted immigration of foreign college professors without all these requirements about prevailing wages, work conditions, non-displacement, good-faith recruitment of natives, etc. Obviously, there are many foreign born professors in the United States, but there could be many more, wages for academics could be lower, and college tuitions could be significantly lower. If there's really no difference between "us" and "them" economists should be leading the charge to disassemble the system of employment protections they enjoy.To which Brad DeLong replies:
I'll pick up the gauntlet:Greg Mankiw is on board as well.
Yglesias wanted only economists to respond, but both Alex's letter and Brad's rule applied to other academics as well. So I'm in too. Bring it on!!
UPDATE: Comments on this thread and others devoted to this topic suggest that tenure needs to be abolished for this to work properly. There is an intuitive logic to this, since this is all about increasing flexibility in labor markets. That said, I find this connection intriguing, since a) tenure is not a government-imposed restriction on the academic marketplace; and b) the commenters seem to assume that if tenure were abolished as a norm it would disappear from the face of the earth.
In actuality, ceteris paribus, the elimination of tenure could just as easily raise faculty salaries as lower them. Furthermore, I suspect that the institution of tenure would be replaced by an..... institution that looks an awful lot like tenure. Universities will still compete after top talent, and one of the ways to keep such talent would be to lock them in with long-term contracts. This institution would probably have a more limited domain than what exists now, but it would exist.
Friday, May 26, 2006
Pen and paper rule!
Maplesoft -- "the leading provider of high-performance software tools for engineering, science and mathematics" -- commissioned a survey of "scientists, engineers, and researchers" to find out how they do their calculations. I think they found the results disturbing:
[A]ccording to an international survey, mathematical calculations in engineering and academia are still most often performed with pencil and paper. On a daily basis, respondents turn to scratchpads and calculators more frequently than any other tool for mathematical tasks. The same survey also revealed this community largely considers its field of work and study to be “fully modern” and “taking full advantage of modern tools and technology.”Count me among the pen-and-paper crowd, sort of. There's no way in hell I'd start any theoretical modeling by typing it into a computer program. On the other hand, there's no way in hell I'd do any kind of statistical analysis or straight number-crunching by hand. Looking at the survey itself, it seems that engineers think of design in the same way that I think about theoretical modeling -- which makes intuitive sense to me.
My question to readers: Is my use of pen-and-paper is simply an artifact of my age, and as people who have used computers since they were in diapers enter the scientific workforce, they will discard these ancient tools? Or is there something about the act of scribbling down initial thoughts about models or designs on paper that makes it work better than electronic entry?
[You meant pencil and paper, right?--ed. I'm left-handed, and therefore stopped using pencils at the earliest moment possible.]
All the cool petrostates are doing it!!
Expropriation was a hot topic of study in international politcal economy in the seventies, when it seemed like the phenomenon was going to be a permanent feature. In the eighties, the diffusion of free-market ideas and the collapse of communism rendered that topic pretty much inert.
I suspect we're going to start seeing a few dissertations on the topic sprouting up soon, however. Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela... this is definitely a trend.
And then there's Russia. Here are the first few paragraphs of Arkady Ostrovsky's "Russian ministry seeks review of oil deals" in the Financial Times:
Russia’s natural resources ministry called on Thursday for a review of the two largest foreign oil projects in the country, even as senior Russian officials sought to assure EU leaders that Russia was a reliable energy partner.Of course, such a thing couldn't happen in the United States. Oh, wait.....
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Are American CEOs lazy?
In U.S. News and World Report, Rick Newman writes about some survey results suggesting that Asian CEOs don't whine as much as American CEOs:
Development Dimensions International, the human-resources firm, recently did a survey of business leaders in the United States and in China. Some provocative findings:I don't find this to be much of a puzzle at all -- American CEOs have greater leisure opportunities than Asian bosses. Neither do I suspect it's quite the dilemma that Newman suggests -- my strong suspicion is that American bosses can devote greater hours to work and personal life than Asian bosses -- because U.S. hours devoted to non-renumerative work have likely declined faster than in Asia.Americans aren't lazy. We all know people who work a full day and bring work home for evenings and weekends. And many parents do that while juggling kids. But Americans have developed expectations that border on unreasonable: prosperity, leisure, and fulfillment, all at once, plus we have a mentality that leads us to believe we're entitled to these things....
There's no puzzle for an obvious reason (which Newman recognizes) -- Americans are much better situated to maximize their utili
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Guy lit summarized
Here, then, is a summary of guy-lit novels:From Michael Kimmel's scathing review of the genre in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
So you want your child to go to college....
I wasn't too fond of doing my homework when I was in middle school and high school, a fact that exasperated my mother to no end. Seventh grade, eighth grade, ninth grade, she would remind me that, "college is coming sooner than you think!!" At the time, I thought this was a bit of melodrama, but as I've gotten older I do recignize a glimmer of wisdom in her point.
Since modern science has yet to devise a way to clone my mother, and modern ethicists have yet to come to grips with the awesome metaphysical implications of having multiple copies of my mother running around in the world, how can the young people get a grip on the importance of college? This is where Quest For College comes in:
Quest For College is an educational board game designed to provide 8th and 9th graders with some early awareness of the opportunities afforded by higher education. The game was created by Gina Coleman, an Associate Director of Admission at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Coleman created this game in 1999 as a reaction to the inequalities she observed between public and private schooled children in terms of preparedness in the college search and application process.Great idea, but there should be a companion game for the helicopter parents that will undoubtedly buy this board game: "Letting Go of Your Children."
Full disclosure: Coleman was a college classmate of mine.
Someone explain the hawks' plans to me
As near as I can figure out, the Bush/Cheney line on Iran is that neither direct dialogue nor indirect dialogue is worth it.
On the direct dialogue, it appears that the administration is ignoring Iran's repeated entreaties for direct negotiations -- at least, that's what I gather from Karl Vick and Dafna Linzer's front-pager in the Washington Post:
Iran has followed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent letter to President Bush with explicit requests for direct talks on its nuclear program, according to U.S. officials, Iranian analysts and foreign diplomats.On the indirect dialogue, Guy Dinmore and Daniel Dombey report in the Financial Times that U.S. hawks don't like the EU3 offering anything to Iran:
Opposition by US “hawks” led by Dick Cheney, the vice-president, is complicating efforts by the main European powers to put together an agreed package of incentives aimed at persuading Iran to suspend its nuclear fuel cycle programme, according to diplomats and analysts in Washington.The last point is a valid one -- the 1994 agreement with North Korea merely kicked the can down the road.
Here's my question, though -- even if this skepticism is warranted, exactly what is the hawkish set of policy options on Iran? Is there any coercive policy instrument that is a) publicly viable; and b) would actually compel Iran into compliance without negotiations?
UPDATE: Some of the comments respond by telling me what the hawks want -- a non-nuclear Iran that undergoes a regime change. Hey, I want those things too -- and a free pony.
This doesn't answer my question, though -- how, exactly, do the hawks plan on attaining these things? I don't think either economic or military coercion will work, unless there's Security Council backing. I don't think a unilateral invasion is publicly or militarily viable. Am I missing something? Why can we offer a peace treaty to North Korea but not talk to Iran?
I've said it before and I'll say it again -- If the regime in Iran is willing to trade off its WMD program in return for the U.S. abstaining from an active policy of regime change, that's a deal worth making.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
The White House goes Vizzini on Treasury
The staff here at danieldrezner.com defines "going Vizzini" when a person or institution repeatedly uses a word or concept differently that everyone else defines it.
The White House seems to view the Treasury Secretary as a salesman's job, as opposed to a position where that requires any requisite policy knowledge, expertise, or anything of that nature. At least, that's what I divined from this Financial Times story by Demetri Sevastopulo, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Caroline Daniel:
Robert Zoellick, the US deputy secretary of state, is preparing to leave the Bush administration and has held talks with Wall Street investment banks on job options, according to people close to the administration.The truly scary thing about that last paragraph is the White House's belief that one can find a Treasury Secretary who would be a salesman while still commanding respect in the markets. To my knowledge, the only value-added John Snow has brought to the Treasury position has been his willingness to be the Bush administration's salesman -- and I'm pretty sure the markets don't respect him all that much.
My question about the stolen veterans' data
I'm still trying to wrap my head around one aspect of this story regarding the apparent theft of 26.5 million military veterans' personal data (names, social security numbers, and birthdates). According to the New York Times, "[The data] was stolen from the residence of a Department of Veterans Affairs employee who had taken the data home without authorization, the agency said Monday."
Let's assume there was authorization -- what possible reason would a DVA employee have to take home that kind of data?
This sort of episode does raise some intriguing questions about supporters of national ID cards or other central registries -- to what extent does the possibility of data piracy negate whatever security gains would be generated by such ideas?
UPDATE: The VA didn't alert the FBI about the stolen data for two friggin' weeks??!!! What did they think -- it would just show up after looking under the couch cushions?
Monday, May 22, 2006
What's the best mass-market paperback novel of the past 25 years?
So the New York Times polled the literary best and brightest to determine the greatest novel of the past 25 years (It's Beloved, for those who don't want to click through). They've also got an interpretive essay by A.O. Scott, and an online discussion forum with novelists Jane Smiley and Michael Cunningham, critic Stephen Metcalf, a critic, and professor of English Morris Dickstein.
I must make the following confession upon reading the top five on the list: I haven't read any of them. Jonathan Demme ruined Beloved for me with his execrable film version of it, though if Stephen Metcalf's assessment in Slate is accurate, I'm not sure how much I'd like it anyway:
What Beloved does feel grounded in, and firmly, is a repudiation of everything that exerts a soft but nonetheless unpleasant authority in a young person's life. In place of the need to master hard knowledge or brute facts, there is folk wisdom; in place of science, animism; in place of the strict father, the self-sufficient matriarchy, first of Baby Suggs', and later Sethe's, house; and finally, in place of a man's world, the hallowed sorority of women, especially women of color—though on this last, Morrison does not insist too heavily.Why don't my tastes overlap with the New York Times Book Review? There are a couple of possibilities.
First, when I flash back to the books that really grabbed me over that span of time, I find I think first of non-American novels -- Salman Rushdie' The Moor's Last Sigh, Milan Kundera's THe Unbearable Lightness of Being, Tibor Fischer's Under the Frog, or Alan Bennett's The Clothes They Stood Up In.
Second, the American books that come to mind -- Allegra Goodman's Kaaterskill Falls, Anne Tyler's Saint Maybe, Tim O'Brien's In the Lake of the Woods -- don't have the sweep of Beloved or Rabbit Angstrom. Meghan O'Rourke -- my latest intellectual crush -- makes this point in her Slate essay on the topic:
The notion that "small" novels are unworthy of high critical esteem has been especially pervasive of late. Somewhere along the way, the critique of the small novel got bound up with a critique of the well-crafted novel that proliferated with the rise of MFA programs. Even as Gatsby, Lolita, and Rabbit Run (all short novels) entered our canon, the "small" novel became inextricably linked in critic's minds with domestic and generally female novels of the sort that Gail Caldwell, the Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic, indicted in a 2003 interview, when she lamented the dire state of American fiction. "There are a great number of contemporary fiction writers who go for the myopic sensitive-heart rending personal blah, blah, blah, blah, blah small novel," she complained, announcing her love of "big brilliant novels" and praising the panoramic skills of Jonathan Franzen and Michael Chabon. In 2004, after the National Book Award nominees were announced—in an act of apparent rebelliousness, the judges had chosen five short, lyrical books by women, leaving off Philip Roth's Plot Against America—Caryn James wrote in the New York Times that the real problem with the finalists was not that they were unknown, but that they did not write "big, sprawling novels."There is a final, possible reason: I like potboilers more than I like highbrow fiction. If I was strapped to a polygraph and had to confess which novel moved me the most in the past 25 years, I'd have to cop to Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs.
So..... the hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com encourages it's readers to submit their choice for the greatest mass-market novel of the past 25 years!! [How is that defined?--ed. Any novel that was popular enough to eventually be released in a mass-market paperback.] My choice is Silence of the Lambs -- let me know yours.
UPDATE: Ah, this post is perfectly timed to coincide with pulp fiction week at Slate!!
Sunday, May 21, 2006
The Saudis have some 'splaining to do
Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House, has a long essay in the Washington Post today on just what Saudi textbooks are saying after they promised to excise some of the more intolerant rhetoric post-9/11:
A review of a sample of official Saudi textbooks for Islamic studies used during the current academic year reveals that, despite the Saudi government's statements to the contrary, an ideology of hatred toward Christians and Jews and Muslims who do not follow Wahhabi doctrine remains in this area of the public school system. The texts teach a dualistic vision, dividing the world into true believers of Islam (the "monotheists") and unbelievers (the "polytheists" and "infidels").What follows is a sample of some of the translated phrases:
FIRST GRADEI have no doubt that this is going to inspire a lot of "The Saudis are not our friends" rhetoric, and I can't say I'm inclined to completely disagree. There is a small part of me, however, that wonders two things:
1) How much cherry-picking is going on with the quotations?I don't know the answer to either question, but I would be curious.