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May 31, 2006

Reagan on the Bureau of Indian Affairs


Source of book image:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0060957573/ref=ed_oe_p/104-5180402-9681554?%5Fencoding=UTF8

 

Michael Deaver, longtime aide to Ronald Reagan, has written an interesting memoir that documents that in most important respects, Reagan was his own boss, worked hard, and had a focused intellect.  

He also documents what most grant:  Reagan was a great communicator.  One element in his success as a communicator is illustrated below:

 

(p. 71)  . . . he would often recount a fictitious yarn of a sobbing bureaucrat he encountered at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  The man was at his desk, crying into his folded arms when Reagan touched him on the shoulder and asked him what was wrong.  "My Indian died, that's what's wrong," came the response.  "What the hell am I supposed to do now?"

 

The citation for Deaver's book is:

Deaver, Michael K.  A Different Drummer:  My Thirty Years with Ronald Reagan.  Reprint ed:  Harper Paperbacks, 2003.

 




May 30, 2006

Spontaneous Order in Cockroaches


Even cockroaches manage to make collective decisions that, seemingly by magic, produce an outcome that benefits everyone (except the people whose kitchens they are in).  When roaches decide where to move in, they must balance crowding against protection against predators.  The goal: pack enough roaches into a shelter to provide strength in numbers, but not so much that dangerous crowding results.

When scientists put roaches into a dish containing identical shelters, they thought the roaches would fill one shelter and then use others for spillover.  But the gregarious bugs defied expectations.

When more than half the bugs could fit into one shelter, they divided into two equal groups:  For instance, when 50 had a choice of three shelters, each with a capacity of 40, 25 cockroaches gathered in one, 25 in another, and none in the third, biologist José Halloy of the Free University of Brussels and colleagues reported last month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dividing up evenly, he says, "spreads benefits and risks among all individuals," rather than having 40 bugs safe and happy while the 10 for whom there was no room at the inn suffer.  But when each of three shelters could hold 70, all 50 cockroaches packed into one.  Each outcome was optimal, producing the greatest safety in numbers without crowding.

Yet no leader assigns lodging. Roaches just check out shelters, with later arrivals deciding that a crowd signifies "this is the place to be."  Overcrowding means "find somewhere else."  A group decision that perfectly balances protection and crowding emerges from dozens of such individual decisions.

For the full story, see: 

Begley, Sharon.  "Buffalo Seek Consensus and Other Tales of How Animals Decide Things."  The Wall Street Journal  (Fri., April 14, 2006):  A11.




May 29, 2006

Kenyan Lawmakers Nearly Double Their Mercedes Mileage Allowances: More on Why Africa is Poor


  The relatively modest vehicle of Francis Ole Kaparo, the speaker of Kenya's National Assembly, contrasts with other Kenyan lawmakers' "Mercedeses, Land Rovers and other typically sleek rides."   Source of photo:   the online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 21  —  It has been a trying year in Kenya, one of the worst in decades, as a severe drought killed off crops and cattle and left millions with empty stomachs and uncertain futures.

In such suffering, members of Parliament have been roused to action as seldom before, finding common ground on an issue so pressing that they threatened to stonewall the budget until it was addressed: another big increase in their compensation.

The move last month to reward themselves in a time of crisis infuriated Kenyan voters, most of whom eke out a living on a fraction of what their elected officials earn.  It also reinforced the notion that this was a political drought, one that owed its origins as much to mismanagement in a country that should be able to feed itself as to the vagaries of nature.

. . .

. . . , some say legislators have lost touch with the poor districts they represent.  Per capita income is about $463 a year, which nobody here would expect a lawmaker to survive on.  Minimum wage is $924 a year, still far too little, in most Kenyans' view, for someone taking care of the nation's business.

But the base compensation that legislators earn is about $81,000 a year, tax free, plus a variety of allowances and perks, which can effectively double their take-home pay.  That means those public servants earn more than most Kenyan corporate executives and outstrip the salaries of many of their counterparts in the developed world.

"They are behaving like we are rich and as if there's no famine and poverty in the country," Maina Kiai, the chairman of the Kenya National Commission of Human Rights, complained recently to the newspaper The Daily Nation.  "They want to make as much money as they can."

The latest increase, which cost the country $2.78 million, nearly doubled the mileage allowances that lawmakers receive for their Mercedeses, Land Rovers and other typically sleek rides.

 

For the full story, see:

MARC LACEY. "Nairobi Journal; Crisis Swirls in Kenya, and Politicians Reward Themselves." The New York Times (Mon., May 22, 2006):

 




May 28, 2006

Hunter-Gatherers Prefer Civilization


Source of photo:  online version of NYT article cited below.

 

(p. A13) The newly arrived Nukak do not provide much detail about why they left.  They just say that "the Green Nukak," a possible reference to Marxist guerrillas, who wear camouflage, told them to leave.

"The Green Nukak said we could not keep walking in the jungle, or else there would be problems," explained Va-di, another Nukak man, whose words were translated from Nukak by Belisario.  "The Green Nukak told us to go where it is safe."

 . . .

In Aguabonita, the scene on a recent day was full of commotion and laughter.  Naked children tugged at the shirts of two foreign journalists, offering big smiles and hugs.  The men quickly welcomed the visitors into a makeshift shelter, where they laughed at some of the questions and, it seemed, wholly innocently at their own odd predicament.

Are they sad?  "No!" cried a Nukak named Pia-pe, to howls of laughter.  In fact, the Nukak said they could not be happier.  Used to long marches in search of food, they are amazed that strangers would bring them sustenance — free.

What do they like most?  "Pots, pants, shoes, caps," said Mau-ro, a young man who went to a shelter to speak to two visitors.

Ma-be added, "Rice, sugar, oil, flour."  Others said they loved skillets.  Also high on the list were eggs and onions, matches and soap and certain other of life's necessities.

"I like the women very much," Pia-pe said, to raucous laughs.

One young Nukak mother, Bachanede, breast-feeding her infant as she talked, said she was happy just to stay still.  "When you walk in the jungle," she said, "your feet hurt a lot."

The men still go into the jungle, searching for monkeys, a delicacy the Nukak cannot seem to live without.  Monkeys are grilled, dismembered and boiled, then eaten piece by piece.  The women still spend their time carefully weaving intricate wristbands and hammocks, using threads from palm leaves.

All live in shelters now, enjoy constant medical attention and, on weekends, stroll into town to take in the sights.  "Nukak life is hard in the jungle," Dr. Maldonado said.  "You wake up thinking about food and you go hunt, you go search for nuts.  So when they see us they think their food problems are over."

That is not to say the Nukak do not have plans.

Ma-be explained that the idea is to grow plantains and yucca and take the crops to town.  "We can exchange it for money," he said, "and exchange the money for other things."  But first they need to learn how to cultivate crops.  The Nukak say they would like their children to go to school.  They also say they do not want to lose traditions, like hunting or speaking their language.  "We do want to join the white family," Pia-pe said, speaking of Colombian society, "but we do not want to forget words of the Nukak."

 

For the full story, see:

JUAN FORERO.  "Leaving the Wild, and Rather Liking the Change."  The New York Times (Thurs., May 11, 2006):  A1 & A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





May 27, 2006

Capitalist Enclave Celebrates Diversity


Barkeep Jae Hyuk Lee in Dublin.  Source of photo:  online version of NYT article cited below.

 

Ireland is a capitalist enclave, in a Europe infused with high taxes, heavy government regulation, and the welfare state.  Captitalism is sometimes portrayed as inhumane, but it is under capitalism that diversity and tolerance thrive:

Like traditional Dublin pubs, bars catering to immigrants operate according to an Irish barman's basic principles: drinks served promptly, customers treated with respect and, when the occasion calls for it, readiness to listen to the troubles of the day.

Since members of many other ethnic groups — from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe — have also opened businesses in the area, Mr. Lee's short, gritty stretch of Parnell Street feels like a bewildering experiment in diversity. This part of Ireland's capital is a microcosmic study of how global migration trends can transform a formerly homogeneous city.

One of Mr. Lee's neighbors displays an array of dangling hair extensions for African women; another sells sausages and bags of pretzels imported from Poland, in three or four different flavors.

The Ice Bar itself has been decorated by an eclectic imagination: Chinese drinking poems are painted on one wall and deer skulls are mounted on another. The patrons are a jumble of students and artsy types, Asian and European, and music fans drawn by Mr. Lee's policy of letting local D.J.'s and Spanish bands take over the sound system.

Mr. Lee likes the "good balance" and says his customers, in an unspoken gesture of good will, drink each other's national beers. "We are curious about another culture," he said. "I'm Korean; I want to have a pint of Guinness instead of Korean beer." And Irish patrons tend to order bottles of Asian brews like Tsingtao from China and Chang from Thailand.

. . .

"Life is quite short, and I wanted to have a look all over the world," he said. "That was my plan. But I realized I quite like this place."

 

For the full story, see:

BRIAN LAVERY.  "DUBLIN JOURNAL; Now, the Barkeeps May Come From the Ends of the Earth."  The New York Times (Tues., May 16, 2006):  A4.

 

 DublinThaiDrinkingPoem.jpg "his customers, in an unspoken gesture of good will, drink each other's national beers."  Source of caption, and photo: online version of NYT article cited above.




May 26, 2006

Mugabe's Hyperinflation: More on Why Africa is Poor


 

(p. A1)  HARARE, Zimbabwe, April 25 — How bad is inflation in Zimbabwe?  Well, consider this:  at a supermarket near the center of this tatterdemalion capital, toilet paper costs $417.

No, not per roll.  Four hundred seventeen Zimbabwean dollars is the value of a single two-ply sheet.  A roll costs $145,750 — in American currency, about 69 cents.

The price of toilet paper, like everything else here, soars almost daily, spawning jokes about an impending better use for Zimbabwe's $500 bill, now the smallest in circulation.

But what is happening is no laughing matter.  For untold numbers of Zimbabweans, toilet paper — and bread, margarine, meat, even the once ubiquitous morning cup of tea — have become unimaginable luxuries.  All are casualties of the hyperinflation that is roaring toward 1,000 percent a year, a rate usually seen only in war zones.

. . .

(p. A11)  Those with spare cash put it not in banks, which pay a paltry 4 to 10 percent annual interest on savings, but in gilt-edged investments like bags of corn meal and sugar, guaranteed not to lose their value.

''There's a surrealism here that's hard to get across to people,'' Mike Davies, the chairman of a civic-watchdog group called the Combined Harare Residents Association, said in an interview.  ''If you need something and have cash, you buy it.  If you have cash you spend it today, because tomorrow it's going to be worth 5 percent less.

''Normal horizons don't exist here.  People live hand to mouth.''

. . .

. . . , Mr.  Mugabe's government has printed trillions of new Zimbabwean dollars to keep ministries functioning and to shield the salaries of key supporters -- and potential enemies -- against further erosion.  Supplemental spending proposed early in April would increase the 2006 spending limits approved last November by fully 40 percent, and more such emergency spending measures are all but certain before the year ends.

. . .

Hyperinflation is a cradle-to-grave experience here.  The government recently announced that the price of childbirth, now $7 million, would rise 463 percent by October.  Funeral costs are to double over the same period.

In rural areas, said one official of a foreign-based charity who declined to be named, fearing consequences from the government, even the barest funeral costs at least $6 million, or about $28.50 -- well beyond most families' means.  The dead are buried in open fields at night, she said.  Recently, she watched one family dismantle their home's cupboard to construct a makeshift coffin.

''I'll never forget that,'' she said.  ''The incredible sadness of it all.''

Critics say that Zimbabwe's rulers are oblivious to such suffering -- last year, Mr. Mugabe completed his own 25-bedroom mansion in a gated suburb north of town, close by the mansions of top ministers and military allies.

 

For the full story, see:

MICHAEL WINES.  "Zimbabwe's Prices Rise 900%, Turning Staples Into Luxuries." The New York Times  (Tues., May 2, 2006):  A1 & A11.




May 25, 2006

Omit the Footnotes?


When I was a graduate student at Chicago, Milton Friedman was rumored to have given a presentation on how to write a doctoral dissertation in which he said something like: 

Take everything nonessential, and move it into footnotes.  Then collect all the footnotes into an appendix.  Finally, delete the appendix.

My memory is that Deirdra McCloskey, in her wonderful advice on how to write economics clearly, also advises against footnotes.  I at least attribute this advice to McCloskey (and Friedman) when I pass it on to students.

But sometimes, when I write an article, a misguided referee, or editor, insists that I omit some stuff that I think is really good.  When that happens, sometimes, if I feel strongly, I sneak some of that material back into the paper in footnotes.  Maybe no one will ever read it, but I feel better that it is still there.

And every once in awhile, it may turn out that the footnotes are what matter most: 

It was typical of Schumpeter's love for theory that he rejected Marshall's view that the reader could skip the footnotes and appendixes.  If time were short, Schumpeter advised, read them and skip the text!  (p. 7; italics in original.)

In this case, though, I suspect that Marshall was right, and Schumpeter wrong.

 

Source:

Samuelson, Paul. "Compete as an Economic Theorist." In Schumpeterian Economics, edited by Helmut Frisch, New York: Praeger Publishers, 1981, pp. 1-27.

 




May 24, 2006

Current Cost of Gas Needed to Drive a Mile, Is Not High, by Historical Standards


GasCosts.jpg 

Source of graphic:  p. C1 of NYT article cited below.

 

(p. C1) The price of gasoline is hovering around $3 a gallon, and politicians are falling over each other to pander to voters' gas fears.  In a recent Gallup Poll, 70 percent of people said they favored price controls, a relic of Richard Nixon's day.

But it's time to take a deep breath and consider a radical fact: gas still isn't all that expensive.  I'm not just talking about the disparity between prices here and in Europe, where gas taxes are much higher.  What really matters to people is the cost of the gas that is needed to drive a mile, a function of both the price of oil and the fuel efficiency of cars.

By this measure, gas for the average American now costs about what it did throughout the 1960's and early 70's and much less than in the early 80's.  The 1990's, in other words, were the big exception.

 

For the full commentary, see:

David Leonhardt.  "The High Costs of Cheap Gas and Vice Versa."  The New York Times  (Weds., May 10, 2006):  C1 & C11.




May 23, 2006

Will Google Leapfrog Microsoft?



 

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Google CEO Eric Schmidt.  Source of photo:  online version of NYT article quoted and cited below.


 

The Microsoft-Google rivalry is shaping up as a titanic corporate clash for the ages.

It may not turn out that way.  Markets and corporate fortunes routinely defy prediction.  But it sure looks as if the two companies are on a collision course, as the realms of desktop computing and Internet services and software overlap more and more.

Microsoft, of course, is the reigning powerhouse of computing and Google is the muscular Internet challenger.  On each side, the battalions are arrayed: executives, engineers, marketers, lawyers and lobbyists. The spending and competition are escalating daily.  For each, it seems, the other passes what Andrew S. Grove, a founder and former chairman of Intel, calls the "silver bullet test" of strategic competition.  "If you had one bullet, who would you shoot with it?"

How the Microsoft-Google confrontation plays out could shape the future of competition in computing and how people use information technology.

Do the pitched corporate battles of the past shed any light on how this one might turn out?

Business historians and management experts say the experience in two of the defining industries of the 20th century, mass-market retailing and automobiles, may well be instructive.  The winners certainly scored higher in the generic virtues of business management:  innovation, execution and leadership.

But perhaps even more significant, those who came out on top, judging from history, had two more specific attributes.  They were the companies, according to business historians, that proved able to adapt to change instead of being prisoners of past success.  And in their glory days, these corporate champions were magnets for the best and brightest people.

 

For the full story, see:

STEVE LOHR.  "And in This Corner . . . Microsoft and Google Grapple for Supremacy as Stakes Escalate."  The New York Times  (Weds., May 10, 2006):  C1 & C14.



  Source of graphic:  online version of NYT article quoted and cited above.





May 22, 2006

Static Versus Dynamic Pictures


Schumpeter distinguished the static picture of capitalism in the textbook model, with the dynamic reality captured in the process of creative destruction.   Apparently Ronald Reagan also understood that a dynamic view is better than a static snapshot.   Michael Deaver recounts:

(p. 75) . . . I told him that I noticed his aversion to sitting for photo shoots.  He looked at me surprised.  "That's funny, in all these years, nobody's ever noticed that."   I asked him to elaborate.  "Well, you can never recover from a still shot."

Reagan was most comfortable with moving film, he went on to say.  He truly believed the television camera was a friend, a device that would separate the real from the phony.  Still cameras could always be used to make a candidate look like a fool.  When he explained this to me in the (p. 76) late 1960s, he said, "You know how I sometimes touch my nose before I make a point?  Well, a still shot would show me picking my nose, while a live shot would show me making my point."

 

Source:

Deaver, Michael K.   A Different Drummer:   My Thirty Years with Ronald Reagan.  Reprint ed.  Harper Paperbacks, 2003.

 




May 21, 2006

Successful Mutual Fund Expert Claims Capitalism is Revitalized by Creative Destruction


SAN FRANCISCO -- One morning in November 2003, 15 Dodge & Cox senior managers gathered in a conference room here to decide an issue brewing for years: Was it time to close the flagship Dodge & Cox Stock Fund to new investors?

For months, senior managers had stood in the hallways and gathered in glass-paned offices, questioning what long had been a point of pride in the mutual-fund world: huge sums of money pouring in for investment.  It became "a water-cooler kind of issue," recalls Kenneth Olivier, the firm's president.

. . .

Dodge also faces some other issues:  In December, longtime Chief Investment Officer John Gunn became chief executive, and a new president and executive vice president were named.  Another CEO switch could occur when Mr. Gunn turns 65 in 2008.  That would be a relatively large amount of turnover for a firm that has had only five CEOs in its history.

. . .

. . . , Mr. Gunn often speaks at mutual-fund forums and investor conferences.  The ruffled-hair Mr. Gunn resembles a college professor, wearing gray pants with yellow pinstripes, a light orange shirt and a yellow tie with zebras one recent day.  His feet on a chair, he quoted 20th century Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter when talking about media stocks, noting "capitalism is revitalized by waves of creative destruction."  Ancient Asian artifacts, like a pink stone statue from a 14th-century tomb, adorn the office.

As for the flagship fund's future, Mr. Pohl said as he and Mr. Gunn sat at a conference-room table,  "the fact that we have outperformed" since closing to new investors, "I think is proof" that the decision was made at the right time.

"So far," Mr. Gunn added, half-jokingly.

 

For the full story, see:

DIYA GULLAPALLI.   "When Mutual Funds Don't Want Your Cash Dodge & Cox Says No To Many New Customers; Angst at the Water Cooler."   The Wall Street Journal  (Mon., May 1, 2006):   R1 & R?.

(Note: ellipses added.)


 

 

Source of graphic:  online version of WSJ article cited above.





May 20, 2006

Charles Koch Participates in Schumpeter's Process of Creative Destruction


 

KochClharles.gif Charles Koch.  Source of image:  online version of WSJ article cited below.

 

I heard Charles Koch speak at the April 2005 Orlando meetings of the Association of Private Enterprise Education.  Part of his speech involved how he has tried to apply in his own business, Schumpeter's process of creative destruction.  For a long time Koch has been a stalwart defender of the free market in word and deed.

Ideas seem to exhilarate him.  This no doubt explains in part why this professorial CEO delivers "dozens and dozens" of lectures around the country to his employees on these very topics.  But what does any of this have to do with explaining his company's prodigious profitability?  Well, everything -- he believes.  Mr. Koch contends that the key insight of his business career was melding these philosophical insights about the way the wealth-creation process works into a business operating system called "Market Based Management."  This system, which he has trademarked, enables every division of his business empire to operate as a separate, autonomous, profit-maximizing unit.  It is intended to reward employees who think like entrepreneurs.

"Long-term success entails constantly discovering new ways to create value for customers and building new capabilities to capture new opportunities," he instructs.  "In this sense, maintaining a business is, in reality, liquidating a business."  Mr. Koch likens the cycle to Schumpeter's "creative destruction" -- where the old and inefficient are ruthlessly swept away by the new.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

STEPHEN MOORE. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Charles Koch; Private Enterprise." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 6, 2006): A8.

 




May 19, 2006

If Bush's spirit breaks "evil will indeed triumph"


Natan Sharansky was a political prisoner for nine years in the Soviet Union.  He is articulate and passionate.  But I am not so sure he is right in almost equating freedom and democracy.

While I was an undergraduate at Wabash College, Ben Rogge arranged for Erik Maria Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn to visit campus for a week.  Kuehnelt-Leddihn was an improbable walras of a man.  On my first encounter with him, I was stunned to hear him arguing that a monarchy embued with noblese oblige would be more likely to defend freedom, than would a democracy.  At first I thought the conclusion was patently absurd.  But over time, I gradually came to believe that although it was probably a false conclusion, it was not an absurd one. 

History, and modern experience, provide us many examples of democracies that severely restrict the freedom of their citizens.  And perhaps, for a time, freedom can thrive under enlightened monarchs, or dictators?

I hope, and still believe, that democracy is the system of government most likely, most of the time, to promote freedom.  If so, then what Bush is trying to do, may eventually leave the world safer, and more free:

 

Critics rail against every step on the new and difficult road on which the United States has embarked.  Yet in pointing out the many pitfalls which have not been avoided and those which still can be, those critics would be wise to remember that the alternative road leads to the continued oppression of hundreds of millions of people and the continued festering of the pathologies that led to 9/11.

Now that President Bush is increasingly alone in pushing for freedom, I can only hope that his dissident spirit will continue to persevere.  For should that spirit break, evil will indeed triumph, and the consequences for our world would be disastrous.

 

For the full commentary, see:

Sharansky, Natan.  "Dissident President."  The Wall Street Journal  (Mon., April 24, 2006):  A15.




May 18, 2006

Charlie Munger Calls Ethanol "Stupid"


Charlie Munger.  Source of image:   http://daily.stanford.edu/tempo?page=content&id=16135&repository=0001_article#

 

Charlie Munger is the number two executive, next to Warren Buffett, at Berkshire Hathaway.  He is old enough, and successful enough, and gutsy enough, and curmudgeony enough, to call ethanol "stupid" while in the "cornhusker state" for the company's annual meeting.  (Of course, he wasn't running for public office, and knew he would soon be flying back to his home in California.)

 

Munger said using ethanol for fuel seems "stupid" to him because it takes more energy to create than it produces as a fuel.  Buffett said there are so many ethanol plants, existing or planned, that he doesn't see how they can all continue operating profitably.

 

For the full article, see:

STEVE JORDON and JONATHAN WEGNER.  "Berkshire Notes: Clayton's Excutives Double Up."  Omaha World-Herald  (Sunday, May 7, 2006):  1D.

(Note:  the annual meeting was held on Sat., May 6, 2006)  



May 17, 2006

Incentives and Constraints Matter, But Sometimes Values Do, Too



 Harvard sociology professor Orlando Patterson.  Source of image:
http://www.iadb.org/idbamerica/index.cfm?thisid=681

 

Cambridge, Mass. - Several recent studies have garnered wide attention for reconfirming the tragic disconnection of millions of black youths from the American mainstream. But they also highlighted another crisis: the failure of social scientists to adequately explain the problem, and their inability to come up with any effective strategy to deal with it.

The main cause for this shortcoming is a deep-seated dogma that has prevailed in social science and policy circles since the mid-1960's: the rejection of any explanation that invokes a group's cultural attributes -- its distinctive attitudes, values and predispositions, and the resulting behavior of its members -- and the relentless preference for relying on structural factors like low incomes, joblessness, poor schools and bad housing.

Harry Holzer, an economist at Georgetown University and a co-author of one of the recent studies, typifies this attitude. Joblessness, he feels, is due to largely weak schooling, a lack of reading and math skills at a time when such skills are increasingly required even for blue-collar jobs, and the poverty of black neighborhoods. Unable to find jobs, he claims, black males turn to illegal activities, especially the drug trade and chronic drug use, and often end up in prison. He also criticizes the practice of withholding child-support payments from the wages of absentee fathers who do find jobs, telling The Times that to these men, such levies ''amount to a tax on earnings.''

His conclusions are shared by scholars like Ronald B. Mincy of Columbia, the author of a study called ''Black Males Left Behind,'' and Gary Orfield of Harvard, who asserts that America is ''pumping out boys with no honest alternative.''

This is all standard explanatory fare. And, as usual, it fails to answer the important questions. Why are young black men doing so poorly in school that they lack basic literacy and math skills? These scholars must know that countless studies by educational experts, going all the way back to the landmark report by James Coleman of Johns Hopkins University in 1966, have found that poor schools, per se, do not explain why after 10 years of education a young man remains illiterate.

Nor have studies explained why, if someone cannot get a job, he turns to crime and drug abuse. One does not imply the other. Joblessness is rampant in Latin America and India, but the mass of the populations does not turn to crime.

And why do so many young unemployed black men have children -- several of them -- which they have no resources or intention to support? And why, finally, do they murder each other at nine times the rate of white youths?

. . .  

So what are some of the cultural factors that explain the sorry state of young black men? They aren't always obvious. Sociological investigation has found, in fact, that one popular explanation -- that black children who do well are derided by fellow blacks for ''acting white'' -- turns out to be largely false, except for those attending a minority of mixed-race schools.

An anecdote helps explain why: Several years ago, one of my students went back to her high school to find out why it was that almost all the black girls graduated and went to college whereas nearly all the black boys either failed to graduate or did not go on to college. Distressingly, she found that all the black boys knew the consequences of not graduating and going on to college (''We're not stupid!'' they told her indignantly).

So why were they flunking out? Their candid answer was that what sociologists call the ''cool-pose culture'' of young black men was simply too gratifying to give up. For these young men, it was almost like a drug, hanging out on the street after school, shopping and dressing sharply, sexual conquests, party drugs, hip-hop music and culture, the fact that almost all the superstar athletes and a great many of the nation's best entertainers were black.

Not only was living this subculture immensely fulfilling, the boys said, it also brought them a great deal of respect from white youths. This also explains the otherwise puzzling finding by social psychologists that young black men and women tend to have the highest levels of self-esteem of all ethnic groups, and that their self-image is independent of how badly they were doing in school.

I call this the Dionysian trap for young black men. The important thing to note about the subculture that ensnares them is that it is not disconnected from the mainstream culture. To the contrary, it has powerful support from some of America's largest corporations. Hip-hop, professional basketball and homeboy fashions are as American as cherry pie. Young white Americans are very much into these things, but selectively; they know when it is time to turn off Fifty Cent and get out the SAT prep book.

For young black men, however, that culture is all there is -- or so they think. Sadly, their complete engagement in this part of the American cultural mainstream, which they created and which feeds their pride and self-respect, is a major factor in their disconnection from the socioeconomic mainstream.

 

For the full commentary, see:

ORLANDO PATTERSON. "A Poverty of the Mind."  The New York Times, Section 4 (Sunday, March 26, 2006):  13.  






May 16, 2006

British Pull Own Teeth Under Public Dental Care



KellyWilliamToothless.jpg "William Kelly, 43, extracted part of his own tooth, leaving a black stump. He plans to pull one more."  Source of caption and image:  online version of NYT article cited below.

 

ROCHDALE, England, May 2 — "I snapped it out myself," said William Kelly, 43, describing his most recent dental procedure, the autoextraction of one of his upper teeth.

Now it is a jagged black stump, and the pain gnawing at Mr. Kelly's mouth has transferred itself to a different tooth, mottled and rickety, on the other side of his mouth.  "I'm in the middle of pulling that one out, too," he said.

. . .

But the problem is serious.  Mr. Kelly's predicament is not just a result of cigarettes and possibly indifferent oral hygiene; he is careful to brush once a day, he said.  Instead, it is due in large part to the deficiencies in Britain's state-financed dental service, which, stretched beyond its limit, no longer serves everyone and no longer even pretends to try.

Every time he has tried to sign up, lining up with hundreds of others from the ranks of the desperate and the hurting — "I've seen people with bleeding gums where they've ripped their teeth out," he said grimly — he has arrived too late and missed the cutoff.

"You could argue that Britain has not seen lines like this since World War II," said Mark Pritchard, a member of Parliament who represents part of Shropshire, where the situation is just as grim.  "Churchill once said that the British are great queuers, but I don't think he meant that in connection to dental care."

Britain has too few public dentists for too many people. At the beginning of the year, just 49 percent of the adults and 63 percent of the children in England and Wales were registered with public dentists.

And now, discouraged by what they say is the assembly-line nature of the job and by a new contract that pays them to perform a set number of "units of dental activity" per year, even more dentists are abandoning the health service and going into private practice — some 2,000 in April alone, the British Dental Association says.

. . .

The system, critics say, encourages state dentists to see too many patients in too short a time and to cut corners by, for instance, extracting teeth rather than performing root canals.

Claire Dacey, a nurse for a private dentist, said that when she worked in the National Health Service one dentist in the practice performed cleanings in five minutes flat.

Moreover, she said, by the time patients got in to see a dentist, many were in terrible shape.

"I had a lady who was in so much pain and had to wait so long that she got herself drunk and had her friend take out her tooth with a pair of pliers," Ms. Dacey said.

Some people simply seek treatment abroad.

 

For the full story, see:

SARAH LYALL.  "In a Dentist Shortage, British (Ouch) Do It Themselves."  The New York Times, Section 1  (Sun., May 7, 2006):  3. 

(Note: ellipsis added.)




May 15, 2006

Benjamin Rogge in 1973 Discussed Leapfrog Competition



Ben Rogge and the members of Wabash College's John Van Sickle Club in 1973.  Source of image: The Wabash 1973 Yearbook, p. 173.

 

In explaining Schumpeter's concept of competition within the process of creative destruction, I have long thought the phrase "leapfrog competition" was apt.  I have no memory of Schumpter himself using the phrase, but did think I remembered Rogge using the phrase.

Today (4/21/06) I used the Amazon.com "Search within the Book" feature to search for the "leapfrog", "leap-frog", and "frog" in Schumpeter's Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy.  No use of any of the three was found.  This provides some support to my belief that Schumpeter himself did not use the phrase.

I also today examined my lecture notes from Benjamin Rogge's Comparative Economic Systems course at Wabash College.  In the midst of a discussion of creative destruction on 1/25/73, I note "leap-frogging analogy" which supports my memory that Rogge made use of the phrase "leapfrog competition" in class.

In terms of in-print uses of the analogy, I have performed the same three searches using Liberty Fund's HTML version of Rogge's Can Capitalism Survive?  I found one "hit" which appears on p. 22 of the print versions of the book.  

The technical description of the market structure, in the language of the textbook model, would be that of “oligopoly”—the rule of the few.

All of this Schumpeter would label as nonsense. Why? Because the investigator would be examining “each year—taken separately” rather than the never-ending game of leapfrog that the data reveal and that represents the true nature of the competitive process.

I will be in the debt of anyone who can show me an earlier use of the word "leapfrog" in the context of a discussion of competiton in Schumpeter's process of creative destruction.





May 14, 2006

Disruptive Innovation in Medicine


DoctorWaitingRoom.jpgSource of image:  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114540135592529301.html?mod=home_personal_journal_middle

  

(p. D1) The dysfunctional doctor's office is getting a makeover.

A growing number of programs around the country are helping doctors redesign their offices to wring more profit out of their practices and fix problems that have long frustrated patients: weeks-long delays to get appointments, hours in the waiting room, too-brief visits with the doctor, and the near impossibility of getting the physician on the phone.  While the goal is to improve care, the programs also aim to avert a looming shortage of primary-care doctors who are frustrated with low pay, long hours and rising overhead costs.

The new programs borrow lessons from other industries to help doctors work more efficiently, especially those in solo and small group practices who account for the majority of outpatient office visits.  One approach employs calculations used by airlines, hotels and restaurants to predict demand:  The idea is that doctors can cut patient waits much the way restaurant chains seat diners and turn over tables efficiently.  Others involve relatively simple changes, such as leaving afternoon appointments open for urgent visits, or having patients fill out paperwork ahead of time online.

Managed-care giant Kaiser Permanente is launching a program to help 12,000 doctors that contract with its health plan increase their efficiency with a new electronic-medical-records system.  Portland, Ore., physician Chuck Kilo, whose GreenField Health Systems helps restructure medical practices, and is assisting with the program, says that too many doctors' appointments take up valuable office time with follow-up that could be accomplished with phone calls and email.

Other models involve more-radical change, such as one called "Ideal Micro Practice" that sharply reduces or even eliminates support staff.  With this blueprint, doctors rely on electronic health records and practice-management software to quickly dispense with administrative tasks.  And they may run their offices solo, greeting patients personally as they come in the door.

"The office practice hasn't changed much in 50 years," says John Wasson, a Dartmouth Medical School professor and practice redesign expert who is helping to launch a national program to expand the Micro Practice concept.  "This is a disruptive innovation that can lead to increased quality and reduced costs."

 

For the full story, see: 

LAURA LANDRO. "Cutting Waits at the Doctor's Office; New Programs Reorganize Practices to Be More Efficient; Applying 'Queuing Theory'." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., April 19, 2006): D1 & D3.

  

  Source of graphic:  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114540135592529301.html?mod=home_personal_journal_middle

 

 




May 13, 2006

"life is too short"


Source of book image:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/customer-reviews/0738204315/ref=cm_cr_dp_2_1/104-9985403-1047968?%5Fencoding=UTF8&customer-reviews.sort%5Fby=-SubmissionDate&n=283155

The Cluetrain Manifesto is a thought-provoking, entertaining, uneven, overly-mystical, somewhat dated classic on the impact of the internet on business and life.  Here is the book's startling start:

WE DIE.

You will never hear those words spoken in a television ad.  Yet this central fact of human existence colors our world and how we perceive ourselves within it.  "Life is too short," we say, and it is.  Too short for office politics, for busywork and pointless paper chases, for jumping through hoops and covering our asses, for trying to please, to not offend, for constantly struggling to achieve some ever-receding definition of success.  (p. 1)

Locke, Christopher, Rick Levine, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger. The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual. Cambridge, Mass.:  Perseus Books Group, 2001.

 

 




May 12, 2006

Radiologist Outsourcing Is Mainly a Myth


LeonhardtDavid.jpg David Leonhardt.  Source of image:  http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/19/business/19leonhardt.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

 

A few years ago, stories about a scary new kind of outsourcing began making the rounds.  Apparently, hospitals were starting to send their radiology work to India, where doctors who make far less than American radiologists do were reading X-rays, M.R.I.'s and CT scans.

It quickly became a signature example of how globalization was moving up the food chain, threatening not just factory and call center workers but the so-called knowledge workers who were supposed to be immune.  If radiologists and their $350,000 average salaries weren't safe from the jobs exodus, who was?

On ABC, George Will said the outsourcing of radiology could make health care affordable again, to which Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York retorted that thousands of American radiologists would lose their jobs.  On NPR, an economist said the pay of radiologists was already suffering. At the White House, an adviser to President Bush suggested that fewer medical students would enter the field in the future.

"We're losing radiologists," Representative Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, said on CNN while Lou Dobbs listened approvingly.  "We're losing all kinds of white-collar jobs, all kinds of jobs in addition to manufacturing jobs, which we're losing by the droves in my state."

But up in Boston, Frank Levy, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, realized that he still had not heard or read much about actual Indian radiologists.  Like the once elusive Snuffleupagus of Sesame Street, they were much discussed but rarely seen.  So Mr. Levy began looking.  He teamed up with two other M.I.T. researchers, Ari Goelman and Kyoung-Hee Yu, and they dug into the global radiology business.

In the end, they were able to find exactly one company in India that was reading images from American patients.  It employs three radiologists.  There may be other such radiologists scattered around India, but Mr. Levy says, "I think 20 is an overestimate."

Some exodus.

 

For the full story, see:

Leonhardt, David.  "Political Clout in the Age of Outsourcing."  The New York Times (Weds., April 19, 2006):  C1 & C4.




May 11, 2006

Taxpayer Pays $120 to Displace a Barrel of Oil With Ethanol


 

John Deutch served as Undersecretary of Energy under President Jimmy Carter.  He also served in the Clinton administration, and is now an MIT chemistry professor.  In the selection below, he explains why corn-based ethanol in the United States, is not an efficient way to produce energy.  In a later section of his commentary, he is more positive about the economics of producing ethanol from switch grass.  (The main difference, he says, is that switch grass can be cultivated using much less petroleum than is used for corn.) 

 

Today, we use corn to produce ethanol in an automobile fuel known as "gasohol" -- 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline.  Generous federal and state subsidies, largely in the form of exemption from gasoline taxes for gasohol, explain the growth of its use; in 2005, over four billion gallons of ethanol were used in gasohol out of a total gasoline pool of 120 billion gallons.  Politicians from corn-states and other proponents of renewable energy support this federal subsidy, but most energy experts believe using corn to make ethanol is not effective in the long run because the net amount of oil saved by gasohol use is minimal.

In the U.S., cultivation of corn is highly energy-intensive and a significant amount of oil and natural gas is used in growing, fertilizing and harvesting it.  Moreover, there is a substantial energy requirement -- much of it supplied by diesel or natural gas -- for the fermentation and distillation process that converts corn to ethanol.  These petroleum inputs must be subtracted when calculating the net amount of oil that is displaced by the use of ethanol in gasohol. While there is some quarreling among experts, it is clear that it takes two-thirds of a gallon of oil to make a gallon equivalent of ethanol from corn.  Thus one gallon of ethanol used in gasohol displaces perhaps one-third of a gallon of oil or less.

A federal tax credit of 10 cents per gallon on gasohol, therefore, costs the taxpayer a hefty $120 per barrel of oil displaced cost.  Surely it is worthwhile to look for cheaper ways to eliminate oil.

The economics are not the same in other countries.  Brazil is a well-known example, where sugarcane grows in the tropical climate and conventional fermentation and distillation readily yields ethanol.  Ethanol is said to provide 40% of automobile fuel in Brazil and compete with gasoline without government subsidy.  Depending on the future world price of sugar and the lessening of trade restrictions on both sugar and sugar-derived ethanol, Brazil could become a net exporter of this biofuel.

 

For the full commentary, see:

JOHN DEUTCH.  "Biomass Movement."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., May 10, 2006):  A18.

 




May 10, 2006

Google Evolves


Gary Hamel has recently penned some thoughtful observations about what practices of Google have led to its success.  An excerpt from that analysis appears below.  (Hamel earlier wrote a popular book in which he makes extensive use of Schumpeter's process of creative destruction.)

Only time will tell whether Google has succeeded in building an evolutionary advantage.  But consider:  Since it's founding, it has repeatedly morphed its business model.  Google 1.0 was a search engine that crawled the Web but generated little revenue; which led to Google 2.0, a company that sold its search capacity to AOL/Netscape, Yahoo and other major portals; which gave way to Google 3.0, an Internet contrarian that rejected banner ads and instead sold simple text ads linked to search results; which spawned Google 4.0, an increasingly global entity that found a way to insert relevant ads into any and all Web content, dramatically enlarging the online ad business; which mutated into Google 5.0, an innovation factory that produces a torrent of new Web-based services, including Gmail, Google Desktop, and Google Base.  More than likely, 6.0 is around the corner.

Of course Google may ultimately fall victim to hubris and imperial overstretch as it takes on Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay, the occasional telecom giant and pretty much everyone else in cyberspace.  Or like Microsoft, it may simply become like every other big company as it grows.  But that's not the way I'd bet.  Google seems to have grasped the new century's most important business lesson:  The capacity to evolve is the most important advantage of all.

 

For the full commentary, see:

Hamel, Gary.  "Management à la Google."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., April 26, 2006):  A16.

 

 

 

And here is the information on Hamel's most recent book:

 

Hamel, Gary. Leading the Revolution: How to Thrive in Turbulent Times by Making Innovation a Way of Life. Revised & Updated ed.  Harvard Business School Press, 2002.

 

 Source of image: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000EPFVBE/sr=8-1/qid=1146333251/ref=pd_bbs_1/104-5668094-9083929?%5Fencoding=UTF8




May 9, 2006

Europe's Antitrust Policies Based on "Pathological Revulsion" to Creative Destruction


One of the EU's findings is that Microsoft uses its desktop dominance to capture the market for Web server software, and now the EU further charges Microsoft with failing to honor its ruling.  So Microsoft's takeover of serverware proceeds apace?  Er, Brussels we have a problem.

At last count,  Apache-Linux had 62% of the market, Windows 25%,  with various others capturing smaller slices.  True, Microsoft saw a nearly five-point increase in market share last quarter thanks to GoDaddy.com shifting its 3.5 million hosted sites from Linux to Windows.  Maybe the EU should subpoena GoDaddy on grounds that for Microsoft to compete successfully for a customer is illegal.

The other pillar of Europe's case is Microsoft's alleged ability to foreclose the market to rival media-playing software.  This week, EU lawyers are trying to swat down the inconvenient fact that, since their ruling, Apple's iTunes and Macromedia's Flash Player have carved out big niches for themselves.  The Apple example is worth inspecting up close.  It demonstrates that people don't buy computers to run software, but to consume information and entertainment "content."  Apple gave them the music they wanted, and its software easily found a home on their computers.

Yet the EU simply rejects the example as irrelevant because it doesn't fit its mental category about what constitutes a "media player."  More than stupid -- this suggests a pathological revulsion against the kind of disorder in which an Apple can come along and upend all the procrustean assumptions of the EU's drearily youthful staff of economists and lawyers.  We're not kidding when we say there's a connection between the Microsoft case and the European 20-somethings who riot in the streets because they'd rather have no job than take a job from which they might fail and be fired.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR.  "BUSINESS WORLD; The Land (and Antitrust Case) That Time Forgot."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., April 26, 2006):  A17.




May 8, 2006

An Osama-Sudafed Link?


The drug cops want everyone to share their mission.  They think that doctors and pharmacists should catch patients who abuse painkillers — and that if the doctors or pharmacists aren't good enough detectives, they should go to jail for their naïveté.

This month, pharmacists across the country are being forced to lock up another menace to society: cold medicine.  Allergy and cold remedies containing pseudoephedrine, a chemical that can illegally be used to make meth, must now be locked behind the counter under a provision in the new Patriot Act.

Don't ask what meth has to do with the war on terror.  Not even the most ardent drug warriors have been able to establish an Osama-Sudafed link.

The F.D.A. opposed these restrictions for pharmacies because they'll drive up health care costs and effectively prevent medicine from reaching huge numbers of people (Americans suffer a billion colds per year).  These costs are undeniable, but it's unclear that there are any net benefits.

In states that previously enacted their own restrictions, the police report that meth users simply switched from making their own to buying imported drugs that were stronger — and more expensive, so meth users commit more crimes to pay for their habit.

 

For the full commentary, see:

JOHN TIERNEY.  "Potheads and Sudafed."  The New York Times (Tues., April 25, 2006):  A27




May 7, 2006

Endangered Fish Thrive on Oil Platforms


Large numbers of rockfish and other fish near the Gilda oil platform off the Ventura coast.  Source of image: http://www.lovelab.id.ucsb.edu/Check.html

 

SANTA BARBARA, Calif., March 11 - A marine biologist has found that 27 oil platforms off California's Central Coast may be havens for bocaccio, cowcod and other fish.  

 . . .

Since the 1950's, when heavy fishing began in the region, some species have been reduced to 6 percent of their previous numbers, Dr. Love said.  Overfishing has led to an economic disaster, leading some fisheries to close.

Dr. Love films fish around the platforms from a submarine and then counts them in his laboratory.

Among his findings are that large fish prefer crevices at the platforms' base, and smaller ones like the middle section above their predators.

At Platform Gail, which stands in 739 feet of water nine miles off the Ventura coast, Dr. Love found what he believes to be the highest density of two species of overfished rockfish in Southern California.

Dr. Love emphasizes that his research does not draw conclusions about whether the platforms should be removed.  He says his personal view is that the rigs should stay in place, cut below the waterline so that ships can pass safely over them.

Dr. Love gets about 80 percent of his research money from the government, and the rest from the California Artificial Reef Enhancement Program, a Sacramento nonprofit group financed almost entirely by oil companies.  The group has contributed about $100,000 a year to his research since 1999, said its executive director, George Steinbach.  Dr. Love said oil industry money could not sway his research.

 

For the full story, see:

"Citing Oil Rigs as Fish Havens, Companies Resist Removal."  The New York Times  (Mon., March 13, 2006):  A18.




May 6, 2006

Missing Link Found Between Sea and Land Animals: More Evidence for Evolution


 

Model recreation of missing link animal.  Source of image:  Online version of NYT article cited below.

 

Scientists have discovered fossils of a 375-million-year-old fish, a large scaly creature not seen before, that they say is a long-sought missing link in the evolution of some fishes from water to a life walking on four limbs on land. 

In two reports today in the journal Nature, a team of scientists led by Neil H. Shubin of the University of Chicago say they have uncovered several well-preserved skeletons of the fossil fish in sediments of former streambeds in the Canadian Arctic, 600 miles from the North Pole.

The skeletons have the fins, scales and other attributes of a giant fish, four to nine feet long.  But on closer examination, the scientists found telling anatomical traits of a transitional creature, a fish that is still a fish but has changes that anticipate the emergence of land animals -- and is thus a predecessor of amphibians, reptiles and dinosaurs, mammals and eventually humans.

In the fishes' forward fins, the scientists found evidence of limbs in the making.  There are the beginnings of digits, proto-wrists, elbows and shoulders.  The fish also had a flat skull resembling a crocodile's, a neck, ribs and other parts that were similar to four-legged land animals known as tetrapods.

Other scientists said that in addition to confirming elements of a major transition in evolution, the fossils were a powerful rebuttal to religious creationists, who have long argued that the absence of such transitional creatures are a serious weakness in Darwin's theory.  

The discovery team called the fossils the most compelling examples yet of an animal that was at the cusp of the fish-tetrapod transition.  The fish has been named Tiktaalik roseae, at the suggestion of elders of Canada's Nunavut Territory.  Tiktaalik (pronounced tic-TAH-lick) means ''large shallow water fish.''

''The origin of limbs,'' Dr. Shubin's team wrote, ''probably involved the elaboration and proliferation of features already present in the fins of fish such as Tiktaalik.''  

In an interview, Dr. Shubin, an evolutionary biologist, let himself go.  ''It's a really amazing, remarkable intermediate fossil,'' he said.  ''It's like, holy cow.''  

Two other paleontologists, commenting on the find in a separate article in the journal, said that a few other transitional fish had been previously discovered from approximately the same Late Devonian time period, 385 million to 359 million years ago.  But Tiktaalik is so clearly an intermediate ''link between fishes and land vertebrates,'' they said, that it ''might in time become as much an evolutionary icon as the proto-bird Archaeopteryx,'' which bridged the gap between reptiles (probably dinosaurs) and today's birds.  

The writers, Erik Ahlberg of Uppsala University in Sweden and Jennifer A. Clack of the University of Cambridge in England, are often viewed as rivals to Dr. Shubin's team in the search for intermediate species in the evolution from fish to the first animals to colonize land.

H. Richard Lane, director of paleobiology at the National Science Foundation, said in a statement, ''These exciting discoveries are providing fossil 'Rosetta Stones' for a deeper understanding of this evolutionary milestone -- fish to land-roaming tetrapods.''

 

For the full story, see:

JOHN NOBLE WILFORD.  "Fossil Called Missing Link From Sea to Land Animals."  The New York Times  (Thursday, April 6, 2006):  A1.

 

  Source of graphic: http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2006/04.06/09-missinglink.html

 




May 5, 2006

Expecting Nationalization, Companies Held Off Investing in Bolivia


 

Bolivian President Morales announcing the nationalization of Bolivia's energy industry.  Source of image: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/03/world/americas/03bolivia.html

 

Bolivia's nationalization of its energy industry, announced Monday by President Evo Morales, was a vivid illustration that the populist policies, championed most prominently by Venezuela, were spreading.

. . .

. . .  while Brazil might feel tremors from Bolivia's decision, it is Bolivia that may be risking its potential as a major natural gas exporter.

Companies had been holding off on investments in Bolivia for some time, unnerved by growing talk of precisely the kind of step that Mr. Morales took this week.  Foreign direct investment, much of which goes to energy and mining, fell to $103 million in 2005, from $1 billion in 1999.

What is more, unlike oil, natural gas is not easily exportable, with costly liquefaction facilities, customized tankers or pipelines needed to take the fuel to markets.  Chile, a potential market for Bolivian gas, may choose instead a project to import the fuel from as far away as Africa.

Even Brazil, while now reliant on Bolivian gas, has recently discovered large offshore gas reserves of its own.  Thus the window of opportunity for Bolivia to become a leading gas exporter may be closing, even as it grows more courageous in its dealings with foreigners.

"If Brazil decides to give the cold shoulder to Bolivia," said Carlos Alberto López, an independent consultant for oil companies in La Paz, "Bolivia will be left with its gas underground."

 

For the full story, see: 

SIMON ROMERO and JUAN FORERO.  "Bolivia's Energy Takeover:  Populism Rules in the Andes."  The New York Times  (Weds., May 3, 2006):  A8.

 

 BolivianSoldiersNationalization.jpg Bolivian soldiers after seizing natural gas facilities.  Source of image: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/03/world/americas/03bolivia.html

 




May 4, 2006

Louis Rukeyser: Optimistic, Witty, Defender of Free Markets; RIP


Louis Rukeyser. Source of image: http://www.reviewjournal.com/lvrj_home/2002/Apr-06-Sat-2002/business/18455995.html

 

Louis Rukeyser, long-time host of PBS's Friday night "Wall Street Week," died May 2, 2006, at the age of 73.  (JAMES GRANT.  "Louis Rukeyser, Television Host, Dies at 73."  The New York Times  (Weds., May 3, 2006).)

Louis Rukeyser was a pun-loving, urbane, optimistic analyzer of Wall Street and defender of the free market.  His weekly "Wall Street Week" was the first show my daughter Jenny watched at home after we brought her home from her birth at Children's Hospital. 

I never met him, though I remember once being on the same airplane with him.  He was the narrator for my audio book:  Frank Knight and the Chicago School.

PBS, true to form, fired Rukeyser from the show he created.  I never watched it again, and the ratings for the Rukeyser-less version tanked:  sometimes there is justice in the world.

 

FrankKnightAndTheChicagoSchool.gif Source of image: http://www.audioclassics.net/html/econ_files/knight.cfm

 




May 3, 2006

Jane Jacobs Saw Spontaneous Cities Work Better Than Planned Cities


Jane Jacobs died on Tues., April 25, 2006 at the age of 89.  ("Jane Jacobs, Author and Activist, Dies."  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., April 25, 2006), online edition.)

 

Jacobs's ideas came from the heart.  Her foray into urban theory was partly inspired by the failed urban renewal efforts of the post-World War II era that displaced tens of thousands of poor and minority residents and resulted in the isolation or destruction of previously vibrant neighborhoods in New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh and elsewhere.

Fundamentally, there is little difference behind the social engineering mentality of those who wrought the disaster of postwar urban renewal and the mindset of today's planners trying to regulate away suburbia in hopes of master-planned urban living for everyone.

More and more, these planners are calling for the centralization of land-use control under state and regional governments, usurping the American tradition of local control over development.  In the view of many planners, this command-and-control bureaucracy is needed because municipal planning is too "uncoordinated" to achieve "societally beneficial" goals like open-space preservation, mass transit and urban densification.

But if they go back and reread "Death and Life," they'll find Jacobs rightly asking, "How is bigger administration, with labyrinths nobody can comprehend or navigate, an improvement over crazy-quilt township and suburban governments?"

She went on to ridicule the idea of regionalism as "escapism from intellectual helplessness" predicated on the delusion that the problems planners are unable to solve at the local level will somehow be more easily addressed on a larger-scale, concluding that "no other expertise can substitute for locality knowledge in planning."

Politicians and planners would do well to commemorate Jacobs by revisiting her work.  Despite the best efforts of well-intentioned planners, you can't "create" a vibrant city or neighborhood.  The best cities and neighborhoods just happen, and the best thing we can do is to step out of the way of innovators and entrepreneurs.

 

For the full commentary, see:

LEONARD GILROY.  "Urban Planners Are Blind To What Jane Jacobs Really Saw."  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., May 2, 2006):  D8.

 

The reference to Jacobs' most important book is:

Jacobs, Jane.  The Death and Life of Great American Cities.  New York:  Random House, 1961.

 

 DeathAndLifeOfGreatAmericanCitiesBK.jpg Source of book image: http://archives.cnn.com/2000/books/news/11/23/jane.jacobs.ap/




May 2, 2006

Doctors Erect Barriers to Keep Out Competition


RadiologistBangalore.jpg A Bangalore radiologist.  One of three radiologists in India known to be reading U.S. scans.  Each of the three has a U.S. degree, as required by U.S. law.  Source of image:  http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/19/business/19leonhardt.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

 

(p. C1) Radiologists seem like just the sort of workers who should be scared.  Computer networks can now send an electronic image to India faster than a messenger can take it from one hospital floor to another.  Often, those images are taken during emergencies at night, when radiologists here are sleeping and radiologists in India are not.

There also happens to be a shortage of radiologists in the United States.  Sophisticated new M.R.I. and CT machines can detect tiny tumors that once would have gone unnoticed, and doctors are ordering a lot more scans as a result.

When I talked this week to E. Stephen Amis Jr., the head of the radiology department at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, he had just finished looking at some of the 700 images that had been produced by a single abdominal CT exam.  "We were just taking pictures of big, thick slabs of the body 20 years ago," Dr. Amis said.  "Now we're taking thinner and thinner slices."

Economically, in other words, ra-(p. C6)diology has a lot in common with industries that are outsourcing jobs.  It has high labor costs, it's growing rapidly and it's portable.

Politically, though, radiology could not be more different.  Unlike software engineers, textile workers or credit card customer service employees, doctors have enough political power to erect trade barriers, and they have built some very effective ones.

To practice medicine in this country, doctors are generally required to have done their training here.  Otherwise, it is extremely difficult to be certified by a board of other doctors or be licensed by a state government.  The three radiologists Mr. Levy found in Bangalore did their residencies at Baylor, Yale and the University of Massachusetts before returning home to India.

"No profession I know of has as much power to self-regulate as doctors do," Mr. Levy said.

So even if the world's most talented radiologist happened to have trained in India, there would be no test he could take to prove his mettle here.  It's as if the law required cars sold here to have been made by the graduates of an American high school.

Much as the United Automobile Workers might love such a law, Americans would never tolerate it, because it would drive up the price of cars and keep us from enjoying innovations that happened to come from overseas.  But isn't that precisely what health care protectionism does?  It keeps out competition.

 

For the full story, see:

Leonhardt, David.   "Political Clout in the Age of Outsourcing."  The New York Times  (Weds., April 19, 2006):  C1 & C4.




May 1, 2006

Remembrances of Galbraith (and Buckley and Demsetz and Drucker)



John Kenneth Galbraith passed away a couple of days ago, on Sat., April 29, 2006 at the age of 97.   (see:  "Economist, Writer Galbraith Dies at 97."  Omaha World-Herald (Sun., April 30, 2006):  11A)

I remember at a Republican Convention in Miami (1968 I think) when one of the networks had the late Frank Reynolds sitting with Galbraith and William F. Buckley, Jr., to provide occasional commentary on the scene.  On this occasion, Galbraith was going on and on about how all of the Republicans had arrived at the convention in their yachts.  Buckley sat by, nodding, in uncharacteristic silence.  Finally, with a few seconds until they needed to break away, Buckley slowly and deliberately drawled at Galbraith something like the following:  'And John, when you visit your friends in Hyannis Port, I trust that you find the accommodations adequate?'   As they cut to commercial, you could hear Reynolds, and others in the background, convulsed in laughter.

Actually Buckley and Galbraith were friends, for several years skiing together in Europe.  Apparently Galbraith was an indifferent and very slow skier, leading Buckley to observe that Galbraith looked as though he was skiing up the slope backwards.   (I read this many years ago, but, alas, do not remember where.)

 

David Levy and I once wrote a paper in which we measured the writing quality of articles by many important economists.  When we presented the paper to the meetings of the American Economic Association, Galbraith was the discussant of our paper.  For his comments, he basically recycled an old paper he had written on writing economics, and showed no signs of having read our paper.  But he did seem to enjoy our mentioning that by our measures, he turned out to be one of the best writers in the profession.  My memory is that at one point, just before or just after the formal proceedings, he actually patted me on the back.

 

Galbraith wrote many books.  One that I enjoyed, and learned from, was his account of the stock market crash of 1929.

 

Perhaps his most famous book was The New Industrial State, in which he argues that some of the larger firms in the United States form what he called the "technostructure."  The technostructure firms were widely held, by many stock owners, few of whom had the incentive or power, to closely monitor whether the firms' managers were serving the stock owners by maximizing profits.  As a result, the technostructure firms' managers were free to pursue other goals, such as their own power.  (Galbraith was OK with the assumption that firms outside the technostructure were maximizing profits.)  

Harold Demsetz tested this hypothesis by comparing the rate of profit of firms in and out of the technostructure, reasoning that if technostructure firms were not maximizing profits, we would expect their profits to be lower than those of other firms.  He found that there was no difference between the rate of profits of the so-called 'technostructure' firms, and the non-technostructure firms.  Demsetz's conclusion was that there was no distinguishable technostructure, and no new industrial state. 

I tell my classes that if we don't throw entrepreneurs such as Michael Milken in prison, they can provide us with the means to keep CEOs pursuing shareholder value (profits) as their goal.  The way it would work would be that if CEOs start pursuing something else, their firm's stock price falls, and the firm becomes an attractive take-over target for someone like Milken.

I also point out that if firms maximize profits, a lot of rich people benefit, but that a lot of average people benefit too---Drucker emphasized that roughly half of the value of stock equity in the United States is held by worker pension funds.

 

I did not agree with Galbraith's efforts to grow the government, but he was witty, and urbane, and intelligent.  The intellectual scene was more interesting, and fun, with him than without him.  He will be missed. 

 

Some references to publications mentioned in, or supporting, the discussion above:

Demsetz, Harold. "Where Is the New Industrial State?" Economic Inquiry 12, no. 1 (1974): 1-12.

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr., and David M. Levy. "The Metrics of Style: Adam Smith Teaches Efficient Rhetoric." Economic Inquiry 32, no. 1 (1994): 138-45.

Drucker, Peter Ferdinand. The Unseen Revolution:  How Pension Fund Socialism Came to America. 1st ed: Harpercollins, 1976.

Galbraith, John Kenneth. The Great Crash 1929. Houghton Mifflin Co., 1961.

Galbraith, John Kenneth. The New Industrial State. Houghton Mifflin, 1967.

Kornbluth, Jesse. Highly Confident: The Crime and Punishment of Michael Milken. William Morrow & Co., 1992.

 

 NewIndustrialStateBK.jpg     Source of book image: http://www.whatihaveread.net/biblio/book_1458.html





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