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June 30, 2007

Burned Up Over Gas Rationing in Iran


   "Protesters burned at least two gas stations in Tehran after the Oil Ministry announced gas rationing would begin Wednesday just after midnight."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.


TEHRAN, June 27 — Angry drivers set fire to at least two gas stations overnight in Tehran after the government announced that gasoline rationing would begin Wednesday just after midnight.

The state television news said Wednesday that “several gas stations and public places had been attacked by vandals.” While there were some reports that a large number of gas stations had been set on fire, only two fires were confirmed.

. . .

Under the new regulations announced by the Oil Ministry on Tuesday evening, private cars will be able to buy a maximum of 26 gallons of gasoline a month at the subsidized price of 34 cents per gallon. Taxis will be allowed 211 gallons a month. Parliament would have to determine whether individuals would be allowed to buy more at market rates.

There were long lines at gas stations in Tehran on Wednesday, causing traffic jams, and the police moved in to control the lines.

Iran is OPEC’s second-largest exporter of oil. But it needs to import half of its gasoline — at a cost of $5 billion a year — because of high consumption and low refining capabilities.

Inflation in Iran had already been high, as a result of a combination of economic factors and government decisions. The price of dairy products like milk, butter and yogurt increased this week by at least 20 percent.


For the full story, see: 

NAZILA FATHI.  "2 Iranian Gas Stations Burned Over Rationing."  The New York Times   (Thurs., June 28, 2007):  A8. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)


June 29, 2007

"Not that Everyone Has Been Intimidated"


It is common to ridicule economists--sometimes with some good reason.  But the 50 brave economists in Iran who refused to be intimidated, have made us proud.


(p. 1)  Iran is in the throes of one of its most ferocious crackdowns on dissent in years, with the government focusing on labor leaders, universities, the press, women’s rights advocates, a former nuclear negotiator and Iranian-Americans, three of whom have been in prison for more than six weeks.

The shift is occurring against the backdrop of an economy so stressed that although Iran is the world’s second-largest oil exporter, it is on the verge of rationing gasoline. At the same time, the nuclear standoff with the West threatens to bring new sanctions.

The hard-line administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, analysts say, faces rising pressure for failing to deliver on promises of greater prosperity from soaring oil revenue. It has been using American support for a change in government as well as a possible military attack as a pretext to hound his opposition and its sympathizers.

. . .

(p. 9)  Not that everyone has been intimidated. More than 50 leading economists published a harshly worded, open letter to the president saying his policies were bringing economic ruin. High unemployment persists, there has been little foreign investment and inflation is galloping, with gasoline alone jumping 25 percent this spring.

Gasoline rationing is expected within a month, with consumers so anxious about it, reported the Web site Ruz, financed by the Dutch government, that skirmishes broke out in long lines at some pumps on June 17.


For the full story, see; 

NEIL MacFARQUHAR.  "Iran Cracks Down on Dissent, Parading Examples in Streets."  The New York Times, Section 1   (Sun., June 24, 2007):  1 & 9. 

(Note:  the online version of the article is entitled "Iran Cracks Down on Dissent," and is accompanied by a disclaimer that the latest evidence is ambiguous on the original claim in the print article that dissenters were being paraded in the streets.)

(Note:  ellipsis added.)


June 28, 2007

Sometimes "A Strongly Worded Letter" Is in Order


   The Titanic sinks.  Source of drawing:  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:St%C3%B6wer_Titanic.jpg


Here is one of my favorite lines from the "Titanic" movie.  It is spoken by the hero, as the Titanic sinks:


Jack Dawson: I don't know about you, but I intend to go write a strongly worded letter to the White Star Line about all this.



"Titanic" movie (1997), as recorded in:  http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Titanic


June 27, 2007

Obama Advised by Market-Oriented Chicago Economist Goolsbee


(p. C1)  The Democrats, besides talking about a broader range of subjects, also have the freshest face among the top campaign advisers — Barack Obama’s lead economist, Austan Goolsbee, a 37-year-old star professor at the University of Chicago (who writes a monthly column for The New York Times). The two men met when Mr. Obama was teaching at the law school there, and they both seem to favor achieving Democratic goals through market-oriented policies. As Mr. Goolsbee has written: “Moral (p. C9) exhortation doesn’t change people’s behavior. Prices do.” Given their respective professions, the two are also more irreverent than you may expect: Mr. Goolsbee was once a member of an improvisational comedy group.

. . .

Both the Clinton and Obama campaigns are now playing catch-up on policy ideas. John Edwards, who’s running third in fund-raising and the early polls, has tried to grab attention by releasing a series of specific proposals. Rather than bringing economists into his campaign, he is relying on a network of former aides from Capitol Hill to help him sort through ideas. (One Edwards proposal — on tax simplification — was originally Mr. Goolsbee’s, in fact.) 


For the full commentary, see: 

DAVID LEONHARDT.  "ECONOMIX; The Advisers Are Writing Our Future."  The New York Times (Weds., April 18, 2007):  C1 & C9.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)


I have never met Goolsbee, or heard him speak, but I have read a couple of his articles on the economics of the internet, and other subjects, and regularly read his economics articles in the New York Times.  He often writes interesting, creative stuff that is fun to read.

I had assumed that Obama was a standard big-government Democrat, although I liked what I read about what he was reported to be saying in Africa.  Maybe his economic policies would be more promising than I assumed.

On the other hand, I am convinced that the fight against terrorism is the crucial issue of our time, and I haven't heard much from Senator Obama on that, besides hopping on the bandwagon of Bush-bashers.  What would he constructively do to protect us from the bad guys?


June 26, 2007

"Roosevelt Warned us of Fearing Fear Itself; Now We Fear Life Itself"


   Source of book image:  http://ec1.images-amazon.com/images/P/159523005X.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_V46468787_SS500_.jpg


I saw Todd Buchholz on C-Span and on CNBC, and I enjoyed hearing his views, so I decided to buy his Bringing the Jobs Home.  I don't like the title, because it sort of implies that the job market is a zero-sum-game, in which one country's gain implies another country's loss.  Us true-blue free marketers believe that the market is a non-zero-sum game in which everyone everywhere can have jobs, and have better ones over time.

But Buchholz's little book is fun to read, and says much that is plausible about how the government hurts the worker and reduces the efficiency of the labor market. 

Read the following excerpt for part of his rousing conclusion to the book.

(And, Aaron, I agree with you that Buchholz is wrong to say the American spirit is "innate.") 


(p. 177)  . . . :  Since the 1960s, each year we've lost a little nerve, gained another bureaucrat, another lawyer, another layer of protection against life's uncertainties.  We have gotten used to a government that aims to coddle us but ends up both preventing us from growing and dampening the innate American spirit.  The spirit still stirs but gets buried under the weight of the nanny state.

. . .

(p. 178)  American government officials today cannot put our standard of living in a lockbox to preserve, protect and defend us.  Franklin D. Roosevelt warned us of fearing fear itself; now we fear life itself. 

. . .

(p. 179)  To paraphrase Churchill, Americans did not sail the perilous Atlantic, scale the Appalachians and struggle past the Rockies because we were made of cotton candy.



Buchholz, Todd G. Bringing the Jobs Home: How the Left Created the Outsourcing Crisis--and How We Can Fix It. New York: Sentinel, 2004.


June 25, 2007

Investor Wally Weitz Defends Wal-Mart


(p. 1D)  Weitz was able to deliver good news to about 200 shareholders in his investment company, Wallace R. Weitz & Co., at the firm's annual meeting at the Scott Conference Center in Omaha.

The flagship Value Fund grew 18.3 percent in the fiscal year ended March 31, compared with the Standard & Poor's 500's 11.8 percent. The Value Fund accounts for more than $3 billion of Weitz & Co.'s $6.5 billion in assets.

. . .

(p. 2D)  Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is among the companies Weitz has invested in, and one investor asked about controversy that company has faced in recent years. Weitz said a lot of negative publicity has resulted from Wal-Mart's huge scale, its ability to obtain less expensive products overseas, its efficient use of technology and its low prices driving competitors out of business.

Low prices that discount stores offered years ago brought them similar criticism, he said.

"It's one of those progress things," Weitz said.


For the full story, see: 

Joe Ruff.  "Weitz not interested in Buffett position."  Omaha World-Herald  (Wednesday, May 23, 2007):  1D-2D.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)


June 24, 2007

The Mexicans Are Not What Is Wrong with Mexico

Gerardo on the left; me in the middle; and Jenny in the right lower corner.  Photo by Jeanette (who you can just barely see in the mirror over Gerardo's shoulder).


In downtown Cancun we dined at a wonderful restaurant called Labná.  The food was authentic, varied, and delicious.  The service, from Gerardo (above) was attentive and replete with gracious good-will. 

The restaurant itself was an oasis of order in a milieu of disorder and decay.

As one tours Mexico, one has the sense of an enormous waste of human time and talent.  The incentive to act and the ability to get things done, is sucked away by an enormous cadre of parasitical rent-seeking hangers-on, who are either part of the government or who are privileged by government rules and regulations.

When the roof of our home in Nebraska was damaged by hail several years ago, it was replaced by a crew of Mexican workers. 

Our retired neighbor Howard had the habit of carefully monitoring all of our outdoor contractors.  Old, reliable, helpful, curmudgeony Howard (may he rest in peace) was much more likely to offer complaint than praise.  But Howard told me, with genuine respect and admiration in his voice, how impressed he was with how hard the Mexican crew had worked, especially through the oppressive heat of the summer days. 

The Mexicans are not what is wrong with Mexico.  What is wrong with Mexico is the Mexican government. 

In most areas of government activity, the Mexicans would benefit from a lot more of what Edmund Burke called "salutary neglect."


(Note:  Leonard Liggio reminded me of the wonderful phrase "salutary neglect" at the April 2007 meetings of the Association of Private Enterprise Education in Cancun.)

(Another note: The address of the Labná restaurant is Margaritas 29.  It is near a run-down park, where I purchased an OK cup of flan from a vendor for 10 pesos--the best flan I ever had for less than a dollar!)

June 23, 2007

Bjorn Lomborg's Copenhagen Consensus Against Kyoto


(p. 8) Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish statistician who recently led the Copenhagen Consensus, an economic analysis of global environment and development issues , said that while global warming was a serious problem, Kyoto-style limits would have little impact and would divert resources better spent on alleviating poverty.

He said one element missing from most climate discussions was the need for a more vigorous effort to improve climate-friendly energy technologies like solar power and carbon capture, in which greenhouse emissions are trapped and pumped underground before they can escape into the atmosphere.

While many advocates have proposed an emissions tax, Dr. Lomborg said a much smaller investment in research and development on such technologies would be more likely to help in the long run.


For the full story, see: 

ANDREW C. REVKIN.  "Talks to Start On Climate Amid Split On Warming."  The New York Times, Section 1  (Sun., November 5, 2006):  8. 


June 22, 2007

"Unlikely Collection of French Socialists" Liberated Global Capital Flows?


CapitalRulesBK.jpg   Source of book graphic:  http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/ADBCAP.html


Rawi Abdelal, a Harvard Business School professor, has advanced a novel theory in "Capital Rules: The Construction of Global Finance." Drawing on extensive documentary evidence, as well as dozens of interviews with high-level finance officials and midlevel bureaucrats, he tells a fascinating (and largely unknown) tale: how a clutch of French socialists helped to upend economic orthodoxy and lead the charge for lifting restrictions on capital flows within Europe and throughout the world.

. . .

Mr. Abdelal's story heats up with the election of Francois Mitterrand in 1981. The new president, together with his majority Socialist Party, set out to storm the Bastille of the economy. He announced plans to nationalize the banks and restrict cross-border capital flows to such a degree that French citizens could take the equivalent of only $427 with them for leisure travel outside France (and were prohibited from using credit cards during such travel). Rather than create a socialist Shangri-La, the moves led to economic chaos. The French had to devalue the franc three times in two short years. Mitterrand then made what the French would elegantly refer to as a tournant but we may bluntly call a U-turn.

This painful episode provided a powerful lesson to a number of senior French officials. Said one: "We recognized, at last, that in an age of interdependence capital would find a way to free itself, and we were obliged to liberate the rest." And so in a Nixon-goes-to-China move, an unlikely collection of French socialists set out to liberalize the country's controls on cross-border capital flows with a determination that gave new meaning to laissez-faire.

. . .

Mr. Abdelal is unequivocal about the value of Europe's action: "Global financial markets are global primarily because the process of European financial integration became open and uniformly liberal." He also highlights how free capital flows got a boost from the two primary credit-rating agencies, Standard & Poor's and Moody's. In the 1990s, both began to give higher ratings to government-backed debt when the country in question had an open capital account.


For the full review, see: 

MATTHEW REES.  "Business Bookshelf:  Why Money Can Now Make Its Way Around the World."  The Wall Street Journal (Weds., February 14, 2007):  D12.

(Note:  ellipses added.)


Boof reference: 

Rawi Abdelal.  CAPITAL RULES.  Harvard University Press, 304 pages, $49.95.


June 21, 2007

Even France Recognizes English as the Language of Business


The story below provides further evidence that those who are working hard to make English the mandatory language of the United States, should find themselves a real problem to worry about.


PARIS, April 7 — When economics students returned this winter to the elite École Normale Supérieure here, copies of a simple one-page petition were posted in the corridors demanding an unlikely privilege: French as a teaching language.

“We understand that economics is a discipline, like most scientific fields, where the research is published in English,” the petition read, in apologetic tones. But it declared that it was unacceptable for a native French professor to teach standard courses to French-speaking students in the adopted tongue of English.

In the shifting universe of global academia, English is becoming as commonplace as creeping ivy and mortarboards. In the last five years, the world’s top business schools and universities have been pushing to make English the teaching tongue in a calculated strategy to raise revenues by attracting more international students and as a way to respond to globalization.

Business universities are driving the trend, partly because changes in international accreditation standards in the late 1990s required them to include English-language components. But English is also spreading to the undergraduate level, with some South Korean universities offering up to 30 percent of their courses in the language. The former president of Korea University in Seoul sought to raise that share to 60 percent, but ultimately was not re-elected to his post in December.

In Madrid, business students can take their admissions test in English for the elite Instituto de Empresa and enroll in core courses for a master’s degree in business administration in the same language. The Lille School of Management in France stopped considering English a foreign language in 1999, and now half the postgraduate programs are taught in English to accommodate a rising number of international students.

Over the last three years, the number of master’s programs offered in English at universities with another host language has more than doubled, to 3,300 programs at 1,700 universities, according to David A. Wilson, chief executive of the Graduate Management Admission Council, an international organization of leading business schools that is based in McLean, Va.

“We are shifting to English. Why?” said Laurent Bibard, the dean of M.B.A. programs at Essec, a top French business school in a suburb of Paris that is a fertile breeding ground for chief executives.

“It’s the language for international teaching,” he said. “English allows students to be able to come from anyplace in the world and for our students — the French ones — to go everywhere.”


For the full story, see: 

DOREEN CARVAJAL.  "English as Language of Global Education."  The New York Times  (Weds., April 11, 2007):  A21.


June 20, 2007

Chichen Itza May Have Lasted Longer than Other Mayan City-States Because of Its Free Trade


  The guide told us that this area of pillars at Chichen Itza, in the Yucatan of Mexico, is thought to have been a market area.  (Photo taken by me on April 8, 2007, at the excursion to Chichen Itza arranged for the Association of Private Enterprise Education.)


Usually we think of the Catholic Church's great damage to knowledge being its persecution of Galileo and attempted suppression of heliocentricism.  But the suppression quickly failed and nothing permanent was lost.

A greater harm to knowledge may have been done when, in the name of the inquisition, countless Mayan manuscripts were burned by the Spanish conquistadors.

Evidence was destroyed that likely would have helped us understand how the Mayan society worked.

For example, we were told on our visit to Chichen Itza that one hypothesis has it that Chichen Itza lasted 300 years longer than all other Mayan city-states because it was the only city-state dominated by cosmopolitan merchant and entrepreneur culture--an hypothesis that I find highly congenial.

Unfortunately, much of the evidence that might have confirmed, elaborated, or refuted this hypothesis, was destroyed forever.


June 19, 2007

The Importance of Entrepreneurial Innovation


The U.S. in the midst of the most entrepreneurial era in its history, with more than 500,000 Americans involved in launching their own companies each year and an estimated 10% to 15% of all working adults engaged in some kind of entrepreneurial activity. And among these entrepreneurs, it is the innovators who matter most.

Their enterprises are the ones which create the jobs and industries of the future -- as they have lifted the economy's productivity in the past. The automobile, the airplane, the telephone, air conditioning, the personal computer and its software, and Internet search engines -- all were launched by innovative entrepreneurs rather than large companies.  


For the full commentary, see: 

ROBERT E. LITAN.  "Innovators Matter Most."  The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., February 24, 2007):   A8. 


June 18, 2007

Mexican Federal Taxi "Charters" Increase Taxi Prices


     A non-federally-chartered taxi leaves the Cancun Hilton, headed for the Cancun airport, charging $23.  An identical, but federally-chartered cab, making the reverse trip, charges $40.  (Photo by Art Diamond.)


When we arrived at the Cancun airport we faced a chaotic environment where many Mexicans were yelling at us to buy taxi tickets.  After buying a ticket for $40, someone escorted us to a crowded, chaotic place to wait for a cab.  We waited and waited in the noise and the heat.  At some point, my daughter Jenny commented, "These people need to get organized."

Yes, Jenny they sure do!  And you might think that what they need in order to get organized, is for the government to come in to organize them.

But it turns out that the government has already come in.  Only federally charged taxis are allowed to take passengers from the airport to the hotel zone.  The price is fixed at $40.  On the other hand, any taxi may take passengers back to the airport, from the hotel zone.  The base price for a return trip was $23 .  (I added a $2 tip out of sympathy for the cabbie not driving a federally anointed cab.)

So, yes, these people need to get organized, and the best way to do that is to get their government out of their way, so that they can organize themselves through the free market.


Note:  relevant guide book passage:  "[Returning to the airport] the rate will be much less for the trip from the airport.  (Only federally chartered taxis may take fared from the airport, but any taxi may bring passengers to the airport.)"  (p. 78)

Note:  italics in original; bracketed phrase added.



Baird, David, and Lynne Bairstow.  Frommer's Cancun, Cozumel  &  the Yucatan 2007.  Hoboken, NJ:  Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2006.


June 17, 2007

Nordhaus Critiques Stern's Case for Environmental Disaster

My only major disagreement with the commentary below, is that I have much more confidence that, given free market institutions, our descendants will have the incentives, energy, and ingenuity, to solve the problems that they will face.


The Stern Review’s most influential critic has probably been William Nordhaus, a 65-year-old Yale professor who is as mainstream as economists come.  Jeffrey D. Sachs, the anti-poverty advocate, calls Mr. Nordhaus “about the most reasonable man I know.”

He was the first speaker after lunch, and, of course, he had some very nice things to say about Sir Nicholas. The report “was presented here very eloquently by a distinguished scholar,” Mr. Nordhaus said. But then came the juicy stuff: the Stern Review “commits cruel and unusual punishment on the English language,” Mr. Nordhaus said, and the British government’s opinion on climate change is no more infallible than was its prewar view about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

This was fairly tame compared with the comments of another Yale economist, Robert O. Mendelsohn. “I was awestruck,” he said, comparing Sir Nicholas to “The Wizard of Oz.” But “my job is to be Toto,” he added, in the same good-humored tone Mr. Nordhaus used. “Is it in fact The Wizard of Oz, or is it nothing at all?”

The two professors raised some questions about the science in the Stern Review. Mr. Nordhaus wondered if carbon emissions and temperatures would rise as quickly as the report suggests, and Mr. Mendelsohn predicted that people would learn to adapt to climate change, reducing its ultimate cost.

But their main objection revolved around something called the discount rate. The Stern Review assumed that a dollar of economic damage prevented a century from now (adjusted for inflation) is roughly as valuable as a dollar spent reducing emissions today. In effect, the report argues for spending the money to cut emissions because future generations have as much claim on resources as current generations. “I’ve still not heard a decent ethical argument” for believing otherwise, Sir Nicholas said at the debate.

I’m guessing that your instinct is to agree with him. Mine certainly was. The problem is that none of us actually behave this way. If we really thought that our great-grandchild deserved our money as much as we do, we would never go out to dinner again. Instead, we would invest the $50 we would have spent on dinner, confident that it would grow over time and become perhaps $1,000 for our great-grandchild to put toward health care, education or a supercomputer. Any of that is preferable to our measly dinner.

But a dollar today truly is more valuable than a dollar a century from now. For one thing, your great-grandchild will almost certainly be richer than you are and won’t need your money as much as you do. So spending a dollar on carbon reduction today to avoid a dollar’s worth of economic damage in 2107 doesn’t make sense. We would be better off putting the money toward something likely to have a higher return than alternative energy, like education.

Technically, then, Sir Nicholas’s opponents win the debate. But in practical terms, their argument has a weak link. They are assuming that the economic gains from, say, education will make future generations rich enough to make up for any damage caused by climate change. Sea walls will be able to protect cities; technology can allow crops to grow in new ways; better medicines can stop the spread of disease.


For the full commentary, see: 

DAVID LEONHARDT.  "Economix; A Battle Over the Costs of Global Warming."  The New York Times  (Weds., February 21, 2007):  C1 & C5.

June 16, 2007

Most Subprime Mortgages are Paid, and Allow the Poor to Own Homes


A study conducted by Kristopher Gerardi and Paul S. Willen from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and Harvey S. Rosen of Princeton, Do Households Benefit from Financial Deregulation and Innovation? The Case of the Mortgage Market (National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 12967), shows that the three decades from 1970 to 2000 witnessed an incredible flowering of new types of home loans. These innovations mainly served to give people power to make their own decisions about housing, and they ended up being quite sensible with their newfound access to capital.

These economists followed thousands of people over their lives and examined the evidence for whether mortgage markets have become more efficient over time. Lost in the current discussion about borrowers' income levels in the subprime market is the fact that someone with a low income now but who stands to earn much more in the future would, in a perfect market, be able to borrow from a bank to buy a house. That is how economists view the efficiency of a capital market: people's decisions unrestricted by the amount of money they have right now.

And this study shows that measured this way, the mortgage market has become more perfect, not more irresponsible. People tend to make good decisions about their own economic prospects. As Professor Rosen said in an interview, ''Our findings suggest that people make sensible housing decisions in that the size of house they buy today relates to their future income, not just their current income and that the innovations in mortgages over 30 years gave many people the opportunity to own a home that they would not have otherwise had, just because they didn't have enough assets in the bank at the moment they needed the house.''

Of course, basing loans on future earnings expectations is riskier than lending money to prime borrowers at 30-year fixed interest rates. That is why interest rates are higher for subprime borrowers and for big mortgages that require little money down. Sometimes the risks flop. Sometimes people even have to sell their properties because they cannot make the numbers work.

. . .

And do not forget that the vast majority of even subprime borrowers have been making their payments. Indeed, fewer than 15 percent of borrowers in this most risky group have even been delinquent on a payment, much less defaulted.

When contemplating ways to prevent excessive mortgages for the 13 percent of subprime borrowers whose loans go sour, regulators must be careful that they do not wreck the ability of the other 87 percent to obtain mortgages. 


For the full commentary, see: 

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE.  "ECONOMIC SCENE; 'Irresponsible' Mortgages Have Opened Doors to Many of the Excluded."  The New York Times  (Thurs., March 29, 2007):  C3. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)


June 15, 2007

Blinder on Free Trade


OccupationsVulnerableGraph.gif    Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.


For awhile, during the Clinton administration, many Democratic economists, such as Alan Blinder, seemed to solidly support free trade as an engine for economic growth.  But now several Democratic economists, such as Blinder as described in the excerpt below, seem to be returning to the usual Democratic protectionist policies.

If the goal is economic progress and growth, such policies remain ill-advised, no matter how effective they are at helping Democrats to win elections.  To whit:  Ed Leamer provides the arguments and evidence against worries about outsourcing in his long, but excellent, review of Thomas Friedman's hand-wringing in The World is Flat.  (See way below for the reference.)


(p. A14)  Mr. Blinder's job-loss estimates in particular are electrifying Democratic candidates searching for ways to address angst about trade. "Alan, because of his stature, provided a degree of legitimacy to what many of us had come to feel anecdotally -- that the anxiety over outsourcing and offshoring was a far larger phenomenon than traditional economic analysis was showing," says Gene Sperling, an adviser to President Clinton and, now, to Hillary Clinton. Her rival, Barack Obama, spent an hour with Mr. Blinder earlier in this year.

Mr. Blinder's answer is not protectionism, a word he utters with the contempt that Cold Warriors reserved for communism. Rather, Mr. Blinder still believes the principle British economist David Ricardo introduced 200 years ago: Nations prosper by focusing on things they do best -- their "comparative advantage" -- and trading with other nations with different strengths. He accepts the economic logic that U.S. trade with large low-wage countries like India and China will make all of them richer -- eventually. He acknowledges that trade can create jobs in the U.S. and bolster productivity growth.

But he says the harm done when some lose jobs and others get them will be far more painful and disruptive than trade advocates acknowledge. He wants government to do far more for displaced workers than the few months of retraining it offers today. He thinks the U.S. education system must be revamped so it prepares workers for jobs that can't easily go overseas, and is contemplating changes to the tax code that would reward companies that produce jobs that stay in the U.S.

His critique puts Mr. Blinder in a minority among economists, most of whom emphasize the enormous gains from trade. "He's dead wrong," says Columbia University economist Jagdish Bhagwati, who will debate Mr. Blinder at Harvard in May over his assertions about the magnitude of job losses from trade. Mr. Bhagwati says that in highly skilled fields such as medicine, law and accounting, "If we do a real balance sheet, I have no doubt we're creating far more jobs than we're losing."

. . .

He was silent when his former Princeton student, N. Gregory Mankiw, then chairman of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, unleashed a political firestorm by reciting standard theory but appearing indifferent to pain caused to those whose jobs go overseas. "Does it matter from an economic standpoint whether items produced abroad come on planes and ships or over fiber optic cables?" Mr. Mankiw said at a February 2004 briefing. "Well, no, the economics is basically the same....More things are tradable than...in the past, and that's a good thing."

Mr. Blinder says he agreed with Mr. Mankiw's point that the economics of trade are the same however imports are delivered. But he'd begun to wonder if the technology that allowed English-speaking workers in India to do the jobs of American workers at lower wages was "a good thing" for many Americans. At a Princeton dinner, a Wall Street executive told Mr. Blinder how pleased her company was with the securities analysts it had hired in India. From New York Times' columnist Thomas Friedman's 2005 book, "The World is Flat," he found anecdotes about competition to U.S. workers "in walks of life I didn't know about."

Mr. Blinder began to muse about this in public. At a Council on Foreign Relations forum in January 2005 he called "offshoring," or the exporting of U.S. jobs, "the big issue for the next generation of Americans." Eight months later on Capitol Hill, he warned that "tens of millions of additional American workers will start to experience an element of job insecurity that has heretofore been reserved for manufacturing workers."

At the urging of former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, Mr. Blinder wrote an essay, "Offshoring: The Next Industrial Revolution?" published last year in Foreign Affairs. "The old assumption that if you cannot put it in a box, you cannot trade it is hopelessly obsolete," he wrote. "The cheap and easy flow of information around the globe...will require vast and unsettling adjustments in the way Americans and residents of other developed countries work, live and educate their children." (Read that full article.)

. . .

Diana Farrell, head of the McKinsey Global Institute, a pro-globalization think-tank arm of the consulting firm that has done its own analysis of vulnerable jobs, calls Mr. Blinder "an alarmist" and frets about the impact he is having on politicians, particularly the Democrats who see resistance to free trade as a political winner. She insists many jobs that could go overseas won't actually go.

Ms. Farrell says Mr. Blinder's work doesn't take into account the realities of business which make exporting of some jobs impractical or which create offsetting gains elsewhere in the U.S. economy. He counters he is looking further into the future than McKinsey -- 10 or 20 years instead of five -- and expects more technological change than the consultants do "even without the Buck Rogers stuff."


For the full story, see:

DAVID WESSEL and BOB DAVIS.  "JOB PROSPECTS; Pain From Free Trade Spurs Second Thoughts; Mr. Blinder's Shift Spotlights Warnings Of Deeper Downside."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., March 28, 2007):  A1 & A14. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)


For Leamer's wonderful riff on why we need not worry about outsourcing, see:

Leamer, Edward E.  "A Flat World, a Level Playing Field, a Small World after All, or None of the Above? A Review of Thomas L. Friedman's the World Is Flat."  Journal of Economic Literature  45, no. 1 (March 2007):  83-126.


BlinderAlanS.jpg  Alan S. Blinder.  Source of photo:  online version of the WSJ article cited above.


June 14, 2007

Entrepreneur Bets on Nuclear Power Revival


Entrepreneur Kyle Kimmerle at one of his 600 uranium claims.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


Kyle Kimmerle is an entrepreneur, risking his own money.  If he guesses right, he will make himself rich, by helping provide the fuel needed for generating electricity for us. 


(p. C1)  . . .   Prices for processed uranium ore, also called U308, or yellowcake, are rising rapidly. Yellowcake is trading at $90 a pound, nearing the record high, adjusted for inflation, of about $120 in the mid-1970s. The price (p. C4) has more than doubled in the last six months alone. As recently as late 2002, it was below $10.

A string of natural disasters, notably flooding of large mines in Canada and Australia, has set off the most recent spike. Hedge funds and other institutional investors, who began buying up uranium in late 2004 to exploit the volatility in this relatively small market, have accelerated the price rally.

But the more fundamental causes of the uninterrupted ascendance of prices since 2003 can be traced to inventory constraints among power companies and a drying up of the excess supply of uranium from old Soviet-era nuclear weapons that was converted to use in power plants. Add in to those factors the expected surge in demand from China, India, Russia and a few other countries for new nuclear power plants to fuel their growing economies.

“I’d call it lucky timing,” said David Miller, a Wyoming legislator and president of the Strathmore Mineral Corporation, a uranium development firm. “Three relatively independent factors — dwindling supplies of inventory, low overall production from the handful of uranium miners that survived the 25-year drought and rising concerns about global warming — all have coincided to drive the current uranium price higher by more than 1,000 percent since 2001.”

. . .  

. . .   “We won’t build a new plant knowing there’s nowhere to put the used fuel,” Mr. Malone of Exelon said. “We won’t build one without community support, and we won’t build until market conditions are in place where it makes sense.”

But that is not holding back Kyle Kimmerle, owner of the Kimmerle Funeral Home in Moab. Mr. Kimmerle, 30, spent summers during his childhood camping and working at several of his father’s mines in the area. In his spare time he has amassed more than 600 uranium claims throughout the once-productive Colorado Plateau.

“My guess is that next year my name won’t be on the sign of this funeral home anymore and I’ll be out at the mines,” he said.

He recently struck a deal with a company to lease 111 of his claims for development. The company, new to uranium mining, has pledged $500,000 a year for five years to improve the properties. Mr. Kimmerle will receive annual payments plus royalties for any uranium mined from the area.


For the full story, see: 

SUSAN MORAN and ANNE RAUP.  "A Rush for Uranium; Mines in the West Reopen as Ore Prices Reach Highs of the 1970s."  The New York Times  (Weds., March 28, 2007):   C1 & C4.

(Note:  ellipses added.)


UraniumPriceGraph.gif   Yellowcake, which is processed uranium, is in the third jar from the left of the top photo.  The photo below it is of old equipment at a dormant uranium mine.  Source of the photos and the graphic:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.


June 13, 2007

A Public Choice Theory of the Absence of Evidence of the Exodus of the Israelites


   The excavation of a fort from roughly the time and place of the biblical exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.  Source of photo:  the online version of the NYT article cited below.


The economic theory of public choice is often viewed as having begun with Buchanan and Tullock's The Calculus of Consent.  The theory seeks to explain the behavior of government, and government officials, as arising from the same self-interested motives as are used by economists to explain the behavior of free markets, firms, and consumers.


It didn’t look like much — some ancient buried walls of a military fort and a few pieces of volcanic lava. The archaeologist, Dr. Zahi Hawass, often promotes mummies and tombs and pharaonic antiquities that command international attention and high ticket prices. But this bleak landscape, broken only by electric pylons, excited him because it provided physical evidence of stories told in hieroglyphics. It was proof of accounts from antiquity.

That prompted a reporter to ask about the Exodus, and if the new evidence was linked in any way to the story of Passover. The archaeological discoveries roughly coincided with the timing of the Israelites’ biblical flight from Egypt and the 40 years of wandering the desert in search of the Promised Land.

“Really, it’s a myth,” Dr. Hawass said of the story of the Exodus, as he stood at the foot of a wall built during what is called the New Kingdom. 

. . .  

Recently, diggers found evidence of lava from a volcano in the Mediterranean Sea that erupted in 1500 B.C. and is believed to have killed 35,000 people and wiped out villages in Egypt, Palestine and the Arabian Peninsula, officials here said. The same diggers found evidence of a military fort with four rectangular towers, now considered the oldest fort on the Horus military road.

But nothing was showing up that might help prove the Old Testament story of Moses and the Israelites fleeing Egypt, or wandering in the desert. Dr. Hawass said he was not surprised, given the lack of archaeological evidence to date. But even scientists can find room to hold on to beliefs.

Dr. Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud, the head of the excavation, seemed to sense that such a conclusion might disappoint some. People always have doubts until something is discovered to confirm it, he noted.

Then he offered another theory, one that he said he drew from modern Egypt.

“A pharaoh drowned and a whole army was killed,” he said recounting the portion of the story that holds that God parted the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to escape, then closed the waters on the pursuing army.

“This is a crisis for Egypt, and Egyptians do not document their crises.”


For the full story, see: 

MICHAEL SLACKMAN.  "North Sinai Journal Did the Red Sea Part? No Evidence, Archaeologists Say."   The New York Times  (Tues., April 3, 2007):  A4.

(Note:  ellipsis added.) 


 A female skelaton buried near the fort (above).  Source of photo:  the online version of the NYT article cited above.


June 12, 2007

54 Year-Old Auto Worker Writes Three Novels After Taking Voluntary Buyout


     Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article cited below.


(p. 1)  TALK to Kenneth Doolittle about General Motors, where he once supervised a team of assembly line workers, and he readily speaks with pride about his job and the self-esteem it provided. “I loved all of it — the people, the work,” he says. “I was in a position finally where people listened to me when I spoke. I wasn’t just a Joe-Nobody. I contributed.”

Talk to Mr. Doolittle a little longer and he gradually describes why he decided to take a buyout from G.M. — joining more than 80,000 Big Three employees in the largest exodus of workers from a single American industry in decades.

. . .

The exodus that Mr. Doolittle is joining is voluntary. Some have changed their minds. More than 3,000 workers who signed up over the last year to leave Ford and G.M. subsequently decided to stay. These are, after all, the highest-paying blue-collar jobs left in America. Even so, workers are departing from the auto industry en masse, escaping — as they put it in interviews — increasingly difficult working conditions at companies they fear will desert them.

. . .

(p. 9)  When G.M. decided to close his plant in 2005, Mr. Doolittle’s seniority gave him every right to transfer to a much newer factory right next door, where G.M. is building a popular Cadillac sedan and is likely to do so for as long as Mr. Doolittle might have wanted a job. But he balked because of the change in stature that would accompany the switch.

Since his departure last year, he has struggled to occupy his time. Divorced, with four grown children, he divides his days between an apartment in Lansing and a trailer parked on a small lakefront plot that he owns north of the city. He has typed out on a laptop three novels “about my life experience.” And to make up some of his lost income — his $36,000 pension is 60 percent of his old pay — he works 20 hours a week, at $10 an hour, doing maintenance at Sears stores.

“That is just enough to keep me from watching Jerry Springer every day,” he said. “I don’t want to sit in front of a TV; I’m too young for that.”

. . .

Across America, more than 30 million people have been forced out of jobs since the early 1980s, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, and regaining lost incomes has not been easy. Nearly 50 million new jobs have been created over that same period, according to the bureau, so there are always new opportunities but more often than not at lower pay. Among those who have lost work, only a third held new jobs two years later that paid as well as those that were lost, according to the bureau’s surveys of displaced workers. Another third of those displaced were in jobs that paid, on average, 15 to 20 percent less than their previous employment — while the final third had dropped out of the labor force entirely.

The Census Bureau reported a jump in net migration out of Michigan last year: some 42,300 people left, up from 29,700 in 2005. That was far and away the largest outflow from the state since 1984, during the Rust Belt crisis, census data show.  . . .

. . .

The exodus is reminiscent of the Dust Bowl migration from the prairie states in the 1930s, when unemployed farmers gave up and trekked west to California. The Dust Bowl migration, on its face, was much more brutal — the number of displaced Okies, as they were called, was far greater than the current number of departing auto workers, and there were not corporate and public subsidies at the time to soften the hardship.

“The Okies did not know whether they would get to their destination before they starved to death,” said Daniel Luria, an economist at the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center. “The labor market prospects for the auto workers are not good, but they have assets. They are not in danger of immediately falling into poverty.”


For the full story, see:

UCHITELLE, LOUIS .  "The End of the Line as They Know It."  The New York Times, Section 3   (Sun., April 1, 2007):  1, 9, & 10.

(Note:  ellipses added.)


Novelist Kenneth Doolittle.  Source of photo:  screen capture from online version of the NYT article cited above.


June 11, 2007

The Safety Net in Europe and the United States


SafetyNetGraph.jpg   Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article cited below.


FROM issues of crime and punishment to the proper domain of the spiritual and temporal powers, Americans and Europeans have long cast a skeptical eye at one another across the Atlantic.

Perhaps nowhere has the gaze been more jaundiced than in the area of work. From the perspective of Western Europe, American employers have a relatively free hand to hire and fire, coupled with meager and short-lived unemployment benefits. America’s deregulated labor markets seem to provide hardly any safety net when it comes to economic dislocations of workers.

Americans, by contrast, have found it hard to resist a touch of schadenfreude at the joblessness stoked by European governments’ intervention in labor markets, with rules on everything from wages to layoffs, on top of generous unemployment benefits.


For the full commentary, see: 

EDUARDO PORTER.  "Economic View; A Bridge Over the Atlantic, in Labor Policy."  The New York Times, Section 3  (Sun., April 1, 2007):  5.


June 10, 2007

"Reports of Oil's Demise Are Greatly Exaggerated"


  Valves being checked by Brian Roe, at the Kern River oil field.  Source of the photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.


(p. A1)  BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — The Kern River oil field, discovered in 1899, was revived when Chevron engineers here started injecting high-pressured steam to pump out more oil. The field, whose production had slumped to 10,000 barrels a day in the 1960s, now has a daily output of 85,000 barrels.

In Indonesia, Chevron has applied the same technology to the giant Duri oil field, discovered in 1941, boosting production there to more than 200,000 barrels a day, up from 65,000 barrels in the mid-1980s.

And in Texas, Exxon Mobil expects to double the amount of oil it extracts from its Means field, which dates back to the 1930s. Exxon, like Chevron, will use three-dimensional imaging of the underground field and the injection of a gas — in this case, carbon dioxide — to flush out the oil.

Within the last decade, technology advances have made it possible to unlock more oil from old fields, and, at the same time, higher oil prices have made it economical for companies to go after reserves that are harder to reach. With plenty of oil still left in familiar locations, forecasts that the world’s reserves are drying out have given way to predictions that more oil can be found than ever before.

In a wide-ranging study published in 2000, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that ultimately recoverable resources of conventional oil totaled about 3.3 trillion barrels, of which a third has already been produced. More recently, Cambridge Energy Research Associates, an energy consultant, estimated that the total base of recoverable oil was 4.8 trillion barrels. That higher estimate — which Cambridge Energy says is likely to grow — reflects how new technology can tap into more resources.

“It’s the fifth time to my count that (p. A11) we’ve gone through a period when it seemed the end of oil was near and people were talking about the exhaustion of resources,” said Daniel Yergin, the chairman of Cambridge Energy and author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of oil, who cited similar concerns in the 1880s, after both world wars and in the 1970s. “Back then we were going to fly off the oil mountain. Instead we had a boom and oil went to $10 instead of $100.”

. . .

“I am very, very seriously worried about the future we are facing,” said Kjell Aleklett, the president of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas. “It is clear that oil is in limited supplies.”

Many oil executives say that these so-called peak-oil theorists fail to take into account the way that sophisticated technology, combined with higher prices that make searches for new oil more affordable, are opening up opportunities to develop supplies. As the industry improves its ability to draw new life from old wells and expands its forays into ever-deeper corners of the globe, it is providing a strong rebuttal in the long-running debate over when the world might run out of oil.

Typically, oil companies can only produce one barrel for every three they find. Two usually are left behind, either because they are too hard to pump out or because it would be too expensive to do so. Going after these neglected resources, energy experts say, represents a tremendous opportunity.

“Ironically, most of the oil we will discover is from oil we’ve already found,” said Lawrence Goldstein, an energy analyst at the Energy Policy Research Foundation, an industry-funded group. “What has been missing is the technology and the threshold price that will lead to a revolution in lifting that oil.”


For the full story, see:

JAD MOUAWAD.  "Oil Innovations Pump New Life Into Old Wells."  The New York Times   (Mon., March 5, 2007):  A1 & A11. 

(Note: ellipsis added.)


Also view the excellent little video "New Life for Old Oil Fields" that the NYT put together to accompany the article.


OilPipelinesAndPump.jpg   Kern River pipelines in front, and pump in back.  Source of graphic and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above.


June 9, 2007

Internet Increases Labor's Options


   A "local" Phoenix talk show host, Joe Crummey, broadcasts from his home in California.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.


The Internet is sometimes viewed as labor's enemy because it reduces the cost of outsourcing.  But it goes both ways:  labor can offer its services to a wider world because of the Internet. 


LOS ANGELES, March 27 — When people hear the radio host Joe Crummey on Phoenix’s popular KFYI murmur sarcastically, “We don’t have enough human rights activists in this town,” they know he means Phoenix.

Ditto for when he offers to assess the “east side west side traffic right now.”

As it turns out, Mr. Crummey, whose favorite talk show topics include immigration, patriotism and Arizona politics, is indeed reporting for duty in the valley. Just not in the Phoenix Valley.

Rather, it is here, in the San Fernando Valley, where he works via the Internet from his home on the top of a hill in the Studio City section of Los Angeles. Listeners in Phoenix are none the wiser.

Armed with four computers, a digital recorder, a constant stream of Fox News and a professional microphone, Mr. Crummey holds court for three hours each weekday during Phoenix’s drive-home time slot — from about 400 miles away in a neighboring state.


For the full story, see:

JENNIFER STEINHAUER.  "Live, From Station KFYI in ...Well, That’s Complicated."  The New York Times  (Weds., March 28, 2007):  A11.



June 8, 2007

Google Hires "Interesting" "Geniuses" & Provides Them a Workplace Where Interesting Geniuses Want to Be


   A break lounge at Google's Manhattan offices.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.


You could be forgiven for not knowing that a satellite Google campus is growing in downtown Manhattan. There is no Google sign on the building, and it’s hard to catch a glimpse of a Googler, as employees call themselves, on the street because the company gives them every reason to stay within its candy-colored walls.

From lava lamps to abacuses to cork coffee tables, the offices may as well be a Montessori school conceived to cater to the needs of future science-project winners.

. . .

“These are power geniuses,” said Jane Risen, a statuesque brunette who works in training for the sales staff and is considered among the best dressed on campus — she was wearing a brown blazer from the Gap. “If they don’t have the same social skill or style sense, they’re extremely interesting people or else they don’t get hired.”

. . .

The strategy of keeping employees happy and committed to spending endless hours on campus seems to be working. Richard Burdon, 37, an engineer who joined Google two years ago, has been staying past midnight to prepare for the introduction of a project. (Google’s Manhattan engineers have been responsible for developing Google Maps and are working on some 100 other projects.)

“Google is about as interesting as starting your own startup because you can really follow your own ideas,” said Mr. Burdon, who previously worked for Goldman Sachs, Sony and I.B.M. The only time he could remember leaving the office during the workday was to buy a friend a birthday present.


For the full story, see: 

DEBORAH SCHOENEMAN.  "Can Google Come Out to Play?"  The New York Times  (December 31, 2006).

(Note:  ellipses added.)


GoogleManhattanActivities.jpg   Work and non-work at Google's Manhattan offices.  Source of photos:  online version of the NYT article cited above.


June 7, 2007

The Peril of Being a Bald Economist


Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.


'The term 'income inequality' is a bit misleading because it suggests in a somewhat pejorative way that the rich are getting richer at the expense of the poor," Edward Lazear, a Stanford University labor economist who is now chairman of Mr. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, said last May. While it's a concern that some people are being left behind, he said, "There is some good news...most of the inequality reflects an increase in returns to 'investing in skills.'"

Mr. Lazear has nurtured his relationship with Mr. Bush. His office is decorated with photos of the two mountain biking. When he gave Mr. Bush a copy of the Economic Report of the President this year, Mr. Bush gave him a bear hug and kissed the top of his bald head, according to people who were present.


For the full story, see:

GREG IP and JOHN D. MCKINNON.  "THE OUTLOOK; Bush Reorients Rhetoric, Acknowledges Income Gap."  The Wall Street Journal  (Mon., March 26, 2007):  A2.


MedianWageGDPgraph.gif   Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article cited above.


June 6, 2007

More Evidence that Statins Match Stents for Long Life and Fewer Heart Attacks


    A stent from Boston Scientific.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.


Dr. Boden would not have been so "incredulous" if he had read August 2006 and December 2006 entries on artdiamondblog.com.  My title for this entry could have read "Statins Beat Stents" if I had taken account of statin's being less invasive than stents, with lower risk of complications.


NEW ORLEANS, March 26 — Many heart patients routinely implanted with stents to open arteries gain no lasting benefit compared with those treated just with drugs, researchers reported Monday.

The researchers said patients with stents to prop open coronary blood vessels in addition to being treated with statins and other heart drugs in a five-year trial had better blood flow to the heart than patients treated only with drugs.

But they did not live longer or suffer fewer heart attacks, a finding that confirmed the results of smaller studies.

The researchers also found that the stents were highly successful at improving blood flow and relieving symptoms, including chest pain and shortness of breath, but that the advantage disappeared over time.

“When I saw the results, I was incredulous,” said Dr. William E. Boden, a cardiologist at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, lead author of a report on the study published online on Monday by The New England Journal of Medicine.


For the full story, see: 

BARNABY J. FEDER.  "In Trial, Drugs Equal Benefits of Artery Stents."  The New York Times  (Tues., March 27, 2007):  A1 & A13.


June 5, 2007

Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin "Really Enjoyed the Montessori Method"


MOM-Web-Cover-2007-02.png MOM-Web-Brin-2007-02.png   Source for the image of the Moment issue cover, on left: http://www.momentmag.com/issue/index.html   Source for the image of the first page of the article, on right:  online version of the Moment article cited below.


Sergey, who turned six that summer, remembers what followed as simply “unsettling”—literally so. “We were in different places from day to day,” he says. The journey was a blur. First Vienna, where the family was met by representatives of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which helped thousands of Eastern European Jews establish new lives in the free world. Then, on to the suburbs of Paris, where Michael’s “unofficial” Jewish Ph.D. advisor, Anatole Katok, had arranged a temporary research position for him at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques. Katok, who had emigrated the year before with his family, looked after the Brins and paved the way for Michael to teach at Maryland.

When the family finally landed in America on October 25, they were met at New York’s Kennedy Airport by friends from Moscow. Sergey’s first memory of the United States was of sitting in the backseat of the car, amazed at all the giant automobiles on the highway as their hosts drove them home to Long Island.

The Brins found a house to rent in Maryland—a simple, cinder-block structure in a lower-middle-class neighborhood not far from the university campus. With a $2,000 loan from the Jewish community, they bought a 1973 Ford Maverick. And, at Katok’s suggestion, they enrolled Sergey in Paint Branch Montessori School in Adelphi, Maryland.

He struggled to adjust. Bright-eyed and bashful, with only a rudimentary knowledge of English, Sergey spoke with a heavy accent when he started school. “It was a difficult year for him, the first year,” recalls Genia. “We were constantly discussing the fact we had been told that children are like sponges, that they immediately grasp the language and have no problem, and that wasn’t the case.”

Patty Barshay, the school’s director, became a friend and mentor to Sergey and his parents. She invited them to a party at her house that first December (“a bunch of Jewish people with nothing to do on Christmas Day”) and wound up teaching Genia how to drive. Everywhere they turned, there was so much to take in. “I remember them inviting me over for dinner one day,” Barshay says, “and I asked Genia, ‘What kind of meat is this?’ She had no idea. They had never seen so much meat” as American supermarkets offer.

When I ask about her former pupil, Barshay lights up, obviously proud of Sergey’s achievements. “Sergey wasn’t a particularly outgoing child,” she says, “but he always had the self-confidence to pursue what he had his mind set on.”

He gravitated toward puzzles, maps and math games that taught multiplication. “I really enjoyed the Montessori method,” he tells me. “I could grow at my own pace.” He adds that the Montessori environment—which gives students the freedom to choose activities that suit their interests—helped foster his creativity.

“He was interested in everything,” Barshay says, but adds, “I never thought he was any brighter than anyone else.”


For the full story, see:

Mark Malseed.  "The Story of Sergey Brin; How the Moscow-born entrepreneur cofounded and changed the way the world searches."  Moment Magazine  (February 2007).


June 4, 2007

Chinese Restaurant Entrepreneur: "A Citizen's Legal Property Is Not to Be Encroached Upon"


CHONGQING, China, March 23 — For weeks the confrontation drew attention from people all across China, as a simple homeowner stared down the forces of large-scale redevelopment that are sweeping this country, blocking the preparation of a gigantic construction site by an act of sheer will.

Chinese bloggers were the first to spread the news, of a house perched atop a tall, thimble-shaped piece of land like Mont-Saint-Michel in northern France, in the middle of a vast excavation.

Newspapers dived in next, followed by national television. Then, in a way that is common in China whenever an event begins to take on hints of political overtones, the story virtually disappeared from the news media after the government, bloggers here said, decreed that the subject was suddenly out of bounds.

. . .

What drove interest in the Chongqing case was the uncanny ability of the homeowner to hold out for so long. Stories are legion in Chinese cities of the arrest or even beating of people who protest too vigorously against their eviction and relocation. In one often-heard twist, holdouts are summoned to the local police station and return home only to find their house already demolished. How did this owner, a woman no less, manage? Millions wondered.

Part of the answer, which on meeting her takes only a moment to discover, is that Wu Ping is anything but an ordinary woman. With her dramatic lock of hair precisely combed and pinned in the back, a form-flattering bright red coat, high cheekbones and wide, excited eyes, the tall, 49-year-old restaurant entrepreneur knows how to attract attention — a potent weapon in China’s new media age, in which people try to use public opinion and appeals to the national image to influence the authorities. 

. . .  

“I have more faith than others,” she began. “I believe that this is my legal property, and if I cannot protect my own rights, it makes a mockery of the property law just passed. In a democratic and lawful society a person has the legal right to manage one’s own property.”

Tian Yihang, a local college student, spoke glowingly of her in an interview at the monorail station. “This is a peculiar situation,” he said, with a bit of understatement. “I admire the owner for being so persistent in her principles. In China such things shock the common mind.”

. . .  

With the street so choked with onlookers that traffic began to back up, Ms. Wu’s brother, Wu Jian, began waving a newspaper above the crowd, pointing to pictures of Ms. Wu’s husband, a local martial arts champion, who was scheduled to appear in a highly publicized tournament that evening. “He’s going into our building and will plant a flag there,” Mr. Wu announced.

Moments later, as the crowd began to thin, a Chinese flag appeared on the roof with a hand-painted banner that read: “A citizen’s legal property is not to be encroached on.”

Asked how his brother-in-law had managed to get inside the locked site and climb the escarpment on which the house is perched, he said with a wink, “Magic.”  


For the full story, see: 

HOWARD W. FRENCH.  "CHONGQING JOURNAL; Homeowner Stares Down Wreckers, at Least for a While."  The New York Times  (Tues., March 27, 2007):  A4.

(Note:  ellipses added.)


ChinaHomeDefenderWuPing.jpg ChinaChonqingMap.jpg   On left, Wu Ping, with her tall brother in the background.  On right, a map showing the location of Chongqing in China.  Source of photo and map:  online version of the NYT article cited above.


June 3, 2007

More Retirees Choosing to Become Entrepreneurs


Call them silver entrepreneurs or senior entrepreneurs or third-age entrepreneurs. They are people who do not want -- or are not financially able -- to idle away their retirement years and, instead, opt to start a business.

. . .  

The numbers of retired people rejecting the unfettered leisure that has been the American model since the 1940's in favor of starting up a small business are not exact. Federal government data suggests there are now at least three million entrepreneurs who are 55 and over -- up one-third from the number counted in 2000.

''It's like this sea swell that has been under the radar,'' said Linda Wiener, the aging issues expert for Monster.com, the jobs search Web site. ''There are people who don't want to work an hourly job, and are wondering what are they going to do for the next 30 years?''

A majority of 800 workers surveyed last year for the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University indicated in their responses that traditional retirement was obsolete. Two-thirds expect to work after 55, and about 15 percent wanted to start their own business after they retired, the survey found.


For the full story, see: 

Elizabeth Olson.  "Small Business; In Life's Second Act, Some Take On A New Role: Entrepreneur."  The New York Times  (Thurs., September 28, 2006):  C6.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)


June 2, 2007

Communist Dictator Chavez Destroys Freedom of the Press in Venezuela


   Supporters of freedom in Venezuela protesting communist dictator Chavez's shutting down the television network that dared to criticize him.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article that is quoted and cited below. 


My Wabash College economics professor, Ben Rogge, used to say that political freedom ultimately depended on economic freedom:  how could you depend on a socialist government to provide a printing press to those who seek to undermine socialism?

(In his article "The Case for Economic Freedom" published in his Can Capitalism Survive? Rogge gives credit for the argument to his friend Milton Friedman in his Capitalism and Freedom, which was based on lectures given at Wabash.)

Well, if there is a heaven, I can imagine Rogge there, reading the following passages, and reacting with his sad, knowing, half-smile.


(p. A3)  CARACAS, Venezuela, May 27 — With little more than an hour to go late Sunday until this country’s oldest television network was to be taken off the air after 53 years of broadcasting, the police dispersed thousands of protesters by firing tear gas into demonstrations against the measure.

. . .

The president has defended the RCTV decision, saying that the network supported a coup that briefly removed him from office in 2002.

RCTV’s news programs regularly deride Mr. Chávez’s Socialist-inspired transformation of Venezuelan society. “RCTV lacks respect for the Venezuelan people,” said Onán Mauricio Aristigueta, 46, a messenger at the National Assembly who showed up to support the president.

Mr. Chávez has left untouched the operations of other private broadcasters who were also critical of him at the time of the 2002 coup but who have changed editorial policies to stop criticizing his government. That has led Mr. Chávez’s critics to claim that the move to allow RCTV’s license to expire amounts to a stifling of dissent in the news media.

“The other channels don’t say anything,” said Elisa Parejo, 69, an actress who was one of RCTV’s first soap opera stars. “What we’re living in Venezuela is a monstrosity,” she said at RCTV’s headquarters on Sunday, as employees gathered for an on-air remembrance of the network’s history. “It is a dictatorship.”


For the full story, see: 

SIMON ROMERO.  "Dueling Protests Over Shutdown of Venezuela TV Station."  The New York Times  (Mon., May 28, 2007):  A3.

(Note: the excerpts above are from the updated online version of the article that appeared online under the title: "Venezuela Police Repel Protests Over TV Network’s Closing.")

(Note:  ellipsis added.)


On 5/28/07 CNN broadcast a Harris Whitbeck report on students protesting the Chavez censorship under the title "Hear No Evil, See No Evil."


   Monica Herrero protests Chavez closing down the television network that dared to criticize his government.  Source of photo:  screen capture from the CNN report at http://www.cnn.com/video/partners/clickability/index.html?url=/video/world/2007/05/28/whitbeck.chavez.tv.affl


June 1, 2007

Passport Fiasco Would Bankrupt a Private Company, But Government Lumbers On


Here is an email that I sent to Congressman Lee Terry's office on Sat., March 24, 2007: 


I applied for a passport renewal on January 20, 2007.  The web form said that it would take about six weeks.  Later, on the web site they increased that to eight weeks.  Then 10 weeks.  The trip was scheduled for April 3rd, and as the weeks passed, my stress increased enormously.  I would have been willing (not happy, but willing) to pay the extra $60 for "expedited" service, if I had known they were going to lengthen the time for routine handling by a month.  But they only passed out that information after it was too late to do anything about it.  Insult was added to injury when the State Department passport office was unwilling to answer their phone after many tries at times ranging from early in the morning until a few minutes before midnight (eastern time).  Each time, a recorded voice would say:  visit the web site, or try to call later.  (But the web site did not have the answers to my questions, and calling "later" never worked.)

There is no excuse for the State Department not anticipating that there would be a huge increase in demand for passports when they put into effect the new mandate that passports be used to re-enter the U.S. from Mexico.  If a private business operated with the inefficiency of the passport office, they would justly go bankrupt. 

The only ray of sunlight in this dark vista was "Susie" of Lee Terry's office.  When I called the Omaha office they put her on the line, and she asked me relevant questions, and proceeded to get back to me the same day with what I needed to know.  She got through to an actual human being at the State Department, and learned that I would receive my passport in a few days.  (I received it yesterday.)  "Thank you" to Susie, and thank you to Lee Terry, for having an office staffed with competent people, who care.


Art Diamond



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