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February 28, 2009

Financial Crisis Is "A Coming-Out Party" for Taleb and Behavioral Economists



(p. A23) My sense is that this financial crisis is going to amount to a coming-out party for behavioral economists and others who are bringing sophisticated psychology to the realm of public policy. At least these folks have plausible explanations for why so many people could have been so gigantically wrong about the risks they were taking.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has been deeply influenced by this stream of research. Taleb not only has an explanation for what's happening, he saw it coming. His popular books "Fooled by Randomness" and "The Black Swan" were broadsides at the risk-management models used in the financial world and beyond.

In "The Black Swan," Taleb wrote, "The government-sponsored institution Fannie Mae, when I look at its risks, seems to be sitting on a barrel of dynamite, vulnerable to the slightest hiccup." Globalization, he noted, "creates interlocking fragility." He warned that while the growth of giant banks gives the appearance of stability, in reality, it raises the risk of a systemic collapse -- "when one fails, they all fail."

Taleb believes that our brains evolved to suit a world much simpler than the one we now face. His writing is idiosyncratic, but he does touch on many of the perceptual biases that distort our thinking: our tendency to see data that confirm our prejudices more vividly than data that contradict them; our tendency to overvalue recent events when anticipating future possibilities; our tendency to spin concurring facts into a single causal narrative; our tendency to applaud our own supposed skill in circumstances when we've actually benefited from dumb luck.

And looking at the financial crisis, it is easy to see dozens of errors of perception. Traders misperceived the possibility of rare events. They got caught in social contagions and reinforced each other's risk assessments. They failed to perceive how tightly linked global networks can transform small events into big disasters.

Taleb is characteristically vituperative about the quantitative risk models, which try to model something that defies modelization. He subscribes to what he calls the tragic vision of humankind, which "believes in the existence of inherent limitations and flaws in the way we think and act and requires an acknowledgement of this fact as a basis for any individual and collective action." If recent events don't underline this worldview, nothing will.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BROOKS. "The Behavioral Revolution." The New York Times (Tues., October 28, 2008): A31.


The reference to Taleb's Black Swan book is:

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. New York: Random House, 2007.


Another review of Taleb's book is:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. "Review of: Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. The Black Swan." Journal of Scientific Exploration 22, no. 3 (Fall 2008): 419-422.




February 27, 2009

Patients "Stuck on Waiting Lists" in Canadian Universal Healthcare



UniversalHealthcareCartoon.jpg









Source of image: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A17) In Ontario, Lindsay McCreith was suffering from headaches and seizures yet faced a four and a half month wait for an MRI scan in January of 2006. Deciding that the wait was untenable, Mr. McCreith did what a lot of Canadians do: He went south, and paid for an MRI scan across the border in Buffalo. The MRI revealed a malignant brain tumor.

Ontario's government system still refused to provide timely treatment, offering instead a months-long wait for surgery. In the end, Mr. McCreith returned to Buffalo and paid for surgery that may have saved his life. He's challenging Ontario's government-run monopoly health-insurance system, claiming it violates the right to life and security of the person guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Shona Holmes, another Ontario court challenger, endured a similarly harrowing struggle. In March of 2005, Ms. Holmes began losing her vision and experienced headaches, anxiety attacks, extreme fatigue and weight gain. Despite an MRI scan showing a brain tumor, Ms. Holmes was told she would have to wait months to see a specialist. In June, her vision deteriorating rapidly, Ms. Holmes went to the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, where she found that immediate surgery was required to prevent permanent vision loss and potentially death. Again, the government system in Ontario required more appointments and more tests along with more wait times. Ms. Holmes returned to the Mayo Clinic and paid for her surgery.

On the other side of the country in Alberta, Bill Murray waited in pain for more than a year to see a specialist for his arthritic hip. The specialist recommended a "Birmingham" hip resurfacing surgery (a state-of-the-art procedure that gives better results than basic hip replacement) as the best medical option. But government bureaucrats determined that Mr. Murray, who was 57, was "too old" to enjoy the benefits of this procedure and said no. In the end, he was also denied the opportunity to pay for the procedure himself in Alberta. He's heading to court claiming a violation of Charter rights as well.

. . .

Canada's system comes at the cost of pain and suffering for patients who find themselves stuck on waiting lists with nowhere to go. Americans can only hope that Barack Obama heeds the lessons that can be learned from Canadian hardships.



For the full commentary, see:

NADEEM ESMAIL. "'Too Old' for Hip Surgery." Wall Street Journal (Mon., February 9, 2009): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




February 26, 2009

Stimulus Statement to President Obama that I Signed



StimulusCatoAd.gif Source of image of stimulus statement: http://www.cato.org/fiscalreality


My name appeared on the list of economists supporting an open statement addressed to President Obama questioning the wisdom of the huge government spending package recently passed by Congress. The statement was published in full-page ads paid for by the Cato Institute that ran on p. A11 of the Weds., Jan. 28, 2009 New York Times and on p. A14 of the Mon., Feb. 9, 2009 Wall Street Journal.

You can download a PDF of the statement, along with the initial list of signatories, at:

http://www.cato.org/special/stimulus09/cato_stimulus.pdf




February 25, 2009

Government Monetary Excess Caused Financial Crisis



GettingOffTrackBK.jpg






Source of the book image: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51-z6te6nKL._SS500_.jpg


Stanford economics professor John Taylor's book Getting Off Track: How Government Actions and Interventions Caused, Prolonged and Worsened the Financial Crisis is scheduled to be published in late February 2009.

(p. A19) Many are calling for a 9/11-type commission to investigate the financial crisis. Any such investigation should not rule out government itself as a major culprit. My research shows that government actions and interventions -- not any inherent failure or instability of the private economy -- caused, prolonged and dramatically worsened the crisis.

The classic explanation of financial crises is that they are caused by excesses -- frequently monetary excesses -- which lead to a boom and an inevitable bust. This crisis was no different: A housing boom followed by a bust led to defaults, the implosion of mortgages and mortgage-related securities at financial institutions, and resulting financial turmoil.

Monetary excesses were the main cause of the boom. The Fed held its target interest rate, especially in 2003-2005, well below known monetary guidelines that say what good policy should be based on historical experience. Keeping interest rates on the track that worked well in the past two decades, rather than keeping rates so low, would have prevented the boom and the bust. Researchers at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have provided corroborating evidence from other countries: The greater the degree of monetary excess in a country, the larger was the housing boom.

. . .

The realization by the public that the government's intervention plan had not been fully thought through, and the official story that the economy was tanking, likely led to the panic seen in the next few weeks. And this was likely amplified by the ad hoc decisions to support some financial institutions and not others and unclear, seemingly fear-based explanations of programs to address the crisis. What was the rationale for intervening with Bear Stearns, then not with Lehman, and then again with AIG? What would guide the operations of the TARP?

It did not have to be this way. To prevent misguided actions in the future, it is urgent that we return to sound principles of monetary policy, basing government interventions on clearly stated diagnoses and predictable frameworks for government actions.

Massive responses with little explanation will probably make things worse. That is the lesson from this crisis so far.



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN B. TAYLOR. "How Government Created the Financial Crisis." Wall Street Journal (Tues., February 9, 2009): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




February 24, 2009

Mankiw Warns that Economic Forecasting Would Not Be Able to Give Much Advance Warning of a Depression



(p. 1) According to the economic historian Christina D. Romer, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, the great volatility of stock prices at the time also increased consumers' feelings of uncertainty, inducing them to put off purchases until the uncertainty was resolved. Spending on con-(p. 6)sumer durable goods like autos dropped precipitously in 1930.

. . .

Less successful were various market interventions. According to a study by the economists Harold L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian, both of the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, President Roosevelt made things worse when he encouraged the formation of cartels through the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933. Similarly, they argue, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 strengthened organized labor but weakened the recovery by impeding market forces.

. . .

What's next? Perhaps the most troubling study of the 1930s economy was written in 1988 by the economists Kathryn Dominguez, Ray Fair and Matthew Shapiro; it was called "Forecasting the Depression: Harvard Versus Yale." (Mr. Fair is an economics professor at Yale; Ms. Dominguez and Mr. Shapiro are at the University of Michigan.)

The three researchers show that the leading economists at the time, at competing forecasting services run by Harvard and Yale, were caught completely by surprise by the severity and length of the Great Depression. What's worse, despite many advances in the tools of economic analysis, modern economists armed with the data from the time would not have forecast much better. In other words, even if another Depression were around the corner, you shouldn't expect much advance warning from the economics profession.



For the full story, see:

N. GREGORY MANKIW. "Economic View; But Have We Learned Enough?" The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., October 26, 2008): 1 & 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)




February 23, 2009

UNO Economics Students Embrace Entrepreneurship




SstanleyGrant.jpg






"The company was founded with the thought that a recession would happen," said Grant Stanley, founder of marketing analytics firm Contemporary Analysis." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.



Grant was a student in my Economics of Technology and Economics of Entrepreneurship classes; Tadd was a student in my Honors Colloquium on Creative Destruction; Luis was a student in my Principle of Economics--Micro class. They have chosen an exciting path, and I wish them well!


(p. 1D) Grant Stanley was studying economics at the University of Nebraska at Omaha last year when he identified a business opportunity in the deteriorating economy.

A company making use of econometrics - a field that combines math, statistics and economics - could help small and midsize businesses make decisions in areas such as hiring, and sales and marketing techniques. Econometrics is widely used in education, government and large companies, Stanley said, but usually isn't applied to smaller businesses.

Stanley thought the need for business forecasting and marketing analytics firms would grow as companies looked for help developing long-term strategies in order to survive an economic downturn.

So Stanley, who was only 20 years old at the time, started Contemporary Analysis, a marketing analytics firm, in March 2008.

"The company was founded with the thought that a recession would happen."

Stanley courted classmate Tadd Wood, who also was 20 and studying economics, to help start the business, but it wasn't an easy task. Wood already had a part-time job and was helping out in his family's business.

"Tadd took months of, 'Hey, want to hang out?'" before he agreed, Stanley said.

The young men met their third partner - Luis Lopez, 20 - through a friend over the summer, and the trio hit the ground running.



For the full story, see:

STEFANIE MONGE. "Pitching a startup in a downturn." Omaha World-Herald (Monday, February 2, 2009): 1D & 3D.


StanleyGrantStartupGroup.jpg "Members of the Contemporary Analysis team at a conference table in the home of Paddy Tarlton. From left are Luis Lopez, Nancy Jimenez, Grant Stanley, Tarlton and Tadd Wood." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited above.





February 22, 2009

The Future Is "a Whirlpool of Uncertainty"




(p. B1) Nearly all of us try forecasting the market as if each of the past returns of every year in history had been written on a separate slip of paper and tossed into a hat. Before we reach into the hat, we imagine which return we are most likely to pluck out. Because the long-term average annual gain is about 10%, we "anchor" on that number, then adjust it up or down a bit for our own bullishness or bearishness.

But the future isn't a hat full of little shredded pieces of the past. It is, instead, a whirlpool of uncertainty populated by what the trader and philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls "black swans" -- events that are hugely important, rare and unpredictable, and explicable only after the fact.



For the full commentary, see:


JASON ZWEIG. "THE INTELLIGENT INVESTOR; Why Market Forecasts Keep Missing the Mark." Wall Street Journal (Mon., January 24, 2009): B1.



The reference for Taleb's book, is:

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. New York: Random House, 2007.


A brief, idiosyncratic review of Taleb's book, is:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. "Review of: Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. The Black Swan." Journal of Scientific Exploration 22, no. 3 (Fall 2008): 419-422.






February 21, 2009

Democratic 1997 Tax Break Fed Housing Bubble



HomeSalesSurgeAfter1997TaxBreakGraph.jpg















Source of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) "Tonight, I propose a new tax cut for homeownership that says to every middle-income working family in this country, if you sell your home, you will not have to pay a capital gains tax on it ever -- not ever."

-- President Bill Clinton, at the 1996 Democratic National Convention


Ryan J. Wampler had never made much money selling his own homes.

Starting in 1999, however, he began to do very well. Three times in eight years, Mr. Wampler -- himself a home builder and developer -- sold his home in the Phoenix area, always for a nice profit. With prices in Phoenix soaring, he made almost $700,000 on the three sales.

And thanks to a tax break proposed by President Bill Clinton and approved by Congress in 1997, he did not have to pay tax on most of that profit. It was a break that had not been available to generations of Americans before him. The benefits also did not apply to other investments, be they stocks, bonds or stakes in a small business. Those gains were all taxed at rates of up to 20 percent.

The different tax treatments gave people a new incentive to plow ever more money into real estate, and they did so. "When you give that big an incentive for people to buy and sell homes," said Mr. Wampler, 44, a mild-mannered native of Phoenix who has two children, "they are going to buy and sell homes."

By itself, the change in the tax law did not cause the housing bubble, economists say. Several other factors -- a relaxation of lending standards, a failure by regulators to intervene, a sharp decline in interest rates and a collective belief that house prices could never fall -- probably played larger roles.

But many economists say that (p. A22) the law had a noticeable impact, allowing home sales to become tax-free windfalls. A recent study of the provision by an economist at the Federal Reserve suggests that the number of homes sold was almost 17 percent higher over the last decade than it would have been without the law.

Vernon L. Smith, a Nobel laureate and economics professor at George Mason University, has said the tax law change was responsible for "fueling the mother of all housing bubbles."



For the full story, see:

VIKAS BAJAJ and DAVID LEONHARDT. "1997 Tax Break on Home Sales May Have Helped Inflate Bubble." The New York Times (Fri., December 19, 2008): A1 & A22.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated December 18, and has the somewhat different title: "The Reckoning; Tax Break May Have Helped Cause Housing Bubble.")


WamplerRyan.jpg "Ryan J. Wampler made nearly $700,000 on three sales of his own homes in eight years." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




February 20, 2009

Stimulus Bill Causes "Burden from Higher Taxes Down the Road"



In the op-ed piece quoted below, Nobel-prize winner Gary Becker, along with Kevin Murphy, express reservations about the recently-passed stimulus bill, although they apparently do not go quite as far as Harvard economist Robert Barro, who believes the multiplier may be close to zero (which would imply no stimulus from the stimulus bill).

Although Becker and Murphy believe that there will be some stimulus, they emphasize that the costs will be substantial:

(p. A17) The increased federal debt caused by this stimulus package has to be paid for eventually by higher taxes on households and businesses. Higher income and business taxes generally discourage effort and investments, and result in a larger social burden than the actual level of the tax revenue needed to finance the greater debt. The burden from higher taxes down the road has to be deducted both from any short-term stimulus provided by the spending program, and from its long-run effects on the economy.


For the full commentary, see:

GARY S. BECKER and KEVIN M. MURPHY. "There's No Stimulus Free Lunch." Wall Street Journal (Tues., February 10, 2009): A17.




February 19, 2009

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide that is Probably Not Caused by Human Activity



JupiterLikePLanetDrawing.jpg "This artist's concept shows a cloudy Jupiter-like planet that orbits very close to its fiery hot star." Source of caption and image: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A31) Astronomers testing techniques to search for extraterrestrial life have detected carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet 63 light-years away.

This carbon dioxide, though, is certainly not coming from plants or automobiles. The planet, HD 189733b, is far too large (about the mass of the Jupiter) and too hot (1,700 degrees Fahrenheit) for any possibility of life.



For the full story, see:

KENNETH CHANG. "Carbon Dioxide (No S.U.V.'s) Detected on Distant Planet." The New York Times (Thurs., December 11, 2008): A31.




February 18, 2009

Harvard Economist Barro Calls Stimulus Bill "Garbage"



(p. A17) Harvard economist Robert Barro being interviewed on the stimulus bill by the Atlantic:

Barro: This is probably the worst bill that has been put forward since the 1930s. I don't know what to say. I mean it's wasting a tremendous amount of money. It has some simplistic theory that I don't think will work, so I don't think the expenditure stuff is going to have the intended effect. I don't think it will expand the economy. And the tax cutting isn't really geared toward incentives. It's not really geared to lowering tax rates; it's more along the lines of throwing money at people. On both sides I think it's garbage. So in terms of balance between the two it doesn't really matter that much.



For the full excerpt of the Atlantic interview with Barro, see:

Robert Barro. "Notable & Quotable." Wall Street Journal (Tues., February 10, 2009): A17.

(Note: italics in original.)




February 17, 2009

Christensen Book Re-Thinks Basic Assumptions About Health Care Innovation




Innovators PrescriptionBK.jpg







Source of book image: http://images.barnesandnoble.com/images/34000000/34009038.jpg


Christensen's new book hit the shelves in December 2008. His ideas on health care are promising, if the special interests don't get in the way. (I have not yet read the new book, but have read earlier versions of his proposals on how disruptive innovations can improve health care.)

(p. R2) BUSINESS INSIGHT: Your coming book, "The Innovator's Prescription," takes a look at health care. How likely do you think it is we'll see substantial innovation in the structure of the U.S. health-care system?

DR. CHRISTENSEN: Well, one great benefit of the current economic crisis is that it will create pressure to find a real solution to the health-care problem. Right now, emergencies exist at companies like General Motors, which has got to drive the cost of its health care down. Every city and town in America would be bankrupt if they kept their books the way private-sector companies keep their books -- because of the obligation cities and towns have taken upon themselves to provide health care for their retirees.

And so we really are in an emergency where it's likely that employers and health-care providers are open to completely rethinking some of the basic assumptions that made innovation seem impossible. What we're hoping with this book is that we can just bring a way to frame the problem that can help people reach consensus around a course of action that otherwise, at another time, would have seemed quite counterintuitive.



For the full interview, see:

Martha E. Mangelsdorf, interviewer. "Executive Briefing; How Hard Times Can Drive Innovation." Wall Street Journal (Mon., DECEMBER 15, 2008): R2.

(Note: ellipses added.)




February 16, 2009

Ending Capital-Gains Tax Would Encourage Funding for Entrepreneurial Ventures



(p. A15) In virtually all economics classes, including those taught by the many excellent economists on the Obama team, the idea of government spending as an engine for growth is not a popular topic. Yet despite their skepticism of Keynesianism in the classroom, when it comes to public policy, these economists happily endorse a large stimulus package that could bring our deficit to 10% of GDP. Why?

One explanation is that these economists think this recession is an extraordinary one.

. . .


But this particular recession is unique not in its dimensions, but in its sources. First, it is the result of a financial crisis that severely affected stock-market valuations. The bad equilibrium did not originate in the labor market, but in the credit market, where investors are reluctant to lend to risky firms. This reluctance is making it difficult for these firms to refinance their debt, forcing them to default on their credit, further validating investors' fear. Thus, the problem is how to increase investors' willingness to take risk. It's unclear how the proposed stimulus package would help inspire investors to do so.

. . .


So how do we stimulate the economy without increasing the already large current-account deficit? It's not easy, but here is an idea: Create the incentive for people to take more risk and move their savings from government bonds to risky assets. There is no better way to encourage this than a temporary elimination of the capital-gains tax for all the investments begun during 2009 and held for at least two years

.

For the full commentary, see:

ALBERTO ALESINA and LUIGI ZINGALES. "Let's Stimulate Private Risk Taking." Wall Street Journal (Weds., JANUARY 21, 2009): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)




February 15, 2009

"Little Risk the Ice Sheet Will Collapse"



JakobshavnIsbraeGlacierFissure.jpg "To probe the underside of Greenland's glaciers, NASA researcher Alberto Behar released 90 specially tagged rubber ducks into a fissure of the Jakobshavn Isbrae glacier in Greenland, tracking their progress along underground melt-water streams." Source of caption: typed from print version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: edited screen capture from the online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A13) As researchers learn more about the mechanics of Greenland's glaciers, they are becoming convinced that, by itself, the sub-surface water slide created by so much melting ice may be a short-lived seasonal effect, says University of Washington polar scientist Ian Joughin. The glaciers speed up in the summer but slow down in the fall. If that's true, there may be little risk the ice sheet will collapse as some scientists recently feared -- at least not for the foreseeable future.


For the full story, see:

ROBERT LEE HOTZ. "The Sober Science of Migrating Rubber Duckies; An Armada of Tub Toys Sets Sail in New Research Discipline, 'Flotsam Science,' and Helps Unravel Enduring Planetary Mysteries." Wall Street Journal (Mon., November 14, 2008): A13.




February 14, 2009

Stimulus Bill is "Big, Messy, Largely Off-Point and Philosophically Chaotic"



(p. A11) The final bill was privately agreed by most and publicly conceded by many to be a big, messy, largely off-point and philosophically chaotic piece of legislation. The Congressional Budget Office says only 25% of the money will even go out in the first year. This newspaper, in its analysis, argues that only 12 cents of every dollar is for something that could plausibly be called stimulus.

What was needed? Not pork, not payoffs, not eccentric base-pleasing, group-greasing forays into birth control as stimulus, . . .

. . .

I think there is an illness called Goldmansachs Head. . . . When you have Goldmansachs Head, the party's never over. You take private planes to ask for bailout money, you entertain customers at high-end spas while your writers prep your testimony, you take and give huge bonuses as the company tanks. When you take the kids camping, you bring a private chef. Goldmansachs Head is Bernie Madoff complaining he's feeling cooped up in the penthouse. It is the delusion that the old days continue and the old ways prevail and you, Prince of the Abundance, can just keep rolling along. Here is how you know if someone has GSH: He has everything but a watch. He doesn't know what time it is.

. . .

But you don't have to be on Wall Street to have GSH. Congress has it too. That's what the stimulus bill was about--not knowing what time it is, not knowing the old pork-barrel, group-greasing ways are over, done, embarrassing. When you create a bill like that, it doesn't mean you're a pro, it doesn't mean you're a tough, no-nonsense pol. It means you're a slob.

That's how the Democratic establishment in the House looks, not like people who are responding to a crisis, or even like people who are ignoring a crisis, but people who are using a crisis.




For the full commentary, see:

PEGGY NOONAN. "OPINION; DECLARATIONS; Look at the Time." Wall Street Journal (Sat., JANUARY 30, 2009): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)




February 13, 2009

New Business Model for Promoting Disruptive Innovation



ChristensenClayton2009-01-21.jpg








"Clayton M. Christensen" Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ interview quoted and cited below.


(p. R2) BUSINESS INSIGHT: . . . There must be, . . . , cases where concerns about the market cause companies to abandon their plans for new products or really retrench. Or do you see that happening less these days as companies realize the importance of keeping up with changing markets?

DR. CHRISTENSEN: In the next two years, I think the answer will hinge quite a bit on the role that hedge funds play in driving stock prices. By now, 95% of all trades on the stock exchange are executed by hedge funds, mutual funds or pension funds that you could not call shareholders. They're share owners, but they don't even hold the shares long enough, on average, to vote the proxy. And long-term shareholders are always better for innovation than the short-term people are.

BUSINESS INSIGHT: So we might see innovation more from private companies?

DR. CHRISTENSEN: Absolutely right. And there's another business model toward which more and more companies need to move. It's a business model you see with Li & Fung in Hong Kong, Tata Sons in India, and Cox Enterprises in Atlanta. In this model, the holding company is privately held, and then certain of the subsidiary companies that have the right characteristics take their shares public on the market.

What that allows those companies to do is, when they have a disruptive innovation that they need to launch, they can just do it under the private umbrella of the holding company, and not have it reduce the near-term performance of the publicly held subsidiaries.



For the full interview, see:

Martha E. Mangelsdorf, interviewer. "Executive Briefing; How Hard Times Can Drive Innovation." Wall Street Journal (Mon., DECEMBER 15, 2008): R2.

(Note: ellipses added.)




February 12, 2009

"A Splendid Birthday Present" for Charles Darwin



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Source of the book image: http://images.barnesandnoble.com/images/34510000/34519930.jpg


(p. A13) . . ., on Feb. 12, biologists the world over will celebrate Charles Darwin's 200th birthday. Throughout the year, at festivals galore marking his bicentennial, "On the Origin of Species," a mere 150 years old, will be hailed as one of the greatest works in the history of the sciences.

. . .

Mr. Coyne begins with a succinct account of what is at stake. "Life on earth evolved gradually beginning with one primitive species -- perhaps a self-replicating molecule -- that lived more than 3.5 billion years ago; it then branched out over time, throwing off many and diverse species; and the mechanism for most (but not all) of evolutionary change is natural selection."

Darwinism is thus a claim with several basic components, and the book is structured by carefully exhibiting the evidence for each. Making that structure explicit allows readers to recognize just where they are in the argument. As they follow Mr. Coyne's parade of evidence -- his discussions of the fossil record, of vestigial traits, of the ways in which living things constantly make novel use of the bits and pieces they have inherited, of the distribution of plants and animals -- the components of Darwin's thesis are sequentially supported. We have a list of things to be shown, they are shown and the truth of evolution is established.

. . .

Yet will any defense of Darwin, however painstaking and lucid, succeed in substantially modifying the public-opinion survey results? Mr. Coyne has seen the opposition first-hand, recounting his experience of talking to a group of businessmen about evolution and eliciting the reaction: "Very convincing -- but I don't believe it." This sort of skepticism is often rooted in a sense that Darwinism somehow discredits morality -- a perception that Mr. Coyne argues against, cogently, in a brief final chapter. But he does not seem to appreciate the depth of popular hostility toward Darwin.

. . .

Whether or not he succeeds in bringing Americans en masse to learn to love evolution, he has offered Darwin a splendid birthday present.



For the full review, see:

PHILIP KITCHER. "Bookshelf; Following the Evidence." Wall Street Journal (Thurs., JANUARY 29, 2009): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

The reviewed book is:

Coyne, Jerry A. Why Evolution Is True. New York: Viking, 2009.


A classic paper on whether the speed of a scientist's acceptance of evolution was related to the scientist's age, is:

David L. Hull, Peter D. Tessner and Arthur M. Diamond. "Planck's Principle: Do Younger Scientists Accept New Scientific Ideas with Greater Alacrity than Older Scientists?" Science 202 (November 17, 1978): 717-723.




February 11, 2009

Socialist Guyanese Government Welcomed Jonestown




(p. W3) We expect our killing fields to be marked a certain way, and with at least a certain rhetoric of rectitude. At Jonestown, in Guyana, there are no markers, no memorials noting what took place, no manicured clearings to mark how the site looked 30 years ago, when more than 900 Americans died there in a still hard-to-imagine moment of mass suicide and outright murder.

. . .

The Guyanese government had tried to develop a new and proud independent identity for the country that would serve as a model for postcolonial development -- and initially welcomed Jim Jones as a blow to the American forces of imperialism. After the massacre, the country's leaders opted to absolve themselves of the events, pointing to the Americans as if they had landed from Mars.

. . .

The idea of colonizing the interior, whether it be for its mineral promise or for imagining a new social reality and set of possibilities for future generations, has long enchanted -- and frustrated -- post-independence Guyanese politicians.

No political leader was more adept at exploiting the idea or realizing its failure than Forbes Burnham, who led the country from independence in 1966 until his death in 1985. His aspirations to create a unique Guyanese path to socialism -- through a top-heavy program of massively nationalized industry and agriculture in the interior -- aggressively chased off foreign investment.

Mr. Burnham welcomed not only Jim Jones but other soi-disant radical movements into Guyana, turning the country into an ideological Disneyworld for the charismatic and the disaffected in the late '70s. After the Jonestown massacre, he hatched a clandestine scheme with a Christian evangelical group associated with Billy Graham's son Franklin to repopulate the site with anti-Communist Hmong tribesmen exiled from Laos. Like most of Mr. Burnham's pipe dreams of developing the bush, it failed.

In 1978, Mr. Burnham's unpopularity was growing and his overconfident austerity economy was failing. Guyanese-style socialist development meant not only nationalization of foreign companies but strict laws against exports, which led to crippling food shortages.




For the full commentary, see:

ERIC BANKS. "Essay; The Legacy of Jonestown; Thirty years after the murder-suicides in Guyana, the country struggles with memories of the event." Wall Street Journal (Sat., DECEMBER 13, 2008): W3.

(Note: ellipses added.)






February 10, 2009

Leeuwenhoek's Great Discovery Was at First Rejected by the "Experts"



In the passage quoted below, Hager discusses the reception that Leeuwenhoeck received to his first report of the "animalcules" seen under his microscope:

(p. 42) He hired a local artist to draw what he saw and sent his findings to the greatest scientific body of the day, the Royal Society of London.

(p. 43) Van Leeuwenhoek's raising of the curtain on a new world was greeted with what might kindly be called a degree of skepticism. Three centuries later a twentieth-century wit wrote a lampoon of what the Royal Society's secretary might well have responded:

Dear Mr. Anthony van Leeuwenhoek,

Your letter of October 10th has been received here with amusement. Your account of myriad "little animals" seen swimming in rainwater, with the aid of your so-called "microscope," caused the members of the society considerable merriment when read at our most recent meeting. Your novel descriptions of the sundry anatomies and occupations of these invisible creatures led one member to imagine that your "rainwater" might have contained an ample portion of distilled spirits---imbibed by the investigator. Another member raised a glass of clear water and exclaimed, "Behold, the Africk of Leeuwenhoek." For myself, I withhold judgement as to the sobriety of your observations and the veracity of your instrument. However, a vote having been taken among the members---accompanied, I regret to inform you, by considerable giggling---it has been decided not to publish your communication in the Proceedings of this esteemed society. However, all here wish your "little animals" health, prodigality and good husbandry by their ingenious "discoverer."



The satire was not far from the truth. Although very interested in the Dutchman's discoveries, so many English scientists were doubtful about his reports that van Leeuwenhoek had to enlist an English vicar and several jurists to attest to his findings. Then Hooke himself confirmed them. All doubt was dispelled.



Source:

Hager, Thomas. The Demon under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor's Heroic Search for the World's First Miracle Drug. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007.





February 9, 2009

Google and Lessig Finally See that So-Called "Network Neutrality" Delays Progress




InternetTrafficGraph.gif







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


(p. A1) The celebrated openness of the Internet -- network providers are not supposed to give preferential treatment to any traffic -- is quietly losing powerful defenders.

Google Inc. has approached major cable and phone companies that carry Internet traffic with a proposal to create a fast lane for its own content, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Google has traditionally been one of the loudest advocates of equal network access for all content providers.

At risk is a principle known as network neutrality: Cable and phone companies that operate the data pipelines are supposed to treat all traffic the same -- nobody is supposed to jump the line.

But phone and cable companies argue that Internet content providers should share in their network costs, particularly with Internet traffic growing by more than 50% annually, according to estimates. Carriers say that to keep up with surging traffic, driven mainly by the proliferation of online video, they need to boost revenue to upgrade their networks. Charging companies for fast lanes is one option.

One major cable operator in talks with Google says it has been reluctant so far to strike a deal because of concern it might violate Federal Communications Commission guidelines on network neutrality.

"If we did this, Washington would be on fire," says one execu-(p. A6)tive at the cable company who is familiar with the talks, referring to the likely reaction of regulators and lawmakers.

(p. A6) Separately, Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. have withdrawn quietly from a coalition formed two years ago to protect network neutrality. Each company has forged partnerships with the phone and cable companies. In addition, prominent Internet scholars, some of whom have advised President-elect Barack Obama on technology issues, have softened their views on the subject.

. . .

. . . Lawrence Lessig, an Internet law professor at Stanford University and an influential proponent of network neutrality, recently shifted gears by saying at a conference that content providers should be able to pay for faster service. Mr. Lessig, who has known President-elect Barack Obama since their days teaching law at the University of Chicago, has been mentioned as a candidate to head the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the telecommunications industry.



For the full story, see:

VISHESH KUMAR and CHRISTOPHER RHOADS. "Google Wants Its Own Fast Track on the Web." Wall Street Journal (Mon., DECEMBER 15, 2008): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)




February 8, 2009

A Toast to Schumpeter on His Birthday (February 8, 1883)



ForbesKeynesSchumpeterCover1983-05-23edited.jpg








Source: scan (and crop) of the cover of the May 23, 1983 issue of Forbes .


In the May 23, 1983 issue of Forbes there appeared a now-famous essay by the late and great management guru Peter Drucker in which he pointed out that 1983 was the centennial of the birth of both John Maynard Keynes and Joseph A. Schumpeter. He noted that in the decades since the great economists' passing, the academic and policy worlds worshiped at the feet of Keynes, and all but ignored Schumpeter (hence the many candles in front of the Keynes portrait on the cover, and the single, small candle in front of the Schumpeter portrait).

But Drucker argued that the world had gotten it wrong. Schumpeter was more important because he had understood a crucial truth: the process of creative destruction is indeed the essential fact about capitalism.


The reference for the original Drucker essay is:

Drucker, Peter F. "Modern Prophets: Schumpeter or Keynes?" Forbes, May 23, 1983, 124-28.

The reference to the reprint of the Drucker essay is:

Drucker, Peter F. "Modern Prophets: Schumpeter or Keynes?" In The Frontiers of Management New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1999, 104-15.

A typo-laden version of the essay has been posted on the web at:

http://www.peterdrucker.at/en/texts/proph_01.html

(Note: I thank Aaron Brown for alerting me to the neat cover that appears at the top of this entry).




February 7, 2009

Economic Freedom Correlated with "Every Indicator of Well-Being"



FreedomIndex2009.gif Source of table: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A17) For 15 years, The Wall Street Journal and The Heritage Foundation have been measuring countries' commitment to free-market capitalism in the "Index of Economic Freedom." The 2009 Index, published this week, provides strong evidence that the countries that maintain the freest economies do the best job of promoting prosperity for all citizens.

The positive correlation between economic freedom and national income is confirmed yet again by this year's data. The freest countries enjoy per capita incomes over 10 times higher than those in countries ranked as "repressed." This year, for the first time, the Index also correlates economic freedom with important societal values like poverty reduction, human development, political freedom and environmental protection. The linkages are robust, with economically freer countries performing significantly better on every indicator of well-being.

. . .

In a special chapter in this year's Index, the Journal's Stephen Moore chronicles the critical role that tax cuts, particularly cuts in corporate taxes, have played in economic growth in Eastern European countries and others like Ireland. The citizens of those countries lived for decades with state-directed economic planning and regulation, which many now advocate for the U.S. and other advanced economies. They remember the clumsiness of socialism and the government missteps that fostered economic disaster. To switch dance partners now that they have adapted to the quick step of capitalism and are enjoying its many benefits would be a tragic mistake.

It would be ironic indeed if the world's advanced economies, in seeking to address current woes, abandoned the system that has brought them and others around the world the amazing levels of prosperity experienced over the last half century. The "Index of Economic Freedom" provides a record of that progress. It charts the path to economic advancement and proves that the best way forward is to hang onto our partner and step to the music of the market.



For the full commentary, see:

TERRY MILLER. "Freedom Is Still the Winning Formula." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., January 13, 2009): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




February 6, 2009

Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Consumers Will Delay Decisions If Government Policies Are Uncertain



(p. A15) . . . , the new administration needs to be clearer on its long-run goals and policies. Mr. Obama deserves time to lay out his longer-term agenda, but he must reassure those who would put capital at risk that we are not headed toward a European-style social welfare state. Will he push for financial reform with better intelligence, the centerpiece being that any firm that is or could quickly become too big to fail must be subject to real-time capital adequacy and risk disclosure and monitoring? Or will he just push for more punitive regulation?

Mr. Obama has pledged to go through the budget and shut down ineffective programs, but how much shorter is his list than mine or yours? Is he capable of a "Nixon goes to China" on Social Security, as President Bill Clinton once hoped to do? Or will he push for tax reform and simplification with a broader base and lower rates?

One thing is certain: Investors, workers and employers need to have a sense of where tax, spending and regulatory policy are headed, or they will postpone decisions and further weaken the economy.



For the full commentary, see:

MICHAEL BOSKIN. "OPINION; Investors Want Clarity Before They Take Risks." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., JANUARY 23, 2009): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




February 5, 2009

Inventors Move from Declining Industries to New, Expanding Industries



Petra Moser's comments (see below) about inventors applying similar ideas to different industries seem complementary to Burke's emphasis on the importance of serendipitous "connections." An inventor exposing herself to many industries' problems and products, would be more likely to see additional applications for inventions originally developed for another industry.

(p. 3) By some logic, there is no earthly reason why bicycles should still exist.

They are a quaint, 19th-century invention, originally designed to get someone from point A to point B. Today there are much faster, far less labor-intensive modes of transportation. And yet hopeful children still beg for them for Christmas, healthful adults still ride them to work, and daring teenagers still vault them down courthouse steps. The bicycle industry has faced its share of disruptive technologies, and it has repeatedly risen from the ashes.

. . .

"Much of the history of the 'American system of manufacturing' is the story of inventors moving from a declining industry to a new expanding industry," says Petra Moser, an economic historian at Stanford who studies innovation. "Inventors take their skills with them."

Gun makers learned to make revolvers with interchangeable parts in the mid-19th century, Ms. Moser says. Then those companies (and some former employees, striking out on their own) applied those techniques to sewing machines when demand for guns slackened. Later, sewing machine manufacturers began making woodworking machinery, bicycles, cars and finally trucks.

. . .

Meanwhile, we've already seen some of the "destruction" half of Joseph Schumpeter's famous "creative destruction" paradigm, with many newspapers cutting staff and other production costs. Unfortunately for newspapers, historians say, the survivors in previous industries facing major technological challenges were usually individual companies that adapted, rather than an entire industry. So a bigger shakeout may yet come.

But perhaps the destruction will lead to more creativity. Perhaps the people we now know as journalists -- or, for that matter, autoworkers -- will find ways to innovate elsewhere, just as, over a century ago, gun makers laid down their weapons and broke out the needle and thread. That is, after all, the American creative legacy: making innovation seem as easy as, well, riding a bike.



For the full commentary, see:

CATHERINE RAMPELL. "Ideas & Trends; How Industries Survive Change. If They Do." The New York Times, Week in Review Section (Sun., November 15, 2008): 3.

(Note: ellipses added.)




February 4, 2009

Older Technologies Sometimes Regain the Lead Over Newer Ones



(p. R8) Innovation occurs almost constantly at the level of design and components, absorbing companies' attention as they look for ways to best their competitors. Platform innovations are less frequent. But when they do occur, they have the potential to transform markets, not just give an edge to one competitor.

One great danger to companies is to be so immersed in design and component innovation that they miss out on a platform innovation. For example, while Sony Corp. focused in the 1990s on improving its CRT television sets, a market it dominated, rival Samsung Electronics Co. invested heavily in flat-screen LCD TVs. As the market for LCD TVs grew, Sony fell behind its rivals and ended up entering into a joint venture with Samsung to build liquid-crystal displays.

Innovation's Messy Paths

Another mistake to avoid is to assume that all technologies follow a standard progression.

The conventional wisdom is that the performance of any technology is initially low, then improves rapidly after some breakthrough, and ultimately levels out in maturity. A new technology's performance supposedly starts below that of the established technology, surpasses it after the breakthrough is achieved, and then remains superior until the next big thing comes along. Literature on the subject has encouraged managers to embrace a new technology once it begins to show rapid improvement, and to abandon the old technology because it is destined to become obsolete.

However, our analysis of several markets shows that technological evolution is much messier than this simple pattern. For instance, new technologies sometimes enter the market with better performance than the existing technology, only to fall behind at some point before later regaining the lead. That's the case in the market for external lighting. When gas-discharge lighting, which is used in fluorescent tubes, was introduced around 1930, it was brighter per watt than the existing arc-discharge lighting, which is used in many street lamps, and it maintained that superiority for some 40 years, until improvements in arc-discharge lighting made it the brightest per watt again. Then, in 1980, gas discharge made its biggest jump in performance so far, again surpassing arc discharge in brightness per watt. Both technologies have gone through several long periods of stagnation followed by sharp improvements in performance.

When one technology is growing rapidly, it's easy to get caught up in the hype and overinvest in it. However, the unpredictability and impermanence that we found in this and other markets suggests that companies should consider investing in, or at least monitoring, a portfolio of technologies, so they aren't blindsided by a sudden improvement in one or another.

Consider the competition between ink-jet and laser technology in the printer market. When the two technologies were introduced in the mid-1980s, laser was far superior to ink-jet in resolution. Ink-jet quickly caught up, but didn't surpass laser's resolution. Then, in the mid-1990s, laser again took a significant lead. But ink-jet surpassed laser in resolution in 1997 and has maintained that edge. All the while, printer maker Hewlett-Packard Co. continued to sell both ink-jet and laser printers, putting itself in the best position to succeed in a shifting market

.

For the full story, see:

GERARD J. TELLIS and ASHISH SOOD. "Innovation; How to Back the Right Technology; When trying to decide where to place their bets, companies often make three fundamental mistakes." Wall Street Journal (Mon., DECEMBER 14, 2008): R8.




February 3, 2009

Taxpayers Pay $91 Million for Surplus Milk Powder



MilkPowderGovWarehouse.jpg






"Millions of pounds of government-owned milk powder stored in a warehouse in Fowler, Calif." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) FOWLER, Calif. -- The long economic boom, fueled by easy credit that allowed people to spend money they did not have, led to a huge oversupply of cars, houses and shopping malls, as recent months have made clear. Now, add one more item to the list: an oversupply of cows.

And it turns out that shutting down the milk supply is not as easy as closing an automobile assembly line.

As a breakneck expansion in the global dairy industry turns to bust, Roger Van Groningen must deal with the consequences. In a warehouse that his company runs here, 8 to 20 trucks pull up every day to unload milk powder. Bags of the stuff -- surplus that nobody will buy, at least not at a price the dairy industry regards as acceptable -- are unloaded and stacked into towering rows that nearly fill the warehouse.

Mr. Van Groningen's company does not own the surplus milk powder, but merely stores it for the new owners: the taxpayers of the United States. To date, the government has agreed to buy about $91 million worth of milk powder.

. . .

(p. B5) Government price supports provide a price floor for agricultural products as a way of keeping farmers afloat during hard times and ensuring an adequate food supply.

The Agriculture Department has committed to buying 111.6 million pounds of milk powder at 80 cents a pound, for roughly $91 million, which includes some handling fees. . . .

. . .

. . . the agency has not decided what to do with the cache of milk powder in California.

Some critics of farm subsidies argue that price support programs are antiquated and allow farmers to continue producing even when the economics make no sense, as taxpayers will always buy up the excess production.

"They don't want to downsize or respond to the market signal. They want to keep producing," said Kenneth Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, a Washington research organization that has long been critical of the government's farm policy. "Once you get in a jam like this, it becomes our collective problem."




For the full story, see:

ANDREW MARTIN. "Awash in Milk and Headaches; Cows Keep Producing Despite Drop in Demand." The New York Times (Fri., January 1, 2009): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated January 1, 2009, and is entitled "As Recession Deepens, So Does Milk Surplus.")

MacadoArthurDairyFarmer.jpg "Arthur Machado, a dairy farmer in Fresno, Calif., has to keep feeding his herd of more than 300 cows. He plans to sell them and take up a more stable commodity." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




February 2, 2009

"The Whole Point of Camp is to Dethrone the Serious"



(p. W1) The 2000 film "Billy Elliot" was a surprise hit. It's an absorbing drama about personal transformation and the power of art to ennoble the human spirit. "Billy Elliot: The Musical" -- the noise is supplied by Sir Elton John -- is a depressing spectacle about partisan politics and the ephemeral power of schlock.

. . .

The musical, a campy, anticapitalist confection, is just one of the latest prepackaged exercises in "transgression." Maybe it's "Corpus Christi," Terrence McNally's play about a gay Jesus Christ. Maybe it's "The Goat," Edward Albee's play celebrating bestiality, or a production (p. W4) of "The Flying Dutchman" in which the heroine sports posters of Che Guevara and Martin Luther King on her bedroom wall. The point about these unpleasant offerings is not how outrageous but how common they are.

. . .

In the film, there was one extended reference to Margaret Thatcher. Mrs. Wilkinson's middle-class drink-sodden husband (tellingly made "redundant" -- that is, laid off) praises the prime minister for showing down the miners. He is hardly a sympathetic figure, but he had a point: If it costs more money to get the coal out of the ground then you make from selling it, why keep the pit open?

If there were truth in advertising, the musical would have been called "Billy Elliot, The Musical, Featuring Margaret Thatcher as the Incarnation of Evil." She is roundly abused by several characters in the opening scenes, is the object of casual calumny throughout the show, and features in a Christmas children's song -- replete with gigantic scary Thatcher masks and puppets -- whose refrain is "Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher. We all celebrate today because it's one day closer to your death." Nice stuff, eh?

In one sense, "Billy Elliot: The Musical" represents a growth enterprise. Everywhere you turn these days, you are met not only with celebrations of the vulgar but also entertainments that pretend to be brave, challenging "interrogations" of established taste which in fact are simply reflections of established taste. The little sermons about Thatcher and capitalism and bigotry are presented as if they were fresh thoughts designed to disturb the dogmatic slumbers of the audience. In fact, they simply reinforce the left-liberal clich├ęs audiences everywhere internalized decades ago. It's an odd phenomenon. In theaters and museums across the Western world you find audiences applauding sentiments that, were they translated into the real world, would spell their demise.

Perhaps it's an instance of what Lenin was talking about when he said that the bourgeoisie was so rotten that it would sell the rope with which it was to be hanged. The matinee I attended was packed to the last emergency exit with a cheery crowd of nice, middle-class folks who cheered and clapped and whistled and bravoed.

. . .

The impressive thing about "Billy Elliot" the film is its dramatic enactment of serious questions. "Billy Elliot: The Musical" spoofs and sentimentalizes those questions, replacing them with a series of political sermons and distracting gymnastic exhibitions. In 1964, Susan Sontag famously said that the "ultimate Camp statement" was "It's good because it's awful." Sontag wrote as an enthusiast for Camp. I have no doubt that she would have emerged happy from "Billy Elliot: The Musical." "The whole point of Camp," she wrote, "is to dethrone the serious."



For the full commentary, see:

ROGER KIMBALL. "Culture; A Clumsy Mix of Art and Politics; Broadway turns subtle themes into simplistic fare in shows like 'Billy Elliot'." Wall Street Journal (Sat., DECEMBER 13, 2008): W1 & W4.

(Note: ellipses added.)




February 1, 2009

Czech Republic's Sly Cerny Humorously Skewers European Foibles



EntropaMosaic.jpg "David Cerny's artwork "Entropa" is a symbolic map of Europe depicting stereotypes attributed to the individual member countries." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A6) . . . , an enormous mosaic installed in the European Council building over the weekend, was meant to symbolize the glory of a unified Europe by reflecting something special about each country in the European Union.

But wait. Here is Bulgaria, represented as a series of crude, hole-in-the-floor toilets. Here is the Netherlands, subsumed by floods, with only a few minarets peeping out from the water. Luxembourg is depicted as a tiny lump of gold marked by a "for sale" sign, while five Lithuanian soldiers are apparently urinating on Russia.

France? On strike.

The 172-square-foot, eight-ton installation, titled "Entropa," consists of a sort of puzzle formed by the geographical shapes of European countries. It was proudly commissioned by the Czech Republic to mark the start of its six-month presidency of the European Union. But the Czechs made the mistake of hiring the artist David Cerny to put together the project.

Mr. Cerny is notorious for thumbing his nose at the establishment. . . .

. . .

Before the hoax was discovered, the Czech deputy prime minister, Alexandr Vondra, said "Entropa" -- whose name alone should perhaps have been a sign that all was not as it seemed -- epitomized the motto for the Czech presidency in Europe, "A Europe Without Borders."

"Sculpture, and art more generally, can speak where words fail," he said in a statement on Monday. "I am confident in Europe's open mind and capacity to appreciate such a project."

But he does not feel that way now.



For the full story, see:

SARAH LYALL. "Art Hoax Unites Europe in Displeasure." The New York Times (Thurs., January 14, 2009): A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)





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