Main


November 23, 2013

"Engrossing, Brain-Tickling" Refutation of Al Gore's Global Warming Assertions



LomborgBjornCoolItDocumentary2010-10-25.jpg "The Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg in "Cool It," a documentary based on his book." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.



(p. C8) Debunking claims made by "An Inconvenient Truth" and presenting alternative strategies, "Cool It" finally blossoms into an engrossing, brain-tickling picture as many of Al Gore's meticulously graphed assertions are systematically -- and persuasively -- refuted. (I was intrigued to hear Mr. Lomborg say, for instance, that the polar-bear population is more endangered by hunters than melting ice.)


. . .


. . . "Cool It" is all about the pep: playing down the talking heads and playing up the "git 'er done." If algae can suck up carbon dioxide and spit out oil, what on earth are we worrying about?



For the full review, see:

JEANNETTE CATSOULIS. "Global Warming and Common Sense." The New York Times (Fri., November 12, 2010): C8.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 11, 2010.)


The documentary is based on the book:

Lomborg, Bjørn. Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.






November 21, 2013

After Humans, Earth Would Quickly Revert to Its Pre-Human Condition



TheWorldWithoutUsBK2013-10-24.jpg

















Source of book image: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/88/The_World_Without_Us_(US_cover).jpg




When I saw the mention of this book, quoted below, I thought it must be closely related to the 2008 History Channel program "Life Without Us" that I liked very much. Apparently the two overlap on the message that a post-human planet Earth would quickly return to its pre-human condition, but they differ in that the program does not share the book's anti-technology leitmotif.

The main take-away from the program, for me, was that environmentalists worry too much about the long-term damage that humans can do to the planet---for the most part, the planet is pretty resilient and can quickly return itself to something close to its pre-human condition.


(p. C10) Mr. Weisman's 2007 book, "The World Without Us," was a surprise best seller that imagined what would happen to the planet were all humans to suddenly disappear. Turns out that nature would in short order erase pretty much everything we've done.


Source:

MICHAEL SHERMER. "Menace to the Planet?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 5, 2013): C10.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 4, 2013, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Ten Billion' by Stephen Emmott | 'Countdown' by Alan Weisman; While some worry a booming population doom the planet, in many Western countries there is now a birth dearth.")


The book mentioned is:

Weisman, Alan. The World without Us. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2007.






October 14, 2013

Brazilian Entrepreneur Inspired by "The Men Who Built America"



HangLucianoArrivesAtFlagshipHavanStoreInBrusque2013-09-29.jpgThe co-founder of the Havan chain, Luciano Hang, arrives at the chain's flagship store, which is in Brusque, Brazil. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 6) "My philosophy is pro-capitalism, so of course the best symbols for this come from the United States," said Mr. Hang, who flies around Brazil on a Learjet to visit the nearly 60 stores in his chain, called Havan. "I tell people that we're about freedom: the freedom to stay open when we choose, the freedom to work for us and the freedom to shop," he added. "I know this can be controversial, but I think those who disagree with my approach are few and far between."


. . .


The son of textile factory workers, descended from German and Italian immigrants, Mr. Hang said he admired European culture but preferred the United States. He said he was inspired by a show on the History Channel, "The Men Who Built America," about industrial titans like John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt.

"I couldn't sleep after I saw that program," he said.

His business model is partly based on Walmart, whose small-town origins he admires, as well as its method of turning economies of scale into low prices.



For the full story, see:

SIMON ROMERO. "Reshaping Brazil's Retail Scene, Inspired by Vegas and Vanderbilt." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., September 15, 2013): 6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date September 14, 2013.)






March 24, 2013

Many Corporations Refused to Finance Semiconductors



FairlchildSemiconductorEightFounders2013-03-08.jpg "Shown in 1960, the eight engineers who founded Fairchild Semiconductor and revolutionized world technology in "Silicon Valley," an "American Experience" documentary, . . . ." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.


(p. C4) "Silicon Valley" is a deceptively grand title for the new "American Experience" documentary Tuesday night on PBS. "Fairchild Semiconductor" would be more accurate.


. . .


One startling image shows a handwritten list of the many corporations that declined to bankroll the eight pioneers before Fairchild Camera and Instrument said yes. If any of them had possessed more foresight, the silicon chip might have belonged to National Cash Register, Motorola, Philco, BorgWarner, Chrysler, General Mills or United Shoe.



For the full review, see:

MIKE HALE. "Men Who Took Silicon to Silicon Valley." The New York Times (Tues., February 5, 2013): C4.

(Note: ellipses in caption, and in quoted passage, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 4, 2013.)



The "Silicon Valley" program first aired on PBS on 2/5/13 and can be viewed at:

http://video.pbs.org/video/2332168287






March 18, 2013

Much of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" Was Funded Out of Producer's Own Pocket



TheArtAndMakingOfPeanutsAnimation2013-03-09.jpg














Source of book image: http://www.awn.com/files/imagepicker/23/artofpeanuts-cover-620.jpg



(p. C10) Of all the "Peanuts" television specials ever made, the first--"A Charlie Brown Christmas" (1965)--was the Charlie Browniest. The 25-minute special was an underdog, just like its hapless protagonist, and barely made it on the air. CBS gave producer Lee Mendelson so minuscule a budget, we learn in Charles Solomon's "The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation," that he was forced to fund the rest out of his own pocket--even though Coca-Cola had already guaranteed sponsorship. When "A Charlie Brown Christmas" pulled in sensational ratings, CBS grudgingly asked for follow-ups. "We're going to order four more," a network executive told Mr. Mendelson, "though my aunt in New Jersey didn't like it either"--a line that Schulz might have written.


. . .


"A Charlie Brown Christmas" established the template, mixing morals and gags in a way that made the peachiness seem endearing. The perfectly pitched dialogue, written by Schulz himself, was voiced (at his insistence) by actual children. The expressionist use of line and color was introduced by director Bill Melendez, and the understated yet supremely catchy Latin jazz scores were the work of pianist-composer Vince Guaraldi and his combo. The tune Guaraldi called "Linus and Lucy" came to be synonymous with "Peanuts" for the generations that grew up on the specials.

While the movements of the characters--especially Snoopy--could be antic, Guaraldi's scores set a cool counterpoint and provided a sense of serenity that was utterly unique. The characters weren't always moving--sometimes they would stop and simply listen to each other--and Schulz insisted that there be no laugh track. He made the climax of the drama Linus walking to the center of the school stage to recite from the gospel of Luke--a decision daring even in its day, not least because it stopped the action for an extended period to show a hand-drawn character delivering a lisping speech.



For the full review, see:

WILL FRIEDWALD. "BOOKSHELF; Cheers for Chuck." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 22, 2012): C10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 21, 2012.)


Book under review:

Solomon, Charles. The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation: Celebrating Fifty Years of Television Specials. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2012.






January 21, 2013

The Creation of Consistent, Predictable Dyes and Paints



The-Color-Revolution-by-Regina-Lee-Blaszczyk.png
















Source of book image: http://www.kristenlovesdesign.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/The-Color-Revolution-by-Regina-Lee-Blaszczyk.png




(p. C12) Few things seem as eternal as color. Yet as Regina Lee Blaszczyk argues, color has a history, a history largely created by business. In "The Color Revolution," Ms. Blaszczyk shows how the invention of synthetic organic chemistry in the 1850s allowed chemists to create consistent, predictable colors in dyes and paints. Once a chemical company's magenta was reliable, manufacturers could select it from a color card, order it by mail, and use it to produce dresses and dishware in exactly the promised hue.


For the full review essay, see:

Marc Levinson. "Boardroom Reading of 2012." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): C12.

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)



The book under review, is:

Blaszczyk, Regina Lee. The Color Revolution, Lemelson Center Studies in Invention and Innovation. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2012.






December 9, 2012

"What Marketing Guys Are: Paid Poseurs"



(p. 152) Jobs had asked Hertzfeld and the gang to prepare a special screen display for Sculley's amusement. "He's really smart," Jobs said. "You wouldn't believe how smart he is." The explanation that Sculley might buy a lot of Macintoshes for Pepsi "sounded a little bit fishy to me," Hertzfeld recalled, but he and Susan Kare created a screen of Pepsi caps and cans that danced around with the Apple logo. Hertzfeld was so excited he began waving his arms around during the demo, but Sculley seemed underwhelmed. "He asked a few questions, but he didn't seem all that interested," Hertzfeld recalled. He never ended up warming to Sculley. "He was incredibly phony, a complete poseur," he later said. "He pretended to be interested in technology, but he wasn't. He was a marketing guy, and that is what marketing guys are: paid poseurs."


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






June 24, 2012

With Low Ratings, Planet Green Is Unsustainable



(p. B3) . . . , Discovery Communications -- which owns the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, the Science Channel and others -- announced in early April that it was shutting down Planet Green, a four-year-old channel that featured environmental programming. The channel floundered with low ratings and what executives said were a lack of entertaining eco-themed shows.


For the full story, see:

BRIAN STELTER. "No Place for Heated Opinions." The New York Times (Sat., April 21, 2012): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: online version of the story is dated April 20, 2012.)






June 21, 2012

"A123 Systems" Battery Company Is Another Example of Failed Industrial Policy






The YouTube video embedded above was from a CBS Evening News broadcast in June 2012. It illustrates the difficulty of the government successfully selecting the technologies, and companies, that will eventually prove successful. (The doctrine that government can and should do such selection is often called "industrial policy.")


The Obama administration has bet billions of tax dollars on lithium ion batteries for electric vehicles that A123 Systems won $249 million of. But as Sharyl Attkisson reports, expensive recalls and other setbacks have put substantial doubt in the company's ability to continue.


The text above, and the embedded video clip were published on YouTube on Jun 17, 2012 by CBSNewsOnline at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4Ugklc0rIo






June 15, 2012

Hatfields and McCoys Show that Idleness Begets Violence



CostnerAsHatfield2012-06-11.jpg

Kevin Costner as the patriarch of the Hatfield clan on the HBO miniseries. Source of photo:
http://www.cowboysindians.com/Blog/May-2012/Blasts-From-Our-Past-With-Kevin-Costner/costner-hatfield.jpg



Kevin Costner plausibly suggests that when the productive activities of capitalism and entrepreneurship are not available or sought, people are more likely to let annoyances lead to violence:



(p. 15) Q. What was the root of the feud?

K.C. It's fair to say that the economics of the time were the provocateurs in this story. I think there was a moment when Hatfield and McCoy would have laid down their guns. But these young guys didn't have jobs anymore as we moved toward industrialization. They started to have children, and their families doubled in size, and suddenly they had to feed 26. Young men killing young men -- it really has a lot to do with the offspring not having enough to do. Look, you're talking about alcohol and guns, and you're talking about unemployment, so there's a reason for the bitterness.



For the full interview, see:

Kathryn Shattuck, interviewer. "Firing Bullets Across a Border And a Bloodline." The New York Times, Arts&Leisure Section (Sun., May 27, 2012): 15.

(Note: bold in original.)






June 9, 2011

"Progress Depended on the Empirical Habit of Thought"



In the passage below from 1984 Orwell presents an underground rebel's account of why the authoritarian socialist dystopia cannot advance in science and technology.


(p. 155) The world of today is a bare, hungry, dilapidated place compared with the world that existed before 1914, and still more so if compared with the imaginary future to which the people of that period looked forward. In the early twentieth century, the vision of a future society unbelievably rich, leisured, orderly, and efficient--a glittering (p. 156) antiseptic world of glass and steel and snow-white concrete--was part of the consciousness of nearly every literate person. Science and technology were developing at a prodigious speed, and it seemed natural to assume that they would go on developing. This failed to happen, partly because of the impoverishment caused by a long series of wars and revolutions, partly because scientific and technical progress depended on the empirical habit of thought, which could not survive in a strictly regimented society.



Source:

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. New York: The New American Library, 1961 [1949].

By Canadian law, 1984 is no longer under copyright. The text has been posted on the following Canadian web site: http://wikilivres.info/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four





June 8, 2011

Home Decorators Are Stockpiling Incandescent Bulbs to Thwart Feds' Edict



BrooksDavidJustBulbs2011-06-02.jpg

"David Brooks, of Just Bulbs in Manhattan, has a customer who is secretly ordering thousands of incandescent bulbs. "She doesn't want her husband to know," he said." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D1) BUNNY WILLIAMS, the no-nonsense decorator known for her lush English-style rooms, is laying in light bulbs like canned goods. Incandescent bulbs, that is -- 60 and 75 watters -- because she likes a double-cluster lamp with a high- and a low-watt bulb, one for reading, one for mood.

"Every time I go to Costco, I buy more wattage," Ms. Williams said the other day. She is as green as anybody, she added, but she can't abide the sickly hue of a twisty compact fluorescent bulb, though she's tried warming it up with shade liners in creams and pinks. Nor does she care for the cool blue of an LED.

It should be noted that, like most decorators, Ms. Williams is extremely precise about light. The other day, she reported, she spent six hours fine-tuning the lighting plan of a project, tweaking the mix of ambient, directional and overhead light she had designed, and returning to the house after dusk to add wattage and switch out lamps like a chef adjusting the flavors in a complicated bouillabaisse.

She is aware that there is legislation that is going to affect the manufacture of incandescent bulbs, but she's not clear on the details, and she wants to make sure she has what she needs when she needs it.


. . .


(p. D7) Other hoarders are hiding their behavior. David Brooks, who owns Just Bulbs on East 60th Street, said he has a customer in Tennessee who is buying up 60- and 100-watt soft-pink incandescent bulbs from G.E. and Sylvania for her three houses. Initially, she ordered 432 bulbs for each house, he said. Then she ordered another 1,000.

Mr. Brooks said the customer doesn't want her husband to find out, and wouldn't agree to speak to this reporter. The last order is destined, he said, "for a friend's house that she is helping to redecorate in Alabama. She doesn't want anyone to know her source."



For the full story, see:

PENELOPE GREEN. "Light Bulb Saving Time." The New York Times (Thurs., May 26, 2011): D1 & D7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 25, 2011.)





May 6, 2011

Serendipitous Invention of Super Glue



(p. 23) Dr. Coover first happened upon the super-sticky adhesive -- more formally known as cyanoacrylates -- by accident when he was experimenting with acrylates for use in clear plastic gun-sights during World War II. He gave up because they stuck to everything they touched.

In 1951, a researcher named Fred Joyner, who was working with Dr. Coover at Eastman Kodak's laboratory in Tennessee, was testing hundreds of compounds looking for a temperature-resistant coating for jet cockpits. When Mr. Joyner spread the 910th compound on the list between two lenses on a refractometer to take a reading on the velocity of light through it, he discovered he could not separate the lenses. His initial reaction was panic at the loss of the expensive lab equipment. "He ruined the machine," Dr. Paul said of the refractometer. "Back in the '50s, they cost like $3,000, which was huge."

But Dr. Coover saw an opportunity. Seven years later, the first incarnation of Super Glue, called Eastman 910, hit the market.

In the name of science, Mr. Joyner was not punished for destroying the equipment, Dr. Paul said.


. . .


"I think he got a kick out of being Mr. Super Glue," she said. "Who doesn't love Super Glue?"

One of his proudest accomplishments, Dr. Paul added, was that his invention was used to treat injured soldiers during the Vietnam War. Medics, she said, carried bottles of Super Glue in spray form to stop bleeding.


. . .


Super Glue did not make Dr. Coover rich. It did not become a commercial success until the patents had expired, his son-in-law, Dr. Vincent E. Paul, said. "He did very, very well in his career," Dr. Paul said, "but he did not glean the royalties from Super Glue that you might think."



For the full obituary, see:

ELIZABETH A. HARRIS. "Harry Coover, 94; Invented Super Glue." The New York Times (Mon., MARCH 28, 2011): A23.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary is dated March 27, 2011 and had the title "Harry Coover, Super Glue's Inventor, Dies at 94.")





January 19, 2011

What Motivated Paterno to Win 400 Games---"Gettin' Paid"



Paterno400WinsGettinPaidClip.jpgSource of image: screen capture from YouTube clip referenced below.


What motivates employees? Economists have emphasized pay as the primary incentive, while recognizing that there may be "compensating differentials" for aspects of the work that are pleasant or unpleasant.

In recent years many non-economists, such as Daniel Pink in Drive, have emphasized non-pecuniary incentives.

Joe Paterno entered the debate at age 83, after he became the first major college coach to win 400 games on November 6, 2010.

Right after the victory, he was interviewed on the field by "Heather" of ESPN. Starting at 1:33 seconds into the clip referenced below, here is the key dialogue:

Heather: "Coach Paterno, what has motivated you to get to this point?"

Paterno: "Oh geez, I don't know---gettin' paid."




Source: YouTube clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQzdVeYtm5w

(Note: the clip was posted on 11/6/10 by shellymic and has the title "Joe Pa FIRST to 400 Wins!")





November 2, 2009

Monty Python Success Arose from Freedom, Not Plans



Pythons1969.jpg"The unusual suspects, 1969: top row from left, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam; bottom row from left, Terry Jones, John Cleese and Michael Palin." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 24) "A lot of contemporary comedy seems self-conscious," Mr. Palin said. "It's almost documentary, like 'The Office.' That's a very funny show, but you're looking at the human condition under stress. The Pythons made the human condition seem like fun."

He added: "I'm proud to be a Python. It's a badge of silliness, which is quite important. I was the gay lumberjack, I was the Spanish Inquisition, I was one-half of the fish-slapping dance. I look at myself and think that may be the most important thing I've ever done."

Mr. Cleese and Mr. Jones, in rare agreement, both suggested that one reason the Pythons have never been successfully imitated is that television executives nowadays would never let anyone get away with putting together a show like theirs. When they began, they didn't have an idea what the show should be about or even a title for it. The BBC gave them some money, and then, Mr. Cleese joked, the executives hurried off to the bar.

"The great thing was that in the beginning we had such a low profile," he said. "We went on at different times, and some weeks we didn't go on at all, because there might be a show-jumping competition. But that was the key to our feeling of freedom. We didn't know what the viewing figures were, and we didn't care. What has happened now is the complete reverse. Even the BBC is obsessed with the numbers."

So obsessed, Bill Jones pointed out, that in the case of "Monty Python: Almost the Truth" some people encouraged the documentarians to see if they couldn't squeeze the six hours down to one.




For the full story, see:

CHARLES McGRATH. "Television; On Comedy's Flying Trapeze." The New York Times, Arts & Leisure Section (Sun., October 4, 2009): 1 & 24.

(Note: ellipses added.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 30, (sic) 2009.)


PythonsPremeireSpamalot2009-10-23.jpg"Above from left, Mr. Jones, Mr. Gilliam, Mr. Cleese, Mr. Idle and Mr. Palin at the premiere of "Spamalot."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





August 18, 2009

Wattenberg's Corporate Graveyard Illustrates Creative Destruction







The clip is the famous corporate graveyard scene from Ben Wattenberg's 1977 "In Search of the Real America: A Challenge to the Chorus of Failure and Guilt." The scene appears in the first of 13 episodes, the episode called "There's No Business Like Big Business" which received the Tuck Award for the Advancement of Economic Understanding. The episode was produced and written by Austin Hoyt.

The corporate graveyard scene illustrates that under entrepreneurial capitalism, companies prosper that innovate in better serving the consumer.



URL address for graveyard scene video clip:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDMNYLiBexo


Wattenberg discussed the "In Search of the Real America" program, and the graveyard scene, in his recent book Fighting Words:

(p. 307) The central point of the program was that if big American corporations didn't compete effectively, they suffer, and many would go out of business.

The producers had the wonderful idea of a visual of a graveyard on a foggy night, with headstones made from papier-mâché and a smoke machine providing the fog. I walked through the mock cemetery in a raincoat and read off the names of corporate tombstones, which included Central Leather (the seventeenth largest company in 1917), International Mercantile Marine (the eleventh largest in 1917), as well as failures like Baldwin Locomotive Works, American Woolen, Packard Motor Car, International Match, Pierce Petroleum, Curtiss-Wright, United Verde Mining, and Consolidation Coal.2 When we showed the Central Leather tombstone, a sound effect mooed; behind International Mercantile Marine's, a steamship horn bellowed (I love shtick).


. . .


2 The program was based on an article by James Michaels, editor of Forbes. For many years, people would come up to me in airports, recalling that one scene and complementing me on the program.



Source:

Wattenberg, Ben J. Fighting Words: A Tale of How Liberals Created Neo-Conservatism
. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2008.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: I have corrected a few obvious errors involving the omission and placement of commas in the list of companies in the text of Wattenberg's Fighting book.)



. . . , Mr. Michaels graduated from Harvard in 1943 with a bachelor's degree in economics.

Source:

RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA. "James Michaels, Longtime Forbes Editor, Dies at 86." The New York Times (October 4, 2007).

(Note: of course, Joseph Schumpeter was a member of the Harvard faculty in 1943, and published the first edition of Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy in 1942.)



FightingWordsBK.jpg















Source of book image: http://media.us.macmillan.com/jackets/500H/9780312382995.jpg






May 8, 2009

A Person's Bad Decisions Can't Be Blamed on Capitalism



LeeThomas2009-05-15.jpg "Thomas Lee, one of the men featured in the documentary "A Father's Promise," watching a video of himself from 1996." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.


(p. C11) The program, with Al Roker as host, follows up a "Dateline NBC" report from 1996 that recorded several births among black women at a Newark hospital and interviewed the unmarried fathers of the children as they earnestly vowed to be there as their babies grew up. The piece was an attempt to look at the alarming rate of fatherless households among blacks.

It is, of course, a problem that has not gone away since 1996, and Mr. Roker's program tracks down three of those newborns and the fathers who promised to stand by them. That none did -- jail, joblessness, depression and general irresponsibility intervened -- somehow isn't surprising.

. . .


. . . the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers of Azusa Community Church in Boston explains in very personal terms why he discounts the easy economic explanations that so often get the blame for fatherless households.

"I had a child out of wedlock," he says. "That was a bad decision. I can't say capitalism did it to me."



For the full review, see:

NEIL GENZLINGER. "Television Review; 'A Father's Promise'; Old Pledges Are Broken, Young Hope Stays Intact." The New York Times (Sat., February 7, 2009): C11.

(Note: ellipses added.)





April 18, 2009

Economists Find TV Improved Children's Cognitive Ability



TVkids.jpg







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


(p. A1) It didn't take long after America started tuning in to television that people started to worry about what it was doing to children. "When it offers a daily diet of Western pictures and vaudeville by the hour, television often seems destined to entertain the child into a state of mental paralysis," wrote The New York Times in 1949.

A generation later, the Scholastic Aptitude Test scores of college-bound teenagers had fallen significantly. A 1977 panel appointed by the College Entrance Examination Board suggested television bore some blame for the drop. Indeed, the decline began in the mid-1960s, just as the first students heavily exposed to TV took their SATs.

But University of Chicago Graduate School of Business economists Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro aren't sure that TV has been all that bad for kids. In a paper published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics this year, they presented a series of analyses that showed that the advent of television might actually have had a positive effect on children's cognitive ability.

. . .


(p. A8) The economists . . . looked at results of a survey of 800 U.S. schools that administered tests to 346,662 sixth-grade, ninth-grade and 12th-grade students in 1965. Their finding: Adjusting for differences in household income, parents' educational background and other factors, children who lived in cities that gave them more exposure to television in early childhood performed better on the tests than those with less exposure.

The economists found that television was especially positive for children in households where English wasn't the primary language and parents' education level was lower. "We don't exactly know why that is, but a plausible interpretation is that the effect of television on cognitive development depends on what other kinds of activity television is substituting for," says Mr. Shapiro, 28.



For the full story, see:

JUSTIN LAHART. "A New View On TV; Economists Probe the Data on Television Watching And Find It's Not All Bad; Better Test Scores?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., SEPTEMBER 6, 2008): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)


If you are interesting in further reading that is in the same vein as the article above, consult:

Johnson, Steven. Everything Bad Is Good for You. New York: Riverhead Trade, 2006.





April 16, 2009

Unintended Consequences in Medicine



SalkInnoculatingSonAgainstPolio.jpg "Jonas Salk, right, inoculates his son against polio as his wife, left, looks on." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ quoted and cited below.


(p. W9C) "The Polio Crusade" will stir many memories with its account of successful efforts to eradicate the disease whose fear factor, we're told, was second only to that of the atom bomb. (Monday 9-10 p.m. ET on PBS's "American Experience" series, but check local listings.) The documentary also tells less-familiar, and sometimes disturbing, stories about the birth of modern fund-raising techniques, and old testing techniques.

. . .

Since the virus is spread most effectively by mouth, or through contact with byproducts of the intestinal tract, the improved hygiene of the 20th century should have led to a decrease in polio infections. The opposite happened. First in Europe and then in America, a disease which had barely registered on the medical radar began to strike more and more people, culminating in a U.S. record of nearly 58,000 cases in 1952.

The explanation for this seemingly counterintuitive symbiosis between cleanliness and disease is astonishing, yet simple. In a germier age, newborns were likely to be exposed to the polio virus very early in life, when they still had immunity conferred by their mother in the womb. When improved hygiene pushed back the time of exposure to a later age, or even to adulthood, many people were by then defenseless.



For the full review, see:

NANCY DEWOLF SMITH. "TELEVISION; In a Time of Plague." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., JANUARY 30, 2009): W9C.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





March 12, 2009

Hugh Laurie SNL Protest Song Lyrics


At a "Workshop on Creative Ideas to Teach Principles," organized by Jim Gwartney at the Stavros Center in Tampa, I presented some brief video clips that I use to make various points in my principles classes. The first was Hugh Laurie's Protest Song.

After playing the song, I tell my students that to make the world better, you need more than a guitar and good intentions---you also need to know something about how the world works (in particular, you need to know some economics).

After my presentation, one of the participants asked if I knew where he could find the lyrics. In response, I found the lyrics posted online, and re-post them here in case they may be of use to other economic educators.

Hugh Laurie's Saturday Night Live Protest Song

[ open on Hugh Laurie standing at Home Base strumming a guitar ]

Hugh Laurie: This is a protest song. [ blows on a harmonica attached to his neck ]

[ singing ]

"Well, the poor keep getting hungry, and the rich keep getting fat
Politicians change, but they're never gonna change that.
Girl, we got the answer, it's so easy you won't believe
All we gotta do is.. [ mumbles incoherently ]

Well, the winds of war are blowin', and the tide is comin' in
Don't you be hopin' for the good times, because the good times have already been.
But, girl, we got the answer, it's so easy you won't believe
All we gotta do is.. [ mumbles incoherently ]

It's so easy, to see
If only they'd listen, to you and me.
We got to.. [ mumbles incoherently ] as fast as we can
We got to.. [ mumbles incoherently ] every woman, every man
We got to.. [ mumbles incoherently ] time after time
We got to.. [ mumbles incoherently ] vodka and lime.

Well, the world is gettin' weary, and it wants to go to bed
Everybody's dyin', except the ones who are already dead.
Girl, we got the answer, starin' us right in the face
All we gotta do is
All we gotta do is
All we gotta do is."

[ pauses, then blows on the harmonica and finishes ]

[ the audience cheers wildly ]

Hugh Laurie: Thank you.



Source of lyrics:

http://snltranscripts.jt.org/06/06dprotest.phtml




August 26, 2008

Google Considers Creative Entrepreneur's Trial Balloon


KnoblachJerryEntrepreneur.gif






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


Apparently the WSJ's new owner, Rupert Murdoch, has not yet succeeded in killing the wonderful, quirky, inimitable front page, center column, articles that are part of what makes the WSJ great:

(p. A1) CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Jerry Knoblach wants to bring wireless service to millions of rural Americans. His plan: Beam it down from balloons hovering at the edge of space.

This isn't just hot air. His company, Space Data Corp., already launches 10 balloons a day across the Southern U.S., providing specialized telecom services to truckers and oil companies. His balloons soar 20 miles into the stratosphere, each carrying a shoebox-size payload of electronics that acts like a mini cellphone "tower" covering thousands of square miles below.

His idea has caught the eye of Google Inc., according to people familiar with the matter. The Internet giant -- which is now pushing into wireless services -- has considered contracting with Space Data or even buying the firm, according to one person.

. . .

Maintaining a telecom system based on gas-filled bladders floating in the sky requires some creativity. The inexpensive bal-(p. A9)loons are good for only 24 hours or so before ultimately bursting in the thin air of the upper atmosphere. The electronic gear they carry, encased in a small Styrofoam box, then drifts gently back to earth on tiny parachutes.

This means Space Data must constantly send up new balloons. To do that, it hires mechanics employed at small airports across the South. It also hires farmers -- particularly, dairy farmers.

They're "very reliable people," says Mr. Knoblach. They have to "milk the cows 24-7, 365 days a year, so they're great people to use as a launch crew." Space Data pays them $50 per launch.



For the full story, see:

AMOL SHARMA "Floating a New Idea For Going Wireless, Parachute Included; Balloon Launch Gets Google's Attention; Dairy Farmers Can Help." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., February 20, 2008): A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


BalloonSpaceData.jpg



"A balloon being launched in Piedmont, Oklahoma." Source of image: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.





September 25, 2007

Hugh Laurie's Wonderful Protest Song

 

   Source of image:  screen capture from the first link below.

 

Hugh Laurie hosted Saturday Night Live (SNL) on a show re-broadcast on Sat., Aug. 11, 2007.  (I am not sure if the original broadcast was in 2006, or earlier in 2007.)

In one hilarious bit, Laurie announces he is going to sing a "protest song" and proceeds to sing one of those earnest-sounding, pompous, self-righteous save-the-world-with-a-cliché songs that were so common in the late 1960s and the 1970s.

The hilarious bit: whenever Laurie gets to the part of the song where he is going to tell us the "answer"---- he mumbles. 

After showing the clip to my principles students, I told them that to fill in the mumbling with something effective, you need to know some economics.

 

Here is a link to the SNL version:

http://myspacetv.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=3591518

 

The song was apparently first performed as part of a show called "A Bit of Fry and Laurie" that was broadcast in the early 1990s in Britain. Here is a link to the earlier version of the song:

http://myspacetv.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=14405597

 




August 19, 2007

Fred Thompson Skewers Michael Moore with Wit and Wisdom

Mr. Moore was back from Cuba, where he made a documentary on the superiority of Castro's health-care system. Mr. Thompson suggested Mr. Moore is just another lefty who loves dictators. Mr. Moore challenged Mr. Thompson to a health-care debate and accused him of smoking embargoed cigars. Within hours Mr. Thompson and his supposedly nonexistent staff had produced a spirited video response that flew through YouTube and the conservative blogosphere. Sitting at a desk and puffing on a fat cigar, Mr. Thompson announces to Mr. Moore he can't fit him into his schedule. Then: "The next time you're down in Cuba . . . you might ask them about another documentary maker. His name was Nicolás Guillén. He did something Castro didn't like, and they put him in a mental institution for several years, giving him devastating electroshock treatments. A mental institution, Michael. Might be something you ought to think about."

You couldn't quite tell if Mr. Thompson was telling Mr. Moore he ought to think more about Cuba, or might himself benefit from psychiatric treatment. It seemed almost . . . deliberately unclear.

 

PEGGY NOONAN.  "DECLARATIONS; The Man Who Wasn't There."  The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., May 19, 2007): P14.

(Note:  ellipsis in original.)

 

See Fred Thompson's response to Michael Moore on YouTube at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ds_GhRxivOI  

 

    Source:  screen capture from Fred Thompson's response to Michael Moore at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ds_GhRxivOI

 




July 12, 2007

Argentine Evidence on Global Warming

 

   Source:  screen capture from the Reuters video clip mentioned below.

 

On July 10, 2007, Reuters and other news sources (including CNN) reported that Buenos Aires had experienced its first snowfall in 80 years.

To see Reuters' brief video clip on the snow, visit: 

http://www.javno.com/video.php?rbr=4137&l=en

 

ArgentineSnowCoveredTrucks.jpg   "A truck driver makes his way through snow-covered trucks Tuesday in Punta de Vacas, Argentina."  Source of the truck caption and photo:   

"Snow leaves trucks stranded on Argentina-Chile border."  CNN.com POSTED: 3:06 p.m. EDT, June 13, 2007.

 




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

 




May 3, 2007

Reuniting the Victims of Communism

RussianSiblingsReunited.jpg   "Sergei and Pyotr Leontiev are reunited on the Russian TV show, 'Zhdi Menya.'"  Source of the caption and photo:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

(p. A1)  MOSCOW -- In a television studio here, two old brothers hug and weep -- reunited on prime time 60 years after Stalin's terror tore them apart.

They are stars on "Zhdi Menya," or "Wait for Me," one of the most popular TV shows in Russia. With its mission to reunite loved ones, the program probes Russia's 20th-century history and the scars it left on the lives of ordinary people. It has become a must-watch for Russians still trying to make sense of their tortured past.

The brothers in this episode, Sergei and Pyotr Leontiev, were separated in 1941 when their mother was sent to a prison camp 1,800 miles east of Moscow. She took with her Sergei, then 2 months old, but left behind seven other children whom she never saw again. Meanwhile, Pyotr and his sisters left home, taking jobs at factories in nearby towns.

Since its launch in 1998, "Zhdi Menya" has brought together 30,000 people sundered by Stalin's purges, war and the collapse of the Soviet Union. That's earned it a unique, and cherished, place in popular culture.

"We reconstruct the real history of this country," says Igor Kvasha, the program's host. "Not the garbled version in the text books."

Yet the program is ostensibly unpolitical. A tear-jerking cross between Jerry Springer and the History Channel, it recounts the crimes of communism without apportioning blame. That makes it palatable to Russia's leaders, for whom Soviet-era might is still a political touchstone.

. . .

(p. A12)   This focus on the victims of the communist regime contrasts with most mainstream media, which these days tend to humanize Soviet-era leaders and gloss over their crimes. A TV drama, "Stalin.Live," has been panned by critics for portraying Stalin as a sympathetic old man.

"There's a lot of pseudo-historical stuff on TV these days," says Irina Petrovskaya, a television critic. "'Zhdi Menya' is different because it's totally authentic. That's why it's so popular."

Pyotr Leontiev wrote to the program in 2001 in search of his brother. He had spent years trying to trace him through official channels, but was rebuffed at every turn.

The Leontiev family had been devastated by war and terror. Their father, drafted in 1941, was declared missing in action in 1943. Their mother was arrested on charges of "speculation" -- neighbors informed on her for selling a few pounds of tobacco and she was packed off to the Gulag with Sergei, her youngest son, still a babe in arms. His siblings had only his cradle to remember him by.

Researchers at "Zhdi Menya" contacted police in Karaganda, Kazakhstan -- the site of the mother's prison camp -- and after trawling archives they found a Sergei Leontiev whose records matched Pyotr's description. Within weeks they had tracked down Sergei, a retired carpenter. After a childhood in orphanages in Karaganda, he'd spent most of his life, impoverished, in workers' barracks.

In the studio, Pyotr told his story: "The tragedy that befell our family wasn't unique." He described how his mother was wrenched from her children, how their last sight of her and baby Sergei was on a prison train bound for the steppes. "We never heard from them again." The children, raised by a 19-year-old sister, were lucky: Children of "enemies of the people" were often separated, their names changed, and sent to orphanages thousands of miles apart.

To the strains of Mozart's Requiem, Mr. Kvasha spoke to the audience: "It's hard to imagine how many stories there are like this. They didn't just take away people's husbands, wives and parents. They deliberately destroyed archives, concealed people's names. They took away their memory."

In a heart-rending moment, he led Pyotr Leontiev to his brother, who was sitting weeping in the audience. The two embraced.

Pyotr had mixed feelings about the encounter. The joy of seeing Sergei was clouded by the revelation that his mother had been worked to death in 1943. "It was very hard, a very sad day," says Pyotr.

The two men broke down and looked deeply into each other's eyes. "We survived," Pyotr said to his brother. "We survived."

 

For the full story, see: 

GUY CHAZAN  "Family Viewing: TV Show Reunites Russian Siblings; Sundered by Stalin, Long-Lost Brothers Embrace on Prime Time."  The Wall Street Journal  (By  March 9, 2007):  A1 & A12.

 

 KvashaIgor.gif   The actor who hosts "Zhdi Menya" ("Wait for Me").  Source of image:  online version of the WSJ article cited above.

 




April 24, 2007

The Case Against Gun Control

 

   Venus Ramey shows how she balanced her pistol on her walker to shoot out the tires of an intruder on her farm.  Source of photo:  screen capture from CNN clip "Granny's Packing Heat" as viewed on 4/23/07.

 

In the wake of the Virginia Tech killings, there have been some renewed calls for more gun control (see the WSJ and NYT articles cited way below).  But we should not forget that a gun can also be a leveler; it gives the ordinary citizen a fighting chance against the thief and the murderer.

There was a great scene in the first Indiana Jones movie (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, 1984) where Indy is being chased by a huge bad guy armed with swords.  The crowd clears, and the the huge man confidently and ominously twirls his swords.  Indy looks at him quizzically for a couple of seconds, pulls out a pistol, and shoots him. 

When I first saw that scene, the theater erupted in laughter and applause.

Laughter and applause are also appropriate responses to the story of 82 year old, former Miss America, Venus Ramey: 

 

Miss America 1944 has a talent that likely has never appeared on a beauty pageant stage: She fired a handgun to shoot out a vehicle's tires and stop an intruder. Venus Ramey, 82, confronted a man on her farm in south-central Kentucky last week after she saw her dog run into a storage building where thieves had previously made off with old farm equipment.

Ramey said the man told her he would leave. "I said, 'Oh, no you won't,' and I shot their tires so they couldn't leave," Ramey said.

She had to balance on her walker as she pulled out a snub-nosed .38-caliber handgun.

"I didn't even think twice. I just went and did it," she said. "If they'd even dared come close to me, they'd be 6 feet under by now."

 

For the full story, see: 

Associated Press.   "Armed Miss America 1944 Stops Intruder."  Forbes.com Posted 04.21.07, 5:00 AM ET Downloaded on 4/23/07 from http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2007/04/21/ap3637737.html

 

CNN has a great clip on this story, under the heading "Granny's Packing Heat."

 

The WSJ article mentioned above, is:

VANESSA O'CONNELL, GARY FIELDS and DEAN TREFTZ.  "Next Debate: Should Colleges Ban Firearms? The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., April 18, 2007):  B1 & B10. 

 

The NYT article mentioned above, is:

LESLIE EATON and MICHAEL LUO.  "Shooting Rekindles Issues of Gun Rights and Restrictions." The New York Times (Weds., April 18, 2007):  A19.

 




April 12, 2007

We Need Caffeine

MohinderAndSylar.jpg   Mohinder on left; Sylar on right.  Source of photo:  http://www.nbc.com/Heroes/images/photos/scet/645/NUP_104904_0252.jpg

 

In the hit series "Heroes" episode "Parasites" Sylar (pretending to be someone else) unctuously thanks Mohinder Suresh for giving him hope.  I loved Mohinder's response:

Hope is great; we need caffeine.

 

(The "Parasites" episode was first broadcast on NBC on 3/5/07)

 




February 21, 2007

"Remarkable Entrepreneur" Bob Chitester

 

ChitesterBob.jpg   Bob Chitester.  Source of image:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

I was in the audience for the discussion portion of a couple of the episodes of the original "Free to Choose."  On January 29, PBS broadcast a sort of coda to the series entitled "The Power of Choice:  The Life and Times of Milton Friedman."

 

As much as the show is a celebration of Friedman's life and work, it also showcases the remarkable entrepreneur who made it and "Free to Choose" possible. Bob Chitester produced the original series while serving as the only public-TV station manager in the country who didn't believe in government subsidies. A tireless promoter, he raised the equivalent of $8 million today for the series -- entirely from private sources, an achievement that delighted Friedman.

Mr. Chitester came to the project with an unusual background. In 1966, he became the general manager of the PBS station in Erie, Pa., at age 29. An opponent of the Vietnam War, he handed out literature for George McGovern in 1972 and admits he knew nothing about economics. Then, in 1976, he met with economist W. Allen Wallis, who gave him a copy of Friedman's "Capitalism and Freedom." Mr. Chitester soaked it up, became a believer in markets, and immediately began pursuing Friedman to do a series that would provide a counterpoint to one by liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith that PBS was airing.

After all these years, Mr. Chitester is still surprised by how easily Friedman's cooperation came. "I was a bearded, leather-jacketed, small-town TV executive, yet he treated me as competent and honorable, as he did everyone he met, until you proved otherwise," he recalls.

Surprisingly, Friedman insisted on not writing a script in advance of filming. The points that would be made in each scene were discussed, but his commentary was extemporaneous. This resulted in such gems as the economist sitting in a sweatshop in New York's Chinatown, where he recalled the days when his mother worked in a similar environment. "Life was hard," Friedman noted, "but opportunity was real." He then transports the audience to a junk floating in the harbor of Hong Kong, "the freest market in the world," where Friedman discusses how the then-British colony's leaders refused to collect some economic statistics because they feared they would be used as an excuse for government intervention in the booming economy.

. . .

This week's PBS special pays tribute to the many achievements of Milton Friedman. One that is often underappreciated is the extent to which he demonstrated how visual images could influence and shape public debate. As his most ardent electronic disciple, Bob Chitester deserves the free-market community's equivalent of an Oscar.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

JOHN H. FUND.  "TV's Evangelist for Capitalism."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., January 31, 2007):  D10.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




January 18, 2007

Becker on Friedman

 

MiltonFriedmanDay.jpg   Source of graphic:  http://www.ideachannel.com/Friedman.htm

 

David Levy has noted in an email that at the reception to preview the new Friedman documentary, Gary Becker gave a great presentation on Milton Friedman, and it was a great shame that no one recorded it.  I feel especially guilty, because I had thought of recording it, and had even brought a small camera that would have (badly) done the job.  But the room was dark and crowded, and by the time the talk started, I was in conversation a long way from where Becker started speaking. 

Levy suggests that maybe those of us who were there, should record our memories of what Becker said.  I like that idea, and will record mine here.

 

Becker started out by saying to Bob Chitester that he wasn't sure that the documentary did justice to Friedman.  (Chitester was the producer, I think, of the original Free to Choose series, and a moving force behind the new Friedman documentary, to be first shown on PBS on January 29th, 2007.)  

Becker mentioned that Friedman was a missionary.  He would talk economics to anyone--if a taxi driver made a mistaken comment about economics, Friedman would set him straight.

Becker mentioned that while Friedman liked to argue about ideas, he never saw him be mean to anyone.

Becker mentioned that a friend of his taking Friedman's price theory class (I think Becker may have said the friend was Gregory Chow?) asked Becker how he could keep asking questions in Becker's class, when Friedman would keep showing the ways in which Becker was mistaken.

Becker mentioned that he talked to Friedman a few days before his death, and that they even talked a little economics.

Becker emphasized that Friedman had been both a great economist, and had made an enormous difference in the world, in particular in making the world more free.

 

Some background:  Becker spoke about Friedman at two sessions at the Allied Social Sciences Association meetings in Chicago in early January.  One was in the afternoon (about 2:30 PM?) of January 5, 2007, and also included Robert Lucas, and Tom Sargent.  I missed that session because I wanted to attend a session featuring the research program of Robert Fogel on longevity.  The second session, at 6:00 - 7:30 PM on Sat., January 6, 2007 was at a reception sponsored by the University of Chicago to preview the new documentary on Friedman.  I attended this reception through Becker's presentation, but did not stay for the documentary preview.  My friend Luis Locay attended both sessions, and told me that some, but not all, of the stories Becker told were similar in both sessions.  Locay also mentioned that Becker appeared to get more choked-up at the session on January 5, 2007.

 




November 16, 2006

Milton Friedman, Freedom's Friend, RIP

 

A week or so ago my mother and I were sharing our disappointment at the firing of Donald Rumsfeld, who we both thought was a good man.  She told me that she had thought he would have made a good President.  I told her that she was in good company, because in his memoirs, Milton Friedman had expressed the same thought (p. 391).

We were in very good company while Milton Friedman was with us, and I feel a sense of loss, both personally, and for the broader world. 

By chance, I sat behind Milton Friedman, and his wife and son, at the Rockefeller Chapel memorial service to honor Milton Friedman's good friend George Stigler.  I can't remember if Friedman spoke it at the service, or wrote it later, but I remember him saying (or writing) that the world was a darker place without Stigler in it. 

And it is darker yet, without Friedman in it.  (It is reported that he died of heart failure sometime early this morning at the age of 94.)

My first memory of meeting Milton Friedman was in the early 1970s at Wabash College.  My Wabash professor, Ben Rogge, was a friend of Friedman's.  They attended Mount Pelerin Society meetings together, and Rogge, along with his senior colleague John van Sickle, had invited Friedman to deliver a series of lectures at Wabash College, that became the basis of what remains Friedman's meatiest defense of freedom:  Capitalism and Freedom.  (Free to Choose is better known, broader, and important, but Capitalism and Freedom is more densely packed with stimulating argument, and provocative new ideas.)

The members of the small, libertarian Van Sickle Club were gathered around Friedman in a lounge at Wabash, and I remember Rogge asking Friedman:  'If there was a button sitting in front of you, that would instantly abolish the Food and Drug Administration, would you push it?'  I remember Friedman smiling his incredibly delighted smile, and saying simply, with gusto:  "yes!"

I remember attending some meetings at the University of Chicago, I think the first History of Economics Society meetings, with Rogge in attendance.  (This was in my first couple of years as a Chicago graduate student, when I was mainly doing philosophy.)  Stigler invited Rogge up for a drink, and Rogge said said 'sure' as long as Diamond could come along.  (E.G. West, the Adam Smith biographer, was also there, I think at Rogge's behest.)  The apartment had been Milton Friedman's for many years.  In fact I think he had built the several story apartment building, because he wanted convenient, comfortable living quarters close to his Chicago office.  Friedman's apartment occupied the top floor, and I vaguely recall, afforded a nice view of the campus. 

I lived for a year at International House, next to the Friedman apartment building.  I remember on Sunday morning's seeing Friedman dash into International House to buy his copy of the Sunday New York Times.  ("Dash" is too strong, but he certainly moved with more vigor than I ever have on Sunday mornings.)

When Friedman left Chicago for the Hoover Institute in California, he sold, or sublet his apartment to Stigler, who apparently used it on evenings when he did not want to drive out to his modest home in the Chicago suburb of Flossmoor.

I was stunned to be in the presence of Stigler in Milton Friedman's former abode.  (I seem to remember E.G. West seeming almost equally overwhelmed.)  I remember much of the time being spent with Stigler trying to convince Rogge to join him for golf the following day.  Rogge demurred because he was wanting to see, for the first time, I think, a newly born grandchild in the Chicago area.  (Family was extremely important to Rogge, both in theory, and in practice.)

I also remember Stigler asking Rogge about Rogge's having convinced Friedman to give a speech at a fund-raiser at Wabash.  Stigler said something to the effect that this was the level of favor that he could not ask often of Friedman, and did the cause really justify it.  (I think one of Stigler's sons had been a Wabash student while Rogge was Dean of Students at Wabash.)  Rogge seemed to appreciate Stigler's point, but seemed to believe that solidifying Wabash's endowment was a worthy enough cause.

(This, by the way, is ironic, since Rogge agreed with Adam Smith that endowments were apt to be used for purposes different from the donor's intent.  In the founding of Liberty Fund, Rogge had tried to persuade Pierre Goodrich to have the Fund spend all of its funds in some modestly finite number of years.)

After I gradually made the switch from philosophy to economics, at Chicago, I got to know Stigler fairly well, but unfortunately did not know Friedman, personally, as well.

I remember attending a reception at Chicago in honor of Friedman's winning the Nobel Prize in 1976.  (It was at that reception, that I first struck up a conversation with my good friend Luis Locay.)

I registered for Milton Friedman's price theory class the final time he taught it, I think.  It was in a large, dark tiered classroom.  At the beginning of every class, Friedman would almost bounce into the classroom, bursting with pent-up energy.  I do not smile easily, or often, but I always smiled when I saw Friedman.  There was so much good-will, joy in life, enthusiasm for ideas. 

During one of these entrances, I noticed that Friedman, well into his 60s, was wearing the counter-culture-popular 'earth shoes'; apparently he was out-front in footwear, as well as ideas.

One characteristic that came through in class, as well as in his public debates and interviews, was that he was focused on the ideas and not the personalities expressing them.  I remember seeing Friedman debating some union official on television.  He talked at one point about how he and the official had had to work hard in their youth.  Friedman seemed to like the union official; he just disagreed with some of his ideas, and wanted the union official and everyone else, to understand why.  By the end of the "debate", the union official had a warm, amused, expression on his face.

I remember once Friedman saying that more of us should speak out more often on more topics; that the bad consequences to us weren't as bad as we supposed.  Probably he was right; though he had a lot working in his favor---his quick-wittedness, his good will, his sense of humor, and probably his being so short in physical stature---it was probably hard for anyone to feel threatened by him, so they were more apt to let down their guard and listen to what he had to say.

One of the unfair hardships of some of Friedman's years at Chicago, was the constant harassment from a group of Marxist students called, I think, the Spartacus Youth League.  Whenever Friedman was scheduled to speak, they would disrupt the event, and try to prevent his speaking.

So when it was time to tape the discussion half-hours of each hour episode of the original "Free to Choose" series, the discussions were scheduled as invitation-only.  I was in the audience for two or three of the discussions.  (They were fine, but personally, I would have preferred another half hour of pure Friedman.)

 

As a poor graduate student, I counted myself extremely lucky to find an auto-repairman who was a wizard at finding creative ways to keep old cars running, at low repair cost.  He was a man of few words, put he kept the words he gave.

I ran into him and his wife in a little Lebanese restaurant that was run out of the secondary student union just down from I-House.  He invited me to sit with them, which I did.  I remember him telling me that they were gypsies, and him mentioning that people sometimes had the wrong idea about gypsies.  He told me that he had been raised never to go into debt.  He told me how cheap White Castle hamburgers used to be.  When I told him that I was studying economics, he surprised me by saying that Milton Friedman had been a customer of his, and that he really liked Milton Friedman.

This gypsy was a simple, decent, hard-working fellow.  I don't know, but I strongly guess that Friedman saw the good in this fellow, and treasured what he saw.  And the gypsy liked Milton Friedman back.

 

Whenever I saw Friedman interviewed on television, or read one of his letters, or op-ed pieces, in the Wall Street Journal, I would feel a bit more optimistic about freedom, and life.  A lot of people give up, at some point, but Friedman never did---he just kept on observing, and thinking, and speaking.  The last time I had any interaction with him was at the meetings of the Association of Private Enterprise Education (APEE) on April 4, 2005.  He was hooked up with the conference via video camera from an office in California.  He gave a brief presentation, and then spent quite some time answering questions.  (I recorded some of these in grainy, small video clips that can be viewed on my web site, or viewed on the web site of the APEE.)

I asked him a question about whether he agreed with Stigler in Stigler's memoirs that Schumpeter had something important to say about competition.  I wasn't as impressed by his answer to this question, as I was to some of his other answers.

I think that Schumpeter may be remembered as a crucial economist for our understanding of the process of capitalism:  innovative new products through creative destruction.  But if capitalist innovation prospers, part of the credit will belong to Milton Friedman.  

Friedman and Stigler were led into economics in part because of the challenge to capitalism posed by the Great Depression.  If depressions of that magnitude were an essential part of what capitalism was about, then a lot of people would prefer to have nothing to do with capitalism.  Schumpeter's response basically was to say that every once in awhile, really bad depressions will happen as part of the process of capitalism, and we just have to suck it up, and live through them. 

One of Milton Friedman's major contributions to economics, was to show that ill-advised government policies, such as a contraction of the money supply, were responsible for making the depression much deeper, and much longer than it needed to have been.  (See, e.g,  A Monetary History of the United States.)

In other words, he showed that Great Depressions are not an inescapable price we must pay if we choose to embrace the economic freedom, and the creative destruction, of capitalism.

 

When Friedman cleaned out his Chicago office to head for California, he left in the hallway for scavenging, extra copies of some of his books, and offprints of articles various academics had sent him.  So I have a Spanish copy of Capitalism and Freedom (even though I don't read Spanish), and several offprints of articles from distinguished economists who sent "best wishes" to "Milton." 

After the office was cleared out, I remember sticking my head in, and looking around the empty office, one final time, for sentiment's sake.  I was stunned to see a bright red, white and blue silk banner left hanging on the wall.  It was festooned with American flags, and said, in large letters:  "Buy American!" 

I felt anxious and confused:  was one of my heroes inconsistent on such a basic issue?  So I entered the office, and went over to the banner, and examined it more carefully.  It was then that I noticed, in small letters at the bottom of the banner:  "Made in Japan".

 

Some book references relevant to the discussion above:

Friedman, Milton. Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962.

Friedman, Milton, and Anna Jacobson Schwartz. A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960, Nber Studies in Business Cycles. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963.

Friedman, Milton, and Rose D. Friedman. Free to Choose: A Personal Statement. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1980.

Stigler, George J. Memoirs of an Unregulated Economist. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1988.

West, E. G. Adam Smith: The Man and His Works: Arlington House, 1969.

 

 In vino veritas.  Photo from Tio Pepe Bodega, Jerez, Spain.  Photographer:  Dagny Diamond.

 

Continue reading "Milton Friedman, Freedom's Friend, RIP" »




November 13, 2006

The Unsung Heroes in "The Path to 9/11"

  Still from the "Path to 9/11" mini-series, showing damage to the underground garage from the WTC bombing on February 26, 1993. Source of photo: http://www.imdb.com/gallery/ss/0473404/Ss/0473404/103291.jpg?path=gallery&path_key=0473404

 

The "sung" heroes of "The Path to 9/11" would include the Afghan militia leader Massoud (below) who warned, and tried to help, the U.S. in the early efforts against Osama bin Laden. 

But the unsung heroes matter too.  There are two scenes in the series that keep coming back into my mind. 

The first is of the investigation of the crumbling garage after the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.  An alarm goes off warning that all should leave because of the possible collapse of the garage.  There is a directive to leave all evidence in place.  But one worker, warned he may lose his job, grabs a key piece of evidence, to keep it from getting buried.

The second is an airport screener who, with strong circumstantial reasons, but no strong direct evidence, stops a terrorist from entering the U.S., even though a co-worker warns him of the personal consequences for his career.

When the stakes were high, these were two men who did the right thing, even though the personal costs to them were potentially high.  I do not know their names, though their names deserve to be remembered.

Their actions contrast with those of many of the higher placed officials in the story.

 

(Note:  "The Path to 9/11" was broadcast on ABC for two nights in September 2006; I think 9/10 and 9/11.)

 

  Still of Ahmed Shah Massoud, from the "Path to 9/11" mini-series.   Source of photo:  http://www.imdb.com/gallery/ss/0473404/Ss/0473404/5795_pre.jpg.html?hint=group




November 4, 2006

Hong Kong's Growth Was Due to Cowperthwaite's "Positive Noninterventionism"


In Free to Choose, Milton Friedman compared Hong Kong's free market, with India's state control of the economy.  The dynamism and growth of Hong Kong was a stark contrast to the inertia and stagnation of India.  In the decades since Free to Choose, India has become more free and, alas, Hong Kong less free:   


(p. A14) . . . it was sadly unsurprising to see Hong Kong's current leader, Donald Tsang, last month declare the death of the policy on which the territory's prosperity was built.

The really amazing phenomenon is that, for half a century, his predecessors resisted the temptation to tax and meddle.  Though a colony of socialist Britain, Hong Kong followed a laissez-faire capitalist policy, thanks largely to a British civil servant, John Cowperthwaite.  Assigned to handle Hong Kong's financial affairs in 1945, he rose through the ranks to become the territory's financial secretary from 1961-71.  Cowperthwaite, who died on Jan. 21 this year, was so famously laissez-faire that he refused to collect economic statistics for fear this would only give government officials an excuse for more meddling.  His successor, Sir Philip Haddon-Cave, coined the term "positive noninterventionism" to describe Cowperthwaite's approach.

The results of his policy were remarkable.  At the end of World War II, Hong Kong was a dirt-poor island with a per-capita income about one-quarter that of Britain's.  By 1997, when sovereignty was transferred to China, its per-capita income was roughly equal to that of the departing colonial power, even though Britain had experienced sizable growth over the same period.  That was a striking demonstration of the productivity of freedom, of what people can do when they are left free to pursue their own interests.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

MILTON FRIEDMAN.  "Hong Kong Wrong."  Wall Street Journal  (Fri., October 6, 2006):  A14.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 






September 4, 2006

Chinese Learn "a Way of Life" from U.S. TV Shows

  Shanghai friends watch downloaded, subtitled, episode of "Friends."  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

SHANGHAI, Aug. 8 — For the past year and a half, said Ding Chengtai, a recent university graduate, friends have wondered why he seems to have disappeared.

Mr. Ding, 23, an Internet technology expert for a large Chinese bank, chuckled at the thought.  He has kept himself in virtual seclusion during his off hours, consumed with American television programs like “Lost,” “C.S.I.” and “Close to Home.”

He is no ordinary fan, though; none of the shows he watches can be seen on Chinese television.  Instead, he spends night after night creating Chinese subtitles for American sitcoms and dramas for a mushrooming audience of Chinese viewers who download them from the Internet free through services like BitTorrent.

. . .

To a person, the adapters say they are willing to devote long hours to this effort out of a love for American popular culture.  Many, including Mr. Ding, say they learned English by obsessively watching American movies and television programs.

Others say they pick up useful knowledge about everything from changing fashion and mores to medical science.

“It provides cultural background relating to every aspect of our lives:  politics,  history and human culture,” Mr. Ding said.  “These are the things that make American TV special.  When I first started watching ‘Friends,’ I found the show was full of information about American history and showed how America had rapidly developed.  It’s more interesting than textbooks or other ways of learning.”

On an Internet forum about the downloaded television shows, a poster who used the name Plum Blossom put it another way.

“After watching these shows for some time, I felt the attitudes of some of the characters were beginning to influence me,” the poster wrote.  “It’s hard to describe,  but I think I learned a way of life from some of them.  They are good at simplifying complex problems, which I think has something to do with American culture.”

 

For the full story, see: 

HOWARD W. FRENCH.  "Chinese Tech Buffs Slake Thirst for U.S. TV Shows."  The New York Times  (Weds., August 9, 2006):   A6.

 




July 30, 2006

Beware of a Snapshot of a Moment in Time

  Source of photo:  http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/27/world/middleeast/27mideast.html?pagewanted=2

 

The photo of Condi Rice touching her forehead ran on the top of the front page of the New York Times on Thurs., July 27, 2006.  It ran big:  filling over a third of the length of the paper, and over half of the width.  It ran right next to the main headline of the front page:  "CEASE-FIRE TALKS STALL AS FIGHTING RAGES ON 2 FRONTS."

It appears that Condi Rice is discouraged, or has a headache, or is overcome. 

But a great CNN report by Jeanne Moos run on Sat., July 29, shows a dynamic version of the minute during which this snapshot was taken.  It shows that this photo is a split-second moment of Condi Rice brushing hair off of her forehead.

Our usual view of competition is to look at how many competitors there are at a moment in time.  We look at a snapshot.  But to really judge competition we must take Schumpeter seriously and look dynamically at whether there is the possibility of leapfrog competition over time.

In an earlier blog entry, I noted that Ronald Reagan resisted sitting for still photos because he thought that still photos could easily be manipulated to mislead.  Ronald Reagan was right.

 

(Jeanne Moos's report was entitled "Hairy Talks or Hair in Eyes?" on the CNN web site.  I believe it first ran on 7/28/06, though I saw it replayed in the afternoon of 7/29/06.)

 




July 15, 2006

Entrepreneurs Saluted in Orange Business Services Ad

Source of screen captures:  the downloaded Orange Business Services BBC World ad cited below.

 

Last month (June 2006) when I was in France, I saw a fun Orange Business Services ad on BBC World.  Two entrepreneurs open their fast food truck in the middle of an empty desert.  Something like a comet strikes the desert and a crowd of cars appears and a line forms at the truck.  The entrepreneurs smile.  Tag line:  "here's to the entrepreneur in all of us."

Orange Business Services let's you watch, or download, the ad at:  http://www.francetelecom.com/sirius/obs/en/index.html?cmp=BAC-van-bbcworld

(I saw the ad in Sophia Antipolis, France on BBC World, at about 7:10 AM, French time, on 6/23/06.)




May 4, 2006

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 




April 30, 2006

Seeing How Life Has Improved Since the Days of the Cowboys

cowboyPBS.jpg A cowboy on "Texas Ranch House."   Source of image:  the WSJ article cited below.

 

"Texas Ranch House" -- circa 1867 -- is the latest PBS experiment in transporting a group of people back to another era so we can watch them live and struggle the way our ancestors did.  (Part one of eight begins Monday, 8-9 p.m. ET, but check local listings.)  As with past series such as "Colonial House," everything -- clothing, tools, food, housing and all-around deprivation -- is authentic.  Once again, though, stuffing 21st-century mentalities into period costumes and situations is a tough fit. And once again, it's the folks wearing the bodices that chafe the most.

The Western setting is fascinating for two reasons:  What seems familiar from movies and TV takes on fresh significance when there are real people -- not pampered actors -- trying to scratch out an existence on the frontier 24/7, with no plot to guide them.  There is also the fact, as one of the participants points out early on, that many of us exist today only because a forebear actually did make the real journey West and manage to survive there long enough to bear children.  What luck, we are reminded more than once during this series, that those ancestors were so different from contemporary Americans.

. . .

The trouble that threatens to sabotage the entire experiment develops in the widening gap between the cowboys and the Cooke family.  The first time one of the employees disses boss man Mr. Cooke, yelling "Don't let your wife run your life," we react with disgust at the insult.  As one of the women in the household explains to the camera, all the cowboys "are sexist bastards."  Besides, instead of rising early to ride the range in search of mavericks for 10 hours, the cowboys -- mostly young Americans plus one frisky British boarding-school boy playing the part of 19th-century remittance man -- indulge in long naps during the 100-degree days and often wake up in the morning with hangovers after nights of hard drinking.

At some point, though, certain facts begin to sink in:  Mr. Cooke does have management shortcomings and Mrs. Cooke is far more involved in running the business side of the ranch than a frontier wife would have been.  The ladies, in general, don't enjoy the roles or status that historical reality would dictate, and some act out in defiant, liberated ways.  A fatal flaw, if not the only one, for the success of the ranch enterprise.  In 1867, spending days making cornhusk dolls while the house filled with flies and vegetables rotted in the garden wasn't an option for folks who wanted to stay alive.  And, like it or not, keeping the ranch hands happy, as obnoxious as they might be, was more important than maintaining marital bliss.

This being a made-for-television environment, no one perishes, but there are no happy endings here, either.  When one of the Cooke daughters says to the camera, "I feel lost and dazed and hurt," you feel genuinely sorry for her.  At the same time, it's clearer than ever that emotional pampering, navel-gazing and gender warfare are modern luxuries.  Like it or not, if these had been features of daily life in the West 100 years ago, many of the people reading this would never have been born.

 

For the full review, see:

Nancy deWolf  Smith.  "TV REVIEW; The West That Never Was."  The Wall Street Journal  (Fri., April 28, 2006):   W10.




April 4, 2006

Getting the Job Done: "Monk" and "House" Celebrate Quirky, Intelligent Competence


Source of image: http://www.usanetwork.com/series/monk/theshow/characterprofiles/tony/index.html#


"Monk" and "House" on the USA Network present suspenseful plots, and intelligent dialogue. But, more importantly, they present unusual "characters" for television: Monk and House are primarily concerned, not with their social standing or sex life, but with getting important jobs done--for Monk, solving murders, for House, curing diseases. One possible moral: maybe it's OK to be intense in the service of a good cause?

An episode of ''Monk,'' in which the title character -- an obsessive-compulsive private eye played by Tony Shalhoub, below -- suffered amnesia after a blow to the head, was the most-watched show on advertiser-supported cable for the week that ended Jan. 22, with an audience of 6 million. USA Network, where ''Monk'' lives, was again the No. 1 basic-cable channel in prime time for that week. USA is also benefiting from reruns of the Fox medical show ''House,'' which it began broadcasting earlier in the month: the ''House'' that ran after ''Monk'' on Jan. 20 attracted 3.79 million viewers.


Source:

KATE AURTHUR. (sic) "Arts, Briefly; 'Monk' Strong on Cable." The New York Times (Mon., January 30, 2006): E2.




February 2, 2006

The Creation of "Freedom" in Iraq

 

Freedom.jpg "Freedom" (oil painting by Esam Pashwa). Source of image: http://www.artvitae.com/art.asp?art_id=1571&bhcp=1

 

When Saddam Hussein fell, artist Esam Pashwa pulled down a huge poster of Sadam and painted a mural underneath. The gesture, and the art, attracted the attention of art expert Peter Falk, who contacted and encouraged Pashwa. He learned that Pashwa, in addition to his art, has served as a translator for the coalition forces in Iraq. Falk has organized a show of Pashwa's work in a New York gallery.

As of 2/1/06, the "Freedom" oil painting above was offered for sale through the gallery. For more information: Peter Hastings Falk Hastings Art Management Services, Inc. P.O. Box 833 Madison, CT 06443 203.245.4761 peterfalk@comcast.net

(The source of most of the information in the entry above, was a CNN report/interview entitled "The Art of War" that was broadcast on 2/1/06. It is viewable at CNN.com at: http://www.cnn.com/video/partners/clickability/index.html?url=/video/world/2006/02/01/intv.art.of.war.cnn)

 




HP3D5006CropSmall.jpg






Most Popular Posts









If you value this blog, and want to help support the expenses of hosting and maintaining it, please consider making a donation through PayPal:










The StatCounter number above reports the number of "page loads" since the counter was installed late on 2/26/08. Page loads are defined on the site as "The number of times your page has been visited."


View My Stats