Maiello: Where Your Tax Dollars Go
Doc Cleveland: Copyright vs. Truth
Flying during the winter months has become an increasingly dicey proposition in 21st-century America. I make a handful of work-related plane trips a year, but the ones I do make tend to be for things that can't be rescheduled easily and often can't be rescheduled at all. I'm sure this is true for travelers in other kinds of business, but it's certainly true for academics: if you don't get there on the right day, the thing you were traveling to do may simply never happen. And American airlines can't quite promise to get you where you need to go any more, for reasons that have both to do with changing weather patterns and with a set of catastrophically-shortsighted business strategies that have become accepted as normal.
One of the hardest things for many people to grasp during the Great Recession has been the idea that inflation is too low. We generally talk about inflation as pure economic evil, something that could never possibly be too low. But it is.
If you say inflation is too low, some people will bring up the high inflation of the 1970s or, more hysterically, the hyper-inflation in Weimar Germany during the rise of the Nazis as proof that Inflation Is Bad. But that doesn't really make sense. Inflation is bad when it gets too high, but that doesn't make a modest amount of inflation bad. The sun is bad in Death Valley when it's 130 degrees, but that doesn't make sunshine a universal menace. 15% inflation would be a very bad thing, but that doesn't mean 1.5% inflation is a good thing. 130 degrees Fahrenheit is murderous, but so 13 degrees is also a killer. A lot of our public debate about inflation is like trying to treat a case of frostbite while people keep shouting that heat is a terrible thing and then angrily tell you a long story about forest fires. [Read more]
Everybody knows the Walton family, the people who put the "Wal" in "Walmart", is the richest family in America. They're so rich you would have to pile up more than 40% of the wealth in the entire United States to even be on the same level. If each member of the family lived to be a thousand years old, they couldn't even begin to spend all of their fortune. So asking them to pay their employees a living wage and a few measly benefits is like asking them to give up, say, 1/10,000th of their fortune. (Don't quote me on that; I don't know that for absolute sure.)
But I'm ever the optimist, so I put these questions to them:
When 19-year-old Andrew Anderson started working at the Goodwill store in East Naples, Florida, he thought his job was pretty cool. He was working in a place where poor and low-income people came to buy the things they couldn't afford anywhere else.
"It makes you feel amazing," he said, "makes you feel you can actually be the person to help them."
I'm as pleased as anyone that Larry Summers has withdrawn from consideration as the next Chair of the Fed. I thought he would do a terrible job. But Summers himself was never the real problem. His candidacy was only a symptom. The real problem is that we have a President who wanted to nominate Summers in the first place. Obama does not understand what's wrong with the American economy, and five years into his term, he persists in some basic misunderstandings.
Education reform in America is always an attempt to get something for free. It has been that way for at least twenty-five years. No matter what the scheme of the hour is (charter schools, Teach for America, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top) or whether you're talking about K-12 or college, every reformer makes one of two promises. Either they promise to make education better without spending any more money, or they promise to make education better while spending less money. Education reformers basically say, "Four dollars is too much to pay for a hamburger. Bring me a three dollar steak."
Everyone's talking about Jeff Bezos buying The Washington Post. But it's also been a dramatic week for two newspapers close to my heart in different ways: The Boston Globe and The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Two days ago, The Globe, like the WaPo, was sold to an individual billionaire with a high profile. Today the Plain Dealer, which has not been sold, stopped delivering the newspaper. It will still be printed every morning, but it will only be delivered three days a week. Nearly one third of its reporters were laid off on Wednesday. It's not the first round of buyouts or layoffs at the PD, and it's not the second either. [Read more]
So, apparently Larry Summers is now the leading candidate for Chairman of the Federal Reserve. This is a bad idea, for lots of reasons, not least of which is that Summers' sudden ascendancy is a sign that The Usual Suspects are talking him up, and it's The Usual Suspects who not only got our economy into this mess but made our government's top priority not getting out of the mess "too quickly." Summers himself was one of Obama's leading economic advisers during the first term, and neither his advice nor Obama's first-term policy were effective in turning the Great Recession around. The result of Summers's advice was always too little, too late. It was Summers who insisted on asking Congress for a smaller stimulus package than the economy needed, on the theory that the smaller package would get passed. Of course, Congress took that smaller package and cut it down even more. [Read more]
So it turns out that New York University has bought its president a summer home on Fire Island (h/t Tenured Radical). Or rather, a special foundation associated with New York University has loaned the university president, John Sexton, around a million dollars to buy a beach house, and there seems a real possibility that much of that million-dollar mortgage will eventually be forgiven, so that Sexton won't have to pay it back. NYU has also made similar vacation-home loans to other top administrators and VIP faculty, at least some of them on the same forgive-over-time plan. This represents a brave new financial frontier in higher education. No other university buys its executives second houses. This seems like an obvious story of an out-of-control administration. But more importantly, it's the story of a board of trustees failing to do its job. [Read more]
I'm delighted about the Supreme Court's decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor. It's a triumph for human dignity, and also a triumph for federalism. The federal government should not be in the business of restricting the rights that individual states extend to citizens. If thirteen states see fit to recognize same-sex marriage, Washington should not interfere.
You may not know it, but war is blazing away on the Internet. Perhaps you've experienced some streaming delays on Netflix or Youtube recently. You may have been caught in the crossfire.
One of the combatants is a Dutch web-hosting company called Cyberbunker. The company's home page cycles a picture of Julian Assange with the caption, "Freedom of speech...is in the eye of the beholder." But they're quick to assure potential clients that Cyberbunker is not some kind of idealistic anarchist commune. Like all good capitalists, Cyberbunker puts the customer first. [Read more]
I've been debating about writing about Wal-Mart for a while now for one very good reason: If I write as a knowledgeable shopper, people will know I shop at Wal-Mart. Chicken of me, I know, but some of my best friends, relatives and acquaintances refuse to shop at Wal-Mart, and they don't like to be reminded that I'm not one of them.
When I worry about the future of my chosen profession, which I do too often these days, I take bleak consolation from the fact that every other profession I considered during my early years is also in crisis. Was it a mistake to become a university professor just as the job market for professors collapsed? Maybe. But if the original question was, "Should I become a professor, a lawyer, or a newspaper journalist?" then maybe not. Lawyers are having a hard time finding jobs; newspapers are laying off. And I can't say I would have been better off staying a high school teacher, as wave after wave of "reforms" make that job harder and worse.
So, the Governor of Florida set up a Task Force on higher education, and they decided that humanities majors should pay more than science majors for a college education. The thinking is that Florida wants more technology grads, and fewer humanities grads, and can get them by making humanities degrees more expensive so that students opt for science, math, and technology instead. They call this approach "market based," but its ignorance of basic economic realities is startling. [Read more]
Raymond Chandler’s legendary private eye, Philip Marlowe, will be back in bookstores next year. Chandler’s estate has authorized a new Marlowe novel from John Banville, alias Benjamin Black. But the real news is not that Banville gets to write the book. It’s that no one else is allowed to write one.
One thing that Barack Obama has done absolutely right for education is change the student loan program. Romney and Ryan have made it clear that if elected they will switch things back to the old way. This small policy difference demonstrates the larger difference between today's Democrats and Republicans.
East Liverpool, Ohio has long been known as the center of American dinner-and diner-ware. For well over a century, from the mid 19th century into the middle of the 1960s, it had been the home of some 300 potteries (partial list here), and included names like American Limoges, Homer Laughlin (across the river in W. Virginia but within shouting distance), Hall, Harker, Taylor Smith Taylor, Knowles, Pearl, Purinton, Royal, Sebring, Sterling, and Wellsville. [Read more]
The debacle at the University of Virginia, whose Board of Visitors hastily fired President Teresa Sullivan, has been a lesson in how business-oriented trustees can urge bad business practices. My earlier post listed some of the imprudent ideas that Sullivan was resisting: a big bet on online learning with no business plan or revenue stream; a desire to chase expensive star faculty from outside UVa instead of building in-house; and a drive to reallocate funds from profitable but unglamorous fields to sexier, less profitable enterprises that the Board of visitors preferred. [Read more]
The Obama administration has also been a major champion for plug-in electric vehicles and hybrids. It has pushed for even higher plug-in vehicle subsidies and incentives on the supply side and consumer demand side of the equation to get the fledgling industry flying on its own. Those plus CAFE requirements – not to mention European legislation beyond the purview of the American president – are expected to be key motivation in developing more electrified automotive solutions in coming years, but Romney said he sees failure written on the EV wall already.
The Obama-led government is, Romney said, trying to "to force a market to adopt a technology that people aren't interested in."