Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Court defends "Exorcism"

This is just too insane to be true

Basic background: A 17 year old girl (now 29) was abducted and subjected to a 2-day exorcism, where she was pinned to the ground and "pummeled."

So, she did what any sensible person would do: take her assaulters to court. Lowers court ruled in favor of the girl and awarded her $188,000 in damages. Big ol' Daddy Texas Supreme Court comes along and overturns the ruling, arguing that this is a First Amendment case...therefore it would be unconstitutional for the court to make a ruling on a religious environment. It's not a blank check, mind you: churches can't sexually abuse children. But the trauma caused by this particular religious experience was not considered within the jurisdiction of the court.

She's taking her case to the US Supreme Court.

I definitely think the Texas Court is in the wrong here. While I respect the rights of religions to hold their own spiritual practices and am willing to grant them some leeway on "child abuse" (for example, a child fussing about having to wake up at 7 AM on a Sunday would not be an adequate excuse for government intervention), this exorcism ritual crossed the line. Physical abuse and forceful pinning for days is an obvious abuse: what 17 year old wouldn't be afraid of being constrained by multiple others for an extended period of time?

And if it's obvious abuse, it isn't permissible under the law, just like sexual abuse.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

No, Virginia, High Oil Prices are BAD!

Or at least not anywhere near as good as people are implying.

A lot of talk in the media recently has been about the "good side" of high oil prices. For example, a list that a friend recently sent me in an email includes the following "goods" about high gas prices:
1. Globalized Jobs Return Home
2. Sprawl Stalls - 'Across the country, real estate agents are reporting that many home buyers are looking to move closer to cities. Gas prices are shaping their decisions.' -- Did you not call for an increase in population density at one point?
3. Four-Day Workweeks
4. Less pollution -- heart of the matter
5. More Frugality – 'We're all wasting less.' – Also advocated by WFan.
6. Fewer Traffic Deaths
7. Cheaper Insurance
8. Less Traffic
9. More Cops on the Beat
10. Less Obesity

And the most recent Businessweek?
The Real Question: Should Oil Be Cheap?
Expensive oil hurts, but there's a business case to be made for a floor under the price of crude

The basic idea is pretty simple: low oil prices in the past cause all sorts of bad things that we don't like, such as childhood obesity, reliance on foreign oil, outsourcing of jobs, etc. Since oil prices are now high, people can exercise more, cut back on "frivolous consumption," develop alternatives to oil, and develop public transportation networks.

Don't get me wrong. Oil prices in the 1990s were probably too low. Hell, they are probably too low NOW: the price of gasoline still doesn't include the environmental damage it causes. But that's due to the externalities of oil prices...and, like I just said, the externalities still existed. Other than that, everything represented fundamentals.

When it comes to a good with a price determined exclusively by fundamentals and where the private cost is the total cost of the good (IE, a perfectly competitive market with no externalities), more is ALWAYS better. We call those "supply-side shifts." And as any econ 101 student can tell you, supply side shifts mean more goods at lower prices. People don't care so much about being obese, having awesome public transit, or supplying foreign nations with dollars: they are far, far more concerned about having cheap gasoline. They WANT cheap gasoline.

Or, just take a look at those most hurt by the high gasoline prices: the poor. They cannot afford new hybrid cars, they are not located near public transit, and they can't cut back much on their own driving. It's precisely the reason why economists say that energy taxes need to be paired with lump sum rebates especially targeted towards those with low income: people with low income are hurt worse when gas prices rise.

So, what do we really want? We want cheap oil. What would be REALLY awesome if we had cheap oil that didn't negatively affect the environment. And doesn't that make sense? More of good stuff=good.

Monday, July 28, 2008

So, ARE boys better than girls at math?

Sometimes, I really don't have to write a thing!

The answer: that's not the question you should be asking.

Rather, you should be asking how the skill level of boys and girls varies by person. If there is a difference in variance, then it means one group will be producing more geniuses (and idiots) than the other. Since certain jobs require a LOT of intelligence, it means that one gender will be over-represented in that field.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Career Education in the United States

Full Report Here

Here's an interesting bit: we know that more women than men are going to college these days.

Did you know they also are more likely to get additional education when out in the work force?

Higher rates of participation in work-related coursetaking were also observed for (female) than for male adult labor force members in 2004–05 (44 vs. 31 percent)

Scariest sentence this morning

The White House, citing an urgent need to restore market confidence in the two mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, said President Bush would sign the measure despite his opposition to the inclusion of nearly $4 billion in grants for local governments to buy and refurbish foreclosed properties.

Why in the world could you oppose that?

Taken from the NY Times article on the Housing Bill

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Echo Chambers and the Modern World

You know what an echo chamber is? It's where you say something, and all the room does reverbate the sound of your own voice back to you. It's pretty kickass if, like myself, you like the sound of your own voice. Most people seem not to (and I didn't before I got a radio show in high school). But that's another story for another a day.

A lot of us live in a certain kind of echo chamber in our everyday lives, though. The CEO who surrounds himself with nothing but "yes men" only hears his/her ideas echoed back to him. Teachers who conduct anti-drug or pro-abstinence seminars often have the same phenomena with their students...5 minutes before the alpha dog slaps on a condom to have sex with the rebel "slutty" girl while sparking up a Marlboro (and he's 14!).

And a lot of us have similar information echo chambers. If you're a right-wing conservative and you tune in to Fox News, chances are you are only hearing your own ideas back bounce at you. A very similar thing occurs if you're a liberal who relies on DailyKOS for all of your information.

The problem with an echo chamber is that people who discuss their ideas tend to start out a bit moderate with a slight leaning in one direction or another. Since they only encounter arguments from their own side, they tend to get very confident in their beliefs, and grow more extreme. If you're a conservative and turn on Rush Limbaugh thinking that welfare is a bad idea, you'll probably turn off the radio thinking that welfare is the WORST IDEA EVAH and that anyone who supports it is an obvious dummy at best, and pandering for the black vote at worst.

A curious effect might be that the most politically active of us become the most polarized of us, at least if we are more likely to look to sources that share our beliefs. The politically active among us talk about the issues, go to their respective echo chambers, and come away bloodthirsty radicals that want change and want it NOW. What can possibly moderate this?!

Well, it ain't the real estate market, that's for sure. See here:
Americans are increasingly forming like-minded clusters. Conservatives are choosing to live near other conservatives, and liberals near liberals.

A good way to measure this is to look at the country's changing electoral geography. In 1976 Jimmy Carter won the presidency with 50.1% of the popular vote. Though the race was close, some 26.8% of Americans were in “landslide counties” that year, where Mr Carter either won or lost by 20 percentage points or more.

Americans, with higher incomes and more mobility, can increasingly choose where to live, and they can make a lot more choices than they used to be able to. Since people like living around like-mindeds, they create clusters of red and blue zones. And the effect magnifies the echo chambers...especially among those who care most about politics.

Heck, politics even seems to matter when we choose who we marry, though I can't find a link for it at the moment.

Echo chambers. So very cool.

But so very dangerous.

This post borrows heavily from the writings of Cass Sunstein, particularly Infotopia. A very good read. :)

Why Poor Nations are Poor

Why? What we all agree upon

It's one of the biggest questions of the modern world: why are Western Europe, the United States, Japan, and certain British dominions so wealthy, while the rest of the world is so damn poor?

The answer largely depends on who you ask. If you ask a die-hard libertarian, its because the poor world did not embrace markets, whereas the wealthy Europeans have had a more...sophisticated respect for capitalism. A die-hard liberal might point to oppression and exploitation by the West, while more moderates might suggest that institutions (financial markets, democracy, allowing interest payments, etc) allowed the West to gain incredible amounts of wealth.

But we can all point to one point in history where the West started to take off: the industrial revolution. Starting in England and slowly migrating to other parts of Europe, the Industrial Revolution created incredible wealth, while most of the world has only recently begun industrializing.

So, we have our opinions colored by this industrial revolution. Economy policy prescriptions seem largely based on what we think allowed said industrial revolution occurred, which has largely been a rigorous treatment of markets, political reform, and the establishment of new economic institutions.

But, what exactly defined the Industrial Revolution?

A lot of people suggest that it is the development of new technologies, which allowed factories to be built as production was more advanced. Hence, we tend to think of the Industrial Revolution as being relatively capital-intensive: heck, just listen to the communists rant about capital and the means of production. Hence, we consider the development of industry and manufacture to be an essential part of economic development. Because of this, we tend to look at things like tariffs as being an essential part of early development, because it allows domestic industry to develop.

Gentlemen (and whatever ladies we have), this is poppycosh. It is true that capital stores have been enhanced somewhat since the beginning of the industrial revolution. It is not, however, true that the industrial revolution was primarily about industry, and that nations that developed heavy industry were the ones that ended up being the wealthiest by some inevitable process.

Why we buy capital

Capital reserves are based on two things: the real interest rate and the returns to capital. Much like supply and demand must equal each other, so must the interest rate equal the return to capital. If you are going to spend $1,000,000 on building a giant new factory, and earn $50,000 over the life of the factory (or 5%), you'll only build the factory if the interest rate during the same period of time is equal to or less than 5%. Otherwise, you'd invest your money instead of building a factory.

Real interest rates in England at the time of the Industrial Revolution were already relatively low, relative to those of the rest of Europe and of Asia. Declines in real interest rates are not the primary factor driving the industrial revolution. Therefore, we have to point to returns...

But why did returns suddenly increase? Is it, as some people suggest, England levied protective tariffs? Perhaps this is A factor, but probably not the primary one. The textile industry (which produced roughly half the gains England experienced in the early Industrial Revolution) was a highly competitive industry within England, since the optimum size of a textile plant was very small. Hence, returns to capital were low, as profits were very low.

Technology? Definitely the case, along with other innovations. Efficiency gains make the production possibilities increase, and also increase the returns to capital. Hence, there's a rush to buy MORE capital after a new technology comes out that makes spinning threads easier.

You might be thinking that I have just disproved my point. Au Contraire. Keep reading

Globalization in the Late Industrial Age
At first, England tried very hard to protect its markets, as well as keep technology within its own borders. This proved impossible, and technology slowly leaked to other nations around the world. Similarly, England steadily lowered its tariffs (in contrast to, say, France, where tariffs were low throughout to the 19th century).

Great Britain also committed itself to a policy of free markets and free® trade, and other European nations were also committed to building essential railroads within its colonies in order to safeguard gains. Hence, by the time the late 1800s rolled around, the world was surprisingly well-integrated. The globalization of the 1870-1914 era is hard to understate. This is largely the result of the two World Wars: if the economy was so well-integrated, why would the nations of the world fight each other? This is another question for another time, but suffice to say that trade compromised a large part of most European economies at the time. Exports and imports accounted for something like half of the French economy in 1914, compared to 54% of the French economy today. And Germany was the biggest trade partner in 1914, just as it is today.

The developing world was also well-integrated, at least for global capital markets. We can see this in the interest rate between nations at this time, which have absolutely nothing to do with income: India's interest rates were actually lower than those of the United States. India had access to all the capital she would ever need, and all the technology that her European peers had. Because of this, Indian railroads (which were subsidized by the Indian government) were actually better constructed than American railroads.

Yet, India did not develop. Nor did Africa, nor did the Ottoman Empire. In contrast, the United States, plagued by monopolies, corruption, and relatively BAD capital markets, did develop. What gives?

Efficiency: Not Just Technology
As previously stated, efficiency gains explain why countries would purchase more capital. What I did not mention is that efficiency gains also explain a large portion of economic growth in and of themselves (75% or more).

Efficiency, however, is not merely new production technology. I could give a group of three year olds access to a nuclear reactor, and they would be unable to produce even a watt of electricity. Technology means nothing if you can't utilize it properly, and that was the difficulty that less developed nations had. For instance, a textile mill in India would have 1 worker per loom. In contrast, a British or American loom would typically have 1 worker service 8 looms at once. Hence, productivity per worker was far higher in the developed world, and wages/income were higher as a result.

Intangible are things we undervalue greatly today. In part, this is the fault of economists, who concentrate largely on maximization and equilibrium rather than the spread of ideas. Yet, these intangibles are largely the reason why the West is developed today, while the rest of the world has not developed.

Hence, the American South, which had very little industrialization at all, would've rated as the world's 4th richest nation in 1860. Nations can make a fine dollar by exporting something that is not considered an industrial staple, as the general increase of wealth increases demand, and the nation can increase its own supply side through alternative means.

What intangibles are important
Of this, I am less than certain. "A Farewell to Alms," which this post is heavily based off of, suggests that labor quality in the undeveloped world was far inferior to that of the developed world. The example used, though, is hardly conclusive, and might be construed as inept management.

Labor quality probably was, however, inferior, just as it remains inferior today. Similarly, the undeveloped world did not have a core of entrepreneurs and experienced managers, unlike the developed world. This is highly important, as importing management is not as easy as it seems (the soft skills of a manager matter greatly). The lack of entrepreneurs might in turn be the result of lower literacy levels and the low social status of merchants in such times, whereas business became the playground of literate Samurai in Japan. (Indeed, literacy levels in India remain relatively low, barely higher than levels in 1700s England).

So, if we want to increase wealth in the developing world, what should we do?

First off, stop dumping aid on them. It doesn't actually increase their living standards. If anything, it actually REDUCES living standards, because parts of the world remain in a Malthusian trap. Any increase in resources(particularly medicine) actually reduces living standards.

Rather, we should focus on the intangibles of growth. That means discipline in the workplace. It means a strong respect for entrepreneurship, and higher literacy and experience in managing businesses. It also means more focus on how different societies operate, so that managers can make most effective use of their work face.

What am I not prescribing? I am not talking about democracy. I am not talking about free trade or free flow of capital. I am not suggesting high tariffs. Certainly, to some extent, these things are actually helpful (in fact, the reintroduction of globalization in the 1970s and 1980s probably set the stage for growth in India and China after they had experienced large growth in literacy and bureaucratization from their statist governments. Ironically, their socialist governments might have done an absolutely remarkable job in preparing them for the capitalist world). They are not, however, sufficient conditions.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

DIFFERING VIEWPOINTS #1: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

Unless you've been living under a rock, you probably know that Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are probably going to join the long list of companies that have had government bailouts. You know, along with the S&Ls, the airline industry, etc. etc...

The problem, many believe, is that private companies should not have government bailouts....ever. Firstly, it's immoral: private corporations shouldn't be getting money from the government. The logic behind this is obvious. People who invest in corporations are naturally taking an obvious risky option, and the people who own major corporations are (presumably) the wealthy. Why pay off a bunch of rich people because they screwed up?

The second argument is a more practical argument. When Freddie and Fannie do well, the stockholders reap all the profits. When Freddie and Fannie do bad, the taxpayer is left holding the bag. Socialized costs and private benefits, it is argued, tend to lead to excesses. If I lose little of my own money, and but get all the rewards if I win, I'm going to be taking a lot of risky actions.

So, bailouts are bad.

The second bit is the logic one of my friends uses in his argument, in one of the companion pieces to this post. You can see the whole thing here

However, I disagree with both of the above least to some degree.

In the first: Increasingly,, regular people are owners of equity. It's not just Warren Buffet who gets hurt when the Dow Jones tumbles 2,000 points. It's also your neighbors and the California teachers. This doesn't necessarily mean that it's right to bail out companies in order to buoy stock prices. After all, we could still help those people out through other means (liberals would argue, perhaps, by increasing social security benefits). But it's something to least if only to recognize that, when the financial market gets hit, everyone else hurts too.

In the second, as Krugman points out, Freddie and Fannie weren't the ones innovating in high-risk securities. That's those "other" companies, like Bear Stearns, Countrywide, etc etc. You know...those other guys that are getting bought out.
That's because Freddie and Fannie were highly regulated in addition to having an assurance of a government bailout. So, they only were investing in relatively safe loans. It looked like a bad bet when everyone was making money in the 90s and the early millennium...doesn't seem too stupid now.

However, even Freddie and Fannie are getting hurt...but that's because the whole system is hurting:
In Los Angeles, Miami and other places, anyone who borrowed to buy a house at the peak of the market probably has negative equity at this point, even if he or she originally put 20 percent down. The result is a rising rate of delinquency even on loans that meet Fannie-Freddie guidelines.

That, in addition to the fact that Freddie and Fannie were pressured to start making near-subprime loans after the private sector started failing, meant that they weren't in all too great a shape. And that's because everyone else screwed up, not Freddie and Fannie. It's a great example of how everyone is connected.

But, there are SOME inherent problems with the two giant mortgage companies. The companies generally have too little capital on hand. Part of the point of having them be semi-private companies is that they could raise capital buy selling stock, hence being somewhat independent of the government.

Still, though, the government bailout isn't showing how Freddie and Fannie have failed. It's showing how regulation in the financial industry has failed.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Union of the Mediterranean

While the focus of this article is on France bringing Syria out of diplomatic isolation and back to reengagement with the West.

What I'm surprised by....

Why didn't Libya attend the meeting? A nation can't possibly reintegrate into the world if it refuses to talk to its neighbors about issues as simple as students visas and pollution management.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Should we all be learning second languages?

Senator Obama seems to think so, apparently

My question to those who say we should be learning foreign languages, since everyone else is taking the trouble to learn ours...

Okay, which ones?

German? We still trade plenty with Germany, and even import weapons
Spanish? Got a lot of immigrants coming in from all over Latin America
Japan? That's where we get our high tech stuff right?
Vietnamese and Korean? I mean...we get video games from there...right?

English has been chosen as a global language. Really, us learning foreign languages simply isn't as essential as foreigners learning English. Even if we wanted to be global wine/book/whatever connoisseurs, we couldn't possibly succeed: There are too many languages to learn!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Anarchist Misconception

There are a LOT of young anarchists. A LOT. Like, if you wander around an internet forum or a college campus with the big red “A,” you’re almost guaranteed to have some random weirdo walk up to you and deliver a sweaty high five right into your palm…and if you’re lucky, he might even offer you a joint!

These people are generally classified under one of two belief systems:

1. For any given society, they are better off without a government than with a government

2. By changing cultural norms, they can eliminate most of the needs for governments

They promise that things will be better with no government, and point to all the terrible things that governments have done since the beginning of human history. They have supported slavery, extorted massive amounts of wealth from citizens, protected negligent and polluting companies, started pointless wars, etc etc.

Governments, in their view, are mostly bad things that people use to oppress others. We’d be better off without them.

Unfortunately, I find this to be an argument that really doesn’t appreciate how much government has changed since the industrial revolution (and, indeed, just the past 50 years!)

Liberal democracies generally do not assault their citizens, or even citizens of foreign nations. Indeed, they are highly dedicated to international institutions, foreign aid, and providing healthcare and education to their citizens. Obviously, this might piss off a libertarian (who sees government as slowly encroaching on all areas of life), but it should demonstrate to most other people that government is NOT intent on screwing people over anymore.

It might be incompetent.
It might be mean sometimes.
It might overstep boundaries occasionally (see waterboarding).

But the government is NOT evil. At least not by intent.

The typical retort is that government, even if it isn’t bad NOW, will probably revert back to a horde of evil, barbaric Roman conquistadors. It is, after all, the way of government!

However, this really ignores how much history has changed. Back before the industrial age, the only way to make a quick buck was to steal it in some fashion. In this era, looting is not profitable, nor is it easy to do in an era where guns are so prevalent and liberal democracies don’t permit doing bad things to foreign countries anymore.

So, I really don’t see the return of “evil government.”

But, they say, doesn’t that mean that people are already good, and that government is superfluous? After all, good people don’t need government, and bad people wouldn’t be capable of making good government…

Perhaps. But we’ve turned a new leaf in how we rule ourselves, and a lot of anarchists don’t seem to accept that. That’s the main problem I have with them.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

They're all a bunch of whiners!

Or, at least we are according to Phil Graham.

Now, I don't know too much about Senator Graham, so I am going to have to guess a bit. I'm guessing that, since he's the economic adviser to John McCain, he's REALLY keen on the market, and really keen on trying to show the recent economic performance as pretty strong (since a Republican is in office after implementing sizable tax cuts, which is the bedrock of the McCain energy campaign).

So, much like the extremists on Iraq or global warming or anything else, he HAS to argue that his policies work...pretty much no matter what. Never mind that all market economies have recessions: failure is unacceptable.

So, what does an extremist do when almost everyone disagrees with him? In revolutionary France, he would behead everyone. In America, he calls us whiners instead.

Extremists, extremists...

Militants now heading to Pakistan

Apparently, Iraq is no longer the "hot spot" for ticked off Sunnis that want to kill Westerners

The number of foreign fighters entering Iraq has dropped to fewer than 40 a month from as many as 110 a month a year ago, a military spokesman in Baghdad said Wednesday. “The sanctuary situation in Pakistan’s tribal areas and North-West Frontier Province is more, rather than less, troublesome than before,” Gen. David D. McKiernan, the new NATO commander in Afghanistan, said in a telephone interview. “The porous border has allowed insurgent militant groups a greater freedom of movement across that border, as well as a greater freedom to resupply, to allow leadership to sustain stronger sanctuaries, and to provide fighters across that border.”

Looks like the "America is now winning in Iraq" story is a bit too good to be true. What seems to be the turning point, at least according to this article, is Pakistan's negotiations with tribal leaders (which began in March). Pakistan, unable to actually dislodge the militants and having to deal with possible rebellions in other provinces, backed out of the area and tried to convince tribal leaders to take on Al Qaeda themselves. This isn't necessarily a bad plan: the United States is using it with great success in Iraq right now.

Unfortunately, it isn't going over so well in Pakistan. Al Qaeda and Taliban have instead of dug in even more, and have solidified their operational relationship. Al Qaeda is training Taliban and financing cross border attacks, which are proving fierce (though they cannot hold any ground and withdraw quickly).

Options by the US are, of course, limited at the present time. Going into Pakistan is unlikely to happen (even if Senator Obama wants to pretend to a cowboy to get votes, any attack in Pakistan may be political suicide and bring down the Musharraf government). CIA planes in the area are small in number, and increasing special operations is currently an option dying a slow, bureaucratic death.

However, militants going to Pakistan is a far better situation than militants going to Iraq. In Iraq, the insurgents can blend in with the population in densely populated areas, and strike American/Iraqi forces at will. In contrast, the terrorists in Pakistan are holed up in the tribal area. We know EXACTLY where they are, and, if we need to, we can pound them into salt much like we did in Afghanistan (though it'll be more difficult without the equivalent of a Northern Alliance to help out). In addition, the Pakistani government is far more stable than the Iraqi government. Until relatively recently, the latter didn't even have a functioning army. So, the chance of Iraq tumbling was far higher than Pakistan toppling.

And, finally: We can actually create a pluralist government in Iraq. It's more vital to our long-term interests, especially since it means fewer dead American soldiers (which means more energy for future missions).

Still a good move for us, all in all.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Size of the Late Han Dynasty Harem

6,000 women.

Unfortunately, when imperial rulers pay too much attention to the pleasures of the forbidden garden, they tend to ignore the needs of their empire, and let bureaucrats take over. Not always a healthy career move (often resulting in serious power struggles).

That from War in Human Civilization by Azar Gat. I highly recommend it, and probably will be writing on it more extensively. Warning, though: the author writes more extensively on the impact of the horse than the impact of harems.

What I read in the Tribune today:

A Dad discovers religion and wants his daughters to attend his church. The mother, on the other hand, wants the children to attend the traditional Catholic Church on Sundays.

The big surprise:

The father is a Satanist!

That definitely gave me a "WTF!" moment

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Integration in Asia, and how it applies to the US

Number of Asian Free Trade Agreements in 2001: 7

Number of Asian Free Trade Agreements in 2008: 100+

Asia is increasingly integrating itself, much like North America and Europe already have. The problem is that Asian integration is a lot more haphazard and a lot less comprehensive: these agreements only apply to specific sectors. It's hardly the type of wide-scale trade freedom that exists in American trade deals (or at least that's what the people on C-SPAN tell me! God I love it when the House takes off...they never do anything important anyways). Hence, I suppose, the need for so many deals.

However, without widescale integration, I would imagine it would be tough to get true consensus on a lot of critical economic issues. For instance, if we can't even agree on whether or not Japanese beef should be allowed in Vietnam, how in the world can they agree on management of capital flows? And then what's to prevent another financial crisis from starting?

Haphazard integration like this needs to stop. The world needs wide-scale integration in order to deal with serious trasnational issues, like pollution, refugees, and arms control.

Unfortunately, there is massive resistance to this within the United States even today. Instead of creating large institutions designed to help countries work together better, the Bush Administration has pursued foreign policy unilaterally, and our trade policy largely consists of creating bilateral trade agreements and jawboning China about currency appreciation.

Haphazard policy: not just for nations with a history of protectionism

Having a Good Marketing Campaign Reaps Good Dividends

Percentage of laptop-buying college students that wanted a Mac in 2003: 8%

That same percentage in 2007: 42%

I like my Mac computer. I really don't think this Mac computer is much different from an XP-driven laptop, nor do I think this particular Mac is much more advanced the old Macs that I used to use...

Though this desktop looks a LOT more high-tech, and the IPod has had several years to build brand value for Apple (and ITunes has had a lot of time to extract monopoly advantage by encouraging people to buy Mac software!).

I gotta chalk this up to the value of a successful marketing campaign. Seize an under-utilized market (the MP3 player), build up good feelings about the brand (awesome product, fighting evil Microsoft!), get a reputation as a secure system (in an era of extreme anxiety post-9/11), and price yourself higher than your competitors (we're the luxury brand!), and get some normal-looking fanboys...

You got yourself a juggernaut!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Why do some people reach their creative potential in business while other equally talented peers don’t?


After three decades of painstaking research, the Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck believes that the answer to the puzzle lies in how people think about intelligence and talent. Those who believe they were born with all the smarts and gifts they’re ever going to have approach life with what she calls a “fixed mind-set.” Those who believe that their own abilities can expand over time, however, live with a “growth mind-set.”
Guess which ones prove to be most innovative over time.

Talent? Overrated. Open mind, hard work ethic, and a desire to grow? That’s where you want to be.

Illegal Immigration and Big Business

Three years ago, the United States had a massive immigration reform debate on a bill (sponsored by Presidential Candidate John McCain) that ultimately failed. Since then, there have been a large number of local and state laws made to try to discourage illegal immigration,, and a lot of pressure on the federal government to enforce laws already on the book.

One of the big grievances? Employers who give illegal immigrants work. They’re made out to be the bad guys in this story, as they provide iillegal immigrants with their livelihood by giving them low-wage jobs out of single-minded greediness.

But it ain’t that simple…

A human resources manager who worked for the company a decade ago hired a number of workers without conducting an extra check of their documents with the Social Security Administration, the executive said. Now she has received notices from the agency of mismatches in the identity documents of 20 workers who were hired 10 years ago, out of 90 workers on the assembly floor today.
Because of the antidiscrimination rules, the executive cannot check to be certain that the 20 workers, mainly Hispanic women, are illegal. Moreover, they have advanced through training, she said, and excel at their jobs, which require the repetitive assembly of tiny parts by hand, often under microscopes

The legal infrastructure in place isn’t that conducive to making sure that your workers are legal. Apparently, a large number of companies can hire illegal immigrants purely by accident, and won’t be able to check up to see if documentation checks out because it is illegal to question an immigrant;’s legal status after already being hired.

Conundrum? Yes indeed.