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Monthly Archives: March 2009

carsDominating the U.S. headlines yesterday was news that the government is basically taking over the American auto industry. Maybe it is overstated, but some of the conditions for more bail-out money are quite specific and are normally decided in a board room or management meeting. 

(President Obama) forced out the chairman of a company that, in a previous era, would regularly send its executives to Washington to prod the gears of government. He made it clear that the White House would oversee, and heavily influence, decisions about what plants to shutter, what brands of cars to abandon and how much workers and managers will be paid.

I understand the interest of Americans in this story. For the U.S. this kind of socialist intervention is contrary to the capitalist ideals that have long been credited with America’s wealth and the American dream--every individual’s ability to rise to a level of wealth and stability through their own hard work and creativity. It may be that the free market is not the only way to provide that kind of environment. Yesterday, in fact, I read an article that claimed it is now rare for Americans to rise above the wealth and status of their parents.


Neat little site here where you can browse different blogs as they are updated. Sometimes you run into some interesting things.

800px-flag_of_the_communist_party_of_nepal_unified_marxist-leninistsvgI often disagree with this journalist, but here she argues something that I have been wondering about.

It took a lot to drive average Americans into a torrent of populist outrage, ready to tar and feather executives of American International Group and other greedy financiers who brought the world economy to the brink of collapse and then dared to demand outrageous compensation for their work. Given that regular stiffs have been struggling for decades, it’s a wonder that anger took so long to build.

The article goes on to talk less about the populist anger and more and more about wage disparities in the US, including this statistic: “In 1965, CEOs earned 24 times the pay of the average worker; by 2007, the factor was 275 times.” Wow. I bet that is way beyond anything Marx had in mind when predicting the socialist revolution. I always thought Marx’s approach to history–dialectical materialism–was spot-on. It is probable that a Marxist revolution does not need to be violent, only a dramatic change.

Is it happening?

Today is the day to celebrate Earth Hour by turning out non essential lights from 8:30 to 9:30 pm.naning

Seven times more municipalities have signed on since last year’s Earth Hour, which drew participation from 400 cities after Sydney, Australia held a solo event in 2007. Interest has spiked ahead of planned negotiations on a new global warming treaty in Copenhagen, Denmark this December.

I am curious if Suzhou will participate. The Chinese love their lights–like their fascination for fireworks–and streets, buildings, and parks are all brightly lit-up. We are scheduled to be have dinner out with friends beginning at 8. Doubt I will see even a glimpse of Earth Hour.

I gotta see this–

bralds_marx-s-2An all-singing, all-dancing stage version of Das Kapital is being produced in Shanghai to show how the thinking of Karl Marx is as relevant in today’s economic crisis as when his book was first published in 1867, producers said Monday.

No schedule given in the article, but they said the script is still being put together, so I have not missed it yet. What a great field trip. Not on their syllabus, but every economics student should know a little bit about Marx. Shanghai is not so far away.

What a funny idea. A little like The Producers and their musical parody of Hitler and the war.



I was intrigued with this story about kids becoming critical thinkers and overacheivers after being introduced to the game of chess.

chessEvery one of my students learned to play chess this year. What’s more, they all began to think more clearly and often, and think before they acted. Achievers blossomed and borderline drop-outs are now making the honor roll and are seriously thinking about college and jobs that do not involve fries or result in an orange jumpsuit and leg irons.

Think of the potential. During a time when funds are running dry, if they’ve not already evaporated, and handwringing about how to turn children into thinkers seems to be growing, a chess movement in education could be just what we need to begin to revive education.

Turns out that many of these kids are facing expulsion from school because they can not afford tuition. The recession has taken jobs from many of them or their families, and some who have been accepted to university can not find funding.

Their response? Challenge President Obama to a game of chess. Not sure I understand the point, but who knows?

rich_dogThe conservative party in Australia has attacked the Prime Minister’s stimulus plan, arguing that the money may well go to pet dogs and cats.

It’s now emerging that dogs and cats may well be in receipt of this money, because if a deceased person’s estate was bequeathed to the family pet, then they may well receive this money,” opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey told ABC television.

And I thought US conservatives were bad…

Anyway, the Aussie plan sounds like a good one, just give a cash handout to every taxpayer in the country. That money is much more likely to get spent and respent, unlike the US government’s handouts to the banks.

us_securitiesExpansionist monetary policy, but I did not know it was not commonly used.

The Fed surprised investors on Wednesday by announcing it would buy $300 billion worth of these U.S. Treasuries for the first time since the early 1960s as part of a move to inject an additional $1 trillion into the U.S. economy by also purchasing more U.S. mortgage and agency debt.

The news spawned higher demand for Asian securities and sent the value of the dollar into free-fall. The plan is meant to feed into the economy by lowering borrowing costs and attracting investors back to work. It seems to have spurred some optimism, which is good in itsself, but I don’t know if it will work. Will the sellers of these securities turn around and spend the cash? Or find someone who wants to borrow it?

What do you think?

hainanThe United States protested to Chinese authorities in Beijing and to the defense attache in Washington over the incident, which occurred on Sunday in the South China Sea, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) south of Hainan Island.

The Pentagon said Chinese boats moved directly in front of the USNS Impeccable, forcing the ship to take emergency action to avoid a collision, and then dropped pieces of wood into its path.

Beijing hit back on Tuesday rejecting that account and demanding the United States cease what it called illegal activities in the South China Sea.

I was in Hainan for this last Christmas holiday. I did not know there was a big naval base there, but I guess it is not surprising given the island’s location.

Seems to me that the US is being a bit beligerent with this. What would happen if a Chinese ship came within 75 miles of the US coast? It would probably be destroyed.

42-18233399Among other things, this article claims horse domestication –over 5000 years ago–gave humans new mobility that may have allowed the spread of Indo-European language and culture in addition to new trade partners and resources.

New evidence corralled in Kazakhstan indicates the Botai culture used horses as beasts of burden — and as a source of meat and milk — about 1,000 years earlier than had been widely believed, according to the team led by Alan Outram of England’s University of Exeter.

My main interest here comes from the two years I spent in Kazakhstan, my wife’s home country.  I remember my brother in law talking about the horses in his hometown in the Kazakh mountains, Tuzkhol.  “Everone has a horse if they work. If you want to work, you must have a horse.” He said it like it was a logic exercise.

They still make koumis–fermented horse milk–in Tuzkhol. Not bad, but I’d trade it for a cold beer any day.