Economics

Unions, the public sector, and the struggle for collective bargaining in Wisconsin

March 10, 2011
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Unions, the public sector, and the struggle for collective bargaining in Wisconsin

“Our democracy is out of control in Wisconsin,” Mr. Barca said. “And you all know it—you can feel it.” A quote from this morning’s New York Times, by State Representative and Wisconsin Democrat Peter Barca reveals the escalation of already tense emotions in Madison as the State Assembly prepares to vote on a bill curtailing bargaining rights for many government workers.* Wisconsin has been a site for national and international coverage in past weeks, as tens of thousands of protesters have take to the Wisconsin State Capitol in demonstrations against Republican Scott Walker’s proposed legislation—which would weaken collective bargaining for state employees, requiring those employees to contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries to cover pension costs, and 12.6 percent towards health care premiums. Recent studies, including one published by the Wall Street Journal, emphasize that growth in state and local government jobs nearly doubles the rate of population growth, and public unions depend on tax revenues to generate pay and benefits. For Wisconsin, a state whose 2003 and 2011 tax cuts may help to generate up to an 800 million dollar reduction in tax revenues by 2013, the situation is dire; this, coupled with Governor Walker’s legislation, which is part . . .

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The Bourgeois Virtues of Mario Vargas Llosa

October 7, 2010
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The Bourgeois Virtues of Mario Vargas Llosa

Writing a pithy sentence about winning the Nobel Prize in literature is an exhaustive experience—what more can be said about this accolade of accolades whose booty (ten million Swedish kroner, or roughly 1.4 million dollars) could alter the life of even the most penniless penner of tales? The background story is well told: nineteenth-century arms manufacturer Alfred Nobel, for whom the prize is named, had the opportunity to read his own obituary, the unfortunately titled “The Merchant of Death is Dead,” eight years before his own death (the piece was meant for his deceased brother Ludvig). This transformative experience of embracing one’s own remembrance spurred Nobel to bequeath his assets via a series of prizes to those organizations and persons “who confer the greatest benefit on mankind.” One hundred and ten years later, here we are. This morning, the Swedish Academy awarded the Nobel Prize in literature to Mario Vargas Llosa (odds embraced by L Magazine), Peruvian novelist, journalist, and statesman whose playful approach and political engagement helped him to become one of Latin America’s most acclaimed modernist-realist writers. In recent decades, Vargas Llosa was perhaps most noted for his staunch neoliberal views, including a run for the Peruvian presidency . . .

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Hayek and the “Tea Party canon”

October 5, 2010
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Hayek and the “Tea Party canon”

This summer’s unlikeliest hit book, F. A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, continues to attract notice. Glenn Beck, the Fox News host whose endorsement of the book in June catapulted it up the best-seller list, recently used the book’s success as evidence that his “audience is devouring books like never before.” Over the weekend, the New York Times concurred with Beck and included Road in an article on the emerging “Tea Party canon.” Taking stock of Hayek’s pervasive influence on the current political landscape, the Times reported: Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, alluded to The Road to Serfdom in introducing his economic “Roadmap for America’s Future,” which many other Republicans have embraced. Ron Johnson, who entered politics through a Tea Party meeting and is now the Republican nominee for Senate in Wisconsin, asserted that the $20 billion escrow fund that the Obama administration forced BP to set up to pay damages from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill circumvented “the rule of law,” Hayek’s term for the unwritten code that prohibits the government from interfering with the pursuit of “personal ends and desires.” Justin Amash, the 30-year-old Republican state legislator running for the House seat once held by . . .

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The United States’s changing role in the “higher education ecosystem”

August 31, 2010
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The United States’s changing role in the “higher education ecosystem”

For much of the last century American universities have held their place as global leaders in higher education, but recently, with the United State’s economic dominance increasingly jeopardized by rising world powers such as China, and to a lesser extent India, there have been some quiet grumblings about a possible “reverse brain drain.” Numbers of US born grad students in the sciences have, of late, been on the decline, while many foreign-born students—who make up a significant portion of the domestic scientific community, and who continue arrive in droves to attend the nation’s elite research institutions—are increasingly able to find high quality employment in their home countries. And while other factors may come into play—post 9/11 restrictions on employment visas, political decisions that redirect funding for scientific research— a new book from the National Bureau of Economic Research, American Universities in a Global Market edited by Charles T. Clotfelter, offers some fascinating insights into this phenomenon, viewing the issue in terms of economics, and drawing on the knowledge of some of the world’s leading economists to help analyze it. From a recent interview with Clotfelter for Inside Higher Ed: Q. There’ve been lots of recent analyses of American higher education’s . . .

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China’s Epic Jam

August 24, 2010
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China’s Epic Jam

According to the Christian Science Monitor, a traffic jam on the Beijing-Tibet expressway in China has now reached its eleventh day, and the snarl currently spans over sixty miles. Seemingly the stuff of a commuter’s pessimistic daydreams, the jam in reality vividly testifies to the powerful forces at work in contemporary China. Among those forces are a rapidly expanding economy and a bigger role on the world stage, topics examined in detail in China’s Growing Role in World Trade. Cars are part of that growing role according to Popular Science: While Detroit declines, China is quickly becoming the world’s largest auto economy. China is selling passenger cars to its own citizens at a pace that seems unfathomable during an overall global economic decline (last year China automotive market moved 13.6 million cars, compared with 10.4 million in the U.S.). China is also on the brink of becoming a major automotive exporter, meaning Chinese manufacturers and designers will soon be deciding what commuters drive in other parts of the world. A boom in both automobile use and manufacturing will only increase China’s importance to future discussions of global energy policy. Indeed, it turns out energy is the other force at work . . .

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An evenhanded guide through our global energy landcape

July 29, 2010
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An evenhanded guide through our global energy landcape

With all the media attention to the environmental and human catastrophe, both actual and predicted, surrounding our dependence on oil and other non-renewable sources of energy, it can be easy to take a rather pessimistic view of our global energy landscape. As a recent story on NPR’s Marketplace asks, will we ever be able to rid ourselves of our addiction to oil? Perhaps not, at least in the near future, but in his new book The Powers That Be: Global Energy for the Twenty-first Century and Beyond, consulting geologist and independent scholar Scott L. Montgomery offers readers a rare glimmer of hope—arguing that quitting cold turkey isn’t a necessary—or realistic—step towards securing our energy future anyway. What is crucial, Montgomery explains, is focusing on developing a more diverse, adaptable energy future, one that draws on a variety of sources—and is thus less vulnerable to disruption or failure. An admirably evenhanded and always realistic guide, Montgomery enables readers to understand the implications of energy funding, research, and politics at a global scale. At the same time, he doesn’t neglect the ultimate connection between those decisions and the average citizen flipping a light switch or sliding behind the wheel of a car, . . .

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“How relevant is [Hayek] to Glenn Beck’s America?”

July 12, 2010
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“How relevant is [Hayek] to Glenn Beck’s America?”

Still causing quite a stir almost a month after Glenn Beck’s endorsement pushed it to the top of Amazon’s sales rankings, F. A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom was the subject of an essay by Jennifer Schuessler in the July 11st edition of the New York Times Sunday Book Review. In her essay Schuessler explores the book’s “long history of timely assists from the popular media,” and, interestingly, asks how relevant the book really is to Glenn Beck’s America. Read it online at the NYT. Also, read an excerpt from the book. . . .

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Serf City, U. S. A

June 22, 2010
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Serf City, U. S. A

We’ve entered week two of the summer of Hayek, and though The Road to Serfdom has descended a few spots on the Amazon sales charts (we’re still outselling Stephenie Meyer’s vampires and the Twitter-to-book musings of a grumpy father), interest in the most unexpected beach read of 2010 continues apace. Last week, Newsweek weighed in on the phenomenon, noting Glenn Beck’s role in the sales spike: “To state that Beck holds an extraordinary amount of sway with his millions of viewers is, by now, roughly equivalent to suggesting that BP slightly underestimated how much oil spilled into the gulf.” Then chief business commentator John Gapper of the Financial Times wrote about the surprise best seller on his blog, pointing out that Beck has “become publishers’ new best friend.” Locally, the Chicago Tribune observed on its Printers Row book blog that, before Beck, Hayek had another supporter to thank for his perennial popularity: Milton Friedman. And finally, late last week, the gray lady chimed in. Writing in Inside the List column in the New York Times Book Review, Jennifer Schuessler explains that Hayek was doing well even before Beck took up his cause: “A perennial seller for the University of Chicago . . .

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The Road to Extinction

June 17, 2010
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The Road to Extinction

A proposal from the government of Tanzania to lay a road through the Serengeti National Park—and through the lands used during the annual wildebeest migration—could, in the words of Olivia Judson, “destroy the Serengeti as we know it.” Writing for the Opinionator blog of the New York Times yesterday, Judson laid out the case that the proposed thoroughfare would be devastating to wildlife, and the reverberations of the project could affect everything from plant life to tourism. In her notes, Judson directs curious readers to the work of A. R. E. Sinclair, an expert on the region and the author of three books published by the University of Chicago Press. The most recent, Serengeti III: Human Impacts on Ecosystem Dynamics presents a timely and provocative look at the conservation status of one of earth’s most renowned ecosystems. (The previous two volumes—Serengeti: Dynamics of an Ecosystem and Serengeti II: Dynamics, Management, and Conservation of an Ecosystem are part of Sinclair’s long-term integrated research project to documents changes to this unique ecosystem every ten years.) Bringing together researchers from a wide range of disciplines—ecologists, paleontologists, economists, social scientists, mathematicians, and disease specialists—Serengeti III focuses on the interactions between the natural system and . . .

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An unlikely bestseller

June 14, 2010
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An unlikely bestseller

For six days and counting, an unlikely book has sat atop the Amazon bestseller list, beating out Swedish crime thrillers and novels featuring sparkly vampires. Who could top Stieg Larsson and Stephenie Meyer? None other than F. A. Hayek, Austrian economist and free-market enthusiast. And for a guy that’s been dead nearly two decades (and for a book that’s celebrating its 66th birthday this year), it’s a pretty remarkable feat. Thanks for Hayek’s resurgence goes to Glenn Beck, the conservative Fox News personality who devoted his June 8 show to Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom. Overnight, the sales ranking on Amazon crept ever upward until it reached the top spot early on Wednesday, where it’s stayed ever since. Many blogs have commented on the surprise best seller. Last week Publisher’s Weekly ran a story about the book’s success, and The Chronicle of Higher Education followed up with an interview with the volume’s editor, Bruce Caldwell. Over the weekend, USA Today and the Guardian both mentioned The Road to Serfdom in profiles of Beck. Want to see what all the fuss is about? Check out the book’s product page, and read an excerpt detailing the book’s publication history. Also revisit . . .

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