Economics

Press Release: Klotz and Sylvester, Breeding Bio Insecurity

November 2, 2009
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Press Release: Klotz and Sylvester, Breeding Bio Insecurity

In the tense months that followed the 9/11 attacks, the public’s fears of further terrorism were fanned by the deadly anthrax letters, which seemed to symbolize the ease with which terrorists could kill using biological weapons. But in the subsequent years the United States government has spent billions of dollars on combating bioweapons—so citizens can rest easy, knowing we’re much safer. Or are we? Far from it, say Lynn Klotz and Edward Sylvester, and with Breeding Bio Insecurity they make a forceful case that not only has all of that money and research not made us safer, it’s made us far more vulnerable. Laying out their case clearly and carefully, they show how the veil of secrecy in which biosecurity researchers have been forced to work—in hundreds of locations across the country, unable to properly share research or compare findings—has caused no end of delays and waste, while vastly multiplying the odds of theft, sabotage, or lethal accident. Meanwhile, our refusal to make this work public causes our allies and enemies alike to regard U.S. biodefense with suspicion. True biosecurity, Klotz and Sylvester explain, will require that the federal government replace fearmongering with a true analysis of risk, while openly . . .

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A Rescue Plan for America’s Public Universities

October 23, 2009
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A Rescue Plan for America’s Public Universities

Today’s Inside Higher Ed. contains an interview with James C. Garland, author of Saving Alma Mater: A Rescue Plan for America’s Public Universities. In the interview Garland discusses the economic difficulties that many public universities currently face, among them declining faculty salaries, dramatic rises in tuition costs, and deferred maintenance that “far exceeds state renovation budgets.” More than just fallout from the nation’s worst recession since the ’30s, as Garland argues “the historic economic model—ample public subsidies resulting in affordable tuition—has broken down and cannot be fixed. The current economic crisis has obviously accelerated the decline, but even after the economy recovers I believe there will be no turning back the clock.” Thus in Saving Alma Mater: A Rescue Plan for America’s Public Universities Garland offers readers a timely and comprehensive “rescue plan” for America’s public universities that would tie university revenues to their performance and exploit the competitive pressures of the academic marketplace to control costs, rein in tuition, and make schools more responsive to student needs. In the interview Garland cites four elements to his approach including: turning public universities into autonomous state-owned entities governed by independent boards of trustees; pushing states to redirect taxpayer dollars that previously . . .

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The organization behind the Burning Man

September 9, 2009
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The organization behind the Burning Man

Last weekend Nevada’s Black Rock Desert once again played host to the annual alternative community / neo-pagan festival known as the Burning Man. And since 2005 Katherine K. Chen author of Enabling Creative Chaos: The Organization Behind the Burning Man Event has been there, helping to organize efforts to safely and successfully execute the festival—which can attract upwards of 40,000 people—and organize its participants into a temporary alternative community where (according to the official Burning Man website) “transactions of value take place without money, advertising, or hype…” and “care emerges in place of structural service.” In her book, she draws on her own first-hand experiences of the Burning Man event and its unique community, to offer some fascinating insights into how the event’s organizers have managed to pull it off. And beginning this week, she will also be offering her insights on the event as a new guest blogger at orgtheory.net. In her first post she demonstrates how analysis of such “unusual” cases of civic organization such as the Burning Man can be used to understand larger phenomena. Navigate over to orgtheory.net to read. Also, visit the author’s own Enabling Creative Chaos blog. . . .

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Scrap the stimulus, says Allan Meltzer

September 8, 2009
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Scrap the stimulus, says Allan Meltzer

. . .

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Whole Foods, Health Care Reform, and Consumer Activism

August 19, 2009
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Whole Foods, Health Care Reform, and Consumer Activism

Despite the company’s popularity amongst the progressive / environmentally conscious / vegetarian crowd (or as a recent post on the daily KOS notes, all those “willing to shell out three bucks for an organic orange, even in the midst of the worst recession in sixty years”) Whole Foods executive John Mackey recently caused a bit of a dilemma for his company’s PR department with an article for the Wall Street Journal countering Obama’s health care reform program, with a decidedly Republican argument in support of “less government control and more individual empowerment.” And while not everyone sees it as an appropriate tactic, the public reaction has by and large been swift and widespread with coverage of the calls for a boycott of the organic grocery chain appearing on news and social networking sites all over the net. (After all, it would be much harder to boycott the health insurance industry itself wouldn’t it?) So is type of boycott really effective? According to Lawerence B. Glickman’s new book, Buying Power: A History of Consumer Activism in America, much of the time, it is, and the boycott against Whole Foods is but another instance of a centuries-long continuum of consumer activism in . . .

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New Roomba vacuums floors, takes out IED’s

August 13, 2009
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New Roomba vacuums floors, takes out IED’s

A recent article in the NYT about a new generation of unmanned combat vehicles being developed by the military features several images of something that appears to be a Roomba outfitted with tank treads and a collection of high-tech sensors, and what looks like an early prototype for one of Darth Vader’s hovering imperial drones. And while it is pure speculation as to whether Star Wars actually served as inspiration for the latter, as it turns out the former description is, in fact, accurate. A recent article in the NYT on the military’s most recent technological initiatives illustrates how the use of smaller commercial firms like the iRobot company, (which currently sells robots that perform domestic chores like the floor-cleaning Roomba and the Looj gutter cleaning robot), could save the military’s modernization initiatives after a broader program dubbed “Future Combat Systems” was scrapped by defense Secretary Robert M. Gates earlier this year. According to the NYT‘s Christopher Drew: The changes… illustrate a shift in Pentagon contracting toward more incremental upgrades and a greater use of commercial technologies.… Officials say the new devices will help transform basic infantry brigades, which have shouldered the bulk of the fighting in both wars even . . .

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From bad to worst

June 30, 2009
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From bad to worst

People who live in fear of airplane accidents, flu pandemics, and other such disasters are often cast as alarmist or paranoid, despite the painful fruition of their fears in such incidents as the crash of a Yemeni jet this morning into the Indian Ocean (the second major plane crash this month), the lethal explosion last night of a freight train in northern Italy, and the collision last week of two Washington, D.C., Metro trains. In Worst Cases, Lee Clark confirms that such individuals are more reasonable and prescient than they’re given credit for. Surveying the full range of possible catastrophes that animate and dominate the popular imagination—from toxic spills and terrorism to plane crashes and pandemics—he explores how the ubiquity of worst cases in everyday life has stripped them of some of their ability to shock us. Fear and dread, Clarke argues, have actually become too rare: only when the public has more substantial information and more credible warnings will it take worst cases as seriously as it should. A timely and necessary look into how we think about the unthinkable, Worst Cases is essential reading for anyone attuned to our current climate of threat and fear. . . .

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The man who built GM

May 19, 2009
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The man who built GM

Reuters reported Monday evening that “after 100 years in business and 10 months of frenzied but failed restructuring,” General Motors is “weeks from the bankruptcy filing experts say will be required to complete the Obama administration’s bid to reshape a fallen icon of American industry.” Understandably, the uncertain climate has given rise to nostalgia for the man who made the company such an icon. Alfred P. Sloan Jr. became the president of General Motors in 1923 and stepped down as its CEO in 1946. During this time, he led GM past the Ford Motor Company and on to international business triumph by virtue of his brilliant managerial practices and his insights into the new consumer economy he and GM helped to produce. With that economy—and GM itself—now on shakier footing, David Farber’s Sloan Rules: Alfred P. Sloan and the Triumph of General Motors offers an instructive explanation of the strengths of our corporate-based economic system and the weaknesses of our corporate-influenced politics. And in this interview, Farber offers a taste of the many ways in which Sloan’s life can help us think about not only the economy, but also “about American public life and the shape of democracy in the . . .

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A critical moment for antitrust law

May 11, 2009
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A critical moment for antitrust law

Several sources reported this morning that the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division under the Obama administration, Christine A. Varney, plans to toughen up on monopolistic and predatory business practices—especially by large enterprises attempting to exploit the weakened positions of smaller companies struggling through the current recession. A Bloomberg article quotes Varney suggesting that “a more vigorous antitrust policy in the financial markets may have helped avert the current economic crisis: ‘Is too big to fail,” she asks, “‘a failure of antitrust?'” According to the New York Times Varney’s plans would restore the same sort of Clinton-era antitrust policy that led to the landmark antitrust lawsuits against Microsoft and Intel in the 1990s, and which has since sparked heated debate in Washington about how best to foster a healthy economy that functions in the interests of consumers. Making an important contribution to that debate, William H. Page and John E. Lopatka’s 2007 book The Microsoft Case: Antitrust, High Technology, and Consumer Welfare offers the contrarian argument that consumers are, in fact, rarely served by antitrust intervention. Both the government and the courts, Page and Lopatka contend, were unduly influenced by the harms that Microsoft’s practices would have on its . . .

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Allan Meltzer warns about inflation

May 5, 2009
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Allan Meltzer warns about inflation

Since the Obama administration began to pump billions of dollars into some of the most troubled sectors of the U.S. economy including struggling financial institutions and automakers, the markets seem to be making a gradual but definite come back—a fact which some take as evidence that the administration’s plan will ultimately be successful in turning around, or at least stabilizing the economy. But in an editorial piece for last Sunday’s New York Times, Allan H. Meltzer, professor of political economy at Carnegie Mellon University and author of the multi-volume A History of the Federal Reserve, offers a thoughtful critique of the possible longer-term consequences of the Obama administration’s fiscal strategy. Meltzer argues that the Federal Reserve’s strategy of reducing interest rates while flooding the economy with cash from bailouts and government subsidies will cause inflation to rise over the next few years, potentially undoing many of the benefits of the administration’s plan. Read Meltzer’s piece online at the NYT website, or navigate to the press’s website to find out about Meltzer’s books, including History of the Federal Reserve, Volume 1: 1913-1951. The two books comprising the second volume of Meltzer’s work will be published later this year. . . .

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