Economics

A Rescue Plan for America’s Public Universities

January 6, 2010
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A Rescue Plan for America’s Public Universities

As Patricia Cohen recently wrote in the New York Times reviewing two new books on higher education, “champions of the market can turn up in the oddest places. At the same time that bankers and businessmen are acknowledging the downsides of unregulated capitalism, college and university reformers are urging the academy to more closely embrace the marketplace.” And one of the reformers Cohen reviews is our author. In Saving Alma Mater: A Rescue Plan for America’s Public Universities James C. Garland draws on more than thirty years of experience as a professor, administrator, and university president to argue that a new compact between state government and public universities is needed to make these schools more affordable and financially secure. As Cohen writes: Mr. Garland is concerned with putting public university systems on a solid financial footing. Although they educate 80 percent of the nation’s college students, public institutions have seen their quality sapped by shrinking government aid, changing demographics and growing income inequality. In Saving Alma Mater, Mr. Garland argues that government should end subsidies altogether and allow supply and demand to rule. Let public universities compete for students and set their own tuitions. To ensure that poor students can . . .

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Gary Becker and Richard Posner on Extension 720

December 14, 2009
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Gary Becker and Richard Posner on Extension 720

Gary Becker and Richard Posner have been offering up some of the most insightful social and political commentary on the internet through The Becker-Posner blog for five years now. Starting back in December of ’04, Becker, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, and Posner, a renowned jurist and legal scholar, (both at the University of Chicago), teamed up to offer their equally learned, but sometimes conflicting insights on everything from the legalization of gay marriage to the sale of human organs for transplant, quickly building a large, and loyal audience. So large, in fact, that in November of 2009 the University of Chicago Press published a “best of” collection of entries from their blog in their new book: Uncommon Sense: Economic Insights, from Marriage to Terrorism. Recently, Milt Rosenberg, the host of WGN radio’s Extension 720 invited the two on the show to discuss their new book, highlighting their pithy commentary on some of the most hot button issues of the day, including the legitimacy of the death penalty, NYC’s proposed ban on trans fats, and illegal immigration. To listen in navigate to the Extension 720 website to stream or download part 1 and part 2 of their conversation or find out . . .

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Tutorials with Becker and Posner

November 10, 2009
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Tutorials with Becker and Posner

Before Freakonomics there was the Becker-Posner blog. Started in 2004 by Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary S. Becker and renowned jurist and legal scholar Richard A. Posner, the Becker-Posner Blog was unique in the still-developing blogosphere of the mid-aughts in that it offered a reliable source of lively, thought-provoking commentary on current events, its pithy and profound weekly essays highlighting the value of economic reasoning when applied to unexpected topics. Now in their new book Uncommon Sense: Economic Insights, from Marriage to Terrorism Becker and Posner collect some of their best work from their blog, offering uncanny analyses on everything from gay marriage to proposed bans on trans fats. Recently reviewer John Kay summarized their analysis of New York’s 2006 trans fat ban for a review of the book in the Financial Times, detailing Becker’s insightful economic critique of the issue and Posner’s libertarian counterargument. In the end, as Kay notes, Becker and Posner may not deliver easy answers—especially when these two intellectual powerhouses go head to head on an issue—”but the book is like a series of tutorials from a good teacher, and the object of a good tutorial is not to tell the student the answers.… The objective is . . .

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Press Release: Becker-Posner, Uncommon Sense

November 4, 2009
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Press Release: Becker-Posner, Uncommon Sense

What do you get when you combine one of the world’s most influential economists and one of its most important legal thinkers? Well, when the two men concerned are Gary Becker and Richard Posner, you get sharp commentary, serious analysis, and innovative thinking about a stunning range of contemporary political and social issues. Week after week for nearly five years, that’s what Becker and Posner have been offering at the Becker-Posner blog, and with Uncommon Sense, they gather the best of the posts and running debates that have informed, surprised, and confounded a host of readers. Arranged by topic, and updated to take account of subsequent developments, the essays in this volume bring an economic perspective to such questions as the sale of human organs, the use of steroids in professional sports, the regulation of CEO compensation, and many more. To watch two such erudite thinkers trade ideas—and even forceful disagreements—is a sheer pleasure, and a testament to the power of minds unfettered by convention and unwilling to settle for received wisdom. Read the press release. . . .

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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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