31.12.08

MARKING OFF. Watch this space.


Happy New Year.
BEATING THE HALF CENTURY. In my third quarter report, I noted the real world as interfering with progress writing reviews.

The first and second quarter reports are also available.
  1. Before the North Shore Line, 9 October 2008.
  2. Black Rednecks and White Liberals, 21 October 2008.
  3. Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe, 25 October 2008.
  4. Sundown Towns, 3 December 2008.
  5. Hot, Flat, and Crowded, 7 December 2008.
  6. Discover Your Inner Economist, 22 December 2008.
  7. Barbarians at the Gates: The Fall of RJR Nabisco, 26 December 2008.
  8. More Sex Is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdon of Economics, 27 December 2008.
  9. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, 29 December 2008.
  10. Dangerous Business: The Risks of Globalization for America, 30 December 2008.

The bookworm has 51 segments this year.

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CORDELL-SAN WILL WANT TO KNOW. I picked up Railroad: Identity, Design and Culture. There's enough material in the book to make it a candidate for some future book review. This picture deserves commentary. There is a 1976 series Japanese bullet train car in preservation at Britain's National Railway Museum in York.


The picture, from page 61, quaintly refers to the "driver's cab." The language is vintage American interurban.

Local ferroequinologists like to speak of the Electroliner as the basis for the bullet trains (a 1951 speed test might have attained the top ten for speed records with electric traction at the time) and it's possible that the Japanese engineers who examined the North Shore Line and the Electroliners took very careful note of the train's appliances and signage.
A FREE DO-OVER. The Washington County branch of the University of Wisconsin solicits a different kind of applicant essay.

The school's "Extreme Educational Makeover" contest will provide one winner with a free semester of classes, including tuition, fees and money for books - about a $2,600 value.

The contest aims to help adults returning to school. Entrants must be 22 or older, have a high school diploma or equivalent, and cannot have taken a class at UW-Washington County in the past two years. Contestants must submit essays describing why they need a life makeover and how education would help.

The UW-Washington County Foundation, Glacier Hills Credit Union and West Bend Savings Bank provided funding for the scholarship, which the school modeled after a similar contest at UW-Rock County.

I like the concept. I'd be particularly pleased if the winning essay is an Act of Contrition upon having spent too much time at beer 'n circus at some other college and having discovered the downside of fast food's career track.

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU ASK FOR.

At Hallowe'en, 1963, the New York Times editorial board lamented the coming redevelopment of Pennsylvania Station with an indictment of the times.
Any city gets what it admires, will pay for, and, ultimately, deserves. Even when we had Penn Station, we couldn’t afford to keep it clean. We want and deserve tin-can architecture in a tinhorn culture. And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed.
Pennsylvania Station was a symbol of the America that worked. Its loss, however, was a small visible symbol. The real destruction was the aggregation of small decisions. Taken together, however, the damage was much greater. New York Times guest columnist Judith Warner, a Thirteener, recognizes that much is broken. Her essay is devoid of any understanding of what worked, which testifies to how irretrievably the America that worked has been broken.
About seven years ago, not long after settling into a little house on a tree-lined street in a city neighborhood all but indistinguishable from the suburbs surrounding it, I developed a brief obsession with mid-20th-century American anomie. I read “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” and “The Organization Man.” I re-read “The Feminine Mystique.”
Round up the usual suspects. The cutting-edge mind-set of the late 1950s and early 1960s took the order and prosperity for granted and sought a corrective to a regimentation of private life born in Depression and Total Victory. (Perhaps there is material for further study?)
And I devoured Richard Yates’s “Revolutionary Road,” a then largely overlooked book that I found one day among the paperbacks in our local bookstore, snatching it up for what its jacket promised would be “the most evocative portrayal” of suburban “opulent desolation.” (“What in God’s name was the point or the meaning or the purpose of a life like this?” was the sort of gratifying payoff I found within its pages.)
I approached these books, I’ll admit, with a kind of prurient interest, a combination of revulsion and irresistible attraction, thoroughly enjoying the sad and sordid sexual repression, the infantilization of women, the cookie-cutter conformity imposed upon men. I couldn’t get enough of the miserable domestic underbelly of life in the period we like to call “the Fifties,” an era that spans the late ’40s to the mid-’60s. Some of the fascination was a kind of exoticism. More, however, came from the fact that, I found, in our era of “soccer moms,” “surrendered wives” and “new traditionalism,” the look and sound of the opulent desolation was eerily familiar.
The more things change? Or the loss of something good, for what?
Why is there such a desire, even a hunger, to recreate images from such an unhappy past? A past characterized by every possible form of bigotry? A past, furthermore, that people like the “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner and the directors of “Revolutionary Road,” “Far From Heaven” and “The Hours” can’t possibly remember, having been born, like me, in the 1960s?
“Part of the show is trying to figure out,” Weiner told The Times’s Alex Witchel last June, “what is the deal with my parents. Am I them? Because you know you are.”
Sometimes, those that do not know the past do not understand it. Perhaps in rooting out those perceived injustices came the destruction of useful traditions, a destruction that has contributed to the crudity of the Thirteeners.
Unlike the baby boomers before us, we “baby busters” of the ’60s never rebelled against the trappings of domesticity represented by our images of the 1950s. Many of us, deep down, yearn for it, having experienced divorce or other sorts of family dislocation in the 1970s. We keep alive a secret dream of “a model of routine and order and organization and competence,” a life “where women kept house, raised kids and kept their eyebrows looking really good,” as the writer Lonnae O’Neal Parker once described it in The Washington Post Magazine.
Perhaps the Thirteeners have lived all their lives blind in one eye, adapting as well as they can to the circumstances, yet comprehending that something is missing yet not understanding what it is. What is missing is the America that worked.
But that order and routine and competence in our frenetic world proves forever elusive, a cruel ideal we can never reach.
The fact is: as an unrebellious, cautious, anxious generation, many of us are living lives not all that different from those of the parents of the early 1960s, yet without the seeming ease, privileges and benefits. Husbands have been stripped of the power perks of their gender, wives of the anticipation that they’ll be taken care of for life.
How we seem to love and hate those men and women we never knew. What we would give to know their secrets: how Dad managed to come home at 5 p.m. to read the paper or watch TV while Mom fixed dinner and bathed the kids. How Mom turned up at school, every day, unrumpled, coiffed, unflappable. And more to the point: how they managed to afford the lives that they led, on one salary, without hocking their homes to pay for college, without worrying about being bankrupted by medical bills.
For that one-salary canard, go here. For the medical bills: consider a world without nuclear medicine or most of todays pharmaceuticals. For the rest of it: those ideas about anomie have consequences. No "seeming ease?" That was the America that worked.
How we make them pay now, when we breathe them back into life. Our cultural representations of them are punishing. We defile the putative purity of the housewives — those doe-eyed, frivolous, almost simple-minded depressives — by assigning them drunken, cheating, no-good mates. We discredit the memory of the organization men by filling them with self-loathing and despair. Each gender invites its downfall, and fully deserves the comeuppance that history, we know, will ultimately deal it.
That’s where the pleasure comes in. No matter how lost we are, no matter how confused, no matter how foolish we feel, we can judge ourselves the winners.
The comeuppance, however, is not to the America that worked. It is to the crude Thirteeners and indulged Millenials, who have lost the knowledge that would make it work. The ultimate monument that has been destroyed is in Ms Warner's judgement of her cohort as the winners.

30.12.08

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR. Pat Choate's Dangerous Business: The Risks of Globalization for America spells out what the author believes those risks are. This Book Review No. 51 will be relatively short. If you are prepared to grant that trade agreements give corporate interests the opportunity to trump national sovereignty, and that latter-day mercantilists and cosmopolitans act in their own interests, in ways that are not consistent with national interests, you'll enjoy this book. It's not as gloomy as a Patrick Buchanan work. Its perspective on previous eras of globalization is not cheerful. Mr Choate proposes a number of reforms, most of them inward-looking, and requiring strengthening of the national government. The class of polemic that pins its hopes on the right people taking power in Washington tends not to impress me. What amuses about Mr Choate's effort is that he names names: all manner of current and former government officials who have worked as or now work as lobbyists for corporate interests. It does not occur to him that a government entrusted with broad powers to permit or to prohibit activities will be a government in which access to those powers, or influence over those powers, will be valuable.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
BEYOND PARODY. Professor Palmer gives an exam.

During a recent exam, I was called over by a student who asked if I could tell them the answer to 150 x 4000. No, I am not making that up. And no, I do not permit students to use calculators on my exams.

The student's reaction when I declined to answer the question: "Oh no! Really?"

What are students doing in university if they do not have basic math skills from grade four?

He sends readers my way, to one of several posts I've made about the mission and scope of higher education. A commenter at Joanne Jacobs (where Charles Murray's latest is the topic of the day) also sends readers this way.

I've put together a compendium of the recommended post, and a number of older posts (have I been beating this drum for five years?) for readers convenience. Thanks for looking in. Just keep scrolling.
HUDSON VALLEY GIRL. Caroline Kennedy would like, y'know, really want to be, y'know, senator.

In informal research, speaking coach Dennis Becker said he and others found that people listening to business presentations shrugged off two to three "ums," "uhs" and the like per minute. But they started getting irked once the number crept up to five to seven.

Besides being distracting, these little locutions can make a speaker seem ill-prepared or unsure of his or her point.

Or, like, y'know, totally tacky.
I WAS WAITING FOR THEM TO TAKE OFFICE. You must remember this.
Emil Jones, Mike Madigan, Rod Blagojevich :: Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama.
But before Mr Obama affirms that he will preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, he is in the odd position of urging that the Senate not seat Governor Blagojevich's pick, Roland Burris, contributor to Mr Blagojevich's campaigns. The Senate Democrats appear to be concurring with Mr Obama's request.

The pick is a shrewd one by the governor, who has denied any wrongdoing and intends to go about business as usual until he's tried. He enlisted Representative Bobby Rush to make the identity politics case.

29.12.08

THE CONSEQUENCES OF COSTLY INFORMATION. Daniel Ariely's Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions is a helpful introduction to work in behavioral economics, with references to recent papers, many in quality journals. I'm not as familiar with this field as I am with the partial equilibrium anomalies that add an element of fun to introductory economics, even if the recent additions to that collection are sometimes strained. Thus Book Review No. 50 highlights another work that might reward careful study, particularly among people looking for dissertation topics.

Let me note, though, that the author makes claims about traditional full-information neoclassical economics that, while true, might be explained more simply by considering the possibility of costly information. Thus the apparently quirky phenomenon of the real estate agent swaying a buyer by showing the buyer a slightly less good version of one of the houses the buyer is considering, which appears to be a violation of the independence of irrelevant alternatives axiom (this story summarizes the phenomenon) might be explained more simply. The agent provides the buyer with very relevant information about the shape of his choice set. Another story, in which Professor Ariely and a colleague sell Lindt truffles at 15 cents and Hershey kisses at 1 cent, and then reprice the truffles at 14 cents and the kisses for free, which they employ to make a case against FREE! as a marketing tool that distorts peoples' behavior, might better be interpreted as good old relative prices and marginal-utility-of-the-last-penny. Social norms, which Professor Ariely suggests are sometimes at odds with market norms, might simply exist to conserve information costs.

We thus have intellectually challenging reading, and a different look at human interaction, but not necessarily a manifesto for the undoing of neoclassical economics.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
A DIFFICULT YEAR IN REVIEW. Most of the top news stories for DeKalb involve difficult circumstances. The year-end bowl game offered some relief from floods and cold and corruption, but not a win.
NO REPRISE OF 1763. The Packers' French Army Retrospective did not include a replay of the Lake Erie campaign, although the defense tried. The Lions were just a little bit worse. There will be no bailout for Lion coach Rod Marinelli. Packer defensive coordinator Andre Maginot Bob Sanders recognizes that his unit needs work.

As he has done almost every week, Sanders accepted blame for the shortcomings of the defense, which ranked 26th against the run, 12th against the pass and 20th overall. But he also said there was enough talent in Green Bay for a turnaround.

"We have a very good group of guys here," Sanders said. "We'll evaluate in the offseason every single aspect and see how we can do things better. I know the work ethic and I know what the guys can do. I know we played at a high level in a lot of games. There have been a lot of plays in a lot of games where we had big plays."

There's no question Sanders was hamstrung this season because of a lack of pass rush and depth on the defensive line.

Packer general manager Louis XVI Ted Thompson will also be the object of conversation during the off-season.

General manager Ted Thompson traded away versatile Corey Williams rather than sign him, end Cullen Jenkins suffered a season-ending injury in Week 4, end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila succumbed to a bad knee and was released at midseason and tackle Justin Harrell was injured and ineffective for a second straight year.

As the season wore on, the Packers' pass rush disappeared and the man-to-man coverage became more and more difficult for the secondary and linebackers to carry out. No one can cover a receiver all day long no matter how good he is.

The offense has possibilities.

By no means were the Packers' failures this season all Rodgers' fault. When you pass for 4,038 yards, complete 63.6% of your passes, throw for 28 touchdowns with just 13 interceptions and post a passer rating of 93.8, you've had a productive year.

But quarterbacks are generally judged on wins and losses, and Rodgers' inability to will the Packers to victories in the final five minutes of seven games will be something that will go on his permanent record.

What also will be stamped there will be the fact he survived the Brett Favre soap opera this summer, overcame a shoulder injury that forced him to skip practice for the better part of a month and won over a good portion of the Packers fans. The latter might actually be the most important of the three given the events of the past seven months.

As he stood alone doing an interview on the field with network commentators following the game, he received a huge ovation, and as he ran into the tunnel, fans cheered him and chanted his name. It's a long way from the times this summer when kids would cuss him out as he made his way into the players' parking lot.

"That's special, definitely, but we've got to win games and get to the playoffs and get back to where we want to be," Rodgers said. "But I do appreciate the support - especially in the community. The fans have been great, and that means a lot to me."

Asked if he felt as if he's emerged from Favre's shadow, Rodgers said flatly, "No."

The winner of the Central Division NFC North is the Atlanta Falcons.

27.12.08

DOMINANCE SOLVABILITY AND MAXIMIN. Steven Landsburg's More Sex Is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdon of Economics makes Book Review No. 49 identify Yet More Diminishing Returns to Partial Equilibrium Anomalies. He does make use of a number of recent papers, many of which are published in highly-regarded journals. For the most part, the problems are variations on the prisoners' dilemma (in its common property version) with careful attention to the loss function. Perhaps it's a case of familiarity with the subject leading to my ennui. Somebody relatively new to economics well might enjoy the work.

On the other hand, perhaps it's my frustration with work that doesn't think through the model carefully enough. The argument that gives the book its title considers the behavior of a population with relatively chaste and relatively promiscuous people. The promiscuous people are more likely to be infected with social diseases. Thus, if the relatively chaste people loosen up, some promiscuous people will have flings with people that aren't contagious, and if the chaste people who get lucky are unlucky enough to get infected, they infect fewer people, in the limit dying alone. Dominance solvability, perhaps, but suppose the relatively chaste people have a loss function that places large negative weights on accidental pregnancies or getting infected or placing themselves at the mercy of manipulative people? That's all left out of the model.

The book ends with another provocative suggestion: give all your money to one charity. The supporting argument, however, seems ignorant of a simple indifference at the margin principle: the marginal utility of the last dollar donated to each charity is identical. It strikes me as simplicity itself that someone who places a positive valuation on hearing a Boston and Maine super Pacific in steam and the America's Cup returning to America and on flood relief and lodging for grief counselors might donate to more than one charity.

In the other chapters, it's Professor Landsburg being contrarian, sometimes extending arguments he offered in shorter form in his Slate columns. There might be some thesis ideas amid the essays and the sources.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
BEFORE THE PUBLIC WORKS ADMINISTRATION. This week's "When Weather Changed History" is Titanic's encounter with an iceberg well south of the usual ice fields. The story includes a bit of the commercial rivalry between White Star and Cunard. White Star management decided that rather than match the speed of Mauretania and Lusitania, they would go for size and comfort. Thus Olympic and Titanic were bigger, if somewhat slower, and less prone to vibration. The Cunarders could make time, but passengers were aware of it.

Mauretania and Lusitania were in service before 1907, the year of a major financial panic that popped the interurban bubble. Olympic and Titanic were laid down that year. I have come across no evidence for White Star making these enormous investments in order to shore up public confidence, although I did turn up a Newsweek article crediting the House of Morgan with stopping the panic. Morgan had an interest in White Star: perhaps there is a connection.

Come the next panic, which pundits preferred to call a "depression" Cunard and White Star were one company, with excess capacity and the threat of tax-financed competition from Zeppelins, and the surviving rivals, Olympic and Mauretania, awaited scrapping together. The company did not choose to go quietly as the Queens (so named as to avoid names ending in -ia or -ic) were on order.

26.12.08

EXCESSIVELY CREATIVE DESTRUCTION. There are markets for products, and there are markets for corporate control. Markets for products determine which products will continue to be offered to consumers. Some products remain successful for a long time. Oreo cookies come to mind. Some products are failures. Edsel Ford is more than the name of a Detroit expressway. The market for corporate control determines what happens to the gains or losses from selling products. Losing managers get fired (absent clever accounting or government guarantees.) It does not follow, however, that succesful managers get to keep their jobs. Perhaps their staid products lose their appeal. Perhaps their strong cash position tempts more aggressive entrepreneurs who would like to deploy some of that wealth to develop new products. The right mix of staid and aggressive is difficult to characterize. We drive better cars and eat better food and post to the internet because somebody put money on projects that were by no means sure things. (Otto cycle engine? Watering troughs and collieries can't service it. Make milk safer by heating it? It spoils if it's not cooled. A computer on everybody's desk? There's work for ten mainframes, tops.)

Thus the 20th anniversary edition of Barbarians at the Gates: The Fall of RJR Nabisco is more than a populist tract about capitalist abuses, as Book Review No. 48 will argue. The protagonist of the story is an ambitious Canadian, Ross Johnson, who can't leave well enough alone, but he spends his working life in businesses that produce a mix of staid products that sometimes throw off piles of cash. he works his way to the top at Standard Brands. The name is vaguely Stalinist, and the product offering, including Standard margarine, Chase and Sanborn coffee, and "Baby Ruth" and "Butterfinger" candy, is Fifties bland. Boring, possibly on a glide path to oblivion. Mr Johnson arranges a consolidation with National Biscuit, now known as Nabisco. Although Ritz crackers and Oreo cookies continue to be standards, the company's original hit, Uneeda Biscuit, is these days a retro product. Again, there are opportunities to build bigger empires. Thus comes the merger of Nabisco with R. J. Reynolds, a company generating lots of cash from cigarettes. A pile of cash held by a manufacturer of a product in a declining market is a target for a raider, and also an opportunity for the management to diversify. Consider Philip Morris, currently only a tobacco products company, but at one time diversified into all manner of consumer products, so aggressively that a number of antitrust observers suggested it was using its tobacco profits to subsidize predation in other markets. A more charitable interpretation would recognize that the prospects for additional investment in tobacco were less promising than, oh, brushless shaving cream or beer.

Reynolds, however, was a staid Moravian company (the things you learn: also the etymology of Wachovia Bank) not interested in such things. Enter Mr Johnson with a wad of cash, and thus emergeth RJR Nabisco. And now the troubles begin: the Johnson business model, if there is one at all, is Not. The. Moravian. North. Carolinian. Way. Thus come struggles with the combined board of directors, and ill-advised product development, and a stable of athletes on retainer for promotional purposes, and falling stock prices.

Here, the market for corporate control goes to work. The management can take the company private and get out from under the pressure of the quarterly earnings report. But to do so runs the risk of putting the company in play, as others can offer to buy the stock. Enter Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, and something called the leveraged buyout. A passage on page 235 of the book spells out the tradeoffs. On one hand, the firm that arranges the buyout might work with the management to improve earnings, later to sell the stock at a capital gain. On the other hand, the buyout provides earnings, called fees, to the buyout firms, the investment bankers, and the bond specialists. And the leverage can take the form of exotic securities including the so-called "junk" bonds (not always correctly collateralized, but sometimes graded as more risky than they truly are) and payment-in-kind securities (your interest is yet another bond, leading one wag to invent the subordinated perpetual zero coupon that pays no interest and never matures) and other financial exotica. And yes, people get hurt, particularly when the company hives off assets and fires people to free cash to retire the debt.

The focus of Barbarians, however, is on the human drama. There is no economic model spelling out an optimal trade-off between continuity and creativity. We rely on free agents to grope toward that solution. When those free agents are people with large egos, little previous experience with disappointment, and trophy wives to appease, bad things can happen. Often they do.

Thus the story. Anyone who has spent any time in a faculty meeting might draw some solace from the Biggest Transaction Of The Era bogging down over the minimum distance an employee must move to be eligible for a relocation allowance (hint: Winston to Salem didn't qualify, that wasn't the Moravian Way). God and Mammon might be at odds, with Mr Johnson giving the three rules of Wall Street (p. 492) as "Never play by the rules. Never pay in cash. And never tell the truth." That's after he got his comeuppance. The story hints at the comeuppance for the MBAs, something that has yet to run its course. And the Afterword (this being a 20th anniversary edition) reports that some of the trophy wives learned that they, too, were depreciating assets. (No spoilers here: but you might want to treat the book like a detective novel and keep a mental divorce pool as you go through it.) Great fun, if not necessarily the best (or the final) analysis of the market for corporate control.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge).
PERSPECTIVE. The big story of the past few days has been the difficulty people have had getting to their relatives for Christmas, or getting back. The Chicago airports have dealt with freezing conditions and snow and ground stops elsewhere and ice this morning and fog this evening and who knows what tomorrow will bring.

And yes, it is inconvenient. Inconvenient, however, is not the end of the world. Consider "I'll Be Home for Christmas." The composer was a homesick college student and it became a hit during World War II. The appeal of the song was its realism: a tight budget or a deployment order, not cancellation of the last possible plane on the 24th, was what used to keep people away from their kin at Christmas.
WHERE'S THE MONEY GOING? I didn't have General Patton's chaplain, but the weather lifted long enough for me to make a trip north for Christmas and return safely. Here's tonight's public policy anomaly: the Illinois Tollway is mostly potholed, or a work zone, or often a potholed work zone. In the People's Republic of Wisconsin, the work is buttoned up for winter, and the roads are mostly intact. There are no tolls. I did my bit for keeping the Wisconsin roads in good condition by taking a tank of fuel there.

Although I'm not opposed in principle to road tolls, particularly those used in such a way as to allocate capacity efficiently, I can understand Wisconsin's reluctance to go to tolling, given the demonstrated ineptitude of the Illinois Tollway.
SENDING THE RECESSION HOME. Illegal immigrants bring a last shipment of gifts home with them.

These personal dramas will shape the stalled debate over how to treat the 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. Although Barack Obama's election has revived hopes of a legalization plan, most experts are skeptical, given that the same economic crisis is battering U.S.-born workers.

Mexican officials, meanwhile, are bracing for more Rafael Garcias [a construction worker rendered redundant by the housing crash] and the strains that might be felt on villages accustomed to sending immigrants and receiving a share of their paychecks in the U.S., a figure that topped $25 billion last year.

The cracks in the system had already been felt in Zinapecuaro, a town in northeast Michoacan, the state that by many estimates sends the most immigrants to Chicago.

The state of Michoacan has seen remittances falling steadily since 2006, a danger because it receives about $2.5 billion a year—about one-sixth of its total revenues—from workers in the U.S.

Here's a possible test of the Hillman and Weiss model of illegal immigration and amnesty. If the purpose of an amnesty is to release resources from searches for illegal immigrants in the workforce in order to strengthen border enforcement, we're unlikely to see much enthusiasm for such an amnesty in the near future, as the most effective policy to prevent illegal immigration with many of the potential illegal immigrants out of the country is to enforce the borders.

On the other hand, if the amnesty is part of a policy to elicit favorable self-selection (perhaps we can call that the Karlson and Katz model of illegal immigration and amnesty) there is no point in changing border enforcement from its current status, but there's no rush to grant the next amnesty either.
OUTSOURCING THE RECESSION. The toys that are no longer made in the United States are temporarily not being made in China.

The financial meltdown that has thrown so many American families into crisis might be even worse on this side of the world. The precipitous drop in consumer demand has translated into a wave of factory closings that have spit millions of Chinese workers out into the ranks of the unemployed.

Until recently, Dongguan had 3,800 toy factories, producing a staggering 30 percent of the world's toys. A trade group here estimates that 1,800 of them have closed or will close soon.

The 37-year-old [toy factory worker Yanjun] Yang lost her job making hairpieces for Barbie dolls in October, when Smart Union Toys abruptly closed down.

A China that is unable to run a current account surplus is unable to buy U.S. Treasuries. Discuss.
NOT YET THE HOUSE OF LORDS. A regular poster to Firedoglake (not exactly part of the vast right wing conspiracy) uses this image to illustrate his comments about Caroline Kennedy's campaign for a Senate seat.
Her grandfather did quip that he didn't want to pay for one more vote than was necessary.

23.12.08

MARKING OFF. Traditional trains bring good wishes for the Festive Season.

THE PUBLIC BE D***ED REDUX. Winter comes, with Amtrak delays trying passenger patience.

About 450 Amtrak passengers were stranded at Union Station for nearly a day -- first in a cold waiting room, then on the train without food, water or, at times, functioning restrooms, passengers said.

The Empire Builder train headed to the Pacific Northwest, with stops in Portland, Ore., and Seattle, was scheduled to leave at 2:15 p.m. Monday but finally departed about 1:22 p.m. today.

Amtrak issued a statement early this afternoon that blamed the situation on "severe weather" that has caused "rail infrastructure and railcar issues, affecting deployment cycles for equipment and train crews."

Joseph Bordman, CEO of Amtrak, said a combination of subzero temperatures, heavy snowfall in the Pacific Northwest and high winds across the northern tier of states "has played havoc with our train equipment, including frozen water systems and snow-packed locomotives. It has caused problems on the rail lines themselves."

The Empire Builder will operate only as far as St. Paul, Minn., Amtrak said, adding: "No alternate transportation is available."

An eastbound train also was delayed more than half a day. Train No. 48, bound for New York state, was delayed 15 hours and 48 minutes, according to Amtrak. It finally pulled out of Union Station around 1:49 p., today.

The passenger rail carrier noted cancellations on its Lincoln Service, Wolverine Service and Lake Shore Service as well.

We had some of these problems a few winters ago, and at one time the introduction of electrically heated equipment was supposed to have ended these problems.
PERSPECTIVE? King Banaian evaluates the aggregates. (There's a link missing, to some work by bank economists.)
THEY'RE BEGINNING TO CATCH ON. Via Minding the Campus, an article titled "Why College Is A Waste of Money" in a service called The Daily Beast (it has nothing to do with roller coasters or big-game hunting).

But there are plenty of four-year colleges willing to take the money of anyone who can pony up -- whether that money comes from parents, the government, or that student's paychecks until he’s old enough to buy a discounted movie ticket. These colleges have seats to fill and bills to pay, and sure, they'd all love to be Harvard, but they'll take what they can get. And student lenders? They have absolutely no incentive to encourage responsible borrowing because they will get paid back -- you can file for bankruptcy 400 times, and your student loans will still be there, with interest and penalties accruing daily.

The people financing these college investments -- parents and taxpayers -- have a right to demand that 46% of their money isn't sunk into the education of a student who drops out after a few semesters.

George Leef extends the argument.
Despite all the hype about the wonderful intellectual and economic benefits of a college education, the reality is breaking through---for many young people, college is a poor use of time and money. The reason why the percentage of Americans 25 to 34 who earn college degrees is starting to fall is that families are figuring out that a college degree is neither necessary nor sufficient for a good life. The statistic that the higher education leaders find so alarming is made up of a lot of rational decisions that go something like this:
Mom and Dad: Son, your sister graduated from XYZ State two years ago and has beenearning $24,000 per year as an aerobics instructor. You're no better a student thanshe was. We know that several of your friends are going there, but don't you think youmight prefer to learn electrical work or something like that?

Son: Well, that makes sense. I don't really like school work that much, and from whatI hear, electricians make good, steady money.
It isn't the least bit surprising---much less dangerous to the nation---that we're seeing some decline in college graduation rates. For a lot of marginal, disengaged students, embarking on the quest for a BA simply doesn't make sense.
Both articles suggest that young people who would like to give higher education a try start at their community college. That's not a bad suggestion, although, as the dean at Anonymous Community notes, the mission, and the job description, are different.

I understand that a cc may not be what you had in mind when you went to grad school. I also don't care. We take our work seriously, and we want colleagues who take it seriously, too. Our students deserve no less. I've seen candidates who did everything short of holding their noses during interviews; every single one of them was immediately DOA. If you believe that a cc is somehow beneath you, don't apply.

The second, related to the first, is curiosity. This may seem counterintuitive, but the candidates who talked less about themselves and more about the college generally did quite well. If you're just giving Prepared Talk #14, you'll be less impressive than if you're actually engaging the group, and engaging is a two-way process.

Obviously, that involves doing some homework prior to the talk. What's the teaching load, both in terms of credits/courses/hours/preps, and in terms of level? I once heard a math candidate generously offer that she was willing to go as 'low' in the curriculum as Calc I once in a while, in a spirit of shared sacrifice. Most of the job involves teaching either remedial or college algebra. She didn't get the offer.

The same can apply to the English applicant who only wants to teach literature, as opposed to composition, or nearly anybody who refuses to teach gen eds. In the cc universe, those courses are most of what we do; if you aren't excited to do them, you probably shouldn't work here.

In my world, too much dissertation talk is a clue that you really have something else in mind. Talk about teaching is much better received, particularly if it references both the scholarship of teaching and learning and your own actual teaching experience with students similar to ours.

That explanation is spot on, although it points to two deeper problems that higher education has yet to tackle, namely the attempted coup of the college of education in higher education ("the scholarship of teaching and learning") that has already applied that thinking to the disadvantages of the common schools, and the Ph.D. as a research degree (perhaps people who would like to earn a comfortable, if not spectacular income teaching economics general eds have no reason to stay one step ahead of Selten and Tirole in the chain store paradox) where many of the higher education appointments are not at research departments.
IT DEFIES PARODY. Daniel Howes in the Detroit News (motto: we'll keep you current with Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday's events.)

Over the weekend, I ran into a prominent, thoughtful and recently retired Detroit auto executive out with his family for a holiday dinner. Amid the handshakes he looked at me and matter-of-factly said, "We're dismantling a way of life."

He's right. But how many people in your workplace or neighborhood or school district realize it? Do they understand that the culture defined by Big Three salaries, benefits, expectations, vacation schedules -- where else in the country do people get a four-day weekend around Easter? -- will be torn apart over the next three months because it has to be?

And if it isn't -- if United Auto Workers brass can call in enough political chits with congressional Democrats and Team Obama to keep from having to ask their members to vote on wage cuts and work rule changes next year -- what guarantee is there that it won't happen in bankruptcy anyway? None.

On Sunday, an e-mail landed from Robert F. in Marin County, Calif. "Hello from the Left Coast," he began. "Here in California we don't much care about Ford, GM, Chrysler. We gave up on them years ago, (and) the rest of the country is following California's lead."

Perhaps it's beginning to sink in.
LOSS OF EMPIRE. The Packers' French Army Retrospective goes colonial. (How else describe a loss, even a close loss, in a French-named land with more than a few not-so-poor corrupt public officials?)

22.12.08

TONIGHT'S RAILROAD RECOLLECTIONS. A North Shore Line deadhead move to Highwood Shops passes through Highland Park on the one Shore Line Route track retained for freight service and shop traffic.


Bill Janssen photo from the 2008 Midwest Traction calendar.

So far, December has recalled those early 1960s Decembers, when the North Shore Line was finishing its existence amid similarly wintry conditions.
EXCESSIVELY CLEVER? Economics is the rigorous working out of the principle that people respond to incentives. In Discover Your Inner Economist, Tyler Cowen offers Smart Shopping for Metrofexuals, although his subtitle is Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist. He offers three screens for identifying good economics: can the idea be summarized on a "moderate-sized postcard" (I vote for the 4x6); can the researcher summarize the argument in a way his or her grandmother will grasp it (I believe that's Paul Samuelson's mother-in-law principle); and does the idea cast an odd phenomenon in a new but now self-evident framework, which he calls "the Aha! principle." So far, so standard: there are plenty of other economics books that do this sort of intellectual puzzle solving, and there is disagreement among practitioners about the usefulness of the work, whether in making the field accessible to curious outsiders, or more fun for students, or for developing a research agenda. The cases in Discover Your Inner Economist are more obscure than those in The Economic Naturalist (reviewed here) or The Logic of Life (reviewed here) or The Undercover Economist (reviewed here) or Freakonomics (reviewed here). Perhaps the short form of Book Review No. 47 is Diminishing Returns to Partial-Equilibrium Anomalies.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
ERWISCHT? The first six entries under this search string point to this standard statistics problem. The seventh, oddly, points to me. I wonder if somewhere, a corner-cutting student was a bit obvious.
[Note to students. If eight pages of your paper are barely literate, and I suddenly come across a section that uses the words like "eshews" or "prevalent," I'm gonna google it.]
Conscientious students even catch it. I was talking with a student who told me a story about working with a classmate, and telling that classmate to put some quotation marks and a footnote on a passage the style of which was clearly different from the rest of the paper.
SUMMARIZE IN ONE SENTENCE. Matt Labash in The Weekly Standard.
If they really hate Detroit, they might recall that its suburbs coughed up Madonna.
It's a long article that covers familiar ground.
In the popular imagination, the Motor City has gone from being the Arsenal of Democracy, so named for their converting auto factories to make the weapons which helped us win World War II, and the incubator of the middle class (now leading the nation in foreclosure rates, Detroit once had the highest rate of home ownership in the country), to being Dysfunction Junction. To Detroit's credit, they've earned it.
That "incubator of the middle class" misleads. Otherwise, it offers no refutation to the shorter version.
Crime, unemployment, school leaving: nothing has changed in a quarter century.
(Weekly Standard reference via Betsy's Page.)

20.12.08

CREATIVE DESTRUCTION INVOLVES DESTRUCTION. King Banaian contemplates the oxymoron that is "orderly bankruptcy."

The Bethlehem bankruptcy was also blamed on "complacency and high labor contracts" that left it less competitive. Its bankruptcy did not kill the U.S. steel industry: US Steel is still in the Fortune 500, just not a top 20 company any more. In 2008 American steel producers will make about 76 million metric tons of crude steel according to Stratfor. That's half of what we produced in 1970, as imports have replaced the use of steel, and as we have found substitutes for the product. (Those CAFE standards could be one reason for that.) Maybe we don't do steel as well as we did in 1970; maybe we don't do cars as well as we did then either. But we do many other things better now than we did then, some things we didn't even see.

But make no mistake: Bethlehem Steel's bankruptcy was only 'orderly' in the sense that it didn't cause riots in the streets of Pittsburgh. A great wailing and gnashing of teeth in the papers happened then. For those in the steel industry, it was very disorderly. Lives were turned upside down. As they will be in the auto industry.

The late Hendrik Houthakker observed at an American Economic Association session in the late 1980s that steel was "no longer basic in any way." As for Bethlehem, headquarters commissioned its engineers to identify all the ways the thin slab caster (which permitted minimills to compete for the sheet business) would not work. Oops.
GOTT ERHALTE HENRY KAISER. Michael Giberson reflects on an old "Energy Czar" computer game and the pitfalls the receiver "Car Czar" will likely encounter.

You can “promote or restrict” resource supplies, you can “raise or lower” taxes, and you can “tighten or loosen” environmental restrictions, but when it comes to prices your only option is to “regulate.”

But wasn’t the most successful energy policy initiative to come out of the late 1970s — at least to the extent we were trying to ‘keep people happy and maintain sufficient energy supplies’ — the deregulation of oil and gas resource prices?

But what good a Tsar without the opportunity to set hand and seal to ukases?
MONOPOLY RENTS. Megan McArdle, with the condensed version of the Rust Belt's troubles.
In the early 1950s, for various reasons Detroit developed a cozy three-way oligopoly. The UAW developed a cozy monopoly on supplying labor service to that oligopoly. In some ways, the UAW helped sustain that oligopoly. If you're a big company whose quality suffers, you have problems. But if you have a union making sure that labor quality cannot vary across the industry, you don't need to worry that your competitors will make a better car. Detroit competed on styling and power, not reliability or price.
So much for that manufacturing-based middle class: it relied on an absence of competitors elsewhere in the world.

Detroit should have reacted, I'm sure, by making smaller cars. But smaller cars were harder to make for Detroit. Buyers thought of them as a non-premium product, which meant they wouldn't pay for the lucrative options packages. And because they used fewer materials, the labor component became a relatively larger part of their cost. Labor was where Detroit was least competitive. According to the automotive analysts I've seen, Detroit still loses money on small cars like the Ford Focus, which are sold at a loss to help make Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency numbers come out.

Detroit needed to do a lot of things in the 1970s. It needed to get better engineering, it needed to get control of its assembly process, and yes, it needed to lower labor costs. But it did none of these things. By the early 1990s, Detroit wasn't even trying very hard to make a profit on cars. Detroit was making profits on light trucks, where the higher sticker price made it easier to hide labor costs (and which foreign companies were not, anyway, very good at making). It's worth noting that Detroit's focus on light trucks was not merely a management decision; it was what the powerful unions wanted, because they knew the math as well as management. Light truck plants were better for the UAW than more Ford Focus capability.

But perhaps more importantly, Detroit turned from making money on cars to making money on financing. Detroit didn't make a big profit by selling you a Ford Taurus. It made money on financing your Ford Taurus; often, the car was sold at a loss in order to get the finance business. The Big Three were banks manufacturing cars as a loss leader.

Again, it appears as if the first Chrysler loan guarantee simply deferred the real pain for a quarter century.

There's another part of this story that matters: passenger-carrying trucks do not count against the fuel economy standards for cars. The standards effectively banned the station wagon. Perhaps as part of the government-supervised restructuring to come, we might have a performance review of all the regulatory constraints that leave safety-conscious drivers with little alternative to minivans and passenger trucks.
COMEDOWN. More evidence of the sports bubble popping. Orange Bowl tickets for under $5. The game features Virginia Tech playing Cincinnati. Before the Bowl Championship silliness, the Orange Bowl was THE game (the schedule featured the Cotton Bowl at mid-morning, the Rose Bowl in late afternoon, and the Orange, which was not tied to conferences as tightly as the Rose was in those days) with the winner often voted the National Champion in the January 2 polls.
LEARNING TO WIN. At halftime, the Huskies trailed by four points.


After the Broadway Dance troupes performed "Mack the Knife" and "Sing, Sing, Sing," the second half began with the visiting team opening up a double-digit lead. That's been the pattern this year. Today, however, was different. The Huskies caught up, took a lead late in the game, which the visitors erased by endgame. Overtime.


The home team rebounded well, and the local fans ventured out into the snow in a cheerful mood.
MANDATORY ALGEBRA TESTING. Not yet, in California, in part because providing the resources to prepare the students is expensive. As if providing the resources for remedial math in the Cal Poly and Cal State systems isn't.
GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS. First the good news: you have served your jail sentence. Now the bad news: you are released in Detroit.

"For the first time, I'm seeing guys make a conscious decision they'll be better off in prison than in the community, homeless and hungry," said Joseph Williams of New Creations Community Outreach, which assists ex-offenders. "In prison they've got three hots and a cot, so they commit a crime to go back in and come out when times are better."

For now, better times seem distant. Even with no hurricane or other natural disaster to blame, Detroit has — by many measures — replaced New Orleans as America's most beleaguered city.

The jobless rate has climbed past 21 percent, the embattled school district just fired its superintendent, tens of thousands of homes and stores are derelict and abandoned, the ex-mayor is in jail for a text-messaging sex scandal. Even the pro football team is a pathetic joke, within two losses of an unprecedented 0-16 season.

And overarching these and many other woes is the near-collapse of the U.S. auto industry, Detroit's vital source of jobs and status for more than a century.

"We're the Motor City," said Scott Alan Davis, who oversees community development projects in one of the worst-hit neighborhoods. "When the basis for that name collapses, that's started to scare people."

It's more than the basis for that name that has collapsed.

The roots of Detroit's current plight go back decades. Court-ordered school busing and the 12th Street riots of 1967 accelerated an exodus of whites to the suburbs, and many middle-class blacks followed, shrinking the city's population from a peak of 1.8 million in the 1950s to half that now.

About 83 percent of the current population is African-American; of cities with more than 100,000 people, only Gary, Ind., had a higher percentage in the latest census.

Detroit's crime, poverty, unemployment and school dropout rates are among the worst of any major U.S. city. The bus system is widely panned; car and home insurance rates are high. Chain grocery stores are absent, forcing many Detroiters to rely on high-priced corner stores.

Crime, unemployment, school leaving: nothing has changed in a quarter century. The mayor at the time I left, Coleman Young, was not obviously corrupt. He was also prone to blaming others for the city's troubles, and taxing nonresidents to pay for his city's failures. (The most amusing anecdote involves the last tax return I filed with Detroit. My tax preparer rounded everything to the nearest dollar: some subaltern in Detroit reworked the whole thing in order to knock about 40 cents off my refund.)

The little prosperity that remains is false.

For Mark Covington, as for many of his neighbors, there are two Detroits. One features swanky casinos, opulent hotels and two new sports stadiums, beckoning high rollers and deep-pocketed out-of-towners to a relatively vibrant downtown. Luxury condo developments are opening; an ambitious RiverWalk project is mostly completed.

Then there's the vast Detroit of decaying neighborhoods, with weedy, trash-strewn lots and vacant, burned-out houses. Some areas, even close to downtown, have a rural look because so many lots are now empty.

It's not as if anybody was taken by surprise.

Looking ahead, Detroit civic leaders express long-term optimism but acknowledge the shift away from a heavy-manufacturing economy will be painful.

"Up until the '70s, you could come to the city without education, without speaking English, and get a job in the auto industry and instantly be in the middle class, economically speaking," said Mike Stewart, director of Wayne State's Walter P. Reuther Library and an expert on the auto industry.

"A lot of folks in the city depended on these jobs for generations — they don't exist anymore," he said. "A lot of Detroiters are unprepared, educationally and technologically, to cope."

Let's see, the first Chrysler loan guarantee was, oh, 1980. Things will be different this time, right.
WE ARE THE STATE LINE. Complete with a cheese tasting.
DeKalb is one of the first places in Illinois that Sartori has introduced its product line in hopes to expand across the state.
I had work to do, but hope to file a product review in the near future.

18.12.08

A RAIL ADVOCATE PASSES. Charlie Sykes reports the death of Paul Weyrich. James Rowen correctly describes one aspect of Mr Weyrich's advocacy.
Weyrich, an ally of former Mayor John Norquist's on the rail issue despite their party differences, thought government's monopoly provision of highways violated free market principles because it withheld the rail choice from taxpayers.
We've noted Mr Weyrich's rail advocacy, and the beginning of his activism working to save the North Shore Line, numerous times over the years.
PORK BARRELING? A letter drafted by the Carnegie Corporation on behalf of presidents and other high officials in public higher education makes a cliched pitch for a place at the infrastructure trough. The dean at Anonymous Community suggests that succor from current budget difficulties that manifest themselves in layoffs and hiring freezes would be an economic stimulus with a higher impact multiplier. A Wall Street Journal editorial questions the utility of such expenditures. George Leef of Phi Beta Cons extends.

Due to the erosion of academic standards throughout much of our K-12 system, hordes of students enter college with weak academic preparation. Because most colleges are frantic about student retention, they have allowed their own standards to slide badly. Consequently, students can spend their four or five or more years, accumulate enough credits to graduate, and yet learn little or nothing of value.

What awaits those people in the job market? Often they end up in mundane jobs that call for no academic preparation.

He's writing for the current believers, yet I'm hard pressed to dissent.
FROM STATE SUPPORTED TO STATE TOLERATED TO STATE LOCATED. That's an administrative cliche popular in the land grants and mid-majors. It might also be the future of the University of Michigan.
The University of Michigan gets only about one tenth of its budget from the state. Eliminating state status would probably be a net wash financially for the college, because the school could increase out of state enrollments more (they are constrained somewhat politically from doing so now) and the out-of-state tuition is triple the in-state rate.
State legislatures, in Michigan and elsewhere, seek to influence more than ten percent of university decisions (more research, less research, more teaching, more access, lower tuitions).

Michigan, released from legislative constraints on out-of-state tuition, might well price in such a way as to exploit some of that excess demand for perceived prestige. (I'm surprised Professor Vedder, who wrote the post, hasn't recognized that phenomenon.)

On the other hand, a privatization could involve an audit of the sports program, which risks turning up potential deal-breakers for any private operator. And who would the private operator be? A non-profit staffed by the current Michigan administrators? The Harvard Corporation? Apollo Group? The mind boggles.
SUCCOR FOR THE LEGACY CAR COMPANIES? Photon Courier surveys some instructive reading.

16.12.08

HAPPY BEETHOVEN'S BIRTHDAY. Milt Rosenberg found a complete Toscanini Pastorale from 1937.
SNOWPOCALYPSE. This picture ran on Drudge last week. The article is still available.




The number is right for a streetcar in the snow, although where there's a lot of snow, the 900 series come in orange with cream window panels.
WHY IT MATTERS. Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to help judge the Global Economic Summit of High School Students, organized by the Students in Free Enterprise chapter at Rock Valley College.

The winning team is from Rockford Jefferson High School, representing Tanzania.


The young lady holding the trophy stole the show by opening her presentation in Swahili, with another team member translating into English.

Should any of these students beome rich enough to be offered an invitation to participate in a can't-miss hedge fund, they'll be savvy enough to ask the right questions and walk away. It's really very simple. If the seller can't explain it, you have no business buying it. If you can't explain it to a younger sibling, you have no business buying it. "It's complicated" is the road to ruin.
PROTECTING COMPETITORS IS NOT THE SAME AS PROTECTING COMPETITION. Toyota recognize the difference.

Detroit's Big Three aren't the only automotive companies that want to see the government step in with some much-needed financial help.

Overseas automakers, most notably Toyota Motor, all endorse some form of federal aid to keep General Motors (GM, Fortune 500), Chrysler LLC and possibly Ford Motor (F, Fortune 500) out of bankruptcy.

The reasoning is classic.
"We support measures to help the industry," said Toyota Motor (TM) spokeswoman Mira Sleilati. "We just want a strong, competitive healthy industry."
It might be more accurate to characterize Toyota's position as "We just want the appearance of competition."

The overseas automakers, who between them produce more than 3 million vehicles a year at U.S. plants, all worry their production would be hurt if one of the U.S. automakers went under. That's because a Big Three failure would likely lead to widespread bankruptcies in the auto parts supplier industry.

Erich Merkle, lead auto analyst with the consulting firm Crowe Horwath LLP, said there is much overlap between the automakers' suppliers. Since most parts in an automobile have only a single supplier producing them, the disruptions in production will be severe and prolonged.

Put differently, Toyota would prefer not to bear the stand-alone costs of a vendor. That's a non-trivial problem, and there may be no core allocation without the government finance, or another customer for the vendor. The scarier prospect, however, might be new customers for those vendors.

The final concern for the overseas automakers is a longer-term problem. The failure of a U.S. automaker could open the door for a Chinese or Indian automaker to buy up the assets of the failed company and create a new low-cost competitor in the U.S.

"You could open the door for foreign companies to buy distressed assets at rock-bottom prices," he said. He pointed to India's Tata (TTM) and China's Geely as two automakers in the developing world that are already on record as being interested in expanding into western markets like the United States.

"Tata and Geely would be incredibly open to brownfield sites," he said, using the term that describes companies that buy discarded industrial facilities.

Perhaps that's already in the works.
GIVING TOO LITTLE AND ASKING TOO MUCH. The dean at Anonymous Community reacts to a conversation about the ways in which faculty ought respond to straitened circumstances in higher education. The conversation focuses on whether faculty are owners or managers.
But far too many faculty cherry-pick, wielding the rhetoric of shared governance when it suits their purposes, but then retreating to union protection when things get tight. “Because they can” is the only justification I can imagine for that, and it's looking a bit threadbare these days. At a certain point, colleges faced with this kind of denial of reality wind up invoking 'fiscal exigency' and rewriting the rules entirely. It's better to avoid that in the first place.
Left for future work is the possibility of people opting out, as appears to be the case in medicine.
The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study showing that just 2 percent of graduating medical students are choosing to enter general internal medicine. The students surveyed were concerned in part by what they perceived to be a more difficult personal and professional lifestyle, compared with other fields. They felt that the paperwork and charting required of primary care physicians were more onerous, and they were not eager to care for the chronically ill in a health care system that focuses on acute care.
Instapundit characterizes the situation as "Atlas shrugging": how much recognition of the realities of the academic job market, in which the perceived prestige positions are relatively few will it require before administrators realize they cannot squeeze the faculty?
CLASSY. Motor City Smug includes a reluctance to recognize error, an attitude that drives many of the area's most productive people elsewhere, and nothing has changed in twenty years, according to a Detroit News (the paper that delivers on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday) article headlined Backlash brews in wake of Big 3 bashing.

After a month of Detroit-bashing in Washington and nationally, some say a backlash is forming among Metro Detroiters, annoyed by the attacks on their lifestyle and angry at their neighbors' choices of vehicles. Some fear that simmering resentment could turn to outright hostility.

"I'm afraid we may be about to see a rerun of a bad nightmare we lived through in the late '70s and early '80s," said Helen Zia, co-founder of the American Citizens for Justice, a civil rights group that serves Michigan's Asian-Americans. "We're in the midst of tough economic times, and when that happens you get scapegoating."

Most agree the current climate doesn't approach the open disdain in the 1980s and early 1990s, when workers used sledgehammers to destroy Hondas and Toyotas in union parking lots. But some worry that antipathy toward Asians could return.

In Woodhaven on Friday, someone punctured the tires of five foreign cars -- a Honda, Hyundai, Mazda, Toyota and Volkswagen -- and used a marker to scrawl "Buy USA" on the sides of the vehicles, in the lots of Lowe's and Kohl's stores near a Ford plant. A security camera captured a middle-aged white man defacing the vehicles, Woodhaven Police Chief Michael Martin said, who fears there could be more such incidents.

This is the metropolitan area in which a Chinese immigrant was beaten to death by two unemployed workers drowning their sorrows who thought he was Japanese.

This is the metropolitan area in which Solidarity House posted a sign at its parking lot asking visitors to park their imported cars in Tokyo.


This is the metropolitan area from which the Boycott Alabama website originates.
Our mission is to demonstrate Senator Shelby what the result will be by not supporting the state of Alabama and its industries, (true American industries, not foreign companies that assemble products in the U.S.).
Good idea. Let's reopen the deep mines at Iron Mountain and set up rubber plantations in New Buffalo. The rest of the site offers similarly inspired logic.

15.12.08

CAUSE AND EFFECT. Chicago Tribune automobile columnist Jim Mateja says more than he intends, in making a case for federal succor for the legacy car companies.
Chrysler, which so adroitly plied the bailout waters 30 years ago, is not such a sure thing. It has the least to offer in new technology or product and has the smallest global footprint, which means it can't rely on subsidiaries in foreign countries with less intensive labor costs to help them out like GM and Ford can.
That's despite all the bragging from the Pentastar in the early 1980s about repaying the loan early. Advantage, Cold Spring Shops.

Then comes this backhanded compliment.

For years, GM, Ford and Chrysler have been closing the perception gap with import brands. You need look no further than the most recent J.D. Power study of owner satisfaction three years after buying a car to see the results. Mercury and Cadillac finished second and third to Lexus.

That alone should be enough for Congress to make the pain, rather than the domestic auto industry, go away.

Play to the parvenus, Mr Mateja. Advantage, Cold Spring Shops.
THE POPPING OF THE SPORTS BUBBLE? Three Phil Miller posts raise hints. One picks up a report that the Arena Football League is considering suspending its 2009 season, something that has since transpired. Another notes tough times for professional hockey, particularly in the Sun Belt. A third notes Governor Blagojevich's attempts to shake down the Chicago Cubs. It's not quite a bailout for the Tribune Company or for the Cubs, but it suggests the Tribune's offer of the Cubs is not that of a dowager's silverware to keep up appearances.
TAX AMNESTIES PROLIFERATE. Last week, it's a method of boosting the cash position of U.S. companies. This week, it's a method of boosting the cash positions of state treasuries.

Desperate to bring in revenue in the middle of a recession, states across the country are adopting tax amnesty programs, offering to let people pay their past-due tax bills with little or no penalties or interest.

"Something is better than nothing," said Dino DiCianno, executive director of the Nevada Taxation Department. DiCianno said Nevada gave up more than $14 million in penalties and interest to collect nearly $41 million between July and October.

Oklahoma, like Nevada, generated about twice as much as it expected from its offer of amnesty, raising $82 million through its 90-day Clean Slate program for businesses and individuals.

The tradeoffs, including the time-inconsistency problem, are the same as they are in theft or immigration amnesty.

Many states are reluctant to offer amnesty, arguing that its rewards cheaters, discourages honest taxpayers and poaches revenue the states will collect in the future - especially as they improve the databases they use to catch delinquents. They worry, too, that people will hold back on their taxes and simply wait for the next amnesty.

"If the attitude is we're going to hand out get-out-of-jail-free cards, people's attitudes can change," said Paul Warren of the California Legislative Analyst's Office. "You can have a breakdown in compliance."

And yet, states consider them. Despite the potential time inconsistency problem, or perhaps because of it, tax amnesties, and periodic library fine amnesties, tend to bring in more revenue, or more missing books, than the planners anticipate.