Paying forward

I went to dinner last night with one of my dearest students. She wanted to pay. I wouldn’t let her, mostly because I have a real job and she doesn’t (yet) and I’m a commie in practice and a marketist in theory, but the other point I wanted to make with her is that you repay mentoring with paying forward.

When you receive mentoring, it’s a gift. There are bad mentors and bad fits, but when mentoring works, it is a gift like nothing else. All of us who teach and parent do so to repay the unmerited gifts that we ourselves have received.

So mentors give you a gift, and with that gift comes an obligation: to pay it forward, to spread the growth of human capital, to tolerate the weaknesses and follies of youth in order to help people become who they are.

My views on Wisconsin, expressed brilliantly by Cosma Shalizi

I haven’t had much to say about the debacle that is Wisconsin, but I wanted to point you to the brilliant comments of Cosma Shalizi. I don’t know Shalizi personally, but I follow his blog, Three Toed Sloth, faithfully because the writing is simply excellent. I’m endlessly fascinated with what he studies.

Here are his comments on Wisconsin. I wish I had written this paragraph:

the single biggest thing which has gone wrong with America during my lifetime has been the economic stagnation for most of the country, accompanied by shifting risk from those who have resources and large organizations to individuals who don’t have much. And that has gone hand in hand with the decline — the repression — of organized labor. Unions are not perfect, but no human institutions are, and to condemn unions, specifically, because they are sometimes hide-bound or self-serving is either folly or deceit. Unions are the only organized force in this country which seriously advocates, which pushes, for the material interests and dignity of ordinary working people. The fight in Wisconsin is about whether there is, finally, a limit to how far the dismantling of American labor can be pushed.

Folly or deceit, indeed.

I’d argue for both folly AND deceit.

The money thing? That’s just smoke and mirrors. The public sector has competed with the private sector for labor largely through offering benefits. I make a much better salary than comparable UC faculty…but they have better benefits than I do. I have to save for my own retirement much more so, etc.

In the end, this shameless power grab will not save the state of Wisconsin much of anything, particularly for professional labor. Civil engineers in the Wisconsin DOT do not have to put up with crap wages and crap benefits. There are consulting jobs out there–with much higher wages and more limited benefits packages. And civil engineers are more valuable to consulting firms once they’ve done their time in state agencies.

I suspect that even though unions do prevent free entry into the lower end of the labor market that the primary beneficiaries of collective bargaining are blue-collar state workers, not white collar bureaucrats as the Republicans claim. White collar workers have more job mobility and more options.

So you gut your benefits and whatever you think you’ll save busting the union, you’ll have to make up for loss of benefits with salary. I suspect there’s revenue parity in that trade for all but the least skilled workers. So this little power play is coming at the expense of snowplow drivers.

Of course, you could try for lousy pay and lousy benefits and see what quality of laborer that gets you. Nothing like a fabulous imbalance in professional capacity between agency professionals and their contractors to make for lots of lost revenue on inept management.

Edited to add: and just like magic, Richard Green points us to an entry from the Economist that makes my point–that, once employed, low-skill workers benefit from unions more than other groups. There is, of course, the remaining issue of those who are worse off because they’d like more hours and can’t get them due to wage constraints introduced by collective bargaining. However, we do have to wonder which group is larger.

Of course, since the politico in question has never made any bones about how little he cares for the security of poor workers, such information is irrelevant in the face of his desire to be on national tv for a presidential run later.

Deepening interdependence in global financial networks

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International Political Economy blog writing out of the University of North Carolina has a post up displaying an animated version of this very cool network graphic. These are quarterly observations.

I don’t quite understand the model yet, but I am trying to.

Make sure to take a look at the animated gif. It really brings their point home. A great visualization to help us understand what happened in the industry in just a few short years.

This week’s acquisitions

Bourdieu for Architects by Helena Webster. So far, I am disappointed; this is what I am currently reading. Routledge is a great urban press, but the format of this book makes it harder to read than necessary, and it’s not always a great idea to break up theory into small bites.

The Best American Essays Edited By Christopher Hitchins. I have a collection of these going back a long time. I can’t wait to read this one. Hitchens himself is an excellent prose stylist, and while I agree with him about nothing other Jefferson, I always, always read.

All a Novelist Needs: Colm Toibin on Henry James. Again, just a terrific writer, and I wanted to see all his writings about Henry James in one place.

The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes by Robert Alter. This is a translation with commentary. Job and Ecclesiastes are two of my favorites. I can’t wait to see what Alter says.

The Power of Identity: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture by Manuel Castells. I’m going to say it, even though my mentors and colleagues would kill me: despite my lifetime love of David Harvey, Manuel Castells is the most important urban thinker of the last century. I have this book already, but I needed the new edition.

End of Millenium: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture Vol III by Manuel Castells. Ditto above.

Oh, how I would like to write books like these. 400 pages long, no fluff in them.

Roman Tragedy by A.J. Boyle. Like Castells, A.J. Boyle is at USC, and this captured my attention when walking past the “faculty authors” section at our bookstore today.
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Atlas Shrugged trailer and Trains that Go Zoom

So I don’t how many people have read Ayn Rand–I have, and I took them very seriously in high school. Though I have to say, I read them with the same spirit with which I watched Guiding Light (alas, gone!) and Dynasty (also, unfortunately, gone.)

But apparently, somebody has decided to make a movie about John Galt and the shiny train that goes zoooooom. We are supposed to love his objectivism and the frail worshipfulness of the radiantly beautiful Woman Who Understands Galt.

The comments around the interwebs are amazing. MAN owes society NOTHING but the honest pursuit of HIMSELF. Okkkkkkkey. Apparently, we are still in the moment of trying to deal with our neoliberal hangover that we need to flail ourselves into relearning love for market and freedom stories like Rand’s.

There’s lots of stomping around, lots of luxury. High drama! “I will destroy you!”

All I can keep thinking when I watch the trailer is:

Will Frodo and John Galt get to Mount Doom in time to destroy the One Ring? Or will Alexis Carrington Dexter Rowan Colby pull them into the faux-villa pool before they can cross Mordor?

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One might ask Ayn why, if the train is such a hotsy-totsy, envy-generating vision, we moochers and freeloaders and average-heads have to keep paying for general revenue bonds to get these money-makers built.

And then there’s just the fact that metal can be used for, oh, I dunno, lots of other stuff that…aren’t trains…and why such a purposeful and ruthless business dude would get so invested in making sure his metals get sold to a particular project.

But, hey, I never got shoulder pads, stirrup pants, or Huey Lewis and The News, either.

What I learned about democracy from Michael Neblo

USC’s Bedrosian Center has sponsored a nice series of Governance Salons, and this time out we had Michael Neblo, from Ohio State, in to discuss his experiments in deliberative democracy.

It was an absolutely wonderful discussion, and I learned a tremendous amount. Here is the deal:

The experiment consists of a control, obviously, and then running an e-town hall meeting with a member of congress. The subject: immigration policy. The team followed the participants from beginning to end and demonstrated that:

a) when subjects knew they were going to be participating in a controlled public debate–where civility was guaranteed–they studied up and learned more about the topic.

b) they stayed more involved politically even after a 4-month lag, being more able to identify mid-term election results after the event.