I really do celebrate the day I wandered over to a newsstand in WeHo and found my first ever copy of Foreign Affairs. I have been a subscriber ever since. This issue has a good excerpt from Mark Blyth’s Austerity: History of Dangerous Idea which is free for the reading here.
I was very sad to read, via Crooked Timber, that Marianne Ferber has passed. Here is a link to an excellent obituary:
She was, at heart, a radical, fiercely committed to equality and social justice. She fought to improve women’s status in the economics profession the hard way: by taking concrete action. Many women and men benefitted from her willingness to write supportive letters of reference, her sound practical advice, and her inspiring example of what can be achieved with intelligence, conscientiousness, and a complete and utter lack of strategic career planning.
One of my favorite contributions of hers is a nice edited volume from 1993: Beyond Economic Man: Feminist Theory and Economics, which demonstrated the richness that could enter the paradigm if you take gender seriously as factor in the empirical work that economists do.
Another edited volume I like is Academic Couples, which she edited with Jane Loeb.
Matthew Iglesias blunders forward in Salon, commenting on the horrendous deaths of Bangladeshi factory factory workers, calling the differences in worker safety laws “entirely appropriate.”
I think that’s wrong. Bangladesh may or may not need tougher workplace safety rules, but it’s entirely appropriate for Bangladesh to have different—and, indeed, lower—workplace safety standards than the United States.
This was a dumb column. Everything about this column was dumb. Dumb. But it’s something that economists can’t help themselves from saying. To wit: Larry Summers disastrous World Bank Memo, which OMG has its own freakin’ Wikipedia entry.
Now, in Summers’ case, I think he was actually making the point that I am going to make here: that as powerful and useful paradigm as micro is, it doesn’t explain everything, and it has a gaping, gigantic problem in the logic when it comes to trades made among those who are impoverished and desperate. Only Summers didn’t caveat his memo, and that sucker stuck to him like gum on his shoe. You would think that most economists would yield the lesson.
This is the exact same problem that Matt Iglesias stepped into, majorly. It is entirely possible that the types of tradeoffs that Yglesias discusses are, as he says, entirely appropriate once a certain level of human safety has been met–but not before. And the nature of that threshold arguably is not readily knowable by economists and their approaches, but rather, resides within the realm of normative and democratic theory instead. In other words, there may incommensurate tradeoffs, trades that we as a human society are just unwilling to allow no matter their efficiency consequences. Economists have trouble seeing the limits of their paradigm here. We’re not talking about the requirement that workers get hour-long lunches and double time and a half on weekends here. We’re talking about people for all practical purposes being forced to enter a building they know full well is dangerous–and then dying therein–because the asshats who run the place were too stingy to set up shop in a place that stands up straight and too politically well-connected (because of the wealth they amassed from such practices and international trade) to be forced to clean up their acts.
Yglesias, like Rogoff and Reinhart, has mostly just whined about the Internet meanies being unpleasant to him. Booty. Hoo.
Some of the more pointed responses:
Yglesias’ thesis, what little exists, is that the Bangladeshis are a people squalid enough that death is an acceptable randomly applied career path, and that dead Bangladeshis are what keep flat-front chinos at $29.99 at the outlet store. Our pants are cheap because their lives are, and cheaper things are innately good. Just think how much Upton Sinclair saved on hamburger as a young man. What an ingrate.
Yglesias summed up the gist of his argument in a tweet, “Foreign factories should be more dangerous than American factories.” In a follow-up post, Yglesias issued an apology of sorts, but only after spending several lines grousing about how annoyed he was that meanies of the Internet made him correct his mistake.
Yglesias’s argument was based on an implicit false premise and a bizarre hypothetical.
The false premise was that whatever caused the building collapse was legal in Bangladesh. But it turns out that Bangladeshis are as averse to being buried alive as we are. There is a national building code in Bangladesh and the politically well-connected owner of Rana Plaza flouted every rule in the book.
However, economists might be right in rejoining that if people are not allowed to improve their lots, even given terrible choices and lousy conditions, what’s the alternative? It’s not as though a commitment to a social safety net has become global or even proven stable.
ATTENTION CONSERVATION NOTICE: Umbrellas are necessary in the rain.
Neither you nor I have the time for me to go linking to various outraged posts or the various and sundry counter-outraged oh-this-is-all-Republican-contrived-aren’t-those-wingnuts-awful scandal links.
However, I do have to thank this particular tempest-in-a-teapot for digging up some amusing-to-me pictures of other presidents having umbrellas held for them and not, like my favorite of President Bush (senior) under a very girly beach umbrella. I’m not convinced this writer is correct, btw. Those don’t look like Marine uniforms to me; I’m thinking they’re German. Anybody know? Anyhoodily, one reason I like this photo: it rather illustrates my favorite thing about this particular president: good sense. For we all know that beach umbrellas are waaaaay superior to the tiny little rain umbrellas that keep your head dry but let your shoulders and backpack get all wet. (Not that I suspect he picked this umbrella, but a less sensible man might have objected to its whimsical appearance for the POTUS rather than simply, doing his job under a rather silly brellie.)
And then there’s this one of a bemused G.W. Bush and an recalcitrant umbrella. We’ve all been there, dude.
The universe of this controversy appears to be people for whom Mah-reens represent the big, important, and masculine–all terms for high status tasks…instead of the notion of service, which is seen as minor and demeaning.
We should probably just acknowledge straight up that one reason why some people got upset over the photo is that they had a gut reaction to a white man doing something they view as servile for a black man, and that’s not the right ordering of the universe.
The nice thing about all the various photos with presidents and their umbrella-holding marines and butlers and friends should be: that it is a polite thing to do to hold an umbrella for a person who has his hands full, and that a great deal of service, much of it very honorable, never gets you a medal and is, in fact, simply taking out the trash, digging latrines, and holding bumbershoots for visiting panjandrums. One does what one does because it simply needs to get done; there is honor in the small. Really.
It’s rather indicative of our political discussions that many people are willing to take a stand for or against the umbrella, but have no interest whatsoever in what the actual event involving the President (and the President of another country!) was about. Announcing a new treaty? A new policy? No, no, THAT’S irrelevant. Tell me about the accessories they somebody hold for them for a bit! (Presidents Obama and Erdogan were issuing a joint statement regarding Syria. Remember Syria?
This is not to say how we treat the people around us, like the President and the Marines, does not matter. It’s just not worth that pother that has gone into this question, nor should it eclipse discussing Syria. I was most annoyed by President Clinton’s behavior of asking state officials to ferry women to and fro, because it’s both demeaning and icky, even if I didn’t think we needed to be impeaching anybody. (i.e. you can still do your job even if you are an ass.) Yes, the staffers here should have thought through the weather better, but if you can’t imagine getting caught short on the weather, you’ve never lived in DC, where the weather pretty much sucks all the time, and defies prediction, despite it being a lovely city in many other ways.
The Marines, to me, added grace and dignity to the event, as they do at so many other events; they provided comfort and hospitality to a visiting dignitary. Those things matter, too, right along with whether our Marines are treated with the proper respect.
Terminal Lance has my favorite response to date:
As well, the day I give a shit about a boot Corporal holding an umbrella is the day I’ve forgotten what the Marine Corps is. Honestly, holding an umbrella for the President is probably the least demeaning thing I could imagine doing as a Marine, as opposed to the other bullshit I had to do every day. No one would think twice about asking a boot to police call cigarette butts across the entire base at 5am, but the minute this boot has to hold an umbrella for the Commander in Chief, people get upset.
He’s the President, he rates an umbrella.
Get over it.