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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Some Higher Degrees Are Not So High

American higher education contains its own erroneous nomenclature. Most notably, people having earned one degree in law or medicine presume that they have doctorates in those academic disciplines simply because having a prior bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite.

The full essay is at "Some Higher Degrees."

Sunday, July 7, 2019

On the Political Power of Capitalism in American Society

In his confidential memorandum, “Attack on American Free Enterprise System,” Lewis Powell, later to be a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, wrote in 1971 that the “leftists” were launching a frontal assault on the “free enterprise system,” “capitalism,” or the “profit system.” Powell saw this as an attack on rather than a defending of the “American political system of democracy under the rule of law.” That the corporate profit-interest might be a threat to “one person one vote” apparently did not occur to the future Justice. Rather, what is good for GM he presumed must be good for American democracy. Moreover, both, he presumes, are consistent with, or perhaps even foundational for, American values.

The full essay is at "On the Political Power of Capitalism."

“USA!” at Ryder Cup 2012: Silent “EU!” Wins

The Ryder Cup of 2012, held in Illinois, can be read as payback for the European team at the expense of the Americans because the latter had come back from the same 10-6 deficit to win at the previous Cup.  The Associated Press reported that the European team’s “rally was even more remarkable, carried out before a raucous American crowd that began their chants of "USA!" some three hours before the first match got under way.” I can just imagine the looks on the Europeans’ faces amid the primal shouts some three hours before play. “Why are they doing that now? Should we get our few people in the crowd to start pumping their fists in the air while shouting “EU! EU! EU! EU!”? I can just hear a German on the team (if there was one) ask, “But what purpose would that serve?” A Brit would interrupt to make his observation known, that he cannot take part in such a cheer as it diverts from “hip hip!” and thus may interfere with being proud to be British, as Maggie used to say. A Belgian of Flemish and Walloon parentage (if such a thing exists) would try to split the difference in proposing that the small crowd of European groupies chant “hip hip EU!” The Brit would undoubtedly veto that one in a split second and the European team would be left with having to listen to the primal chants of the Americans. Of course, the warlike chant has no meaning in itself. Even a patriotic American would wonder why in the midst of a fireworks show on July 4th young men (16-25ish) suddenly feel the need to aggressively shout “USA!

                                     Europe's Martin Kaymer celebrates Europe's win at the Ryder Cup.     Reuters

USA!” as if the exploding bombs (i.e., fireworks) were some signal known only to them that we were about to invade another country. I witnessed this at a Fourth-of-July fireworks at an upscale golf course in 2012. The chants seemed so out of place, coming out of nowhere, that I could not help but wonder what was behind the impulsive act.

The full essay is at "USA!, Silent EU!"

Starbucks Apologizes in spite of Overzealous Police Presence in a Store

On July 4, 2019, six police employees staggered by twos into a Starbucks store in Tempe, Arizona (which borders Phoenix to the west). Because they did not come in together, customers had a prolonged sense of a police presence throughout the store. Eventually, the police huddled near the bar where drinks were left for customers to pick up. Even as the police huddled, they did so with eyes strategically perched so as to maintain visuals on the customers. Yet this was apparently lost on the police themselves, who felt it was disrespectful for an employee to ask them to leave after a customer complained about feeling uncomfortable. It could not be assumed that the customer had had bad experiences with police in the past, for any customer would understandably feel uncomfortable with so many visible guns passing back and forth. Indeed, for the police to treated the customers to the display can be reckoned as disrespectful!  Unfortunately, the police probably had no recognition of having too many at once in the store because intimidation as a deterrent by a very visible, ubiquitous presence in the public (and apparently in restaurants) was at the time the standard tactic. In short, customers could be expected to feel uncomfortable, or at least to want some relief from the ubiquitous police presence. Even so, Starbucks apologized because an employee acted on behalf of a customer, whose complaint was valid given the overwhelming police presence in the store. Yet according to the Tempe Association of police, the customer and employee should have known that some of the cops were veterans so the errant conclusion is zero respect for vets.[1] The association was so busy feeling disrespected that no thought at all went into why customers could rightly feel uncomfortable with so many police in a small store.

The full essay is at "Overzealous Police Presence."

1. Amir Vera, “Starbucks Apologizes after Six Officers Say They Were Asked to Leave a Store in Arizona,” cnn.com July 6, 2019.

Interestingly (or tellingly), the police chose to leave rather than move away from where customers pick up drinks, and yet the police chief felt that Starbucks had disrespected the police in the store. 

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Presidential Authority and Bureaucracy: Regulatory Agencies

Circulating in Congress in the fall of 2012 was a bill that would have allowed "the White House to second-guess major rules and mandate that agencies carefully study the economic effects of new regulation. The change could, in effect, delay a number of rules for the financial industry. Those who support preserving the status quo where Wall Street regulates itself will find much to like in this legislation," said Amit Narang, a regulatory policy advocate at Public Citizen, a nonprofit government watchdog group.[1] President Obama had received $1 million from Goldman Sachs as a campaign contribution in 2008. Yet of how much value to Wall Street is a mere delay in regulation? Some, surely, but not enough to make this the decisive issue here. Rather, I submit that the president's control as chief executive of the regulatory agencies and the added bureaucracy are more salient in this case study. 

The full essay is at "Presidential Authority and Bureaucracy." 

1. Ben Protess, “Lawmakers Push to Increase WhiteHouse Oversight of Financial Regulators,” The New York Times, September 10, 2012. 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

President Obama's Justification for Limited Military Intervention in Libya: Driving a Wedge between the Bushes

In the early evening of March 28, 2011, President Obama addressed the American people and the world to explain his administration’s involvement in the international coalition that had been implementing a no fly zone over Libya while protecting Libyan civilians from their own ruler. He sounded much more like the first President Bush than the second in terms of foreign policy.  Similar to how the elder Bush had restrained himself from going all the way to Baghdad after he had joined an international coalition in removing the Iraqis from Kuwait, Obama said that directing American troops to forcibly remove Colonel Qaddafi from power would be a step too far, and would “splinter” the international coalition that had imposed the no fly zone and protected civilians in rebel areas of Libya. Interestingly, in taking the elder Bush’s route, Obama came out strongly against that of Bush II. Referring to the alternative of extending the U.S. mission to include regime change, Obama stated, “To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq . . . regime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.”[1] In effect, Obama was exposing a fundamental difference between George H.W. Bush and his son by saying essentially the same thing as the elder Bush had done while excoriating the foreign invasion of his son. Yet Obama did not stop there. He added a theoretical framework that the elder Bush could well have used.

[1] Helene Cooper, “Obama Cites Limits of U.S. Role in Libya,” The New York Times, March 28, 2011.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Speculators and Price Volatility: The Case of Gasoline

According to The Huffington Post, “Oil prices took a nosedive [on May 5, 2011] in a historic selloff, erasing weeks of gains and indicating that the months-long climb in energy prices may have hit a ceiling. Crude oil plunged 10 percent as startled investors unloaded their positions and a weeklong decline accelerated into an outright freefall. The price of U.S. crude went from triple digits to double digits, falling below $100 after opening at close to $110. Brent crude, a European benchmark, lost $12 at one point in a sell-off that exceeded the one following Lehman Brothers' collapse.”[1]  The question, for course, is why, the answer of which can lead us to consider some public policy recommendations. Understanding the previous price rise is a first step both to answering this question and for evaluating public policy solutions.

The full essay is at "Speculators and Price Volatility."

1. William Alden, “Oil Prices Plunge in Record Sell-Off,” The Huffington Post, May 5, 2011.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Sexual Harassment at Yale: A Wider Picture of Intolerance in Political Correctness

In his commentary on “Sex and the College Dean” in The Wall Street Journal, William McGurn bemoans what he calls the “surrender [of] what little moral authority [deans and college presidents] have left to their in-house counsel and off-campus government authorities.”[1] McGurn points in particular to the rising influence of lawyers in college administrations. “Today deans have given way to lawyers. The consequence has been endless gestures to raise ‘awareness,’ constant upgrading of procedures and the proliferation of committees—all designed primarily to limit the institution's civil liability. Thus Rutgers says it is working on making the school ‘more inclusive’” after a gay student killed himself after his roommate had posted video secretly shot of the gay student having sex in the dorm room. Not to completely dispute McGurn’s “lawyer thesis,” I do, however, want to broaden the explanation based on material provided by McGurn himself. Specifically, the “more inclusive” language McGurn cites is the signature of the political-correctness movement that had swept college campuses in the United States since the late 1980's. McGurn claims that deans of students have gone from being adults to legalists in seeking to minimize their school’s liability; I want to add that those deans went from being adults to ideologues as well.

The full essay is at "Sexual Harassment at Yale."  

1. William McGurn, “Sex and the College Dean,” The Wall Street Journal, April 26, 2011, p. A15.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Ownership and Compensation Conflated: The Case of Bill Gates and Paul Allen at Microsoft

Paul Allen claims in his memoir that Bill Gates tried on more than one occasion to reduce Allen’s relative ownership interest in Microsoft. Of course, the veracity of Allen’s explanation can be questioned even if the ownership changes in percentage terms are a matter of public record. Whereas The Wall Street Journal focused on Allen's credibility in making his claim, I see a case study on the difference between ownership and compensation for labor.

The full essay is at "Ownership and Compensation."

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Anna Hazare: A Modern Incarnation of Gandhi?

On August 21, 2011 in New Delhi, India, tens of thousands marched in support of Anna Hazare, then in the sixth day of his hunger strike in support of the Jan Lokpal anti-corruption bill. He told the crowd, “Even if the prime minister comes, I will not withdraw my hunger strike until the [bill] is passed in the Parliament. I can die but I will not bend.”[1] What a unique and intriguing statement! To be sure, the man's “professed unwillingness to compromise,” as well as his “occasionally belligerent tone, . . . attracted criticism.”[2] Even so, he inspired mainly hope, particularly from the young. His main constituency, however, was the middle class, who felt alienated and unfairly treated. Hazare self-consciously embraced the model of Gandhi. That model, including the principled unbending, is no stranger in India, yet I am surprised that it took until 2011 for a societal figure so Gandhi-like to emerge and galvanize a mass protest using Gandhi’s methods. Of course, the likeness between the two men could be overstated. How much like Gandhi was Hazare and his political action? For example, would Gandhi have stopped eating simply out of preference for one of two bills before the Parliament? Putting a stop to widespread violence is arguably much more significant than reducing corruption. Also, the demand that conduct be changed is more direct than that a law be enacted unless to abolish an unjust one. 
                              Associated Press

The full essay is at "Hazare and Gandhi."

1. Jim Yardley, “Thousands Back Antigraft Hunger Strike in New Delhi,” New York Times (August 22, 2011). 
2. Ibid.

On the United Technologies-Raytheon Merger: The Macro Level of Analysis

In analyzing a merger, incorporating the macro context is vital. For very large mergers, for instance, public policy concerns inevitably surface even if they are typically ignored not only in merger analyses, but also by in societal and even governmental public discourse. Analysis at this level takes a societal standpoint, including on the relationship of business and government. This does not diminish the salience of firm-level analysis, for even how the respective organizational cultures would mesh is very important to a functional merged company. This is even true regarding the respective business-ethics climates, for it is not a given that a healthy organizational culture dominates an unethical one.

Monday, June 24, 2019

So You Want to Become an Excellent Writer?

A good writer writes well. This truism maintains that a good writer is has mastered the craft of writing. Unfortunately, this feat does not come without considerable effort, for takes some good old-fashioned study in grammar and spelling. Unfortunately, the linguistic mechanics furnish only the means of entry, though this point seems to be lost on the American English teachers who slighted grammar pedagogically in the opening decades of the twenty-first century. Perhaps the novelists who have felt immune from being grammatical for the sake of style have been the interlarded culprits behind the trend of grammar be viewed as relative or an elective. To be sure, style has right of exception, but the problem is when the exceptions become the norm and even an excuse for bad grammar. This is all just foundational stuff; the quality distinguishing the excellent writer from even a good one is passion-fueled insight. The writer who writes out of a strong urge, or instinct, to express an insight publicly naturally finds his or her own voice, and thus identity, as a writer.  In this sense, a writer is like an entrepreneur whose passion breaks through the confines of an organizational structure like lava pushes through the tough shell of a lava dome.

The full essay is at "Excellent Writing Is More than Grammar."

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Is Blogging a Marxist Activity?

In writing posts on a blog, is a blogger alienated, or estranged, from his or her own labor and the product (i.e., the posts)? If not, would Karl Marx say that both the blogging activity and any resulting content exemplify his ideal? In short, are bloggers de facto Marxists? Or are we entrepreneurs better suited to Capitalism? In this respect, we can distinguish the free-standing blogger from the blogger who works on a blog owned by a company (i.e., others). In answering these questions, I look first at Marx’s criticism of labor that is alienated from the worker. Marx argues that a worker laboring on another’s product is estranged from both the worker’s own labor and the product. In both respects, clues of the sort of labor that Marx advocates can be found. From these inferences, I turn to Marx’s positive characterization of labor that is natural for the sapiens species, drawing also on Maslow, Locke, and the erasable Nietzsche for additional support.
The full essay is at "Blogging from a Marxist Perspective."

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Ethics in Blogging: A Normative Constraint on Excessive Economizing and Power-Aggrandizement

Blogs are interesting creatures. Like humans, they seek not merely self-preservation, but also the expansion of their domain on the internet. The empire-building does not have power-aggrandizement as its goal; rather, bloggers use what power they have to maximize the reach of their words. To be heard by as many people as possible—as if quantity were more important than quality—is a still more intermediate means, with the end being to bring one's words to the world-at-large. At the extreme, a blogger wants to see a world that has become a projection of his or her own words. Less extreme, a blogger wants to be a significant player in societal discussions even beyond the internet. Toward such ends, bloggers economize in the sense of seeking to minimize what they incorporate of other blogs beyond what they view as being useful to themselves, while attempting to maximize that of themselves that is incorporated on other blogs by power or moral suasion. For example, a blogger might say to another blogger, “I’ll blogroll you if you blogroll me.” This is a variant of “I’ll follow you if you follow me” on Twitter. As Susan Gunelius, an expert on blog marketing, observes in Blogging for Dummies, such reciprocity is no longer a normative practice in blogging. Indeed, the “I’ll follow you if you follow me” mentality is questionable at best. It implies that one person follows another not because of any value perceived on the followed’s account, but, rather, solely so he or she can be followed by yet another person. In other words, the apparent reciprocity is actually egoist. 

The full essay is at "Ethics in Blogging."

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Caves in on a Proposed Extradition Law: Yielded to the Street, Business, or Beijing?

Facing huge violent protests, Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region of China, decided on June 15, to indefinitely suspend her proposal to open extradition to mainland China and Taiwan. As the Chinese government demonstrated during the protests at Tiananmen Square decades earlier, holding a mass protest in China was not among the ways to impeded proposed legislation. Why, then, did Lam seem to cave into the popular protests in Hong Kong?

The full essay is at "Hong Kong's Chief Executive."