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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."