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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Google’s Philanthropy: $1 Billion to Tech-Train America’s Unemployed

In October 2017, Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, announced that the company would give $1 billion over the next five years to nonprofit organizations that help people “adjust to the changing nature of work.”[1] The digital skills philanthropic venture would essentially help otherwise unemployed Americans get jobs that require high-tech skills. This would also enable more people to use the internet, and thus the company’s products. So a reporter at USA Today can be said to gild the lily a bit in claiming that the initiative “is a tacit acknowledgement from one of the world’s most valuable companies that it bears some responsibility for rapid advances in technology that are radically reshaping industries and eliminating jobs in the U.S. and around the world.”[2] I submit that it is highly unlikely that such an acknowledgement ever took place at Google, given the more likely scenario wherein the company’s management saw an opportunity to enlarge (and hopefully enrich) its labor pool and customer base.

The full essay is at "Google's Philanthropy."

[1] Jessica Lynn, “Google to Give $1 Billion to Nonprofits and Help Americans Get Jobs in the New Economy,” The New York Times, October 12, 2017.
[2] Ibid.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

De-Funding Obamacare

It is odd that even after a bill becomes a law, it can be defunded, thereby effectively killing it even though it has not been voted down.  One would think that it would be required to pass the funding that is required by the law. The Republican Party has strategized on how to deconstruct Obama’s health-insurance law through various means.

The full essay is at "De-Funding Obamacare."

A Bit of Federalism in ObamaCare

Senator Ron Wyden has written to government officials of Oregon to encourage them to “come up with innovative solutions that the Federal government has never had the flexibility or will to implement.” This is significant because he is a democrat. As long as a state covers the same number of uninsured and keeps coverage as comprehensive, the following can be waived:

1. the individual mandate to purchase insurance (i.e., what Virginia and Florida are suing over)
2. regulations about business taxes
3. federal standards for minimum benefits
4. allocation of subsidies in the insurance “exchanges.”

The full essay is at "Federalism in Obamacare."

Source: Wyden Defects on ObamaCare, WSJ, September 3, 2010, p. A16.

Making Too Big To Fail Costlier: A Check on Empire-Building

Testifying before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission on September 2, 2010, Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, observed, “As of 2003 and 2004, there really was quite a bit of disagreement among economists about whether there was a bubble, how big it was, whether it was a local or a national bubble. We certainly were aware it was a risk factor, but frankly by the time it was clear it was a bubble” it was too late to address it through monetary policy. The NYT also reported that he spoke favorably of forcing huge banks to hold much more capital, particularly if they were systemically important — so much capital, indeed, that being big would be costly. He advocated that the increased capital requirements should include capital that is more aligned with risk and able to absorb losses more effectively, and that works in a countercyclical manner, so that banks have more of it during times of stress. Does his position make sense? Does it go far enough? 

The answer is at "Making Too Big to Fail Costly."

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/03/business/03commission.html?_r=1&ref=business

Autocratic Regimes: Subject to the Domino Effect?

"In Beirut, gunfire broke out and crowds of people waved Egyptian flags. In Yemen, they gathered in front of the Egyptian Embassy chanting, 'Wake up rulers, Mubarak fell today.' In Gaza, they fired shots in the air and set off fireworks. . . . [However,] in a telling sign of the divide between the rulers and the ruled, the region’s leaders, presidents and monarchs remained largely silent." This depiction by The New York Times of ripple effects across the Middle East in the wake of the resignation of Egypt's Mubarak in February, 2011 intimates the hoped-for and feared possibility that the popular unrest could spread.  Moreover, the entire world, which had been been glued to the events unfolding in Cairo, wondered if a domino effect might be in store in countries under autocratic rule. Indeed, The New York Times wrote of a possible domino effect quite explicitly: "The popular uprising that started . . . in Tunisa had claimed its second autocratic government, this time in the largest country in the Arab world. With more protests planned in coming days, some governments were clearly worried they could be next." But do autocratic governments fall like dominos?  That is, is revolution contagious? 

The full essay is at "Autocratic Regimes."

Monday, October 9, 2017

Catalania as a State in the E.U.

When Catalania held a referendum on whether to break off from the E.U. state of Spain, the E.U.’s basic law was silent on whether a state’s region would be a new state. The Prodi Doctrine, however, states that a region seceding from a state is automatically no longer part of the European Union. Such a region would have to apply for statehood as if it had been outside of the Union. I submit that such a stance is problematic.

The full essay is at "Catalania as a State in the E.U."

Amtrak: Avoiding the Obvious

According to The New York Times, Amtrak’s management “knew for years that they would have to replace large sections of deteriorating track in Pennsylvania Station in New York City.”[1] The management instead had engineering crews apply “short-term fixes to rows of rotted ties, crumbling concrete and eroded steel.”[2] Incredulously, the management was putting off replacing the tracks in part “to give work time to a nearby passenger hall renovation.”[3] Additionally, the management sought to minimize taking tracks out of service even on weekends so as not to disrupt service. In 2017, three accidents at the station finally got the management to commit to undertake an emergency repair program that “cut back service through the summer for thousands of passengers daily.”[4] Even by the objective of minimizing impaired service, prioritizing a hall renovation and putting off needed track repairs are problematic. The deeper problem is that of seriously misjudging utility.

The full essay is at "Amtrak."

[1] Michael LaForgia, “Delaying Repairs on Decrepit Tracks,” The New York Times, October 9, 2017.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Spain’s Government: Measuring the Will of the People

“’No government in the world’ could tolerate the threatening of its unity,” said Mariano Rajoy, the prime minister of the E.U. state of Spain after a week of protests pro and con on whether the region of Catalonia should secede from the state.[1] On October 1, 2017, the region had held a referendum on the question in spite of the efforts of the state police to stop the vote. Ninety percent of the 40% of the region’s residents voted in favor of breaking off from Spain, but the active presence of the police means that the results could not be taken as an accurate reading of what the population of Catalan wanted.

[1] Patrick Kingsley and Jason Horowitz, “Amid Catalan Crisis, Thousands Hold Rallies in Madrid and Barcelona,” The New York Times, October 7, 2017.

The International System: Undermining a Ban on Nuclear Weapons

The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize went to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons for the group’s work on behalf of a global ban on nuclear weapons. Just a few months earlier, two-thirds of the U.N.’s General Assembly approved the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. “The risk of nuclear war has grown exceptionally in the last few years, and that’s why it makes this treaty and us receiving this award so important,” Beatrice Fihn of the group said.[1] Unfortunately, the stance to ban rather than merely limit nuclear weapons was already being marginalized as utopian and even potentially counter-productive even though ongoing efforts to limit the proliferation were falling short. I submit that the international system itself had become problematic, given the relatively new global threat of nuclear war.  

1.  Michael Birnhaum of the Washington Post, October 6, 2017. 

The full essay is at "A Ban on Nuclear Weapons."

Knee-Jerk Reactions: On the U.S. Government Enabling Dictators

While in the U.S. Senate, Paul Kirk, the interim U.S. Senator who took Ted Kennedy’s seat, said, “Without a legitimate and credible Afghan partner, that counterinsurgency strategy is fundamentally flawed. The current Afghan government is neither legitimate nor credible. . . . We should not send a single additional dollar in aid or add a single American serviceman or woman to the 68,000 already courageously deployed in Afghanistan until we see a meaningful move by the Karzai regime to root out its corruption.” 

The full essay is at "Enabling Dictators."

Dubai Bankers and Responsibility: A Question of Presumed Complicity

Reacting to the debt troubles of Dubai World (which was carrying $59 billion in debt in 2009), the director general of the Dubai Department of Finance, Abdulrahman al-Saleh, said  “Creditors need to take part of the responsibility for their decision to lend to the companies. They think Dubai World is part of the government, which is not correct.”  This sentence strikes me as odd.  Al-Saleh was suggesting that in deciding to make a loan to a company, a banker takes a risk, which entails the possibility of working with the company if it comes up short in cash.  Is such flexibility in the vocabulary of the typical loan officer, much less in the culture of major banks?  I doubt it.

The full essay is at "Dubai Bankers."