Friday, July 03, 2009
After my wife and I gained our citizenship, the Fourth of July is, of course, way too special. To quote from the musical, West Side Story, “I like to be in America, okay by me in America.” Perhaps it is a typical immigrant story after all when I think that my love for this country is out of the ordinary because I consciously weighed the alternatives and worked to come to America. Hey, American citizenship was not my "birthright."
Immigrating to America or any other country has never been as easy as it is now—unlike a few generations ago when most of the world’s population stayed in, or close to, the places where they were born and raised. Now, we move from state to state in this country, and we relatively effortlessly migrate across international borders, and make ourselves new homes in strange places.
In our family, my grandfather was offered a job in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) because of his valued metallurgy qualifications from a reputed Indian university. If my grandfather had sailed on that ship, for sure my family’s history would have taken a different turn. However, he was compelled to reject that offer and stay back in India, and it was not because the job did not pay enough. His mother, who was deeply rooted in traditions, threatened to commit suicide if he crossed the sea—considered as grounds for excommunication only eighty years ago!
The distance between my grandfather's hometown and Ceylon’s capital city, Colombo, was nothing—a mere 250 miles. In contrast to that, a few decades later, my wife and I travelled half way around the world—independently—in order to be here in the US. And America has been home since the day we landed in Los Angeles.
Rudyard Kipling remarked that we are not able to call the entire world our home “since man's heart is small”.Kipling, too, was a product of globalization—he was born in India to British parents, and spent his early childhood in Bombay (now Mumbai), which he described as “mother of cities to me.” And of all the places he had been to, Kipling felt that one place was special. He wrote about that in a poem entitled “Sussex”:
Each to his choice, and I rejoice
The lot has fallen to me
In a fair ground—in a fair ground—
Yea, Sussex by the sea!
As much as Kipling treasured his corner in England, I too rejoice in the fact that America is our home.
Happy Birthday, America!
(yes, this the same content from last year.)
The unemployment numbers do not look good at all. Think about the U-6 numbers then--you will lose sleep!
As far as I can make sense, the mess in Iraq has the potential to make this Great Recession a version 2.0 of the Great Depression. The contiguous geography from Iran through to Kashmir is where things can happen--for good or for bad. It is not going to be in the Israel/Syria/Lebanon area, though that status quo will continue for a long time, it seems like.
Anyway, if Iraq unravels, and Pakistan vaporizes (a chopper with 26 soldiers went down today), well, not a good scenario for anything, including a global economic recovery. And then on top of this if the monsoon in India fails, the Maoist rebels will find quite a bit of support in the impoverished rural areas. Oh crap!
(the jobs graph via Mankiw)
Thursday, July 02, 2009
Madhu is the illiterate great-great-granddaughter of emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar and has been employed to run errands in Coal India's offices.
A letter of employment will be formally handed over to her by the coal minister at a function in Calcutta next month.
She and her mother currently run a tea stall in the slums of Calcutta.
"It will great to have Madhu working for us. Actually, it will be a great tribute to the last Mughal emperor who played a key role during the first war of independence in 1857," Coal India Chairman Partha Bhattacharyya said.
I really wish George Carlin were alive and well enough to do his blunt comedy routines that are the most truthful ones on any situation. I remember how he satirized war as sex and rape--that even the terms we use are that way. I blogged about this earlier too ....
My worry is that I don't see the political situation as being much different than it has in the past. Nothing much has changed from the previous rush to failures. As readers of this blog have seen me say before: the surge succeeded tactically but failed strategically. That is, as planned, it created a breathing space in which a political breakthrough might occur. But Iraqi leaders, for whatever reason, didn't take advantage of that space, and no breakthrough occurred. All the basic issues that faced Iraq before the surge are still hanging out there: How to share oil revenue? What is the power relationship between Shia, Sunni and Kurd? Who holds power inside the Shiite community? What is the role of Iran, the biggest winner in this war so far? And will Iraq have a strong central government or be a loose confederation? And what happens when all the refugees outside the country and those displaced inside it, who I think are majority Sunni, try to go back to their old houses, now largely occupied by Shiites and protected by Shiite militias?
A secondary issue is how Iraqi forces will behave once they are operating without American forces watching them. There are a lot of "Little Saddams" in Iraq. That didn't used to be our problem-but now these guys have been trained, equipped and empowered by us.
I hope I am wrong, and that Iraq really is embarking on a new course this week. But I don't think so. So I think the real question now is: How fast will the unraveling occur?
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
Today's Hindu has one mighty long piece on Iran, and it certainly has a strong viewpoint that might surprise the typical American reader: the author, a former diplomat, opines that the Grand Ayatollah and Ahmedinajad have come out stronger, and that the UK, the US, and Obama, are now in a much weakened position with respect to Iran. Here is an excerpt:
Paradoxically, the Obama administration will now deal with a Khamenei who is at the peak of his political power. As for President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, he will now be negotiating from a position of strength. Arguably, it helps when your adversary is strong so that he can take tough decisions, but in this case the analogy may not hold.
Also, the regional milieu can only work to Iran’s advantage. Turkey distanced itself from the European opinion. Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan greeted Mr. Ahmedinejad’s victory. Moscow followed suit. Beijing has never before expressed such staunch solidarity with the Iranian regime. Neither Syria nor Hezbollah and Hamas showed any inclination to disengage from Iran. True, Syria’s ties with Saudi Arabia improved in the last six months and Damascus welcomes the Obama administration’s recent overtures. But far from adopting the Saudi or U.S. agenda toward Tehran, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem openly criticised the legitimacy of the street protests in Tehran.He warned last Sunday when the Tehran streets were witnessing unrest: “Anyone betting on the fall of the Iranian regime will be a loser. The  Islamic revolution is a reality, deeply-rooted in Iran, and the international community [read U.S.] must live with that.” Mr. Moallem called for the “establishment of a dialogue between Iran and the United States based on mutual respect and non-interference in Iran’s affairs.” ....
All things taken into account, therefore, there has been a goof-up of major proportions in Washington. The Obama magic suddenly wore off when he sounded like George W. Bush in disregarding convention and courtesy, contrary to the abundant promise in the Cairo speech. It is inconceivable that the Obama administration harboured the notion that the commotion in Tehran’s middle-class districts would weaken the Iranian regime or make it diffident and dilute its resolve while the critical negotiations on the nuclear and other issues regarding the situation around Iran commenced.
Mr. Ahmedinejad left hardly anything to interpretation when he stated in Tehran on Saturday: “Without doubt, Iran’s new government will have a more decisive and firmer approach towards the West. This time the Iranian nation’s reply will be harsh and more decisive” and will aim at making the West regret its “meddlesome stance.”
Yes, it is easy for me to comment and editorialize about the big (and small) issues of the day. But, hey, that is what democracy is all about. In fact, I wish more people would do the same. Those of you reading this, well, start your own blog. Write to your elected reps. Better yet, unseat them next time around!!!
I have been cautiously optimistic about BHO ever since his campaign days. My first red flag was when I heard him being interviewed on NPR--I think it was with Michelle Norris. This was way back, even before he announced his candidacy. She asked Obama more than once whether he was planning on a presidential bid. And, every time Obama hedged his responses so well that I kept thinking he reminded me of somebody, but I could not place who it was.
Later as the campaign picked up momentum, I concluded (and shared with maybe two or three people) that it was Bill Clinton he reminded me of, and that Obama was Slick Willie without the sex :-) Of course, I will gladly take a Slick Willie without sex over the muddler from Midland, or the phoenix that is older than the pyramids. But, hey, Obama is slickness as we have never seen before.
The two or three people I shared this with thought I was being cynical. My daughter calls me a naysayer. I call myself a realistic and cautious optimist. Which is probably why the David Brooks column appealed to me--about BHO prioritizing legislative pragmatism. And, that is also why I find this FT column by Clive Crook so apropos; here is an excerpt:
Yes, it is easy for me to write such stuff, and it is way harder--immensely more difficult--to not only lead the country, but also set the pace for the entire world. But, you know, even Rama had his critiques!
On both climate change and healthcare, in other words, the US wills the end but not the means. This is where a president trusted by the electorate and unafraid to explain hard choices would be so valuable. Barack Obama, where are you?
The president has cast himself not as a leader of reform, but as a cheerleader for “reform” – meaning anything, really, that can plausibly be called reform, however flawed. He has defined success down so far that many kinds of failure now qualify. Without hesitating, he has cast aside principles he emphasised during the campaign. On healthcare, for instance, he opposed an individual insurance mandate. On climate change, he was firm on the need to auction all emissions permits. Congress proposes to do the opposite in both cases and Mr Obama’s instant response is: “That will do nicely.”
The White House calls this pragmatism. Never let the best be the enemy of the good. Better to take one step forward than blah, blah, blah. The argument sounds appealing and makes some sense, but is worth probing.
First one must ask whether the bills really do represent progress, however modest. As they stand, this is doubtful, especially in the case of cap-and-trade. Then one must ask whether the US will get to where it needs to be on climate change and healthcare via a series of small steps. Perhaps the country has just one chance in the foreseeable future to get it right. The White House has said as much: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Botch these policies this time, and it may be years before Congress can start again.
A White House that is more interested in promotion than in product development has another great drawback: it squanders talent. Mr Obama has impeccable taste in advisers: he has scooped up many of the country’s pre-eminent experts in almost every area of public policy. One wonders why. On the main domestic issues, they are not designing policy; they are working the phones, drumming up support for bills they would be deploring if they were not in the administration. Apart from anything else, this seems cruel. Mr President, examine your conscience and set your experts free.The greatest waste of talent in all this, however, is that of Mr Obama himself. Congress offers change without change – a green economy built on cheap coal and petrol; a healthcare transformation that asks nobody to pay more taxes or behave any differently – because that is what voters want. Is it too much to ask that Mr Obama should tell voters the truth?
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
I am pulling together a special symposium on opium poppy for the 2010 AAG meeting and I was wondering if you know of anyone in the Economic Geography group who might be looking at Afghanistan or on illicit drugs, in particular opium poppy, from an economic geography point of view.I will watch out for that session at the AAG. BTW, I wonder if there will be show-and-tell presentations :-)
Dr Jarvis, chairman of the British Medical Association's public health committee, has been working for the Health Protection Agency in the north west to help test, diagnose and treat people who have got swine flu.
He said: "I have heard of reports of people throwing swine flu parties.
"I don't think it is a good idea. I would not want it myself.
"It is quite a mild virus, but people still get ill and there is a risk of mortality."
I suppose these party-organizers have been victims of Britain's notorious mad cow disease!
But the new approach comes with its own shortcomings. To understand them, we have to distinguish between two types of pragmatism. There is legislative pragmatism — writing bills that can pass. Then there is policy pragmatism — creating programs that work. These two pragmatisms are in tension, and in their current frame of mind, Democrats often put the former before the latter.In other words, this will soon bug the life out of the ultra-left. And, in fact, they have already complained about: the pro-corporate tilt of the bailouts; escalation of war in Afghanistan; the relative inaction on Don't-ask-don't-tell and gay marriage; and, soon, in healthcare.
I differ (or perhaps add) to Brooks with this: Clinton did have to work with a Republican Congress from two years into his term. It was not merely the healthcare fiasco that triggered the loss of Congressional leadership; it was a highly focused "Contract with America" platform led by Newt Gingrich and his allies. One could argue that the Republicans are in such disarray because, among other things, they could not stay true to that Contract. But, that is for another day. In Obama's case, the ultra-left's complaint has been that Obama has elevated legislative pragmatism when he does not really have to, given the huge majorities Democrats have and his own popularity ratings. So, while Clinton had to compromise, does Obama really need to water down his policies?
I suppose these questions are not that different from the conclusion that Brooks draws:
Brooks need to do one more: combine the dominant (approval rating) executive branch with a dominant (majorities) Congress, with both coming from the same party. Meanwhile, the opposition has no leader, and is in shambles. In such a contemporary scenario, where from comes the mishmash? I think there is no excuse for mishmash.
The great paradox of the age is that Barack Obama, the most riveting of recent presidents, is leading us into an era of Congressional dominance. And Congressional governance is a haven for special interest pleading and venal logrolling.When the executive branch is dominant you often get coherent proposals that may not pass. When Congress is dominant, as now, you get politically viable mishmashes that don’t necessarily make sense.
Monday, June 29, 2009
Mankiw has also commented on it. He starts with:
In a brief blog post on healthcare, Paul Krugman says that George Will and I are "either remarkably ignorant or simply disingenuous." I cannot speak for George, but I can attest that I am completely ingenuous. So I suppose I must be remarkably ignorant.The best would have been if Mankiw had not typed the sentence on how he must be remarkably ignorant. But, that is ok. He then discusses the content, with a bunch of hyperlinks--which is exactly how intellectual discussion ought to happen. At the end, Mankiw writes:
On the issue of tone, I again think I understand Paul's point of view. He likely believes that civility is overrated. He seems to think that in the blogosphere, and perhaps in the public debate more generally, you score points simply by insulting your intellectual adversaries. Sadly, I am afraid he may be right.Yes, that is the unfortunate case. Krugman, too, seems to have fallen into the attack the person style argument. Now, in case one thought that this was a casual blog post where Krugman made such an observation, well, in his published column he charged opponents of climate-change legislation with "treason." That was simply awful. I mean, to go down that Cheney/Bush/Rove road of labelling dissenters as traitors is not kosher at all.
John Cole notes:
I am a tad super-sensitive about this because I have simply had it with my colleagues whose preferred option was always the ad hominem route. They have succeeded though in completely silencing me. The success of this route is why university faculty use it, and so do newspaper columnists and Nobel-prize winners. And, of course, that is why the Grand Ayatollah uses it in Iran as well.
There needs to be some form of one of the corollaries to Godwin’s Law that applies to the word treason, in that anyone who accuses someone of treason for non-treasonous behavior automatically loses the argument. Yes, the climate change deniers are, in my opinion, wrong, and yes, they are making all sorts of ridiculous arguments, but after the last eight years, can everyone just knock it off with the accusations of treason? It is just a loaded term and does no good, and I assure you that even though Krugman is arguing for “treason against the planet” (whatever the hell that means), this will be used to justify future right-wing claims of treason because Dick Durbin mentioned Pol Pot and the US Army in the same hour, or some other nonsense like that.
Christ. Just stop it.
And I say this as someone who is hesitant to criticize Krugman, because every time I pop off at the mouth he turns out to be right.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
The editors of Healthcare Quarterly have this to say to potential authors:
Note, however, that "healthcare" is one word as both an adjective and a noun.Digressing is easy, I suppose. So, coming back back to the intent of this post, it is great fun watching from the sidelines two economists duking it out. In his business column, Greg Mankiw explained why he did not favor a public health insurance option. Mankiw's bottom line appears to be that government as a monopsony could drive away the incentives that otherwise attract growth and development in the industry:
a monopsony — a buyer without competitors — can reduce the price it pays below the competitive level by reducing the quantity it demands.This lesson applies directly to the market for health care. If the government has a dominant role in buying the services of doctors and other health care providers, it can force prices down.To which Krugman responds rather nastily. It is nasty because he does not stick to arguing the points of the case (and there is a great case to be made for the public option) but he editorializes and calls names. Unwarranted. Krugman writes:
To act all wide-eyed and innocent about these problems at this late date is either remarkably ignorant or simply disingenuous.A Nobel-prize winning public intellectual ought to be a better role model than this. Oh well!
Hey, give credit where it is due, eh!
Sometimes, I worry, though, that what oil money is to Russia, our ability to print money is to America. Look at the billions we just printed to bail out two dinosaurs: General Motors and Chrysler.Lately, there has been way too much talk about minting dollars and too little about minting our next Thomas Edison, Bob Noyce, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Vint Cerf, Jerry Yang, Marc Andreessen, Sergey Brin, Bill Joy and Larry Page. Adding to that list is the only stimulus that matters. Otherwise, we’re just Russia with a printing press.