Monthly Archives: January 2009

Why Not Start Your Weekend on Wednesday?

Slate’s Tim Harford doles out some solid advice.

I already do!

Stimulus Skeptics

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on the economy (on purpose- aren’t we all sick of this topic already), BUT to mark the end of prorogation tomorrow, I thought I’d highlight this online squabble between two heavyweight academics (I can hear the groans from where I’m sitting).

In his post entitled “Economists, Ideology and Stimulus,” Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman goes after some bigtime conservative academics:

What’s been disturbing, however, is the parade of first-rate economists making totally non-serious arguments against fiscal expansion. You’ve got John Taylor arguing for permanent tax cuts as a response to temporary shocks, apparently oblivious to the logical problems…You’ve got Gary Becker apparently unaware that monetary policy has hit the zero lower bound. And you’ve got Greg Mankiw — well, I don’t know what Greg actually believes, he just seems to be approvingly linking to anyone opposed to stimulus, regardless of the quality of their argument.

Greg Mankiw doesn’t take the hit lying down and responds with the following on his own blog:

If Paul really wants to know what I believe, he can read what I have written on the subject.

Let me make one thing clear: When I link to another economist here on this blog, it is typically because I think his or her arguments are worth hearing and thinking about, not necessarily because I agree with all of them…It is true that I have linked more to those opposed. That is partly a reflection of my opinion on the issue. It is also partly to provide a counterpoint to the view disingenuously promoted by some members of the incoming administration that almost all major economists are lined up behind their stimulus plans. As Paul’s list of prominent stimulus skeptics documents well, that is simply not the case.

For those of you who don’t follow the riveting world of economic academia (most of you, I hope), Krugman has singled out some very well respected economists in the field- all whom have expressed doubts about the potential efficacy of a stimulus package. Despite my liberal tendencies, I’m going to have to agree with Mankiw on this one. Around the world, the public seems to have unequivocally decided that the a large federal stimulus is absolutely critical to spurring the economy. The debate on the stimulus has been virtually non-existent- the necessity of some sort of plan appears to be a forgone conclusion, with the ensuing debate revolving around what to fund and how much to give. If nothing else, these rare contrarian views inject a healthy dose of skepticism into the discussion. [If I learnt anything in high school English class, it was to question everything]. 

Now, I haven’t read enough to really understand the economic intricacies of the debate, but I’d probably be more inclined to support a federal stimulus over corporate tax cuts [if only because I can’t see all of this lost revenue  trickling back into the economy]. I will though, express some concern over the importance of how this money is to be spent. With Harper’s budget to be released tomorrow, I’m curious as to where all this money is going to go. As the Economist pointed out sometime back, the last thing we need is more bridges to nowhere.

Everyone’s a little bit racist?

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An article in this week’s Economist confirms what Avenue Q fans have suspected all along: everyone’s a little bit racist (not to mention sexist, ageist and superficial). According to behavioural scientists, we’re all a little more prejudiced than we’d like to let on. A series of new studies reveals the surprisingly large dichotomy between what we say and what we do: 

When it came to salary, location and holiday, the students’ decisions matched their stated preferences. However, the boss’s sex turned out to be far more important than they said it was (this was true whether a student was male or female). In effect, they were willing to pay a 22% tax on their starting salary to have a male boss.

 

The results/methodology of these studies don’t seem to be particularly novel to me. In fact, I think I remember reading about something similar called the Harvard Implicit Association Tests in Blink. (If you haven’t already, click on the link to find take an online IAT test- definitely worth doing). 

Regardless of their novelty, the survey has some interesting implications.

I have to say that I was genuinely surprised that people would be willing to pay a 22% tax in salary, in order to work for a male boss. That particualar result absolutely boggles my mind. Maybe because I’m a woman (and also because I’ve worked with some very competent women), I have a hard time believing that any student my age would really consider the sex of his boss as a job search criteria. I’d love to hear more about the rationale behind this particular prejudice. Is it an overall competence thing? Do people think women are particularly bad leaders? Is it a nostalgic homage to the Mad Men world, where everyone imagines their first boss to be some incarnation of Don Draper. Did the men and women equally prefer a male boss? Or was it a case of male students not wanting to work under a female? As a woman 

Other thoughts:

What part of these results are really a function of “subconscious” bias versus an unwillingness to be seen as prejudice on a survey (i.e. a Bradley effect type phenomenon)? I bet there are a least a few people who wouldn’t answer a survey question 100% truthfully for fear of social judgement.

If we are to believe these survey results,  then the question becomes: how do you begin to eliminate systemic prejudice that is so engrained we don’t even know that it’s there? How do you get rid of something that’s essentially a subconscious thought process in someone’s head? If nothing else, this evidence confirms the dangers of reinforcing commonly-assumed cultural stereotypes- no matter how glib the context, apparently our brains absorb the content. [I wonder if this is the real rationale for these conversation cops?]

Better than Banksy?

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The funniest story of the week comes from the Czech Republic, where government officials recently unvieled a work of art commissioned to commemorate the country’s presidency of the EU. The installation, titled Entropa, was meant to be a mosaic created by 27 different European artists, but instead was the handiwork of one David Černý, a controversial Czech sculptor. The whole thing is a hilarious piece of satire, which lampoons famous cultural stereotypes:

Germany is represented by intersecting “autobahns” that form the shape of a Swastika.

Bulgaria is represented by a toilet.

Romania is a dracula theme park.

The country of France is depicted as perpetually “on strike.”

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Artist: 1, EU: 0

Gossip Girl- PG edition

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The Globe has an article today about the growing popularity of PG-rated gossip sites like teenvogue.com. The sites offer squeaky clean gossip for tweens who want to hear the latest news on Miley or the Jonas brothers, without having their better sensibilities compromised:

You won’t find any trash talk about Disney singer Miley Cyrus’s virginity, the sexual orientation of High School Musical‘s Zac Efron or anyone’s rampant drug use.

While the TMZs and Perez Hiltons of the online gossip industry dominate the field with juicy tales of sex scandals and snarky potshots, decidedly parent-friendly niche sites catering to tweens and teens are consistently building their traffic.

Disney has yet another outlet to push their factory-manufactured pop-stars. Actually, I’ve always felt the marketing of chastity and innocence to be a bit dubious. If these tween-age fans are so averse to “salacious” scandals, why even bring up the issue of sex in the first place? Are teenage stars who wear promise rings really more marketable than those who don’t?  Or is the issue mainly about  marketing to parents? Anyways, advertising the squeaky clean images can’t possibly be sustainable.  If nothing else, it just makes these young starlets targets for inevitable scandal- after all, I imagine its difficult to live up to a made up persona.

What’s even more ironic  for me is this awkward pop-culture transition from  chaste tween to over-sexed teen. How does a star-struck fan reconcile the wholesome morals of Hannah Montana with the “everyone does it” promiscuity of Gossip Girl? That’s a lot of growing up to be doing between the ages of 12-15.I’m not actually sure which paradigm is more damaging for a girl’s psyche: the repression associated with complete abstinence or the pressure and expectation that follows hypersexuality. No wonder we all grow up to be jaded and sarcastic bloggers!

Plouffe’s Master Plan

Found this interesting presentation given by Rahaf Harfoush, who runs a new media consulting firm in Toronto, and worked on the Obama campaign in Chicago. She breaks down Obama’s new media strategy, which has clearly emerged as the difference-maker in the last election:

Can’t help but wonder how (or if) our Canadian politicians might learn from these strategies in the impending election (we’ll definitely have one in 2009).

In related news,  David Plouffe,  a.k.a one of the  mastermind’s behind Obama’s campaign strategy was recently in Toronto. It seems like he’s making the speaking circuit rounds, doing early promotions for his yet-to-be-written book on the campaign.  If we aren’t all already sick of hearing about the 2008 election (for the record, I’m clearly o.k with analyzing it to death), we will be soon!

Youtube symphony orchestra

How ridiculous is this?

Another excellent example of the collaborative power of new media. YouTube’s done a great job setting this up, with help from Tan Dun (a top notch composer) and the London Symphony Orchestra.  I can’t wait to see the finished video. Check out the Youtube Symphony Channel for more info. They even have master classes for each instrument as well as some unintentionally hilarious “personal conductor” videos: