“Liberty and Life”

  

(p. 8)  At the time of last month’s referendum on Mr. Chávez’s efforts to remake the Constitution to his liking, I got to know some of the “chamos,” as the student activists are known. What struck me was not only how effective they were, but how different their movement was from almost all its many antecedents in the region.

Most important, the Venezuelans are not calling for socialist revolution, but for liberal democracy. Instead of vindicating the statist ideologies of the 20th century or the romantic passions of the 19th, they have embraced classic 18th-century humanism.

. . .

Will they make up a new political party? Can they remain united? Their enemy is formidable, and the chances of a violent or even tragic conclusion are very likely. But against the Chávez slogan, “Socialism or Death,” they have their own: “Liberty and Life.” In the battle of words they might have the upper hand. Perhaps they can take hope from a line by the Mexican poet-diplomat Octavio Paz: “We must give back transparency to words.” 

 

For the full commentary, see: 

ENRIQUE KRAUZE.  “Humanizing the Revolution.”  The New York Times, Week in Review section (Sun., December 30, 2007):  8. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

Information Technology Increases Choices on Where to Live

 

Stephanie and Bill Faunce moved their marketing company from Los Angeles to Steamboat Springs, Colorado.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

Information technology is making life better by providing greater choice on where to live.  There is still a lively debate about which regions and cities will prosper.

One popular take on this issue is Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class.  

 

(p. A1)  As technology enables people to live and work wherever they want, increasingly they are clustering in resort playgrounds like Steamboat Springs (pop. 9,315) that have natural amenities, good weather — and, now, lots of people like themselves.

In places like Nantucket, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Teton County, Idaho, the migrants are creating hybrid communities, implanting urban incomes, tastes, careers, ambitions, restaurants, cultural activities and networking opportunities into small towns that un-(p. A15)til recently could support none of these, and for which there has been little planning and still no consensus.

“You are seeing a transformation of rural communities,” said Jonathan Schechter, executive director of the Charture Institute in Jackson, Wyo., a nonprofit organization that studies small recreational towns.

Into quiet resort spots the migrants have come, laptops on their knees: fund managers from New York, software developers from California, consultants, proofreaders, engineers, inventors. “The same processes that led to the suburbanization of the United States after World War II,” Mr. Schechter said, “are now producing a virtual suburbanization in places like Jackson or Steamboat Springs.”

From 2000 to 2006, population in the 297 counties rated highest in natural amenities by the United States Department of Agriculture grew by 7.1 percent, 10 times the rate for the 1,090 rural counties with below-average amenities, the department reported.

In towns that once emptied after the ski season or the beach season, these “location-neutral” migrants are complicating the traditional dynamic between tourists and locals. Here as elsewhere, average homes have become unaffordable for teachers, firefighters and others — the people who created the good schools and community closeness that newcomers said drew them. The rate of change “is causing a whiplash,” Mr. Schechter said, “because the towns don’t have the political and economic systems in place to deal with them.”

Routt County, which includes Steamboat Springs, is one of the first places to identify these new émigrés as a source of economic growth and, paradoxically, community stability. A 2005 survey found that as many as 1 in 10 year-round households was involved in a location-neutral business. Unlike retirees and second-home buyers, who are also roosting in vacation towns, they send children to the local schools. “Without kids, you don’t have a community,” said Scott Ford, a counselor at the Small Business Resource Center at Colorado Mountain College.

Cloistered in home offices, isolated from the local economy, location-neutrals are often invisible even to one another, except when they appear on local committees.

Many work as hard as their urban counterparts, often juggling commitments in several time zones, but can step from their offices to a hiking trail or mountain stream.

. . .

For Bill and Stephanie Faunce, who run a marketing company for cable operators, small-town life often means starting work at 7 a.m. and quitting at 11 p.m., but with breaks to hike, ski or be with their two young children. Their goal in coming here was not to slow down but to eliminate urban distractions and pressures.

“There are no stressors here,” said Mr. Faunce, 43. “In L.A., it took 90 minutes to get to the office, so we had a Mercedes and a Land Rover. Now we drive a Suburban. In three years we’ve put 15,000 miles on it.”

 

For the full story, see:

JOHN LELAND.  "Off to Resorts, and Carrying Their Careers."  The New York Times  (Mon., August 13, 2007):  A1 & A15.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

The reference for Florida’s book, is:

Florida, Richard. The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life. New York: Basic Books, 2002.

 

UrbanRefugeesMaps.gif   Source of maps:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 

Marconi Matters

 

    Source of book image:  http://palmaddict.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/big_larsonthunderstruckdrm_1.jpg

 

Larson’s book plays off a murder mystery against Marconi as the innovator who brought us communication through the air. 

I’m most enthused about hte Marconi part.  It shows how he proceeded against the theorists of the day, whose theories told them that what he was trying to do was impossible.  He was more entrepreneur, than scientist.  And it turned out that it was a good thing that the theoretical scientists did not rule, as they might if all decisions about technology were made by the government.

What happened here is an example of what Taleb would call a Black Swan.

 

Source:

Larson, Erik. Thunderstruck. New York: Crown, 2006.

 

New Orleans City Hall Tramples Property Rights by Demolishing Repaired Homes

 

NewOrleansDeboseHome1.jpg    "City officials in New Orleans put this house, which flooded up to the floorboards when Hurricane Katrina hit and has undergone $90,000 in repairs, on a list of properties to be demolished because it supposedly was "in imminent danger of collapse.""  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. A1)  NEW ORLEANS — IdaBelle Joshua worked hard to take care of her two-story house in the Lower Ninth Ward, even after Hurricane Katrina flooded it up to the roof and exiled her 150 miles away.

She spent $5,000 to have the brick house gutted, $275 to clean it and then went to City Hall on July 5 to make sure 2611 Forstall St. wasn’t on a list of derelict properties here facing demolition because of storm damage. Two city employees assured her that the house was safe, she says.

Two days later, her nephew called. He had gone by to mow the lawn. But the house where Ms. Joshua and her late husband had raised three children was gone. It had been knocked down by the city. Since then, she has been trying to get an explanation, but with no luck.

"I’m a 79-year-old senior citizen, crippled and can’t travel, and I can’t pay anybody," she says. "I will be dead and gone by the time I get any recourse from the city. It’s a travesty."

. . .

(p. A10)  For many, though, getting off the demolition list is an exercise in futility. Owners are told to object in writing, but the city hasn’t spelled out its rules for granting a reprieve — or proof a house is safe from bulldozers. Ms. Breaux says the city is about to put more information on its Web site, including a search engine so owners can keep track of their property’s status. Officials also plan to increase staffing in the City Hall department in charge of demolitions.

After $90,000 in post-Katrina repairs, the granite kitchen countertops at Chanel Debose’s house at 3519 Washington Ave. are gleaming again. Workers just scraped the front porch for a new coat of paint. But her house also wound up on the demolition list.

When the storm hit, Ms. Debose and her husband rescued about 25 people in his fishing boat before giving it away and trudging out of the city on foot. She is angry that anyone trying to save New Orleans could have so much trouble fighting city hall.

"There’s no due process here," she says. "It’s their process."

 

For the full story, see: 

RICK BROOKS.  "Katrina Survivors Face New Threat: City Demolition Some Salvaged Homes End Up on Condemned List; Ms. Debose’s Due Process."  The Wall Street Journal  (Thurs., August 9, 2007):  A1 & A10.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

NewOrleansDeboseHome2.jpg    "Mrs. Debose, a 36-year-old lawyer, used to dream about living here when she was growing up in a housing project nearby. "Ooh, when I get rich, I’m going to buy that house someday," she recalls thinking. She and her husband, Stanley, rescued about 25 people in his boat after Katrina inundated the neighborhood."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

 

Raghuram Rajan on the Current Economic Downturn and the Subprime Mortgage Mess

 

       “Traders in the oil futures pit of the New York Mercantile Exchange on Tuesday” (January 22. 2008).  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT commentary quoted and cited below. 

 

Raghuram Rajan is mentioned in the article quoted below.  I first ran across him as the co-author of a book that was billed as applying Schumpeterian ideas of creative destruction to issues of economic growth and development. 

Then, at the American Economic Association meetings in New Orleans in early January, I was on my way to a History of Economics Society reception, when I stumbled by chance into a modest reception in which Rajan was giving an informal speech on the subprime mortgage crisis.

It was such an interesting presentation, that I ended up totally missing the History of Economics Society reception.  Rajan argued that the main problem was one of misguided incentives.  Bonuses at top investment firms like Merrrill Lynch and JPMorgan Chase, are supposed to go to those whose investments produce high returns, with modest risks.  The problem with the complicated securities based on the subprime mortgages was that they produced high returns, but the risks were actually also fairly high.  The high-flying investors probably had some knowledge of this, but the public did not.  In most years the investors could invest in the high return, but high risk, securities, and collect huge bonuses.  But now the chickens have come home to roost.

Rajan suggested that the answer would be a change in the way in which the traders are given bonuses.  Instead of handing them out annually, let them become vested only after observing the investment’s track record for several years.  If the investment goes south before the bonus is vested, the trader does not get the bonus.  This would provide an incentive and reward for those who accurately accessed the risk of their investments. 

 

(p. A1)  . . . , Wall Street hasn’t yet come clean. Even after last week, when JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo announced big losses in their consumer credit businesses, financial service firms have still probably gone public with less than half of their mortgage-related losses, according to Moody’s Economy.com. They’re not being dishonest; they just haven’t untangled all of their complex investments.

“Part of the big uncertainty,” Raghuram G. Rajan, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, said, “is where the bodies are buried.”

As Mr. Rajan pointed out, this situation is more severe than the crisis involving Long Term Capital Management in the late 1990s. That was a case in which a limited set of bad investments, largely at one firm, had the potential to drive down the value of other firms’ holdings in the short term. Those firms then might have stopped lending money because they no longer had the capital to do so. But their own balance sheets were largely healthy.

This time, the firms are facing real losses, which will almost certainly curtail lending, and economic growth, this year.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

DAVID LEONHARDT.  “ECONOMIC SCENE; Worries That the Good Times Were Mostly a Mirage.”  The New York Times  (Weds., January 23, 2008):  A1 & A23.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

The Schumpeterian book co-authored by Rajan, is:

Rajan, Raghuram G., and Luigi Zingales.  Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists:  Unleashing the Power of Financial Markets to Create Wealth and Spread Opportunity.  New York:  Crown, 2003.

 

Free Market Can Provide Better, Cheaper Health Care

 

   "Eve Linney, 5, who had an infected finger, went with her family last week to a walk-in clinic at a Duane Reade drugstore on Broadway in Manhattan. Her father, John, is at the counter."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.  

 

Clayton Christensen and co-authors in Seeing What’s Next, make a plausible case for the improvement of health care through disruptive innovation.  A key aspect of their vision is the increasing role of nurse-practitioners in taking on increasingly routinized tasks, a development they see as generally both effective, and cost-efficient.

The article excerpted below suggests that this trend is promising, if it does not get killed by the government, and by organized medical doctors protecting their turf from competition.

 

(p. A1)  The concept has been called urgent care “lite”:  Patients who are tired of waiting days to see a doctor for bronchitis, pinkeye or a sprained ankle can instead walk into a nearby drugstore and, at lower cost, with brief waits, see a doctor or a nurse and then fill a prescription on the spot.

With demand for primary care doctors surpassing the supply in many parts of the country, the number of these retail clinics in drugstores has exploded over the past two years, and several companies operating them are now aggressively seeking to open clinics in New York City. 

. . .

More than 700 clinics are operating across the country at chain stores including Wal-Mart, CVS, Walgreens and Duane Reade.

New York State regulators are investigating the business relationships between drugstore companies and medical providers to determine whether the clinics are being used improperly to increase business or steer patients to the pharmacies in which the clinics are located.

And doctors’ groups, whose members stand to lose business from the clinics, are citing concerns about standards of care, safety and hygiene, and they have urged the federal and state governments to step in to more rigorously regulate the new businesses.

. . .

(p. A16)  Patients, however, have flocked to the clinics, according to a new industry group, the Convenient Care Association.

“I think it’s great you don’t have to make an appointment. That could take weeks,” said Ezequiel Strachan, 33, who lives in Manhattan and walked into the clinic at the Duane Reade store at 50th Street and Broadway on a recent morning for treatment of a sore throat. “People here value their time a lot.”

The average waiting time for an exam at such clinics nationwide is 15 to 25 minutes, according to the Convenient Care Association.

The association estimated that 70 percent of clinic patients have health insurance and are using the clinics because of convenience. For them, costs may not be much different from those at doctors’ offices, because the same insurance co-payments apply. But uninsured patients could reap substantial savings.

In New York City, one in five residents lacks a regular doctor and one in six is uninsured, according to a recent survey by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and overcrowded emergency rooms are often their first resort for routine care.

. . .

MinuteClinic officials insisted that there was nothing improper in the relationships between providers and the drugstores and that medical care is not being compromised.

“We are transparent with regulators,” said Michael C. Howe, the chief executive of MinuteClinic, which is based in Minneapolis and operates more than 200 clinics nationwide. using the motto “You’re Sick, We’re Quick.”

Mr. Howe said the concerns of doctors’ groups and other critics “are being raised by voices of people who have not really studied the model.”

Preliminary data from a two-year study of claims from MinuteClinic by a Minnesota health maintenance organization, HealthPartners, which was released to The Minneapolis Star Tribune in July, showed that each visit to the retail clinic cost an average of $18 less than a visit to other primary-care clinics, but that pharmacy costs were $4 higher per patient.

Duane Reade, New York City’s largest drugstore chain, which opened four clinics in Manhattan in May, plans to open as many as 60 more across the city in the next 18 months. A key difference at the Duane Reade clinics is that they use doctors, while nurse practitioners and physician assistants typically provide the care at most retail clinics.

 

For the full story, see:

SARAH KERSHAW.  "Tired of Waiting for a Doctor?  Try the Drugstore."  The New York Times  (Thurs., . August 23, 2007):  A1 & A16.

(Note:  the title of the online version is "Drugstore Clinics Spread, and Scrutiny Grows."  Ellipses added.)

 

   "Dr. Maggie Bertisch saw Eve while her mother, Claire, waited."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.  

 

Global Warming May Give U.S. Access to Big Deposits of Oil, Gas and Minerals

 

   The icebreaker Healy finished a new survey of the seafloor off the northern coast of Alaska.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. A16)  A new survey by American oceanographers of the seafloor north of Alaska, completed last month aboard the Coast Guard icebreaker Healy, provides fresh evidence that the United States has much at stake in the region. The sonar studies found hints that thousands of square miles of additional seafloor could potentially be under American control. That floor might yield important deposits of oil, gas or minerals in coming decades, government studies have concluded.

So far did the sea ice pull back this summer that the expedition was able to scan the bottom several hundred miles farther north than in previous surveys, said the project’s director, Larry Mayer, an oceanographer at the University of New Hampshire. The team found long sloping extensions 200 miles beyond previous estimates.

Though more surveys will be needed to firm up any American claim, countries have a right to expand their control of seabed resources well beyond the continental shelves bordering their coasts if they can find such sloping extensions.

 

For the full story, see: 

MATTHEW L. WALD and ANDREW C. REVKIN.  "New Task for Coast Guard In Arctic’s Warming Seas."  The New York Times   (Fri., October 19, 2007):  A16.