Source of book image: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/product-description/0743237536/104-0088216-5679944
Today’s review of the new Gene Sperling economic policy book in the New York Times Book Review, begins by emphasizing Sperling’s importance in the Clinton administration:
(p. 16) If you were inclined to identify Clintonism with a single person other than the big man himself, that person might well be Gene Sperling – a top campaign adviser in 1992; a tireless advocate of fiscal discipline during the first term; an inveterate policy wonk throughout all eight years of the administration. So it’s little surprise that this book-length vision for a Democratic economic strategy can best be described as Clintonism 2.0.
NOAM SCHEIBER. “Clintonism 2.0.” The New York Times Book Review, Section 7 (Sun., January 22, 2006): 16.
Here is the opening paragraph of Sperling’s chapter one, which is entitled ” Growing Together in the Dynamism Economy.”
In the 1990s, a new economic era was created when a period of intense globalization collided with an information technology revolution. Yet precisely defining a "new" economy is less important than understanding the nature of the change. I believe a more descriptive label is the “dynamism” economy. Of course, dynamic change in market economies is hardly new. The mid-twentieth-century economist Joseph Schumpeter identified the process of “creative destruction,” positing that a healthy market economy is continually moving forward, replacing old capital, old industries — and existing jobs — with more productive alternatives. Yet, what feels most “new” for average citizens is the breakneck speed at which the increased globalization, rapid technological advance, and the explosion of the Internet are putting fierce competitive pressures on the economy and accelerating change not only in products and services, but also in entire job categories and industries.
Part of the first chapter is viewable at Amazon.com. The book citation is: Sperling, Gene. The Pro-Growth Progressive: An Economic Strategy for Shared Prosperity. Simon & Schuster, 2005.
“Dynamism” as a descriptor for the good society also appeals to libertarian economics columnist Virginia Postrel, author of The Future and Its Enemies and webmaster of dynamist.com.
(p. 1A) ORD, Neb. – Carl and Charlene Schauer were upset and more than a little offended when the City Council declared their 50-acre cornfield “blighted and substandard.”
Nothing is wrong with the cornfield, located almost five miles outside of town.
Nothing – except its proximity to the site of a proposed $75 million ethanol plant that local officials say will bring 34 jobs to the community of 2,300.
Invented to give cities the power to enlist private development in clearing slums, the “blighted and substandard” designation has become a critical tool for economic development projects across Nebraska.
It allows cities to use property taxes to help pay development costs on behalf of private enterprise, under a mechanism called tax increment financing. That allows increased property taxes generated by improvements of blighted property to be used to help fund the redevelopment.
Blighted land even can be condemned through eminent domain, then turned over to private developers. That practice was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.
Stunned by that ruling, several Nebraska lawmakers have introduced legislation to prevent local governments from using eminent domain to acquire private property that would be turned over to another private (p. 2A) owner for economic development.
Three bills (Legislative Bills 924, 910 and 799) specifically protect agricultural land, forbidding governments to declare it blighted. A fourth bill (LB 1252) would limit eminent domain to public projects like parks and roads.
And State Sen. Matt Connealy of Decatur proposes a constitutional amendment (LR 272 CA) to remove the requirement that land be designated as substandard and blighted before cities can use property taxes to help private developers pay project costs.
Connealy said it appears some smaller cities are pushing the boundaries of the blight definition.
The Ord ethanol project has been touted by Gov. Dave Heineman, the New York Times and others as an example of small-town hustle and progress.
Carl Schauer’s son, Curt, and his wife, Susan, however, have gone to court to try to stop it.
They live directly across Nebraska Highway 11 from Carl Schauer’s cornfield. Although not included in the proposed ethanol site, their home is less than 1,000 feet from where the plant would be built. They are worried about noise, smell, traffic and health hazards from the around-the-clock operation.
“I guess we’re the sacrificial lambs in the name of economic development,” said Susan Schauer, a licensed practical nurse.
A local official said the city does not want to take even the smallest part of Curt Schauer’s property if he doesn’t want to sell it.
“I don’t think anybody in this community would ever do that,” said Bethanne Kunz of the Valley County Economic Development Board.
After Schauer rejected an offer to buy a strip of his land for a railcar loading area, Kunz said, the ethanol site was reconfigured to leave out Schauer’s property. The field was annexed by the city as part of a redevelopment zone under a Nebraska law that allows small towns and villages to acquire outlying land through “remote annexation.”
The Schauer family still doesn’t know why the field was declared blighted – and it’s worried that the designation could spell trouble. Could their land be taken if another new factory wanted to locate in the area?
“I think it’s wrong that government can take private property and turn it over to private enterprise,” said State Sen. Tom Baker of Trenton.
Government already offers plenty of help – including grants and tax breaks – to business to encourage development, said State Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine. “Does government have to give away the farm, too?”
Read the full story at:
REED, LESLIE. “‘Blight’ label raises concerns.” Omaha World-Herald (Sunrise Edition, Saturday, January 21, 2006): A1 & A2.
Researcher asks Kenyans their reaction to a Western men’s health magazine. Image source: online version of article cited below.
(p. 1) LEWOGOSO LUKUMAI, Kenya – The rugged souls living in this remote desert enclave have been poked, pinched and plucked, all in the name of science. It is not always easy, they say, to be the subject of a human experiment.
. . .
(p. 6) Over the years, the Ariaal have had hairs pulled not just from their heads, but also chins and chests. They have spat into vials to provide saliva samples. They have been quizzed about how often they urinate. Sometimes the questioning has become even more intimate.
Mr. Garawale recalls a visiting anthropologist measuring his arms, back and stomach with an odd contraption and then asking him how often he got erections and whether his sex life was satisfactory. ” It was so embarrassing,” recalled the father of three, breaking out in giggles even years later.
Not all African tribes are as welcoming to researchers, even those with the necessary permits from government bureaucrats. But the Ariaal have a reputation for cooperating — in exchange, that is, for pocket money.
. . .
The Ariaal have no major gripes about the studies, although the local chief in Songa, Stephen Lesseren, who wore a Boston University T-shirt the other day, said he wished their work would lead to more tangible benefits for his people.
”We don’t mind helping people get their Ph.D.’s,” he said. ”But once they get their Ph.D.’s, many of them go away. They don’t send us their reports. What have we achieved from the plucking of our hair? We want feedback. We want development.”
For the full story, see:
MARC LACEY. “Remote and Poked, Anthropology’s Dream Tribe.” The New York Times, Section 1 (Sun., December 18, 2005): 1 & 6.
“People here have tried everything you can think of to get the problem solved before this happened,” said a resident who gave his name as Chen. “They talked to the village committee, the township and municipal governments. One of them even went to Beijing. But nothing is done – the village officials just simply ignore them.”
Mr. Chen described the peak of the protests, on Saturday night, when the deaths occurred. “It was like a war, so real and so brutal,” he said. “I did not see who started it, but I saw policemen were beating the villagers and the villagers were fighting back with stones and firecrackers.”
Since then, villagers said, many residents are being forced to report each morning to the police, who detain them until late in the evening, when they are allowed to return home until the next morning.
As with so many recent rural protests, Panlong’s problems began with land. Many villagers told stories of having been deceived by corrupt local officials who they said had enriched themselves by selling off rights to the villagers’ farmland.
“Two years back, one day some villagers were asked to attend a routine meeting,” said a 42-year-old farmer who gave his name as Fang. “They went and they paid 10 yuan for participation fees, and they signed in as usual. Later, when we discovered our land was being sold, we asked the village committee to explain what’s going on, and they answered that we had signed the contract. Suddenly we remembered that meeting, and everyone understood that we had already been cheated.”
For the full story, see:
FRENCH, HOWARD W. “Panlong Journal: Visit to Chinese Anytown Shows a Dark Side of Progress.” The New York Times (Thurs., January 19, 2006): A4.
The classic small liberal arts college is more than a pleasant place where other people know you, though that is not a small consideration for a student living away from home for the first time—especially a shy student. Academically, the learning process can be far more manageable where professors are teachers first and foremost. One of the best taught introductory economics classes I ever saw was taught by the late Ben Rogge at Wabash College in Indiana. Few students at Harvard would ever get such a good foundation in the subject. Ben, rest his soul, had obviously thought through all the pitfalls of the subject and led the student safely around them.
Source: online version of Thomas Sowell. Choosing a College: A Guide for Students & Parents. 1989.
Image source: WSJ article quoted and cited below.
Since the following interesting article, Andrei Illarionov has resigned. That’s probably a bad sign for Russia, unless you argue that Illarionov can be more effective outside the government than inside it.
The article begins by quoting Al Breach, who is chief strategist at Brunswick UBS:
(p. A13) It’s a one-party state, and if you’re out, you’re out,” Mr. Breach says. “If he can help stop some of the bad things, it’s worthwhile sticking around.”
This year, however, things haven’t gone his way, with state-owned oil and gas companies swallowing up independent oil producers, vastly expanding the state’s presence in the economy. The result, says Mr. Illarionov, has been a fall in private investment in the oil industry and slowing oil-production growth–at a time when world crude prices are soaring. Meanwhile, state outfits have also bought stakes in private engineering companies and taken over the management of Russia’s biggest car maker, AvtoVAZ.
It is all anathema to Mr. Illarionov, a St. Petersberg-trained economist and longtime admirer of Ayn Rand, the American writer who lauded unfettered capitalism. In the early 1990s he was an adviser to Yegor Gaidar, then- prime minister and architect of Russia’s early market reforms. But he quit in 1994, criticizing the government for failing to curb inflation and for putting the brakes on overhaul (sic). He then became one of Russia’s most respected independent analysts: He was the only prominent economist to call for a sharp devaluation of the ruble before the currency crashed in August 1998.
Mr. Putin hired him as an adviser in 2000, and he was a top (sic) force in drafting the liberal, modernizing agenda that the president pushed through in his first term. His ideology — trimming state spending, slashing taxes, cutting red tape and deregulating Russia’s gas, electricity and railway monopolies — became official policy.
Mr. Illarionov was seen as one of the key drivers of crucial overhaul initiatives: a flat income-tax rate of 13%, a rainy-day Stabilization Fund for Russia’s oil windfall, and the decision to dip into the fund to make early repayments on Russia’s foreign debt.
But his reputation suffered in later years from a long, bruising fight over how to restructure the electricity industry, and a quixotic campaign against the Kyoto Protocol, both of which he largely lost. Russia ended up ratifying the climate-change pact last year.
For the full article, see:
GUY CHAZAN. “Putin Insider’s Outsider Game; Adviser Illarionov Preaches Capitalism, but Who Is Listening?” THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (Fri., December 23, 2005): A13.
(Note: There are several differences (e.g., in the title, and in the reference to Ayn Rand) between the online version of this article, and the print version of this article.)
The source of the above image is:  http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/posters
Edward Tufte says that the graph/map above is the best graphic ever drawn. His criterion is how much information is communicated per unit of ink. (Sort of a signal to noise ratio?)
The tan line that starts thick on the left, and gets thinner toward the right, represents Napoleon’s army as it enters and crosses Russia. The width of the line is scaled to the remaining size of the army. On the right hand side, the tan line ends in Moscow, where the army disastrously wintered. The black line moving left shows the diminishing size of the army as Napoleon retreated.
When I was a student at Wabash College, I was a determined and vocal advocate of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. My economics professor Ben Rogge, was not so enthused. He thought there were better Russian novels to read, and on several occasions, suggested:  ‘Diamond, you should read War and Peace.’
I often did not take Rogge’s advice quickly, but usually I took it eventually.  After leaving Wabash, I read War and Peace. Parts of it, I found too much like a soap opera for my taste. But I did find a part that resonated.
Part of Tolstoy’s story is about the Russian general facing Napoleon, who would not fight, but who continued to retreat into the heart of Russia. He was widely castigated as a do-nothing leader. But as a result of the Russian general doing nothing, Napoleon ordered his army further and further into Russia.
It is very hard for leaders in government to do nothing. They will be castigated. But sometimes nothing is exactly the right thing for them to do.
Edward Tufte’s wonderful book is:
Tufte, Edward R.   The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. 2nd ed.   Cheshire, CT:   Graphics Press, 2001.
The limestone buttes, granite steppes and near-permanent icecap that make up the urban expanse known as Rockefeller Center constitute the best-known landscape connected to the famous family’s name.
But those 12 acres in Midtown Manhattan are far from the only vista that owes its existence to Rockefeller philanthropy.
Over the last century, five generations of Rockefellers have used the family wealth to reshape the American horizon, creating a magnificent panorama of open spaces and more than 20 national parks from the rocky coast of Maine to the icecapped mountains of Wyoming.
These natural oases are not always linked to the Rockefeller name, but tonight they will be. As part of the yearlong celebration of its 100th anniversary, the National Audubon Society, one of the nation’s largest and oldest conservation organizations, is honoring the family for a record of conservation that matches the society’s century-long existence.
”Cumulatively, no other family in America has made the contribution to conservation that the Rockefeller family has made,” said John Flicker, the society’s president.
The towering Palisades that guard the west bank of the Hudson River were preserved with Rockefeller money. So was Colonial Williamsburg. The family created exquisite miniatures like Greenacre Park, tucked between two buildings on East 51st Street in Manhattan, and it donated 35,000 acres to help form Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Part of the family’s Pocantico estate in Westchester County has become a beloved forest preserve, and an educational center known as the Stone Barns.
The Cloisters, Acadia National Park, Forest Hill Park, Greenpeace, the Nature Conservancy — the list of the family’s efforts to conserve and protect the environment goes on and on.
. . .
Many of the family’s most spectacular conservation efforts began with a family camping trip. ”As Father traveled, if he saw things that needed to be done, he took steps and did something about them,” David Rockefeller said.
He recalls accompanying his father to California in the 1920’s to see the giant redwood trees. When the elder Rockefeller found out that the trees were in danger of being clear-cut by a timber company, he helped buy 9,400 acres that he then donated to the state. That grove of ancient redwoods, including one that is more than 2,000 years old, is considered the largest old-growth redwood forest in the world.
. . .
More than 30 members of the Rockefeller family — ranging in age from 17 to 90 — will be honored by the Audubon Society at tonight’s ceremony, each one involved with the environment. Most times, though, the support is low key and the family tries to shun the spotlight.
”The important part for us is not having our name on it,” said Gail O’Neill Caulkins, 52, a fifth-generation Rockefeller who is president of the Greenacre Foundation, which assists in the maintenance of city parks and supports dozens of community gardens, ”it’s seeing that something gets done.”
For the full story, see:
ANTHONY DEPALMA. “Praising Rockefellers for Land They Saved.” The New York Times (Tues., November 15, 2005): A25.
(The online version has a somewhat different title.)
(p. A8) Strict growth limits have driven population and job growth further out, in part by raising the price of land within the growth boundary, to communities across the Columbia River in Washington state and to distant places in Oregon. Suburbia has not been crushed, but simply pushed farther away. Portland’s dispersing trend appears to have intensified since 2000: The city’s population growth has slowed considerably, and 95% of regional population increase has taken place outside the city limits.
This experience may soon be repeated elsewhere as planners and self-proclaimed visionaries run up against people’s aspirations for a single-family home and low-to-moderate-density environment. Such desires may constitute, as late Robert Moses once noted, “details too intimate” to merit the attention of the university-trained. Even around cities like Paris, London, Toronto and Tokyo — all places with a strong tradition of central planning — growth continues to follow the preference of citizens to look for lower-density communities. High energy prices and convenient transit have not stopped most of these cities from continuing to lose population to their ever-expanding suburban rings.
But nowhere is this commitment to low-density living greater than in the U.S. Roughly 51% of Americans, according to recent polls, prefer to live in the suburbs, while only 13% opt for life in a dense urban place. A third would go for an even more low-density existence in the countryside. The preference for suburban-style living continues to be particularly strong among younger families. Market trends parallel these opinions. Despite widespread media exposure about a massive “return to the city,” demographic data suggest that the tide continues to go out toward suburbia, which now accounts for two-thirds of the population in our large metropolitan areas. Since 2000, suburbs have accounted for 85% of all growth in these areas. And much of the growth credited to “cities” has actually taken place in the totally suburb-like fringes of places like Phoenix, Orlando and Las Vegas.
. . .
It is time politicians recognized how their constituents actually want to live. If not, they will only hurt their communities, and force aspiring middle-class families to migrate ever further out to the periphery for the privacy, personal space and ownership that constitutes the basis of their common dreams.
For the full article, see:
JOEL KOTKIN. “The War Against Suburbia.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., January 14, 2006): A8.
For more of Kotkin’s observations, it might be worth consulting his: The City: A Global History. Modern Library, 2005.
The photos are by Ashley Gilberston, and the source was the online version of the article cited below.
The American invasion has been a bittersweet episode in the lives of many Iraqis here. In two afternoons of interviews in the parks this week, with both Shiites and Sunnis, mostly secular working people, they said the dangers that had shrunk their lives in certain ways had come along with new advantages.
Hind Jabr, a 16-year-old in a head scarf with bangles on her wrists, spoke proudly of the red Toyota her parents bought used two years ago. The salaries of her mother, a teacher, and her father, a police officer, have jumped since 2003. “We were suffering under Saddam,” said Ms. Jabr, sitting on a stone ledge that overlooked the lake. “It was safer, but we couldn’t get things.”
. . .
For Mr. Sadiq, there was a lesson in the day’s serenity. “Don’t focus on these bombs – they will end definitely,” he said. “What’s most important now is that Iraqis feel comfortable inside themselves. Now we feel free.”
For the full article, see:
SABRINA TAVERNISE. “In a City of Mayhem, a Respite in the Park.” THE NEW YORK TIMES (Fri., January 13, 2006): A4.
(1A) Initiative 300 generally bans corporations and certain other business entities from owning farmland or engaging in agricultural activity in Nebraska, although there are a number of exceptions geared toward family-based organizations.
It was added to the Nebraska Constitution through a petition drive and vote of the people.
Since receiving 57 percent of the vote in 1982, Initiative 300 has survived several state and federal court challenges, a petition drive to repeal it and attempts by state lawmakers to circumvent it.
The ban was promoted as a way to protect family farms in Nebraska from large corporations.
But Camp ruled that the effort to protect Nebraska farmers violated the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause because it discriminated against out-of-state interests.
“There is considerable evidence to support the premise that Initiative 300 was conceived and born in a protectionist fervor,” the judge said.
Camp acknowledged that the ban might promote legitimate state interests, such as conservation of natural resources and rural economic development. But she said the state had not shown that the ban was the only (p. 2A) way to reach those goals.
In the lawsuit, Jones said the result of the ban has been a loss of income because he cannot contract with out-of-state corporations for raising and feeding livestock. The ban also reduces the value of his land and his stock in the family farm corporation by barring potential purchasers.
Other plaintiffs said the ban has prevented them from transferring their farm and ranchland as they wished and has interfered with their ability to compete in a national market.
In addition, the judge agreed with two of the plaintiffs who said the ban violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, because it says the person holding a majority of a farm must supply a majority of the day-to-day labor on the farm.
One was Shad Dahlgren of Lincoln, who was paralyzed as a teenager and uses a wheelchair. The other is Todd Ehler, an Elkhorn man who also is disabled.
Both said they are limited in their ability to own farms, since they cannot provide the day-to-day labor required under Initiative 300.
Governments do not know, and usually do not seek, the most efficient market structure. When they try to impose one, as in the Nebraska ban on corporate farming, their actions almost always end up reducing efficiency, and increasing prices for consumers.
For the full article, see:
Stoddard, Martha and Bill Hord. “Ruling Hits Corporate Fram Ban: Initiative 300 Unconstitutional, Judge Says.” Omaha World-Herald (Sunrise Edition, Friday, December 16, 2005): 1A & 2A.
(The online version is, I believe, the version printed in the evening edition of Thurs., Dec. 15, 2005, which I believe is the same, except for the headline.)