Sunday, May 31, 2009

Globalization and Its Discontents

My review of Joseph Stiglitz's book, cross-posted from (See also.)

I'm a dope when it comes to economics, but my impression is that this book has been hugely influential among the anti-corporate globalization crowd. It came out shortly after the Seattle WTO protests and soon popped up on the bookshelves many of my development-minded friends.

It's easy to see why: Stiglitz is about as prestigious a development economist as you are likely to find--Nobel Prize winner, former chief economist at the World Bank, by some metrics the most cited economist working today. So if he says something has gone wrong with globalization, people listen.

His message here is very reform-minded--he thinks globalization is here to stay--but his arguments should resonate with anyone concerned about poverty in the developing world, or about jobs here in the U.S. His basic thesis is that the IMF has drifted from its Keynesian roots and been hijacked by a narrow economic orthodoxy that rabidly pursues privatization, market liberalization and low inflation to the detriment of all other social and economic goals. The attack of the market fundamentalists!

He notes that this prescription for economic growth, dubbed the 'Washington Consensus', is far from the consensus position among economists. Indeed, it seems as if the IMF's policies are designed for the benefit of the financial elite, rather than with the goal of achieving broadly-shared prosperity in the targeted countries. Hence the IMF's focus on inflation rather than unemployment, and their relentless drive to open up markets to foreign investors rather than fostering local entrepreneurship.

The results have been disastrous for developing nations from Russia to East Asia to Africa. Indeed, he makes the point that globalization has been a net loser for sub-Saharan Africa and that countries who have resisted the IMF have been more successful on average than those who didn't. (Interestingly, he mostly lets his former employers at the World Bank off the hook.)

If you are looking for a popular introduction to macroeconomics, look elsewhere. This is more like an extended, wide-ranging hallway conversation with an eminent professor. Still, I learned a ton about how these institutions work and how they might be made accountable to the billions of people impacted by their decisions. The general discussion about nurturing and building economies are also hugely relevant given the recent economic collapse.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


I highly recommend reading this terrific post by Julian Sanchez on Sonia Sotomayor and the opposition to her nomination coming from Limbaugh, Gingrich and a swarm of lesser pundits.
Look, it’s not racist to oppose a Latina judicial nominee, or to oppose affirmative action, or to point out genuine evidence of ethnic bias on the part of minorities. What we’re seeing here, though, is people clinging to the belief that Sotomayor has to be some mediocrity who struck the ethnic jackpot, that whatever benefit she got from affirmative action must be vastly more significant than her own qualities, that she’s got to be a harpy boiling with hatred for whitey, however overwhelming the evidence against all these propositions is. This is really profoundly ugly. Like Yglesias, I don’t think I’m especially sensitive to stuff like this, or particularly easily moved to anger, but I’m angry.
Many conservatives argue, now that we have ended segregation, we also need to end affirmative action and strive for a race-neutral society. On this level playing field, the claim goes, qualified women and minorities will be able to successfully compete with white dudes. I think there is still a need for affirmative action, but I think the vast majority of conservatives make this argument in good faith.

But here's the thing: when an obviously superlative Latina is tapped for the nomination she still -- still! -- has to put up with crap like this. Comments about how she only advanced thanks to affirmative action, that she's unqualified, that she's not very bright -- always presented without a scrap of real evidence. I mean, how much more brilliant or qualified do you need to be to be judged on your merits?

This is the continuing power of racism in our society. And it's not just crazy folks on the internet -- this is coming from the grand poobahs of the Republican Party and movement conservatism. There is a lot that's fair game with Sotomayor: call her a liberal, call her a judicial activist, bash her rulings, whatever. But, just as with Roberts and Alito, that's not going to be enough to sink her nomination.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ecuador tidbits

Just to write them down before they fade (amazing how quickly that happens), some final thoughts on our trip to Ecuador.
  • Southern Stars. It being my first trip to the southern hemisphere (albeit, barely) I was looking forward to seeing the southern stars. Unfortunately, the only nights spent outside of Quito were spent in the rain forest, where (it turns out) it rains a lot. We could see the stars one night while we were driving, and it was definitely neat to see Orion in the northern sky, but no primo star-gazing opportunities. Reason to go back, I guess.

  • Volcán. The Andes mountains are really cool and we got to see several active-ish volcanoes. In addition to Guagua Pichincha--which looms over Quito and erupted spectacularly in 1999--we also spied El Reventador and Sumaco from the air on our flight to Coca and we drove right past the base of Tungurahua en route to Baños (which owes its thermal hot springs to the volcano's proximity).

  • Chevron. In this week's Economist you can read the basic pro-corporate defense of Chevron. The authors do not seem to have bothered to interview anyone from the other side of the lawsuit and several of their assertions do not pass the smell test IMHO. In particular, the idea that Ecuador made tens of billions from oil exploration while poor, pitiful Texaco only made $500 million is laughable and inconsistent with other facts presented in the article. Chevron Pit has the full rebuttal here.

  • Organize! We heard an interesting bit of history from Yury, our guide, about Monseñor Leonidas Proaño. Before the land reform laws of the 1960s, Ecuador's poor were essentially serfs, bound to the large haciendas. When Proaño became bishop of Riobamba in 1954, a region that was poor and mostly Quichua-speaking, he began to preach liberation and agitate for social justice. He even convinced parts of the Church to give up their large land-holdings. He also founded something called the Popular Radiophonic Schools, which trained leaders and community organizers. According to Yury many of young volunteers from the Radiophonic School are now leaders of the national indigenous rights organizations or are making policy in the national assembly and the Correa government.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Giant version of one of those ubiquitous Shepard Fairey HOPE posters - overseen at the corner of Kenyon and Georgia here in DC. This last weekend, my sis and I visited the National Portrait Gallery where we saw the "official" portrait version hanging there too.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


I just finished Neal Stephenson's latest novel, Anathem. Quick take: it's great. Here's my review cross-posted from

Mystery writers must strike a careful balance: no one likes a mystery that is too obvious or one that is too obscure. Similarly, science fiction authors have a mandate to bring the science and make it plausible (their readers are, after all, total geeks). But fans are also looking for something new and interesting. So that's the sci fi game: "predict" what the major scientific breakthroughs will look like for the next millennium or so, but make them seem "real" ... or else your nerdy fans will turn on you.

Most authors just gloss this over and focus on the plot. Enough about the physics of warp drives ... explosions! After all, it's a lot to expect a mere fiction author to put forth a coherent theory of wormhole dynamics or the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics just as a prerequisite for blasting some aliens.

And yet Neal Stephenson, bless his heart, seems determined to try. He has always reveled in cool ideas themselves and will happily spend pages explaining how public-key encryption works or what nano-bot power sources might look like. With Anathem he has taken this urge to its obsessive extreme and constructed a fully detailed, 7000-year intellectual history as a backdrop for his story.

I can see how this book might not be for everyone. The book starts slow and at first lacks the usual Stephenson pizazz. There are no kitana-wielding pizza-delivery-men here, just a bunch of monks (although some can indeed kick ass). The sheer volume of alternate vocab words can be daunting. (Note: be sure to read past page 200 before giving up -- the plot picks up significantly after that point.)

But in many ways, Anathem is Stephenson's most confident and mature novel. His earlier books have a magpie quality to them (particularly the Baroque Cycle) -- jumping willy-nilly between multiple characters, plotlines and concepts. Here he sticks to a single narrative and builds systematically to a gripping finale. While it is not perfect, I enjoyed it tremendously and would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes a good spec fic speely.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Bike to Work

Today was national Bike To Work Day. I went with some co-workers to the DC event and we got our picture taken with Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu.
Apparently Dr. Chu, in addition to being an enthusiastic proponent of sustainable energy, is an avid biker ... and a good sport about random people wanting to take a picture with him.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

60 Minutes on Chevron

Apropos of my earlier post on the Chevron in Ecuador lawsuit, 60 Minutes just did a really nice and informative segment on the issue. Chevron does not come out smelling like roses here and it is great that the issue is getting wider attention. (Video not embedded because of a really annoying ad that automatically starts playing - click the link to watch.)


Saturday, May 09, 2009

How The Light Gets In

Our tiny backyard is paved over with concrete, but that hasn't stopped some pretty robust plant growth from poking through.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Co-Ed Co-op

A friend forward me a link about the brouhaha surrounding co-ed rooms at Stanford's co-operative student housing. One parent was surprised to hear her daughter had ended up in a mixed-gender room at one of the co-ops and wrote a fairly outraged article in the National Review. The NRO article got picked up by the NY Times college admissions blog and generated hundreds of comments from all sides (interesting reading, btw).

The daughter later responded stating that she had no problem with her rooming situation and the entire affair is more a conflict between her and her parents, than with Stanford's policies. Her parents have apparently decided not to pay for her final quarter because of it.

The whole thing is funny to me because I lived seven quarters (two years) in Stanford co-ops and four times had at least one female roommate (once was in the context of a 'commune' where we divided four rooms into sleeping and working space for 15-some-odd people). In my experience it really wasn't a big deal at all since the people who participate are pretty much self-selected and do their best to act like, you know, mature adults.

So I can say for certain that this situation has nothing to do with Stanford's recently introduced Gender Neutral Housing Policy -- as is implied and moralized upon by the NRO article -- and everything to do with the fact that Stanford allows the co-ops to run themselves. Mixed gender rooms have been happening for decades.

The co-op residents decide how to divvy up the rooms during the course of a multi-hour, consensus-driven rooming meeting (which is just as painful as it sounds). In no case are students required to partake in mixed-gender rooms, and indeed can hold up the entire rooming meeting if they are not satisfied with their lot. The woman in question (foolishly) missed the rooming meeting, but on the other hand, had no complaints with how it turned out. If she had complained, University housing would have stepped in, no question.

Still, I can sympathize with a parent feeling blind-sided by all this, and certainly Stanford should do more to alert parents to this possibility. Nothing wrong with a little transparency, but also thank god Stanford treats their students like grown-ups (at least in this instance).

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Some of my best friends...

Christianity Today has an interview with Joe the Plumber where he says this:
In the last month, same-sex marriage has become legal in Iowa and Vermont. What do you think about same-sex marriage at a state level?

At a state level, it's up to them. I don't want it to be a federal thing. I personally still think it's wrong. People don't understand the dictionary—it's called queer. Queer means strange and unusual. It's not like a slur, like you would call a white person a honky or something like that. You know, God is pretty explicit in what we're supposed to do—what man and woman are for. Now, at the same time, we're supposed to love everybody and accept people, and preach against the sins. I've had some friends that are actually homosexual. And, I mean, they know where I stand, and they know that I wouldn't have them anywhere near my children. But at the same time, they're people, and they're going to do their thing.
Classy. Dude, I'm pretty sure you won't have any gay friends after this one.

I guess I can appreciate his consistency on federalism -- plenty of conservatives shout 'states rights!' about civil rights issues and do an about-face when it comes to gay marriage -- but this is pretty obnoxious. The weird thing is, despite the outrageous homophobia, there is still a palpable defensiveness in what he says, as if he knows the wider culture is sliding out from under him. (Via.)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


We were down in Florida a few weeks ago, so Quinn and I hit the beach.

At first she was terrified of the waves, but eventually she detached from my leg and had fun running after the birds and waves.