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Monday, February 23, 2004

Stumbling Towards Econ (part I of a series) 

As I've posted before, I've recently developed a voracious appetite for books about economics, for some reason. It all started when I gave my brother Das Capital, The Wealth of Nations, and The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money for his birthday. Finding he already owned TGTOFIAM, I immediately borrowed it from him and began reading it for myself.

Whew. Was that ever a bad idea. Too, too technical for my uninitiated mind. By chapter 8 my head was spinning, but I was intrigued. So my brother handed me Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt. That was much easier reading, but unfortunately it's not really an introduction to economics, despite the title.

Since then, I've been plowing through Friedman, Krugman and Galbraith (on my father's recommendation), with Hayek on deck for when I finish my tangential dip into The Emerging Democratic Majority by John Judis and Ruy Texeira. But I have yet to crack open a text on basic economics. Thus far, I haven't had too much trouble absorbing the ideas in the books I've read, but lack of a solid foundation is limiting my ability to organize those ideas in a useful way.

This series of posts is, therefore, my way of thinking out loud - I intend to articulate the underlying principles I'm getting out of what I'm reading in as structured a fashion as possible. Next month I intend to register in a couple of economics classes at Portland Community College and see how my fumblings stacked up. Since at the moment I'm sort of like a blind man wandering around in a room, trying to describe the objects I find by the way they feel, I'm calling the series "Stumbling Towards Econ".

There is no real content in this post. It's only an introduction, meant to explain my intent before I actually plunge into this project. Actually, it's intended to make me feel guilty about not posting, so that I'll write more on the subject, since after all, I promised my faithful readers (ok, who'm I kidding, I mean really) that more would be on the way. Hey, look, beer!
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Saturday, February 21, 2004

Surprises, surprises - I'm about halfway through Peddling Prosperity, by Paul Krugman, and this book keeps right on surprising me. Not the content, so much - although it's true that it's always refreshing to read Krugman, who writes well, doesn't seem to have too many axes to grind (at least in this book) and is wonderfully unconvinced that economics must always be deadly serious - but the odd little happenstance things inside it. The first of these surprises was discovered when I turned to the title page - a scribbled signature dated 1995 jumped out at me (I bought the book used at Powell's). Imagine that, I thought, it's signed.

Later, while reading it, a receipt dropped out of the book. I thought at first that it was mine - but I didn't buy this book at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park, California. The receipt is perfect, untouched by the nine years that have passed between that purchase and mine. It's a piece of the past, reaching out to touch me, inscribed lovingly with the 16 numbers that identify uniquely the previous owner.

Who are you, holder of Visa card #4128********3662? What were your thoughts as you made that purchase on May 24, 1995, only 3 months before your card would expire? Did you agree to pay the above total amount according to the card issuer agreement with glee, knowing that $14.02 was a small price to pay for the privilege of reading the book I am now holding, much less speaking with and obtaining the autograph of the man who wrote it? Or did you think with a sigh of the 25-day grace period and the interest that would fall upon you thereafter? Did the crushing weight of your credit card bills lead you to sell all your possessions, accepting what little cash you could get for them as the only way to make one more payment? Or have you moved on to bigger and better things, new signatures, fatter books with more decisive pronouncements?
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Thursday, February 19, 2004

Synchronicity - If you know me, you know I've been doing a lot of reading lately. Well, if you know me, you know I do a lot of reading all the time. But the reading I've been doing lately has been of the non-fiction type, mostly economics. So I'm walking around the house, half-subconsciously juggling bits and pieces of information in my head, trying to fit Friedman and Galbraith and Keynes et al into a unified gestalt (which description itself I'm shamelessly borrowing from Rifkin, since his description of the "Knowledge Class" in The End of Work fits me almost perfectly)...

Anyway. I was walking around, thinking that government is a means by which we accomplish public goods that are either impossible or much more difficult to accomplish privately, and that the major difference between conservatives and liberals in a federal-spending sense is often where we draw that line. And I was thinking about Rifkin's hypothesis that we are headed toward a world where there will be less and less 'productive' (ie, adding to GDP) work to be done. And I was thinking about what should be done about public education, and the knee-jerk reactions on both sides of the debate, and how they're both mostly wrong. And I was thinking about how the hell I'm going to pay for a graduate degree at a decent school without selling my soul to anyone from the 5th circle or below of Hell. Among other things.

What occurred to me then was that one thing we could really use in education and similar areas is something similar to the GI Bill, only in reverse. Something where we tell people, "OK, we'll put you through school, but then you have to be a teacher (or whatever) for X years after you're done getting educated. We'll pay you while you're teaching - it'll be chump change, but it'll be enough to live on - and then we'll cut you loose when your time is up, and you can either keep teaching (maybe with a raise) or go do whatever it is you wanted to do with your life." (A little more like the way the Air Force Academy works, actually). I would jump at that. Hell, I'd turn cartwheels. I've thought about teaching before, but when I'm already looking at who-the-hell-knows long getting whatever degree I decide to get, that 9-month certificate is just one more year of tuition to pay for. Now if only I could come up with a name for it that sounded kinda like 'GI Bill', but was easily recognizable as what it was.

Here's where synchronicity comes in. Through a strange chain of links (I believe a quicklink from plastic to Burnt Orange Report to read about a juicy rumor involving Texas Gov. Rick Perry and his Secretary of State (mental note: must follow up on finding more blogdish on that)...but I digress). On B.O.R. I saw a link to the campaign site of Doug Haines, who's running for the house in Georgia district 12. I've seen Haines' name bandied about quite a bit on dKos, so I moseyed over to check him (and his blog) out. He had a thread going where people could ask him questions about his campaign, and he answered...are you still reading this? wow, you've got staying power...anyway...he seems to be thinking along the same lines, and he has a name for it, too:

I’m working on a proposal that I call the CI (Community Involvement) Bill. Part of this bill will include grants to help pay tuition for people who are going into critical positions within the social infrastructure (public safety, health care, education, and childcare).

That made me like Haines instantly, and seriously consider giving him some money, but it also kinda creeped me out, the way that it did the other day when it seemed like everyone, everywhere, was talking about William Jennings Bryan and his 1896 campaign for President on the 16-1 silver resumption platform. (seriously. I now know more about Bryan than I ever wanted, needed or hoped to know, because he came up in at least 3 conversations, 2 blogs and 2 different books by different authors that day).

Sometimes I think that things like this mean the universe is trying to tell me something - but what could it possibly want me to know about a bimetallic monetary standard, the Scopes monkey trial, or investing in the education of people who will keep us alive, healthy, safe and learning?

(oh, and another cool thing about Haines: he wants you to add $0.69 to your donation if you think Rick Santorum, yes I mean Senator Rick Santorum, that's Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, is the greatest threat to democracy in this country. One more time, that's $0.69 for Santorum).
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Saturday, February 14, 2004

Ruleage. My brother geekified me for my birthday. We went to Powell's Books (largest bookstore west of the Mississippi), and he bought me The New Industrial State by John Kenneth Galbraith (my dad extolled the virtues of Galbraith to me after I reported enjoying The Affluent Society), The Great Crash 1929, also by Galbraith, Money Mischief by Milton Friedman, and Peddling Prosperity and The Return of Depression Economics by Paul Krugman.

Let the nerdiness begin!
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Thought of the day: why is it that when a person is struggling and can't make ends meet, Republicans talk about personal responsibility and standing on your own two feet, but when a company can't cut it, they're right there with the checks and the bailout bills?
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Friday, February 13, 2004

doesn't everyone have a blog now?
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