Saturday, March 26, 2011

How to Create Jobs and Have Austerity Too

It seems that we always live in a world of either/or.  Paul Krugman recently (here) chided the Inside-the-Beltway folks for focusing too much on austerity measures and not on creating jobs.  He tells them that “slashing spending in the face of high unemployment is a mistake.“  Well, maybe he is correct.  I think not because I don't care for his linear view; I prefer the fractal approach.  He then goes on to discuss setting priorities correctly, as he determines them, by jobs first and austerity later.  But, why do we have to have austerity only for governments?

Why not austerity for corporations too?

We live in a world of excessiveness, as this website has described several times.  We all know that corporations exist to make money.  But, really, should corporations always try to make obscene profits?  Does every corporation have to strive for 20 percent margins? What is wrong with 3 percent?

What happens if we expect corporations to make modest profits?  Maybe they will be a little slower at cutting everything to the quick.  Being lean and mean is functional at times but is it always a good business model?

If everyone expected less then austerity would be the norm.

In our so-called free market culture, what really has happened is that growth has become more important than competition.  Through M & A activity, we have terminated thousands of corporations and millions of jobs. 

To reverse this trend we need to:
1. Place a ban on all M & A activities for fifteen years for private and public companies
2. Place a ceiling on corporate size; do not allow companies to get big.
3. All companies currently above the ceiling have two years to break up voluntarily; after that, the government comes in, takes over, and busts them up, like AT&T and Standard Oil.
4. Example:  B of A could be broken up into 50 companies, one for each state.  This would mean 49 new CEOs and new headquarters.  Think of all the new VPs it would create and all the new support jobs needed to run a business.

All of this would mean that profits would be shared across more businesses; few would be able to concentrate power; healthy competition would be restored.

Jobs are created by creating corporations.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Anthropology, Economics & the Practitioner’s Role

Earlier this year Anthropologists had a debate about the status of Anthropology as a science (here for a summary).  Now, economists are having one too.  Here is a list of statements; the comments are good too:

The topic comes up regularly in economics; here are some older ones:

I find all of this rather silly, especially from people who are well educated and have prestigious awards such as the Nobel Prize.

Other than Roth above, don’t people of this caliper understand the basics of classification?  When you define something, you are doing simple sorting.  Some things go into Box A and some things don’t go into Box A because of how Box A is defined.  If your standard for science is Physics then only Physics goes in the box called science.  Nothing else qualifies.

Trying to argue that there are degrees of science-ness just muddles the discussion, as in hard vs. soft science, pure vs. less-pure science, & proper vs. less proper.  These distinctions are childish, like fifth graders at recess:  I dare ya to be a soft scientist… no, I double dare ya…

There is no wisdom in these conversations.

For many, the claim to be a scientist has become political posturing or advocacy for special interest groups, or perhaps even for themselves as they think it will make them better positioned during upcoming budget cuts or grant awarding.

If we really need science in our lives then I recommend that it be defined broadly such that the usual and accustomed suspects are put into the box.  Since we typically divide professions, and thus occupations and job postings, by subject matter (physics, chemistry, biology, economics, etc) then those subjects that have been traditionally viewed as science can continue the claim as long as they meet simple criteria.

Science is the systematic and comparative study of observable phenomena.
1. Systematic means having a widely accepted set of methods and standards that are used to study events and phenomena.
2. Comparative in that the results of numerous singular studies are used to make generalized explanatory and/or interpretive summations.
3. Observable in that one can witness directly or indirectly-via-tools an event or phenomenon, and, observations can be used to reasonably infer the presence of something not observable (no one sees gravity or magnetism; we infer them by observing their regular and recurring affects).

Most professions that have traditionally been classified as a science will qualify because they meet 1, 2 & 3.

Historians aren’t scientists because they do particularistic studies; from what I’ve seen, comparative history is not strong; they don’t do #2.  Chefs aren’t scientists because they, too, likely don’t do much of #2.  However, “culinary science” is “the science and technology behind meal planning, preparation, processing, and service for a global consuming public” here.  A chef makes food.  Culinary science is integrated, matrixed, into business models by those trying to operate restaurants as profitable businesses. 

Science isn’t just for academics looking for Truth.  Most of it is used by corporations to make a buck and by governments trying to regulate or manage something. In most cases, science is a means to an end; it generally is not an end unto itself.

Back in the days of strong modernity, ca. 1920-1975, science was mostly segmented and rigid.  By that I mean biologists did biology, chemists did chemistry, and “interdisciplinary work” was generally frowned upon.  In today’s post modernity the work environment-outside of academia-is just the opposite.  Segmentation has been replaced by integration; rigidity by flexibility.  In the federal government most biologists have to know something about archaeology and air pollutants. Environmental planning tries to be holistic, not segmented, and resource management plans are “Integrated”.  Segmented academia is looking more archaic every day.

Instead of debating whether a profession is science or not I suggest people focus on what roles people have and when is it appropriate to say that someone’s role is “scientist”.

Roles (in no particular order of significance):
1. Scientist:  a person who regularly does research that meets the definition of science given above.  If you are not doing scientific research then you are not a scientist. They are producers of science. 
2. Technician: a person who gathers scientific data and may conduct initial analyses’.  They are typically well trained in scientific methods and techniques, and may have good understandings of theoretical issues.  Examples:  x ray techs, engineering techs, geo technical specialists, and the popular science folks as seen on MythBusters.  
3. Teacher: a person who regularly teaches.  Teachers of science can also be scientists if they are also actively doing research.  Most high school science teachers only teach; some professors are also scientists.
4. Professional/Practitioner :  A person who does not do research but uses a body of scientific knowledge  to solve problems and set policy (e.g. physicians, engineers, corporate executives, consultants, government employees). They are consumers of science. 

I am an Anthropological archaeologist by training but I do “cultural resource management” for a federal agency.  That is, I ensure that my agency complies with federal laws about historic preservation, which is a part of the overall environmental compliance sector.  While I know that some federal archaeologists have done science, as a federal employee, I have never been able to do it.  In fact, most of my job is about the avoidance of doing archaeological science.  I am a practitioner.

Let me elaborate.  Coming this week there will be an archaeological study done in Oregon sponsored by my agency.  Federal environmental specialists, state environmental specialists, environmental and archaeological consultants, and I have planned the study.  The purpose of it is to determine the presence/absence of archaeological sites within a defined number of rangeland acres, approximately 1100, that may become developed.  The study is a survey not an excavation. The actual work will be done by archaeological consultants supported by archaeological technicians.  The purpose of the study is to provide descriptive data such that federal bureaucrats can make decisions about land use.  It is also being done under the umbrella of an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) and will become a component of that assessment.

The result of this archaeological survey will be a technical report, a singular study.  There is no intention of doing any comparisons, there are no hypotheses to be tested, and there will be no attempts at determining ancient land use patterns.  In this specific case, science is not required to meet the needs of making land use decisions related to historic preservation.   My final involvement is to ensure that the technical study does meet certain minimum standards.  Having a solid background in archaeological science helps me in determining the quality of technical reports.  Most technical studies produce average reports and few are excellent.  I accept average or better and reject crap.

Most American archaeologists are practitioners or technicians who produce or consume technical reports.  Their work falls short of being classed as science.  The conditions in which they work rarely compels them to do the comparative work that is typically viewed as “science”.  In the last ten years, I have done archaeological science twice [1] and both those projects were done as a volunteer, on my own free time.  Also, there is nothing bad or wrong about producing or consuming technical reports.  Archaeological science cannot be done without good technical reports. 

Returning to the econ debate, those folks make an interesting analogy:  economics is like engineering.  Obviously, this analogy is emphasizing the practitioner role of economics. They can’t see that because their scientism obscures their ability to distinguish the role of scientist from practitioner, producer from consumer.  I guess they like the idea because they believe they are engineering the economy and society.   They are holding onto what’s left of modernism.  I suspect that a lot of economists are practitioners & technicians who don't get to do science. 

To me the word engineer brings up other images.  I am reminded that ‘waste engineers’ used to be called garbage men, and, in some parts of this world, archaeologists are thought of as waste engineers.  

I am not a waste engineer.

1. These two studies:
Moore, L. E. and Gwen J. Hurst
2005   Medicine for the Troops: Glass from a Civil War Encampment in Centreville, Virginia. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archeological Society of Virginia 60(3): 150-176.
Moore, L. E. and Richard Busch
2003   The Hogback Valley and Its Relation to Denver Area Prehistory. Southwestern Lore 69(3): 1-25. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Stealth Collectivism

Are we embracing more collectivism? 

Back in 2006 the US Census Bureau reported that a “new minority” was present in America--the married household.  It was the first time in the history of reporting such figures that married households had fallen below 50 percent, to 49.7 percent.  All other households were individuals living by themselves, single parent households, or cohabitating non-married couples.  I argued then (here, pg. 162) that the data should be viewed as a peaking of individualism and that the momentum was going to turn the other way, towards strengthening community values.  Today I checked the numbers again (BLS web site, Table H1).  The 2010 married household data is still at 49.7 percent (married households/total).

Based on this data point, America is still strongly individualistic even after the mortgage crisis, the increase in bankruptcies, and the reshuffling of households that has happened since 2007.  I haven't looked at other possible dynamics in the numbers. 

How do I interpret this based on the Cultural Seasons model that I have been following?  The model suggests that during the secular crisis--which I believe we are in--there should be a shift away from individualism towards a stronger collectivism.  Based on the above statistic, this has not yet happened, and that a trend change in that variable is not even under way.

This statistic has long bothered me because the cultural model suggests (to me at least) that the peak of individualism should be near the beginning of the secular crisis.  I have long believed that the crisis began with 9/11 2001.  However, the four-year data point above better supports a 2007 beginning of the crisis (began with the credit crisis of Aug. 2007).

Having said all that, this blog is about qualitative analysis. I only use numbers now and then as a cross check. Let's look at some qualitative data.

The secular crisis is about heightened dark moods and a wider and louder sense of survivalist perspectives, much of which is present in American culture.  Maybe stronger collectivism comes midway or in the latter half of the crisis era.

There have been some loud and clear signals lately that overt collectivism is appearing in our culture [1].  The best examples are the new commercials for military recruiting based on a new campaign by the Department of Defense.  Here is the campaign:

Here is a commercial:

This new DoD campaign seems to elaborate on the Army Strong campaign that started about 2007 that targeted the Millennial generation..  (Recent Navy, Air Force and Marine commercials continue pushing Gen X themes such a adventure, excitement, and honor). 

An important aspect of individualism is making ones own choices in life.  For the last several decades, a life choice, such as going into the military, has been a Me decision.  Most Boomers and Gen Xers were raised to make their own decisions in life--decisions are Mine to Make.

Today, this appears to be changing.  We now are seeing the public acceptance of life decisions as being overtly a family matter.  When a Millennial kid joins the military it is no longer a 'Me' decision; it is a 'We' decision.

Overt collectivism is creeping into our culture.

1.  I say overt because we all know that covertly, family and friends influence people's decisions. The point here is that these influences are displayed either in public or private. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Energy: An American Cartel?

With the Arab world in turmoil, OPEC is ready to be lit up:  the price of oil is going much higher, and, the chances that the cartel breaks up are high.  If the House of Saud goes into war then Americans have to assume that oil supply will likely be cut.  West Texas Crude could go to $147/barrel again or much higher.

And, as T Boone Pickens continues to argue, “We don’t have an energy plan” (here, at 5:40 into it, after an inane beginning), much less a clue about what to do.

Thus, I suspect we will do what we have already done, pick a fight for oil.

My point here is that if a status quo has to change then we should be planning the replacement.  Set up our own cartel with a few select friends and we control the price of oil. Otherwise its looks like we are the status quo that needs to go. 

We are an empire with significant needs.  Do we fight for our interests or do we remain suckers paying high prices and suck it up?

I know that polls show that most Americans think we should stay out of other nation’s business.  I find that to be mostly posturing.  Makes us feel good to say we respect the rights of others.  

When we get desperate at $5 or $6 gas, we will get greedy for foreign oil.  If we are not willing to get off the oil teat and stop driving our muscle cars, then the answer is pretty simple folks, we fight for resources.