Monthly Archives: January 2011

Writing and Blogging

Writing and Reading (x posted at Nets We Weave). One of the aspects of blogging that I love is the chance to participate in conversations with others who have similar interests. This is why I enjoy academic blogs Orgtheory.net so much. At the same time, it can feel like a time suck of seeming to be productive when it actually does not do anything to advance my writing. How to balance the goodness- feeling connected and part of the dialogue- with not becoming a blogger instead of a scholar? I also find myself often with lots of random thoughts in my head that want to get out. I tend to ignore them out of a belief that to use energy and time to put them to paper or screen dissipates my limited reserves of time and attention. But maybe this is flawed. Maybe it would actually be better to just get them down and out instead of using energy trying to push them aside. As a new experiment in the relationship between blogging and scholarly writing, I will use short bursts of time to write about my writing process or to simply record the random assortment of theory and social science-related ideas and tangents that pop up in my unquiet mind. Rules: •Write for no more than ten minutes. If it is not publishable, save it as a draft. Minimize worrying about sourcing or linking as these activities often turn a ten minute blog jaunt into a hour of blog marathon.

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Bicing, Casual Sociology

I also posted this on our family blog, but as it has a dose of casual sociology, here goes also.  You can never turn off your social science brain once you have spent enough time reading theory.

Bicing is Barcelona’s bike sharing program and network. You get a card.

I keep my card in my wallet, but I have to remember to take my wallet out of my back pocket.

Now you can go to a station and grab a utilitarian bike.

Bicing is run by the city government, the ajuntament.

You pay 30Euros a year (about $42) a year for the card, and then 0.5E per thirty minutes of use up to three hours. You get to swipe your card on the little screen at the station.

Now, of course, Barcelona, as a transportation network, has a long history of technological changes layered on top of prior technology and intersecting with growth, redesign, and social trends. The old quarter, with its narrow, byzantine streets had to adapt from foot and hoof traffic to cars, the 19th century, the “expansion” or “Eixample” in Catalan (clever name there), was built for trams and trolleys, many of which disappeared to be replaced by the metro, buses and gas cars. Although, the trams have sort of made a comeback with these newly installed beauties.

They are often installed on the old lines on the broad avenues, like that other exemplar of functional industrial nomenclature asethetics, “Avenida Diagonal” The Diagonal cuts, naturally, diagonally across the city.

So, on to this infrastructure palimpsest comes the new wave of cycling. I have always wanted to use palimpsest! Of course, the city was never really built with tri-use through ways- car, ped, cycle. So, cycling is always a hit or miss affair (ha ha) in terms of finding a route and surviving with your skin and/or life.

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Popular Economics Writing

Like most of us, I want to understand the economy and the political economy for my teaching and for my own sake.  I enjoy reading what we might call “popular” economics writing.  For example, I always try to check out James Surowiecki’s column in the New Yorker called the “Financial Page.”  Recently he wrote about the classic arguments about the source of unemployment: structural or cyclical factors (January 3,2100; page 23).  He pointed out how a blind allegiance to a vague ideology explains the persistence of belief in the idea that there must be something structural with unemployment this time.  In other words, the problem is that we do not have the “right kind” of workers for the available jobs.  Stimulus can do nothing since we just need to wait for people to retrain or leave the labor force, or die, I suppose.  If structural, then we just have to let labor markets “sort themselves out.”   The problem with the structural argument, as Surowiecki points out, is that there is scant evidence for it.  Payrolls are down and hiring stagnant across the board and not just in certain industries.  What are the industries with openings and not enough supply of workers?  None.

I have also picked up two books that I am making my way through.  One is “Crisis Economics” by Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm.  I heard about him on the Planet Money podcast as one of the the economists who tried to sound the alarm bell on the housing bubble when no one was listening.  I am not sure that makes him clairvoyant all the time (of course!  He is an econmist!) but it seemed worth checking out.  I am only into the second chapter, but he already said something I have repeated so often in my classes: greed does not explain the bubbles nor their negative after effects.  My students almost universally will latch onto greed as the explanation and I see it as a key teaching need and challenge to get them off that well-worn groove.

There are two flaws in this kind of folk explanation.  First, greed can only be an explanation if you ignore the complexity of human systems and assume that what we observe as facts is due to the choices of a few people.  Given the complexity of human behavior and the way our actions are shaped by our history and context, one can not argue that it the recession is due to “some greedy people.”  This is the flaw of an under-socialized theory of human agency.  The second flaw is to grant the causal force of greed to the fact that some unspecified amount of people have just become more greedy.  As Roubini points out as well, why would wall street types become more greedy from 2002 to 2008?  Or from 1978 to 1998?  Aren’t they always very acquisitive and ambitious?  In fact, isn’t that exactly what my students admire and idolize about a career in finance?  There is no clear causal argument for why many more people would become greedy.  This line of folk reasoning makes invisible all of the inter-related organizational, institutional, and cultural forces that can interact to change the conditions of being “greedy” to make it either a controlled burn of energy or an uncontrolled conflagration. This is the second half of the under-socialized view (the term comes from the essay by Dennis Wrong) because it points out what needs to be added to have a more accurate theory of human agency.

In other words, greed ain’t enough to explain this shitstorm of economic problems.  To rely on this flawed reasoning leaves one to argue that the solution is for people to out of the blue just be “less greedy” and “more moral.”  To try to apply these solutions will only perpetuate an under-socialized view of human agency and any possibility for more effective action that addresses the conditions that enabled the recession.

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Filed under economics, macroeconomics, Scholars, Uncategorized