Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I've Moved!

For many reasons, most of them related to school and school district issues, I have decided to move my blog. And while I was at it, I decided to rename it as well. So please, check out "Bow Ties and Banjos". I'm sorry I haven't been posting for quite a while, but I'm going to make a major effort to get back into it. There's a post over at the new site called "Opportunity Cost" that sort of explains why no posts in so long. Oh well. Please follow me over and make this fun to do.

Oh, and IB alumni, the new blog has some IB Economics Commentary stuff up - don't you miss it?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A New School Year Begins

And so tomorrow morning we start. Last year's graduates for the most part are off to college, where we can only hope we properly prepared them as best they would let us. Older graduates return to college or to jobs, where again we hope they learned something of lasting value during their time in high school.

Tomorrow begins my tenth year of teaching, almost exclusively teaching high school seniors. I have my class rolls, filled with mostly unfamiliar names. The room is as ready as it is going to be; Monday's plan is ready; the powerpoint prepared, the handouts copied. After ten years I'm still nervous. Probably more nervous than most of the students who will sit before me tomorrow. You see, they see the light at the end of the tunnel - graduation. They're 17 or 18 and are ready to move on in life, to gain and exercise independence, to end this phase of their lives. From my side, I see the potential, and the future of our country and civilization, and I worry that I will be up to the task. I worry that I will adequately prepare them for college, while at the same time helping to prepare them for life. I know going in that some will like me, some will like my courses, and that some will dislike me and the subjects I teach.

And this nervousness is what convinces me that I am in the job that I was meant to do. The excitement of teaching, of trying to show someone new things, to show new ways of thinking, to expand horizons and opportunities - that's the thrill of teaching. And every year we get a new crop of students, and although some of the material and some of the lessons are the same, the discussions never are, the class personality never is, and the bonds we form with the students never are. It's a new job every year.

By May, I'll be tired and grumpy, whereas tomorrow I'll just be relatively rested and grumpy. But I really love what I do, and I can't wait until 8:45 tomorrow: IB Economics, and away we go.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Please Watch This

A couple of prefatory comments. I like to watch TV, and a lot of what I like to watch is pretty junky stuff. In our house we like to watch "America's Got Talent;" I guess this summer we Americans learned about "Britain's Got Talent," but I never ever thought about there being a "Ukraine's Got Talent." I also read a lot. Using Google Reader and RSS feeds, I probably review about 500 headlines a day, from a wide variety of sources: liberal and conservative, political and apolitical, serious and frivolous.

Tonight on a British magazine link (The Spectator), I found this. The artist uses sand to recount the horrific experiences of the Ukraine during World War II. The words at the end supposedly translate to "You are always with us."

I'm not very talented. I like to think I work hard, I'm a pretty good teacher, and I'm pretty smart, but I have very little creative talent. I'm awed by people (many of you who have been my students!) who have amzing creative artistic talent. To be able to do this with sand, to tell a story in such a moving way, is awesome. Watch this - you won't be sorry. Tell me what you think.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Polls: Conservatives and Liberals

Polls can be dangerous and tricky things. Personally I wish our country, our politics, and our politicians weren’t so poll-driven. The daily and weekly tracking polls, the constant focus on approval ratings, and other examples of poll-overload contribute to the increasing polarization of American politics, in my opinion. But like driving by a car wreck, you can’t keep from looking.

Interesting poll of the week: Gallup reports that conservatives outnumber liberals in every one of the fifty states. And that seems like one of those indicators that the major media does not necessarily reflect the views of the public.

Problems With GDP?

In a New York Times opinion piece, Eric Zencey has written a thought-provoking criticism of gross domestic product as a key measurement of economic activity. If you read this, you’ll see that many of the criticisms are familiar. GDP is inexact, it excludes certain things and activities, it doesn’t take into account certain costs and benefits, it may not accurately reflect economic gains to society, etc., etc., etc. But here’s the deal – we know and almost all economists agree that GDP is a flawed measurement of economic activity. However, the weaknesses and limitations are known, consistent, and predictable. As long as GDP is measured consistently, it is a useful tool for comparisons within a country of economic activity from one time period to another or to a lesser extent comparisons of one country to another.I say to a lesser extent because once we expand beyond a single country, we can’t be as certain that the GDP's were calculated in a similar manner.

Mr. Zencey’s main point seems to be that GDP is not a perfect measurement of a country’s economic well-being. Well duh. That’s why, especially when we talk about economic development, we focus on other measurements such as the Human Development Index, the Poverty Index, measurements of education, health, gender equality, political liberty, and more. Economists know GDP isn’t a perfect indicator of an economy. Again, remember that in basic macroeconomics, we use real GDP, inflation rates, and unemployment rates to get more of a composite view.

I think the big tip-off is that the author isn’t an economist – he’s a professor of historical and political studies.

Hiring Rates and the Recession

Because of this article, I ran across a new statistic called the “hires rate”. It’s compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is defined as “number of hires during the month divided by the number of employees who worked during or received pay for the pay period that includes the 12th of the month.”

The hires rate is currently at the lowest level ever. So what? It means businesses are afraid. Businesses aren’t hiring. Why not? I suggest two primary reasons: fear of unknown but negative legislation, and already increased costs (taxes) related to hiring. Payroll taxes have risen and are expected to rise more. Unemployment insurance costs borne by businesses are high and go up as businesses hire and then have to lay off employees. So what do businesses do? They avoid the potential costs by not hiring and doing more with fewer employees. Oh well.

And before you blame the greedy employers, weren’t the employers also greedy when the hire rate was at higher levels? Corporations don't just become "greedy" when times are bad. Greed, or self-interest, or the profit motive, is what drives economic activity in good times and bad. You need to be very careful about using the convenient but questionable attack on those “evil” corporations. By the way, didn’t those greedy corporations make the computers you’re using?

Zombies and Math

A Canadian mathematician has researched and modeled what to do in the case of a zombie attack. Here's a link to an article about the study. His conclusion, based upon "modern zombies" is that only one strategy is likely to succeed: “impulsive eradication.” “Only sufficiently frequent attacks, with increasing force, will result in eradication, assuming the available resources can be mustered in time.” The real key is evidently acting quickly. “If the timescale of the outbreak increases, then the result is the doomsday scenario: an outbreak of zombies will result in the collapse of civilization, with every human infected, or dead.” “This is because human births and deaths will provide the undead with a limitless supply of new bodies to infect, resurrect and convert.” Just remember this next time you think math is useless and you’ll never use the things you have to study!