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Meeting New People

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With this blog, I have met so many amateur economists and aspiring economists and Ph.D. economists that I long ago lost count; I have "met" currency speculators and smugglers, exiles, soldiers, high school students, corporate executives, and of course, newspaper reporters.

Do you remember that I was in the Washington Times a few years ago? It's not something I think about regularly, but last week, this blog received a unique comment:

Kevin,

Can I have your email address (by emailing me)? I want to send you a request. Thanks

Warm regards,

Ali
Brunei

Definitely not spam. So I emailed him. It turns out that he's teaching Malay to undergrads in Brunei; they have a blog! As an exercise, he had them translate the Washington Times article into Malay, and debated whether blogging could improve writing.

A few years ago, I invited any person who wanted to blog about economics, regardless of training or experience, to join Truck & Barter. It was not an experiment intended to measure response, though I was happy with the number and quality of people who volunteered. It was not a well-crafted attempt at expanding my social network, though I've developed a network of some strong, but mostly weak ties from all over the world... I just wanted to meet eager and interesting folks, giving newcomers a somewhat established shop, instead of them having to set up their own.

Now I can say that I've met advanced Malay language learners. And I say to them that blogging is what you make of it. Treat it seriously, and your vocabulary, style, and grammar will improve; treat it as a chore or a game or a joke, and you will gain nothing.

For more of what I think blogging ought to be like, see my reply to the article you guys read.

That Was a Good Idea

A couple of months ago I talked with my advisor about writing a paper examining policy volatility and its implications for growth. Somebody beat me to it:

Summary: This paper compares the pattern of macroeconomic volatility in 17 Latin American countries during episodes of high and low growth since 1970, examining in particular the role of policy volatility. Macroeconomic outcomes are distinguished from macroeconomic policies, structural reforms and reversals, shocks, and institutional constraints. Based on previous work, a composite measure of structural reforms is constructed for the 1970-2004 period. We find that outcomes and policies are more volatile in low growth episodes, while shocks (except U.S. interest rates) are similar across episodes. Fiscal policy volatility is associated with lower growth, but fiscal policy procyclicality is not. Low levels of market-oriented reforms and structural reform reversals are also associated with lower growth.
My idea stemmed from the fact that Latin American politics seems to take large swings from one extreme to another. For example, a liberal party gets elected to power and institutes reform economic growth ensues. The next election cycle a leftist wins power by running on a campaign of a more equitable distribution of income gains. The neoliberal policy reforms are reversed and slower rgwoth follows. I['m not saying this is how it definitely works, but how the idea popped into my head.

The challenge is then to sustain reforms in the long run without a reversion to failed policies of the past. One way is to avoid elections all together and have the country run by an authoritarian leader as in Chile. Another which people have argued is that the size of the coalition matters. The bigger the victory the more likely reforms can be carried out and sustained. Think along the lines of the ruling party in Singapore.

Latin America provides an interesting case because there are apparently large swings politically and this was where my focus would have been as well. The challenge of liberals south of the border is then how too sustain reforms beyond the current term.

Anecdotes about Milton Friedman

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"Everybody loves to argue with Milton, particularly when he isn't there."
- George Shultz

"Everything reminds Milton Friedman of the money supply. Everything reminds me of sex, but I try to keep it out of my papers."
- Robert Solow

Brad DeLong writes;

General William Westmoreland, testifying before President Nixon's Commission on an All-Volunteer [Military] Force, denounced the idea, saying that he did not want to command an army of mercenaries. Milton Friedman interrupted him: "General, would you rather command an army of slaves?" Westmoreland got angry: "I don't like to hear our patriotic draftees referred to as slaves." And Friedman got rolling: "I don't like to hear our patriotic volunteers referred to as mercenaries. If they are mercenaries, then I, sir, am a mercenary professor, and you, sir, are a mercenary general." And he did not stop: "We are served by mercenary physicians, we use a mercenary lawyer, and we get our meat from a mercenary butcher"

Thoughts for the Day

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"How will you be of service to your nation and all the world?".."One: What is the nature –– fundamentally –– of the 21st century world? Two: How would you like to change it? How would you like to leave it for your children and grandchildren? Three: What must be done to affect those changes? And four: Who's supposed to do it? Especially, what are you going to do?"
- President Clinton at Princeton University's Class Day Ceremony

“I hope that you will contribute in some measure to economic progress, whether in the United States or elsewhere; and I hope you find some measure of financial reward. But the world has a great deal more to offer than money, and a key question each of you will face repeatedly in your lives is how to use the talent and education that you have been given and the knowledge that you have attained.”
- Ben Bernanke, Commencement Address at MIT

“There is much more to be done, too, in truly integrating Harvard with the world. Students from abroad coming here to study return home changed people, and those they meet here are changed by them. Remember a few years ago the rescue of a doomed Russian submarine crew? This rescue was only made possible by a contact between a Russian admiral and an American admiral - two who never would have communicated if they had not met in a Kennedy School joint military program.”
- Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers, Commencement Address

“All of which reflects one of the many things that bothers me about our educational system. Considerable parts of it appear designed to teach people to pretend to intellectual tastes and knowledge that they do not possess and that there is no good reason why they should possess.”
- David Friedman (son of Milton Friedman) – he introduces himself as an academic economist who teaches at a law school and has never taken a course for credit in either field.

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