For the birds
“We economists regard most lawyers like cats regard small birds: Flighty things. Unable to keep their minds focused on what matters. And our lawful prey.” Brad DeLong justly has it in for the lawyer-like people, not least in the blogging community.
The doubly gilded age
Paul Krugman is appropriately outraged. “In 1981 those captains of industry [the 10 highest paid CEOs in the US] were paid an average of $3.5 million, which seemed like a lot at the time. By 1988 the average had soared to $19.3 million, which seemed outrageous. But by 2000 the average annual pay of the top 10 was $154 million.”
Taking his cue from Kevin Phillips’s new book, Wealth and Democracy, Krugman reckons the imbalances symbolised by these excesses at the top could lead the US into another plutocratic period, overriding democracy.
There are the early stirrings of reaction against the outrageous pay excesses at the top (reaction which has always been strong in the UK and to some extent other European nations, but not the US). Fortune (not the place one would ordinarily look for corporate restraint) puts CEO pay moderation on its list of necessary corporate reforms. “But while CEO pay has become more variable — and study after study has shown it to be more closely linked to company performance than it used to be — it has also grown unspeakably generous.”
I’ve written before about how Britain is now the most surveilled country on earth, thanks to the profusion of CCTV cameras just about everywhere. Apparently, 10% of the world total is in Britain. No one here seems to mind, other than under-funded civil liberties pressure groups, but James Meek has done some interesting digging for The Guardian.
He volunteered a digital photo of his face for the surveillance database in Newham, an area of east London. According to Meek, the current facial recognition systems are laughably poor at actual field work. He is not spotted by the police system, which has apparently never had an actual match. Meek is good on the many practical problems as well as civil liberties issues facial recognition creates. What he discusses less thoroughly, however, is how rapidly the technology is developing.
Pay me now or pay me later
Martin Wolf in the Financial Times (subscribers only, damn them) has cold comfort on the world economy.
“The true choice may be between going over a high cliff some years from now or going over a rather lower cliff quite soon. The consensus view is not necessarily wrong. There may be a US-led recovery in the next year or two. But it is too short-sighted. The post-bubble adjustment can only have been postponed.”
Globalisation without the US
Jonathan Freedland extends my point the other day about the World Cup. “Here’s the twist. This is one form of globalisation in which America is not the driving force. The US is a bit player, albeit a competent one in the current contest. No, this is one area in which Europe and Latin America lead, recruiting the world to their own obsession.”
Incidentally, I saw an excellent US World Cup participant this morning, when England drew 0-0 with Nigeria, ensuring their passage to the second round (unlike France or Argentina, the pre-tournament favourites). Brian Hall, from the US, was the referee and he did an excellent job, allowing play to flow and not getting fussy with fouls. It’s the first match I’ve ever seen at this level that didn’t produce a single yellow card.
For regular followers of Davos Newbies, an explanation about some days that may seem to have vanished on the site. For the last few months, I was using something called Blogger News Items to make my entries. I’ve reverted back to good ol’ straight Manila, written in Radio UserLand. All those entries between January and today can still be accessed through the calendar, but for some reason Manila entries and News Items can’t share the same home page.
Murdoch on Gates and more
Rupert Murdoch doesn’t give many interviews, but James Harding does a great job with the media mogul in the Financial Times (the interview is available online only to subscribers). The paper version is available just about everywhere, however, and is worth a look for this alone today.
Here’s Murdoch on Bill Gates: “I don’t dislike Bill, but Warren Buffet says that Bill Gates is the kind of man who, if he saw a competitor drowning, would push a hose down his throat to be sure.”
He says Vivendi’s Jean-Marie Messier is someone who has “never… met a journalist he didn’t give an interview to”, and ex-Time Warner head Jerry Levin is “the chairman of the company which made the biggest blunder” of the bubble years.
More curious to me is the contrast between Murdoch’s avowed republicanism and his stated intent to see his son Lachlan succeed him at News Corp. What’s the difference logically?
End of cohabitation
France’s long period of cohabitation is over. The results of the first round of parliamentary voting in France look like confirming a centre-right government, alongside the presidency of Jacques Chirac. I’m not a close follower of French politics, but three things strike me about the result.
First, it’s time for the right in France to put up or shut up. The slow progress on a range of reform measures has long been put down to the paralysis induced by cohabitation. Now, the nearly content-free campaigning of Chirac will either be exposed or he and his allies have to come up with an effective governing programme.
Second, what happened to the respect for the democratic process that the presidential embarrassment supposedly engendered? It looks like turnout was around 65%, which is high by Anglo-Saxon standards, but low everywhere else — including France.
Third, why was cohabitation such a problem? The US, notably, has thrived when executive and legislative branches are in different hands. That sounds like democracy to me.
Computers and thinking
Lee Gomes has an excellent, short summary in The Wall Street Journal of the tussle between the MIT school of artificial intelligence and the Berkeley philosophers (subscription only, sadly). According to Gomes, Berkeley has won. “Even in Silicon Valley, one occasionally hears nightmare scenarios about genius-level computers running amok and giving the pink slip to their human creators. Lost in the discussion is the fact that the starting point of the argument — that intelligent, conscious machines are just around the corner — is looking more and more like silly ranting.”
Brad DeLong reckons Joe Stiglitz is a bit confused in his new book, Globalization and its Discontents. DeLong shows Stiglitz takes four different positions on the IMF’s involvement in Indonesia. His conclusion? “Until Stiglitz can figure out which of these four positions is truly his, we won’t know in which direction he thinks world economic governance should move. And we won’t know what to think of his book.”
Incidentally, I’ve only just found Brad’s weblog, the Semi-Daily Journal. Brad is an excellent, Berkeley-based economist, who also writes with wit and verve. It will unquestionably become a regular destination for me.
“There are quite a few more important things happening in the world today than this football game, but at the moment I can’t remember what they are.” That’s how John Motson introduced the BBC’s coverage of today’s England-Argentina World Cup match. I can remember some of those other events, but I have to confess that I haven’t paid much attention to them today.
Along with the rest of the country, I was glued to the television from 12.30. Against a team reckoned by many to be the favourites for the World Cup, England deserved its 1-0 victory. Given the number of chances England had, it could easily have been an even more decisive victory.
For the rest of the world, the most glaring example of American exceptionalism at the moment isn’t its attitude towards gun control, capital punishment or abortion, but its failure to embrace the true world game. The team sports that matter in the US are hardly played elsewhere in the world, so Americans don’t really learn the passion, gut-wrenching tension and excitement that can arise when nation competes against nation. I’m appalled by mindless jingoism, but I’m stirred by the World Cup.
You can’t say the anti-globalisation crowd doesn’t have a sense of humour. This mock World Bank site is brilliant and informative, even if I don’t agree with all the conclusions. I particularly liked the account details for poor countries in the Insecure Online Bank.
Party planner to the power elite
Joe Klein does a brilliant gift for the bon mot. “I will not yammer on about the glories of Rome, present or past (the latter, dicey for an American) – or about the fact that, contrary to the popular British analogy, America is Greece, not Rome. (Britain, which styles itself Greece, used to be Rome and is now Gaul, though divided into four parts.)”
His interview with Berlusconi is interesting because it pins down a lot of what Italians find attractive about this egregious man.