Sunday, May 15, 2005


There is a great little book out there called Freakonomics which can introduce the initiated into the thought processes of economists as well as entertain and educate all of us. The book is called Freakonomics. Below I have include my review for and a link to the Review in the New York Times.

Here is my review for Audible:

This book is a great introduction to modern microeconomic analytical thinking. Despite the title and the (self-?) aggrandizement of a smart economist, the book offers a collection of windows into the often murky working of modern-day academic economics. I would not take the conclusions about crime or parenting or cheating as the final chapter in the analysis of those topics. That is not what this book is about. The heart of this book is how the authors strip out pedantic writing and academic jargon to lay bare the thought processes of a mainstream (despite the claims of the book) economist.

Take care before you read it. If you can not take an objective look at some difficult issues and question your own beliefs and unproven presumptions, this book is not for you. If you held your knee-jerk condemnation of Larry Summers' comments on women in science until you could form your own opinion from the actual text of his speech, then this book is for you.

Besides these deeper points, the book is also informative, challenging, entertaining and well-written. Read it!

Here is the NYTimes Review:

'Freakonomics': Everything He Always Wanted to Know
Steven Levitt has claimed a host of everyday riddles as fair game for the economist.

'Freakonomics': Everything He Always Wanted to Know - New York Times

Economic Scene

Here is another great source for articles by economists for intro courses. It is a weekly column in the New York Times called Economic Scene. The columns are written by a rotating group of economics including Hal Varian and Alan Krueger.

The Economists' Voice

There is a new journal, The Economists' Voice, edited by Joseph Stiglitz, Bradfod DeLong,and Aaron Edlin and published by Berkeley Elecrtonic Press. It is an online, free journal where well-known economists write their normative opinions in non-technical articles. It looks to be a great resource for teaching economincs. Students will see how economists think, stripped bare of technical jargon.

Sunday, February 13, 2005 Sheltered market

This week's Economics focus from the magazine is an article, , argues that "restrictions on building can help explain why house prices are so dear." The conclusion of the article is not to require more affordable house, but to loosen zoning laws.

One lesson for rich-country governments, says Mr Glaeser, lies in the way that they help people who cannot afford adequate shelter. Billions are spent every year on affordable housing schemes, either through grants or by requiring a certain portion of newly built units to be sold or rented at below-market prices. This latter requirement is, in effect, yet another a tax on new building. A more effective and cheaper way to make housing more affordable, he reckons, is to loosen restrictions on new construction. It is inconsistent, surely, for a government to offer help with one hand, while holding back the supply of housing with the other.

The article's sources:

  • Why Have Housing Prices Gone Up? Forthcoming in the American Economic Review

  • Why is Manhattan So Expensive? Regulation and the Rise in House Prices?. Forthcoming in the Journal of Law and Economics

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Slashdot: Fans Attempting to Pay for Enterprise

Slashdot has a story out today, , that is a great example of the famous '' problem. Can they really get three million people to donate twelve dollars each even if each fan thought than one more season of Enterprise was worth that much? It is not impossible. software, especially the browser, has certainly overcome this problem.

Monday, February 07, 2005 The economics of sharing

The Economist magazine has an interesting article, , asking "Technology increases the ability of people to share, but will they share more than just technology?". Slashdot has a good follow up .

Sunday, February 06, 2005 The pragmatist and the utopian

Today's Globe's Ideas section has a great article on the recent history of economic ideas. Though Galbraith's influence and name have faded within the economics profession, there are many economists who are far more pragmatic than dogmatic when it comes to the role of government in the economy.

John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman defined an epic clash of ideas that continues to shape the debate over America's economic future.
By Richard Parker | February 6, 2005
REPUBLICANS NOWADAYS count themselves the party of ideas. ''Ideas matter,'' Ronald Reagan proclaimed a quarter-century ago--words that have since become a GOP shibboleth. But with his recent Inaugural and State of the Union addresses, President Bush reminded us that today's conservatives don't love just any kind of ideas, even conservative ones. Big ideas are better than small, and bold ideas--ideas meant to profoundly reshape world history in the name of high principle--are always preferable to cautious ones. Abandoning a once fiercely defended reputation for caution in the face of change, it seems today's proudly swaggering conservatives have adopted the revolutionary role that for 200 years they existed to defeat.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

iPod AirClick

Besides being a nifty new remote for the , the new from Griffin Technology looks like a cool tool for the classroom. One version of the AirClick functions as a remote for a Mac or PC. I have used PowerPoint remote controls before and loved them. I like the freedom to wander around the classrooms that these remotes allow in a PowerPoint-based lecture. This gadget looks like the latest in this line.

Check out the review, , in today's section of the .

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Making of Modern Economics

I am about one third of the way through Mark Skousen's The Making of Modern Economics. Although I am learning much I did not know about the role of the French in the early development of economics and expect to continue learning, I find his idiosyncratic style disorienting. He maintains a very free-market perspective in his narrative, judging economists by their adherence to free market principles. The book also repeats facts and other information, leading me to believe that the book is at least partly a compliation of Skousen's previously written materials. I am not sure why we need to know that David Ricardo's teeth fell out while Skousen spends less time on the development of the theories.

I am actually not reading the book, but rather listening to the full 19 hours of the unabridged audiobook available from The suggested musical selections are a bit strange, though I am not sure if they are specific to the audiobook.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Metal Pieces

I have been trying to teach my students that not every word mean what they think it means, especially in economics, but many of my students find this inconceivable. The latest illustration in 102 is the concept of money. As luck would have it, I have finally gotten around to reading the second book of the Wealth of Nations. Lo and behold, Adam Smith himself offers us an explanation of the "ambiguity of language", as Smith puts it.

When we talk of any particular sum of money, we sometimes mean nothing but the metal pieces of which it is composed; and sometimes we include in our meaning some obscure reference to the goods which can be had in exchange for it, or to the power of purchasing which the possession of it conveys. [Smith's Wealth of Nations Book II Chapter 2 Paragraph 16].

He goes on for a bit, though as usual the rest of Smith's explanation does more to confuse the reader than to elucidate the material. So when should I spring this on my unsuspecting students?

Sunday, March 23, 2003

On Economics

Returning to Jeff Madrick "Paying the Price for Isolation", I feel the need to 'deconstruct' his thesis a bit. Madrick is arguing that the recent evolution of the world's economy has reinforced the need for tight economic and political integration and that the recent isolationism push of the Bush administration is causing friction that could have serious economic consequences. To my mind, this is indisputable, but he neglects to discuss the political rationale for isolationism, which are what Madrick refers to as "fanciful and ideological claims". To my mind again, there is no good political rationale and these ideological claims are little more than fanciful, but they need to be refuted either on ideological grounds or by demonstrating that their purported benefits are not worth their economic costs.

On Economic Language

I have been reading Safire's On Language column too much recently. While reading Jeff Madrick "Paying the Price for Isolation" in the Economic Scene Column for the Times, I could not focus on the economics. Maybe Spring Break put my economics circuits in standby mode. Either way, I could only focus on Madrick's use of words like exuberant, conflagration and embedded. The overuse of buzzwords, augmentation by a thesis that requires orders of magnitude more evidence and articulation than can fit in a newspaper column, irked me tremendously, far more than is warranted, especially because I write no better that Madrick does and completely agree with his thesis. Argh!
According to "", exhuberant means
1. Full of unrestrained enthusiasm or joy.
2. Lavish; extravagant.
3. Extreme in degree, size, or extent.
4. Growing, producing, or produced abundantly; plentiful: "Threads of her exuberant hair showed up at the bottom of the sink" (Anne Tyler).

No one could argue that any economy, including the 'Merkin (as Safire transcribes it), is 'full of joy', though the other three definitions might apply. But I believe that Madrick's choice of works is inspired by the Maestro's comments about 'irrational exuberance'. The use of embedded, whose popularity was discussed in another recent "On Language" column, may be, in part, inspired by current military jargon which has journalists embedded with troops rather than just traveling with them or being stationed with them. Nest we will see more writers discussing ways to 'grow the economy'.
Who cares about the way economists use language? Certainly not economists. One of the few economists that I have read on this subject is D. N. McCloskey, whose works (see Economical Writing among others) never achieved the critical mass necessary to become an integral part of an economist's education. This is possibly due to the human tendency to dismiss what they do not understand (See Leading Economist Stuns Field By Deciding To Become a Woman) or it may represent the natural economic tendency to avoid costly things with ill-understood benefits, such as better communication skills.
As you can tell, I have never taken many pains to improve my own writing.

Friday, March 14, 2003

IM: Friend or Foe?

I have unlocked a Pandora's box and am considering opening it. I have set up an IM account and have installed it on my computer. I have started to test it out in a personal setting (not with studetnts or colleagues) in an effort to evaluate its usefulness for teaching, advising and other work-related activities.

As with weblogs, IM has potential and I know other faculty who use it successfully (however one defines success). Students seem disinclined to phone me and don't email me much. But this generation is the IM generation. This is a technology that most, if not all, of my students have already mastered. Allowing students to IM me could open the floodgates and erase any free time I have now to get work done.

Faculty and staff, on the other hand, will be completely in the dark with IMing unless they are not technophobes and have children who have reached their teens in the last few years. It would probably be most useful for quick questions, such as I often have for the registrar's office, that need a quicker response than email generates. But the phone has always worked quite nicely. Hmmm....

Thursday, March 13, 2003


In honor of the traditional economic naming convention that gives us website names such as JokEc and WoPEc, I hereby call for the creation of BlogEc. BlogEc could be the one-stop shopping center for all economics-related web logs. The AEA's Resources for Economists on the Internet has a section devoted to weblogs, RFE: Weblogs and Commentaries, but the selection is meager.

Brad DeLong's blog, Semi-Daily Journal, is probably the best bet out of the RFE's slim pickings. A bit too full of long quotes from other sources, the ideas are interesting and the entries are well-written, meaning that the professor has overcome two of the hurdles that economists find daunting.

Blog For Sale

I am having some trouble finding stuff on the technical side of blogging. Some of the sources I cited earlier have some stuff, but nothing comprehensive and simple. I would like to be able to provide IT and others in the faculty a summary of the technical options for implementing weblogging on campus. It would be the basis of any sound cost/benefit analysis.

Three out of the four people that I have tried to 'sell' on the potential benefits of weblogging have resisted the idea. One didn't see how blogging differed from other forms of web publishing. Others, like my own better half, found it a bit 'creepy'. Maybe I am just an unrepentant technophile.


PBS has a minisite, Blogpatrol, about the 'Blogosphere'. It is not very informative, but it is a trustworthy source.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Spell Check

Hey, it's free right? So who cares if Blogger doesn't offer spell check with the free version. Well, as the economic cliche goes, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

I had forgotten what I bad typist I am and I think that my spelling bee skills have rusted away. I find the most stressful thing in blogging, after blogger's block, is worrying over not catching misspelled words. Not that I trust any spell checker, but they tend to catch most of the obvious errors.

I had also forgotten how annoying proofreading was when you have to check for this level of minutiae. No wonder the kids like text messaging these days. The informal, dynamic and phonetic nature of the 'written dialect' really frees the writer from that stress.

Well, yada, yada, yada, gripe, gripe, gripe.

Reading Into

"Djindjic is dead. Long live someone else whose name I can neither pronounce nor spell."

Although my musings are straying a bit afield today, I am thinking about the assassination not too many hours ago of the man who ousted Milosevic in Serbia. I can't help thinking about the Archduke Ferdinancd and how that seemingly isolated event was the linchpin in the circumstances that began the first World War not quite ninety years ago.

It seems that I am not the only one who reads too much into apparent historical coincidences. While double checking my spelling of assassination, I checked on the NYTimes article, Sniper Attack Leaves Leader of Serbia Dead, where the reporter has made the same connection.

Here's to hoping that we are both wrong!

Tuesday, March 11, 2003


1. The Economist has a fun article, | nU fonetics, about the new dialect of text messaging. Knowing the cheapskates from across the pond that run this wonderful weekly, it won't be there long, so get it while it is hot!

2. ANFSCD: from Monty Python, "And Now For Something Completely Different". lol!

Self Service

Not that this blog is much like a gas station, but I am doing a lot of self service, or, at least, something self-serving.
Looking back over some of my posts, I am not sure I can or want to describe what I see. Since no one knows about this blog and I don't know how to add a comment feature, I think I need to flame myself. I am not sure, however, if that would make things better or worse.
So I will leave all as is and hope either for a muse or for someone with a digital propane tank.

Reasonable Procrastination

What is it with my sudden interest in blogging? Is it a fad that will fade away with the passing weeks? Is it just a way for me to delay delving into the ever-increasing pile of tedious grading I need to do? Maybe, just maybe, it is a legitimate investigation of a potentially useful pedagogcial tool that I could incorporate into my courses to my students learn more, better, faster. I wish.
There are so many things to include in my class to 'improve' the educational experience for my students. From Service Learning to connected learning to asynchronous virtual class discussions to spreadsheet-based projects to essay writing, I have tried and am still experimenting with ways to educate the students. But, as a good economist, I have to make that cost/benefit analysis. It is not about following trendy pedagogy or using cool software. It is not about impressing my peers or myself with how many nifty side dishes I serve my students. It is about the meat and potatoes (for the non-vegans) of economics. I can't sacrifice content for window dressing.
I am not a Luddite, broadly or narrowly defined, so I will continue to play with the new toys. I hope that I never lose the focus on good old guns'n'butter.


Both have good links. The first, EDUCATIONAL APPLICATIONS OF WEBLOGS, is a website devoted to educational weblogging, while the second, Weblogg-ed Vol. 2: Using Weblogs in Education, is a weblog about educational weblogging. This second website is heavily weighted towards the technical side, but has a few posts about the pedagogical side.

YABEW (Yet Another BlogEd Website)

This one, elearnspace blog: Educational blogging, has more potential than the last, but doesn't format well in IE. It also need more contributions.

A blogEd Site

Hmmm... Though not easy to navigate, this collection of blogs, Collogatories, has some insights into the role blogs could play in the classroom.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Balancing Act

There are quite a few topics in 101/102 that require the skills of a high-wire acrobat. I totter back and forth on the hot-button issue wire almost everyday in 102.

The budget deficit, the impending war on Iraq, the gender and racial economic disparities, the impending war on Iraq, Social Security, the impending war on Iraq, AIDS in Africa and the impending war on Iraq all weigh heavily on my lectures and on my conscience. Philosophers have long ago brushed away the line in the sand between the positive and normative, between the descriptive and prescriptive, between what is and what ought to be. There may be no line to walk, but I feel a strong urge to follow t closely in class.

My strongly-held opinions could easily overly influence or alienate the still-pliable minds in my class. I long for some students with strong and well-considered opinions to provide her/his classmates with some perspective. Playing the devil's advocate works on paper, but I fear I may be typecast. Or worse, the debate becomes unclear when presented as a monologue.

Beep, Beep, Beep. Time's up.

Educational Blogging

Tomorrow may have been optimistic. :) has an article on blogging, "Blogging goes mainstream". This article, together with one I saw linked to on the Chronicle of Higher Ed's page (excuse the lapse in grammar),has gotten me thinking about the role that blogs could play in education.

Since blogs operate like a publicly accessible journal or diary, blogs could replace jounraling in writing or first-year experience (FYE) classes. Digital diaries fit in well with the electronic portfolio initiatives taking shape here as well as at campuses across the country. Blog entries could form the reflective backbone of these e-portfolios and serve as a starting point for both assessment and evaluation by faculty, advisors, potential employers and graduate programs, as well as self-assessment by the student's themselves. There is potential that the diaries could form another facet to campus community life where the blogs could spawn discussion, both on- and off-line, and other interaction across the campus.

Blogging course projects and papers could offer an instructor an insight into the development and drafting process of a semester long project which would allow for a continuous stream of back-andf-orth comments and suggestions. The final blog would present a timeline for the project, offering a mulitangle view where instructors only see a single final draft. Blogging a group project would be a simpler version of the collaboration tools being developed by all the Office'style software makers. The group blog would be a central depository for notes and comments and even versions of documents. Not only could loss of files be prevented, but individual contributions to the group could be assessed.

One tradeoff would be the privacy that paper-based jounraling provides, assuming that students take advantage of this 'privacy' to relate personal thoughts that they would not wish to share with the classmates or the public. Since this is not important to most course projects, faculty could use traditional journaling formats.

My largest concern would be cost, in the larger, economic sense. What resources would be needed to set up the digital infrastructure? What training would faculty need? How can faculty be brought on board with blogs? How would students react? Would students need much training?

Monday, March 03, 2003

Too tired

I am too tired. It is only Monday night and I am worn out.

See you all tomorrow!

Sunday, March 02, 2003

Stick and Stones ...

Modern economics is all about the carrots and the sticks (forget the birds and the bees). As a teacher, however, I have done my best to avoid the stick. Today, I got out the stick.

Threatening dire consequences for plagiarism seems to have done the trick. The last half dozen or so assignments seem, after a cursory examination, to be serious-citation-error free.

I am not sure if I should be happy about this turn of events. As an eternal optimist, I need my faith in carrots. I earnestly do not want to depend on sticks.

PS Where exactly does this carrot-and-stick metaphor come from?

Dynamic (Diabolical) Duo

There are two devils stalking my students. They stand on both shoulders of each of my students. Long ago, it seemed they tag-teamed and deposed the lone angels acting as the students' consciences. What devils may these be? The dynamic duo of plagiarism and the inability to follow directions.

I have an writing assignment due online today.[I realize that writing and economics seem an odd couple, but I enjoyed the movie.] Only three of the ten-or-so early submissions followed directions and avoided 'citation issues.' As of tomorrow, when I will see the bulk of these assignments, I foresee the need to bring many students to task for yielding to the advice of these two devils.

I, and my students, will waste more precious educational time dealing with issues prompted by laziness, poor preparation for college, general incompetence and apathy than we will spend using these writing assignment as a tool for developing both an understanding of the world around us and the students' writing skills.

Any more of this and I may go on strike!


You can probably tell from my last post that I am re-reading Tolkien. Actually I am listening to the unabridged audio collection of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. It is slow, with over 60 hours of audio, but well worth it.

I am also in a 'longer-term' effort to re-'read' Adam Smith. While my alma mater required only one chapter of Smith's work, I feel some unwritten obligation to slog my way through the entire work. I knocked down book one, but have yet to work up the energy to start the next one. Maybe I will do one a per year.

Smith inspired the name of this weblog, Perspicuity. Here's the quote from Adam Smith's An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Library of Economics and Liberty. Retrieved February 6, 2003 from the World Wide Web:

"I shall endeavour to explain, as fully and distinctly as I can, those three subjects in the three following chapters, for which I must very earnestly entreat both the patience and attention of the reader: his patience, in order to examine a detail which may, perhaps, in some places, appear unnecessarily tedious; and his attention, in order to understand what may perhaps, after the fullest explication which I am capable of giving it, appear still in some degree obscure. I am always willing to run some hazard of being tedious, in order to be sure that I am perspicuous; and, after taking the utmost pains that I can to be perspicuous, some obscurity may still appear to remain upon a subject, in its own nature extremely abstracted."

From ?An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations? by Adam Smith
Book I: Chapter IV ?Of the Origin and Use of Money?: Final Paragraph

From per·spic·u·ous: (pr-spky-s) adj. Clearly expressed or presented; easy to understand.

This weblog is devoted to my part in battle between perspicuity and tedium that takes places in every economics classroom.

Friday, February 28, 2003

A Professor's Holiday

There and back again, a professor's holiday. Well, not really a holiday, but I have returned from the stress of the past few days to make it through Friday.

My lectures went well, though uninspired, today. I hope to recharge over the weekend to pick up the pace and the energy level on Monday.

The big thing this weekend will be the results of the new 'asynchronous class discussions' that IT and I have set up in the public folders. Of the half dozen students who have done the assignment early, I think only two have done a proper job. However, maybe the lessons I gleaned today will benefit the not-so-early-bird students. We'll see.

I am looking for a digital place to jot down and organize my ideas. This blog is not well suited for organizing ideas, but there must be a solution out there. There is probably one in my computer if I could just sort it out.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Love Story

Where to start today? Hmmm....

I have had a busy, overly stressful two days, with exams, interviews, meetings, cranky students and double-booked appointments. Thanks to whatever power there may be for administrative assistants.

I am thinking of adapting my First-Year Seminar in the Fall to make it more student-centered. I think I will have them organize a College-wide movie showing, with a movie of their choice and with proceeds donated to the charity of their choice. I hope to have them choose a movie that reflects what they perceive life is like at the College. Maybe it could develop into a College cult movie, as Love Story is to my alma mater. Here's to pipe dreams!

Enough for now...


As part of a search committee for new faculty, I have found myeself asking applicatns about how they view the role of assessment in their courses. Well, it seems that it is time to turn the tables and ask myself; what role is assessment playing in my classroom and is that the role I want it to play?

With the excess number of students needing extra time in their exam today, it seems that I am not assessing my students properly. I know, in my head, that I don't need to ask everything, but it seems that my heart won't let me shrink the exams to fit a fifty minute time frame.

Perhaps I am too lenient in offeering extra time. Perhaps I should design long exams and enforce strict time limits with the expectation that one hundred percent is not possible. My instincts tell me that this would not be wise, but I need to consider this point further.

As it is late, I will end on this note tonight. But, to quote a modern cultural icon, "I'll be back."

Tuesday, February 25, 2003


Grading. Someone should make the students do it. Then they might take pity on their faculty and either do it right or just not turn it in at all.

"Burn her! Burn her!" (MP&THG)

Now that I have opened up this can of virtual worms, I feel pressure to write. So write I will. At least this post, anyway, just to relieve the writer's block.

Days like today make me wonder if the math in intro economics is worth the work. I guess it would if I did not have to be the math teacher as well as the economics one. Alfred Marshall may have been too right when he advised that economists do the math in secret and burn the evidence after the math had been translated into prose.

Unfortunately, if I want these kids to think analytically, I don't see an easy alternative to giving them the opportunity to take the more strictly logical approach. Sadly enough, I see far too much memorization and far too little understanding.

Round One

I need to let loose.

I teach economics at a local college near Boston. In the classroom, I not only can not say what all I want, but I can't always say what I want. I need to present a balanced view. "On one hand ..., and on the other ..." Though I am losing my captive audience, I hereby open this blog as my own personal mental ventilation system!

Welcome and I hope that I can avoid Mr. Smith's tedium in a place where I no longer need to be so perspicuous.