Friday, May 29, 2009

Enough already with greed!

A short rant.

I think the adjective, greedy, and its related noun, greed, should forthwith be banned from all discussions of the economic and financial crisis.

It is a pejorative term for a universal force (people trying to do as well as they can for themselves), sort of like calling gravity a depressant. Okay, that is a bad metaphor, but I can't think of a better one.

I'm not ranting because I feel sorry for bankers who keep getting called names (I'm not, and I think that their toys should be taken away), but because talking about greed inevitably derails constructive conversation. Its like calling nations an axis of evil: once you have labeled someone as evil, you can no longer have a constructive conversation with them. It is appropriate in some contexts (i.e. serial killers are evil) but that means that you have only two options remaining: life in prison or execution. It is silly to do that with an entire country, and it is similarly silly to blame someone's greed for any problems. What do I mean by that? Maybe a better example is to say that if your answer to social problems is abstinence-only sex ed, you are building a policy edifice on a foundation that denies basic humanity. If your policy is directed at humans, it is bound to fail.

Let's think instead about institutions that are good at harnessing "greed" to productive ends, and robust against its excesses. Let's acknowledge the humanity of everyone involved (not just the executives but the watchdogs too) and try to the best of our ability to give them an environment where their own desires can be met by meeting society's desires.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Wonderful news

This is wonderful news:
In the first sign that the Rees Government is looking for immediate solutions to inner Sydney's congestion crisis, the Transport Minister, David Campbell, today will take a proposal to extend the light rail line to a key cabinet committee.

The low-cost proposal would extend the line from Lilyfield through Leichhardt, Haberfield and Summer Hill to Dulwich Hill railway station.

It would link the light rail to the inner-west and Bankstown lines, could be running within a year and cost less than $70 million.
They go on to say that the link to Summer Hill could be finished within months, also that the light rail will be integrated with the rest of the bus/train system (to the extent that there is integration of anything). Particularly if that means fee integration--I keep forgetting how much the light rail costs for a single ride, but it is in the neighborhood of $5--buses and trains, while expensive, cost much less.

And the loveliest thing of all is that a yoga school that I love is in Summer Hill. I can't figure a way to go there regularly now, since the transportation options are pretty crappy (late evening long waits for a bus on a particularly uninviting stretch of Paramatta Road), but if the light rail went where I can't easily walk but would like to go.... the possibilities are revolutionary.

Yay to the consumer utility increasing nature of public transportation. Now on to getting better pedestrian policies in place (a post for another day)!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

More Warren-related video

Really this blog isn't all about Elizabeth Warren, I promise. And I'm actually posting this not because of Warren but because I got a better sense of Timothy Geithner from this hearing than I have before. Perhaps that is because I mostly only encounter people talking about Geithner after small sound bites rather than actually seeing the man speak for himself for extended periods. There are some dodges and some sound bites, but overall I got a sense that Geithner really believes that Treasury is doing what it can. I don't think he is very happy with the choice set, and his beliefs may be wrong, but I have a clearer sense that he is acting in good faith and with honesty than I had before. Maybe this is the equivalent of Bush "looking him in the eyes" but there ya have it. At least I am not the leader of the free world.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The full interview

with Warren is finally posted. Listen to it. I love Elizabeth, much less impressed by Adam. He doesn't listen, he doesn't get it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Recognizing wrongs the right way

I have been intending to post about last Friday's Planet Money podcast since it was released, but I am now glad I waited.

In a nutshell, PM's Adam Davidson interviewed Elizabeth Warren (my favorite person, as you should know by now) last week for, according to Adam, an hour and a half. On the podcast, however, he posted only a very heavily edit clip of a couple of minutes of the exchange where he and Warren were arguing over how she was using her role in the TARP oversight panel. He interspersed the clips (which were either of him or the two talking over each other) with commentary about how weird and uncomfortable it was to get into a fight with Elizabeth Warren. Okay. Weird that you are sharing.

Then he made matters much, much worse by explaining afterward that what he is really unhappy about is not Elizabeth Warren and how she is using her role (he says she is too political or too focused on her own long standing concerns about the middle class) but that she was appointed to the committee at all. Instead, he wants some serious people, economists (Warren is a lawyer), men (he didn't bring up gender explicitly, but it was lurking through out) to be coming up with apolitical, uncontroversial and serious solutions. Jaw on floor.

I was not the only person horrified by this podcast, and it turns out to be the most heavily commented podcast on the blog, and none of the comments I have read (and last I checked in and read what was there it was around the 150 mark) were taking Adam's side. The consensus sins were:

1. His complaints are silly
2. His evidence that Warren is out of line is that no one serious he has talked with thinks that the middle class is very important
3. Where is the rest of the 90 minutes?
4. We didn't get to hear the part of the interview that made him upset, only his upset reaction
5. There were weird gender implications

To Planet Money's great credit, however, today's podcast starts out by an extensive acknowledgment that they had done a bad job. They were not defensive, admitted mistake, acknowledged that the commenters had been, to an extraordinary degree, civil and thoughtful (in marked contrast to the original podcast). They recorded a short comment from one of the commenters, a female pastor, with her take on why the podcast was so bad. She raised the gender point in particular, and made the very good point that Adam had been incredibly deferential to Tim Geithner in an earlier interview despite ample opportunities to get upset for far more justified reasons. Adam in response simply said that he saw in retrospect her point and that while the difference was unintentional it was still his bad.

My one remaining beef is that there is still no news as to when the full interview will be aired.

But most importantly of all, it seems like in the last 8+ years, we as a society have forgotten how to admit fault. Kudos to Planet Money for offering such a gracious example, and let's hear it for them not having any more cause in the future.

Friday, May 1, 2009