Hey, this is pretty cool

28 04 2011

Way back in the day (early 2010, though I thought it was a bit further back), EconStories.tv released a brilliant music video entitled “Fear the Boom and the Bust (A Hayek vs. Keynes Rap Anthem).

In just a few minutes the piece probably did more to expose people my age to the ideas of F.A. Hayek and the free-market Austrian School of economics than years of college econ classes ever would. If you missed it, here it is (it’s well worth the time):

Fortunately the group responsible for the first video didn’t rest on their laurels (not that 2 million-plus YouTube views for a free-market economic video is anything to scoff at) and released an awesome followup, “Fight of the Century: Keynes vs. Hayek Round Two”:

And a timely release it is. Thought the Great Recession officially ended in 2009, it sure doesn’t feel like boom times. Failed attempts at Keynesian stimulus and bizarre free money Federal Reserve policies have done little to nothing to alleviate long-term unemployment or spark genuine growth-and now a rapidly devaluing dollar revving up inflation, the public has to spend more and more of its already reduced income to get less and less.

Were he still alive, Hayek wouldn’t be surprised by what’s going on today. The burgeoning contingent of young, free-market supporting scholars and activists on campuses and in think-tanks across the country today certainly aren’t surprised, either.

Perhaps the Keynes vs. Hayek videos, and others like them, will help open more eyes to the obvious: statist economic planning isn’t merely bad for “big business” or “bankers”; instead, it destroys wealth and limits opportunity for all.


Exams are over

28 04 2011

I have been in a study coma for a good while, and as I’ve just completed my final exam, I’m beginning to emerge.

For the record, it was a statistics exam. And it was terrible. I liked the class, but I have never been less emotionally invested in the results of an exam that I know I did horrendously on.

So perhaps it’s a good thing that I’ve switched gears yet again; I’ll be studying History, starting next semester. For the first time, I’m actually excited about my upcoming class roster–a notable first during my college career.

I’ll be back later today once I decompress a bit.


An academic’s mortal sin

25 04 2011

It’s no secret that the rigors of academic life place tremendous stress on college students; the challenges of heavy course load, an often brutal social battlefield, and uncertain employment prospects post graduation can drive students to depression or, in tragic occasions, even suicide.

Yet there’s another pressure point in the modern university system – one that receives a lot less attention from the mainstream media: the often bitter politicking that occurs between academics and the vulnerability of instructors lacking the magical armor of tenure.

Perhaps this situation will be given a bit more attention now that a non-tenured Princeton Spanish instructor, Dr. Antoni Calvo, has committed suicide after losing his position (and his work visa) in a potentially politically-motivated firing. This New York Times article has more information, but Princeton has been far from generous with the details so far.

This has led to some speculation that Calvo, though almost universally loved by students and other members of the Princeton community (he was nicknamed “St. Antonio” for his generosity and love of his students), was fired for being, at times, less than politically correct – a mortal sin in academia.

Unless, of course, one has received tenure, at which point one is free to make any number of offensive, outlandish, and generally insulting statements free of consequences; recall University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill’s post-9/11 comments about “little Eichmanns.” Churchill lost his tenure only after investigations revealed separate instances of academic misconduct.

By comparison, Calvo’s assault on modern politically correct sensibilities involved colorful language and Spanish colloquialisms. From the New York Times article:

Dr. Calvo told a graduate student that she deserved a slap on the face, and slapped his own hands together. In another, he jokingly referred to a male student’s genitalia in an e-mail, using a common Spanish expression that implores someone to get to work.

It’s impossible to tell what turns the Dr. Calvo story will eventually take. Calvo’s drastic decision to take his own life suggests that other factors beyond a simple firing, whether personal or work-related, were at play. The story is certainly worth following as more details begin to emerge. I hope that investigations into the matter will bring some solace to the Princeton community.

In the mean time, we need to examine an archaic and often abused system of tenure that insulates a small cadre of academic elite from criticism and accountability while leaving instructors like Calvo, who dare challenge the politically correct conventions of higher education, to the wolves.

A message from the young: get serious about reforms

21 04 2011

Think class warfare is bad? Brace yourself for generational warfare.

This article from the US News & World Report hints at what is obvious to anyone who has spent a few moments glancing at our nation’s fiscal arithmetic (with unfunded liabilities running as high as $100 Trillion, a few moments of glancing is about all I can take before turning away in horror): eventually, the staggering burden of our entitlement programs is going to be borne by the young. Namely, my generation and all of those who come after me.

Of course, preventing this robbing from the young and the yet unborn has been a theme of the Tea Party protesters, who have remained rhetorically steadfast on the national debt issue. Unfortunately, despite this rhetoric, the entitlement mentality (“Get your government hands off my Medicare”) seems have taken root across the board: a recent poll shows that 78% of respondents oppose cuts to Medicare in order to reduce the national debt.

That’s not going to fly. We as a generation apparently don’t expect much as it is; 60% of young workers don’t expect to see any Social Security benefits, despite already paying into the system. What we can rightfully demand, however, is a shot at the American Dream, which I believe boils down to nothing more than the opportunity for economic and personal self-determination. That opportunity is going to be suffocated by excessive taxation enacted to prop up a system that my generation had no say in creating and, more importantly, no stake in saving.

And that’s going to create some electoral tension, not to mention social tension, as the young try to make their way in a world seemingly set up to benefit the old. Unless, of course, we get our fiscal house in order. Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan is a start-or it would be, if it had any real prospects of moving forward. Likewise, Sen. Rand Paul’s $500 Billion spending cut proposal at least shows he has a bit of a backbone (more than can be said about most of current the Republican leadership).

Still, when dealing with a $14 Trillion national debt and untold trillions in unfunded liabilities, all of these proposals seem more laughable than bold. The political establishment’s utter inability to tackle our entitlement issues and the massive debts that accompany them explains an otherwise puzzling trend I’ve noticed among an increasing number of student liberty activists I’ve crossed paths with: a resignation to the fact that the current system is beyond salvation or reform, and a desire to get our entitlement implosion out of the way sooner, rather than later, in order to get on with the process of rebuilding. Call it the “Atlas Shrugged” mentality.

This seeming nihilism isn’t borne out of malice, nor is it personally directed at members of older generations. Instead, this attitude is a realistic and understandable reaction to our current political reality. Yet the “collapse” can be averted, and along with it any dark prospects of “generational warfare,” but only if we act decisively.

Entitlement reform and debt rollback are no longer abstract topics of discussion to be had at symposia among intellectuals; these problems are real, they are current, and they threaten the viability and vitality of the nation. Hopefully, we’ll come to this realization and take the dramatic moves necessary to avert unnecessary and ugly young-vs-old electoral combat.

Student loans top credit card debt

20 04 2011

Perhaps you’ve already seen the news: student loan debt is on track to surpass one trillion dollars this year, having already topped national credit card debt.

This is a big deal.

From the above NYT article, obviously

Unlike other forms of debt that may be forgivable under bankruptcy, student loan debt follows student like a dark cloud – a cloud pelting him with hail as he struggles to make his useless Philosophy of Interpretive Dance Therapy degree pull its own weight.

Here are just a few consequences of defaulting on a student loan, courtesy of finaid.org:

* Your wages may be garnished.
* Your federal and state income tax refunds may be intercepted.
* Your defaulted loans will appear on your credit history for up to 7 years after the default claim is paid, making it difficult for you to obtain an auto loan, mortgage, or even credit cards. A bad credit record can also harm your ability to find a job [oh, the irony].
* You may not be able to renew a professional license you hold.
* You may be prohibited from enlisting in the Armed Forces.
And, of course, you will still owe the full amount of your loan.

Of course. But there’s another consequence of taking on student debt that is almost never discussed: it robs graduates of their dreams. I personally know students with entrepreneurial ambitions that will go unfilled for years while they grapple with loans they were promised would help make them viable members of the workforce.

Young, bright individuals without the responsibilities of a mortgage and a family are supposed to be risk-takers – but it’s hard to launch the next tech revolution when you’re being interrupted by calls from debt collection agencies.

Maybe we as a nation are finally recognizing that the higher ed bubble is unsustainable.

There’s certainly a growing awareness of the problem, as the increasing number of studies on the topic seem to indicate. Unfortunately, there won’t be a shift away from the high-cost, diminishing-returns model we currently tolerate until students themselves begin demanding-or creating-alternatives to the current system.

In the mean time, pioneers like PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who is in the process of awarding twenty would-be college students $100,000 each to found their own companies instead of seeking a degree, should be praised for their initiative. Until we are able to address the true causes of out-of-control tuition rates and the debt burden that accompanies them (a situation that simply increasing financial aid to students will only exacerbate), individuals with ideas may be wise to follow Thiel’s urging and look for opportunity outside of the academic-industrial complex.

Keep an eye out…

20 04 2011

I’ll be contributing to The Watercooler section of The Michigan View from now on, so keep an eye out. I’ll be focusing largely on issues impacting college students–one of my favorite topics. I’m really excited to have this opportunity; we’ll see where it leads.

Also, I’ve got a bunch of stuff from the trip to Florida to put up, and since classes are officially over for the semester (even though finals aren’t), I’ve got plenty of time on my hands.

This Cigar

18 04 2011

Stand back, I’m going to smoke it.

Hand-rolled and purchased in Ybor City, Florida this weekend.

Just try and stop me.

UPDATE: Mission accomplished.

The cigar was initially rather mild (I also bought a Maduro from the same roller for comparison) and burned evenly, but quickly until halfway, when burning slowed and the flavor darkened considerably.

Smoke volume was hard to gauge since I was outside and it was breezy, but it had pleasant spicy and woody notes. I was surprised at the quality of construction, though it wasn’t as tightly packed as the Oliva Serie V torpedoes I enjoy.

I picked up a few other cigars on my Florida trip that I’m excited to smoke over the coming week or two. We’ll see how they compare.