Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why Totalitarianism Is Bad for Efficiency and Other Unspeakable Matters

Read this post on the Daily NK. It’s a reminder that as bad as the market economy can be, it could be worse.

Speaking of North Korea, did you know that a tenured academic gave a talk at an institution of education that should have known better than to give it a platform? It claimed that all the problems that the rest of the world has with North Korea would go away if only Japan sincerely apologized for its war crimes. At that point, I walked out, so I don’t know what more it had to say about North Korea—its main claim to fame is its eloquent defense of the Khmer Rouge back in the day, so go figure—but let me know if you were there. On second thought, don’t.

Then there’s the academic who claimed intimate knowledge of Barack Obama, then went on to vent its hate of the President-Elect. The funny thing was, the only facts it could come up with were a rehash of the two books that Obama had written. It also managed to slander the University of Michigan Law School on the occasion. Mind you, this is such a slimy character that it refused to speak on the record, although there was no such notice on the announcement of the event.

These two things are the best argument against tenure. Or allowing academics to speak out beyond their professed area of expertise.


Janne Morén said...

"Or allowing academics to speak out beyond their professed area of expertise."

Like a lot of us do on our blogs or other personal soapboxes? :)

What there should be, perhaps, is a recognition that using your (academic or other) title or job description as a stamp of quality in unrelated matters is a form of professional misconduct, not unlike quoting without attribution or cherry-picking experimental data.

If I spout off about population trends in Osaka as plain Janne Moren on my blog then that's fine; if I were to sign the word-for-word identical post with "Dr. Moren" then I'd be committing a form of fraud; I implicitly assert that I have the academic expertise to actually know what I am talking about.

Ps. If I had tenure I could be spending this evening with my wife instead of cobbling together yet another research proposal on a tight deadline. An excellent argument for tenure if I ever saw one. Ds.

Matt Dioguardi said...

I promise not to keep bringing this up, but the American and Japanese monetary system is not one based on the free market in any way whatsoever. So I think one really needs to be careful when referring to almost any nation these days as having a free market.

The article you link has this quote:
"The types of documents that can be classified as secret documents have increased in number significantly compared to before, so those that were previously kept on bookshelves are ordered to be specially preserved in bookcases with locks. Important documents have been separately preserved in iron cases."

Compare that with this quote from a recent Bloomburg article.

The Federal Reserve refused a request by Bloomberg News to disclose the recipients of more than $2 trillion of emergency loans from U.S. taxpayers and the assets the central bank is accepting as collateral. Bloomberg filed suit Nov. 7 under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act ... The Fed responded Dec. 8, saying it’s allowed to withhold internal memos as well as information about trade secrets and commercial information.

Dare I suggest it ... maybe it's central planning that's the problem in *both* cases.

By it's very nature, central planning seems to require quite a degree of secrecy, else how can the planners carry out plans without pesky interference. (Okay, I didn't think this up, it's in Hayek's _The Road to Serfdom_, ... at least, I think it is ...)

Matt Dioguardi said...

I forgot to include a link to the article I quoted, sorry. Here it is.

Jun Okumura said...

Janne: True, but academic credentials can lend instant credibility to preposterous pronouncements or at least provide unwarranted public exposure to the offending PhDs. Is there more than a touch of envy behind my thoughts? Yes. Shouldn’t I be more than gratified with the intelligent, inquisitive readership that I enjoy on my blog? Yes. And I do not begrudge the Paul Krugmans and Steve Levitts of the world and their fame and fortune. But when I am witness to a wanton display of the abuse of the privileged assumptions that academic achievements afford, I am sorely tempted to shout (to borrow verbatim the eloquent words of an anthropologist-turned-businessman on one of these occasions), “Bullsh!t!”

Matt: You’re point is well taken. “Trust us” is not enough in this situation. The Fed has a lot of ‘splainin’ to do if it wants to claim confidentiality privileges in the face of public demand for disclosure . On the other hand, Congress could mandate disclosure. The media could crawl all over Bernanke and his behind until he says uncle. The WSJ and Daily Kos could unite in an unholy union to take him down. And you (or Bloomberg) could slam the Fed for its secrecy and be sure that men in khaki will not come to whisk you away to that labor reeducation camp on the Yalu River. It’s not about centralized government; rather, it’s about what you can and do demand of government.

Your Founding Fathers were, of course, well aware of the dangers of concentrated power. So they instituted a check-and-balance, federal system that in turn is complemented by (complements?) civil society. To be sure, the Fed stands at a somewhat oblique angle to the original architecture—at a distance to it at that. I don’t think none of us have figured out the optimal configuration for the monetary authorities within the government and may never will. But think of the alternatives. I have made my case before; I’ll be happy to be refuted on the specifics of my argument.

Anonymous said...

Jun, so where exactly does the venerable Bank of Japan stand? The Fed it is not. So what is it?

Jun Okumura said...

Anon, let me sleep on that.