Learning by doing from the Wall Street Journal. I like it. I think it should start much, much earlier than college.
Whenever I think of Bitcoin, I can’t help to think of the Liberty Dollar, a paper-based alternative currency that the Fed shut down in 2009 after about an 11 year run.
Bitcoin has a unique value proposition in currency.
It carries cachet among techies (and maybe druggies) and is in limited supply. The former gives it collectible value. The latter gives it purpose for citizens of countries with bureaucrats who have inked their money presses. It feels better heading to the store with currency that may not lose half its value before you get there.
If allowed to continue, I think Bitcoin has the potential of spawning an evolution in alternative currency experiments that may find all different sorts of niches for value propositions and, more importantly, reduce the power the Fed has to mess up the economy.
There already is a Bitcoin cousin, Litecoin. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the likes of Starbucks, Walmart, Amazon.com and Google test the waters. Why just supply a wallet when you can also supply the currency?
The metal Starbucks gift cards are in limited supply, a little bit by design and a little by accident, much like Bitcoin.
Maybe they should check out how many of those things were bought in Cyprus.
I enjoyed listening to this EconTalk podcast with guest Lant Pritchett about education, specifically in poorer countries. I recommend it.
He begins with a nice discussion about bottoms-up and top-down systems using metaphors (emphasis added):
…the basic distinction is between a top down organization where the metaphor of a spider is, all of the resources of the spider web, however spread out they are, merely serve to transmit information to one spider, who synthesizes that information and responds with the resources of the system. So, if there is a bug, the spider crawls out and gets it. But kind of all the web is kind of an ancillary to the brains of the top. The starfish is a creature that actually has no brain. It’s neurally connected, but a starfish moves because the individual units of the starfish sense something and if they sense more food they try and pull that way. And if the other side isn’t pulling as hard, the starfish moves. So it’s really a metaphor of a decentralized system, where individual units responding to local conditions create the properties of the system. And the beauty of a starfish is if you cut a starfish up into 5 bits, you get 5 starfish. The danger of a spider is that when the spider dies, it’s dead. The whole system therefore falls into dysfunction [single point of failure].
Later, he proposes why bad school systems may persist:
…one of the conjectures I put in the book is that it persists partly by camouflage. It pretends to be something it’s not and then can project enough of the camouflage that it maintains its legitimacy. So, sociologists of organization have a term called ‘isomorphic mimicry’, which is adapted from evolution where some species of snakes look poisonous but aren’t, but get the survival value of looking poisonous. So, one of the things that’s happened is by this pressure to expand schooling and by the governments’ desire to control that socialization process, they have created all the appearances of schools that provide education but without actually doing it. But have at the same time not produced the information that would make it clear that they weren’t doing it. So they produce enrollment statistics, numbers of buildings, numbers of toilets, numbers of textbooks, numbers of everything. But have, you know, all of which can project the image that there’s a functional system and providing real learning there. But they don’tprovide metrics of learning or incentives for learning or feedback on learning or accountability for learning at all.
There’s much more good discussion throughout, but I’m fond of something Pritchett said near the end:
You know, the United States has always been much more of a starfish system. And the starfish system has enormous strengths, and I think those enormous strengths have led America to be a leader in education in many ways. And one of the examples I use in my book is, if there’s a scaled example of a starfish education system, it’s American universities. And it’s just unbelievable from the data the extent to which America dominates quality universities. It’s just unbelievable compared to Europe, which always took the same approach to universities that other countries want to take to their basic education. And you see the consequences of it. America’s universities–in the book I have numbers of the top 200 universities in the world, what fraction of them are in Anglo countries, and it’s just way disproportional to the population size. And even wealth. Because Europe, which is equally sized and equally wealthy, continental Europe, just has nowhere near. And it’s the result of a starfish system, in my view.
I do appreciate the spider and starfish metaphors. Those roll-off the tongue better than top-down and bottoms-up.
With the minimum wage discussion, people on one side of the discussion view jobs as if they are an entitlement. Everyone deserves a job and a certain minimum wage, no matter what.
That vision works well to get votes in the world of politics.
People on the other side of the minimum wage discussion view jobs more closely to what they actually are: value creators for employers.
I contend that even people on the first side mentioned above, when acting in the non-political world (like when they are buying things), share the view of jobs with the people on the other side of the discussion, whether they realize it or not.
In the political world, it’s easy to say that everyone deserves a minimum wage. It’s even easier to say that everyone deserves a living wage. There’s a lot of upside to saying those things and no cost.
But, in the real world, there is a cost. When given a choice, people rarely choose to spend more to put-their-money-where-their-mouths-are with their political sayings.
Why? Because in the real world, they to see jobs as value creators for employers, themselves. They hire the neighbor kid to shovel snow off their driveway to avoid the work.
They hire a building contractor to finish their basement or remodel their bathroom to have it done right and allow them to continue to do whatever it is they do best.
They hire plumbers to fix their pipes, mechanics to fix their cars, restaurant workers to fix their meals, HVAC guys to fix their air conditioner and so on. At of all of these transactions they conduct to make their lives better, how often to they inquire to see if everyone employed by the company is making a living wage and how much extra they would need to pay to ensure they did for their job?
Some people voluntarily go out on Sundays and pick up trash in the park. If we collectively decide that we need more trash pickup, do we turn to the people who have been doing this by choice and demand that they do more? Or do we decide that maybe the rest of us should pitch in as well (either by getting out there ourselves or paying others to)?
Exactly. We should be thanking the people who do it by choice, rather than demanding they do more.
Unfortunately, I think some do believe demanding that people doing it by choice is the best route to go, especially if it means that they appear to want a good thing, like clean parks, without actually having to do anything, except talk about it.
Don Boudreaux has had several great posts about the minimum wage lately, but a couple are exceptional. In this one, he does a great job of giving illustrative analogies to make the economics easier to understand. In this one he writes a letter to the New York Times to dispute the left’s favorite Nobel-laureate, Paul Krugman.
In this one, Greg Mankiw, also responding to Krugman, points to research that found a link between jobs and the minimum wage. Mankiw also points to a great post from Steve Landsburg, that introduces some interesting and different points. Steve edits that post here.
Mankiw also disagrees with the President about research on minimum wage.
Of course, there’s one single point that most of these economist, except Don Boudreaux, misses: What business is it of your’s?