Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I arrived in Bakersfield last night. My so-called six hour train trip took nine hours, but I used the time reasonably well (fixing some problems with my data, reading a few chapters of the book I just started, taking a nap, etc). So far things here are typical. Emma is bigger and about as obnoxious as before. My mom and my sister-in-law and I went shopping today and had lunch with my brother, who had to work. I got a Christmas present for DWE, but I'm indecisive about whether or not he'll like it (or, on a more fundamental level, whether or not I even want to get him a Christmas gift...I feel like it might be a more "relationshipy" gesture than I want to make).

At the moment I'm sitting around in a t-shirt and my underwear, waiting for my laundry to finish drying (all my pants are in the laundry). I made the Chex mix and the caesar salad dressing (all while not wearing pants, which I think mildly disturbed my mother). My bro and sis are bringing dessert and the veggie dish, and apparently my brother is also making the stuffing and bringing it over to us in the morning so we can stuff the turkey, because for some reason he doesn't trust us to make it how he wants it (Thanksgiving analogy: Jenn is to mashed potatoes as her brother is to stuffing). So all my mom and I really have to do tomorrow is cook the turkey and make the mashed potatoes (and put the caesar salad together, which will be easy since I will probably also make the croutons tonight).

I really need to work on my International Econ Seminar paper. It's not due until the 4th, but I have to give another presentation on it on Monday, at which point I'm supposed to have it pretty much done (yeah, I can fake being done with it, but since I also have to give my Econometrics paper presentation on Wednesday, I should probably actually have it close to being done). I don't mind the thought of doing schoolwork right now, I just mind the thought of working on that paper. I guess it just still feels big and overwhelming, and if I came up with one small part to work on it wouldn't be so bad.

Monday, November 20, 2006

um, oops...I'm sorry...

First of all, an apology to you, my loyal readers and commenters. Somehow I turned on the "moderate comments" thing without realizing what it did (that is, prevent your comments from showing up until I approved them). So here I am, feeling neglected and wondering why no one has posted any comments for the last week...thank you to Rebel, who finally clued me in. The comments have now been posted. I think I will leave the moderate comments tool on, because I've gotten more spam comments (one of which I accidentally approved), but now I know to check it obsessively (the same way I check my email obsessively), so all of your insightful and interesting contributions will show up promptly. Oh, and N, thank you for your comments about Buffalo; it's a perfect example of how devastating economic change can be to a particular region, and how complex and unexpected the good and bad outcomes can be. (And I'll take up that discussion further in a later post.)

Gotta run, but just wanted to apologize for not granting you all my "approval" sooner and let you know that it was unintentional. I love your comments and I in no way want to discourage you from making them.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

my planty friends return

I'm happy to report that today was more productive than yesterday (a low hurdle to clear given how unproductive yesterday was, but still). I got a few things I needed at Target, and on the way there (it's a 30 minute BART ride) I did some reading for my looming 30 page paper. I pretty much know the gist of what the paper is going to say, so I'm not super-worried about it; on the other hand, I have to turn that "gist" into 30 pages of well-researched detail, which will take some time. I have a 6-hour train ride on Tuesday (too expensive to fly home around Thanksgiving), so presumably I can get some writing (or at the very least outlining) done then.

I also finally got my plants back from S, who was graciously taking care of them at his office while I was in India (and up until now, obviously). They thrived under S's care (although the one that I bought at Target seems basically immortal: I left it here without water for a month last Christmas break and it looked the same when I got home as it did when I left). The peace lily, which was a gift from B on the occassion of my dad's death (and therefore has quite a bit of sentimental value), is much more fickle, and it's looking big and green and happy. S probably watered it more than I used to (he also only gave it filtered water, and instructed me to do the same, but sentimental value or not, I can't live with a plant that's more high maintenance than I am). The lily needs to be repotted, but the logistics of buying potting soil and a big pot will have to wait for another day.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

fat-free half and half

Well, it's been a fairly blah couple of days. I'm off one of my two medications at the moment, so I've been sleeping a lot and feeling a bit sluggish and unmotivated. You would think this would make me eager to go refill my prescription, but for reasons that I don't entirely understand it tends to have the opposite effect. On the other hand, I'm entering the final stretch of the semester, and I have quite a bit of work to do, so I need to be a bit more on the ball than I am right now, so I'll probably be on my merry way to the pharmacy on Monday.

On Thursday night USF had a graduate program open house, which I attended at the request of Prof. K, who has been my professor for two different courses, and is also the IDEC program's co-director. It was actually kind of cool, because there were a not-insignificant number of people there that were really interested in the IDEC program and what I had to say about it. Talking about my research boosted my enthusiasm a bit, which is good, because I've really been neglecting my data lately. My enthusiasm was further rekindled when E and I (M is out of town) met with our advisor on Friday afternoon. He is, as I may have mentioned, on sabbatical in Santa Barbara right now, but he was in town for various reasons, including to talk to his advisees (I'm not even entirely sure how he's getting away with having advisees while he's on sabbatical, but it's to my benefit, so I certainly don't mind). I may have also mentioned that a few weeks ago, he sent us a copy of a paper that he and one of his colleagues from UCSD wrote using the data of an IDEC student from last year. He instructed us to read the paper, and told us that he wants us to use the methodology used in the paper on our own data. I was a little cranky (okay, very cranky) about the wording of the email and the implication that I have to do whatever my advisor says.

I was, of course, totally overreacting (hard to believe, I know). The methodology makes a great deal of sense, especially given the unusual nature of our data (that it's a backcast panel, i.e. data that was collected at one point in time but nonetheless spans a period of time). Also, nothing else I've done econometrically with our data so far has gotten me anywhere. Obviously my advisor, whose idea it was for us to do a backcast panel in the first place (and as far as I can tell practically invented the technique), is the person to listen to when figuring out what the best way is to deal with the data. I was just not very receptive to the manner in which he made his recommendation (Dr. J's rather astute observation: "You don't like to be told what to do, do you?").

Speaking of Dr. J, I'm mildly worried, because he had to cancel class on Wednesday night because his one-year-old daughter had a 104 degree fever. I am aware that it is not uncommon for young children to get surprisingly high fevers for reasons that are not serious, but he also cancelled his Thursday morning classes, and he hasn't gotten back to us about when we can turn in our homework and take the quiz that would have been on Wednesday night (this coming Wednesday night would be logical if it weren't the day before Thanksgiving, when no one is likely to be around). On the anxiety front, there are also two different friends that I'm worried about, but in both cases I'm increasingly doubting my ability to do anything helpful. And especially in my current state of mind, it's hard to separate out the part of worrying that is motivated by concern for others' well-being and the part that is more about my own generalized feelings of anxiety and guilt.

This post is a bit drearier than I meant it to be. Things are, as usual, generally good, and the things that aren't so good can be fixed or coped with well enough. I get to see my family next week, I get to be dragged out of bed at 8 a.m. to go shopping with my mother, and I get to enjoy my yearly ritual of mashing five pounds of potatoes. (Mashed potato anecdote: I asked my mother to buy half and half for the potatoes. She actually called me from the grocery store last night to find out if it was okay for her to get fat-free "half and half". Putting aside the fact that I don't even want to know what the other "half" is made out of if it's not made out of fat, the whole point of putting half and half in mashed potatoes is to add fat. Luckily my mother caved easily to my "it's just once a year" arguement.)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

more pictures

Me with the hopelessly adorable and loveable baby m at the twin's birthday party in Portland. I never noticed this before, but she's so tiny that her binky looks huge. (Note to A: another reason DWE is a keeper--I showed him this picture, and he said, "wow, that is a really cute baby.")

The hopelessly adorable and loveable B family. In addition to illustrating how baby m ended up so cute, I wanted to show a picture where she looks happy, because she looks vaguely freaked out in the one where I'm holding her (of course, I'm sure it's Daddy, who was the photographer, that was freaking her out, since it certainly wasn't Auntie Jenn).

portland trip, final installment (finally!)

Okay, okay. Let's get to that last installment of the Portland trip, before I totally forget what I did while I was there. After spending the night at Rebel's, I hung out with My Wife for several hours, helping her pick out ingredients for jumbalaya at the Hillsdale farmer's market and at the grocery store. Then we stopped by the library and I made fun of her for having overdue book fines, because I am a kind and sensitive spouse.

Late that afternoon, we drove to North Portland to meet MJ and Mr. MJ (her fiance) at the brewery where he works (as a brewer). MJ wasn't there yet, so the three of us chatted and lovingly made fun of MJ's tendency to be unaware of the passage of time. I got to try a couple of different kinds of beer, learned some stuff about beer from Mr. MJ, and I discovered that a lager can actually be really, really yummy (keep in mind that the last lager I'd had at this point was that delicious lukewarm Indian Kingfisher). I think my exact quote was "wow, it tastes like a lager...only good." MJ arrived, we chatted more and drank more beer, and then my wife had to get going so that she could make her jumbalaya for the potluck she was attending. After yet more beer, we headed back to Mr. and Mrs. MJ's place so that MJ could start making dinner and I could keep drinking beer and start sending obnoxious text messages to DWE.

Mr. and Mrs. Tissue came over for dinner (I'm running out of initials here, and I seem to remember some joke that involved calling them that, so those are their blog names now), which was really cool because I hadn't seen them in a while. I should mention at this point that the MJs and the Tissues both have puppies of approximately the same age (six months, I think?). The MJs have a black lab named Otis, and the Tissues have, Winston, who is a mix of a couple different breeds and is fairly similar in size and temperament to Otis. When they get together, MJ aptly describes them as a "puppy tornado". That night, they spent literally hours jumping on each other, nipping at each other, slobbering on each other, wrestling around, and occasionally trying to hump each other. After dinner (which was, by the way, heavenly--fish tacos and a really yummy vegan Mexican soup that Mr. MJ made), I sat on the floor in the living room and I got swept up in the puppy tornado, which I didn't mind because I like big dogs and I'm used to them slobbering and jumping on me. It made me wish that I could bring Emma (my mom's golden retreiver puppy, who is just a month or two older) to Portland to join the puppy party.

The next morning, I was thoroughly chastened for having teased MJ, however lovingly, for being late to everything, because were it not for her calling me from work to be like, "um, doesn't your flight leave soon?" I probably would have missed it (did I mention how much beer and wine I ended up having that night?). Anyway, she was sweet enough to drive me to the airport, where we had lunch and played with PDX's free wireless on my laptop.

And then I got back to San Francisco and had to go to class. Woo hoo.

Finally, I successfully uploaded some pictures:

Mr. and Mrs. Tissue with Otis (on the couch) and Winston (on the floor), who were finally worn out from all their playing.

Mr. and Mrs. MJ. Only one of them wanted me to take this photo.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

the econ bus keeps rollin'

See the comments of the previous post for the questions that I'm answering in this post.

I'm sure you could have guessed this, but I feel obligated to say that not one thought that I'm about to express is original to me (well, okay, maybe one or two right at the end). I've taken a couple classes on international trade, and I've done a great deal of reading about it, and that's where I'm getting all this stuff. I was planning to check some sources and get some accurate numbers, but it turns out I'm really lazy, and apparently I know enough off the top of my head to give you the gist of an answer. If anyone wants specific statistics or sources, I'd be happy to dig them up.

1. All that offshoring necessitates is a shift away from the particular jobs that get offshored (I wish the plural of that word were "offshorn") and toward some other kind of job that's still done here. It certainly can have a tendency to shift employment from manufacturing to services because manufacturing jobs are the sort that tend to be subject to offshoring, while traditionally the service sector can't be outsourced (I can't send my hair to China to have it cut--but wouldn't it be awesome if I could?). There are several caveats here. One is that offshoring isn't the only factor, or indeed even the biggest factor, that has lead to the large and oft-lamented decline in manufacturing jobs in the US. Automation has in fact played a much larger role than offshoring in reducing the number of manufacturing workers. Another thing to keep in mind is that, as you know, technology has greatly increased the number of goods and services that are "tradeable"--the obvious examples of services that now get offshorn include call centers, computer programming, and "back-office" stuff.

So if jobs of any sort get moved from the US to another country, the jobs that replace them will either be in a different tradeable sector (presumably one in which the US has a comparative advantage) or in a nontradeable sector. I would argue that someone who loses their manufacturing job, for any reason, is more likely to end up in a service-sector job as a result of their now-obsolete skill set.

2. American workers do compete with workers from other nations for jobs, and the relative wages of Americans versus workers in these other nations obviously factors into that competition. There is evidence that part of the increase in wage inequality in the US since the early 70s is a result of globalization (a larger part of this inequality, however, is due to advances in technology and the higher returns to skilled labor that accompany those advances). So yeah, part of the reason that some wages are stagnant in the US is offshoring.

Given that, however, there are a few things to keep in mind. One is that labor costs depend on worker productivity. So if I'm a Bangladeshi worker making Gap jeans, and I get paid 11 cents an hour, while my American counterpart gets paid $11 dollars an hour, that doesn't mean that my labor is 100 times cheaper. That's only the case if I can make as many pairs of jeans an hour as the American can, and I almost certainly can't (probably because I'm not working with as much capital--i.e. automation--as the American, and I may also have less experience with that type of work). I'm not saying that the American is 100 times more productive than the Bangladeshi--obviously if The Gap is making jeans in Bangladesh (I have no idea if they are--I own one pair of jeans from The Gap, and they were made in Guatemala), they're doing so because it's cost effective. My point is only that wage differentials aren't as insanely huge as they seem when you factor in productivity. And as foreign workers become more productive, their wages rise. (Since you mention countries without minimum wages, I will also point out that if the US had the level of unemployment and the labor market structure that many developing nations had, I probably wouldn't support a minimum wage, because it could very well end up doing more harm than good.)

3. Despite my caveats, I did basically answer your two previous questions in the affirmative. Whether the benefits of trade outweight the costs is a complicated question, but I would tentatively argue that they do. Economists do try to calculate these sorts of things, for example by looking at the cost-per-American-job-saved of a particular tariff. Take a steel tariff as an example--it makes steel more expensive, which makes cars more expensive, buildings more expensive, improvements to the Bay Bridge more expensive, etc. So if you calculate that extra cost to the business, consumer, taxpayer, etc, and then estimate how many jobs were protected, you can come up with some approximation of the "cost" of saving those jobs. Just as an example, I've seen estimates in the neighborhood of $100,000 per job over the course of a year (I can't remember the exact figure and I'm not bothering to look it up, but it was definitely more than the saved jobs paid). So of course economists, who are all a bunch of obnoxious smart alecks (suddenly it makes sense that I became one), immediately point out that you could have just let those steel workers lose their jobs and paid them all, say, $99,000 a year, and everyone would have been better off.

Obviously that's not realistic, and therein lies the crux of the problem with free trade: generally the benefits outweigh the costs, but the benefits are diffused over a large group of people who are each made a little better off, and the costs are often concentrated on a small group of people who get totally screwed over. The Democrats that do support free trade (and probably some of the Republicans too) generally suggest that the "losers" from trade be compensated through retraining programs and other types of government support. This is a very, very imperfect solution, as I'm sure you are aware. It's also a problematic one, because as I've mentioned, people lose their jobs because of technology changes and increased automation more often than they lose them because of trade (and these technology changes generally have benefits similar to those of trade), but people generally don't get as worked up about it politically. This is why I think that things like unemployment insurance and universal healthcare (that isn't tied to employment) are good, because they ease the pain of all types of structural unemployment, not just that caused by trade. (And since you mentioned xenophobia, singling out globalization as a cause of economic hardship--when it isn't the most egregious cause--does have certain troublingly nationalistic overtones, in my opinion.)

As for the more complex question regarding the wage costs versus the consumption benefits, well, real wages (i.e. adjusted for inflation) have been stagnant for a while now. Since inflation is just the change in the average price level, this means that cheaper goods are not making up for lower wages. But again, trade is only one part of the stagnating-wages story, so it doesn't directly follow that the cost-of-living benefits of trade don't outweigh the wage-lowering effects, which at any rate are probably fairly concentrated in a couple of sectors of employment. I might actually look into that one a bit more to see if I can find anything more specific on it, but the bottom line is that it's difficult to tease out what's caused by trade and what's caused by other stuff.

I'm assuming your last question was more or less rhetorical, so all I'll say is this: if we could find a way to redistribute the spoils of capitalism without destroying the incentives that keep capitalism going (or just making a huge, corrupt, bureaucratic mess), then I think it could work out pretty well. On the other hand, I probably shouldn't presume to know what the Chinese middle class want.

Speaking of presuming to know what people want, I will say one more thing about globalization in general. Obviously it's hugely problematic, and although I'm generally in favor of it, I also feel a great deal of ambivalence. Textbook economics says that trade benefits everyone, but in practice things are clearly far more complicated.

But trade isn't the only thing that's far more complicated in practice. There's an anecdote that I read about three years ago, not long after I first got seriously interested in economics, and it's worth actually hauling out the book and quoting directly (especially since I can reach the book from where I'm sitting). The quote is from a Paul Krugman column in the NYT (April 22, 2001), as quoted in Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan (which is a pretty good layperson-type introduction to economics, despite being a bit too conservative for my taste). I would go so far as to say that my interest in economics was solidified by this anecdote:

In 1993, child workers in Bangladesh were found to be producing clothing for Wal-Mart, and Senator Tom Harkin proposed legislation banning imports from countries employing underage workers. The direct result was that Bangladeshi textile factories stopped employing children. But did the children go back to school? Did they return to happy homes? Not according to Oxfam, which found that the displaced child workers ended up in even worse jobs, or on the streets -- and that a significant number were forced into prostitution.

My argument isn't that we can all feel okay about sweatshops because the alternatives are worse, nor is it that it's the fault of well-meaning Americans that these children's lives were obviously so desperately bad in the first place. My point is just that economic problems are really complex, outcomes aren't easily predicted, and very little is an unqualified economic evil (or, for that matter, an unqualified economic good). In that spirit, I appreciate it when people ask questions and seek to develop more informed opinions about economic issues, regardless of what those opinions end up being.

unions and trade

In a follow-up to yesterday's entry, I wanted to post this link to an article in the NYT regarding the re-emergence of unions' political clout in the wake of the big Democratic win. It does a nice job of highlighting the dilemma faced by moderate and conservative Democrats in terms of union-backed issues. Obviously unions were important in getting Democrats elected, and I think we're all big fans of that whole 40-hour work week thing, but there are a lot of things about the contemporary union agenda that irritate me.

I'm all for an increase in the minimum wage (textbook economics disagrees with me, but 1. there's evidence that textbook economics is wrong on this issue, 2. our labor market is very flexible in other ways, so any impact on employment is likely to be small, and 3. the national minimum wage is really freakin' low). I'm also all for universal health care, because having health care that is not tied to employment makes the labor market even more flexible by eliminating one of the sources of financial strain that comes from structural unemployment (of the sort caused by technological changes, trade, etc). But I'm going to be pissed as hell when the Democratic congress refuses to extend fast-track trade negotiation status to the President after it expires in 2007. I'm also going to be totally disgusted by the "don't reward companies who send American jobs overseas" rhetoric when it comes from people who want to enjoy the advantages of the global trade system while being shielded from all the parts of it they don't like.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Democrats and deficits

Earlier today, I wrote an entire blog entry concluding my Portland trip, and then I somehow managed to delete the whole thing while attempting to upload pictures. So I got frustrated and moved on to other things. I'm back now, but I'm in an econ-y kind of mood, so it's time for a trade deficit lecture! Yay!

Let's start with the basics (and I apologize in advance if any of this is too basic--I assume many of you already know some of this, but I want to be certain that we're entirely clear on what we're discussing). The US interacts financially with the rest of the world (RoW) through two basic flows: the current account and the financial account. The current account (CA) is primarily the balance of trade (i.e. the value of what we export minus the value of what we import), but it also includes interest payments on debt that we pay to the RoW and remittances that people working in the US send to their families in the RoW. The financial account (FA) is primarily the balance of trade in assets: the value of financial assets purchased from the US by the RoW minus the value of the assets purchased from the RoW by the US. An asset is generally anything that stores value, so it includes, among other things, stocks, bonds, precious metals, treasury bills, and currency itself.

CA + FA = 0. This is a mere accounting identity, and in the long run it must hold. If the current account is in deficit (as the US's is), the financial account must be in surplus (as the US's also is, of course). The reason is fairly straightforward: if we buy more stuff (in value terms) from the RoW than they buy from us, how are we going to pay for it?

The obvious answer is that we borrow the money, and that's essentially correct. We sell assets to the RoW, and the money that we get is enough to cover all of our purchases from abroad. Again, in the long run, it has to be. But remember that "borrow" is a non-exact term for everything that goes on in the FA. If a foreigner buys a share of stock in an American company, we aren't in debt to that foreigner. Furthermore, it's not like when I borrow money from my mom. We don't have to call China and ask for the money; they lend it because they want to. And I don't mean that they want to lend us money in an evil loan-shark way; they want to because of their own economic objectives (more on that later).

There is also a straightforward algebraic relationship between the CA and net private and government savings in the US. Specifically, CA = private savings + government savings (this has to do with the fact that domestic expenditures have to equal domestic income, and the trade balance is part of the expenditure function--I can explain it if you want, but you may as well take my word for it). Private savings includes both household and business savings: the former is slightly negative, the latter positive, but small. Government savings, as you know, is significantly negative (as in they have been running a huge deficit every year for the past few years). So it's no coincidence that we're running a trade deficit and a budget deficit at the same time.

This idea is a familiar one, and it is expressed most often in the popular media through our trade and financial relationship with China. It goes like this: we buy lots of cheap crap from China, and we pay for it with the money that we borrow from China when we sell them US treasury bonds. China buys the bonds because they're trying to keep their currency, the yuan, artificially low (although by how much the yuan is really undervalued is a matter of considerble debate). By continuing to buy US treasury bonds, the Chinese central bank is enabling the US to run these huge trade deficits. By running these huge trade deficits, the US is allowing China to continue to manipulate their currency for the purposes of export-led growth.

And now, before you fall asleep, let me get to the part where I get annoyed with the Democrats. They understand the link between the budget deficit and the trade deficit, and that's a good thing. But they generally mischaracterize the nature of this relationship. I refer you to a passage from "A New Direction for America", a bit of Democratic propaganda released in June and written about recently in Slate:

Nearly half of our nation’s record debt is owned
by foreign countries including China and Japan.
Without a return to fiscal discipline, the foreign
countries that make our computers, our clothing
and our toys will soon be making our foreign
policy. Deficit spending is not just a fiscal
problem - it’s a national security issue as well.

I would love to hear a cogent explanation of how China having nearly $700 billion in dollar-denominated assets, the majority of them US treasury bonds (i.e. US government debt) is a national security issue. The Democrats make it sound like China and Japan own us. They don't. They own a bunch of treasury bonds. The worst thing they can do to us is sell those treasury bonds, or at least stop buying them. But what will happen if they do that? If the demand for dollar-denominated assets falls, then the value of the dollar falls. This is bad for the US in some ways--imports become more expensive, and inflation is likely. On the other hand, it would make US exports more competitive, it would improve the CA deficit, and it would force the government deficit to shrink, at least in the long run. Meanwhile, it sucks for China, because their $700 billion isn't worth as much as it used to be, because the dollar isn't worth as much as it used to be. Furthermore, their exports aren't as cheap for Americans to buy as they used to be, because the yuan has risen relative to the dollar.

Economists have been debating for several years now about the sustainability of the current global imbalances (US spends, RoW saves). My semi-informed opinion is that the dollar will have to depreciate at some point, growth in China will have to slow a bit, Americans will have to stop spending so much (partly because the housing-equity free-for-all is basically over), and depending on how it all shakes out, there could be a recession here, in the RoW, or in both places (or neither, if we manage to increase our savings while the RoW decreases theirs). But we're not going to have an Asian- or Latin American-style currency crisis, and China and Japan are not going to take us over. They have as much to lose as we do, if not more.

So I guess my complaint about the Democrats is that they use the government and trade deficits as an excuse for economic nationalism and protectionism, neither of which are likely to do much good. I'm not saying, of course, that globalization and free trade are universal positives. Although technically speaking, international trade doesn't cause unemployment in the long run, it does cause significant displacement and changes in the employment and wage structure of this and other countries. In the short run, it does cause unemployment, and it contributes to income inequality (as do changes in technology). Trade hurts people. But it also helps people, both in the US and in countries where way more people are way more poor. I understand that American politicians are elected to represent Americans' interests, and that unions exert a great deal of protectionist pressure on the Democratic party. But every American worker is also an American consumer, and cheap imports raise our standard of living, while simultaneously helping to bring millions of non-Americans out of poverty. It bothers me when politicians blame US corporations for abandoning American workers and developing nations for stealing our jobs, as if poor Chinese peasants don't deserve to have jobs. Furthermore, if the Democrats are concerned about national security, they should want China as a powerful, hopefully democratic ally in Asia, and the bigger China's middle class gets, the more likely they are (in my opinion, anyway) to successfully demand more democratic freedoms.

Obviously this is a very complex topic, and I could go off on a lot of other issues, but that's more or less the gist of what bugs me about the Democrats' attitudes toward trade and the budget deficit. There's also another interesting article in Slate that discusses protectionism in the Democratic party and is generally more articulate than I am. I'm interested to hear what other people think about this stuff as well.

friday blog-o-rama

You should see my apartment right now. I have big plans for today, plans that involve going to the laundromat and using the big washing machines to wash ALL my laundry. Usually I do my laundry here on the first floor of my building, and I end up washing just the things I need to wash (one load of lights, one load of darks). As a result, the bottom of my laundry basket is perpetually filled with at least one dirty set of sheets, a towel or two, and some random clothing that I don't feel an urgent need to wear. The backlog has gotten particularly bad lately, and I have no quarters, so I've decided to just haul everything to the laundromat, where there is a quarter machine and the aforementioned giant washing machines. There's also a TV; the last time I was there, shortly before I left for India, I watched most of an episode of Judge Judy.

Anyway, at the moment my laundry is just sorted into a bunch of big piles all over my apartment, and instead of actually implementing the laundromat plan, I've decided to procrastinate by doing some serious blogging. First, I'd like to bring your attention to the comments on my November 5th post, where you will see my very first "spam" comment. (It's like I have a real blog now!) I have some long-overdue pictures to post, as well as the final installment of my Portland trip series. And then, by special request, and because you know I love to do it, I will be treating you to an overview of the dynamics of international trade and finance imbalances, and how these balances are sometimes misunderstood or misinterpreted in political discourse, and why it bugs the crap out of me.

To begin with, here's a picture from when B was here (yeah, I know, that was in September) and we were being all touristy at Pier 39:

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

i love my program

I'm trying to finish grading exams for Dr. J, but I have some questions for him and he doesn't get to campus until 3 p.m., so instead of spending my time doing something productive (like working on my econometrics paper so that I can come up to Portland for the holiday party), I thought I'd give the neglected blog a little attention. I'm feeling cheerful, as I suspect many of you are, about the excellent showing the Democrats made yesterday, and I've been texting results to DWE (who is in London) all morning. My expectations for the Democrat-led house aren't particularly high (most Democrats drive me crazy for a variety of reasons, the foremost one being their apparent inability to understand the trade deficit and international trade in general), but I'm fairly certain this will be an improvement on the current situation. And I can't help but be at least a little proud that my congressperson is the new Speaker of the House. And thank goodness the governor of California is still a movie star. Life needs to stay at least a little surreal and disturbing.

I figured out something cool recently: if my advisor and his buddy from UCSD use the data that E, M, and I collected in India to write their own paper (which I believe they intend to eventually), then I (and E and M) will be listed as a coauthor on that paper. So if that paper gets published, I'll be published in an econ journal! Pretty cool, eh? Even if it's not published I can still put it on my CV. I've realized that the field research component of this program is even cooler than I initially thought, because data, even sort of crappy data, is like gold in economics, and I basically own some (of course, my advisor helped pay for it, hence why he gets to use it too). Also, there's a good chance I'll be TAing undergrad econometrics for Dr. J next semester, which will apparently also look good on my CV. It would be a lot of work (because, you know, I'd have to learn econometrics well enough to teach it to others), but it would also be a great review. And if I attended the class every week, I'd probably get a lot out of having basic econometrics retaught to me by Dr. J, a professor whose style of teaching alligns perfectly with my style of learning.

Anyway, at a bigger and/or more prestigious program, I never would have these sorts of opportunities; all I would have is a "brand name" degree and a lot more debt. Of course, if I get a PhD I'd like to go to a prestigious school, but this is a good reminder to keep things in perspective. Sure, Jeff Sachs, Jagdish Bagwhati, Joe Stiglitz, Robert Mundell, and Edmund Phelps are all at Columbia, but would I actually get to take a class from any of those people? (Trust me, they're all famous international economists.)

But who knows if I'm even going to get a PhD. I'm certainly not applying for next fall. But that means I have to figure out what I am doing, which is something I've been putting off for a while.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

angel island and crazy dreams

Yesterday was the econ department's trip to Angel Island (a state park/island in the North Bay, accesible only by ferry). I was more or less in charge, so I'm pleased to report that everything went smoothly. Food was good, weather was nice (and at least a few people may now actually believe that I control the weather--as I claimed to in several mass emails to the econ department--because it was rainy and miserable on Thursday and Friday, but by Saturday afternoon it was balmy and the sun was out, just as I promised), and no one missed the ferry and got stranded overnight on the island (at least not to my knowledge). I even got dragged on a hike, which featured some gorgeous views of Tiburon and Sausalito, as well as the bay in general. One bummer was that my dear colleague JSOC (yes, he has four names, and he usually tells you all of them when he introduces himself--he's Colombian), sprained his ankle while running on the trail with E. This is particularly unfortunate because JSOC was supposed to be running in a marathon today (he is an avid runner).

I'm a touch worried that I'm getting sick again, because I've had a sore throat two mornings in a row, and I went to bed at 8 p.m. last night (of course, I'd had a few beers throughout the day, I'd done all that hiking and carrying of heavy bags of food, etc, and I'd gotten up at 7:30 a.m., which is nonstandard for me). I didn't wake up until 8 this morning, so in theory I slept for 12 hours, except I actually didn't, because after I went to sleep, I took 2 phone calls from DWE (who was in Salt Lake City and should now be on a plane to London), one from S, and I returned one to McDreamy, confirming our gaming plans for today (I woke up for these calls, of course). So I probably got more like 10 hours of sleep, and I recall at least some of it being unusually fitful. Or maybe the dreams were just weird. I distinctly remember a long dream in which I was shopping for a formal dress (one of the sororities at USF is putting on a Masquerade Ball--like a prom with booze, I guess--and some of my econ buddies are trying to badger me into attending, so this might have been the dream's origin). All of the dresses were either way too big or way too small or just really ugly, and I was always with someone who was rushing me or distracting me. This morphed into a related dream in which B and I were going to join some sports team (maybe the volleyball team?) and so we stole athletic equipment from the mall and we had to get our class schedules changed around (I think we were in college). Ron Livingston, the guy from Office Space, was a professor teaching a math class we wanted to take. And then the dream morphed again and Ron Livingston became this other good-looking, older guy that I had an inappropriate crush on, and that was inviting me over for Thanksgiving dinner or something.

One thing I've managed to do very little of this weekend is grade, so that's what I'll be doing this evening after I hang out with McDreamy and his roommate. At the moment, I think I'm going to go lie down for a bit, maybe read some more (having finished A Confederacy of Dunces, which was odd and unpleasant but very well-written and ultimately satisfying, I'm now re-reading some Vonnegut that I read and enjoyed about ten years ago), and see if my sore throat will go away. I'm starting to become irrationally paranoid again about having mono, because I have certainly been quite tired lately, taking naps during the day and sleeping long hours at night. There could be several reasons for this, however, and even in the unlikely event that I do have mono, all I can do is rest and take care of myself, which I would presumably do anyway.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

proctoring and swooning (literally)

I know, I owe you the final installment of the exciting Portland Trip series, and I also have a couple pictures from said trip to post. But things have been a little crazy for a few days, and I have a backlog of mildly interesting stories from my present life to tell, so we'll get to that first.

I've been particularly busy with TAing stuff this week, since my classes had a test today. It's generally the same couple students that come in to get help, and they are sweet but increasingly annoying. One of them seemed irritated with me because he showed up on Monday at the computer lab at 1 p.m. and I was not there. H was in the lab and called to ask me where I was. I said, "um, my TA hours start at 2." Apparently this kid didn't know about daylight savings. And even after he found out, he was still like, "I was waiting for you earlier and you weren't here..." as if I'd done something wrong.

Anyway, I proctored the exams this morning, which started off quite smoothly, but took a bad turn somewhere around 9:30 a.m. As the first class of students was taking the exam, I was looking at the stack of blank exams left over, and I thought to myself, "This doesn't really seem like 45 exams." And lo, I counted, and only 30 exams were there. So I was stuck with the dilemma of how to get 15 more copies of the exam during the 10 minutes that I had between the first class and the second class (not to mention traversing the 3-block distance between classrooms). This problem was exacerbated by the fact that I had no money on my copy card and no cash with me. So I frantically texted E, and enlisted him to meet me at the 3rd floor UC copier at 10:25. (If I haven't mentioned this lately, it bears repeating: E is my hero.) My copier-using skills have deteriorated significantly since I worked at the employment department, so I ended up having to do all kinds of sorting of pages, and then at one point I had to unjam the copier. So it gets to be a couple minutes after 10:30, and I send E to the classroom to tell the students about the technical difficulty and keep them occupied until I get there. E comes back momentarily (the classroom, at least, was just in the next building over) to inform me that Dr. J was in the classroom, and that he told him what was up. So now I'm thinking, "Great, what is the professor doing there? And why is he showing up the one day I'm having a major crisis?" It turns out Dr. J had stopped by to give me the answer key, and had been surprised to find me not there, but had turned the idle time into an impromptu review session, as any good professor would. (Amusing side note: the first time I met this class, I was running late because I'd tripped and fallen in a puddle and scraped my arm. So when Dr. J asked the class if they knew where I was, someone evidently said, "Maybe she fell down again.")

When I arrived with the exams, the ever-calm Dr. J said that he would just have the class do one less problem to make up for the lost time. About then I noticed that I had screwed up on the copying and copied the second-to-last page twice instead of the last page. "Um, I think it would be a good idea if they skipped the last problem," I said. So that's what they did, and it all turned out okay. Dr. J and I figured out that it was probably the copy people that screwed up, and our only error was not counting the exams before hand. It's nice when stuff isn't our fault.

Speaking of falling, I had a novel experience on Halloween night. DWE was in town, so we went out for a late dinner and then went to the Castro to see the throngs of people in costumes that flock there every year for a big "street party". I had 2 beers at my apartment, and 2 glasses of sangria with dinner. Then we spent a couple of hours walking around. We stopped at a bar on my way home and I ordered a bourbon and coke, which they served to me in a pint glass. I probably shouldn't have finished that drink just from a sheer dehydration standpoint, but I felt just fine: not sick or dizzy or even particularly drunk. So we walked the rest of the way home (did I mention that for all but the last 8 or so blocks of this walking, I was wearing heels? I know, what was I thinking?) So when we got back to my apartment, I went into the kitchen to have a glass of water, still feeling fine. DWE comes into the kitchen, and as we're standing there suddenly I'm overpowered by an intense, bizarre feeling of dizziness and lightheadedness. The next thing I knew, I heard DWE's voice saying my name, and telling me to wake up. I was lying down, and I felt as though I had been awakened out of a deep sleep. "Where am I?" I asked. "You're on your kitchen floor," DWE said, looking utterly concerned. Evidently I fainted. DWE said that he was particularly freaked out because before I slumped into him my right arm started shaking, and he was worried that I'd had a seizure.

To make a long story short, I checked with Dr. O the next morning, and he told me that I almost certainly did not have a seizure (one of the questions he asked me: "Did you experience any incontinence?" As if it wasn't bad enough to faint in front of least I didn't pee myself) and that it sounds like I just fainted. I felt more or less fine the next day, and I'm totally back to normal now, so I think it was just one of those fluke things. And at least DWE was there to catch me. =)

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