07 February 2011

The Ads Were More Boring Than the Super Bowl

  • Professor Krugman does something unusual: He puts economic events into the context in which they occur before theorizing on their causes. This is a great big hint to those who claim that "all government deficits are always evil"... particularly while they're running up their own mortgages and credit card balances, and doing private debt-instrument swaps, and so on.

    Which leads back to an item posted by the Perfesser last week, in which he decries "corporate social responsibility" as inconsistent with the purpose of corporations. Now part of his ire is based on a common overstatement of the purpose of corporations: It's not always profit per se that's at issue; sometimes it's more-subtle means of enhancing "wealth", ranging from asset accumulation to equalizing bargaining power in suboptimally competitive markets. Only a small part, though; and it reflects badly on the Frankenstein's monster of "corporate personhood" in a way that we have collectively refused to acknowledge. Why might we demand "social responsibility" from corporations only? We seldom, if ever, do so from partnerships (ranging from medical practices to accountancies to law firms); we virtually never do so from individuals, ranging from entertainment figures to supervillain-like individuals (depending on your ideological predispositions, that might be George Soros or the Koch brothers... or maybe just the members of the Walton or Rockefeller families with their wealth inherited from dubious wielding of monopoly power). It's all related to the insoluble free-rider problem and the gulf between self-interest and enlightenment.

  • Speaking of free riders, failure to pay for positive externalities, and insanity: AOL is out acquiring again... this time, Arianna Huffington and the Huffington Post. <SARCASM> At least now there'll be a counterpoint to the Drudge Report — one just as divorced from the facts and circumstances and just as insane, but nonetheless a counterpoint. </SARCASM> The anti-science attitude underlying so much of the HP's work is an unfortunate albatross around the neck of some occasionally insightful political and/or cultural commentary. The real problem is that Huffington — a former ideologically pure right-wing nutcase who has shifted wings — is not a member of the fact/reality-based community, and seldom even tries. Instead, it's all about ideology; her (and her minions') continued support for the anti-vaccers even after Wakefield, and without any evidence, is just one example. And that's bad regardless of its premises or orientation; we don't need religious fervor — particularly rabidly anti-science religious fervor — in top editorial and managerial posts. Eppur se muove.
  • There are two unfortunate confluences of the preceding two items in Canada in the last few days. First, the entirely unsurprising bankruptcy filing by Canada's largest book distributor has allegedly caught a lot of New York-based publishing figures by surprise. (Of course, I'm not in New York, so it doesn't matter that I predicted precisely this problem in various memos eighteen months ago.) Conversely, Toronto's leading newspaper wonders where the book editors have gone... in a story published on the same day.

    There's a very simple commonality between the two: Shortsighted outsourcing as a "costcutting measure" by corporate publishers. It's not going to be too long before many of those editors band together to create editorial combines, which will then hire themselves out to publishers. Wait a minute: That's called "book packaging." Or Harper's. It's also an interesting contrast with too-frequently-in-bad-faith publisher refusals to negotiate with authors (which I also noted last week... and this is just the tip of the iceberg).

  • Poets are mad. In other news, the world is round; Bill Gates has a lot of money; and most "Presidents" in world government are not democratically elected in fair and free elections.
  • As usual, George Orwell has something to say that is disturbingly prescient about current world events, from his diary of sixty years ago. For those who, on Monday mornings, need a sledgehammer to see parallels (which includes most Western government officials): In the Middle East, are we "fighting" (or worried about "fighting") theocratic Islamicists or Muslims?