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Archive for the ‘rationalization’ Category

ikea glass and antiseptic urbanity

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NYC is about to start installing new newsstands around the city like this one. Now, right from the start, there’s a lot about the situation that I really don’t love. From what I can tell, these stands are the fruits of a public-private partnership (hate those) where the city gets them for “free” in exchange for the corporation in exchange for the company that installs them being allowed to collect ad revenues for the huge ad frames on the back of the box (not pictured here, obviously)… So thumbs-down on that score.

But putting that issue to the side (which doesn’t make any sense, I know, but just play along), figuring out what I make of these new stands aesthetically leaves me tangled in knots. On the one hand, I like the clean cool looks of the things a lot better than the old ones. I don’t even hate the Ikea glass, its color (even if it is sure to become dated very swiftly…) Taking care of your street furniture, having swift looking bus stops and newsstands and even public toilets, to my mind, is like a continual living advertisement for publicness, for public, common space itself. Which, in this nation, even in New York, is constantly in dire need of a good marketing campaign. On the other hand, isn’t it the small-scale humanity, the human mess, of the newsstand, as an institution, that makes it such a special place? The overstocked profusion of cheap goods and reading materials (from what I recall from a conversation with a newsstand guy at a subway station near my old place, one of those guildish NYC laws mandates that the newsstands can sell nothing that costs more than a certain price – $10? What was I trying to buy from him that yielded me this information?), the compact bazaar feel of the things – I’m sure that we will miss it, on some level, when it disappears…

The comment thread on the article behind the first link above contains some interesting amateur discussion about the aesthetics of urban life.

And this post is meant to be a forerunner to a long-plan post forthcoming entitled (probably) Ikea Socialism. 

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September 12, 2007 at 11:32 pm

Posted in design, rationalization

restbreaks for oysters and the specter of eurorationalization

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From a NYT article on an EU ruling that Britain and Ireland can continue to use Imperial (non-metric) measurements for beer and other commodities:

The European Union has long tried to dispel myths that its zealous bureaucrats are trying to impinge on national cultures in their bid to harmonize standards in the world’s biggest trading bloc. Such myths have included that cucumbers sold in the European Union must not arch more than 10 millimeters for every 10 millimeters of length; that it is against health rules to feed swans stale bread; and that Brussels had decided that shellfish must be given rest breaks and stress-relieving showers during boat journeys over 50 kilometers long.

More than a little unconscious content – political and, erm, otherwise – welling up in those myths of rationalization and bureaucratic management, nay? No rest breaks, for shellfish or any of the rest of ’em, in our pound-eating, pint-guzzling bastion of neo-lib freedom, no sir…

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September 11, 2007 at 2:18 pm

Posted in rationalization

somemore eithorism

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A rather hilarious moment buried in an article bringing what seems to be a rare bit of good news out of Washington. The good news is that the House and Senate are very close to approving a reform of the student grant / loan situation – among other changes, federal funds will be redirected from subsidies for banks to direct grants to students. Great news – and obviously the hideously corrupt private-sector student loan industry is rather upset. But check this out:

Some Republicans said such proposals would unnecessarily increase the federal debt and encourage irresponsible borrowing. "This incentivizes people, I suggest perversely, to borrow money to go to college rather than working," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).

Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of the Web site FinAid.org and an expert on student loans, wrote in an analysis circulating on Capitol Hill yesterday that the proposed subsidy cuts were too large and might reduce competition in the industry.

A great paring of paragraphs there. On the one hand, the foul hand of government intervention in the form of direct grants to poor and middle class kids to help them pay for college distorts the smooth operation of the invisible hand, which would otherwise be smacking idlers upside the head with a strong dose of competitive self-reliance, thus keeping them honest. On the other hand, in the very next paragraph, government handouts (not corporate welfare of course of course) somehow serve to increase competitiveness (and, we imagine, efficiency, right?) when it comes to banks and other predatorial financial organizations.

I’m still looking for a catchy phrase for this sort of backflipping eitherorism. (This is a slightly different version than the last one, which was of the economy up / economy down = it’s always the best possible time for labor reform / tax cuts etc. This one goes government subsidy = inducement to gilded apathy (when it comes to poor kids) or spur to competitive drive (when it comes to corporations).

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July 20, 2007 at 11:33 pm

Posted in rationalization

laissez half-emptyism? the cycle never sets on structural reform? capitalism vs. GDP etc…

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There really should be a word for neoliberal eitherorism of this sort. Just as, in the US, tax cuts for the wealthy were first proposed as the only fair thing to do with the federal surplus in the first years of the 2000s, and then, after the economy began to stutter and tank, the only form of economic stimulus sure to bring the feds back into the black, the Economist here greets Europe’s strong economic performance vis a vis the US with a call to Americanizing workplace reform.

Eitherorism, yes, and also pickumandchoozumism. If you are in favor of labor market reform, then the strong performance serves as apt evidence that more reform is needed:

The transformation has been most remarkable in Germany, the biggest European economy, once tarred as “the sick man of Europe”. From 1995 to 2005 German GDP grew at an average of only 1.4% a year. But in the first quarter of 2007 it expanded more than twice as fast, despite a large rise in value-added tax. The 2004 reforms in labour markets and welfare made by the previous government under Gerhard Schröder are bearing fruit. On international definitions, unemployment is down to 6.4%, not much above the level in Britain. German business is doing spectacularly well: the country is again the world’s biggest exporter, profits are at a record, competitiveness has improved sharply.

But if, on the other hand, you take this strong performance as evidence that things are more or less OK the way they are, that there has been enough reform, or even godforbid that European competitiveness is evidence that the relatively “unreformed” European model actually does work, then you are misreading a cyclical effect as an indicator of the effectiveness of policy.

Some Europeans may be tempted to conclude that their economic problems are behind them, their structural faults have been put right—and there is no need for more painful reforms. […] But much of the recovery is really cyclical. When the global economy is registering a fourth successive year of near-5% growth, it would be surprising if the world’s biggest exporter did not benefit; indeed, growth of 3% seems rather modest.

And I think it’s safe to say that the logic deployed in the following paragraph won’t likely be deployed by the Economisers during the next European downturn:

European countries that have introduced radical reforms have usually done so in times of serious economic crisis: Britain in 1979, the Netherlands in 1982, Ireland in 1987, Denmark, Finland and Sweden in the early 1990s. Yet as all these countries found, it is easier to change when times are good, not when they are bad. That is a lesson that Germans, French, Italians and other Europeans should ponder as they bask in today’s sunshine.

So, during the next European recession, we should expect to hear strong advocacy of postponing reform for sunnier times in favor of dosing the economy with some nice state spending, right?

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July 18, 2007 at 12:24 pm

social democracy is the new right?

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Ignacio Ramonet in Le Monde Diplo: 

Another of [Sarkozy’s] amazing aspects was the intellectual ease with which he redrew the dividing lines between right and left. Analysts had wondered whether the lines had shifted under the impact of neo-liberal globalisation. Sarkozy settled the matter. The composition of his first government proves that the right now includes a large section of the Socialist party, especially its social-liberal wing, and confirms what we have known for some time: social democracy is the new right. The executive includes four leftwing members, Bernard Kouchner, Eric Besson, Jean-Pierre Jouyet and Martin Hirsch, and reflects a general shift to the right in French society, a strange development at a time of growing social hardship. Twelve years on from 1995, social strife remains a serious problem, jobs are ever less secure, and subcontracting, relocation and unemployment take a toll.

[…]

This defeat is decisive for the left. It marks the end of an era. The movement will have to be rebuilt on new foundations: a new socialism for the 21st century, as they say in Latin America.

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June 5, 2007 at 1:19 pm

go look

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An insanely good thread over at The Kugelmass Episodes dealing with, among other things, radical politics, academia, the aesthetic, post-scarcity economies, consciousness, socialism, theory, and everything else… Everything.

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May 5, 2007 at 1:04 am

more on florida

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From Inside Higher Ed:

Divisive Semester at Florida

The fall semester at the University of Florida started with a lot of uncertainty, as reports of a growing deficit in its College of Liberal Arts and Sciences led to calls to eliminate dozens of faculty and graduate student slots in the humanities and mathematics. The semester is drawing to a close without much more clarity and with considerable rancor — the dean is leaving, the English department is in receivership, and administrators have admitted that, initially at least, they didn’t sufficiently involve professors in finding a way out of the college’s financial mess.

A score of graduate students approached President J. Bernard Machen at Friday’s board meeting to express concerns about a controversial five-year plan to lift the college out of debt, but were told, as The Gainesville Sun reported, that it will stay in place until a faculty-approved alternative is developed. Professors and graduate students filled the room for the meeting, students with posters protesting the recent happenings and faculty wearing stickers displaying their opposition, according to Nora Alter, a professor of German culture and film. Her department, Germanic and Slavic studies, also underwent a period of receivership in the spring and faces a reduction of TA-supported graduate spots from 10 to 0 by 2011 if the five-year plan to slash spending is enacted.

Under the plan — which would benefit the sciences but cut budgets for four humanities departments and mathematics — 54 faculty vacancies would be created by attrition, administrative staff would be cut by 14 and the college would probably be back in the black by 2008-9.

While many faculty members said they think the existing five-year plan is effectively dead, they see the recent events as indicative of an attempt to force changes in the profile of the University of Florida’s largest college. Some faculty wondered aloud why an institution that is unabashedly angling to crack the top 10 public universities would propose cuts to its humanities programs. They described an atmosphere of mistrust between arts and sciences professors and the administration. Several faculty members described a disregard for shared governance and an inability to even get their hands on budget numbers so they can effectively develop an alternative path forward.

Yet, the differences in faculty reactions, even within those departments targeted for cuts, are striking. While virtually everyone agrees that the development of the five-year plan without significant faculty input was inappropriate, some express faith that the plan was simply a misstep on the institution’s now more sure-footed path toward greater shared governance.

A new faculty financial advisory committee for the college has been established and the incoming interim dean, Joseph Glover, has already actively begun soliciting faculty input. Glover has pledged not only that he does not feel constrained by the unpopular five-year plan but that “everything is on the table” – leading some faculty to express confidence that a new, more palatable plan will emerge, with faculty input, to lift the college out of the red.

– snip –

The number of full-time faculty spots in English, for instance, would decrease from 59.5 to 51 by 2010-11, with graduate spots cut from 59 to 54. The Germanic and Slavic studies faculty count would drop from 20 to 14, and mathematics would lose 6.5 of 58.5 faculty positions and 10 of its 80 funded graduate slots. On the flip side, the sciences and several social sciences, including psychology, criminology, political science and communication, would see an infusion of resources. For instance, chemistry botany and zoology would each enjoy a handful of extra faculty positions and increases in graduate funding. And the number of funded graduate students would increase by 16 in chemistry, from 130 to 146.

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December 16, 2006 at 8:30 am