On Math, Genes, Patents and Graeber

My latest book The Surprising Design of Market Economies, ranges across a variety of subjects all under the rubric of how we make markets, so it should not be surprising that current events and articles touch on its themes frequently. Last week was particularly bountiful though.

In the June 16 edition of The New York Times, Alice Crary and W. Stephen Wilson argue that reformers in math education have gone too far, weeding out the content in their efforts to teach students to think and not just “plug and chug,” as my epidemiologist sister says. This mirrors the arguments I make in chapter seventeen on education, where I side with the cultural literacy camp led by E.D. Hirsch, who says we need to teach content in history, science and civics, and not just skills. Crary and Wilson make the same argument for math, and actually bring up history and biology to prove their points. The two academics say math works the same way. You can’t isolate understanding mathematical concepts from the “algorithms” needed to do practical problems. Fascinating, and I of course agree with them, to the extent that I can on mathematics.

Defenders of the Digital Status Quo

Whether by design or not, The New York Times editorial section in the last week has practically lent their pages out to folks who support the current status-quo of private, for-profit companies being the principal providers of internet, phone, television and other services. (I have argued the opposite, as you can see here.) Today on June 21, 2013, Lowell C. McAdam, chairman of Verizon, described how everything is fine with the regulation, or lack of it, in telecommunications. Less than a week earlier, Richard Bennett, who criticized my column in Governing, used some of the same arguments in the Times to defend the conduct and performance of the major telecommunications companies. I spoke about that in an earlier blog a few days ago.

Richard Bennett Continues His Campaign . . . for What?

Richard Bennett, the same one who criticized my column in Governing arguing for municipal fiber optic networks, had an op-ed in today’s New York Times that used some of the same arguments to criticize those who are critical of this country’s internet service. I am going to try to find the time to do a point by point rebuttal of Bennett, who excels at what appears to me at first glance rhetorical slight of hand, but for now I’d like simply to ask what is Bennett arguing for, or rather, against? To answer my own question, he appears to be implicitly arguing against greater oversight or control of the big telecommunications companies, from  Verizon to Time Warner to Comcast, that are usually brought up when people talk about slow and expensive internet speeds. A lot to me would be clearer if I knew who funds the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, where Bennett is a fellow. I suspect it gets a lot of money from these companies I mentioned, or parties associated with them. I don’t know though, because I’ve been unable to find out. If anyone does know, drop me an email.

The Primal Myth of Markets, Dispelled, by Graeber

I have encountered the primal myth of money and markets many times when talking about my most recent book, The Surprising Design of Market Economies. I tell people that the state, that is government, creates markets. Inevitably someone in the audience comes back with, “Yeah, but markets are natural. Thousands of years ago, before formal governments, two farmers were trading or swapping goats for bricks, or cheese for tools, and so on.” It’s an important question for a number of reasons, but one of them is that  this idea that markets or at least market trading behavior is a basic aspect of human nature is the foundation myth of of both classical economics, and of Libertarianism. But even average, seemingly non-political and non-economics oriented people seem to hold some version of this belief.

New York City’s New Bike Share Program A Blast. Mostly

I had my first experience today on the new New York bike share plan, https://citibikenyc.com/, and it was mostly positive.

I walked over to the check out post at 11th and 2nd Avenue, near my office at Union Square, here in NYC. It took me awhile to figure out how to check out the bike with my little key. The instructions beside the slot were completely wrong. They referred to punching in 5 numbers on the key pad. I had no five numbers, and there was no keypad. What’s up with that? All I had to do was put my blue fob into the slot. Then the light flashed green and I could lift it out. But all the talk about five numbers and a keypad confused me. And the bike would not come out. Luckily, someone else was checking in a bike, and she showed me how you had to lift the bike from the back to get it out. That worked. But I bet a lot of people will have trouble with that.