The Jam

Earlier in the month, I blogged about the forthcoming UK elections and on Rhizomicon, I blogged about the first-ever debate of the party leaders. In the first debate, the leader of the third-party challenging Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, made a strong showing. The above video is about the second debate held in Bristol on foreign affairs. Both Labour {Gordon Brown} and the Conservatives {Nick Cameron} made a point of attacking Clegg, in a bid to undermine support for the Liberal Democrats and increase the chance of obtaining a majority by winning swing ridings constituencies {districts}. Clegg seemed to hold his own. The recent polls are such that an outright majority is unlikely, unless the LibDems collapse between now and 5 May. This means that a hung Parliament is likely. The last debate will be on 29 April in the Midlands on economic policy. Get your popcorn ready. Canadians can watch on cable or online at CPAC. The other debates are archived on the link. Post a comment if you can watch them in the US or wherever you may be outside of Canada.

Twitterversion:: Second UK Debate has LibDem Nick Clegg hanging tough against Labour & Tories. Hung Parliament increasingly likely. #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Song:: The Jam-”A’ Bomb in Wardour Street’

Tim Geithner, from TrendsUpdate

There are two relatively recent articles on US Treasury secretary Tim Geithner. One is in The Atlantic, which is more critical, while the one in the New Yorker is more sanguine. The above video is from The Atlantic talking about Geithner’s svengali appeal and Jedi-mind-trick abilities—except with Wall Street and those in the public who know him and what he does. Inside the beltway, it sounds like he’s a veritable David Watts in many circles. This is pure Erving Goffman à la The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life.

Ironically, he’s become a target of both conservatives who think he’s been too tough on the banking sector and the left who think he should have moved towards nationalizing the banks. He allegedly got the Treasury secretary job because of a good interview with Barack, despite being in the running with his old boss, Lawrence Summers, and the stalwart Paul Volcker, a Carter appointee who helped get the economy under control under Ronald Reagan’s watch.

The biggest problem I have with Geithner’s approach is that he’s operating under the assumption that there is nothing unsound about the capital markets and is seemingly ignoring the fact that there are structural issues with the US economy that can keep the nation in recession for years. Geithner is reluctant to do anything drastic, such as nationalizing the banks {a last-resort strategy}, because he’s afraid that this will effect a policy change that will have enduring consequences. So, while he’s content with a supply-side bailout with a jobless recovery—employers are working their employees harder, there’s a reluctance to get to the heart of the matter. The oligarchies of the banking sector ran aground with their policies and this needs to be addressed. The banks and the politicians have been systematically allowing for the concentration of power, which was accelerated in Clinton’s second term and continued W. MIT professor Simon Johnson, an IMF chief economist with experience with emerging market crises echoes the sentiment that the banking sector needs to be scrutinized to say the least. Geithner’s response is that the US economy is not an emerging one, but I say that all bets are off given the structural changes going on with permanent middle-class job losses and the productivity wave being over. His remarks may go down in history as the heights of arrogance, particularly if the US economy languished like Japan’s since 1990. There are parallels between Japan then and the US now, which should be examined.

A year ago, apparently Obama himself was playing pollyanna with Geithner in hoping the US would grow itself out of the recession. The economic sturm & drang and bailout drama played out over the course of the year and Obama has stood behind Tim, through thick and thin. A cautious, measured approach has been the code of the day with the aim of patching together the economy and nor falling prey to populist temptations to mete out justice, mediæval-style à la Marsellus Wallace.

While much of the framing of managing the economy has been couched in terms like vengeance against the greedy Wall Street robber barons and how that affords political capital, the reality is that he’s a centrist. Barack’s faith in Tim Geithner is somewhat telling. More telling is how the Obama administration has done so little to frame the Geithner agenda and to “sell” the policy and from a marketing and PR perspective, change this ain’t. More problematic is the fact that I don’t think these policies are going to help the US economy recover. Sure, the Geithner plan stemmed the hemorrhaging of public funds and served up a cosmetic recovery on the cheap, but is this so much window-dressing on an economy that still geared towards concentrating power and wealth AND subject to similar meltdowns without increased regulatory oversight? I feel there are structural issued that need to address failpoints in how financial intermediaries are managed, which need to be addressed in order to prevent future meltdowns and fully restore the faith in US capital markets.

Twitterversion:: No love for Treasury secretary Tim Geithner? PR #fail, but are policies fiddling while Rome burns? #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Song:: The Jam-‘David Watts’

Brian Gilham map created from OpenTO data

Notes from North of 49ºN

Toronto Mayor David Miller recently unveiled the opening of city datasets on the OpenTO website, ushering in the city’s new era of Gov 2.0.  In less than an hour, the above map of the city’s wards  was generated from the shapefiles.  According to Now Magazine::

“Basically, OpenTO amounts to the city offering up puzzle pieces and the public putting them together. It costs taxpayers next to nothing, creates a wing of local government in which citizens can participate directly, and makes everything more transparent.

At present, not a whole lot of data sets are available. But now that some have been liberated, it won’t be long before others follow.”

While it is true that there isn’t that much data available right now, it’s clear that there are great possibilities here.  The openness of the data will allow crowdsourced analysis of urban questions facing Toronto, which is a hotbed of urbanist activity.  This ostensibly can create more knowledge for use by Toronto’s Planning Department, as well as grassroots activists, non-profits, entrepreneurs, and corporate interests.  The transparency has a flipside.  While transparency of data can serve to “keep the city honest,” in the future, as more data goes online, how will individual citizens’ privacy concerns be addressed?  For example, should data on ex-convicts {or the like} be listed for public use, such as Megan’s Law databases in the United States?  What about data on abandoned property?  While this could assist in redevelopment, it might be used for more nefarious purposes.

While data openness is a hallmark of Web 2.0, in terms of policy, what parameters should be in place?

Twitterversion:: @mayormiller’s OpenTO offers #Toronto’s database access, offering Gov2.0 transparency& crowdsourcing opps. #ThickCulture

Song:: The Planners Dream Goes Wrong – The Jam

Toronto Now magazine racks, Shuter & Dalhousie. ~Moonwire on Flickr

Crossposting:: An abridged, less sociology-heavy version is here.

Notes from north of 49ºN.

Social capital is nothing new to ThickCulture, with quite a few posts on the topic, including this one by José, Trust is for Suckers.  When I teach sociology, I draw heavily on Pierre Bourdieu and have the class get a sense of how different forms of capital interact.  Cultural capital has always interested me {here’s a great overview of it by Weininger & Lareau}, despite going crazy trying to explain graphs like these::

Bourdieu on taste, using dimensions of economic & cultural capital.
Bourdieu on taste, using dimensions of economic & cultural capital.

I’ve used this very graph, but I’ve always wanted a way to engage students in a discussion of cultural capital that they could relate to.  So, I was catching up on Macleans reading and found articles on Canada’s smartest cities. It brings up an interesting question of how learning capacity affects the local economic development. The Composite Learning Index, using ideas developed by UNESCO, gauges a city’s ability to foster lifelong learning::

“Until now, Canada’s score had been on the upswing, from 76 in 2007 to 77 last year. Today that number has dropped to 75, precariously close to the lowest level recorded, which was 73, in 2006. The figures are based on the annual Composite Learning Index, which gives every Canadian community (some 4,719 in all) a score according to how it supports lifelong learning.

Here’s a link to a selected list of cities. Calgary tops the list at 89. In Ontario, Guelph, Barrie, Ottawa, Kitchener, and Oshawa all beat out Toronto, tied for 13th at 80.  Poor Toronto. One article compared Windsor, Ontario {languishing in the index} to Québec City {one of the most-improved}, with the latter on an economic upswing.

Quebec City’s unemployment has fallen markedly, from 6.8 per cent in 2006 to 5.2 per cent in 2009. And while Windsor’s total learning score was going nowhere, its jobless rate shot up, from 10.2 per cent to 15.2 per cent over the same period.

The story is a bit more complicated, given that Québec City had had 50 years to reinvent itself after its economy collapsed, while Windsor is still watching its current industrial base crumble. While the learning index may be a proxy for resilience of its population to withstand exogenous shocks and the trials and tribulations of everyday life, one fact remains is that those at the top tend to be growing cities with wealthier citizenry. This pattern also follows the “most cultured” cities.

While the index is a tool that can be used diagnostically to help policymakers make decisions on spending, comparing cities with a weighted score seems a bit misguided.  It would be interesting to create a Bourdieuean index based on his forms::
  1. Embodied.  The skills, abilities, & knowledge that someone has.
  2. Objectified.  The objects that transmit culture and knowledge.
  3. Institutionalized. Institutional recognition of an individual’s skills/abilities/knowledge.
So, the challenge would be to find good indicators of or proxies for these forms.
The Canadian Council on Learning created this graph showing the relationship between the index {as a measure of cultural capital} and socioeconomic index for Canadian cities.  While I do think that there are relationships between cultural, social, and financial capitals, I think the processes by which these relations are formed and fostered within various contexts {i.e., “fields”/”champs”} would be extremely valuable for policy decisions.

Correlation between the CLI and the social and economic well-being index, 2009
Correlation between the CLI and the social and economic well-being index, 2009

Twitterversion:: #newblogpost Hey Canada…How smart is your town? @macleansmag article on Composite Learning Index popularizing sociology?  @Prof_K

Song:: Town Called Malice – The Jam