Posts Tagged ‘crisis’


Back in the 90s, I used to get into arguments with Russian friends about capitalism. This was a time when most young eastern European intellectuals were avidly embracing everything associated with that particular economic system, even as the proletarian masses of their countries remained deeply suspicious. Whenever I’d remark on some criminal excess of the oligarchs and crooked politicians who were privatising their countries into their own pockets, they would simply shrug.

“If you look at America, there were all sorts of scams like that back in the 19th century with railroads and the like,” I remember one cheerful, bespectacled Russian twentysomething explaining to me. “We are still in the savage stage. It always takes a generation or two for capitalism to civilise itself.”

“And you actually think capitalism will do that all by itself?”

“Look at history! In America you had your robber barons, then – 50 years later – the New Deal. In Europe, you had the social welfare state … ”

“But, Sergei,” I protested (I forget his actual name), “that didn’t happen because capitalists just decided to be nice. That happened because they were all afraid of you.”

He seemed touched by my naivety.

I wanted to chime in very briefly with a little rant about the lessons learned from the most recent crisis:
(1) A good number of economists from the left and the right DID predict this would happen and have also discussed in details the chronic problems the US economy has developed over the past few decades. This large minority of economists are often referred to as heterodox (as opposed to the orthodox/mainstream) views heard on the media and in traditional textbooks). So the notion that this crisis was a “surprise” or that “nobody could have predicted” it is BS spewed by leading mainstream economists who are defending their intellectually bankrupt views that have brought them their success and fortunes.
(2) Mainstream economics seems to have learned shockingly little from the crisis even though it confirmed many of the theories of the heterodox/radical economists while decisively falsifying most of the mainstream theories. In this sense the economics profession has shown itself to be thoroughly unscientific (from a methodological perspective) and the majority of its celebrated leaders to be little more than idiot-savants justifying the practices of the elites who feed them.
This is truly a low point in the history of economic thought but let’s not forget the minority of economists who are screaming blue murder for decades and have taken very significant hits to their careers by refusing to be seduced by the simplistic views and generous rewards of the mainstream.


This is particularly scary because Steve Keen is a very serious and cautious financial economist. I should know because I wrote a rave review for his Debunking Economics in the Eastern Economic Journal, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Winter, 2005)

Forget MOOCs–Let’s Use MOOA.

By Benjamin Ginsberg

As colleges begin using massive open online courses (MOOC) to reduce faculty costs, a Johns Hopkins University professor has announced plans for MOOA (massive open online administrations). Dr. Benjamin Ginsberg, author of The Fall of the Faculty, says that many colleges and universities face the same administrative issues every day. By having one experienced group of administrators make decisions for hundreds of campuses simultaneously, MOOA would help address these problems expeditiously and economically. Since MOOA would allow colleges to dispense with most of their own administrators, it would generate substantial cost savings in higher education.

“Studies show that about 30 percent of the cost increases in higher education over the past twenty-five years have been the result of administrative growth,” Ginsberg noted. He suggested that MOOA can reverse this spending growth.  “Currently, hundreds, even thousands, of vice provosts and assistant deans attend the same meetings and undertake the same activities on campuses around the U.S. every day,” he said.  “Imagine the cost savings if one vice provost could make these decisions for hundreds of campuses.”

Asked if this “one size fits all” administrative concept was realistic given the diversity of problems faced by thousands of schools, Ginsberg noted that a “best practices” philosophy already leads administrators to blindly follow one another’s leads in such realms as planning, staffing, personnel issues, campus diversity, branding and, curriculum planning. The MOOA, said Ginsberg, would take “best practices” a step further and utilize it to realize substantial cost savings.

Ginsberg pointed to the realm of strategic planning. He said that thanks to to the best practices concept, hundreds of schools currently use virtually identical strategic plans. Despite the similarities, however, these plans cost each school hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to develop. The MOOA would formalize the already extant cooperation by developing one plan that could be used by all colleges. Ginsberg estimates that had the MOOA planning concept been in use over the past ten years, schools would have saved more than a half billion dollars.  “One way to look at it,” he said, “Is that through their tuitions students paid about $500 million for strategic planning that might have been used for curricular development or other educational purposes.”  The MOOA plan, he declared, would end such wasteful duplication. 

According to Ginsberg, another place where the MOOA concept is immediately relevant is “branding.”  Following contemporary business models, hundreds of schools pay consulting firms hundreds of thousands of dollars to help them improve their “brand” identities. The results of these expensive individual efforts often seem quite similar. For example, after a major and costly rebranding effort, the University of Chicago School of Medicine declared that its brand would be “University of Chicago Medicine.” After working with consultants, the Johns Hopkins Medical School decided that its brand would be “Johns Hopkins Medicine.” And, the University of Pennsylvania Medical School was helped by its consultants to coin the brand, “Penn Medicine.” A MOOA might have identified a brand that all medical schools would be happy to use, such as “[School’s Name] Medicine.”   

Ginsberg also suggested that the “best practices” philosophy has led administrators at many schools to develop similar tasks and projects. At his own university, administrators created a “committee on traditions” to rediscover forgotten school traditions or, if necessary, to invent new ones. Similar committees had also been created by administrators on a number of other campuses including Emory, Duke, Middlebury, and Bowling Green.  “Interestingly,” said Ginsberg, “administrators meeting on dozens of campuses have uncovered or devised very similar traditions.” Substituting one MOOA “committee on traditions” for the dozens, perhaps hundreds of such committees would generate significant savings.   

Ginsberg has named his MOOA “Administeria,” and plans to begin operations in early 2014.  He admits that widespread use of MOOAs could result in substantial unemployment among college bureaucrats. However, he noted that their skill sets make them qualified for work in such burgeoning industries as retail sales, hospitality, food services, event planning, and horticultural design. 


Benjamin Ginsberg is David Bernstein Professor of Political Science at The Johns Hopkins University.

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Jose is a Rollins alumnus working on his PhD in economics at Colorado State University – Fort Collins.

He added a lot of methodological substance to my usual ramblings and gave us some really interesting things to think about in hopes of improving the sorry state of economics and the world.

We also had some technical difficulties figuring out how to connect to a phone but ended up getting pretty decent sound out of Jesse’s iThingy and a microphone (old school).

FINALLY: When I mentioned we got some hate mail on the blog, a guy named STUART called and said some nice things about the show–WE LOVE YOU STUART!