Archive for November 2nd, 2011
Could an understanding of biology have prevented the credit crunch? The complex world of banking evolved – and profited – thanks to the work of analytically gifted maths and science graduates. But when the crash came, something new was needed. Now banking regulators are turning to a different kind of science, asking if an understanding of ecosystems or the spread of infectious disease could help reform world finance. Ehsan Masood examines the role of science in the City.
In many countries — particularly in the developing world — System D is growing faster than any other part of the economy, and it is an increasing force in world trade. But even in developed countries, after the financial crisis of 2008-09, System D was revealed to be an important financial coping mechanism. A 2009 study by Deutsche Bank, the huge German commercial lender, suggested that people in the European countries with the largest portions of their economies that were unlicensed and unregulated — in other words, citizens of the countries with the most robust System D — fared better in the economic meltdown of 2008 than folks living in centrally planned and tightly regulated nations. Studies of countries throughout Latin America have shown that desperate people turned to System D to survive during the most recent financial crisis.
So what kind of jobs will predominate? Part-time work, a variety of self-employment schemes, consulting, moonlighting, income patching. By 2020, the OECD projects, two-thirds of the workers of the world will be employed in System D. There’s no multinational, no Daddy Warbucks or Bill Gates, no government that can rival that level of job creation. Given its size, it makes no sense to talk of development, growth, sustainability, or globalization without reckoning with System D.
Citation style remains the most arbitrary, formulaic, and prescriptive element of academic writing taught in American high schools and colleges. Now a sacred academic shibboleth, citation persists despite the incredibly high cost-benefit ratio of trying to teach students something they (and we should also) recognize as relatively useless to them as developing writers. Professors’ obsession with citation formatting is relatively new. Many of us over the age of 40 probably cannot remember learning much about citation styles until graduate school—not because our memories have faded, but because our teachers knew better than to demand that we fret about such specialized, scholarly formalities.
In contrast, experienced writers (like us) edit meticulously only after they have allocated substantial effort to more complex and consequential writing tasks, such as refining their topics, selecting and processing their sources, organizing their ideas, and drafting and revising their manuscripts to improve focus and coherence. Nitpicky professors hinder student writers’ development by effectively forcing them to invest more time and thinking in less important elements of writing. Recent research by the Citation Project corroborates how severely teachers’ citation psychosis has diminished students’ information-literacy skills, in particular.
This brings me to my second point, the massive increase in student debt, triggered in a large part by the fact that college tuition continues to rise at a rate much higher than the cost of living. According to CNN, here are the grim statistics (bear in mind that the unemployment numbers for college grads tend to vary because they are so difficult to calculate): College seniors who graduated last year owed an average of $24,000 in student-loan debt, up 6% from the year before, according to a report from the Project on Student Debt. That data is based on an annual analysis of student-loan debt at more than 1,000 public and private nonprofit four-year institutions. At the same time, unemployment for recent college graduates (according to this site) jumped from 5.8% in 2008 to 8.7% in 2009—the highest annual rate on record.
So here’s my somewhat obvious question: Is it worthwhile for high-school graduates to go to college right now? My provisional answer, and I’d really like to be persuaded otherwise is “no.” The Republican Party and President Obama are clearly, as we’ve learned in the last weeks, at loggerheads over student-loan reform, so it’s unlikely to happen. Obama argues that students are being crushed by education-related debt; Republicans argue that tightening student-loan regulations and making it easier (and ultimately less punitive) for students to borrow will only serve as an incentive for colleges to increase tuition even more. Both positions are supportable, but as for high-school graduates right now, I think college is a bad bet. The exceptions: highly practical occupation-related fields and quick and cheap two-year credentials, or, of course, independently wealthy parents or some other guaranteed lifetime-income stream. Otherwise, to start your life with a massive amount of debt (on which one cannot default) and a good chance that you won’t find a full-time job, let alone a secure one with career potential, just doesn’t make sense.
In conversation, I am what is known as an interrupter.
I know it’s an annoying habit; I also know it’s one I share with a lot of academics. What I tell myself is that I interrupt people—friends, colleagues, students—when they are midthought, sometimes midsentence, because I am so excited by their ideas I cannot help but engage. It’s because I adore lively dialogue, and like to prod and provoke ideas. I’m not good at waiting my turn.
I might attribute that to having spent formative years in Manhattan, where interrupting goes unnoticed in the hustle and flow of city life. Or perhaps it’s part of my ethnic heritage, the turbulence of the Jewish dinner table. Or maybe my mother didn’t want to constrain my creativity and allowed me to run roughshod over conversations. Regardless of its provenance, what I know is that interrupting people when they speak is just plain rude. I’ve tried to cure myself of the habit but, like everything, it takes work. And in the course of working to be better, I’ve begun to wonder about the root of the problem.