Work and family

by Kimberly on March 28, 2005

First off, let me extend my thanks to Crooked Timber for letting me guest-blog this week. I will jump right into the fray by remarking on why the United States is not having a conversation about working time and the need for a better work-life balance, despite the expansion in the annual number of hours worked. This trend puts the US at odds with much of Western Europe, where the annual number of hours worked has fallen since the 1970s (as shown by the OECD). The United States also is one of the only advanced industrialized countries without a paid parental leave. Yet, the silence on these issues – from both major political parties – is deafening.

One reason is the weakening of labor unions in the United States. While unions have not always been strong advocates for women’s rights, the feminization of the labor force and union membership in many European countries had injected concerns about working time, parental leave, and child care into union and left party politics. Without a similar collective actor in the US, American parents lack an organized proxy that can champion their interests in the political sphere. Moreover, the issues of child care and parental leave are most pressing for parents at a time when they are too busy to become politically active. Politicians simply do not hear that they need to expend political capital to address the needs of working parents. What they do hear, however, are the voices of the highly organized movement of social conservatives that will strongly oppose public child care subsidies and paid leave as favoring working mothers over stay-at-home moms. This asymmetry of political activism – frazzled and unorganized parents versus a politically mobilized minority – creates substantial obstacles to a sensible conversation about work and family.

Guest blogger

by Henry on March 28, 2005

We’d like to welcome Kimberly Morgan, who’ll be guest-blogging with us for the next several days. Kimberly’s a colleague of mine in George Washington University, with a particular interest in the financing of the welfare state, and in the sources and consequences of family and childcare policy. Garance Franke-Rutka made some well-targeted complaints a few days ago about the stunted definition of ‘politics’ that often passes among among op-eds and big name bloggers. As she says, “the question of how to combine work and family and not go crazy” is fundamentally a political question. Much of Kimberly’s previous work speaks directly to this, looking at, for example, how the decision to leave childcare to the market in the US has reinforced the low wage economy, and how new coalitions have been created around the financing of Social Security and Medicare. We’re delighted to have her with us.

Gary Farber Fundraiser

by John Holbo on March 28, 2005

Click a link, feed a Farber. He’s a nice man and could use your help.

Developmental politics

by Henry on March 28, 2005

Alex Tabarrok says that Jeffrey Sachs is descending “to the level of a third-rate politician” in his outraged response to Bill Easterly’s review of his recent book on ending global poverty; I disagree. While I’m fundamentally sympathetic to Easterly’s basic criticisms of Sachs (see my longer post on this over at John and Belle’s a few days ago), I’m also a little suspicious (as I hinted in my earlier post, and as d-squared remarks bluntly in comments) about what motivates them. A few years ago, Easterly wrote a smart and convincing book describing the World Bank’s screw-ups in development aid, which ended up costing him his job there. However, after two hundred pages of detailed examination of what had gone wrong in the past, he gave us little-to-nothing in the way of policy prescriptions as to how to improve development aid in the future – a couple of pages of vague aspirations and pious nostrums. Nor, to my knowledge, has he done much to rectify this in the intervening period. When someone repeatedly tries to take down the project of development aid as it’s been done to date, but fails to provide any concrete proposals for reform, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to speculate that he wants to get rid of large-scale development aid altogether, but doesn’t want to say so in public. At the very least, I think it’s up to Easterly to spell out in detail what his alternative approach of “piecemeal democratic reform” would actually look like in practice. It sounds like a very attractive agenda in theory – it’s certainly one that I’d be very interested in – but until and unless he spells out what it would actually involve, it’s hard to get rid of the suspicion that he’s more interested in getting rid of development aid as it stands than in creating a better system to replace it.

Update: Ivan points in comments to a long-ish working paper where Easterly apparently does lay out some positive proposals – could be that I’m being unfair here. Will read and respond.

Hugo nominees

by Henry on March 28, 2005

The nominations for science fiction’s Hugo awards were announced yesterday. In alphabetical order, the nominees for Best Novel are:

I’ve read four of the five of them, which is a personal record (the exception is the Banks book – while I love Banks’ stuff, the reviews of The Algebraist were mixed enough that I didn’t feel inspired to buy it in hardback). Indeed I and other Crooked Timber people have blogged extensively on both Iron Council and Strange and Norrell. I haven’t blogged on either the Stross book (which has gotten a fair amount of well-deserved blogospheric love recently), or on Ian McDonald’s book, although I’ve been meaning to write about the latter for a long time. It’s both smart and fun, a collision between booster-stage cyberpunk (the underlying story of the book riffs on William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Count Zero) and a reinvented India. McDonald has been engaged in a very interesting effort over the last ten years to re-imagine science fiction from the perspective of the developing rather than the developed world, and in this novel he’s made a crucial leap forward in imagining what an India transformed by information technology might look like and mean, on its own terms. Only two of the many viewpoint characters are Westerners, and they serve more to provide contrast than to translate and domesticate the exotic. McDonald’s West retains economic and political dominance, but is quietly losing out over time, because it’s trying to shut out the disruptive impact of new technologies. It’s an aging monopolist which is about to have its lunch eaten. India is where it’s at – new sexes (neuts), AI-driven soap operas, towed icebergs, and finally, the gateway to a new universe. I’m not sure whether the book is (or even tries to be) authentic in any strong sense of the word (I’d be fascinated to hear the opinion of anyone who’s from India and has read it), but it’s exciting, thought-provoking, and (once you come to grips with the many viewpoints that McDonald uses), very entertaining. Not a book that I’d pass on to anyone who isn’t already an SF reader – the future-shock might be a little much – but something that I would recommend without hesitation to anyone who loves the genre, and wants to read something that feels fresh and new. As far as I know, it hasn’t found a US publisher yet – perhaps the nomination (and the British Science Fiction Association award that it’s also picked up) will prompt somebody over here to pick it up.

(nb – as always with my posts, all commission from the Amazon links above will go to charity).

Grad student strikes

by Henry on March 28, 2005

Another strike by graduate student instructors in Michigan, looking for better pay and working conditions. The arguments that many professors (and most university administrators) make against graduate student unionization have always struck me as extremely weak. The claim that grad students aren’t actually workers, but instead are the equivalent of apprentices in a guild, simply don’t make sense. Grad students provide cheap labour in the academic system; they aren’t learning by doing so much as they’re providing an essential underpinning to cash-strapped universities’ teaching programmes. The fact that a very large percentage (perhaps the majority?) of teaching grad students don’t then go on to become professors suggests that they don’t derive all that much benefit from their experience – and certainly nothing that would make up for the miserable pay and poor working conditions they have to put up with. Before coming to the US system, I spent two years in University of Toronto, where grad students were unionized, and the system seemed to work very well. While issues that US departments can resolve by fiat had to be resolved through (sometimes tedious and lengthy) negotiations, the university system didn’t come crashing to a halt, and grad student instructors got a manifestly better deal. There’s no reason in principle why the same shouldn’t be true in the US. Of course there are practical difficulties, which in large part stem from the National Labor Relations Board’s disgraceful decision of last year that grad students don’t have the right to unionize. However, this decision was less a reflection of the underlying principles of the matter than it was of the NLRB’s transformation from one of the key components of the New Deal into an organization that systematically takes the side of the bosses in labour-management disputes.

Update: Lemuel Pitkin suggests in comments that my post misunderstands the law here – I should have more correctly stated that the NLRB has ruled that grad students at private universities don’t have the right to unionize. As Lemuel notes, the basic point (there’s no good principled reason to oppose graduate student unionization) still stands.


by Eszter Hargittai on March 28, 2005

You are spending a few days in Budapest and decide to get some souvenirs. You walk down the most famous tourist street (Váci utca) and browse the shop windows. You wonder: should it be an embroidered tablecloth or maybe a plate with a sketch of the Parliament? Neither quite makes sense for your home so you keep on looking. And voila, look no further: a little plastic Hitler figurine. Just what you needed. And so he is not lonely, you can get another guy with an armband sporting the swastika.

Just war theory

by Chris Bertram on March 28, 2005

“”: is a very useful set of resources on just war theory maintained by Mark Rigstad of Oakland University. There’s also “an accompanying blog”: .