Sam Bowles and Inequality

by Henry Farrell on February 3, 2010

A “good article”: in the _Santa Fe Reporter._ I’m quoted in it a few times, although I’m not sure that I’m especially qualified to pronounce upon his career and thought which are respectively far more distinguished and far more wide-reaching than my own. When I see myself having said ““I think what he’s doing is very smart. And it actually has some promise for a future, coherent research agenda,” I wince a little – what I meant to say is closer to “very, very _very_ smart” and a “future, coherent research agenda that could help remake the field of economics as a whole.”

The piece is good on the linkage between economics and inequality:

Bowles’ course was set in 1968, when he was an assistant professor at Harvard, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to his department looking for advice on the next stage of his social justice campaign. “We were just elated that we could use economics, which we had so painstakingly learned, to answer questions that Dr. King thought were important,” Bowles tells SFR. “We were also extremely angry that we were totally unable to answer the questions on the basis of having gotten a PhD at Harvard.”

… Most economists in 1968 thought of inequality as “somebody else’s problem,” Bowles tells SFR. “I actually was denied the right to teach a graduate course in inequality because it was said not to be economics.” It wasn’t always thus. “The founders of the discipline of economics, almost to a man—and they were only men—thought that the problem of distribution between classes—they used the word classes—was the key to understanding why nations grew or not,” Bowles says. What Bowles sees as the essence of his profession—problems of wealth distribution—the Friedmanites see as the road to hell.

Mainstream political science was no better, failing nearly entirely to investigate the sources of structural inequality in the US (there is still no coherent field of American political economy) . My sense is that both fields have improved significantly over the last several years – the causes and consequences of inequality is a significant focus of research – but they have a hell of a long way to go.

Nominet consultation on .UK

by Maria on February 3, 2010

Nominet, the body that administers the .UK country code, is holding an EGM later this month to decide on its future governance structure. As my old colleague Kieren McCarthy points out, the proposals include “a larger Board, lower voting thresholds, explicitly recognising that Nominet has a “public purpose”, giving the Board the right to set pricing, and a promise to review the organisation’s current membership setup to pull in more of the Internet community into its decisions.” These are all very good things.

Nominet has been through the wars in the past couple of years, with the biggest battles provoked by domainers (bulk commercial buyers of domain name registrations) trying to take over the Board of what is essentially a public interest organisation. (Like all fights, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Kieren wrote about the power struggle last year.)DTI, now of course known as BERR, was alarmed and threatened to take it over altogether. A big part of the problem is that there’s a very low bar for voting rights – basically anyone who does bulk registration of names – and so turnout is low, meaning capture by self-interested groups is distressingly easy. The changes being proposed at the EGM would address this. But they need to be voted in…

So, to the probably tiny percentage of CT readers who are interested, please do head over to Nominet and inform yourself about these issues.

Full disclosure: Through my work with ICANN (where I finished up last month), I got to know some of the Nominet team and think they’re doing a good job in difficult circumstances.