Open Data – The Democratic Imperative

by Beth Noveck on July 5, 2012

Open Data are the basis for government innovation. This isn’t because open data make government more transparent or accountable. Like Tom Slee, I have serious doubts about whether it does either of those things. In any event, shining a light on the misdeeds of ineffective institutions isn’t as imperative as redesigning how they work.  Instead, open data can provide the raw material to convene informed conversations inside and outside institutions about what’s broken and the empirical foundation for developing solutions together.

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“Tyler Cowen”: thinks he has a gotcha.

bq. David Gordon emails me on the workplace


I enjoyed reading your excellent post on the Crooked Timber workplace coercion piece. Many of their complaints also hold for the university classroom, e.g., limits to free speech, students have no say in what work is required, etc.; and often there are costs to refusing to enroll in classes the student finds onerous, such as failing to obtain the desired degree. But I doubt Bertram and his friends would regard this situation as coercive.


Best wishes,



bq. Nor is it always easy to switch schools…

and who knows – when Chris, Corey and Alex start advocating for students to be penalized for having (or not having) abortions, being monitored at home, making, or failing to make, the right political donations, supporting (which was _far_ from a hypothetical question for Corey in his own graduate student experience – he notoriously was the victim of retaliation by one of his professors) or failing to support unionization drives or the like, it might actually _become_ a gotcha. But in the universe that we inhabit at the moment, this continues an extended (and indeed rather _ostentatiously_ extended) exercise in refusing to get the point, let alone addressing it.

Still, if Tyler is in the market for analogies of this sort, I do have one for him. He suggests in his “previous post”: that the problem is on the side of the employees rather than the employers:

bq. I am not comfortable with the mood affiliation of the piece. How about a simple mention of the massive magnitude of employee theft in the United States, perhaps in the context of a boss wishing to search an employee? … When I was seventeen, I had a job in the produce department of a grocery store. … I did observe … massive employee shirking … If I ponder my workplace at GMU, I see many more employees who take advantage of the boss, perhaps by shirking, or by not teaching well, than I see instances of the bosses taking advantage of the employees.

But let’s draw the comparison out a little. What would the world look like if GMU economics professors were treated similarly to workers in low-paid jobs with little protection? No offices – at best open cubicles, so that a supervisor could stroll by, making sure that the professors were doing the job that they were supposed to be doing. Monitoring of computers to prevent random websurfing. _Certainly_ no air conditioning. Compulsory random drug testing. Body searches, in case professors were sneaking office supplies back home. Monitoring – at best – of bathroom breaks, and written demerits and termination of employment for professors who took too many of them. Perhaps Tyler might want to argue that such pervasive distrust and supervision would hurt productivity rather than help it – but it would seem difficult plausibly to reconcile such an argument with his prior claim that mooching, slacking and skiving off is endemic among his colleagues.

Knowing professors quite well, including economics professors, I can very safely predict their reaction if they found themselves subjected to such vigorous supervision, (perhaps as a result of some general bill attacking academic privileges passed through the Virginia legislature). And it wouldn’t be a careful consideration of contracts, and a measured conclusion that given the inevitable incompleteness thereof, they would have to put up with it until they could find a job at some more enlightened institution. It would be sputtering, semi-coherent outrage at what they would perceive as a humiliating and direct assault on their professional and human dignity. Indeed, they’d have a point. But it isn’t only professors who have dignity as workers and human beings. And that’s a rather important point too.

Infringements on Worker’s Rights: Not Imaginary

by Belle Waring on July 5, 2012

Oh Christ. IMAGINATIVE EMPATHY FAIL. The imaginative empathy fail button at CT headquarters is turning around and blaring and stuff and I am sick so I don’t have time to deal with this plus it’s an annoying sound. Everyone, please try to imagine you are a poor person for at least 45 seconds at a minimum. Also, if you look at an 80-comment thread and only one commenter with a visibly female handle has said anything, would you please just, go get someone off the street or something, or like maybe the woman next to you at Starbucks, to comment? Don’t tell her it’s about libertarianism!! Don’t be hitting on her either. Unless you’ve got mad game like Kells. Tell her I asked you to. Anyway.

Do you know how becoming a Jesuit differs from taking on a job that is unpleasant? You don’t need to become a Jesuit to get money to buy food and clothes for your family! For real! You’re not even supposed to have a family! So is there an issue there, about whether one can potentially contract oneself to SeaOrg or the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and come out missing your freedom? Yes, and that is what separates cults from churches in most people’s mind. This could be an interesting sidebar discussion but it has nothing to say about the “putting up with awful things to have a job” issue.
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