Thursday, October 30, 2008

Are we in a recession, or is capitalism really evil?

The economy is resilient, but its resiliency depends on the economic boat being able to right itself and not on the government pulling it into dry dock indefinitely. Sure you can't sink in dry dock, but you don't get anywhere either.

For me, the political world has taken center stage. I can not believe our choices this time and the risks to the economy if either win, however, the risks of the democrats to the economy are higher than I can ever remember. Capitalism is under full attack and siege. GDP down only .3 today (not a permalink).

The consensus forecast was -.5% and this from

"This has not been a recession - yet. Third quarter real GDP will be near flat. Regardless of whether it is a slight increase, as we expect, or a slight decline, the fact remains that the US economy has been far stronger than generally perceived. This has been due in large part to strong exports and a resilient consumer. Gas prices, home prices, and higher unemployment didn't lead to a recession in the first three quarters of 2008. Of course, everyone knows that it "feels like a recession." This is in part because the stock market is down, and it is often taken as an indicator of the economy (even more so than GDP). GDP is also now likely to support the recession argument. We expect fourth quarter real GDP to decline. The outlook into 2009 is for a sluggish economy at best, but the specifics depend highly on how well the liquidity crisis on Wall Street is addressed. That remains highly uncertain."

The uncertainty now is political. Don Boudreau, asks today in the Christian Science Monitor "Is Barack Obama really a socialist? (subtitled) Not exactly, but his 'socialist-lite' policies should still be cause for concern." This is a well written thoughful presentation at a time we should be paying attention to this.

I caught wind of Boudreau's letter to the editor in a blog presentation by Arnold Kling called Subtile Wisdom.

"To many people, the fundamental conflict in the economy is between the behavior of individuals (selfish, irrational) and the greater good. Shifting power from markets to government represents a move toward the greater good. (But) ... individual political leaders have less knowledge than is aggregated by markets. They face perverse incentives. And they pervert the incentives of others. Witness today's economy, in which everyone is asking not how they can create wealth but how they can get their share of a bailout."

Wasn't it President Kennedy that proclaimed: "Ask not what your country can do for you...?"

What I left out of Arnold Kling's words above in order to highlight them is his reference to the Masonomist position (worth reading). The George Mason school of thought is incredibly important today and in this election. Here is why. Take the words of Professor Kling to heart...

"At the University of Chicago, economists lean to the right of the economics profession. They are known for saying, in effect, 'Markets work well. Use the market.'

"At MIT and other bastions of mainstream economics, most economists are to the left of center but to the right of the academic community as a whole. These economists are known for saying, in effect, 'Markets fail. Use government.'

"Masonomics says, 'Markets fail. Use markets.' ... Masonomics worries much more about government failure than market failure. Governments do not face competitive pressure. They are immune from the "creative destruction" of entrepreneurial innovation. In the market, ineffective firms go out of business. In government, ineffective programs develop powerful constituent groups with a stake in their perpetuation."

"Things in our country run in spite of government, not by aid of it." Will Rodgers.

"Government's first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives." Ronald Reagan

"Man is not free unless government is limited." Ronald Reagan

Building interactive economic models with Excel

Aaron Schiff of, posts a great article about using Excel to build and manipulate economic models. He highlights the user interface by adding a design mode. Check it out. He offers his spreadsheet example for free download.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Proper role of Math in Economics according to Alfred Marshall

Thanks to Don Coffin for this lead... Alfred Marshall on Math in Economics. An excellent read.

This is on Sean Flynn's web site: which is the companion to his Economics for Dummies book. Check out the last three chapters in particular. Never thought I would buy a ...for dummies book, but I may head out and get this one.

I offered a seminar in online course design -- it's what I do.

Poly Sci October14 2008
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ink Annotations Float in Word. How Can I Grade Papers with my Tablet PC

A question that came in recently was:
Today I marked up documents my students had submitted to their dropbox. I used the pen feature on my HP tablet PC. My plan was to send the papers back to my students using the Feedback feature in dropbox. However, when I later checked on those files going back to my students I found that for some of the documents my markings had slipped down on the document and therefore made no sense. My editing marks were not in the right place on the document. I'm not sure but I believe the problem was with files that were in Word 2007 (docx). I am using Word 2007 but I have noticed that the pen feature does not work the same on 2007 as it does on 2003. In fact my pen seems to work a lot better in 2003 than it does in 2007. Has anyone else run into this problem and, if so, do you know of a solution?

My Answer:
The problem is the way Word formats and treats annotations versus text formatting. You can usually see this by marking up a Word document (2003 and 2008) and then going back to the beginning of the Word document and adding text -- usually the annotations move.

What is the best work around? Well there are two, one free and one that will cost about $30 (for academics).

The free solution. Retrieve and open the word file from the drop box. Then select File/Print and select the printer called Journal Note Writer. This will copy the word file to Microsoft Journal and allow you to use your pen and annotate the document on each and every page. When finished you must print the Journal file to pdf (using Adobe Acrobat Pro) or supply the students with the free MS Journal Reader (click here for the web page) so they can read the files. This requires the students to be genuine MS Windows users.

The best solution and the one I use is Bluebeam PDF Revu. This will cost about $30 for an educational discount pricing and is the best $s I have spent on software since my Sudoku download to my phone (thanks Bluebeam Revu will allow you to annotate the word documents (or any other document and save and return to the students in a pdf format that everyone can read if they have Acrobat Reader.

Why not use Adobe Acrobat Professional and then how does one use Bluebeam Revu?

Adobe Acrobat Professional has terrible ink annotation tools, but you are welcome to prove that to yourself if you already have it. Adobe Acrobat Professional is also expensive. Even the on campus discount price is many multiples of the Bluebeam PDF Revu Educational Discount Price. See a video of's reason here (The Acrobat Alternative). Full disclosure-- has chosen to highlight my review on one of their pages, but it was not compensated. Perhaps this professor's review was ... click here for his electronic grading solution.

To use Bluebeam PDF Revu, open the document (Word, Excel, ... anything) you want to mark up. Then open the document as a pdf file using the printer 'Bluebeam pdf" which is installed with the installation. That is, if you have a Word document open, select File/Print from the menu, choose the "Bluebeam pdf" printer and the word document will be saved to pdf and opened in the Bluebeam Revu product. The pen annotations in Bluebeam's product are excellent and will allow you to grade the paper and save the annotations in a pdf file that all the students can read.

Information on Bluebeam PDF Revu:

Free download:

If you like it, then buy your license here for $30. You get two seats (one for your work computer and one for your home). Buy the standard edition unless you use CAD software.

I presented how to grade with a Tablet PC at the 2008 CELT (see here for the full presentation -- choose the first presentation under CELT 2008) and blogged about it (actually did a review of Bluebeam on October 2007 (here)).

Let me know if this helps or if you agree or disagree with this electronic grading fix.