Archive for July, 2008|Monthly archive page

A Shortage of Lawyers

Here is a situation that Shakespeare might appreciate. A shortage of lawyers is plaguing Japan. Really? A New York Times article seems to suggest that.

Stephen P. Magee and William A. Brock. 1984. “The Invisible Foot and the Waste of Nations: Redistribution and Economic Growth.” in David C. Colander, ed. Neoclassical Political Economy: The Analysis of Rent-seeking and DUP Activities (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger): pp. 177-85.

One regression estimates that the optimum number of lawyers is 23 per 1000 workers. The U.S. has 38; Japan, 20; Germany, 27; France, 7; Hong Kong, 7; U.K., 12; Spain, 33; India, 34; Chile, 47.

According to an estimate during the 1980s, lawyers constitute 42% of the House; 61% of the Senate.

Onishi, Norimitsu. 2008. “Lawyers in Rural Japan: Low Supply, Iffy Demand.” New York Times (29 July).

The article describes the arrival of a lawyer, Katsumune Hirai, to Yakumo, a northern Japanese town, population 19,743, had never had a lawyer before. Few people seem interested in his services.

“Japan, in contrast to the United States, has long suffered from a shortage of lawyers, especially in the countryside. If it was not unusual for towns with five times Yakumo’s population to have no lawyer, how could Yakumo hope to secure one just for itself? And yet, thanks to a national campaign to raise the number of lawyers, and to dispatch them to lawyerless corners of Japan, Yakumo welcomed its first one in April. The Yakumo Legal Office opened shop, behind gray blinds and under blue awnings, in the square facing the train station.”

“… half of Japan’s lawyers are concentrated in Tokyo, leaving only one lawyer for every 30,000 Japanese outside the capital, according to the federation. The Japanese government is trying to increase the number of lawyers as part of broader judicial reforms that have included establishing 74 law schools since 2004. Under the system that will be abolished in 2011, anyone could take the national bar exam, though it was so difficult that the annual pass rate was about 3 percent.”

The Military Basketball Complex

Because of the Tim Donaghy gambling scandal, the NBA hired Army Maj. Gen. Ronald L. Johnson as senior vice president of refereeing operations. He is uniquely suited to the job because he was responsible for overseeing $18 billion of reconstruction in Iraq.

Another Nice Review of The Consication of American Prosperity

The Crime of the Century

Michael Perelman, The Confiscation of American Prosperity: From Right-Wing Extremism and Economic Ideology to the Next Great Depression. Palgrave Macmillan. 239 pp.

Economist Michael Perelman has written a whodunit about a heist, but not just any heist. His new book dissects the grandest bit of thievery in modern human history, the robbery that snatched away the economic security of the great American middle class and made America’s rich the richest rich the world has ever seen.

Perelman book

How did all this happen? Perelman takes us back to the initial crime scene, the United States of the early 1970s, a society then completing a quarter-century of unparalleled prosperity. Most Americans had shared in those good times. Most expected them to continue.

But not everyone felt that way. Corporate America’s movers and shakers, back in the early ’70s, sensed a world spinning out of — their — control. They feared marketplace challenges from abroad. Western Europe and Japan had rebuilt their war-torn economies. They also feared challenges at home, from social activists and angry workers. Even consumers were organizing.

Corporate leaders, amid these challenges, panicked. They rejected the basic assumption behind America’s good times, that balance in economic life — and prosperity for all — requires an active role for trade unions and government regulators. Corporate leaders would instead link up with radical conservatives and help speed what Michael Perelman calls a “right-wing revolution.”

That revolution would rewrite the nation’s economic rules and leave in its wake a deeply and ferociously unequal United States.

Michael Perelman names names as he fills in the outline of this broad sweeping story with intriguing detail on who did what when. He introduces us, for instance, to Lewis Powell, the corporate lawyer — and future Supreme Court justice — whose 1971 memo for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce rallied the nation’s power-suits to rise up and “save” free enterprise.

“Each time the United States has increased income inequality,” author Perelman reminds us along his story-telling way, “disaster has followed.”

And disaster, Perelman notes, will surely follow our contemporary right-wing revolution. Perelman explains why, patiently laying out how top-heavy distributions of wealth deflate broad-based consumer demand, pump up speculative asset bubbles, and invariably invite a “culture of corruption.”

Perelman ends his whodunit with a look at “the presumptive cops” on the beat, his fellow economists, the academics who could have and should have blown the whistle on the right-wing’s frontal assault on American prosperity. They did not. Michael Perelman has. More power to him.

Tom Coburn

The New York Times has an article today about Tom Coburn, a right-wing, antiabortionist, ultraconservative, probably wingnut.

Coburn makes a practice of putting folds on legislation techniques that needs with this disapproval.  Where was the Democratic senator who hold the spying bill or war funding?

I do not know if he has strong principles or if he is just playing to his conservative constituency, but I wish that the Democrats have somebody with a tenacity to do something other than to cower before the right-wing.

Looking Ahead Toward the Housing Crisis

Doms, Mark and Meryl Motika. 2006. “The Rise of Homeownership.” Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Economic Letter (3 November).
“After decades of relative stability, the rate of U.S. homeownership began to surge in the mid-1990s, rising from 64% in 1994 to a peak of 69% in 2004, near which it has hovered ever since . . . [S]ome of the explanation likely stems from innovations in the mortgage market that resulted in greater access to credit, lower down payment requirements, and easy and low-cost access to the equity in a house, which makes homeownership more attractive.”
Thanks to an old Timothy Taylor column in the Journal of Economic Perspectives

California Budget Crisis

California has a deficit estimated at $15 billion.  The state is legally bound to balance its budget, but it never does so by resorting to various gimmicks.

California requires a supermajority to approve any budget.  Republicans have said they will not accept any budget that involves tax increases and they have enough votes to block any budget.  Arnold has suggested raising money by selling the rights to future lottery money, but that is far from sufficient.

His latest ploy is to demand that the state pay workers the minimum wage so long until a budget is passed.  As a student of supply-side economics, I know that the best way to get out of a recession is to ruthlessly cut government spending.  Business will be so impressed that it will invest even though he cannot afford to buy anything.

If that does not work, Arnold probably have some friends in special effects who could do the trick.

Second Chapter of The Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism: How Market Tyranny Stifles the Economy by Stunting Workers

Here is the second chapter of the book.


New Interview with Bob McChesney on The Confiscation of American Prosperity

Means Testing Medicare

Tyler Cowen is my favorite conservative. Sometimes I actually agree with — not very much, but sometimes I do. Today in his New York Times article he advocates means testing for Medicare. He acknowledges the possibility that means testing will make Medicare a welfare program, causing it to lose support — but he suggests that things are so dire we do not have another choice he does not seem to take seriously Mark Thoma’s suggestion that single-payer could create substantial cost savings.

I am not sure how big a threat Medicare really is. Any sane political system would find massive savings in the defense budget, but sanity is a scarce commodity. Taxes on the very rich and taxes on purely speculative activities could go a long way to supplement Medicare. Unfortunately, such policies will not be discussed outside of third-party politics.

A Different Kind of College?

The New York Times has a fascinating article about Berea College, a school that has no tuition, but expects students to work 10 hours a week. The school has a healthy endowment of $1 billion, but seems to use it for supporting education rather than fancy buildings.

I never heard of the college before last year when I saw a flyer on the Internet for small summer program to study imperialism and then spent time with families in Mexico. One of my students got accepted and was enthusiastic about the program, but I have never thought to inquire about the college.

I assume that without tuition at the college lacks the bloated bureaucracy that characterizes most higher education today. The article might just be excessive hype, I hope that is not the case.
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