Sunday, June 29, 2008

More on Counting Women

I've got to answer my own question. The numbers-- how many women lawyers relative to total lawyers -- mean nothing. Gender discrimination isn't holding women back. Women earn as much as men do in most major cities, maybe even more. The inequality between men and women in the legal profession, in the workplace generally, is not gender but rather children.

Two person partnerships like marriage are prone to deadlock. Recurring negotiation over division of labor is exhausting, destablizing and inefficient. So, marital partners specialize. Among the range of activities partners undertake, childrearing particularly demands specialization. It begins with biological imperative. It continues until the child is an adult. One parent becomes the principal source of care for the child when he is helpless, sick, learning to read, or needs a ride to the orthodontist. One parent knows the names of all the child's toys and all the words to "Wheels on the Bus." The other parent, if there is one in the picture, becomes the surety parent, the backup who steps in as a substitute for the principal when circumstances require. Said another way, the principal parent is "on call." The backup parent is by appointment only.

The family captures the benefit of specialization. But, the principal parent loses ground in the workplace. This parent foregoes advancement in a job market that understandably values "on call" workers and devalues workers who are already "on call" for their families. At least so far, women choose or otherwise find themselves in the role of principal parent more than men do.

If a man and a woman start out as equals, why does one of them forego career advancement in favor of specialization in family? Some blame men. Others call it a mystery.

I think it's love.

Counting Women Lawyers

The Pennsylvania Bar Association's Commission on Women in the Profession released its annual report card measuring the participation of women in the legal profession. According to US Census Data, about 51% of Pennslyvania residents are women. Based on a survey of 100 largest law firms in PA, women consititute 32% of all lawyers; 21% of partners; 47% of associates on the partnership track; and 68% of part-timers.

What do these numbers mean? No matter how many women lawyers show up for work this year, the real news remains that the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Commission on Women finds it worthwhile to count us.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Annie Get Your Gun . . .

out of its hiding place, the Supremes aren't gonna take it after all!

Today, the Supreme Court affirmed a lower court opinion that struck down the D.C. gun ban law. The law barred the possession of handguns and required shotguns and rifles to be kept disassembled or under trigger lock. The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess firearms. You, citizens of America, do not have to be a member of a militia in order to possess a handgun, particularly for self-defense.

There are three opinions with Justice Scalia penning the majority and dissents by Justice Stevens and Justice Breyer. For further analysis you may visit scotus blog where a pdf of the opinion is linked.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Another Chapter for Exxon Valdez

One would not expect to go a semester in a Remedies class without hearing about the Exxon Valdez case. The Exxon Valdez oil spill was one of the largest, and most expensive, environmental accidents in the history of the United States. The tanker hit Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef and spilled an estimated 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into the Sound. The impact of the spill on the Alaska native villages continues to “hold the region hostage.”

The accident occurred nearly twenty years ago, yet the class action brought by 32,677 local fisherman impacted by the tragedy, has continued for over thirteen years. Today, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that a fractured Supreme Court issued a ruling that the $2.5 billion in punitive damages awarded against Exxon Mobil was excessive. The opinion, authored by Justice Souter, stated the following: “The award here should be limited to an amount equal to compensatory damages.” ($287 million has been awarded against Exxon Mobil in the suit.) The Court concluded that federal environmental laws do not bar punitive damage awards.

To date, Exxon Mobil has paid $3.4 billion in clean-up costs, remediation and fines. The tanker itself has been retired after an unsuccessful attempt to rename it (Sea River Mediterranean). The slip-op can be read here.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Value of Duke Football

As a Duke alum, this judge's ruling is embarrassing but I can't find fault with it.

If you want proof that Steve Spurrier is one of the best coaches around, forget the national championship at Florida. Since 1965, only one coach has had a winning record at Duke and Spurrier was that one.

Closer to home, it is nice to see JoePa listed as one of the coaches that transcends the game.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


The draws have been announced here: Gentlemen's and Ladies' (in proper British speak).

Because it's always bad to make predictions, here are some thoughts:

On the women's side, I think Ana Ivanovic is going to take it. With Justine Henin out of the picture, I think Ivanovic is going to settle into her number one ranking and start to dominate the field. Her victory at French Open will prove to be her coming out party. My prediction is that she'll beat Maria Sharapova in the final.

As for the men, here's my crazy idea: I think Rafeal Nadal is going to win the whole thing. And not only that, I think he's going to beat Novak Djokovic in the final. Yup, I don't think Federer is going to continue his winning streak on grass. I'm betting he loses to Djokovic in the semifinals, just like he did at the 2008 Australian Open. Nadal is playing amazing tennis right now--case in point, he simply wallopped Federer at the French Open. And although Federer has been unstoppable on grass, I just think that this is Nadal's year. Having said all that, I kind of hope Federer proves me wrong on this because I'd like to see him break Pete Sampras' Grand Slam record.

Any predictions?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Twenty Years or a Kidney

Picture this, a society where crime is tolerated so long as the criminal is healthy and disease-free. Recompense for wrongdoing is no longer limited to financial penalties or serving time, no, in this society a criminal can fulfill his/her debt by donating blood or maybe even a kidney. As sociologists establish the linkage between crime and socioeconomic levels, this hypothetical society seems to create a type of caste system wherein the wealthy are benefitted by the health of criminal offenders. The thought evokes in me something akin to Huxley’s A Brave New World or, more recently, The Island. Though no kidneys have been accepted in lieu of prison sentences yet, it is possible that we are not far from it.

According to the Associated Press, Cuyahoga County, Ohio has initiated a program allowing juvenile offenders to donate blood to fulfill their community service obligations. The teens must be at least seventeen and the substitution is allowed only for low-level crimes. If a teen is unable to donate due to medical reasons, the teen can instead volunteer at a blood drive or take a CPR class. The idea sounds noble enough, but is this one step down the proverbial slippery-slope? (I know it is perhaps disfavored to view all remedies in light of worst-case scenario outcomes, but isn’t that part of being a good lawyer?) Personally, I think volunteering at a blood drive is community service and sounds like a wonderful option. The donating blood part, though, well, that might be just one step too far.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

My Take on Indy

A couple of weeks back my husband and I snagged a showing of the new Indiana Jones movie. We thought it was fun and campy, perfect for a summer movie. I was distressed, however, by one thing and I want to try my theory out on the RLR gang.

Without giving away the plot I can reveal that the object of Indy's adventures (the crystal skull) is not a biblical artifact as in the three previous films, but is . . . alien related? Are you kidding me? I've been pondering why this might be and my theory is that Lucas and Spielberg don't think this generation (at least 25 year olds and under) would "get" biblical references or recognize a biblical artifact.

If my theory is correct, what does this mean for the next generation of lawyers? After all, given the Judeo-Christian heritage of our nation, the law has grown up replete with biblical references. For example: "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Cain and Abel); "he/she is such a Judas" (Judas selling Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver); "a David and Goliath confrontation" (I Samuel 17); "she is a Jezebel" (I Kings 17-21 and 2 Kings 9). Each one of these references is from a westlaw "all feds" search. I can just see it now, students googling "jezebel" in the middle of class so they can understand what the defendant is saying about the plaintiff.

Back to Indy, click here for a great tale about the famous sword v. gun scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark (scroll down to sword scene #1). It just goes to show how random movie magic can be!

In Re 2 Week Grounding

Is June 19th the Canadian version of April's Fool Day? I just can't believe this report.

I see I am behind on the story, Eugene Volokh commented on this story this morning.

Break the Code

For once, I am not using the term "Code" to refer to the IRC.

The New York Times has been on a roll lately. I thought the articles that Zak mentioned in his post were great, but my wife (who also works here at Penn State but we are probably more than 15 feet apart most of the time) sent a link to a great story about an eccentric designer who incorporated an elaborate mystery in his redesign of a New York apartment. Be sure to check out the slideshow that is with the story.

As if being featured in the New York Times wasn't enough, JJ Abrams will make a movie about the whole thing.

I love these types of scavenger hunts/mystery things. When we were out in California, I participated in "The Go Game" which was lots of fun.

I have posted before about one of the advantages of being a new school (or at least a new location of an old school) is the ability to create traditions. I would love for the students to create a fun scavenger hunt/Amazing Race type event for law students and faculty that could become one of those types of annual events (cough, cough).

"Nobody put the stupid Frescas back in the fridge."

On May 15th the New York Times had a story about a devout Buddhist couple who have not been more than fifteen feet away from each other for ten years. After reading the story, married couple Hanna Rosin and David Plotz decided to see if they could stay within fifteen feet of each other for a single day. They documented their day together in an article on Slate, where David works as an editor. Make sure to watch the video. Enjoy!

The Minerva Project: Eggheads and Ideas

The New York Times reports that the Pentagon has launched a project to engage U.S. scholars in developing responses to national security threats. The project name is Minerva, after the Roman goddess of wisdom and warriors. The goal is to harness "soft power" in the effort to understand and quell threats to national security as a complement to military force. The Pentagon has long sponsored private sector scholarly research. Minerva is the first large scale project of its kind since the Vietnam war. Through Minerva, the Pentagon will award $50 million in grants over five years.

The reaction to Minerva in the scholarly community has been mixed. While some researchers welcome the new grant source, others think that Minerva might create an unholy alliance between the academy and the Defense Department. For example, Prof. Hugh Gusterson, an anthropoligst at George Mason University told the NYTimes: “I am all in favor of having lots of researchers trying to figure out why terrorists want to kill Americans. But how can you make sure you get a broad spectrum of opinion and find the best people? On both counts, I don’t think the Pentagon is the way to go.”

The Pentagon tapped the American Association of Universities to help design Minerva. (Penn State University President Graham Spanier is the current chairman.) In a speech to the AAU in April, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said: “The key principle of all components of the Minerva Consortia will be complete openness and rigid adherence to academic freedom and integrity.” The word "elitist" is not an epithet, despite current presidential campaign rhetoric. Gates quoted historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s statement that the United States “must return to the acceptance of eggheads and ideas” to meet national security threats.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

New Product Line: Battery by Victoria?

Over-lawyering is criticized as a shortcoming of the American legal system. Cases like the McDonald’s hot coffee case are often touted as examples of the trend of individuals’ desire to place blame on others and to profit from their own mishaps. What is usually not mentioned, though, is the fact that 79-year old plaintiff, Stella Liebeck, wanted to settle with McDonald’s for the cost of her medical expenses alone. McDonald’s refused, prompting more than 700 similar reports of other coffee-burn incidents to be admitted into evidence. The huge jury verdict and punitive damage award for Liebeck was likely a result of McDonald’s pride and greed. The whole spectacle of the suit could have been avoided if McDonald’s would have agreed to settle for the medical expenses.

The same might not be possible for Victoria’s Secret, however. In what only sounds like another frivolous suit, a Los Angeles woman is suing VS for injury to her eye from a design defect in a thong! Sounds crazy, but the complaint is viewable at The Smoking Gun. She claims that when she was putting the underwear on, a metallic piece flew off and she suffered a corneal abrasion. The complaint does not state the amount of damages sought, though it indicates she is seeking lost wages and medical expenses. Her attorney has stated that her injuries will be "affecting her the rest of her life." Perhaps she is interested in a settlement, perhaps this is her chance for her fifteen minutes of fame, and perhaps there are many others with similar experiences . . . I am just not sure what to make of this! What will the world say about us when warning labels and instructions begin appearing on our undergarments?

United States Department of Acronyms

Originally (back in the good old days), when Congress made changes to the Internal Revenue Code, the bill would be titled "Revenue Act of YEAR." Then someone got the bright idea to change the names given to acts amending the Code to titles like "Taxpayer Relief Act" or "Tax Reform Act." Who can oppose taxpayer relief?

Well, apparently that wasn't enough. Now the Government has to be even more "clever" with the act names. First it was "Jumpstart Our Business Strength (JOBS)" (they actually included the JOBS in the title in case we were too slow to figure it out) and yesterday President Bush signed "Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax Act of 2008" (I guess we should be thankful they didn't spell it out for us this time).

Today, there was a report in the BNA Daily Tax Report (Subscription Required) that the Senate is finishing up the housing stimulus bill. If they decide to continue this title trend, I have a suggestion for the title of that bill, "Politicians Assistance Needed for Debtors' Escalating Rates."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Reading Without a Highlighter

I thought I'd expose myself (not that way, Zak) as a bibliophile by passing along an on-line book club. The Valve is hosting an on-line discussion of George Elliot's Adam Bede.

To tempt you, here's an excerpt from the review in the Atlantic Monthly, October 1859:

"We do not know where to look, in the whole range of contemporary fictitious literature, for pictures in which the sober and the brilliant tones of Nature blend with more exquisite harmony than in those which are set in every chapter of "Adam Bede." Still life -- the harvest-field, the polished kitchens, the dairies with a concentrated cool smell of all that is nourishing and sweet, the green, the porches that have vines about them and are pleasant late in the afternoon, and deep woods thrilling with birds -- all these were never more vividly, and yet tenderly depicted. The characters are drawn with a free and impartial hand, and one of them is a creation for immortality. Mrs. Poyser is a woman with an incorrigible tongue, set firmly in opposition to the mandates of a heart the overflows of whose sympathy and love keep the circle of her influence in a state of continual irrigation. Her epigrams are aromatic, and she is strong in simile, but never ventures beyond her own depth into that of her author."

Strawberry Judges

Thanks to Marie and her fellow Red Lion Reporters for having me. I'm so very excited to be joining the Penn State community.

Have you been following the brouhaha about the taboo files on Judge Kozinski's website? (See here) The story has caused quite a stir in the blogosphere--for instance, Professor Lawrence Lessig defends the judge here, while Professor Ann Bartow criticizes the judge here.

I want to propose a hypothesis to try to explain why people are so fascinated by the Kozinski mess (as Professor Lessig calls it). My idea is that the case is captivating not because of the content on Judge Kozinski's website, but because it challenges the idea that judges are not supposed to be sexual beings. His real mistake, according to my hypothesis, was exposing the fact that he's not asexual.

Judges tend toward the vanilla. In his book Sex and Reason, Judge Richard Posner explains that this is because people with "irregular sex lives" are screened out of the judiciary. But why should we expect judges to be asexual? In his wonderful film Love and Death, Woody Allen said: "Some men are heterosexual and some men are bisexual, and some men don't think about sex at all...they become lawyers."

As much as it pains me to say it, Woody Allen is wrong. Lawyers and judges are people, and people are sexual. As lawyers, we should think about sex, if for the sole reason that sex plays such an important role in our lives. And judges are frequently asked to resolve cases involving sexual issues of all kinds and flavors. So maybe the silver lining of the Kozinski mess is that exposes the fact that some judges are not vanilla but strawberry. (Strawberry is the opposite of vanilla, right?)

Kittens, Puppies, Sunshine and Corporate Tax?

The next time that you disparage the study of corporate taxation as too complex or uninteresting, think to yourself that you are basically doing the same thing as kicking a puppy:

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, chief economic aide to Republican candidate Sen. John McCain, dismissed the Obama strategy as "classic industrial policy which shows a lack of faith in private markets." He was skeptical of any potential Obama corporate-tax cut, noting a lack of details. "It's like being for kittens, puppies and sunshine," he said.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Welcome to Prof. Zak Kramer

Red Lion Reports is proud to welcome Professor Zachary Kramer to the blog and to Penn State Dickinson School of Law.

Prof. Kramer comes from the faculty of University of Arkansas Little Rock School of Law where he taught Property, Legislation, and a seminar on Law and Human Sexuality. He writes about the intersection of work, family, gender and sexuality. At Penn State, he'll teach Property, Trusts & Estates, and Law & Sexuality as a seminar.

Prof. Kramer is another example of the mystical pull of the Big Ten. (Quiz: How many PSULaw profs have at least one Big Ten degree?) He earned a BA from University of Wisconsin in 2001, served as editor in chief of the University of Illinois Law Review, and graduated, magna cum laude, from the University of Illinois College of Law in 2004.

Zak, welcome to Red Lion Reports, and welcome home.

Get Rich Slow

The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, whose mission is to “provide decision makers in the public and private sectors with critical information to better understand the issues facing an aging population,” has developed a game called Get Rich Slow. The game is designed to “motivate active engagement in retirement planning,” and is meant for a seminar-type setting (though it is also useful for an individual to play alone). A less exciting, but more informative, version of The Game of Life, Get Rich Slow follows a fictional couple from mid-career to death. Along the way, the player is instructed on the merits of investments in stocks, bonds, annuities, reverse mortgages and the perils of inflation rates. It isn’t a terribly exciting game, but helpful and informative nonetheless. If the universities fail to include basic financial planning in their breadth requirements, perhaps games like Get Rich Slow are part of the answer.

Addressed throughout the game are the following six key elements of retirement planning:

  • How much to save
  • How to allocate your assets
  • How long to remain in the labor force
  • How to draw down your assets
  • How to use your house
  • How to care for your spouse

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Beautiful Game

I have been enjoying the Euro 2008 (thank you ESPN for putting all the games on in HD). I actually think I enjoy this tournament more than the World Cup. It is a shame that we have no similar type of event (to this or the Champions League) for a major US sport.

Nike hired director Guy Ritchie to produce a soccer ad which I think it just fantastic. The full 2 minute version is available for viewing on their website here.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Last person teaching tax at Yale, please turn out the lights....

First Anne Alstott, now Michael Graetz. What is in the water in New Haven that drives away tax law professors?

The Legal Implications of Yawning

The First Circuit has ruled on the legal inference that may permissibly be drawn from yawning.

In Arroyo-Audifred v. Verizon Wireless, Inc., the plaintiff alleged that his employer discriminated against him on the basis of age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Verizon explained that it did not promote Arroyo-Audifred despite his numerous attempts to advance in the company because he was not "professionally mature," and because other employees were better suited for the jobs he sought. Arroyo-Audifred claimed that he never had a chance for a promotion because of Verizon's discrimination against him based on his age.

The proof? During a job interview for a better job, the manager conducting the interview yawned. Arroyo-Audifred argued that the manager's yawn in this context indicated that Arroyo-Audifred's responses to questions did not matter; the decision not to promote him based on unlawful discriminatory reasons had already been made.

The First Circuit on appeal from D. Puerto Rico affirmed summary judgment for Verizon. "While we agree that such an act [the interviewer's yawn] could make an interview awkward, we fail to see how an involuntary yawn evinces a hidden discriminatory animus any more than a sneeze or a cough."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Government Sponsored Homeowner Mortgage Default Relief 101: Grades Are In

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) issued report cards for state Attorney Generals on their initiatives to "protect" homeowners from the effect of mortgage default and foreclosure. The grades were based on AGs' responses to a ten question survey that asked AGs whether they'd support among other things, a toll-free hotline to assist borrowers, legislation to protect borrowers from predatory lenders or to impose a 60 day stay against foreclosure. One of the questions asked AG's whether they'd work with community organizations like ACORN.

Of the 18 AG's who received A, 16 are Democrats. Eight AG's flunked, one got a D, and 5 got C's-- all Republicans. Most of the F's were earned by AG's in low foreclosure rate states like South Dakota and Nebraska.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Say Hello to David Gray

Red Lion Reports welcomes guest blogger David Gray. David's been an associate at the firm to see, Williams & Connolly He's clerked for Hon. Chester Straub, 2d Cir., and Hon. Charles S. Haight, Jr., S.D.N.Y. He earned his law degree at NYU in 2003 and a PhD from Northwestern in 2004. This summer he joins the faculty of the University of Maryland School of Law . (First up, Criminal Law.) Watch for David's newest article, Devilry, Complicity, and Greed: Transitional Justice and Odious Debt, forthcoming in Law & Contemporary Problems, and his own Transitional Justice Blog.
So David, what's so special about Transitional Justice?

Rock, Paper, Scissors, Shoot

It's the ultimate alternative dispute resolution technique. Hands down.

Penn State Student, Derek Hines, knows it. He's won the right to represent Penn State University in the Rock Paper Scissors National Championship in Las Vegas, June 20-22. The winner will pick up $50,000 and will travel to Bejing for the inaugural International Rock Paper Scissors Federation Championship (IRPSF) to face Rock Paper Scissors champions from Canada, Guam, Hong Kong, Ireland and Malaysia. At stake is world Rock Paper Scissors domination.

If you thought Rock Paper Scissors was a game of chance, you just got snookered. Winning takes a calculating mind and a keen eye for cues about what your opponent will shoot. Players call it picking up on "tells"-- such as the way amateurs start to make the scissors shape a split second before the shoot, the premature tilt of the hand as a signal for paper, or the tell-tale wind up for rock. In an interview with, Hines revealed that he likes to make use of the "double throw"-- using the same hand shape twice in a row. "This throws people off guard," he claims.

From a purely mathematical perspective, the optimal Rock Paper Scissors strategy is to play randomly. But this achieves equilibrium. Each player should win, lose, or draw an equal number of times. As litigators know, equilibrium is nothing like winning. It turns out that people stink at randomness, no matter how hard they try. Champion Rock Paper Scissors players (and good lawyers) know that people trying for randomness are actually quite predictable.

The trick to winning Rock Paper Scissors is to take one move away from your opponent. For example, if you can eliminate or reduce the possibility that your opponent will shoot rock you will play scissors. Scissors beats paper and stalemates scissors. The real game is in trying to manipulate your opponent to eliminate one of the moves, or successfully to predict which move your opponent will not make.

Rock, they say, is for rookies. Red Lion and other careful observers have noted that males, particularly slightly drunk ones, tend to lead with rock. Perhaps it has something to do with maleness. No matter. Play a rookie male with paper on the first throw and see how much you like winning. Of course if you are playing a non-rookie, you can be fairly sure he won't lead with rock (however much he might want to), because rock is for rookies. So, if you're squaring off with someone who knows the game, scissors is your move. Later in the game, try the double psych on a rookie. Tell your opponent what you are going to shoot. Your opponent will underestimate the odds that you will actually shoot what you said you would. He will not throw the move that beats the move you announced. You can eliminate that one and pick the winner/stalement throw against the other two options.

It all seems obvious after you think about it for a minute. But then, so does law.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Quick Trip to Innisfree

You have time to go.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

W.B. Yeats

Click to watch waves on the shore of Lake Michigan (It's closer):

Trouble in Paradise

During the recent credit boom, homeowners used equity in their homes as an ATM . Most homeowners used home-equity borrowing to make home improvements. However, nearly one-third of home equity borrowers spent their home-equity cash on debt consolidation.

Bad move. The biggest home equity lenders are calling in home equity loans in response to the decline in home values and tightening of avaliable capital for home mortgage investment. Washington Mutual (WaMu), one of the biggest home equity loan investors, announced in May 2008 that it had reduced or suspended about $6 billion of available credit under existing home equity lines. Countrywide, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase have made similar moves. As home values decline, loan to value ratios turn against homeowners. Under the terms of home equity loans, lenders have the right to cap the loan balance to reflect the current ratio. For example, suppose a homeowner qualified for a $25,000 home equity line three years ago based on a home value of $250,000. She draws down $10,000 to finance a vacation in Bali. When her home value drops to $200,000, the bank caps her home equity line at $10,000. The homeowner cannot find another lender to replace the $15,000 in credit she lost. Worse, the she's "maxed out" the newly configured equity line. The bank will report this as a negative event to credit reporting agencies.

But wait, there's more. A home equity line of credit is secured by a lien on the debtor's principal residence. In contrast, credit card debt is unsecured. Our homeowner feels the drop in her credit score and no prospects for paying off her consumer debt. She might contemplate filing for bankruptcy relief. If she had used her credit card to pay for the Bali vacation, she might be able to discharge the debt in bankruptcy. Not so with secured debt in the form of a home equity line.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Whither Economics?

In an interesting post on Critical Mass, Erin O'Connor confesses her ignorance about "how money works." She writes: "But I'm like most of us. . . . Everybody thinks he is an authority on how money ought to be managed and spent. But few of us really understand what money is, how it works, or what kinds of consequences can come from certain kinds of financial decisions."

It's no wonder, she says, so few of us have a clue about financial matters. Nobody studies economics. A study of leading universities' degree requirements (ACTA, The Hollow Core, 2004) showed universities don't require a course in basic economics as part of the core curriculum.

O'Connor attributes our nation's staggering financial ignorance to "academe's broadly socialist monoculture." Universities embrace "collectivism and cooperation, redistribution of wealth, government-run social programs, single-payer health care," but are hostile to capitalism and the infrastructure that makes markets work. "You don't have to look hard at all to find colleges and universities that press students, in course after course, to make moral determinations about how economies ought to be run--but you would be hard pressed to find a school that requires students to ground those determinations in actual economic knowledge."

The Treasury Department's Financial Literacy and Education Commission should take note. Instead of requiring disclosure of more information to consumers who cannot interpret it, Treasury should focus on introducing all Americans, inter alia, to the guns 'n butter tradeoff, the speed and time value of money, and the effect of marginal change in supply or demand on the price of widgets. I'm not expecting that any time soon.

Sexism Or Something Else?

As Hillary Clinton's presidential bid sinks into the horizon, pundits contemplate what went wrong. The Telegraph reported that as Clinton's campaign workers were leaving headquarters Tuesday night, a Japanese television camera crew offered them the chance to express their views as to what went wrong by placing a sticker on a board next to the reason of their choice. Most chose "She's a Woman." (Some chose: "Attacked Obama" and "Cried in Public." Nobody chose "Negative Personality.")

Reuters ran a story this morning pondering whether sexism in the media and among voters contributed to Clinton's failure. Sexism was surely an issue some say, citing incidents like the "Iron My Shirt" heckler at a January 7, 2008 campaign stop. After the sign-waving, shouting man carried on for a few moments, security workers escorted him from the area. Clinton sighed and said: "Ah, the remnants of sexism, alive and well. . . . I am running to break through the highest and hardest glass ceiling." Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation sees Clinton's defeat as a call to arms: "One of the legacies of the Clinton campaign is that it's been a wake-up call, really, to the women's movement of how far we have to go," she said. "We have a lot of work to do. We are in much worse shape than we thought."

Others are angered by the suggestion that sexism brought Clinton down. Camille Paglia accused Clinton of hiding behind charges of sexism to avoid scrutiny: "Will every losing woman candidate now turn on the waterworks and claim to be maimed by male pride and prejudice?" Peggy Noonan advised Clinton to "be a guy and say thanks [for the votes she got]." Raising sexism as a factor in her loss "is blame-gaming, whining, a way of not taking responsibility, of not seeing your flaws and addressing them." Others note the irony in Clinton's claim of sexism, observing that she likely had the opportunity to seek the presidency in large part because she happens to be the wife of a president.

Sexism, or perhaps more accurately, woman hating, will always be a factor as long as women are easily discernable from men, and some men fear losing their relative advantage as the characteristic (maleness) on which it rests becomes insignificant. I experienced the pointy end of fear like this in law school in the early 1980's. After first semester grades came out, a crushed and exasperated male classmate lashed out at me. Women had beat him, perhaps for the first time, at a game he expected to win. "You don't really need this law degree," he muttered across the library table. "You'll always have a man to take care of you."

Sexism is far more subtle than the sign-wielder's crude insult to women who serve as homemaker and helpmate. Sexism is a symptom of fear and fear, like scarcity, will always be with us.

Top Undergraduate Business Schools

Take a look at the slide show of Business Week's top 50 undergraduate business schools:

1. University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)
2. University of Virginia (McIntire)
3. University of Notre Dame (Mendoza)
4. Cornell University
5. Emory University (Goizueta)
6. University of Michigan (Ross)
7. Brigham Young University (Marriott)
8. New York University (Stern)
9. MIT (Sloan)
10. University of Texas (McCombs)

(Penn State University Smeal's College of Business ranks 38th. )

Hey Professor, can we have class outside?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Who Yo Daddy?

The celebrity and pop culture magazine,, features a story about how children of the rich and famous really do get the special treatment that we all suspect they do. Radar writers posed as the "people" of super rich celebrities (George Lucas, Madonna, and the fictitious Mark Quiznos of the Quiznos Sub fortune). The writers made phone calls to gatekeepers in politics, academia and publishing to inquire about internships, admission and book deals for celebrity kids.

This isn't exactly scientific evidence that money talks, but it's pretty darn close, and hilarious too.