Socioeconomic interests at home and abroad.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

In Retrospect: My Writing and the Blogosphere

I was a bit ambivalent when I first heard that our papers would be incorporated into a blog atmosphere. For one thing, being that the internet is a public domain initially curbed my enthusiasm. Not only would I be sharing my work with other colleagues in class, but I was also wary of the fact that my papers would be on display for the rest of the world to see as well. On the other hand, the use of the internet as a medium for research is faster and more convenient. As the semester progressed, I also became more aware of the effectiveness of multimodality. Pictures and external links prompt the reader to be less passive and allow interaction with the text.

Nevertheless, the efficacy and appeal of the internet does not eliminate the challenge of writing persuasive and thesis-driven essays. My first focus was to discuss issues within the economics field, particularly those which impacted society at a global scale. I did so by carefully molding my writing around relevant topics that would keep my reader's interest as well as my own. Consequentially, knowing what to discuss was never a problem, but rather the way in which I relayed the material. I have never considered writing my forte and usually struggle with getting my point across fluidly. If I had any trouble writing these essays, it always concerned development, especially formatting the essay so that all paragraphs complemented my main thesis. In particular, at times I have been guilty of awkward sentence structure. Luckily, throughout the semester I have been better able to notice where these minor areas may be corrected.

In the past, I used to believe that in developing an essay, one must concentrate on arriving at the finished product. However, through this course, especially with the use of the blog as a medium, I have begun to learn that this indeed the wrong perspective. Instead, I have realized that writing should be viewed as a work in progress. There are indeed many details besides awkward sentence structures that may be altered in order to enhance the effectiveness of one's writing. Although my favorite part of writing is still the final draft, I have also learned to appreciate the important steps toward its development.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Paul Krugman: Recognizing the Dual Professional

The conferral of honorary degrees has become an important tradition among American colleges and universities. It not only highlights the qualities and achievements of deserving individuals, but also reflects the ideal values of the granting institution. James Freedman notes in his book Liberal Education and the Public Interest, that "in bestowing an honorary degree, a university makes an explicit statement to its students and the world about the qualities of character and attainment it admires most" (117). The University of Southern California is no exception to rewarding those who exemplify the principles which it holds at utmost esteem. According to the Honorary Degree Nomination Process, one of the main objectives in granting honorary degrees is "to elevate the university in the eyes of the world by honoring individuals who are widely known and highly regarded for achievements in their respective fields of endeavor." To continue the tradition of praising noteworthy individuals, it would be wise to consider the nomination of Paul Krugman in the humane letters, in recognition of his philanthropic contributions as an economist and thought provoking work as a journalist.

Krugman's career began with his study of economics at Yale University. From 1982 through 1983, he fulfilled the position of Senior International Economist on President Reagan's Council of Economic Advisors. He has also served as a professor at Yale, Stanford, MIT, and is a current professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University. Over the years, he has established himself as one of the most distinguished economists of our era. “Among professional economists, [his] reputation as an innovator is unrivaled,” claims a reviewer from the The Economist. "His papers have either developed entirely new ideas or extended old ones in marvelously revealing ways ... [and] his work has formed the basis for research for scores of other economists." This reveals that as a pioneer in his field, he has become a model for others to follow. His investigations have made large strides in economic applications and theory and have created a foundation upon which other economists may expand. This line of work furthermore embodies the values expressed under the The Role and Mission of the University of Southern California, particularly the “research and teaching [that] are inextricably entwined” which are an “increasingly important role in the development of the nation and the world.”

Even more impressive is the fact that he prevails in two separate and seemingly disconnected professions. “What is beyond dispute is that [he] is the finest economist to become a media superstar” claims the writer of The One-Handed Economist. Krugman not only writes for a twice weekly op-ed column for the New York Times, but has also contributed articles to Slate and Fortune. In addition, he has authored or co-authored around 20 books and more than 200 papers in professional journals and edited volumes. Despite the uncommon phenomenon for professionals to infuse their expertise with journalism, Krugman has broken the mold and proven his merit, displaying passion for advancing economic research and offering his knowledge to the masses. It is no coincidence that he has successfully mastered the transition between being an economist and a journalist, for he utilizes his talents within both distinct professions to more effectively serve a purpose. In Meaningful Work, Mike Martin notes that “a profession combines several different types of activities which individuals selectively emphasize” which are usually “interwoven in ways that are mutually supportive” (19). It is also reasonable to believe that Krugman's efforts are attributed to his moral principles and values. Martin seems to agree with this viewpoint as well, maintaining that although “personal ideas are focused outwardly on public goods, they allude to ideals of personal character” (21).

As a leader in economics, Krugman's remarkable contributions “[rest] largely on work in international trade and finance.” He is acknowledged as one of the founders of the new trade theory. His powerful influence and ability to forge new territory has been the reason for his praise. In 1991, the American Economic Association (AEA), recognized as the “oldest and most important professional organization in the field of economics,” awarded him the John Bates Clark Medal, which is given every second year "to that American economist under the age of forty who is adjudged to have made a significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge.” The medal is also “widely considered to be the [economic] profession's most coveted award -- exceeding, perhaps, even the Nobel Memorial Prize in prestige.” Such an honor proves Krugman's significance in economic research, commending work that not many professionals, much less economists, receive at such a relatively young age. Whatever professional endeavors he pursues in the future, his research will almost certainly continue to arouse commendation.

Amidst the wealth of positive acclaim, some may argue against Paul Krugman becoming an honorand. Freedman warns that “any aspiration to populate an American peerage is surely trivialized by decisions to garner a fleeting moment of public attention by awarding an institution's ultimate accolade to mere celebrities- who are often famous principally for being famous" (126). It would therefore be USC's utmost responsibility to distinguish which attributes lend to Krugman's popularity. After examining his significant influence on both American society and international economics, it would be difficult to conclude that presenting him an honorary degree were simply based on his fame. According to the The Role and Mission, the University of Southern California encourages “the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.” His investigation and analysis of the global economy, together with his work in journalism, may be considered a public service. Such a service is especially valuable to readers with no economics background, which Joseph Shapiro implies in a critique of Krugman's past lectures at Stanford University. Shapiro asserts that Krugman is “known for his penetrating analysis, his willingness to stake out a position, and his sharp wit,” and that his ability to "explain dense models in clear language" accounts for his success and public allure. Such testimony demonstrates Krugman's transformation into an intermediary between a highly sophisticated theory and the average citizen, thereby inspiring others to become cognizant of their economic surroundings.

More importantly, he is also recognized as a humanitarian and has applied his profession in a likewise manner. In 2004, he was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award, which has been bestowed upon many powerful figures, including Nelson Mandela. According to its criteria, the award “[is] intended to acknowledge scientific, technical, cultural, social and humanitarian work carried out internationally by individuals, groups, or organizations.” He was specifically awarded in the Social Sciences, "the hallmark of his work [being] the application of research outcomes to real living and welfare conditions, with particular emphasis being placed on his concern for regional economic inequalities.” Krugman's efforts therefore go beyond his research and has lent to the development of solutions for global issues that not only plague the American economy, but other economies abroad. Granted that USC values honorand nominees who exhibit both "highly regarded" and "original" contributions, there seems to be no better alternative than to allow one of America's most prominent economists to address a speech conveying the global influence of the graduating class.

Despite his positive impact at the international level, Krugman's actions are less appreciated by some Americans. Never afraid to state his opinion, he is criticized for his disdainful attitude toward the government, particularly his explicit contempt toward the Bush administration. His writing is nothing less than controversial, which is at times misconstrued as mere ranting from a pedestal. For instance, in "A Can't Do Government," he ridicules the government’s reply to the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, despite forewarning from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In response to whether “the Bush administration [destroyed] FEMA's effectiveness,” he insists that "the administration has, by all accounts, treated the emergency management agency like an unwanted stepchild.”

Consequentially, such comments have supported the claim that he has lost respect in both economics and journalism. The writer of the The One Handed Economist notes that "increasingly, people are asking whether Mr. Krugman's success as a writer is now coming at the expense of, rather than as the result of, his economics,” given that “the most striking thing about his writing these days is not its economic rigor but its political partisanship.” Critics have due cause to consider Krugman's remarks as irresponsible conduct. Without a doubt, if he were to become recognized for his bold statements rather than his ground breaking ideas, his reputation may fade as an economist and journalist. Freedman warns that there are “risks to colleges in the granting of honorary degrees. Perhaps the greatest risk is that a recipient will turn out, in retrospect, to have been ill-chosen” (130). The University of Southern California may in foresight hesitate in taking such risks, especially if his nomination looked likely to end up a mistake. It is reasonable to be concerned with any future comments which may cause his humiliation and ultimately discredit the prestige of USC.

Krugman is not only aware of such negative critiques, but he also embraces them. In his Official Webpage he states, “My belief is that if an op-ed or column does not greatly upset a substantial number of people, the author has wasted the space. This is particularly true in economics, where many people have strong views and rather fewer have taken the trouble to think those views through.” He therefore concedes that the content of his writing inevitably angers some, but also appreciates the fact that it provokes his readers to reconsider their intuitions and beliefs. Such a profound quality of his work counters the claim that as a journalist, he is simply “ranting.” Furthermore, according to the Code of Ethics, USC claims to “nurture an environment of mutual respect and tolerance” and believes in “[treating] everyone with respect and dignity, even when the values, beliefs, behavior, or background of a person or group is repugnant...” It would then be hypocritical to retract the nomination of a praiseworthy individual on the grounds that his work is provocative. Instead, challenging one's thoughts and opinions ought to be encouraged, for it promotes growth and open-mindedness that caters to the "development of human beings and society."

Still, there are also those who question his nomination based on doubts regarding his ethical intentions. Some consider his primary focus to be furthering the progression of economics and serving the public, while others believe money is a principal motivation. This is especially the case for those who criticize his “ethical lapse,” when he supposedly spoke highly of Enron in the New York Times article while serving on the Enron advisory board in 1999. However, there are commonly overlooked details that may clear any suspicions. Krugman himself states that “when Enron approached me there was no hint that a Times connection lay in my future. As soon as I shook hands with the Times, I resigned from that board." He goes on to say "all that anyone wants to talk about is $50, 000 ... [but] the point is that the money Enron offered wasn't out of line with what companies with no interest in influence-buying were offering me. You may think I was overpaid, but the market - not Enron - set those pay rates.”

When considering the monetary rewards associated with his career, it is important to note that making a considerable salary is an inherent attribute of the professions. Martin asserts that “professionals receive above average social rewards in the form of income and prestige ... because professions establish monopolies or at least dominance over the services they provide” (22). Krugman's high income may be explained by the demand for his expertise and services, not by of his perverse intentions. In addition, “compensation motives are not exclusively self-interested. They may be linked to desires to … obtain resources in order to help others” (23), which supports the case that Krugman may not only be looking out for his own benefit, but for that of his readers as well. Without authority as a well respected economist, he would not have a platform to communicate his thoughts to the American citizen, nor would he be able to contribute his writing to a distinguished periodical such as the New York Times. Furthermore, professionals are not always solely driven by unethical motives, such as making money. Krugman himself does not seem to be swayed by the large potential profits he could gain in the private market. One should note that instead of big-name companies and powerful CEOs, he offers invaluable knowledge to college students and average citizens, which may reconcile doubts as to whether his prime objectives stem from sheer greed.

Granting an honorary award to Paul Krugman would benefit both USC's repute as well as the graduating class’s commencement ceremony. Despite the controversy surrounding biased opinions toward the government, one cannot deny his significant contributions and supreme influence he has over individuals. He is indisputably one of the greatest economists of our time. Besides receiving praise from experts in both fields of economics and journalism, he has also been awarded by prominent organizations for works in international economic theory and achievements as a humanitarian. Such noble aspirations to convey the impact of economic policies to the laymen is commendable in itself. Conferring him an honorary reward would not only celebrate his accomplishments, but also illustrate the inspirational qualities that the University of Southern California values as a prominent institution.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Youthink's Vision of Today's Youth: Tomorrow's Advocates of Global Development

The world would be vastly different without the development of modern inventions and improvements in standards of living. The internet, in particular, has become an especially vital tool which has shaped today's society. Due to its wide accessibility and ability to connect users with information of all genres, the internet appeals to both adults and youth alike. The United States has caught on to its influence, employing the internet’s power to educate the country’s youth. According to research conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the integration of the internet at school is a growing phenomenon. A report by The Internet at School shows that of all online teens, “78% (or about 16 million students) say they use the internet at school.” The report also concludes that “very few rely exclusively on their school’s internet connections,” implying that teenagers also use the web to pursue their individual and unscholarly interests. However, the internet has become as customary for the teenage population as it has for the rest of society. The Internet 2005 Status Report claims that “the web has become the ‘new normal’ in the American way of life; those who don’t go online constitute an ever-shrinking minority.” Keeping in touch with family, finding information on higher education, and even seeking employment are now common online activities. It is no wonder that "logging on" has since become a modern necessity. It is therefore reasonable for many enthusiasts to view the internet as an instrument capable of achieving worldwide changes.

As the popular saying goes, today’s youth is tomorrow’s future, and no other site like Webby Awards winner Youthink! makes this case more apparent. Youthink! promotes activism by offering a wealth of information regarding global issues, while also providing an outlet for teenagers and young adults to express their thoughts and concerns regarding such subjects. There is no doubt that with its quality of information and use of innovative multimedia techniques, in addition to minor changes, Youthink! will successfully awaken and encourage the involvement of a generation which will ultimately decide the fate of global welfare.

In the words of coordinator Christine Sedky, Youthink!’s objective is "to help [one] stay in touch with the issues that shape our world ... [by] offering another perspective and the latest facts.” With this in mind, the website uncovers issues ranging from the more commonly known, like the AIDS pandemic, to the less familiar phenomena of debt relief and urbanization. For instance, the explanation of urbanization is divided into four components. The term is first introduced under “What is it,” which explains that “cities, large and small, are at the heart of a fast changing global economy—they are a cause of and response to world economic growth,” and features current statistics that reveal the impact of growing cities around the world. The website is also careful to includes reasons for the anticipated response "Why Should I care?," highlighting the lack of housing, infrastructure services, and property rights that are experienced by the urban poor. In “What is the International Community Doing?" the “three policy dimensions to ensure [that] all citizens have adequate living conditions” are outlined as urban planning, urban development strategy, and urban governance. Furthermore, Youthink! allows readers to become involved in improving problems associated with worldwide urbanization in "What Can I do,” providing links to UN Volunteers and The Cities of Alliance, a coalition committed to improving the living conditions of the urban poor.

Youthink!'s nature and content lends to its authority and credibility as an activist website. Being an affiliate of The World Bank, Youthink! upholds quality of information as its utmost priority. The site’s manipulation of economic evidence plays an integral role in supporting its cause. For example, World Bank provides Youthink! with the most current statistics in AIDS research. According to the World Bank, “since HIV was first documented in 1981, more than 25 million people (men, women and children) have died of AIDS-related illnesses.” Currently, “40 million people in the world live with HIV/AIDS” and “2.3 million are children under 15.” Furthermore, “14,000 more people are infected with HIV every day. Half of them are under 25.” The use of such facts allows the young audience to relate to their global contemporaries who fall victim to the AIDS epidemic, allowing for a more profound understanding of the issue at hand. The empirical data not only identifies the consequences of the endemic, but also invokes readers to become involved.

The general layout for each of Youthink!'s webpages demonstrates the broad range of topics that are covered. To successfully create a website, Web Style Guide suggests that designers pay special attention to “[providing] for the needs of all [their] potential users … and never [require] readers to conform to an interface that places unnecessary obstacles in their paths.” The presentation of so many topics, as a result, may at first appear overwhelming and further dissuade readers from continuing to view the website. However, it is clear that Youthink! has indeed taken its audience into consideration when deciding to include all of these issues. In doing so, the site’s material caters to the needs and expectations of teenagers and young adults, both of which tend to lose interest easily. With more topics and outside links, visitors have more subjects to choose from which pertain to their own interests. If one individual would like to research gender bias while another is simply curious about globalization, both have the option of doing so. The abundant number of choices leads to the higher chance of viewers spending additional time browsing the site, as well as returning to it later on.

Another attribute worthy of mentioning is the consistency in organization and balance, both of which complement the overall efficacy of the website. Carefully placed links and easy-to-locate titles simplify navigation. Such judicious planning makes it easier for visitors to return to Youthink’s homepage or issue of interest. For those with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, it is just as easy to obtain additional information on a topic by clicking on convenient links like “Related Stories” or external links provided under “Learn More,” which are featured under each Issues category.

Another essential element of Youthink! is its tone of writing. In general, the passages are formally written and do not lack details that an adult would consider significant. At the same time, the text is accessible to the younger, targeted audience. For those who are less familiar with economic terms, Youthink! provides clickable vocabulary words within its passages that direct readers to the site’s main glossary. One may discover the meaning of “Gross Domestic Product,” which Youthink! defines as “the value of all final goods and services produced in a country in one year. GDP can be measured by adding up all of an economy's incomes (wages, interest, profits) or expenditures (consumption, investment, government purchases and net exports)—exports minus imports.” Although GDP has multiple factors with which to calculate its value, this definition appropriately responds to a reader’s initial confusion of the word’s meaning. However, it also refrains from underestimating the knowledge of the audience.

There is even a section of the website devoted to children, along with helpful hints for ways in which teachers may discuss Youthink!’s complex subject material. Youthink! suggests that teachers coordinate activities that allow younger students to creatively express global issues and concerns. Students may better understand what is happening around the world by designing “a comic strip to explain how the news issue takes effect” or create a "poster, postcard, radio or TV public service announcement, slogan, etc.," with the objective being to “create a message to explain the given issue (or to support one side of the issue)."

In addition, the website's structure and arrangement of categories lends to the logical course of action which visitors may take. The Web Style Guide maintains that “the simplest way to organize information is to place it in a sequence." For Youthink!, its sequence consists of sensible steps toward becoming aware and getting involved. After becoming familiar with the homepage and the global issues that exist, one may then Take Action. It is as simple as donating to the Mercy Corps, volunteering for the United Nations, or even interning at various organizations like the Asian Development Bank. The incorporation of so many outside links allows teenagers of all demographics to offer their time and energy to making an impact on the world.

Along with its wealth of knowledge, Youthink! fully employs the internet's capabilities in order to effectively maintain the attention of its audience. According to the criteria of the Webby Awards, good content of a website “is not just text, but music, sound, animation, or video – anything that communicates a site’s body of knowledge.” Furthermore, it should also have the characteristics of being “engaging, relevant, and appropriate for the audience” which “always leaves you wanting more.” Youthink! certainly satisfies each of these values. Its simplistic yet vibrant color scheme naturally catches the reader’s eye and encourages further exploration. The fusion of high-quality content, along with a visually stimulating and interactive design, allows for an engaging medium through which the audience may participate.

The most successful feature of this website is the interaction that is possible through its application of multimedia. Youthink! showcases real stories and documentaries, games, and even trivia. The image to the left is just one of the many forms of multimedia that is available for viewing and hearing. There are even quizzes like "How Well Do You Know Africa", which tests one's knowledge of current issues and comprehension of Youthink! reports that are available for reading. For this particular quiz, a series of questions are presented in which three options are given until the correct one is chosen. The answer to the question “How often does a child in Africa die from the preventable disease of malaria?” turns out to be “one child every thirty seconds.” The site expands on this fact, noting that “despite being completely preventable and 100% treatable, this mosquito-born disease is the leading killer of African children.” Youthink! also includes quizzes intended for their grade school audience, utilizing more age appropriate language and less complicated phrases. By allowing children at younger ages to participate, Youthink! is able to inspire concern for issues that they may later engage in. Activities like Unicef sponsored Girl Child help explain the concept of gender bias, answering the general question, “Why aren’t girls treated the same as boys?” The quiz opens with “Why might girl children be at risk even before birth?” Youthink! offers the following explanation: "In some societies sons are valued more highly than daughters. The baby, growing inside her mother, may already be in danger because her parents might choose to end the pregnancy when they find out that their baby is a girl.”

After reader's have become well informed, Youthink!'s next and most important goal is to inspire activism. Perhaps the easiest and most direct way to get involved is by first voicing one's concerns on Youthink's message board under “Tell us what you think!” which may be appropriately found in the Get Involved category. This forum is available “to share [one’s] thoughts, opinions and stories with the Youthink! community.” Encouraging such participation allows online visitors, whether they be frequent or not, a means to express their own ideas and feelings with others around the world.

These outlets, which allow children to acquire and test their knowledge or simply communicate their concerns, are what the Webby Awards criteria refers to as good interactivity. The website acts “more than a rollover or choosing what to click on next; it allows you, as a user, to give and receive. It insists that you participate, not spectate.” Youthink! is obviously aware of the powerful force of the younger generation presents and is therefore responsive to the demands of its targeted audience. To sustain the reader's attention, the website applies all forms of multimedia, and is successful in arousing sympathy and understanding for the people of developing countries. Consequentially, it may gain participants who are willing to devote their time and effort toward global development.

Despite Youthink!’s acclaim, minor adjustments may further its success. Each issue category under the “What Can I Do” portion contains links to organizations and programs aiming toward alleviating that specific situation. For example, under the education category are websites with instructions on becoming a tutor or building a school under habitat for humanity. Although these are helpful sites to browse through, Youthink! could be more specific in directing its audience. One would expect links that are organized in such a way to guide a potential activist who is interested in helping a certain region or country-specific area. Instead, Youthink! readers are currently left with having to find these resources themselves. Even more vague is their link for becoming a tutor. This simply directs you to its webpage with a list all the possible organizations one could become involved with. Youthink!, aware of its inadequate guidance, suggests that you search “this site for a list of websites that offer volunteer opportunities.” Furthermore, it would behoove Youthink! to put more effort toward highlighting the responses and creative ways in which its young leaders have made a difference in the world. Such success stories should be featured on the homepage, to offer ideas for other readers and encourage those who have yet to become activists.

Youthink! is progressively moving forward with their use of the internet medium, educating the younger population by presenting issues that already affect the lives of millions of people around the world. This site leaves any visitor with a good overall experience and inspiration to making a difference. Granted that changes are made toward creating more specific links for involvement and by emphasizing the current accomplishments of the younger generation, Youthink! will inevitably triumph in achieving activism.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Globalization, Sweatshops, & Low Wage Labor: Truths You Ought to Know

All American consumers are influenced by the country’s exploitation of sweatshop laborers in developing nations. Growing campaigns, like those listed on LaborNet, seek activists of all demographics who share equal concerns for the unbearable sweatshop conditions and intolerably low wages that laborers are subject to – their ultimate goal being the end of America’s dependence on sweatshop factories altogether. Some extremists may boycott U.S. merchandise manufactured overseas in hopes that demand for such products will eventually cease. However, as is always the case, exploring both sides of the argument is necessary before coming to a rational conclusion. On my quest to uncover fresh perspectives on this highly debated issue, I stumbled upon two blogs whose content and appeal sparked my interest so much that I felt compelled to leave comments. The first blog, Greg Mankiw’s Blog: The Morality of Global Economy, responds to questions regarding global economy and American exploitation, which explains the hopeful path that sweatshop factories create for laborers of countries like China. The second blog, Coyote Blog: Leaving Poverty in China, ventures into an even more liberal approach, suggesting that sweatshops not only foster economic growth, but may also bring an end to global poverty. Which leaves us with the question: do anti-sweatshop campaigns actually hinder the welfare of laborers whose problems they are working to alleviate?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sizing up America's Fear: A Look at Immigration and Policy Reform

Popular attitudes toward hotly debated issues regarding Americans and the U.S. economy heavily impact policy reform, despite the truth or evidence that may substantiate such beliefs. The latest controversy surrounding illegal immigration is of no exception and the people have spoken. Rallies denying that restrictions on immigration should exist compete against groups that condemn policies allowing an increase in the number illegal immigrants permitted across American borders. Such negative response for immigration appears to be backed by the notion that an influx of hopeful workers undoubtedly takes away jobs from native born Americans and valid citizens. Furthermore, concerns that undocumented workers, especially Mexicans seeking seasonal employment in California, create additional costs for the government. However, before taking such extreme positions on the issue, one must also bear in mind the advantages the U.S. gains as a result of immigrants, in addition to the minor effect they actually have on the economy. By taking all of this into consideration, one may understand that immigrants are not a national threat, but rather a positive feature of the U.S. economy.

In the first place, international statistics prove that countries with a higher rate of population growth are generally characterized by a more successful economy. Therefore immigration, whether it is legal or not, actually improves the economic welfare of a country by augmenting the nation’s population. A fairly recent report by Martin Hüfner, Chief Economist at Munich-based HVB Group, agrees with this theory, believing that the United States’ expanding economy may be attributed to the positive effects of immigration. His report, which examines Germany's lagging economy vis a vis that of the U.S., refutes the assertion that immigration aggravates the labor market. Hüfner points out that the relatively high immigration rate of the U.S. is accompanied by a five percent unemployment rate - which is significantly lower than that of Germany, as well as the rest of Europe. This phenomenon may be explained by the fact “that immigration not only increases the number of available employees, but also increases overall economic demand — and thus the number of jobs available.”

Under the conviction that Americans overestimate the negative impact that illegal immigration has on the economy, James P. Smith, an economist at the Rand Corporation who specializes in immigration labor, addresses the needless concern for the loss of jobs. Before making any judgements, one must take into account that jobs typically filled by illegal immigrants are ones that Americans do not care to have. “Undocumented immigrants tend to be very low skilled and also receive extremely low wages in their home countries, so they’re willing to work for quite low wages in the United States relative to our standards.”Smith also alleviates erroneous fears of illegal immigrants being a costly burden for the government. “At the federal level, [undocumented immigrants] turn out to be a net-positive benefit because immigrants are young and the federal government is spending money on programs for the elderly, like Medicare and Social Security. At the state and local level they tend to be a tax burden, not because of welfare and not because of health, but because of education.”

Conflicting opinions and invalid assumptions by the general public are not the only components shaping immigration reform. In actuality, it is the population's stance in addition to the subsequent negligence coming from incumbent politicians (specifically Republicans) whose views are blurred by this year's upcoming elections. An undeniably problematic feature of current immigration policies is that the temporary visas and worker permits under the existing guest worker program are extremely ineffective, for both Congress and the excess number of immigrants seeking employment. As articles that explain U.S. complicity suggest, it is impractical for illegal workers to constantly obtain permits and return home after its expiration, especially since American farming and textile industries are so heavily dependent upon illegal immigrants who accept low wages. However, tougher border policies and workplace verification of legal residence required under the guest worker program are generally favored by corporate Republican interests. Consquently, Republicans are reluctant to making any absolute decisions for fear of upsetting potential voters, which so far has only caused further delay in legal reform. As a result, congressional inaction is simply “a result of the split within the Republican Party between big business and cultural conservatives,” which “is one reason the issue will likely be tabled until after the election.”

Immigration reform proves to be one of the most complex issues in today’s policy reform. However, its delay is in part due to misunderstanding by the general public. Thus it is of utmost importance that Americans understand the true impact that immigration has on the economy in order to take an educated position on future immigration policies. Of course, even with the public in complete certainty, it will ultimately be up to politicians to take their own stance and decidethe fate of illegal immigrants. However, if politicians are indeed more concerned with their own self interest rather than alleviating the problems related to national interests, we may have to wait a longer time for a final resolution.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Arnold’s Historic Agreement: What Reducing Greenhouse Emissions Means for California and Everyone Else

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has recently been in the spotlight with buzz surrounding his landmark agreement in reducing state greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a twenty-five percent decrease in current levels. Bill AB32, which Schwarzenegger calls "an example for other states and nations to follow as the fight against climate change continues," was simultaneously approved by the senate and Democrat-controlled Assembly. The bill hopes to forestall further progression of global warming and has made claims toward creating more jobs in high tech industries. However, other current and major industries like utility plants, oil and gas refineries, factories and cement kilns will now have to cope with more regulations, not to mention a potential drop in production and consequential loss in profits due to the mandated decrease in energy consumption. Despite the seemingly high present costs relative to future benefits associated with this new plan, Bill AB32 should be praised and accepted for its well intentions and forward thinking outlook.

With no surprise of acclaim emerging from environmentalists, as well as strong support from Democrats and Silicon Valley Investors, the recent bill has also raised equal opposition. Unlike California’s legislature, anti-global warming policies do not follow the current trend of the federal government. This tends to be a truer case among Republicans, like California Senator Dennis Hollingsworth, who has defined the bill as “the road to economic ruin for California." Many other Republicans see eye to eye with Hollingsworth (with Governor Schwarzenegger being an exception), believing the bill simply makes doing business in California more expensive. With some experts agreeing, Republicans also view the bill as ineffectual, since California is the only state implementing this policy, and more especially if the rest of the world continues to consume current consumption rates of emissions.

As sources like the LA Times suggest, large businesses are also a basis of opposition. Executives in industries that consume large amounts of electricity, for instance, fear that caps on greenhouse gas emissions only in California could push employers and jobs across state lines. Furthermore, there is speculation that California electricity prices, already among the highest in the nation, could increase substantially if electricity usage normally generated from cheap coal shifts toward a demand for more costly natural gas. And although many experts disagree on what the future entails, uncertainty looms surrounding the potentially substantial increase in electricity prices for California households.

California, the world's 12th-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is a great candidate for modeling what may become a successful policy in preventing climate changes. Since federal action toward global warming has not been in effect and has usually been given for the states to decide, California’s latest bill may be the start of a domino effect in environmental changes. As is the norm, people tend to have a short run outlook. They are more concerned with the immediate present versus the inevitable future (relatively speaking, the high costs that will now be incurred in order to help change the global climate over an extended period of time.) From an economical standpoint, these perspectives should be reversed, and the costs should be viewed as an investment, for in the long run, it may actually become less expensive to consume energy. Considering the technological advancements in wind and solar power, that realization may actually be closer than may appear. Given the positive effects of curbing climate changes, for instance the possibility of continuing agriculture production in California, along with the promise of creating more jobs, Bill AB32 appears to cater to the environment as well as the nation's GDP. Furthermore, despite the potential losses in profits due to decreased usage of energy consumption, bringing the development of global warming to a halt and possibly reversing ecological trends and their drastic effects on the earth is much more suitable than continuing to consume resources that are not infinite.