Wednesday Nov 15, 2006

The Real Thing

Over the years I've been blogging here, I've said quite a few things about Transaction Cost Economics (TCE).

However, my understanding of the topic is actually quite rudimentary based on naive readings of works by Oliver Williamson and others as well as some conversations and seminars with transaction cost economists at Berkeley.

Visiting Williamson's webpage recently, I noticed that it includes a video interview with Williamson, in which he gives an account of the evolution of his ideas and the evolution of TCE. It is worth a viewing.

Friday Nov 10, 2006

A Persian Blogger Comes of Age

 The Power of the Press

If you know Persian, occasional viewing of Hossein Derakhshan's Persian weblog might benefit you. He also has an English weblog and a photoblog worth a visit for a cultural study if nothing else. The Washington Post carries another regular blog of his.

Derakhshan's recent piece analyzing current politics of Iran might be a good lesson for those Persian speakers who have a tendency to provide knee-jerk analysis of the Iranian history of the last 30 years. The title is a bit odd but clear "چرا با براندازی حتی نرم هم مخالفم" ("Why I'm opposed to regime change of even the soft variety"). I've not included the link to this particular entry of his but you can search for it on his Persian blog if you're interested. If you don't know Persian, you can turn to his Washinton Post blog, mentioned above, for a taste of his writings.

Athough Derakhshan takes the job of the journalist somewhat seriously and does quite a bit to expose double-standards everywhere he can see it, his failing (if any) seems to be related to an exaggerated view of the role of the journalist in modern society up to a purist theoretical limit beyond any dreamed up by common Western journalists in Europe or North America. One may also detect an exaggeration with respect to the actual (as opposed to either the theoretical or the subservient) capability of a journalist to transform society, which in practice tends to remain limited because of subtle realities of human life that stand beyond and above opinions of one sort or another. To his advantage and credit, Derakhshan insists on remaining at least self-consistent unlike some of his peers who go as far as advocating false concepts such as judicious double-standards.

In his "History of American Journalism classes," professor Thomas C. Leonard of UC Berkeley used to ask whether journalists, under the Fourth Estate, had perhaps evolved into a new type of priesthood (The Power of the Press: The Birth of American Political Reporting), and Kierkegaard would have hated that very aspect of modern times, The Present Age, and Ayn Rand tried to capture it all in her Fountainhead. This perspective, focusing on the leveling effect of the journalistic approach to understanding our moral place in the world, while full of modern rings, goes back all the way to Socrates and his dislike of the rhetoricians of the courts who could make anything sound right or good. Hence, his repose into dialogs

Who is right? The confusion continues, and perhaps, the disintegration of authentic communities of moral practice tend to give rise to priestly elites who busy themselves with "useful" justifications (of torture under "rules," e.g., by Alan Dershowitz: here, here, here; here and here) instead of advocating well-established and crystal-clear moral concepts having to do with human beings and their due integrity and honor, and also, to journalists who play the missing priests--to use professor Leonard's reluctantly-drawn  but apt analogy.

Monday Oct 10, 2005

Existential Phenomenology Of The Internet

Søren Kierkegaard

The Internet has introduced, among other things, new modes of transactions, mostly involving what one can buy from a relatively competitive market. The Internet has reduced some transaction costs while increasing others.

The pundits have often exaggerated the effectiveness of the Internet in organizing and searching for "information," in distant "learning," and in citizen participation and "democratization" even if we include more recent phenomena such as blogs and podcasts. Much more has been said about the role, importance, expansion and revolutionary effects of the Internet than about how it can stultify action and movement.

Hubert Dreyfus is the one philosopher who has paid attention to these other concerns regarding the Internet. Earlier, on this weblog, I have written short entries on Dreyfus' book On The Internet. Now, I'd like to point to an essay of his whose content can also be found near the end of this book: "Kierkegaard on the Internet: Anonymity vrs. Commitment in the Present Age".

In this essay, Dreyfus explains why "Kierkegaard would have hated the Internet."

This is a must-read essay for anyone who wants to know what is going on with the Internet. I will quote a few paragraphs to titillate your interest:

Kierkegaard would surely have seen in the Internet, with its web sites full of anonymous information from all over the world and its interest groups which anyone in the world can join and where one can discuss any topic endlessly without consequences, the hi-tech synthesis of the worst features of the newspaper and the coffee house. On their web page anyone can put any alleged information into circulation. Kierkegaard could have been speaking of the Internet when he said of the Press, "It is frightful that someone who is no one ... can set any error into circulation with no thought of responsibility and with the aid of this dreadful disproportioned means of communication" (Journals and Papers, Vol. 2, p 481.) And in interest groups anyone can have an opinion on anything. In both cases, all are only too eager to respond to the equally deracinated opinions of other anonymous amateurs who post their views from nowhere. Such commentators do not take a stand on the issues they speak about. Indeed, the very ubiquity of the Net generally makes any such local stand seem irrelevant.

What is striking about such interest groups is that no experience or skill is required to enter the conversation. Indeed, a serious danger of the Public Sphere, as illustrated on the Internet, is that it undermines expertise. Learning a skill requires interpreting the situation as being of a sort that requires a certain action, taking that action, and learning from the results. As Kierkegaard understood, there is no way to gain wisdom but by making risky commitments and thereby experiencing both failure and success. Studies of skill acquisition have shown that, unless the outcome matters and unless the person developing the skill is willing to accept the pain that comes from failure and the elation that comes with success, the learner will be stuck at the level of competence and never achieve mastery. Since expertise can only be acquired through involved engagement with actual situations, what is lost in disengaged discussion is precisely the conditions for acquiring practical wisdom. Thus the heroes of the Public Sphere who appear on serious radio and TV programs, such as the United States's MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour, have a view on every issue, and can justify their view by appeal [to] abstract principles, but they do not have to act on the principles they defend and therefore lack the passionate perspective that alone can lead to risk of serious error and also to the gradual acquisition of wisdom.

Kierkegaard even saw that the ultimate activity the Internet would encourage would be speculation on how big it is, how much bigger it will get, and what, if anything, all this means for our culture. This sort of discussion is, of course, in danger of becoming part of the very cloud of anonymous speculation Kierkegaard abhorred. Ever sensitive to his own position as a speaker, Kierkegaard concluded his analysis of the dangers of the present age and his dark predictions of what was ahead for Europe with the ironic remark that: "In our times, when so little is done, an extraordinary number of prophecies, apocalypses, glances at and studies of the future appear, and there is nothing to do but to join in and be one with the rest" (85).

From Hubert Dreyfus, "Kierkegaard on the Internet: Anonymity vrs. Commitment in the Present Age"

Tuesday Jun 08, 2004

Economizing and strategizing

So, here I go, testing this Weblog system . . .

Oliver Williamson, the great contemporary economist, notes that there has been too much focus on triangles formed by supply-demand curves, i.e. on strategizing, and not enough attention on the larger rectangles, i.e. on economizing. A good place to read about this is in his book of essays on transaction cost economics, Mechanisms of Governance.

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