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Archive for October, 2007

Gary Becker to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

Posted by erweinstein on October 31, 2007

Gary S. Becker will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award of the United States, on November 5. Becker is a Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, the 1992 winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, and the unofficial leader of the modern-day “Chicago School” approach to economics.

On the somewhat ominous date of the 5th of November, George W. Bush will award the Medal of Freedom to Becker, retired Republican Congressional leader Henry Hyde, Cuban dissident Oscar Elias Biscet, Human Genome Project director Francis Collins, C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb, President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, civil rights leader Benjamin Hooks, and To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee.

Becker is one of the most-cited living economists, and he teaches the (in)famous University of Chicago graduate Price Theory class, (which he took over upon the retirement of his Ph.D. adviser and colleague Milton Friedman). Over his prolific career, Becker was responsible (virtually singlehandedly) for creating four new subfields of his discipline: the economics of discrimination, the economics of human capital, the economics of marriage and families, and the economics of crime. It is often said that more dissertation topics have been inspired by Becker’s footnotes than from the main text of any other economist, barring the founders such as Marshall, Keynes, and Samuelson.

Becker currently teaches graduate economics courses at the University of Chicago, while working part-time as a Senior Fellow for the Hoover Institution at Stanford. He also writes weekly point-counterpoint essays with law professor and US 7th Circuit Appellate Judge Richard Posner, posted on the Becker-Posner Blog.

UPDATE: Here is Becker receiving the medal from President Bush (photo by Eric Draper from


Posted in Economics, Politics | 1 Comment »

Foreign views of the US: Turnabout is fair play

Posted by erweinstein on October 31, 2007

Meir Sheetrit, the Interior Minister of Israel, was pilloried by the press and fellow politicians after suggesting that the state should end its policy offering automatic citizenship for all Jews worldwide.

From the Jerusalem Post:

Appearing at the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors meeting in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Sheetrit said he believed “Israel should no longer grant automatic citizenship to Jews.”

He explained that “Israel should become like every other country. I want to see that [the immigrant] is not a criminal, that he’s learning Hebrew; that he’s here for five years before getting citizenship.”

The interior minister also called for more careful filtering of those allowed to enter the country.

“Don’t go finding me any lost tribes, because I won’t let them in anymore,” he declared. “We have enough problems in Israel. Let them go to America.”

[emphasis added]

Although apparently not representing the majority opinion of Israelis (or else the brazenly phrased remarks would not have made the front page or sparked walkouts by political committee members), Sheetrit’s argument reveals two salient facts:

1. Immigration/asylum/citizenship policy is a sensitive and unresolved issue in Israel (the Law of Return does indeed have major problems).

2. Sheetrit (and presumably some of his intended audience members as well) instinctively associates the United States of America with extremely generous immigration and citizenship laws. Not exactly how I imagined the US to be perceived, even by a dissident politician in a moderately-to-very pro-American nation.

Posted in Politics, Religion | Comments Off on Foreign views of the US: Turnabout is fair play

Economics Nobel Prize 2007: Another Win for Chicago!

Posted by erweinstein on October 15, 2007

Congratulations to Leonid Hurwicz, Eric S. Maskin, and Roger B. Myerson, this year’s recipients of The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. The three men share the prize for their development of mechanism design theory.

Myerson is the Glen A. Lloyd Distinguished Service Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at the University of Chicago Department of Economics. He is one of the most cited theoretical microeconomists of his generation, and it is impossible to research the subfields of game theory, auction theory, social choice, or mechanism design without tripping over what seems like scores of important articles and results written by Myerson.

The University of Chicago community is very happy for Professor Myerson, and will probably hold a celebration honoring him in the near future. Myerson becomes the sixth and youngest (at 56 years old) Economics Nobel winner on the faculty of the University of Chicago, joining James Heckman, Robert Lucas, Robert Fogel, Gary Becker, and Ronald Coase.

Thanks to the marvels of modern technology, a video containing the prize announcement and an explanation is available here.

UPDATE: A reception in Myerson’s honor was held on Wednesday, October 24.

Posted in Economics | Comments Off on Economics Nobel Prize 2007: Another Win for Chicago!

Torture of Terrorist Suspects Harms the US

Posted by erweinstein on October 1, 2007

That proposition is argued (very cogently, I believe) by Denzel Washington’s character in the shockingly prescient 1998 movie The Siege. The show-stopping critique of torture from that movie is available on YouTube. (Link from Andrew Sullivan.)

I saw The Siege for the first time this past summer. Although the movie does not substantively comment on many important issues (such as how to deal with military officers who are Abu Ghraib-ly overzealous, negligent, or cruel in their treatment of prisoners), it does illustrate the dangers of giving up liberty to improve security. The movie also demonstrates that despite the apparent weaknesses of a “law enforcement” approach to counter-terrorism (relying mainly on the FBI, CIA, and local police to arrest suspects and give them criminal trials), such a method possesses many subtle advantages–particularly in PR and appearances–compared to using military prisons, closed tribunals, and missile strikes to kill, neutralize, or detain “enemy combatants”.

The acting in The Siege is also first-rate, with solid performances from Washington and Bruce Willis. Tony Shalhoub (aka Adrian Monk) dominates his scenes as a conflicted Arab-American FBI agent. Although the content is too dark and serious to justify the adjective “entertaining”, few big-budget Hollywood movies provide as much food for thought as The Siege. If you haven’t seen it, add it to your DVD wish list/Netflix queue.

Posted in Arts and literature, Politics | Comments Off on Torture of Terrorist Suspects Harms the US