Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A bunch of new videos on the Economics Metaphor site

The videos on Risk and Uncertainty are now posted. They were actually made last spring when I taught intermediate micro, but because time was scarce then I didn't caption them at the time. They are captioned now. You can see them here.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Practical Approach To High School Math

Following the suggestion from the article linked below, here is my contribution, some simulations in Excel on saving for retirement. Summing a geometric series is taught in high school algebra. Compound interest is taught in college. Why not put them together?

Imagination and Disillusionment

I wonder if you've ever had the experience where in the midst of reading something it suddenly occurs to you, "I wish I had written that." I had that feeling for the first time recently when absorbed in Marion Milner's On Not Being Able To Paint, this in spite of the obvious impossibilities. The book was written more than 60 years ago. The author was a woman, a psychoanalyst of note. And on drawing or painting as an adult, my experience is nil. These distinctions mean everything, yet they mean nothing too.

My mind seems most at home with progressive thought from the first two thirds of the twentieth century. (I originally wrote "first half of the twentieth century but wanted to include Maslow, who remains a hero for me.) There are many current ideas that I find alien; I believe ultimately they are less hopeful. People process lots of information. They do that fast. They seemingly want their learning to accommodate their information processing. I want to slow everything down. I want to go for a stroll in a place where I haven't walked before and then get lost. There is value in the experience of finding your way back home. I prefer the humanism of an earlier time where the promise of betterment seemed palpable. I'm unclear whether that preference has always been in me, as a young man latent and waiting for a suitable opportunity to release, or if it first manifest only after I stopped doing economics research. I took no psychology courses in college. My adult reading on the topic has been driven first by the implicit recommendation of others - monkey see, money do, with me as monkey - and then later where reading something offered up its own suggestion of reading something else. Even the monkey can make its own path.

Regarding gender, I believe the male writing on these questions tends to be abstract, partly out of preference for a "scientific" approach, though mainly to shield himself not just from bringing his own foibles into the story but also from the emotional baggage that goes with doing that. Milner is very close to her subject and she writes with passion about her own emotions, particularly anger. I've been able to discuss fear on occasion in writing of my own and I believe fear should be discussed far more often as an integral aspect of learning, but I don't recall ever writing about anger and its relation to learning. Anger should be discussed too. The female is braver than the male on this topic.

Before considering art as a creative activity, I want to briefly turn to we others who experience those creations and the chain reaction that occurs as viewing the creations awakens memories and feelings in ourselves. Not that long ago, I wrote that I do not look for external imagery as a main source for my own thinking:

Mostly, the pictures that are important to me are in my head, images I can recall from time to time if not on command. Many of them are of my father; some are of friends. When I was in grad school I do recall going to the Art Institute and seeing a painting, I believe by Picasso before he embraced cubism, that was the face of Jesus, the most compassionate face I had ever seen. I've had some recent experiences with memory where it was clearly playing tricks on me because the thoughts were inconsistent. One then wonders if it is only a minor error or an entire fabrication. So I lack confidence in this memory, but I would like to see that picture again if it is exists. I'm interested in it for itself and it for my reaction. Mostly, though, I don't need or want things to look at to rekindle memories.

In this others seem to be different. I received the postcard from Barbara. Her prose on the other side was about the story Eveline. Barbara sees ideas through real photographs in a way I do not.

It did occur to me that Two Gallants was a painting drawn with words, just like a Toulouse-Lautrec. From a painter, we expect an interesting rendering of the image, but don't demand a moral to the story. Growing up, we had a painting or a print of a bum wearing a Fedora in our living room. I never asked why it was there, whether for compassion, or culture, or just an interesting face to look at.
This brings several thoughts all at once jumbled up. Can we make art without understanding how we react to the art of others? Was I entirely wrong about the moral to the story part of art? Much of Milner's book gives actual depictions of her paintings (in black and white only) where she then dissects the meaning in the picture and in the latter part of the book gives us the moral (the big picture, if you'll pardon the pun). Is there a fundamental difference between painting or doodling with a pencil, on the one hand, and writing, on the other? Or are they very much the same thing? If they are the same then I can say something about them both. I know something about writing and have experience with that.

Milner's core hypothesis is that there is an ongoing tension  between the objective and the subjective, the external and the internal, the scientist in us and the artist in us, reality and imagination, common sense and madness. To develop the human we must focus on the whole, both sides of the dichotomy. A pleasing creation results when there is fusion. A rather flat and uninspiring product results from emphasis solely on the external.

Much education seems to so one sided. Milner's book is offered up as hope that education might change to fully integrate in the subjective side, Montessori for adults as part and parcel with instruction in the scientific method. Put a different way, the student should as much as possible learn about things by two different avenues, making something of his own and hearing about the received wisdom on the subject as produced and communicated by others. Then the two paths need to be joined. Much instruction, however, doesn't explicitly offer an opportunity for the student to create.

Why then don't learners demand two paths or provide the other path themselves and achieve the wholeness that way? Milner uses her experience as a painter to answer that question. She painted as a hobby, was actually quite good at it, yet especially early on she was not satisfied with her output. She was confused about the role of the artist and about inserting herself into her art, though that was the solution she eventually came to. It was a struggle getting there. Relying only on objectivity and common sense is safer, or so it first seemed to her. One must be oblivious to the danger or courageous to do make one's internal world prominent. We'll get to the risks with subjectivity in a bit.

I've written on the objective-subjective issue myself as a chapter in my book Guessing Games, called Just The Facts and Guessing. The emphasis was different, however, with a focus on decision making rather than on produced works. Like, Milner, I did take the scientist as metaphor for the objective side, but rather than use the artist to represent the subjective side I used the sports fan as model for subjectivity. Since we're apt to view the sports fan as boorish while we view the artist as exemplar of sensitivity, I asked myself whether what I was writing about was essentially the same as Milner's topic, or if it was completely different.

The similarities are far greater than the differences. The fan shares with the artist an intensity of feeling for the subject matter, a long term commitment to the goal, and an obviously personal point of view. Most fans aren't artists, to be sure. Yet their spirit can serve as the basis for camaraderie with like minded fans and after an especially thrilling contest can create the sensation of having witnessed something divine. My conclusion is that in important decision making one should not be entirely dispassionate and arms length with the subject. The leader needs to impose his point of view. It shouldn't be the entire basis of the decision, ignoring factual information to reach the conclusion. But it shouldn't be omitted either, lest the meal have bad flavor.

In Milner's use of language, the product of subjectivity is illusion. Creations are symbolic representations of those illusions. Children, of course, make illusion as an integral part of their play. We call it make believe. Why do so many adults seemingly dispense with make believe in their own lives? Milner's answer is that disillusion causes pain and anger. When the illusion contradicts common sense in such an obvious way that the person must own up to it, the person is damaged in a serious way. As a matter of self-protection, persons who have been so damaged try to avoid a repeat episode. This is a case, however, of the cure being worse than the disease. The fusion of the internal mind and the external world is what gives life meaning. If Maslow read Milner, he'd refer to this fusion as self-actualization.

Reading On Not Being Able To Paint I found my dreams more vivid and more pictorial, also easier to remember. One involved looking at an eye chart with different sized letters but rendered on wheels like a large odometer. Even the biggest letters were blurred and I was trying through squinting or some other means to see them clearly, but couldn't quite do that. That power in my dreams was temporary and has since subsided. The book also caused me to have a rather sharp memory of a particular Math Econ class in graduate school where we were working through Debreu' Theory of Value. Students presented all the material and one of my classmates was in the front of the room working through the proof of a rather difficult result - every subset of Euclidean m-space has a countable and dense subset. I knew the proof from a topology class I had taken as an undergraduate. I believe the argument was too hard for most of my classmates, including the student who presented the proof. He made a fundamental error. Rather than letting him continue I asked a question to illustrate that the point he was making couldn't be true. He blanched and couldn't continue A few seconds latter, seeing his reaction, I began to regret having done that. I felt I had destroyed his self-confidence. I had no right to do that.

In the appendix of the book Milner takes a more psychoanalytic approach to her painting and argues that disillusion is inevitable and we've all gone through it. The baby suckled by his mother makes the illusion that he and she are the entire universe. When the baby later sees the mother and father making love with the baby not in the picture the baby's illusion is broken and the baby has resentment because his world has been broken.

I've been a big fan of The West Wing and one of my favorite episodes is Noël, from the second season. Josh Lyman had been shot. While he recovered fully on a physical level, he had a lot of repressed anger that had no healthy form for release, his behavior erratic and anti-social as a consequence. Music, the cello playing of Yo-Yo Ma in particular, triggered an illusion of sirens, what Josh's subconscious retained in the aftermath of the shooting. Dr. Stanley Keyworth (Adam Arkin), a trauma specialist, is called in to help Josh. The session itself is poignant and shows Josh's vulnerable side. Near it's conclusion Josh sees how he has been masking reality. He asks Stanley if he needs more therapy sessions and if he will always conflate sirens for classical music. Stanley says no because, "we get better."

Disillusionment requires healing. Milner's book is a testament that we do get better, that our anger doesn't last forever, that we can make further illusions, and do so in a way that is extraordinarily satisfying to the creator. It seems to me that this is the lesson we must teach our students.

A collective reading of Milner's book might be just the ticket.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Inconsistent Navigation in Facebook

I have a link to "Notes" on the left both on my News page and on my Profile page. If I click the Notes link on my Profile page, it goes to my Notes, which makes sense. On the other hand if you click the Notes link on the News page it first opens to Notes by my Friends and second opens up a bunch of subsidiary links about Notes, one of which is My Notes. Click on that and it does not go to my Notes, but stays with my Friends' Notes.

I wish I could be worth $10 billion and design software like this.

On the other hand, I've not played at all with Google Plus. Even if the software is much better, I don't really want more spaces to interact in, so unless everyone I know wholesale moves why bother.

Further, I will articulate a hypothesis that makes sense to me as an economist --- the big computer companies get nastier with each other as the economy slumps, witness the action and then reaction regarding Apple's content fees. We consumers are better off with more viable competitors out there.

So let's hope that Facebook has won the Social Network function and that it feels compelled to invest in its software to make it function better.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Odds without ends

Quote of the day:
"Eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride, and the man of genius and the aristocrat are frequently regarded as eccentrics because genius and aristocrat are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd."
-- Edith Sitwell
* * * * *

Today's hypothesis:

Food and drink taste better after a good night's sleep. The coffee had been bitter the last few days. It tastes great this morning.

Ancillary hypothesis:

Many people who ordinarily sleep quite well are not getting enough sleep now - due to stress from what's happening in the market or overwork on the job or the disheartening politics in Washington.

* * * * *

The freshman moved into the dorms yesterday. My son is moving in today. Things are less overwhelming when you've been through them before.

* * * * *

Am enjoying Marion Milner's On Not Being Able To Paint. The operating idea in the entire book is that in painting there is an ongoing tension between what the hand that hold's the brush wants to do - objectively acting to interface with the external world - with where the mind wants to wander - the subjective self as influencing if not completely determining what it sees. In the last bit I read, she talks about self-consciousness in a way I hadn't thought about before. Since my late teens I've always thought I was happiest when I got so engrossed in something that I would completely lose my sense of self. On the contrary, Milner who has been fighting the "I" for several chapters until this point says she had a kind of epiphany from deliberately inviting it in and letting it hang around. A new perspective emerged.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Corporate Raiders and Responsibility Evaders

All it took was a little pluck,
Gut a company, turn a buck.

"Leveraged buyout," the dreaded words,
Management wished it never heard.

This proved mainly to be a distraction,
Real harm came from the opposite reaction.

So as not to be overtaken,
Long term investments entirely forsaken.

Pension plans once ruled the day,
Had to give way to the 401K.

The entire focus became near term earnings.
This was the lesson management was learning.

The defense to ward off takeover sleaze
Produced a far more debilitating economic disease.

Our version of capitalism became rather brittle.
As an engine of growth our confidence now is little.

Management in young companies avoid becoming jaded
Spurn the IPO and are not publicly traded.

More mature firms however don't have that choice.
They need to find different ways to give voice

To the thought that they have responsibility too,
Expanding their workforce is what they should do.

In this they're all followers while we need a leader.
Will they do the right thing? No, says this reader.

Icahn is no icon but he's still around,
Serving as deterrent to such a rebound.

For business to do it we can hope and pray.
The opportunity's been there. Yet so far it's "no way."

Monday, August 15, 2011

YouTube View Counter - Jan Schakowsky Jobs Proposal

One of the less commented upon features of YouTube is the public counter that indicates how many people have clicked the link to the particular video. It is not perfect, for sure, but it indicates some degree of penetration for the video. Below is a screen shot of a video from Representative Jan Schakowsky about a Jobs Bill. The video was posted a week ago. Many people have been calling for President Obama to push this sort of jobs bill. E.J. Dionne in his column today makes the argument that now the immediate Debt Ceiling Crisis has passed, President Obama needs to push for legislation like Representative Schakowsky's proposal.

But look at the number of hits for this video, not even close to 1,000. Why is that, since this seems like just the sort of proposal Progressives would like to see? I did a quick search on Huffington Post, found a link to a story about the bill, but no video. I did likewise at Politico and didn't even find a story. It looks to me like those places are more interested in "dissing" Rick Perry than in talking about a Progressive agenda.

With so few hits, this proposal looks like there is no groundswell of support for it. But if the usual outlets don't publicize it, how is John Q. Citizen to know? So there is a substantial chicken and egg problem here.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus does have the bill featured prominently on its site. Their link goes to a different YouTube video with Congressmen Schakowsky, from an interview with Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC. That video has under 200 views. About one third of House Democrats are members of CPC. Only one Senator, Bernie Sanders, is a member. Dick Durbin, a self-described Progressive is not a member.

There is something amiss in that observation. Here you have legislation that addresses the primary concern of a majority of Americans, and most of them don't know the legislation exists.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Gems from the Past

Chapter 9 on Reciprocity and Ordered Freedom of On Not Being Able To Paint (apparently there is a paperback edition that came out last year so conceivably one might use the book in a class setting) begins with some quotes from "Creative Experience" by M.P. Follett. It occurred to me to do a Google search on the author after finishing the chapter, which is not very long so I could hold the thought. I quickly found a Web site for the Mary Parker Follett Foundation, which includes a link to some of her writings. The introduction and first few chapters of Creative Experience are there in PDF with further chapters apparently to be posted eventually. I will read what's there in the near future. There is a different paper, The Teacher-Student Relation, that dates from 1928 though it was published only posthumously in 1970. I read that. It is quite wonderful. I found myself agreeing with everything she said. Apart from some of the references, for example to Mr. Hoover in his job as Secretary of Commerce, the ideas seemed quite current to me and her core thesis is full of life.

I wonder if other people read her writings regularly. I had not heard of her before. My loss.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Primary Colors, Easels, and Smocks

A couple of weeks ago I finished Richard Ellmann's James Joyce, having slugged through it for about two months. There is more straight biography in the book than literary criticism, though one certainly does get a good sense of what Joyce was aiming for with the writing. But that is not why one should read it. I'm not really sure why I did. Perhaps it was to find a hero. There don't seem to be many around nowadays. Better to look for one in the past; one who has stood the test of time. As I wrote previously, there are a bunch of superficial similarities between us and perhaps a few not so superficial ones as well. His commitment to his work, however, was total, more than I can muster. And it consumed him. He also was more intimidating and overtly critical than I believe I am. More interesting than the heroism is to find how much correspondence mattered to him (much of which Ellmann reproduces). Joyce was a prolific writer of letters and he expected his correspondents to respond in turn. Where his novels are fantastic in their language, his letters are grounded. Given his struggles to generate income and get his worked published, much of this writing was concerned with those ends in some way. But with that he developed affection for those who helped him so the correspondence was also concerned with their welfare. His life revolved around those people, his family, and his work. While his work was also fantastic in its complexity in view, many highly educated people couldn't make heads or tails of it, he found delight in very simple and ordinary things. Yet these pleasures too began to wane. As his physical limitations became more pronounced, particularly his declining eyesight, he withdrew into silence, even in a social setting. I wonder if we all develop a preference to be alone with our thoughts as we get on in years.

I am now reading a book by Marion Milner called On Not Being Able To Paint, originally written under the pen name Janet Sayres. I learned of this book from reading Eric Hoffer's Between the Devil and the Dragon. He referred to Milner's work as an extraordinary book. Liking Hoffer, I took him up on the suggestion. This is my second time making a go at this book. I had meant to read it last summer, but stuff got in the way. And it didn't really click with me the first time. She has ink sketches scattered through the book and I didn't understand what she was saying about them. I thought to myself, I'm not really a visual person. I don't have the patience to deal with other people's descriptions of things, when those aren't immediate to me. As it turns out, there is much irony in this.

Milner's book is fundamentally about impediments to creativity, which are mainly about fear. She describes a struggle within herself, between wanting to rely on the down to earth, logical, take things as they are person of common sense, the part of her persona she had come to trust, and the imaginative, subjective, self that seemed to intrude, because the matter of fact way seemed lifeless, but imposing one's own personal solutions on reality seemed frightening, perhaps delusional. As it turns out, though I hadn't thought about the first time I took a crack at Milner's book, I had written seriously about something quite similar in my book chapter, Just the Facts and Guessing, where I tried to work through the objective/subjective approach for teaching and learning, ultimately coming down on the subjective side. (If you are going to make sense of complex things you will ultimately impose your worldview on it. You may go through a variety of practices and procedures that are logical and scientific, but ultimately there will be much residual complexity and you'll have to make a judgment on which pieces to emphasize.) I've also tried to bring in some of this thinking to my teaching by having students write blogs and in doing that encouraging to tie their own personal experiences to the subject matter under study. I can't say that has worked very well most of the time, but surely it is evidence that I was ripe to read Milner's book.

Nevertheless I struggled with it the first time through. I was having the old fear, that I wouldn't get it. That stopped me. So I put it down. Having picked it up again about a year later, I'm wondering what was so hard in the first place. That got me wondering and this post is really about that.

I didn't take art after elementary school. (Saying that, I'm a bit conflicted in what I remember and may have taken art in 7th and 8th grade, on a once a week basis, but definitely not beyond that.) In junior high we had eight periods. Five of those were academic: math, science, social studies, English, and French. Then there was gym and lunch. That left either music or art, but not both. I was in the band. Goodbye art. In high school, I was in the band in 9th grade but after that took multiple science classes and/or multiple math classes. I also stopped taking French. Goodbye culture, at least insofar as school was concerned.

I did have art in grade school, particularly the early years. There was a lot of coloring. You did that at your desk with construction paper and Crayola crayons. I have a recollection of progressing a grade and then going to the 64 pack of crayons as something really fantastic and adult, such nuance in the color variation, though it provided a potential I couldn't reach. I always pressed too hard and dulled the point of the crayon too quickly. And sometimes the stick would break in the middle from the pressure I put on it. It's a funny thing, I don't remember any pleasure in that from when I was young but when my kids were small and we'd go out to dinner and the waitress would invariably bring some crayons and paper menus with outlines that could be filled in, I had a yen to do that. Part of that was just to get the kids engaged. But another part was for me alone. I'm not sure where that came from. I had similar feelings with the big Legos and the Lincoln Logs when playing with the kids on the floor.

We didn't do painting at our desks; we did it in the back of the classroom. Painting was messy, ergo the smock. The paint would get all over the place. It was okay to get it on your hands and maybe even on the furniture. That would wash off. But it shouldn't get on your clothes. The sheets of paper we painted on were very large, bigger than the surface of the desks. I think we used the easels mainly as a way to hold the paper, not really to provide a vertical perspective of what we were painting, because the objects were from memory or our imaginations. We didn't do portraits. There wasn't the skill for that. Indeed, my skill level was so minimal that for quite a while my goal was to keep the paint from dripping and spoiling the picture. At that time fine motor skills were a particular challenge, one that often got the better of me. How can one tell if there is too much paint on the brush? And why waste time holding the brush over the jar of paint after its been dipped in it to let the excess drip off? The impulse of what to do with the brush might be lost that way.

I recall becoming fond of mixing the paints. I liked the result when white was mixed with blue. The sky was an important feature in many of my efforts and that was how to produce it, different from the clouds but blending in with them nicely. It also seemed to be the case that when mixing two primary colors the result would be good and interesting but when mixing three or more (I'm counting black and white here as well as red, yellow, and blue) the result always ended up brown. And it seemed that once you got brown it stayed that way, even if you would add more primary color. The brown so produced was ugly, like a wet mud. I learned to stay away from it if I could. Indeed, many of the life lessons I took from painting as a kid were about things not to do. It wasn't so much an affirmation of self-expression as it was a negation of making too much of a mess.

I puzzled whether subconscious feelings along those lines explained why I struggled with Milner. It seemed plausible but not quite right. I didn't stop taking art in school for those reasons. I stopped because what seemed important at the time was stuff to learn that had been produced by others, whether history or science or ideas from elsewhere. Making stuff of your own just didn't seem as necessary. Though there was self-expression in my academic studies, it was far less explicit than it was in art. So I chose the academic path. Having now reached an age where self-expression seems so important to me, I feel chagrined for having blocked this particular outlet at such an early age. And I felt inadequate to read Milner. Normally I come at ideas in two distinct ways, one based on what others have to say about the matter, and a second way of my own creation. I then spend some time reconciling the two or weaving them together. With Milner's book, however, I could not do that.

In this second pass at the book, I'm treating painting as an example of a creative outlet, but only an example. (Writing is a different example.) In what I've read so far, most of the issues Milner discusses have their counterparts in other creative activity. My experience as a writer, then, helps me to understand what Milner says about her painting. Now I find I'm in her corner. In the tension between the subjective and objective she gradually shifts to an endorsement of letting the self open up. It is primary. We won't destroy the objective in the process. Instead, we'll liven things up, for ourselves and maybe for others too.

I wonder where I'd be now if I had believed that in grade school.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Standard of Living

This is a rather sober assessment of where we are and where we have been over the last 30 years or so.


What is not discussed here is how much of our politics will be about who captures that increase in productivity we do experience. Also not discussed is tone. One can be miserable with reasonable material well being because prospects for future growth are nil. Alternatively, one can develop a sense of self-reliance a la Thoreau's Walden, which in turn would produce uplift in outlook, based in the here and now rather than on future prospects.

Sent from my iPad

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The (Dis) Charge the Tea Party Made*

*With Apologies to Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Dark fatigue dark fatigue
Dark fatigue slumber.
Piled high the National Debt.
It's such a big number.
Taxes there to evade,
Lines in the sand were made.
Bring down the National Debt.
Planned spending to encumber.

Default on bills not paid,
Bond ratings would degrade,
This was the game they played,
All through the summer.
Theirs not to question why.
Theirs just to shrink the pie,
Ending the Keynesian lie.
Bring down the National Debt.
Planned spending to encumber.

Nightmares to the right of them,
Nightmares to the left of them,
Nightmares and more mayhem,
The Tea Party thundered.
New tax they did dispel.
Hard bargains they made well.
Troubled by National Debt
Demons of Budget hell.
Planned spending to encumber.

They took Obama's dare.
Shutdown they did not care.
Democrats they did scare.
Threatening default while
All the world wondered.
Unified their members spoke.
The country is going broke.
With Congress
A deal was stroke,
Cuts a small number.
Unfinished business
More spending to encumber.

Nightmares to the right of them,
Nightmares to the left of them,
Nightmares and more mayhem,
The Tea Party thundered.
Sad story to foretell,
Criticism that would swell,
Anger could not be quelled,
Reducing the National Debt
Would not go well,
The principal outcome,
Our politics made dumber.

When will the darkness fade?
Hopeful for this we prayed,
Pleasant dreams and slumber.
Default for now was stayed.
Yet this did not forbade
Stock market as stumbler.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Is Leadership Always Leadership.....

....or does the political (especially Presidential) kind of leadership differ from the business executive kind?

There are two models of leadership afloat. The old one can be conjured up with images from an old western movie where the captain on horseback has his hand up signaling for the rest of the cavalry to mount an attack. It is leadership as control, presumably control based on wisdom and knowledge. The newer one is leadership as facilitating the empowerment of others. The main leadership skill in this case is the ability to listen well.

The two models are in direct conflict as this really excellent piece by Chris Argyris from almost 30 years ago, The Executive Mind and Double-Loop Learning, clearly illustrates. If you are a commander whose authority shouldn't be challenged you don't listen to others providing evidence that is contrary to your view. Further, in the social dynamic that such a circumstance creates, underlings are afraid to speak their own minds, even if they disagree with you. So the old approach can produce dissension in the ranks and gridlock.

Argyris calls the old approach Model I and the new approach Model II. Most of us develop a preconception about leadership as Model I from the movies, or books or simply from being aware that the President is Commander in Chief. However, if you get some leadership training in a professional development workshop nowadays, you will almost certainly be instructed in Model II - leadership is getting others to lead, or so the saying goes.

Yet the Model I notion of leadership remains and many "champion" business executives are known for their authoritarian decision making style - think Michael Bloomberg or Rupert Murdoch. This is where the issue begins to become murky, because we also think of leaders who have a vision and their ability to create a vision is the real source of their power - think Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Recognizing that this ability to create a powerful vision is something that only a few have, followers are willing to accept Model I leadership when the person at the top has a proven track record for being able to deliver on the vision.

* * * * *

Today, seemingly on the verge of passing legislation to raise the Debt Ceiling, there have been several pieces that have said the experience leading up to the deal has diminished President Obama. Paul Krugman writes The President Surrenders - the President gave away the farm in the negotiations that led to a deal and he opened himself up to future bouts of hostage taking by the Republicans. Ross Douthat writes The Diminished President - where the President failed to articulate a vision of where he wanted these budget negotiations to go and where on Foreign Policy, here Libya in particular, the President plays his hand lukewarm instead of going all in, Leading from Behind it is now called. Krugman and Douthat are writing Op-Ed pieces. Consider the following from a news analysis piece called After Protracted Fight, Both Sides Emerged Bruised:
But the fine print of the agreement makes clear that Republicans received more of what they demanded than did Mr. Obama, who acquiesced in his initial call for a balanced mix of spending cuts and new revenues, despite repeatedly trying to seize the bully pulpit to build support for his argument.
For many liberals, this concession — and the president’s unwillingness to make a more full-throated case for greater action to address joblessness and protect other Democratic priorities — could undermine legislative support for the deal and increase the challenge of motivating voters in 2012.
The White House and the Senate may be controlled by Democrats, but the debate unfolded squarely on Republican turf. It is yet another sign of how the country’s politics have changed since Mr. Obama’s term began, and of the new climate facing Republicans who are jockeying for the chance to challenge the president next year.
I have also been of this mindset myself and well before these recent negotiations came to a head. I've been wondering for almost a year whether we should have supported Hillary Clinton in 2008 instead of Barack Obama. She clearly would have been more directly confrontational with the Republicans and maybe that's what was needed. Not that she could have made the economy better than Obama did, at least not in 2009, but tone in office my have very well influenced the election in 2010. One of the things that gets under reported is how low turnout was then compared to 2008 and how the unemployed, in particular, stayed away from the polls in 2010.
In other words, we Democratic voters have been clamoring for a Model I leader in our President whose authority stems from crafting a vision for us. (This entire discussion with New York Times Columnists on Charlie Rose is a propos, but especially see at around the 8:25 mark Tom Friedman's response, which I found particularly poignant.) President Obama is approaching the job as Model II. So that produces disappointment, even in his supporters. However, everyone does recognize that Obama is extremely intelligent. He must understand the disappointment that he is creating by playing it so low keyed. So in the rest of this piece I want to play devil's advocate and try to make the argument that he's actually opted for the best course possible. Chest beating won't do the trick. It might create a needed emotional release but it won't produce a good outcome. It will only produce gridlock. The President needs to negotiate outcomes with Republican Leadership to practice the art of the possible.
Implicitly, we supporters seem to believe that if Obama makes the case for what he want very well and puts the argument forward with eloquence, as he did on his speech about race during the campaign, that it would move the nation sufficiently to also get the politics in Congress to move in that direction. Suppose that assumption is plain wrong. Except for the President each other elected official has a narrower constituency. Even if the nation as a whole has moved in the direction the President points to, if the particular constituency hasn't moved, then the Member of Congress won't move. Let's take that as as a given.
I do not understand the legal basis of the filibuster. I wish it weren't there at all. Whatever it's original intent, it has become something terrible. Unless there is a super majority in the Senate, the minority can effectively create gridlock, which is what has happened. This is both on legislation and on appointments. The case of Peter Diamond is perhaps the most illustrative because he had just (very deservedly) won the Nobel Prize for Economics and was and still is a middle of the road kind of guy. Richard Shelby effectively blocked Diamond's nomination to the Fed. There never even was a floor vote on his candidacy. Once Scott Brown got elected to the Senate, there was no super majority. And even when Ted Kennedy was alive, his poor health must have limited his appearance on the floor of the Senate. The new President had to confront the filibuster when Senators seem increasingly willing to use that tool.
So consider the political climate first. Next consider the tough choices that might have enabled what didn't happen in the Debt Ceiling debate, raising taxes on the rich. One way to do that would have been to let the Bush Tax Cuts lapse. Since the rich were the biggest beneficiaries from the cuts, they'd bear most of the pain if the cuts were to lapse. But it clearly wasn't possible to let the cuts lapse only on the rich. They'd have had to lapse for everyone and then Obama wouldn't have been able to get the temporary reduction in the payroll tax for 2011. Given the state of the economy, it's not hard to understand why the President made the choice he made. The issue will clearly come up again next year. It's likely to be a centerpiece of the election campaign. If the economy is still limping along then, the likely outcome, how should it play out? It does seem from the purely political angle it is much easier to simply let them lapse than to produce a more nuanced alternative. If Congress tries to make them permanent the President can veto that. Looking how Congress functions now, can anyone of the Democratic persuasion really believe that Congress can produce a desired nuanced alternative?
The third point is military expenditure, specifically in Afghanistan. On this one Obama actually was pretty visionary during the campaign - let's get out under a timetable. But Obama seemingly changed his mind in office, allowing the recent surge. It's unclear to me whether the surge had any relationship to getting Bin Laden. What does seem clear is that the situation is a mess and will remain that way. From here on out its damned if you do and damned if you don't. It was good for Obama to retain Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense for as long as he did. Gates could scold Congress about this war in a way Obama couldn't. But even if Obama completely delivers on his campaign pledge on this one, bringing troops home from a war we didn't win is not a way to energize the base.
The last point to bring up here is that almost immediately out of the box the political climate was poisoned. The Stimulus Bill of 2009 was passed in February 2009, very soon after Obama became president. The economy was reeling then so it was necessary, but the Republicans were dead against it. In that sense, that Bill was Model 1. Further because haste seemed a virtue at the time, the package was an amalgam of things that had been in the works for some time rather than projects all deriving from a single coherent philosophy that the President had previously articulated. In an emergency you do what you can. But it poisoned the waters from the get go and allowed all the demonizing rhetoric from the Republicans thereafter. It wasn't possible to ignore that and then to subsequently act like friends. Republicans consistently blocked further stimulus legislation until the lame duck session after the 2010 elections. The success of the lame duck session (even with its poison pills) pointed to a Model II approach.
As I said, I'm being the devil's advocate here. But there is some logic to the argument. Even if the Tea Party types have scared a lot of people so that the Democrats regain the House in 2012, is it reasonable to expect the Democrats will have a super majority in the Senate too? If not, what then? Is there a lesson from history to learn here? Harry gave them hell, but the Democrats lost the White House in 1952. Maybe Model II is the better way.