Back in the saddle

I just did my first bit of Fortune work in a month. It’s a web column on the World Cup and U.S. economic competitiveness. Kind of a stretch, I know. But I needed to make some use of all those hours I spend reading soccer news online every day, right?

I’ve been off working on my book. I had initially thought I might post comments about whatever chapter or subject I was working on each day, but that didn’t happen. I got into full I Am a Book Writer and I Cannot Be Interrupted mode. Not that it got me to finish the thing. I’ve still got some big empty spots to fill toward the end. But I’m getting there. And maybe, now that I’m back to the daily interruptions of life at Fortune, I’ll actually get around to discussing the book occasionally here. Which was the whole idea of this blog in the first place.

More Hubbard, more video

That’s right, another video of Columbia Business School student Michael O’Rorke impersonating the school’s dean impersonating a pop star! Could life possibly get better?!? This one is a take-off on Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby,” and it’s not nearly as well done as “Every Breath You Take.” But it does feature a cameo by Dean Glenn Hubbard himself at the end.

A reader on the Upper West Side wonders if I shouldn’t be working on my book instead. (I’m taking off the month of May to polish up my manuscript.) She has a point. But posting Glenn Hubbard videos doesn’t take any time. Watching them does.

More Glenn Hubbard

He’s not just the star of parody videos. The man also participated in a Q&A at Fortune with London Business School Dean and Clinton administration economic-policy bigwig Laura Tyson a few weeks ago, and now I have finally gotten around to posting an abridged transcript at I also wrote a little summary to go with it, the gist of which is that Republican Hubbard and Democrat Tyson agreed that income inequality is becoming one of the big issues of the day. Not so much inequality per se as the fact that even while the economy has been growing and unemployment low, most Americans have been at best treading water because most of the gains from globalization and rising productivity have been lining the pockets of the already-affluent. (Don’t know that Hubbard would put it exactly that way.)

For a quarter century, starting in the mid-1970s, the biggest economic-policy challenge facing the U.S. was slow productivity growth. And so, after some initial hesitation, politicians responded with pro-productivity changes like deregulation, tax cuts, and reduced trade barriers. Now we’ve got the higher productivity growth, and it only makes sense that we should start to pay more attention to other matters, like how the proceeds of that higher productivity are distributed. So far this is an issue that George Bush has almost entirely ignored. Now even a still-pretty-loyal former Bush administration economist is saying that’s a mistake. This seems to me a signal that we might be on the verge of a pretty major shift in economic policy, maybe not quite on par with the New Deal and Reagan revolution, but still a big deal. The big question is whether we can figure out a way to address inequality without destroying productivity growth in the process with things like tariffs and high taxes on capital.

Keep NPR in the radio, where it belongs

I’ve got a new piece (column? article? screed?) up on It’s the account of a breakfast chat yesterday with former Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who has this endearing (if politically ill-advised) habit of telling things like he sees them.

The piece/column/article/screed is more or less self-explanatory, so no need to elaborate here. But there’s one thing I feel the need to share that I didn’t get to on CNNMoney. NPR’s Robert Siegel ably moderated the discussion, and I cannot tell you how disconcerting it is to hear this voice that’s been coming to me in disembodied form for a quarter century suddenly emanate from the mouth of an actual human being. It was beautiful to hear—Siegel’s voice is mellifluous, but not in a fake radio way. It exudes trustworthiness. Yet it seemed somehow wrong to be a first-hand witness of its production. I didn’t have nightmares about it or anything. But I will in the future think twice about attending events hosted by NPR personalities.

The West Ham-Dubai connection

West HamAs I experiment with this blog, I’ve been struggling to figure out what if any link there is between the stuff I get paid to write about (business and economics, mostly) and the things I keep posting here about food, soccer, Dutch literature, etc.

Thanks to a loyal reader in Philadelphia, I now see the connection. He forwarded me a link to a story in the Guardian about how my team West Ham United went to Dubai for a training camp last week — and failed to bring along the two Israeli citizens on the team, Yossi Benayoun (pictured at left) and Yaniv Katan, because Israelis aren’t allowed into the United Arab Emirates (of which Dubai is one).

Now I don’t feel bad at all for Benayoun and Katan, who were treated instead to a team-paid vacation in Marbella, which sounds like a lot more fun than sweating on the shores of the Persian Gulf. But it was a reminder that all the talk during the Dubai Ports controversy about Dubai being a bastion of freedom and progressive thinking was maybe a bit exaggerated.

Sure, Dubai is more free and progressive than its neighbor Saudi Arabia. But then, so are many European prisons (although not American ones, of course). Is Dubai a democracy? No. Is speech free there? No. More to the point, would Dubai ever let a foreign company run its port? Probably not, since Dubai is effectively one big corporation itself, with Sheik Mohammed as CEO.

None of this means we need to boycott the place. But maybe the politicians who raised all that hell about a company owned by Dubai’s government taking over operations at several American ports weren’t being completely ridiculous.

It’s one thing to let British or German or Japanese companies buy up big chunks of the U.S. economy — we do the same to theirs. Maybe it’s not so crazy, though, to think twice when those who do the buying don’t play by the same rules back home as we do. Orthodox economic theory says we shouldn’t care, of course: Money’s money. But I say economic theory that isn’t tempered with the occasional West Ham anecdote isn’t worth much.

Negative comments about the French

I was told a while back that if you want to get a lot of traffic on the CNNMoney or CNN website, you just need to write a story with a headline that says something negative about France. So here’s my first attempt, “Our protesters are better than France’s.”

From the volume of e-mails I got Thursday afternoon, right after the piece was posted, I’d say my France-baiting was successful, but only moderately so. Nothing like arguing that “Energy independence is a disaster in the making,” that’s for sure.