no longer a virgin

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So I had my first time recently and actually I did it three times in a row. I held my first lectures and seminars in front of students!!!

The story goes like this: My supervisor and the module leader of this lovely heterodox economics course left, for whatever reason, and won’t return for the rest of the semester. That meant that me and my Swedish PhD colleague had to take over her course, because apparently there aren’t any other heterodox economists at our university able to teach. Since my colleague was away for a conference three weeks ago, I had to plan the lecture and seminars on my own. The funny thing about it was, that I was asked to do that a day before. So on a Wednesday, noon, I was told to do the lectures without any materials. so I had to make a powerpoint for that and came up with an idea for the seminars the following day. HURRAY!!

But the task was not to bad and I managed to pull of some lovely slides for the next day. What followed were two sessions on institutional economics and luckily I am quite good at that so preparing for these lectures actually allowed me to play a bit with prezi because getting context into the slides wasn’t that hard at all. 

However, I thought I made a quite good job but still, the students seemed a bit unmotivated. I don’t know whether they don’t understand the stuff I was talking about or if they just don’t care. At the end is was hard and disappointing to sit in the seminars without them participating in any kind of conversation. At least the one seminar has two bright students who talk, which make the whole thing somewhat nice but the others are just… so seemingly lazy. All they want is a pass in their essays they have to write, not more. No ambition or so, just pass, graduate, diploma, no thanks? One of the students sent me his first essay and I thought the structure was good but he need to put more effort in his arguments. Hope he takes my comments serious. 

Anyway, despite the lack of participation of my students I think this was quite a good experience. The next few weeks I won’t have to teach but to attend the lectures and seminars to support the guest speaker and my colleague who will tell the kids about post-Keynesian economics. In the light of the recent developments in Manchester, the Guardian did a piece on a post-crisis student group demanding a more pluralistic curriculum and the initiatives from INET, these students… our students are in a luxury position; the already got the education what others demand for. 

Now, I am no longer a teaching virgin… I hope the students will give me some good comments in the final evaluation of the course. Or better not? At the end I have to do more teaching which steals time to work on my PhD and the papers I am working on.

The other day in my logic course

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Just recently I came across the following forum post in my logic course I take on Coursera, called Think Again: How to Reason and Argue:

1. A worldview is a person’s view of what the world is.

2. Some people view the world as having been created.

___________________________________________

:. 3. Creationism is a worldview.

4. Some people view the world as having been evolved.

___________________________________________

:. 5. Evolution is a worldview.

6. Creationism is Theistic.

7. Evolution is Atheistic.

8. Schools teach Evolution but ban Creationism.

___________________________________________

:. 9. Schools teach Atheistic teachings but ban Theistic teachings.

10. In teaching, the Schools try to change student’s beliefs or mentality.

___________________________________________

:. 11. Schools try to make students believe atheistic teachings, while trying to limit theistic teachings.

12. People who believe Atheistic teaching are Atheists.

13. People who believe Theistic teachings are Theists.

___________________________________________

:. 14. Schools try to make students Atheists.

Well… what can I say? Maybe just this:

ARROOO… I am a Spartan

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So last Sunday, September 1st, I finally ran the Cambridge Spartan Sprint for what I was training for since February. This was an extraordinary experience and most likely the longest five kilometres I have ever run. At the end, all I can say that I loved it and I want to do it again.

imko spartan sprint

I was dirty, in pain, bleeding, having a stupid hair style… I was super happy

So, the Spartan Sprint is a five kilometre obstacle run and the shortest in the Spartan Race series. It has about 20 obstacles and was held on an UK army airfield and its surrounding forests. The other distances are the Super Spartan, a 13 km 20+ obstacle run, the Spartan Beast, a 20 km 25+ obstacle run, and the Spartan Death Race, a 4 day survival-fitness-endurance-run or so.

So I started my adventure with the Spartan Sprint on September 1st 2013 at 10:30am starting time. Thanks to some lovely colleagues, who supported me and drove me there at 8am in the morning, I made arrived early, registered quickly and twisted my ankle during warm up. That was s*** but after I paid a lot of money, spent a lot of time preparing to do the run and promised the Brain and Spine Foundation to represent them and fundraise money for their charity, I decided to run anyway and not to see the doctor before the race. Fortunately, I only hurt the outside of my left foot and I could run pain free and stable, although not really fast.

So at 11:00am my race finally started thanks to some delays and I headed to the first couple of obstacles. The first part was running over plain grass, which was quite bumpy and therefore I was afraid to twist my ankle again, after we had to climb an old  gun nest. Then we went through some lovely forest, up and down, left and right trying to avoid the tree branches. Just before that we had obstacle two and three, the first encounter with mud underneath a small bridge and then a test of strength. This test contained old ammunition boxes filled with tiny stones which we had to carry in a circle. This was followed with some minor exercises in the forest until the first set of walls was waiting for us. First jump over, then crawl underneath and finally jump through a small window in the wall.

Then, back to the section where we started and observed by the audience, we had to pull a concrete weight knotted to a rope up approximately 8 meters. This was actually quite heavy but I managed to do that, lifting the final half meter or so buy just using my body weight by lying down. Following this we had to crawl over a high net before we left the crowed again to the other side of the airfield. A few jumps over small trenches along the concrete landing strip, which made my foot worse, and another run through a muddy trench.

After this rather relaxing part we came to the serious obstacles. Pulling full rubber tires from these pallet transporters, climbing over higher walls and carrying 10 litre buckets full of water around a circle, a big one. During that, we had the coolest obstacle; throwing a spear into a hay bale, just like a Spartan. I didn’t hit the bale but the wooden panel behind it. Luckily I threw the spear hard enough to become stuck anyway. In case you fail one obstacle, you have to do 30 burpees. This is definitely something you won’t wanna do. Well, I can say I failed two obstacles which meant I did 60 burpees that day, my BMF instructor would be proud.

This was followed by the most painful section of obstacles for my foot. A bunch of gravel hills which you had to climb again and again, carrying sandbags and stones. It went up and down on a loose and unstable surface. I am pretty sure that was where I cut open my knee when I slipped on one of the hills.

Then, we came to the final quarter of the race. Again we spent some time running through the forest and some bushes. A vertical rope climb and some parallel bars, where you were only allowed to use your hands, made me do the 30 burpees. Yes, I failed them =(

After that, the barb wire and the mud pools forced us to duck deep down. Underneath the barb wire into a knee deep pool filled with ice, which was not too bad because it meant a cool down, because during the race the sun came out and it became quite hot. The final part was an approximately 600m flat, concrete straight before the final three obstacles waited in front of the finishing line. I am a bit angry because I could have run this part much much faster but I wanted to save energy for the upcoming obstacle: the monkey bars. Interestingly, I totally overestimated them and it was quite easy to pass them. At the end, after a lovely jump over burning wood followed by a little climb up a steep structure, fast-rope down again and two Spartans who tried to get you off your feet, the race was finished. I tried to run fast and use my momentum to just overrun them but the one guy just hit my feet and I made a lovely somersaultish stunt just before I got through the finishing line.

imko spartan

Monkey bars weren’t that bad…

Finished in 01:03:35, became 849th of 3564 runners, I felt exhausted and my left ankle had the size of a golf ball. But I got my t-shirt, my medal and my stories =)

What does the EU?

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I often heard that nobody really knows what the European Union actually does. Some secret technocratic institutions in Brussels, working without the knowledge of the EU citizens and often said to even work against them.

Truth is, that there is a quite active blog community around the EU, with many members of the European Commission actually blogging about their own work and the daily life in the EU institutions. So all you need to do is read:

http://blogs.ec.europa.eu/

Fundraising

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On September 1st, I will run the Cambridge Spartan Race. This means 5 km and 25 painfully obstacles. This is some kind of self-finding-near-to-30-theme shit I thought would be cool to achieve. There will, however, come much worse things…

Anyway, I decided to I’ll be a  fundraiser for the Brain and Spine Foundation charity, which provides education and information for people with neurological conditions and their families. So please, if you can spare some money go to this link

https://www.justgiving.com/Imko-Meyenburg

and donate a bit =)

 

Cheers

 

Imko

The ethics of debt

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A few weeks ago I attended a conference on inequality in Leeds, where I had the privilege to drink with some brilliant PhD students. With all of the being economists, a heated debate developed about the crisis in Europe, and especially Greece because some of the students were from Greece.

On particular question raised there got my attention, the question whether a country was morally obliged to repay its debt. We haven’t really talked about this question but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So I thought I write down some short ideas and see what happens. Yet, these ideas are not meant to criticize a systems such as capitalism in general.

First, I refer to Christian Barry’s definition of the ethical status of debt, which can be found here. He presents the following two statements

i) A owes a debt to B if and only if:

(1) B has lent resources to A; and

(2) B has a claim to repayment from A that has at least prima facie legal validity.

ii) A owes a debt [with ethical status] to B only if B has a valid moral claim to repayment from A

From this, we can make the distinction between legal and ethical claims, which necessarily are the same in each case. A legal obligation must not be ethical and vice versa. For Barry, this distinction is important since the ethical status of debt depends on the actions of both actors which can shift the status of the debt.

Let’s assume B has lent resources to A on a contract and can make a valid moral claim, thus A has an ethical and legal obligation and ought to pay. However, imagine B causes A to be unable to repay, e.g. due to an accident, due to competition on a market or by raising interest rates. This would require a revaluation of the ethical status of the debt, while the legal remains the same.

Berry consequently concludes that we need a criterion for defining in which category the debt falls in. He refers to John RawlsFair System of Cooperation, in which Rawls argues that justice, the perception of how the benefits and burdens are fair distributed in society, serves best for the establishment of a moral basis for democratic institutions. Indeed, democratic governments not only have legal obligations towards creditors but also legal and, following Rawls, morally valid obligations towards its citizen. In the current debt crisis governments’ are unable to establish a system of equally distributed benefits and burdens by means of its institutions. This means that the debt obligations hinder the accomplishment of obligations towards citizens, even if we can identify an ethical status of them in the beginning.

I think Barry’s justice argument is similar to a preference utilitarian perspective on morality, in which the preferences of the majority as the greater good of society dictate the morality of actions. If we assume that the majority of citizens prefer to live in systems described by Rawls, claims of creditors would only be morally valid unless they contradict the preferences of the majority. Simply spoken, the interests of the many would certainly outweigh the interests of the few and the case would be clear. If the majority of the Euro-Area, represented by its governments, has no or little preferences in repaying the loans the governments borrowed from the financial systems, the banks had no moral valid claim.

Unfortunately, the premises of preference utilitarianism, and the justice argument, could lead to otherwise immoral actions. Let’s imagine the state holds a suspect of child murder in custody and the citizens see capital punishment as desirable and just action. Would the government then act morally by killing the suspect, based on the fact that the preferences of the many are satisfied and they would outweigh the preferences of the one?

Second, the problem is that we not necessarily face a simple trichotomy between the preference structure of state, citizens and the financial sector. One can like it or not, but banks play an important role in financing not only the governments but also for the private sector. The loss of substantial debt claims could affect the financing of firms resulting in losses of jobs which in return is presumably contrary to the preference structure of citizens. Also, I think the exemplary dichotomy from above does not occur in real life. In fact, we rather face a complex path dependency of actions in which, for instance, actions of A, induced by C, led to responses by B which causes A to be in a disadvantageous position and so forth.

Third, the moral implications of breaking a contract must be considered. Contracts are a cultural/legal practise of control where the trust in the legal systems, providing punishment for defections, outweighs the trust between two parties to honour their agreement. If a government would break the contracts without being legally punished, it could undermine its general legitimacy. Although, for instance, Machiavelli and Walzer argue that politicians could do wrong things for the greater good, it is not guaranteed that retaliation would follow from those who are affected.

How to overcome all these problems? Well, the easiest way would be to argue that debt has no ethical status at all, but that is not fun isn’t it? It is a simple solution to a complex problem.

However, if we carefully apply preference utilitarianism to assess the ethical status of debt and recognize the critical points above, we might be able to avoid the drawbacks of preference utilitarian approach. It seems best to decide from case to case, i.e. with each creditor, about the ethical status and the governments’ actions. If we can formulate a reasonable public and private preference structure that is not compromised by individually examined debt claims, they may have an ethical status. How can we evaluate these circumstances and who should be allowed to do it? I think this question is similar to abortion, where circumstances and consequences are so complex that simple and discriminating normative ethical solutions cannot work. In this case, there are committees concerned with the ethical implications of abortion and other medical treatments. Why shouldn’t we implement similar committees in regard to the question of debt?

At the end, however, I think it cannot be said that a government has no general ethical obligation to repay its debt; neither can be said it has.

Der Gott des Feuers!!!

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Waehrend alle Welt nach wie vor gespannt auf den Israel-Iran-Konflikt schaut und abwartet ob der Iran nun tatsaechlich Atombomben baut oder nicht, bereits besitzt oder nicht und ob Israel mit oder ohne Amerikaner Praeventivschlaege durchfuehren wuerde, geschehen anderswo weiterhin Tests rund um Atomwaffen.

Vor einiger Zeit hat Nord Korea ihre inzwischen dritte Interkontinentalrakete mehr oder weniger klaeglich gestestet. Die Rakete sollte urspruenglich einen Sateliten in einen stabilen Orbit schicken, brach allerdings kurz nach dem Start in mehrere Teile.

Etwas erfolgreicher waren dagegen die Inder, die am letzten Donnerstag mit ihrer Agni V1 ihre erste langstrecken Rakete getestet hat, die nukleare Warheads tragen kann. Mit einer Reichweite von 5.000 km koennen die Inder nun endlich die grossen Staedte an der Ostkueste Chinas erreichen und Teile Europas. Indien versucht damit seine Rolle auf dem internationalem Parkett der Grossmaechte zu festigen und sich als zweite Macht aus Asien hervorzuheben und aus dem Schatten Chinas heraustreten um so auch als Gegenwicht in der Region zu agieren, nachdem China seinen Nachbarn mit seinen territorialen Besitzanspruechen in der suedchinesischen See offensichtlich regelmaessig ans Bein pinkelt:

“India can now deter China, it can impose maximum possible punishment if China crosses the red line,” Srikanth Kondapalli, professor in Chinese studies at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University told Reuters” (Economist, 2012)

Dies mag auch and Chinas Militaerstrategie liegen, die in Chinas Science of Military Strategy2 veroeffentlicht wurde. Denn trotz der Tatsache das China grosse Konflikte lieber meiden moechte und friedlich wachsen und mit seinen Nachbarn leben will und inzwischen gute wirtschaftliche Verbindungen mit Indien unterhaelt, heisst es dort ueber “active defense”

if any country or organization violates the other country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, the other side will have the right to “fire the first shot” on the plane of tactics

3

weiter heisst es dort wohl:

an enemy offends our national interests it means that the enemy has already fired the first shot

Quelle
Auch Chinas Umgang mit Taiwan kann als eine Ursache zur Vorsicht seitens Chinas Nachbarn angesehen werden, moeglicherweise auch ein Antreiber fuer Indiens wachsende militaerische Ausgaben neben dem schwelenden Konflikt mit Pakistan? Dieser Umgang drueckt deutlich Chinas Selbstbild aus, Jia Xiudong vom China Institute of International Studies fasst Chinas Politik dahingehend wie folgt zusammen:

The first priority is Taiwan. The mainland is patient, but independence is not the future for Taiwan. China’s military forces should be ready to repel any force of intervention. The US likes to maintain what it calls ‘strategic ambiguity’ over what it would do in the event of a conflict arising from secession. We don’t have any ambiguity. We will use whatever means we have to prevent it happening.

Quelle
Indien, wie auch immer, moechte also nun neben China zur naechsten Supermacht werden…

22. April 2012 07:10