Monday Message Board

It’s Monday again, and time for the Monday Message Board. Post your comments on any topic (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). As a discussion-starter, I’d be interested in thoughts on the likelihood a Kerry victory and its implications for Australia.

11 thoughts on “Monday Message Board

  1. I am interested in Prof Henry Mintzberg’s comments in the AFR today (“The Real Business of MBAs’) that directly criticise the value of ‘practical’ undergraduate business education programs. His alternative — to educate people to make them thoughtful — leaving ‘on the job’ training to be done ‘on the job’. I like these comments because they take up a theme that many of us have pushed for a decade. It seems to me that attempts to vocationalise the Australian universities, initiated by Mr Dawkins but continuing today under the Coalition, need to listen to the Mintzberg logic.

    In the universities these days it is common to teach courses in ‘general’ management, human resource managemrent (rather than labour economics), financial management (rather than finance) and marketing (instead of microeconomics) to students who haver never had a job or, at best, have flogged hamburgers at Maccas.

    Its a paradox but training people in what are claimed to be vocational business skills probably makes them less employable than providing them with a sound fundamental education in economics, statistics and mathematics. As undergraduates students are most receptive to new ideas but don’t have practical business skills.

    Preofessor Mintzberg comes from McGill University. His views on postgraduate business education are also of interest. Here is where practical business skills are important. At McGill they have abolished the MBA degree with a degree that accepts only practising managers and which is taught part-time to accommodate the needs of such people. This puts the vocational training where it is needed and where it can be most fruitfully be provided.

  2. I couldn’t agree more ! For those who actually need technical skills, they should study the relevant disciplines, as you say.

    And for the majority of students who are being prepared for fairly generic business jobs, a US-style general degree with a bit of literature, a bit of math/science and a bit of econ would be better than what they are getting in undergrad business.

  3. I see that the Iraq war was the first time the alliance was invoked.
    does anyone have any idea for the official reason for this?
    Since the US invoked this presumably they thought Iraq was going to attack them and Asustralia agreed?

  4. ‘…a US-style general degree with a bit of literature, a bit of math/science and a bit of econ would be better than what they are getting in undergrad business.’

    I think undergraduate business students probably learn quite a lot from introductory subjects in accounting and marketing. But diminishing returns soon set in. The more advanced stuff could easily be learned on the job, making room for the subjects in John’s wish list. I would add philosophy, especially political philosophy, to the list.

    By the way, Harry, I read your piece on dumbing down on your website. A nice analysis, and plently to giggle about.

  5. “Anti-materialism”.

    A number of people on this site, including John Q, have used the term “anti-materialist”. This is a cop-out term, like “urban leftie” or “anti-American”, that allows the user to avoid questions that might lead in uncomfortable directions. As applied to Clive Hamilton’s Growth Fetish it is quite inaccurate, and I would venture there are very few to whom such a term would apply.

    The term has also been challenged by Paul Norton and Kyan Gadac (Greens Policy 2) with no satisfactory response.

    What the term seems to cover is an unwillingness to confront the impossibility of indefinitely continued exponential growth in a finite material world, and the existence of abundant evidence that we are near the limits of our material use of the planet – there are well-documented concerns about soil loss and degradation, water supplies, forest destruction, over-harvesting, species extinction, global pollution by oraganohalide hormone disruptors, among other things, quite apart from greenhouse gases and climate change.

    The dominant economic paradigm requires a percentage growth every year, and this implies exponential growth. It cannot continue indefinitely. What is to be done about that?

    I should be very clear – this is not about adding quality to products, it’s about quantity of materials. We CAN continue indefinitely to produce higher quality products that (hopefully) enhance the quality of our lives – the living world has been doing that for about four billion years. But we cannot, as at present, keep increasing our use of materials.

    Why does “the economy” (actually, the GDP, a very different beast from our total wealth or our quality of life) have to increase every year? “Jobs!” is the reflexive answer. But why is that? “Growth” may marginally reduce unemployment (which is what the politicians are actually referring to) but it doesn’t begin, by itself, to provide all the jobs people want. When I was young unemployment was 1.5%, and despite all the “growth” since then unemployment is now much higher. There’s something here the dominant paradigm isn’t addressing. Why not?

    What, precisely, is the underlying mechanism that links unemployment with growth and interest rates? Economists refer to a Phillips Curve (have I remembered the jargon correctly), but that’s a description of the tradeoff, not a reason for it.

    Can that underlying mechanism be changed? What would it take?

    These are critically important questions for humanity at the present moment. You should be addressing them, not batting them away with cop-out labels.

    Of course I do have my own ideas about the aswers to these questions, and they’re set out in my book Economia – see

    PS for John Q: you may not yet be persuaded of the value of regarding the economy as a complex system, but quite apart from that I contend that the neoclassical theory is indefensible because its assumptions and predictions bear no useful resemblance to the behaviour of real economies. The arguments are straightforward.

  6. Geoff, in my Fin article, I referred to the view that ” growth in the production and consumption of goods and services is undesirable in itself”. This is what I mean by anti-materialism, and I think it’s clearly the central message of Growth Fetish. There is some discussion of environmental issues towards the end of the book, but this is secondary. The major criticisms of growth put forward would not be changed if we achieved sustainable growth in the sense of stable material throughput.

    You might want to read my thoughts on GDP

  7. Harry,
    Roger Collins at the AGSM has a theory concerning life long learning that most post graduate courses will become irrelevent and replaced by course updates.

    I tend to think this is in line with what the OECD is thinking too.
    I think this is in line with both what you are saying and with Mintzberg as well ( one of my favourite writers when I was studying at said business school.)

  8. GD – I’ve been beating a drum about the Kim Swales approach to unemployment for a long time. Here goes again.

    To my way of thinking, we have an externality favouring unemployment, one that was formerly produced by vagrancy costs but which is now achieved by the costs of funding social security through general revenue a proxy for it. The Swales method is effectively a fast acting Pigovian solution to the externality. The “five economists’ plan”, seen in this light, is a slow acting Pigovian solution equivalent to the Swales scheme in the long run, as is a basic income scheme, and distributism is a Coasian solution (as is slavery). The external costs structure has shifted over time – you can think of it as the very first hint of Malthusian problems, as “free” resources dry up and people without capital become dependent on the level of “free” wage work opportunities on offer.

    But we’re all talking and nobody’s listening, let alone acting. Oh well, if anyone’s interested they can follow the links to my site and look at my publications page.

  9. JQ wrote ” growth in the production and consumption of goods and services is undesirable in itself”. This is what I mean by anti-materialism

    The problem I have with this is that it begs the question. The real question should be – what conditions make growth undesirable? Anti-materialism is nothing more than a perjorative in the context of the debate abut sustainibility and a steady state economy.

    I cannot think of an example where “growth in the production of goods and services is (always) desirable”.

  10. Homer,
    I guess the alliance had be used for the Iraq war because other times Australia had other justifications for committing troops to battle with the Americans.
    Gulf War Mark 1 was a UN resolution. South Vietnam invited us to help protect them. Korea was another UN action. The rest of the conflicts were UN peacekeeping mainly.
    So in every other case we didn’t need the excuse of the alliance, but since we went on such poor evidence on this crusade we needed to envoke it.
    Anyway, I think that is the reason.

  11. I think your Kerry kite is a long shot. In fact, a no brainer. He’s not got the strength I’m afraid, probably too nice.
    The FTA is a continuing worry as we teeter on a decision that will send us wheeling off into the stratosphere – in the garbage trail of the great US consumer shuttle. Where will our wonderful innovative and quirky film and television industry be – bogged down in endless US sitcoms with louder and louder canned laughter and more and more inane scripts.
    Writers and artists find it hard enough now, and have to take ‘real jobs’ just to eat and pay the rent. We need the tax incentives back NOT socalled FREE (snort) Trade Agreement.

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