Short Takes

Posted in Issues

Economic Principals is experimenting with forms, in anticipation of adding a regular column of items this autumn. The column wishes readers around the world a happy US Labor Day.

1. The hardest job in financial journalism is having something worthwhile to say about the way business is done — a couple of times every week. The best business columnist in the world died last month of cancer at the age of 54 — a tragic loss to all concerned. He was Peter Martin of the Financial Times. As Columbia’s Amar Bhide says, “Peter seemed to have read everything, so he knew what would be new and interesting to business scholars and economists reading him.” The FT has put up a page of Martin’s columns and related material (at and even a brief look will convince you that that he was both peripatetic and deeply wise. Start with “After the Bubble: Five Lessons from the Mania.” You’ll have to read the obituaries, however, to appreciate the essential role he played in turning the FT into the high-end global newspaper and online pioneer that it is today.

2. Another death last month may have changed journalism itself, at the opposite end of the spectrum. Jan Stenbeck had been proprietor of Metro, the world’s fastest-growing newspaper, until he died of a heart attack in Paris at the age of 59. Billed as “the ideal 20-minute read,” the free-sheet is supported by advertising alone, given away daily to bus and train commuters in 22 cities on three continents, including Stockholm, Rome, Buenos Aires, Warsaw, Milan, Athens, Zurich, Santiago, Toronto, Montreal, Philadelphia and Boston. It claims ten million readers, and says it is solidly profitable in at least four cities and approaching black ink in several more. The project was the brainchild of an uncommon Swede who learned his stuff as a young investment banker at Morgan Stanley in the ’60s, before his brother’s death called him home to manage the family’s forest products conglomerate, Kinnevik Group. Stenbeck pioneered in wireless telephony (as a founder of Vodaphone) and cable television. But his fledgling newspaper empire may not long survive his death. The free-sheet market is growing increasingly competitive. Without Stenbeck’s fierce direction, Metro’s substantial lead may be dissipated, in which case a potentially interesting voice will have been silenced. Free-sheets themselves are here to stay, of course..

3. The editors of the Wall Street Journal editorial page (subscription only) are impressed by a study that purports to show, as they put it, “One Faculty Indivisible.” The idea is that Lefties still dominate the nations’ campuses. The “study” in question was made by a corps of college students and reported in the magazine of the American Enterprise Institute. (The article is not online) Canvassers searched for faculty voter registration at Boards of Elections in towns near 21 colleges and universities. Democratic or Green Party equals left, Republican or Libertarian Party equals right. “Even discounting that the researchers had only limited registration records in some places, there is little doubt that there statistics capture the general political picture,” the Journal writes.

And what is that picture? “A uniformity of political allegiance in political faculties that is positively breathtaking,” according to editors. At Harvard, for example, “the researchers found one member of the Political Science Department on the right versus 20 on the left. Roughly the same held true for economics and sociology.” That will be news to Harvard’s Government Department, which has been split fairly evenly for years among contending factions. It will be even more surprising to Harvard’s Economics Department, where conservative Professors Martin Feldstein, Robert Barro, Dale Jorgenson, N. Gregory Mankiw and Andrei Shleifer tend to hold their own among students in competition with faculty liberals who include Richard Freeman, Benjamin Friedman, Lawrence Katz, Michael Kremer and Amartya Sen. It’s one thing when a bunch of student “researchers” cook up a line of malarkey for a tired old think-tank. It’s another when grownups report it out as gospel.