Monday, November 24, 2014

Business: Thoughts on Dr. Alan Blinder

A little while back Dr. Alan Blinder came to TCNJ to give a talk on the backlash experienced after policy was enacted to combat the financial crisis. Dr. Blinder is a professor at Princeton University, the vice chairman of the Promontory Interfinancial Network, served on President Clinton's original Council of Economic Advisers and then as Vice Chairman of the Boards of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.


He spoke about why the backlash happened and what steps should be taken in the future to minimize the negative reaction of the public. As it turns out his advice on how to get people to support policy, or at least react better, seemed to be valid. For me, however, some of his statements were not compelling or convincing.

One such instance which exemplifies my discontent was when Dr. Blinder claimed that those who expressed dissatisfaction with money printing were not knowledgable. With a laugh he said that this has been going on since 1914 but what he failed to mention was that the gold standard was still utilized until 1933 and was only completely severed in 1971. He seems to have grossly mischaracterized what the objections to money printing were and it needs to be acknowledged that limited and unlimited printing are completely different beasts.

I asked Dr. Blinder what his reaction was to the recent statement by his colleague Alan Greenspan regarding gold. Greenspan said in an interview "Gold is currency. It is still, by all evidence, a premier currency. No fiat currency, including the dollar, can match it." What is quite funny about this, beside the fact that this is what one of the biggest money printers in the world said, is that it was conveniently cut out of the live stream interview. Coincidence? I think not. But I digress.

Dr. Blinder answered with two reasons of why he thinks that Greenspan's new found (or if we really look at Greenspan's history, just below the surface, but always there) support of gold as the ultimate currency. First, he said the original reasoning behind the gold standard was to fix exchange rates between the US and France. Secondly, he claimed that fluctuations in the gold market (in terms of the amount that is being discovered at a given time) would have too much power over the value of the currency. While both of these points are valid and a good response to Greenspan's comment, my true concern is the fact that our currency is backed by nothing but faith in the US government. That is a scary thought! In my ideal world our currency would be backed by something (not necessarily gold) that is substantial and finite. I do not do well with the idea of unlimited printing and where that can lead.

Are you familiar with the thoughts and policy of Dr. Blinder? What are your opinions on him and his work?

-AJF  

Friday, November 21, 2014

How To: Admit You Are Wrong (When You Know You Are)

Ahh, admitting you're wrong. This is one of the hardest things to do and, I would argue, the most important. We all have our pride and we hate to lose face, but when you come to the realization that you are indeed incorrect in your thinking it is essential to admit it. Why? Number one because it is the right thing to do, number two because the other person will respect you, number three because, believe it or not, you will respect yourself for doing it. Here are some of my tips for how to admit you're wrong (because as it turns out I have a lot of experience with this type of thing...).

image source; modified by Alyssa J Freitas
  • Recognize the fault yourself. You'll surely have people who will tell you that you are wrong but until you recognize it yourself, you won't be able to admit it to others.
  • Realize that there is nothing wrong with being wrong. As we all know, no one is perfect so at some point or another we will all be mistaken. Since this is the case it only makes sense that admitting you're wrong is not a big deal; after all, it happens to everyone. There is only a problem when you don't acknowledge it and try to improve. 
  • Thank the other person for being understanding in advance. Really, he should be glad that you've admitted your mistake but if you thank him in advance he really has no choice but to be understanding. 
Alexander Pope, the poet, once said "No one should be ashamed to admit they are wrong, which is but saying, in other words, they are wiser today than they were yesterday." This is really the essence of this post; being wrong is nothing to be ashamed of, but not admitting it is.

When is a time that you have been wrong and had to admit it? How did you handle it? What tips do you have?

-AJF

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

College: Study Tips

I do not consider myself to be a true expert in many areas, however I can speak with a good deal of authority on the most effective ways to study. Sixteen years into schooling and quite a few good grades later, I have determined what you should and shouldn't be doing while preparing for an exam.

image source; modified by Alyssa J Freitas
  • Do prepare early. I have found that the more preparation time I have, the more likely I am to stay calm, positive, and focused. For some "early' could be two days before, but for me it ranges from five days to a week.
  • Don't feel like you have to know EVERYTHING. Sure, some professors will include a ton of information on the exam, but the likelihood of there being a question to cover every minute detail is relatively slim. This means that you should not stress if you are not the master of all of the material. Just be sure to understand the overarching concepts and their practical applications very well.
  • Do listen in class (and of course go to class...). This is where you are supposed to learn, right? So you might as well take notes, ask questions, and pay close attention to what the professor is focusing on (psst I'm pretty sure that is what will be on the test). I struggle with this, because who wouldn't fall asleep during an 8am accounting class (?), but I have been making a conscious effort to be better. 
  • Don't rely on the powerpoints. I know that this is what a lot of professors use to direct their classes but it isn't a substitute for paying attention.
  • Do your homework. All of your homework. Not only is it good practice but it can provide you with a better understanding of what you should be focusing on.
  • Don't do all of the readings. I know this seems counter intuitive since I have basically been telling you to do everything required of you, but you'll come to learn, if you haven't already, that it is not always the best use of your time. You should be familiar with the material before class, but if you can do that without spending massive amounts of time on the readings (like looking at summaries or skimming), then do it! Please note that I absolutely do not recommend this for English courses. You should always read, from cover to cover, for English.   
  • Do create your own summaries and study guides. When you are faced with a lot of information for a test it can be exceedingly helpful to consolidate the material to an easy to understand format. I like to use sheets of printer paper to make note of all of the very important information from each chapter that I know I want to review later. That way I can just whip out those sheets whenever and know that I am hitting the essential points.
  • Do ask your professor and classmates questions. It is good to realize that you don't understand something, preferably a bit before the exam, so that you can get clarification. Don't be embarrassed to ask for help. 
Those are the main study tips that I have. As long as you focus, prepare, and have a desire to do well you will be met with success. What study tips do you swear by?

-AJF

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Business: Should We Be Worried About Amazon?

As I was walking through the library the cover of a magazine caught my attention. It was The New Republic and their feature story was "Amazon Must Be Stopped." 'Oh my,' I thought to myself. 'This seems quite serious. Instead of studying accounting I must read this article.'


The author, Franklin Foer, said that Amazon is a monopoly that must be stopped before we "drift toward an unsustainable future, where one company holds intolerable economic and cultural sway." He cites the company's tactics in crushing the competition of other companies, such as Zappos and Diapers.com, as well as its influence and power in the publishing industry as reasons for waging a war against Amazon. He calls for legislation and other governmental action to save the complacent consumer from being seduced by Amazon's low prices, express shipping, and overall awesomeness at the cost of allowing a monopoly to be established which will hurt us all in the future.

Now, I really like Amazon because it is, at the moment, a huge benefit to consumers. I love Prime, renting textbooks, and knowing I'm getting the best price when I'm doing my Christmas shopping. However, it is unsettling to see how Amazon is willing to have a negative profit margin (currently -2.12%) in its quest to be everyone's one stop for shopping. This leads me to believe that once it grows big enough, Amazon will raise its prices to finally find out what turning a profit is like. And then how will we consumers feel when we don't have another retailer to turn to?

In August I wrote a post questioning who could compete with Amazon. This remains unanswered and I have not fully decided if this is an all bad thing? As a supporter of a free market I am always weary when governmental intervention is proposed, but now I am wondering if perhaps this situation calls for it.

What do you think? Does Amazon needed to be stopped (or at least restricted/slowed down)?

-AJF

Friday, November 14, 2014

Why I'm Alright With 1989

I have always been a Taylor Swift fan, from the days of Our Song to Love Story to Enchanted to Starlight, I've listened to her music through it all. Many people who I've spoken to have expressed dissatisfaction with Miss. Swift's newest album, 1989, because it deviates quite far from her original sound. But if we look back, it is clear to see that each successive album has lead Taylor to this point of being a pop singer.


I've found that not being married to a particular sound from her has allowed me to enjoy it all! The album has a variety of songs that are all enjoyable to listen to (and dance around your room to). My favorite is Wonderland because the references to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland are just enough to help the story of the song along without going overboard.

I also find New Romantics to be a fun song along with Blank Spaces. Overall, I actually prefer her new aesthetic! What are your feelings on the new sound?

-AJF
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