viernes, 16 de noviembre de 2012

The Fiscal (semester) cliff

  It has been reported that Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, coined the term fiscal cliff. He meant to mark a dangerous date where American economy could get into troubles. 
 In a nutshell The New York Times defined it: "The term refers to more than $500 billion in tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take effect after Jan. 1 — for fiscal year 2013 alone — unless Mr. Obama and Republicans reach an alternative deficit-reduction deal." 
  Several voices have demanded an agreement between democrats and republicans.  A possible agreement has been nicknamed the grand bargain.

  Here at the University of El Salvador a semester last 18 weeks. 16 lecture weeks, 1 week for finals  and 1 week for extra exams. Lectures end next week. We are very close to our semester cliff. By that I mean what it is very typical every semester: disaster and chaos. The disaster has its origin in a completely lack of organization, no scheduling policy, and the mañana mentality.

  In practice we have a general schedule given by the University; but we also have traffic lights and hardly anybody respect them. The way a course is managed is up to the professor. Nobody supervises how many activities are going to be carry out. Neither if activities declared to be fulfilled were actually completed. Every semester we have cases where week 16 ends and exams have not been passed; homeworks have not been graded; laboratories have not been given. Chaos erupts because what has not been done during the semester has to be done during the last three weeks. Or, at least, to fiction things are done.

  The very first time I heard about the term isomorphic mimicry applied to social sciences was on a video recorded by a program called cambridge nights. The scientist Lant Pritchett was interviewed and he introduced the issue. Isomorphic mimicry is a term that comes from the natural evolution world; where things camouflage themselves. They do that to protect themselves.

  Lant Pritchett commented about a MIT study carried out in India. During the study they discover nurse attendance in a hospital was just 30%. He used the example to show up the difference between what is the legal norm and reality. In the record books nurses attendance was 100% but in reality It was not true.  Nurses and probably the whole health care personal can claim to be working (because the books show that) but in practice what you had was a charade.

  In the book The Ghost of the Executed Engineer: Technology and the Fall of the Soviet Union, I read a phrase that blew up my mind. The book's author quoted somebody else's phrase to describe workers behaviour to their state-run companies. The proletarians, the supposed beneficiaries of communism,  expressed their feelings in the cynical observation "we pretend  to work as they pretend to pay us ". 

  Sometimes, cynically, I use it to describe student-professor realtionship. But this will be the subject of a new post.

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