Fighting the good fight

Not even two weeks of the quarter have passed, but it feels like I’ve been fighting the good fight for at least a month now. If there were a Time Management qualification, I’d have a PhD in it by now. Graduate school comes with such an unusual lifestyle. Unlike your average worker, you can go “yummy mummy” (British term for wealthy young mothers who spend most of their daylight hours at the yoga studio or hair salon) and enjoy that midday exercise class and/or a spot of lunch with a friend, but boy, you’ll pay for it later when you’re reading about financial systems and development until midnight and doing accounting problem sets at 6.30 in the morning (and vice versa). Grad school life is one with no boundaries….for example, my natural response to a friend who said she hoped I enjoyed my recent “three day weekend” thanks to MLK day was “What weekend?.” Public holidays have no meaning in grad school. I’m not sure what kind of preparation this is for the 9 – 5 world of work. But looking up, it is good preparation if eventually the world eventually catches up with the fact that some people are simply better at working at different times than others and institutes flexi-time all around.  Grad school is the ultimate flexi-time work experience, really. It’s all about self-motivation and organization. And fear. Fear too.

I’m pleased with all the classes I’m taking so far. In Finance and Development with Professor Ilene Grabel we’ve been inquiring into the neoclassical and non neoclassical approaches to the relationship between the role/structure of finance and economic development. If I had to summarise what we’ve learnt so far it’s this: The neoliberal paradigm is dead. Long live the neoliberal paradigm.

Basically neoliberal financial reform strategies (“financial liberalization”) have very little going for them empirically in terms of their ability to deliver either a) what they promised to deliver for developing countries (increased savings, investment and growth) or b) what their critiques say constitutes real development. And yet they have persisted, urged on by international institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. The fact that they have speaks a lot to the power of political economy as a form of inquiry. Because if we were to simply look at the economic outcomes of these reforms, it would be clear that they would have been discarded long ago. And yet….and yet…. Other forces are involved. This is what political economy helps us to understand.

Political and Economic Development in Latin America with Professor Holland is really enjoyable thus far. We’ve covered some of the main theories that seek to explain one of the main factors involved in the political and economic development of the region – – – US foreign policy towards Latin America. We’ve started to compare these with the history of interventions by the US in the region, to see if there is a good fit between the explanations and what we see in reality. If you ever needed a reason to feel skeptical about US intentions abroad, reading about its involvement in Latin America, Central America and the Caribbean in the 20th century is a good place to start. The repercussions of these interventions have also been hugely influential in the subsequent development of many countries, and mostly not in a good way, to put it mildly.

Even Accounting has got me thinking. If you’ve ever wondered how you would know whether a company might make a good investment, how to compare the performance of one company over another, or even what you would need to take into consideration when seeking to attract investors to your own company should you decide to start one, accounting is a good place to get a grounding. It plays an interesting role in mitigating risk and information asymmetries in the business environment, but it can also only reveal so much – – – certain information cannot be including in a financial statement because it is deemed “unmeasurable” and therefore unreliable and unable to be included in a valuation of a company (for example, exactly how much is the Nike “tick” worth? Nothing more than the cost of paying a graphic designer to produce it, according to Nike’s financial statement). Because of this, we find the opportunity for all kinds of other factors (news, competitors’ behaviour, etc) to play into the valuation of  a company’s stocks, for example, just like we discovered in my international monetary relations class last year how currency valuations depend little on the “fundamentals” of an economy’s performance. I think part of what this class and IMR have taught me, as if it wasn’t already obvious, is that in the real world the ability to think critically and weigh an enormous number of variables which textbooks do not always recognise is crucial. You can learn the fundamentals, but you have to be an open-minded, critical thinker to get to the bottom of most things.

By the way, it’s going to reach 68f in Denver this week. Just saying.


Posted on January 22, 2013, in Global Finance Trade and Economic Integration, Josef Korbel School of International Studies, Masters and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Last paragraph, seventh line, including->included


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