Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I Don't Really Know What To Say...

A spectacular human being is no longer with us. I am forever indebted to her for her writing. Not just for her biting political commentary but for her ability to satirize everyone in politics, even herself.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Drug Maker Stalling Generics

Eighty-five percent of Americans are hoping for a measure that would help provide some relief from the high prices of prescription drugs. Sadly, but not surprisingly, Bush has threatened to veto such a measure. This situation just underscores the danger of special interest money in politics. One of the major justifications Bush has made for vetoing a measure of this kind is that there are generics available and that the competition they create brings down prices. It is kind of hard to make that argument when pharmaceutical companies continue to stall release of important generics. Of course, with this administration, actual relief for millions of Americans will always take a backseat to protecting corporate interests.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Pragmatism and Critical Realism

In my undergraduate education both of the departments I studied in were very applied. This applied approach was more pronounced in the sociology department but political science was not far behind. It is interesting to come to a completely different type of department. The focus of many in the department is much more theoretical and abstract than anything I am used to. I don't think I ever could have imagined having to grapple as intensely with the ontology and epistemology of all aspects of my graduate experience. While at some level I enjoy this new way of approaching research, in other ways I have come to resent it.

The resentment, I would imagine, comes largely from my past experience with research. I originally left biology, in large part, because I didn't feel like I could help enact the types of social change that seemed fundamental at the time. What I found in sociology and political science were the tools and methodologies that allowed me to identify causes of serious social problems. Also important was the idea instilled in us that we were responsible to work for the change we saw as necessary. The idea of praxis become extremely important for me. The idea that expanding our social knowledge is not enough. That social change is an important aspect and outcome of the research process seemed central to me.

This contrasts heavily with the post-structural debates that I am constantly aware of now. I have always supported the idea of being reflective of your work and looking at it critically. Though I never had any idea how far these arguments had been carried out. The ideas of post-structuralists such as Foucault as well as some Anthropologists that have rejected anything moderately resembling postitivism or even post-positvism are in some sense offensive to me. This is because many hold themselves as well as others to an impossible standard. Anything except a critical reflection on yourself is seen as either dehumanizing the social actors that you are studying or in fact furthering harm by imposing ethnocentric colonial ideas. This sort of subjectivism, for me, is more demeaning of the human character than it is empowering.

While we must always be aware of the possible harms and consequences of our research, we can't let it paralyze us. Though we must not rush blindly into action thinking that we can "save" others without taking into account their social context, we also can't stand back and let people suffer only because we fear we would inflict greater harm. How is it truly different to not do something out of apathy than it is to not do anything out of a sense of self-righteousness that stops a researcher from pursuing social change?

For me this issue has come to a head as I look around at projects that many fellow graduate students are doing. It seems that this fear influences many of their projects and they have become concerned only with reflecting critically on their methods and proving to their advisors that they are not doing anything remotely relating to a claim of truth or causation. In my view it has meant that they have lost sight of larger issues that are ever present. Issues such as hunger, war, politics, racism and crushing social inequalities are left by the wayside in an attempt to create a project free of controversy.

Monday, January 15, 2007

In For The Long Haul

Well my odyssey begins this week. I have my asset classes picked out and my money moved to a money market account. My investment horizon is 30-40 years and so things should turn out well. One of the most important aspects for me is the issue of taxes. To mitigate taxes I am investing in 6 ETFs that have historically paid out little in dividends. This is important as my funds are held a taxable account. The six asset classes I am investing in are:

Large Cap U.S. 40%
Mid Cap U.S. 14%
Small Cap U.S. 11%
EAFE 20%
Bonds 10%
REITs 5%

All of these are represented by low fee ETFs that track an appropriate index. This asset allocation may seem risky to some but with my investment horizon my risk will be significantly mitigated. Even in the case of a catastrophic event my long term investing outlook is quite good. Also contributing to my choice of ETFs is that I will be investing my assets in one lump sum and will likely not be adding for the next couple years.

Being in my early 20s and having this opportunity to invest heavily is really exciting. My main source of inspiration in this whole line of investing was the advice given to me by my father. He showed me the simple ideas of investing legends such as William Bernstein and Bill Schultheis. The idea that beating the market is irrational and that approximating it is the best we can do long term is born out in much of the literature on investing. Through approximating the market with index ETFs I am able to free myself of the burden of always chasing the illusive "hot" stock. I hope others who have the chance will pick up these same simple strategies for successful investing.

Remember people, the biggest loss you will face when if you don't invest is inflation. It eats away at your money over time and is a constant risk. Mitigating this through wise investing is the key to being able to live without fear of money troubles later on. Even if you don't have a large amount of money to put away right now, a small amount a month can begin an account that will grow significantly as you age.

Investing doesn't have to be an agonizing chore. Approximating the market is well within your grasp. As Schultheis often says "Get On With Your Life!"