I couldn't be more thrilled with President-Elect Biden's economic team. It's what I've been waiting for all of my life. As a not-really aside, I want to tell you that I got the highest grade in an introductory economics class of 55, 50 of whom were young men. The professor took the opportunity to shame the guys, greatly embarrassing me in those pre-feminist days. As women have risen in the field, I've sometimes regretted that I didn't swim against the tide and become one of these pioneers, but I don't regret it for very long. Making it as a female historian was hard enough, and in economics, I would have been miserable most of the time. Hubby was similar in leaving math and physics for lower-paid philosophy, and these decisions were basic to more than a half-century of happiness.
But back to those Biden women. I've been a fan of Janet Yellin for years and have included her in some of my books. She'll not only be the first woman to head the Department of the Treasury, I promise you that she will be the best since Alexander Hamilton -- and probably even better. I wonder if, in a few decades, there will be a popular musical called "Janet!"
Her deputy, Wally Adeyemo, will be the first black man in that position. The three-member Council of Economic Advisors, which studies data and makes recommendations to the president, will be chaired by a black woman, Cecilia Rouse, and includes Heather Boushey and Jared Bernstein. Neera Tanden will direct the Office of Management and Budget. Nor are these young, untested people: all are in their 50s and have many years of scandal-free experience.
They certainly aren't the grifters and con men who were representative of the Trump administration. We probably should watch that these guys – and they were all guys – don't steal the office furniture on the way out. It's also revealing that when I searched for "Trump advisors," the first thing that came up was a USA Today article from August saying that seven had been charged with white-collar crimes. All of them, of course, were white men -- the only people Trump could see. Outside of a bedroom, that is.
ENVISIONING THE NEAR FUTURE
Richard Salem probably is your friend as well as mine. We met in the early 1970s, when he replaced the late Don Castor as chair of Hillsborough County Democrats. I had known Richard for several months when this happened and was confused when the party's executive director, the late Dutch Silver, mused aloud about how to deal with his blindness. At first I thought Dutch was joking, but it turned out that Richard had suddenly lost his sight as a teenager. He nonetheless managed so well that I had not noticed. A Duke graduate, he moved to Tampa and soon was recognized as one of our most brilliant attorneys.
Richard recently sent me an e-mail in which the subject line was "In Her Words: One Economist's Guide to the Recovery." It features Mariana Mazzucato, an economics professor at University College of London. The much respected Financial Times credited her with having "the ear of politicians and chief executives around the world," including Bill Gates and Pope Francis. I'm grateful to Richard for sending me this, as it incorporates the economic views I've held all my life, and I'm going to quote the message at length.
Mazzucato's "mission is to reimagine capitalism and boost the state-backed public sector… The core tenets of her life's work, which she lays out in several books, are (1) the ways we currently define economic growth are far too narrow, and (2) that many of the world's greatest achievements – the moon landing or the invention of the internet, for example – stem from government investment, not the private sector…
"This month, nearly a year into a pandemic that has made crystal clear the many weaknesses of the global economy, she was named chair of a new council at the World Health Organization that puts public health at the center of how we think about value creation and economic growth. The pandemic has made clear how much of the economy relies on unpaid labor -- mostly shouldered by women – as well as the undervalued jobs in female-dominated industries.
"Covid-19 has very much sharpened our focus on what is of value… It turns out that the areas we thought of as 'high-value' – finance and real estate, for example – are not the components of a society we rely on as foundational… Household labor, cleaning, caring and child-minding has tremendous spillover effects, but we have not done a sufficient job in mapping that…
"Given the increasing economic inequality around the world, is it fair to assume that capitalism is fundamentally incompatible with feminism? Today's capitalism is incompatible with feminism. Private companies are driven by shareholder mandates that do not inherently align with feminist priorities… History tells us that innovation is an outcome of massive collective effort – not just from a narrow group of young white men in California…
"I imagine a 2023 where we have not only beaten Covid, but used the recovery process as an inflection point toward a new world that is greener, more inclusive and more sustainable, fueled by smart innovation-led economic growth. This starts with public movements driving government bailouts to be conditional on maintaining payroll, securing minimum wages, halting stock buybacks, and ensuring worker representation on boards – aligning company goals with worker goals." Amen to that!
MORE QUOTES TO PONDER
By the time you get this LaGaceta, we will have passed December 10, which always will be a meaningful date for me. Early that morning, while it still was dark, I took Hubby to the hospital for neck surgery because of a fall. He never recovered, dying on April 19. For a long time since then, I've had something on my desk that I wanted to share but couldn't quite make myself. Now I'm ready.
First, let me introduce you to Dr. Ray Ideker. I've said before that our small liberal arts college in rural Arkansas was an amazingly dynamic place in the 1960s. Despite the administration's serious attempts to tamper down thoughtfulness, we were fortune to have some inspiring professors, as well as a group of peers who inspired each other. Ray was one.
He came from a family wealthy enough to give him a bright red MG convertible, which Hubby drove to Little Rock for first-run movies -- while Ray sat in the passenger seat, leaning forward to the glove compartment and studying by its tiny light. He also was very competent on the saxophone, and Hubby liked to tell a story about that. He had accompanied Ray to a dance and was surprised to see him intently looking at his music during what was relatively free-form jazz. Hubby slipped around behind the band and saw that Ray's music stand held an organic chemistry text.
Naturally, he went on. With both an MD and a PhD, he did pioneering cardiology at Duke until – would you believe? – the University of Alabama at Birmingham lured him away with millions of dollars in research money. I contacted him soon after Hubby died, not because of his expertise in cardiology, but because Hubby always was fascinated by Ray's youthful focus on death and I walked to talk about that. Ray sent a copy of what he said probably will be the last of his hundreds of scientific articles. A medical journal invited him to assess his career, and I'm going to quote its ending.
"WHAT I'D LIKE TO SHARE"
"I went into medical research to learn new things, to find ways to help people live longer healthier lives, and because I was frightened of death. When I was five years old, I observed my grandfather experience sudden cardiac death… My mother taught me to kneel and say a 4-line prayer before going to bed, of which the third line is 'If I should die before I wake.' Every night I would lie in bed frightened of dying while I was asleep.
"As an old man, this fear is as strong as ever and has been supplemented by two additional fears. One is fear of the process of dying… The other fear is of living so long that I am decrepit and senile… We all know we are going to die, we just don't know when…
"I used to wonder why people don't often talk about their death, but now I think I know why. It is because concentrating on actions that increase survival and procreation have a greater evolutionary benefit than focusing on one's own mortality. Almost everything we are, do, and feel is in response to natural selection, including not wanting to die… [It is] experiencing sexual desire, enjoying food and drink, wanting to help others, working together for a common goal…
"So what's it all about? In this seemingly meaningless and impersonal universe with its big bang, quantum mechanics, and general relativity, so far removed from the prayer my mother taught me, is there a deeper purpose to life than natural selection? I'm going to live and die and never know the answer. However, I'm still glad to have lived and been able to experience the love I feel for my wife, children, and grandchild; to work together and learn new things; to hear [jazz musician] Charlie Parker and to taste Romanee-Conti [wine]. Is it enough? No, but it will have to do."