COB-13: meetings bring people together

At the heart of a bureaucratic mission statement is bringing people together for a long period of time in a spirit of expansive inclusiveness. Nothing does that better than meetings. Every committed bureaucrats looks back fondly on the time when she or he was free to leave to attend meetings. Meetings provide rare vision that cannot be adequately expounded upon. Meetings reveal this, show that, we could go on and on. Meetings are such stuff as memories are made of.

An important note before this Carnival continues: we functionaries here at the Carnival of the Bureaucrats are deeply disturbed in conjunction with the increasing reception of Carnival submissions from parties that we tentatively categorize as entrepreneurial Blog carnival submitters. We recognize that entrepreneurs create new businesses that help to generate employment and tax revenues. Nonetheless, the rules of the Carnival of the Bureaucrats clearly prohibit submissions from entrepreneurs, innovators, hustlers, and persons vigorously seeking to help others to make more money. As in previous months, such submissions have been rejected by us.

Karen MacInerney at Poisoned Pen Letters describes difficulties she had with her house appraisal. Apparently the geometric shape of a house significantly affects its appraisal value. Perhaps an ambitious economist might find a pointer to a significant t-statistic in this sad story.

Jeremy at WTTF submits a post entitled, “Practical time travel, and remembering to zip your fly,” and remarks, “A non-conventional water cooler conversation.” Due to the current heightened indecency risk level, I will not discuss this post. I recommend instead Jeremy’s comic and post entitled, The New Revolution. Jeremy writes:

Turn off your TV and start listening to yourself. You were born with everything you need to survive, now act like it.

I accomplished turning off the TV years ago. But I’m still too busy talking to myself to listen to myself.

Alvaro Fernandez at Brain Health Blog interviews Yaakov Stern about how to build your cognitive reserve. Dr. Stern states:

the group with high level of leisure activities presented 38% less risk (controlling for other factors) of developing Alzheimer’s symptoms.

This study indicates the importance of bureaucracies providing more leisure time for their employees.

Steven Silvers at Scatterbox discusses leadership changes at WakeUpWalMart. He states:

Two years after WakeUpWalMart and Wal-Mart Watch launched their political-style campaigns, Wal-Mart is indeed a different company. It has responded to reputation attacks with its own PR-savvy initiatives. It lowered heath insurance premiums and demanded that suppliers meet higher environmental standards. Chased out of Chicago, it became an economic hero to a distressed community across the street, creating a presence that supports the area’s unique economic interests and shopping habits. It even replaced its disgustingly lowbrow and ironically insulting “May I help you?” employee vests with khaki-and-polo shirt ensembles.

What’s lowbrow and insulting about helping? I favor keeping the old vest, but changing the phrase to, “Like the government, we’re here to help!”

In the spirit of expansive inclusiveness, the Carnival of the Bureaucrats is pleased to recognize other bureaucratic sites on the web. This month we note Liberal Bureaucracy and Adventures in Bureaucracy, and we award distinguished mention to Instant Bureaucracy. Instant Bureaucracy offers, as a public service, six very useful forms. No longer need you skimp on paperwork in your personal life!

That concludes this month’s Carnival of the Bureaucrats. Submit your blog article to the next edition using our Carnival submission form. Submissions should conform to the Carnival regulations. Past posts and future hosts can be found on the Carnival index page.

Applying Newton’s Third Law to human behavior: institutions have mass

Digital forms and ubiquitous networks are greatly increasing opportunities to circulate authored symbolic works. Digitization projects are creating huge online libraries of digitized books that persons around the world can access at zero incremental cost. Storage prices are dropping so rapidly that one small device will soon be able to store all the music that most persons listen to throughout their lives. Video sharing sites are collecting and distributing large amounts of video across the Internet. Many persons can now easily create a huge library of digital works. How persons respond to vastly expanding access to works will significantly shape the communications industry.

To understand better the circulation of works, consider U.S. public-library users’ book-borrowing behavior since the mid-nineteenth century. Measured relative to the unskilled wage, the dime novels that Irwin Beadle began selling in 1860 were almost five times more expensive than the twenty-five cent paperbacks being sold in 1950. A lower real purchase price for books increased the incentive to purchase rather than borrow. Average time spent reading, according to the best available estimates, fell 50% from 1925 to 1995. Less time spent reading implies less demand for borrowing books.

Other factors probably pushed toward more borrowing. The number of books in print, and the number of books in libraries, increased immensely from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twenty-first century. Perhaps such a change encouraged persons to read a larger number of books less thoroughly, and hence favored borrowing books relative to purchasing books. Library users’ travel costs, in time and money, probably fell with improvements in transportation technology since the mid-nineteenth century. Lower travel costs reduce the total cost of borrowing books from a library.

Library book circulation per user has no strong, long-run trend. From 1856 to 1978, library users borrowed from U.S. public libraries about 15 books per user per year. From 1978 to 2004, book circulation per user declined approximately 50%. The growth of audiovisuals circulation, estimated at 25% of total circulation in 2004, accounts for about half of this decline. These figures depend on estimates and disparate samples of libraries with varying circulation and user accounting methods. Nonetheless, these figures are of sufficient quality to suggest that historically established institutions significantly stabilize borrowing behavior.

circulation trends for U.S. public libraries

Users borrowing items from public libraries has plausible connections to a variety of institutions and values. Much of the pleasure from reading comes from discussing a book with friends who have also read the book. The desire to discuss books among friends may constrain the rate at which individuals will read books. At the same time, persons may value going to the library as an activity in itself. Borrowing library items may be in part a by-product of interest in those visits. On the supply side, libraries can counterbalance changing demand for books by shifting the distribution of book collections between popular and less popular works, by changing investments in promoting book borrowing, and by shifting collections from books to audiovisuals.

Media use that is connected to wider scope of behaviors and interests is likely to change more slowly. The shifts in music from vinyl records, to CDs, and then to digital downloads were format changes that required relatively small changes in behavior. Persons who read the same newspaper every morning while using the bathroom, or who watch a half-hour television news program every evening before dinner, have their media use connected to relatively stable patterns of life. Generational changes in patterns of life, rather than changes in relative prices, quality, or features, are more important for such media use. Established institutions, meaning both routine patterns of personal activity and indefinitely chartered organizations, can give media use considerable stability despite major changes in activity incentives and technological possibilities.

Note: Post edited and updated. For sources and data, see Book Circulation Per U.S. Public Library User Since 1856 (also on SSRN).

being cool, old school

The beastly heat in DC this past week revealed that my air conditioner doesn’t work. As a dedicated civil servant on his second shift, I was sitting at my computer late Wednesday night with nothing on but my boxers, my window fan running for all its worth, and I was still overwhelmed by the heat I could feel radiating from my computer screen. I was too hot to work.

The next day I called an air-conditioner company. The air-conditioner company is sending someone to my place next Tuesday. That’s a long time for me to be too hot to work.

A bowl of ice on my desk does the trick. For at least the one fan that I know I have, I now report: once again I am not too hot to work.

old-school cooling