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Back to Just (An) Economist Mom

January 10th, 2013 . by economistmom

econmomobile-fall2010

After 4 and 3/4 years and 932 posts (counting this one), I’m putting down my pen as “the EconomistMom” (capital-E, capital-M, smooshed together) and going back to being (more ordinarily) just (an) economist mom.  (I think in my older (i.e., younger) days I would have been anal about it and set a target of ending at the 1,000th post mark.)

I’m leaving (technically, have already left) the Concord Coalition–where I have worked the whole time I’ve been writing this blog–and joining the Pew Charitable Trusts as their new chief economist on February 4.  This move allows me to look beyond the almost-exclusively federal budget focus I’ve had for the past dozen-plus years, to support Pew’s much larger umbrella of public policy issues at all levels of government and across a wide variety of subject areas–a mission and agenda which nevertheless can still be summarized as one promoting “fiscal responsibility” by using our scarce economic resources as wisely as possible to maximize the well being of our society.  As the Pew website (”about us”) explains:

The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Pew applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life.

We partner with a diverse range of donors, public and private organizations and concerned citizens who share our commitment to fact-based solutions and goal-driven investments to improve society.

I’m so grateful to the Concord Coalition for making this blog possible.  My experience writing it and interacting with my readers has taught me many things, not just about economic policy issues as I’d use it as a “sketchpad” of sorts to test out my first numerical calculations and analytical interpretations, but also about my personal life, as every day (usually late night actually) I would sit down alone with what felt like a blank canvas (and not just the empty Wordpress shell) and ask myself “what’s on my mind?”…”What do I want to say?”…”Who is listening?” I had never really taken the time and space out of my crazily busy life-at-the-surface to look down deep at myself.  I had never really kept a personal diary since becoming a grown up, either.

It turns out I didn’t really learn that many brand new things about fiscal policy, but I learned them better this time around in trying to communicate the ideas to the more general audience (I hoped) of my blog.  I learned a lot more about the politics of what I had thought were more clear-cut, plain economic issues, too.  For example, I learned that one cannot advocate reforming the Social Security system without being accused of trying to destroy the program, and that one cannot advocate raising taxes without being accused of trying to destroy the economy.  (By the way, neither is true about me:  I want to strengthen both the Social Security program and the economy.)  I learned that when it comes to these very tough public policy issues, politicians would rather keep fighting over small stuff (and even attack each other personally) than acknowledge that they agree on the big (but hard) stuff.  Because then they would be out of excuses and would just have to do it–that hard, tough (but good-for-all-of-us) stuff.  I learned that if people commenting on my blog seemed very critical of me, personally, in response to a policy opinion I made that they didn’t like, I should nevertheless not take it personally.

I learned much more about myself and my own life in writing this blog though.  Readers wouldn’t have necessarily followed much of that unless you actually knew me in real life and thus could read between my lines as you observed the changes in my personal life.  Some who did think they could see between the lines chose to publicly criticize me by posting public comments here, like the time a former sister-in-law, in comments on a post I had written about college decisions, wrote very candidly (posting her full name and work email) that I was a “fraud,” told me to “shut up already” and suggested–in the ultimate of hurtful things one could say to a mother–that it was “as if” I would ever do anything for any of my kids.  Well, I eventually learned that I should not take those comments personally either.  (Those were also one of only a handful of non-spam comments that I censored (removed) from public visibility but kept in perpetual “pending” status as a reminder that nasty words usually say more about the author than about the subject/target.)

I could have let out more of my personal details here as a very public form of my personal therapy (I do like and need to talk and “get things out”), but that would have been unfair to the real-life people in my real life.  But suffice it to say, the process of writing my blog has been a marvelous vehicle in my long personal journey of self-discovery over the past 4 3/4 years, and it has led me to a better and happier place.  Someday when my life at the surface is not so busy and I’m not working to pay my bills (and my kids’ college bills–obviously not anytime soon), I hope to write down my story.  But not here, and not now.  In the meantime, I will keep mindful of a pearl of wisdom attributed to the Dalai Lama (with my insertion):

“Live a good, honorable life.  Then when you get older and think back [and maybe finally write it down!], you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.”  :)

I am a tremendously lucky person to be able to make a living doing the kind of “work” that I love to do and to have the support and love of my friends (especially my boyfriend, Bill) and family (especially my parents, Ed and Bee Lim, and my kids).  I hope I can pay some of that back but, more importantly, pay some of that forward.  And speaking of that, I’d like to end with something that’s more from my “mom” perspective than from my “economist” perspective, so I’m going to quote a wise, mature mom rather than any book-smart economist.  From Anna Quindlen’s book “Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake,” which I’ve just started listening to on my car rides (and love, love, love it already, just a few chapters in!):

“Being a parent is not transactional. We do not get what we give. It is the ultimate pay-it-forward endeavor: We are good parents not so they will be loving enough to stay with us but so they will be strong enough to leave us.”

That’s my kids, my dogs, and me below–in a photo taken around Thanksgiving.  (L to R:  Emily, 19; Grace, 16; me, 50(!); Johnny, 14; Allison, 21.)  They are great kids, growing up fast, two already in college, all of them seemingly ready to leave me already.  (The dogs–Tammy on left and Taco on the right–well, they likely won’t ever leave my side until death do us part.)

It’s been fun!  Thank you for reading and coming along for my ride, especially those of you who have visited here daily for years.  EconomistMom signing out for now!

Sincerely,

Diane Lim (formerly Rogers)

(an economist and a mom)

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Alan Simpson Has a Message for the Young People

December 5th, 2012 . by economistmom

(I have to admit I do “instagram” some of my best meals–and I’m not even young.)

Happy Election Day - Go Vote!

November 6th, 2012 . by economistmom

I am SO hoping that things get resolved tonight so we can get onto all the work those politicians will need to get done before they start campaigning again. I give you a CNN video of the “campaign in 2 minutes” for some nostalgic inspiration as you all go out to vote today. See you on the other side of the election. :)

On Anxiously Seeking Women in Binders

October 17th, 2012 . by economistmom

So of course, the world is all “atwitter” about the “binders full of women” comment (in the CNN video embedded above; here’s the transcript for reference–just search “binders”).

Yes, the visual was ridiculous, and the comedians are going to have a field day with this (beyond the field days ordinary bloggers and tweeters have already had).  But the whole exchange bugged me more than amused me.  I was bothered by the suggestion that this is how women get hired to high positions: employers have it pointed out to them (even via talking to themselves) that the first-round “qualified” applicants are all men. So they are told to go look for more women–to collect the resumes in “binders”–because they don’t already know these women to be qualified the first time around; they only think those women “could be qualified” in their looking again.  And they have to become “anxious” enough to hire so many more people such that the women can finally rise over the bar.  Well, yukk to all that.  I don’t find it so funny, and I hope I am never hired by someone who found me only in a “binder.”

Still, I look forward to the SNL version.  :)

My Son’s Media Debut

May 2nd, 2012 . by economistmom

My son Johnny and I were guests on “The Sports Docket” (an online radio show focused on NY sports) last night, talking about Jeremy Lin and the whole “Linsanity” thing and how inspiring he is to kids like Johnny who want to do well academically and otherwise.  Johnny was the first kid to ever be a guest on the show.  I had hardly anything to say since it was, well, a sports talk show.  (I was invited because of the Christian Science Monitor column I had written about Linsanity and Asian American stereotypes.)  But I enjoyed learning about some of the economics of professional sports, such as the influence of salary caps on ticket prices, from the other guest, Allen St. John.  I am hoping that Jeremy Lin himself finds out about Johnny’s interview and invites him to a Knicks game or just over to his house sometime soon!  ;)

Jon Bon Jovi and I Turned 50 Today

March 2nd, 2012 . by economistmom

I was born on March 2, 1962, and so was Jon Bon Jovi. He proclaims that he’s “not old, just older”–and “older” comes across in a decidedly positive way through him. I liked this Examiner story about Bon Jovi’s 50th birthday, and the perspective on his now-eligibility for membership in a certain organization:

The enduring force behind one of music’s most successful bands turns the big 5-0; Fabulous Fifty, the number that need not be named or spoken too loudly; and, the one that entitles him to membership in an organization that surely must make the man bristle: the AARP (American Association of Retired People).

Memo to the AARP and Jovi Nation fandom everywhere: this blue-eyed Adonis is nowhere near retiring, so don’t be on the lookout for his membership kit!

So let me just say I hope “ditto” applies to me, too, even though I’m obviously not a “blue-eyed Adonis.”  And it’s my birthday, so I won’t blog about fiscal policy today if I don’t want to.  ;)

Bruce Bartlett and Jon Stewart Talk Tax Reform

February 23rd, 2012 . by economistmom

From last night’s Daily Show; a great promo for Bruce’s great new book–but also a great promo for tax economists.  Kind of makes us look appealingly dweeby, doesn’t it?!

Why Gift Cards Are a Thoughtful Gift: My Economist Mom Perspective

December 27th, 2011 . by economistmom

gift-cards

Before Christmas, Matthew Yglesias had this nice “economist’s guide to giving Christmas presents” in which he urged gift givers to get the most “bang per buck” by being both redistributive (not just reciprocal) in gift giving and taking risks by actually choosing a gift (avoiding the economist’s tendency to opt for cash for efficiency sake).

A few days ago (pre-Christmas) I felt like writing my Economist Mom corollary to Matthew’s column; I wanted to put in a plug for gift cards.  But I got too busy.

So, for the record (and as my advice for your future gift giving occasions), here are a few reasons why this economist and mom does not view gift cards as a “cop out” gift:

  1. A gift card to anyone is at least slightly more thoughtful than cash as long as one gives some thought to the selection of the merchant as having some correlation with the gift recipient.  It shows you made the effort to think about what the gift recipient might need/want and took the time to purchase the gift card (at least a tiny bit harder than visiting the ATM).
  2. From a mom’s perspective, giving gift cards to the kids is a perfect compromise to satisfy one’s urges to control the kids’ consumption (steering them toward particular merchants at least) while letting the kids to do their own fine-tuning.  It’s a great “maternalistic” alternative to giving cash.
  3. The “bang per buck” of the gift card is maximized when Christmas gift cards are redeemed at post-Christmas sale prices.
  4. Buying those gift cards before Christmas, even if they aren’t redeemed until after Christmas (or ever, actually) still contributed to economic activity when the cards were purchased.  It’s good stimulus even if the cards for pre-paid goods and services are never transformed into the actual goods and services.  (The purchase of the gift card itself is effectively purchasing the “service” of postponed explicit goods and services.)  In fact, businesses don’t seem to mind if you never redeem the gift cards and just end up giving them money!  But as a good gift-giving economist, if you care about overall welfare/utility maximization and not just business profits, you really should urge your recipients to use their gift cards before they lose them.

So maybe you can figure out where the bulk of my spending on my gifts to my kids went this year.  I’m spending the next few days driving them to the particular stores and advising them on their online shopping.

Hope you all have happy holidays.  Now go use your gift cards!  ;)

Hooray for Fact Checkers!

December 22nd, 2011 . by economistmom

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I’m busy with holiday preparations, and frankly, there’s not much to say of substance about the (still depressing and still unresolved) payroll tax cut issue, but I thought I’d point readers to Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler’s compilation of  “the biggest Pinocchios of 2011.” Glenn has a really nice defense of fact checking as a profession which makes me feel a kinship to him; those of us who advocate for fiscal responsibility are often attacked from both sides, too.  An excerpt from his “My name is Glenn, and I’m a fact checker” introduction:

My colleague Ezra Klein even opined that “the ‘fact checker’ model is probably unsustainable,” based on the questionable belief that “half of the public leans towards one party and about half of the public leans toward the other” and thus will tune out commentary with which they disagree. That’s a pretty depressing commentary on the state of our politics. Thankfully, it bears little relationship to the reality we experience every day at The Fact Checker. 

Yes, there are always partisans who, day after day, accuse us of either being left-wing hacks or right-wing crazies. But there are also many people who, every day, write notes of thanks–for explaining a difficult subject, opening their eyes to a new idea or providing the facts to a claim that had confused them. Many Americans are asking for more information, not less, and we are happy to help fill the void.

Some people are always going to be partisan. That fine, but that’s not the role of a reporter. We value the many comments we have received from our readers, the words of encouragement and also the criticism. Every day, we seek to live up to your expectations of a true, impartial seeker of the truth.

In fact, there is this strange myth out there that fact checkers aspire to be “referees” and strain to achieve a balance between the two parties. Not so. At The Fact Checker, we take a holistic approach to every fact we check. After more than 30 years of writing about Washington institutions, we truly find there is little difference between Democrats and Republicans in terms of twisting the facts and being misleading when it suits their political purposes.

You go, Glenn!  Keep handing out those Pinocchios!

Elmo’s Fiscal Policy Solution: Playdates!

December 5th, 2011 . by economistmom


(video from Mediaite.com)

Back in October, CNN’s Erin Burnett interviewed Sesame Street’s Elmo, getting his advice on how Congress might actually stop bickering and get their work done. (CNN replayed this interview recently following the super committee’s disappointing failure.) From the CNN transcript of the original airing:

ERIN BURNETT, HOST, CNN’S “ERIN BURNETT’S OUTFRONT”: Elmo, you could solve the world’s problem right now.

ELMO: Really? How?

BURNETT: OK. So, in Washington –

ELMO: Yes?

BURNETT: — everybody hates each other. Nobody will do anything together.

ELMO: Really?

BURNETT: And it’s hurting America. How do you fix it, Elmo?

ELMO: Play dates.

BURNETT: Play dates?

ELMO: Yes, everybody has play dates.

BURNETT: Like put a Democrat and Republican play date?

ELMO: Play dates.

BURNETT: Harry Reid, John Boehner, play dates?

ELMO: Yes, play dates. And everybody brings their own food.

BURNETT: OK. Yes.

ELMO: And they have to sing songs.

BURNETT: I think that might solve it. It’s better than anything we tried so far, Elmo.

This reminds me of the Concord Coalition’s new “Two by Two” initiative, where–as Bob Bixby explained, also back in October (anticipating, like Elmo, that the super committee in the end would not play so well together):

Just as they did for the State of the Union Address, members of Congress should pair up. They should join together in “two-by-two” fiscal forums in which they present agreed-upon facts and engage with each others’ constituents about policy options. Public engagement is of little value if it just means listening to people who already agree with you…

Any number of formats could work so long as the goal is to broaden understanding of the issues and seek consensus solutions – and not to score a partisan “victory.”

A good example was set earlier this year by Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who held joint forums in Richmond and Atlanta. And this is just one model. Over the past six years, The Concord Coalition has brought together analysts and political leaders of diverse perspectives on our “Fiscal Wake-Up” and “Fiscal Solutions” tours.

Audiences across the country have been very receptive. They often express the wish that their political leaders would talk about the issues with the same appreciation of each other’s point of view. More importantly, audience members begin to accept the need for compromise.

The public is hungry for a nonpartisan dialogue on such big issues as the long-term fiscal challenges, and elected leaders need political cover to “do the right thing.” Two-by-two forums fit both needs. Indeed, if President Obama and Speaker Boehner had made their case for a “grand bargain” to the American people instead of vetting it with other party leaders, they surely would have found a more receptive audience.

In other words, playdates with “parallel playing” are not enough. You have to communicate and engage with your playmate–find out what toys and games he likes and what he does not, reconcile those preferences with yours, and find ways to play together that make both of you happy. As all parents and preschool teachers know, moving on from the parallel playing mode takes some maturity–getting beyond the “terrible twos” actually. We’ve been talking about the need for “adult conversation,” but maybe we can set the bar even lower for starters and just try to get past the temper tantrums!

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