Society

Sheehan-Connor Advocates in Orlando Sentinel for Raising the Gas Tax

Damien Sheehan-Connor

Damien Sheehan-Connor

Assistant Professor of Economics Damien Sheehan-Connor is the author of an oped in the Orlando Sentinel (available to subscribers) arguing that raising the gas tax would not only help the environment, but would save lives on the road.

Sheehan-Connor considers the findings of a new study out by the National Safety Council, which suggested that automobile accidents are on the rise again after years of decline. While many factors could potentially contribute to this reversal, he writes that it’s likely that two seemingly positive developments–lower gas prices and stricter fuel economy standards imposed by the government–have played an important role. How? Lower gas prices have encouraged consumers to buy bigger, less fuel-efficient vehicles, while government regulations require automakers to produce lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles. The end result: greater divergence in the weights of vehicles on the road.

He writes: “Whether a given two-vehicle accident is fatal depends critically on how well matched are the weights of the vehicles involved. The results of a paper I authored in last month’s Economic Inquiry make the point starkly. It found that in severe accidents between two vehicles of average weight, 25 percent of vehicle drivers are expected to die. But in severe accidents between full-size pickup trucks and compact cars, the death rate is a whopping 40 percent—or 60 percent higher.”

To counter this, Sheehan-Connor suggests turning to higher gas taxes, rather than stricter fuel economy standards.

The politics of gasoline taxes are difficult, but the benefits are compelling. First, the environmental benefits from reduced carbon emissions would exceed the cost of foregone gasoline consumption. Second, the efficiency of the tax system could be improved by implementing the tax in a revenue-neutral fashion. Income tax rates, which do impose some efficiency costs to the economy, could be lowered and the revenue replaced by the gasoline tax, which has efficiency benefits. Third, gasoline taxes are far simpler, and thus less costly to implement, than the 577 pages of regulations that make up the most recent fuel economy standards. And finally, our roadways would be made safer. Other than the word “tax,” what’s not to like?

Keegan ’16 Studies Real Estate in the Quantitative Analysis Center

Phoebe Keegan ’16, an economics major from Palisades, N.Y., has been passionate about real estate since she was a young child. She passed the exam to get her real estate license in New York at age 18, the youngest age allowed. After coming to Wesleyan, she also became a licensed agent at William Raveis in Middletown.

This summer, Keegan worked at the Quantitative Analysis Center with Assistant Professor of Economics Karl Boulware to analyze data from the New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey, specifically looking at conditions before and after the rezoning of downtown Brooklyn. They are studying how rezoning affected occupancies in Brooklyn as well as gentrification issues.

“I am really thankful that I came here because I didn’t know how much of an incredible place it was,” said Keegan. “The community is truly special.”

President Roth Makes the Case for a Broad, Contextual Education

Michael Roth

Michael Roth

Writing for Inside Sources, President Michael Roth made the case for a broad, contextual education, in a counterpoint to an essay by Eastern Kentucky University President Michael Benson, arguing for education that provides “a transferable set of skills.”

Roth writes that the types of contentious debates currently raging over the value of a college education are as old as America itself, something he explores in-depth in his book, Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters. He writes:

Several of the Founding Fathers saw education as the road to independence and liberty. A broad commitment to inquiry was part of their dedication to freedom. But critics of education also have a long tradition. From Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century to today’s Internet pundits, they have attacked its irrelevance and elitism — often calling for more vocational instruction.

Yet Franklin was also dismissive of anti-intellectual displays, and believed that earlier and earlier specialization would make Americans “less capable citizens and less able to adjust to changes in the world of work.”

Roth writes:

Citizens able to see through political or bureaucratic doubletalk are also workers who can defend their rights in the face of the rich and powerful. Education protects against mindless tyranny and haughty privilege. Liberal learning in the American tradition isn’t only training; it’s an invitation to think for oneself. Broadly educated citizens aren’t just collections of skills – they are whole people.

It’s no wonder that in a society characterized by radical income inequality, anxiety about getting that first job will lead many to aim for the immediate needs of the marketplace right now. The high cost of college and the ruinous debt that many take on only add to this anxiety. In this context, some assert that education should just focus on practical skill building.

But when the needs of the market change, as they surely will, the folks with that narrow training will be out of luck. Their bosses, those responsible for defining market trends, will be just fine because they were probably never confined to an ultra-specialized way of doing things. Beware of critics of education who cloak their desire to protect privilege (and inequality) in the garb of educational reform.

Quijada Co-Edits New Volume, Co-Authors Article with Stephen ’13, MA ’14

Justine Quijada, assistant professor of religion, assistant professor of Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian studies, has co-authored a new article, together with Eric Stephen ’13, MA ’14 and a colleague at Indiana University, in the journal Problems of Post-Communism. Published July 30, it is titled, “Finding ‘Their Own': Revitalizing Buryat Culture Through Shamanic Practices in Ulan-Ude.”

Research was conducted by Quijada and Kathryn E. Graber of Indiana University on a grant funded by the National Council of Eurasian and East European Research – Indigenous Peoples of Russia Grant, and included collecting survey data at a variety of shamanic ceremonies. Stephen conducted extensive statistical analysis at Wesleyan’s Quantitative Analysis Center on the survey data during a faculty/student internship in 2014. He wrote his MA thesis in psychology using the data. He is currently working toward an MA in religious studies at Harvard Divinity School.

According to the paper’s abstract:

The shamans working at the Tengeri Shamans’ Organization in Ulan-Ude, Republic of Buryatia, claim that their work is devoted to reviving “traditional” Buryat culture, despite local criticism of the “nontraditional” institutional nature of their practices. Ethnographic and survey data collected in 2012 confirm that this is in fact the case for the urban Buryats who are drawn to the organization. Shamanic healing at Tengeri requires patients to learn family genealogies and revive clan rituals, and it offers both practical opportunities and encourage- ment for the use of the Buryat language, thereby providing a locus for cultural revitalization.

Quijada also recently co-edited a book, Atheist Secularism and its Discontents: A Comparative Study of Religion and Communism in Eurasiapublished in July by Palgrave MacMillan as part of its Global Diversities series. The volume grew out of a workshop that Quijada organized with co-editor Tam T. T. Ngo at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Goettingen, Germany during her post-doctoral fellowship there prior to joining Wesleyan’s faculty.

“The goal was to compare the relationship between politics and religion in case studies across the communist and former communist countries, and to get away from the standard presumption that communist regimes repressed religion and that was the end of the story,” Quijada explained. “Instead, our authors look at the ways the governments compromised with powerful religious institutions, co-opted religious practices, and in some cases, unwittingly promoted religions, as was the case with neo-paganism in Russia. We also have authors who look at how secular and atheist presumptions fostered by communist states influence how people practice religion. The chapters cover case studies from Poland, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, China, Vietnam, Laos, and North Korea. By crossing a traditional area studies divide, between the study of Russia/Eastern Europe and the study of East Asia, we wanted to enable our readers to see the connections between the two and think about communism as a global phenomenon.”

Johnston Reveals Truth About Bombings of Hiroshima, Nagasaki in Op-Ed

johnston550Seventy years later, it is widely believed that President Harry S. Truman made a decision to authorize the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The truth, writes William Johnston in the Hartford Courant, is that he never did, at least not explicitly.

Johnston, professor of history, professor of East Asian Studies, examines in an op-ed how history has been rewritten surrounding the bombings. In fact, Truman’s first explicit decision about atomic bombs was to later order that their further use be stopped without his “express authority.” But in summer 1946, Johnston explains, the need arose to write an alternative narrative, as the bomb’s horrific effects on the people of Japan were revealed, and critics started asking whether the atomic bombings had been necessary, or even truly effective in ending the war.

Johnston writes:

The historian’s job is to explain the past using the most complete evidence available. That evidence shows both that Truman’s most substantial atomic decision was to demand his express authority for future bombings and that the bombings’ role in ending the war was ambiguous.

We may not like it when history is fuzzy, but that’s how it is.

It is more important now than ever that we understand history’s ambiguities, especially when it comes to the history of World War II and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Our country today faces many national security threats, from terrorism to global warming. A healthy democracy requires a well-educated populace, and history plays a major role in that education. Science, technology engineering and math cannot replace it.

The 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Japan is a good time to recall their history and meaning. We need to remember where we have been while keeping an eye on the future. It is hard for those who are blind to the past to have a clear vision for the future.

Johnston is also professor of Science in Society, and professor in the Environmental Studies Program.

Mellon Mays Fellow Haymon ’16 is Double Majoring in German Studies, Theater

Miranda Haymon '16 will be directing her own adaptation of Slaughterhouse-Five in the Center for the Arts Theater. (Photo by Laurie Kenney)

Next year, Miranda Haymon ’16 will be directing her own adaptation of Slaughterhouse-Five in the Center for the Arts Theater. As a Mellon Mays Fellow, Haymon will explore how (or if) artistic works, movements and theories reflect artists’ political positions. “Through this project I hope to put myself in a better position to understand the definition of political theater in the context of post World War II Germany and beyond.” (Photo by Laurie Kenney)

In this News @ Wesleyan story, we speak with Miranda Haymon from the Class of 2016. #THISISWHY

Q: Miranda, what are you majoring in and why?

A: I am a German studies and theater double major but when I started at Wesleyan, I thought I was going to create my own linguistics major under the University Major option. I remember very clearly the Wesleyan Admissions Dean telling me I could take four languages for all four years if I wanted to — I was instantly sold. Instead of doing that, I ended up taking a few theater classes, a German language class and a First Year Seminar cross-listed in German Studies.

11 Mellon Mays Fellows Present Research Topics

Lynn Ma ’16 presented “Solitude and the Political Life.”

Mellon Mays Fellow Lynn Ma ’16 spoke on “Solitude and the Political Life” during the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Summer 2015 Research Presentations July 23.

#THISISWHY

Eleven Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows delivered brief research proposal presentations July 23 in Fisk Hall. The fellows, six from Wesleyan and five from Queens College, City University of New York, spent the past two months developing their research projects with the assistance of their peers, Wesleyan faculty and Wesleyan librarians.

The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program provides minority students and others with a demonstrated commitment to eradicating racial disparities, with support to pursue graduate degrees in the arts and sciences.

Research topics range from deconstructing African feminism to the role of political theater for a post-combat audience to trauma in Japan caused by the Atomic Bomb.

Ulysse Reflects on Sandra Bland’s Self-Possession, Neo-Black Codes of Conduct

Writing for Africa is a Country, Professor of Anthropology Gina Athena Ulysse reflects on the story of Sandra Bland, an African-American woman who was arrested by a state trooper during a traffic stop in Waller County, Texas and was later found dead in her jail cell. Video footage from a dashboard camera found the trooper had threatened Bland with a Taser after she refused to put out her cigarette and the encounter escalated. Her death was found to be a suicide, though her family has doubts.

Ulysse writes that she identified with Bland, and responded strongly to images and videos of the young woman while she was alive.

There is a radiance that emanated from her, which came from a fierce black woman on a quest of self-discovery with all of its ups and downs, a black woman determined to be of significance in this unjust world, a black woman who, as her mother described was “an activist, sassy, smart, and she knew her rights.” She was using her knowledge and skills to creatively create her life. Sandra Bland was not uppity. That may have been a perception of her by a white officer of the law clearly insecure in his position of authority who had no idea who he is when faced with someone like her. Sandra Bland embodied a rare charismatic self-possession that disrupts social orders. […] This way of being in the world is one for which black women who do not submit continually pay a very high price. Within the social limits of white imagination, complexity is never ours, black women like Sandra Bland, black women like us, are be reducible to four, maybe five, stereotypes at the most.

Ulysse, too, has been pressured many times to “keep my mouth shut, stay in my place, not question my seniors, or watch my comportment too often by white men and women in power.” She writes, “Every time I consider Sandra’s reaction, I identify with it. Her response whatever else you may think of it, was an act of self-possession. Her constitutional rights were being violated and she simply would not stand for it.”

Ulysse concludes:

As black people, we live with the continuities of slavery and the Jim-Crow era when state sanctioned slave codes determined how we expressed fundamental parts of our “partial” personhood. We are being ruled by neo black codes of conduct enforced by social and legal machinery that demand we submit in the presence of white power or else become part of a landfill of hashtags. Sandra Bland refused because she knew her rights.

Sheehan-Connor Authors Paper on Effect of Gas Tax on Vehicle Safety

Damien Sheehan-Connor

Damien Sheehan-Connor

Assistant Professor of Economics Damien Sheehan-Connor is the author of “Environmental Policy and Vehicle Safety: The Impact of Gasoline Taxes,” published in the July 2015 issue of Economic Inquiry.

In the paper, Sheehan-Connor considers the impact that policies to reduce carbon emissions by vehicles, such as fuel economy standards and gasoline taxes, have on vehicle weight and, consequently, on safety. The paper develops a model that separately identifies the impact of vehicle weight on mortality and selection effects that impact accident propensity. He found that the safety externalities associated with heavy vehicles are greater than the environmental ones; that under fuel economy standards, vehicle weights have recently decreased with little likely effect on accident deaths; and that similar environmental benefits could be combined with substantial reductions in deaths by implementing higher gasoline taxes.

Read the paper online here.

Greenwald ’16 Honored for Study of ‘Street Boys’ in Nepal

Michael Greenwald '16 speaking with a street boy who had approached him at Pashupatinath Temple.

Michael Greenwald ’16 spoke with a “street boy” who had approached him at Pashupatinath Temple. For an independent study project, Greenwald observed more than 150 boys age 5-16, and conducted interviews of NGO affiliates and former street boys.

#THISISWHY

An independent study project by Michael Greenwald ’16 was chosen as one of two winners of the 2015 SIT Study Abroad Undergraduate Research Award.

The project, titled, “Cracks in the Pavement: The Street Boys of Kathmandu,” was one of more than 2,000 independent study projects (ISPs) completed over the past three semesters, and among 20 nominated for the award. SIT has additionally nominated Greenwald’s project for the prestigious Forum on Education Abroad’s 2015 Undergraduate Research Award.

Grossman Presents Papers in Switzerland, Norway

The economic crisis that led to the recent recession is only one of the reasons Grossman decided to write Unsettled Account. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Richard Grossman

Richard Grossman, professor of economics, recently presented a talk titled, “An historical perspective on regulatory competition versus cooperation: the view from economics” at the third annual Conference of the University Research Priority Program. The conference, held June 1-2 at the University of Zurich Institute of Law, was titled, “International Aspects of Financial Regulation: Competition vs. Coordination.”

Grossman’s talk focused on cross-border cooperation between international bank regulators in the wake of the U.S. subprime and European debt crises—an effort to enhance banking stability. Examples include the Basel capital accords and European Stability Mechanism. Grossman put these into historical context by looking at episodes of cooperation—and competition—between federal and state regulators in the U.S. during the 19th and early 20th centuries. He presented evidence on several episodes in which state and federal regulators loosened regulations to help banks under their supervision gain a competitive advantage over banks in neighboring jurisdictions. Although cooperation is feasible in some areas of regulation, Grossman argued that regulators will always be inclined to compete—that is, favor their own banks at the expense of others.

On June 20, Grossman presented a paper at the Third CERP Economic History Symposium, held at Norges Bank, Norway’s central bank, in Oslo.

The paper, co-authored by Grossman and Masami Imai, professor of economics, professor of East Asian studies, is titled “Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain: The Impact of Connected Directors on 19th Century British Banks.

The paper utilizes data on the presence of prominent individuals—that is, those with political (e.g., Members of Parliament) and aristocratic titles (e.g., lords) — on the boards of directors of English and Welsh banks from 1879-1909 to investigate whether the appointment of well-connected directors enhanced equity value for bank shareholders.

Their analysis of panel data shows that the appointment of connected directors did not increase equity returns (as measured by the capital gain plus dividend yield on bank shares), but rather that the appointment of MPs to directorships had negative effects on bank equity returns.

Ulysse Reflects on Violence Against Blacks in Charleston, Dominican Republic

In a blog post on Africa is a CountryProfessor of Anthropology Gina Athena Ulysse reflects on two horrific stories in the news: the mass deportation of thousands of migrant workers and their families of Haitian background from the Dominican Republic, and the killing of nine people in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

The “ethnic purging” taking place in the Dominican Republic, writes Ulysse, “is a rejection of a certain kind of Black. Blackness that is too African.”

She continues:

Despite our somatic plurality and the color gradations we encompass, Haiti and Haitians have always been portrayed and understood as that kind of Black. A Blackness of a particular kind that, truth be re-told, radically changed the world. It was an avant-garde Blackness that not only pulled off a successful slave revolution, which caused the disorder of all things colonial, but also brought the sanctity of whiteness into question. The Haitian Revolution disrupted the notion that Freedom (with a capital F) was the sole domain of whites or those close to whiteness. Indeed, the value ascribed to those Black Lives continue to deteriorate. Moreover, those among us who are visibly marked with that Blackness have had to continually dissuade folks that we are not genetically coded to be their property or the help.

Ulysse writes that the attack on the Charleston church is “not unrelated” to the situation in the Dominican Republic. “Being Black, these days, means living in constant state of siege…There are no safe spaces for that Black. Nine people were killed in their place of worship. An act of terrorism that must be named. Their killer sat in a pew for an hour before extinguishing their Black Lives.”