Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Post-Data-Fitting Theorizing

If you see an effect in physical science, and it is surprising, you try to propose an explanation, one that fits in with other data. BUT then you do experiments and theoretical calcualations to be sure that the explanation and its mechanism are actual.

Often, in social science, people will do a fine statistical analysis of their data, often big data, and then try to explain various regression coefficients, etc. All these explanations are likely to be made up, often not linked to any well articulated theory. This need not be a problem. But if you propose an explanation, you then have to go out and test that explanation in a different context or with different data or with a finer theory that incorporates the explanation. You can't just tell a story and expect anyone to believe it, even if they find it cogent. For just telling a story does not exclude other good explanations.

So gather data, develop some theoretical explanation (one that at first might be merely a linear or some sort of regression), do your statistical analysis. If all fits, you might be surprised by some of the coefficients, and then you will need to explain them or plea fluctuation (no sin!). And then you need to theorize and test.

1. Data
2. Theory that leads to testable propositions about the data, or at least testable propositions, which might well be a set of reasonable regressors.
3. Statistics
4. Surprise?-- Yes -->2
                        No-->Develop a theory that justifies your #2 theory.-->Write the article.

T'row Da Bumps Out! --Error Bars, Fluctuation, Don't let your eyes deceive you.

When particle physicits wanted to claim that they had found the Higgs particle at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, they had to find a 5-sigma signal before it would be credible. Moreover, two different experiments had found the same result at the same mass (the mass being the "first name" of the particle).  Moreover the particle needed to have a particular angular momentum (spin) and mirror symmetry (parity), and that could only be ascertained by studying particular modes of decay, and those facts took lots more experimental data to ascertain.

Put differently, just because you see a bump, or just because you see a trend, does not mean it is significant and real. It might just be a fluctuation.

When we make claims in public policy or social science, about society, that are empirically grounded, we'll rarely get 5-sigma quality (too few observations, too little theory, too little precision). But, in general, you want to be assured that the claims make sense. Hence you must always attach error bars to your points or claims, where the bars might be 1-sigma plus or minus. Moreover, if you are claiming a trend or a shape, you need to fit the data to see if constancy and a straight line are reasonable zeroth-order assumptions. And if you are making a claim about when something began or the like, there are subtle tests of such in the statistical literature.

Moreover, Bayesian ideas should be on your mind. Even if you have rough measures and not so ideal statistics, can your measurements be seen in the light of what we take as priors and used to revise them. Often, in the policy arena, poor data may still allow you to improve practice, albeit not with the assurance you would like, but at least now you are doing better than without any data and only your presumptions and priors.

Also, never draw a line connecting points unless it is a "fit" to the data. Surely in the case of railroads you can link stations with lines since you know that trains go from A to B to C to...  And even here they may not follow straight lines between stations. However, in studying time dependent data, your straight lines presume trends when what you may have is random fluctuation.

Finally, if you want to claim changes from one time to another, be sure to normalize those changes by the standard deviations of the data, so that, again, fluctuations are more apparent. And if you plot the data and you have data that begins at say zero, you do not just show say from .5 to .6, but present it as 0 to .7, or if not put a zig-zag on the y-axis to indicate that you are skipping lots of y-axis—that is, the-y-axis begins at zero, you put in a zig-zag at say 0.1 and resume at 0.4 in the above case.


What motivated the above: A propos of yesterday’s seminar on economic conditions and social capital, I wrote this post. I enjoyed the talk, and unusually for me, I was not so much concerned with what was the punchline. It seemed clear—to provide some evidence about a common belief. Jenny Schuetz asked incisive questions about causation. The speaker responded that he was trying to find out the facts of the situation, and the connection seemed to be causal given the time frames and some of trends in the disaggregated data. I woke up this morning thinking some more. None of what I say here diminishes my interest in the seminar, but all of these things are needed to calm various objections, none of which are necessarily fatal but all of which need to be dealt with. A seminar may not be the place to make sure all is perfect, but there is no reason to leave out obvious practices even if it is “just” a talk. You want people to concentrate on your substance, not go crazy over your statistics.

Monday, October 28, 2013


In November, Wales will once again be taking part in the Global Entrepreneurship Week, a series of events to publicise and promote entrepreneurship as a viable career option, with an estimated 7.5 million people participating in 130 countries around the World.

But is this enough to make a real difference to encourage more people to take the step into an entrepreneurial career? It is a sentiment that seems to be reflected in a groundmaking paper from the World’s foremost think tank on entrepreneurship.

Researchers at the Kauffman Foundation, based in Kansas, USA, has stated that more needs to be done to expose the general population to entrepreneurs, especially those entrepreneurs that grow their businesses.

Indeed, research has consistently shown that a small number of businesses create the majority of jobs in an economy – the latest Fast Growth 50 project saw the creation of over two and a half thousand jobs in Wales in just two years by fifty businesses. So the question is whether greater exposure to entrepreneurs will lead to others doing the same?

Certainly, in conversations with those running their own businesses, a common thread in terms of their motivations is a description of the role models and peers - all usually entrepreneurs - who played a role in their decision to take the plunge and start a new venture Therefore to understand this better, Kauffman undertook a survey of US residents. This showed that not only did a large number of U.S. residents know entrepreneurs, but that knowing an entrepreneur is possibly a significant factor in whether a person runs their own business.

More importantly, the survey indicated that the likelihood of knowing entrepreneurs varied widely by location, income, gender, and age. For example, respondents were much more likely to know entrepreneurs if they were male, had modest income, or were middle-aged. This is a critical finding for policymakers in determining how best to encourage further entrepreneurship not only amongst those who are thinking of starting a business but, more importantly, amongst those who are in business already but have not considered growth as part of their strategy.

More relevantly, the finding suggests that there could be an increase in entrepreneurial behaviour amongst some under-represented groups such as women or ethnic minorities, if they were exposed to existing entrepreneurs, especially peers or contemporaries. For example, women simply don’t know as many growth entrepreneurs as men do, a situation made worse by the male-dominated nature of these fields and an important issue in creating female entrepreneurial role models.

Certainly, we have seen very few businesses managed by women within the Fast Growth 50 project during the last fifteen years and it is an area that needs urgent attention to ensure that there is breakthrough not only in getting more women to start their own businesses but those that grow and create jobs in the economy.

In addition, people in lower income groups are also much less likely to be exposed to those growing their business, a finding that should have particular resonance in ensuring that there is a greater focus on promoting entrepreneurship in areas such as North West Wales, which is one of the poorest parts of Europe.

Therefore, whilst governments around the World focus on various initiatives to promote entrepreneurship, the Kauffman study suggest that perhaps the best way forward is simply helping people to get to know who are the wealth creators in their local economy. In particular, more needs to be done to expose potential and existing entrepreneurs to those growing their businesses within the Welsh economy so that they not only serve as role models, but lessons can be learnt from their experiences.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Madison's Managers (Bertelli and Lynn): judgement, rationality, balance, and accountability.

I am enthusiastic about Madison's Managers by Bertelli and Lynn, Jr. What I like about it is its grounding in the law and political process, its making clear that policy school managers are very different than those from a business school, and its "transcendent" tone (albeit grounded in separation of actual powers). It gives to our students a distinctive vision, one that many already share but have not well articulated, and it gives to our faculty a purpose that is much more than providing courses and curricula. (Think of a medical school where what you want to produce are physicians, not students who happen to learn a variety of subjects and are good diagnosticians...  Or USC, where we not only produce BA holders, but also Trojans (faithful, scholarly, skillful, courageous, ambitious--with an overarching sense that you contribute to society).)

I don't think most of students would be able to read MM without lots of help. You need to know too much. But the basic ideas of judgment, balance, rationality, and accountability can be inculcated and exemplified. 

Now, perhaps all of this already happens. But in my years I am not sure I have ever heard the kind of arguments Bertelli and Lynn make, or those values, in our seminars or in hallway conversation.  "Governance" is no substitute for what MM says. 

The veterans and active duty students I see know all of this, albeit not the MM version but at least the "transcendent" values are ones they understand, no matter how much they know too much about their service. We are not just a school that trains people technically. We are not just about intersectoral, or leadership, or ... We are a school that has a distinguished mission. Our students surely know how to be USC Trojans, or at least many do. What we need to do is make them members of the Price Club.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

When people argue about what was Hayek's or Marx's true position.

Thinkers can be cherry picked for any position. Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, and the Bible come to mind.

What’s interesting are the arguments Hayek provides, not Hayek as a guru. If his arguments change that may be interesting for biography, but both arguments may have value and ought be employed, perhaps each by different people.

Hence, while Bohr’s atom and quantum ideas and their beautiful pictures and sort-of vague philosophy are powerful, so are Sommerfeld’s demands for equations (which led Schroedinger to look for an equation, Debye asked him for one), and his more phenomenological analysis of spectral data (“number mysticism” it was called by some) led to Heisenberg’s matrix mechanics with its focus on only observable quantities and on combinations of allowed/forbidden atomic transitions. [Keep in mind that Heisenberg did not realize he was doing matrix operations, as such. Only soon after did Jordan inform him that he was speaking linear algebra. Heisenberg had a scheme, not so different from Sommerfeld's playing with numbers albeit more systematic, but its beautiful unification in operators and matrices came afterwards.] Each of Sommerfeld’s two viewpoints can  be quoted out of context to provide cannonfodder for some philosophical argument, but Sommerfeld's authority would seem not to be the point. By the way, S. Seth refers to Sommerfeld's physics of problems, vs. Einstein's physics of principles. Also, Sommerfeld found Bohr's models incredible and fudged, and so he separated out the technical details of the models, from their effects and focused on those effects, what he took to be quantum phenomena.

I would imagine that complex thinkers, with long histories, will have diverse viewpoints. What’s interesting is the quality of their arguments. If you want to use them as icons and gurus, you can, but the problem is that their texts are available to all. You can argue what was Hayek’s true position, but for my money I want to know about the arguments and justifications and evidence for each position. But then of course neither Hayek, Einstein, nor … are icons for me. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

They're checking your thesis/dissertation with Turnitin!

1.      Your Graduate School may randomly check theses and dissertations using Turnitin.

2.      “I am not a crook [a cheat]”, “I was taught to do it this way.” Many students do know the rules about plagiarism. But some do not. Others bring practices from professional and governmental work to university, where they are not acceptable.

3.      “I have a 4.0 GPA” This may well mean that none of their previous instructors discovered their violations of academic integrity. Hence, such a claim, when the work in front of you is inadequate, may well be a sign of undetected past violations.

4.      University regulations require that we report violations to the appropriate committee. In part this is educational, in part it is to prevent future violations. Penalties are still in the faculty member’s hands.

5.      Mosaic plagiarism is rife. Namely, a passage from a work is quoted verbatim with a change of one or two words, a reference may be given, but no quotation marks.

6.      Paraphrase demands a reference. Turnitin finds paraphrase since some unacknowledged copying of part of the passage is likely.

7.      Turnitin is effective in finding problems. You can indicate you don’t want to count stuff in quotation marks, or similar passages less than N words. You still need to examine the paper since indented quoted passages are counted as similar although indentation indicates quotation and should not be counted in the similarity score.

8.      Students may well threaten to petition to have a grade change, to get you dismissed, to accuse you of other violations. They are not bad at browbeating. My counsel is to send it to the university committee immediately and let them deal with it.


One Word Pictures





















 "Contemplating Beauty"







Thursday, October 24, 2013

"Please remove my email address from your email distribution list. Thank you for your consideration in this matter."

Don't send email notes like this. Just BLOCK the sender, or send their email to your Trash.

This is from a student to a professor. Some day the student might need a favor from the professor. Why make it hard for the professor to be helpful? This person would never send a note of this sort to their boss. This person knows how to be polite and respectful.

You may be offended. You may despise someone. You may just be pissed at them.

But why leave artifacts of your sentiments when you otherwise would not express them.

We all need the kindness of strangers.

Never act out.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013


As I didn't realise I was being filmed during the recent evening organised by the Cardiff Civic Society in conjunction with the Institute of Welsh Affairs, to consider the Local Development Plan (LDP) for Cardiff, this is slightly embarrassing!

As some of you may know, Cardiff Civic Society has been researching, collecting data, making responses about the development of the city and most specifically its Local Development Plan for nearly five years. This process comes to a conclusion as the City Council Deposits its LDP for the Welsh Government to consider and this meeting was one of the last opportunities to express an opinion on the document and the way forward.

Anyway, here is my short contribution to the debate (and yes, no powerpoint slides!).

There are also contributions available from Mark Barry, Rhodri Morgan, Kevin Morgan and John Punter.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Big Data Needs Big Theory

The world of Big Data is here. Sophisticated statistical techniques are available to work with it. But what we also need are nice theories which allow for subtleties that might be revealed through such statistical precision. In physics, one is never doing a regression, as such. One has a rich theoretical structure, and maybe millions of more events or measurements, and the problem is a matter of decision how to make "cuts" on the data, choosing the relevant events, grounded in a theoretical physical understanding of why you are doing that. You may eventually fit a data set, but in general that is at the end of enormous amounts of theorizing and data analysis. You have a bump or a whatever, and you have a good idea of its shape and all the kinds of confounding physics below it.  If all you had was a regression, it won't be physics.

"Greg could really hold a blood grudge."

In Henry Crumpton's book on working in the CIA's Clandestine Service, he refers to one of his colleagues, saying "Greg could really hold a blood grudge." Hence, Greg was motivated, to say the least. I wonder when we such motivation in the scholarly or academic life. I am not thinking of athletics and sports, or academic politics, or mean competitiveness. Rather in just doing the work we do in our research and scholarship, do we ever have such powerful motivation? To show them, to show Nature, ... To prove to others who denied us tenure that we are ten times better than they are.

When the Used Car Salesman Deceives Herself

In an earlier post, I used George Akerlof's analysis of asymmetric information in economics, The Market for Lemons, to suggest that universities treat deans as used car salesmen, knowing more about their car for sale (the tenure candidate) than could be known by committees or provosts. Hence, you want to be sure (saleman's guarantee, your own mechanic) that what you are being sold is not a lemon.

Let us say, however, that the dean or salesman is possessed of at best imperfect information, is doing their best to  be honest, and even offers a guarantee. Still, we know that some cases prove to be lemons none the less. How do we protect the dean from herself?

You could raise the standards. Or you could have a devil's advocate (DA) on the dean's staff, or on the provost's who brings up problems and makes sure the dean addresses them. The DA is responsible to the provost or at least is not under anyone's command. The DA is the expert mechanic, the legal beagle, the person who asks the embarassing questions. Perhaps the DA has an algorithm that predicts future performance, and uses it to raise red flags.

Now, you might make mistakes of rejecting candidates or cars that will prove to be fine performers. And surely some lemons will make it through. And some apparently fine candidates will for various reasons disappoint.

But, since these are lifetime commitments, and they involve millions of dollars, and opportunity costs of not hiring a stronger performer (or a weaker one!), it may be worth these precautions.

By the way, good performers should have no trouble with this arrangement. You are appointing people for their strengths. Their weaknesses are not crucial, as long as they are not debilitating for schoalrly performance.


Last week, the information specialists Thompsons Reuters launched their latest list of the “Top 100 Global Innovators”.

Using a complicated but impressive methodology, the study identifies the most innovative organisations in the world through a series of patent-based metrics including overall patent activity, success rate, globalisation and influence.

It is a great read in itself but perhaps the most important finding for both businesses and policymakers is that being focused on innovation does seem to have a positive effect on the performance of the business.

In spending 8.8 per cent more on research and development (R and D) than the 500 largest firms in the USA, these one hundred innovators outperformed the market in terms of simple stock price by 4 per cent over the year. In terms of other performance measures, they created 266,152 new jobs and generated £2.8 trillion in revenues – twice the annual GDP of the UK.

In terms of the industries that make up the list, the semiconductor and electronic components sector – including companies such as Corning, Intel, Sharp and Texas Instruments – continue to dominate with twenty three businesses, an increase of over a quarter on the previous year. It is followed by the computer hardware sector, which includes global giants Brother, Canon, Hewlett Packard, Hitachi and Toshiba. Interestingly, there are only three pharmaceutical businesses present, despite the recent hype over life sciences by most governments.

Innovation can be a driver for competition (or vice versa) and that seems to be borne out by the intense rivalry within the growing smartphone market.  Innovators such as Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Google and BlackBerry are involved in an intensive patent war to ensure they gain the upper hand in an increasingly aggressive and intensive global battle.

And whilst Apple and Samsung continue to slug it out in courts all over the World, Microsoft quietly spent £1 Billion, as part of their acquisition of some of Nokia’s mobile phone business, to license around 30,000 patents held by the Finnish company and enable them to start taking a more competitive position in the market place.

With regard to the location of the most innovative firms, the USA is where forty-five of the top 100 Global Innovators are to be found, a trend which seems to be founded on the many pro-innovation policies that have been developed over the last fifty years.

Not only does the US Government directly fund billions of dollars of research and development within businesses, they also have a tradition of R and D tax credits to encourage greater innovation and ground-breaking legislation such as the Bayh Dole Act which, over thirty years ago, opened the floodgates to increased commercialisation of intellectual property.

In more recent times, the Obama administrations have looked to build on this by encouraging greater collaboration between businesses and government, most notably through the creation of fifteen new manufacturing public-private innovation hubs across America focused on emerging technologies, from 3-D printing to genome mapping.

Whilst the Japanese economy has suffered during the last decade, it still has 28 businesses on the list, no doubt boosted by a new and more generous R and D tax credit regime along with greater incentives for links between universities and industry.

But perhaps the biggest surprise is that for the second year in succession, there are no British companies on the list. The reason for this, argue the authors, has been the trend over several years of low levels of R and D spending as a percentage of economic wealth and the evolution of the UK economy away from manufacturing and towards more services.

In contrast, our nearest neighbour France has twelve companies, including Alcatel-Lucent, L’Oreal, Michelin and Thales, in the top 100. This, according to the report, is testimony to the £30 Billion spent annually on R and D in France, a sum that is 53 per cent higher than the UK despite the fact that the French economy is only 14 per cent bigger.

Therefore, the pro-innovation R and D tax policies of the USA, Japan and France are, according to the authors of the report, having a major effect in developing and attracting innovation businesses. More importantly for these economies, over 70 per cent of R and D spending in all three countries goes into the high value added and export-oriented manufacturing intensive sectors.

To be fair on the UK Government, there have been recent incentives from the Treasury, such as the Patent Box (which aims to cut the tax on income from patented technologies). The Technology Strategy Board has developed a group of technology and innovation centres known as “Catapults” where business and academia can work together to commercialise ideas in key sectors (although there are none in Wales).

The Welsh Government has also recently launched an innovation strategy, and developments such as Ser Cymru, which last week funded a new solar energy research centre at Swansea University, are to be welcomed.

However, the fact remains that we spend far lower levels of our economic wealth on research and development, certainly compared to our competitors. Unless that changes, then it may be some time before we are perceived as a nation where innovative companies thrive.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Small Business is Big Business - Local Tree Service

As of late I have been interested in small business. To satisfy my curiosity I have been following a small local tree service company in my hometown, Williamsburg Virginia. Let me be the first to tell you that having a small local tree service business is no easy task. During my time studying this small business in Williamsburg I have built a tremendous respect and admiration for small business owners every where.

These guys have an amazing service and product. They can do things that not many people can figure out and they are better than their competition. they also are well organized and manage the business side of things very well. I have learned a lot from my time with them.

Here are the Ingredients to a Successful Local Business:

  • Have a Product or Service that is not Easily Reproduced
Early on I suggested to the owner that he get into landscaping it only seemed logical to me. I mean he is talking to homeowners all the time who have him to do work in their yard and pay him good money to do so. So why not expand your business with existing clients?? Seemed obvious to me. But I was wrong.
The owner humbled me by explaining that landscaping doesn't have an acceptable return because so many people can do it. There is no real big margin and prices are constantly pushed down because so many folks are in that business. It was a good point.

  • Hire Good People - Train From With In
The owner hired a tree climber from New York about 500 miles away. They guy had a lot of experience, moved quick, and efficiently. The owner fired him 48 hours later. I was baffled. He said the climber was not safe enough and failed to make long term sustainable choices. I knew the owner had made a mistake. I mean this guy new what he was doing from what I could tell. I did notice that he had some opposition to bulky equipment belts like the owner climbed with. He sported less ropes and straps no gloves, etc. He went to a competitor. 2 weeks later received a call from the competitor, during the conversation the owner reported a joking sarcastic "thanks for the climber he is making me thousands a day" less than 60 days later that climber fell out of a tree. He no longer climbs. NO JOKE!!

The owner has trained the guy that bids and runs much of the business side of things from the ground up. It's paid off, the loyalty demonstrated from the so called employee is unparalleled.... Priceless.

  • Don't Be the Cheapest - Be the Best
The Owner is adamant about getting paid a fair and healthy price for the quality work he does. I have heard him tell perspective clients a 1,000 times, "...well, no, I'm not the cheapest by any means. But no one will be able to do this project better than me." He negotiates from the stand point "...can you really afford not to have me do this work for you?" The best part about his strategy is that he is right, I love it. 

Tree work is dangerous and complicated and people can get hurt, and property can get damaged. He does the work with concise expertise and unsurpassed ability. He also always does a little extra. One could argue that it is built into the price he charges but the results are a great reputation and overwhelming referral base.

He has told me that "the quickest way to go out of business is to be the cheapest". Now one could argue that Wal-Mart is the cheapest. But they don't really compete on price. They compete on efficiency.

  •  Invest in the Future of Your Business... ALWAYS
I am often baffled by how much and how consistently the owner reinvests the fruits of his labor back in to his business. He is constantly looking, researching, and buying new equipment. I would have trouble mirroring this habit of his even after seeing it work as it does. Another interesting strategy of his is that he spends the most advertising dollars during the slow season. He believes that this is necessary and it helps weed out the competition.

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Don't call yourself Doctor (of Philosophy, Education,...) until you have the degree in hand.

At my university, students who are almost through with their degree requirements are allowed to march in graduation. Graduation pictures, celebration, etc... but not there yet. This does not insure they fulfil those requirements, or that they receive the degree. At MIT, I gather that those who march are checked to be sure they are actually ready to receive the degree.

Once you actually receive the degree, you can change your license plate to DR SMITH, or SMITH PHD, or... Your email address can say whatever you need to say, doctorsmithleader@gmail.com. But before then it makes no sense. It is a mockery of yourself, for until you have the degree in hand, you are a cartoon.

As for marching at graduation, despite being permitted to so march, you want to march when you are done. You want to be hooded, if this is a doctorate, when you are done. (Otherwise, you are more like the a cartoon of the Ku Klux Klan, albeit in black than in white.)

Of course, if your degree is a scholarly degree, the PhD, what counts is what you do next in terms of scholarly publishing and research. If it is a professional doctorate, EdD for example, what counts is what you do with your career. The degree is just a sign of one step on your road.

If your degree is just a sign that you could do it, and for many that seems to be the case, I have little to say.

Vindictivness and Charity

It took me a long time to achieve tenure, only in part my own fault, in part whatever else goes on in the world. I do my work since it interests me, but I believe there is always the need to prove myself. So I have some sympathy for the following situation:

Smith comes up for tenure and there is enough disagreement in the department so that tenure is not awarded. The dissenters have juggled the letter writers and have been quite verbal in their dissent. Eventually, after a national campaign that reveals the dissenters' schemes, the provost gets involved, and reverses the departmental decision, in part because Smith is at least as good as Jones who was tenured at that time. The dissenters become distraught and vindictive, and for the rest of their careers and even after, they try to help Jones and hinder Smith. Their problem is that Smith proves to be very productive, has a wide reputation for excellence, even if not among the dissenters' sub-field. In time the department becomes more like Smith, in the scholarly work and eminence, the dissenters become more isolated, so (in desperation presumably) they keep up their anti-Smith campaign, what with honors etc. But, the dissenters prove not to provide the scholarly leadership for the next generation, and they become even further bitter. Still, they try to be sure that Jones receives all the goodies before Smith.

Of course, what the dissenters should have done was to realize the game was over once the tenure was awarded by the provost, and actively promote and help Smith. Smith is now their permanent colleague, and Smith's success or failure redounds to them.  Perhaps Smith would not have been so productive if Smith did not need to keep proving that the dissenters were wrong, and so the dissenters would even have gotten their secret wish?

Academics tend to melodramatics and extremes about rigor and quality, and so they cannot admit they have been defeated. More often than not those who do not prevail find that they are further in the minority, as their department actually become stronger.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

She Knows Now

When she was being used,
she now knows she was innocent,
and that her heart would become
extra tender in years to come.

When she was told she was too sensitive,
she later figured out that she was
not afraid to feel or get
involved in humanity.

When she was told she was too serious,
she discovered that really, she was full
of passion.

When she was ignored and avoided,
she soon realized she was taken for granted, 
and that that had no bearing on her

When she was told she talked too 
much and asked too many questions,
she learned the hard way that she
was an authentic soul to the core and
had a gift in relationships.

When others told her she 
was doing something scary or out
of the ordinary, 
she knows today that it was 
her love for helping others
that was coming through.

When she was told she was too fat, 
and not pretty enough,
she later discovered all
her worth was in her Jesus.
And knew that she was just right and
perfectly made.

When people told her she was
too loud,
she later realized it was 
because she was full of life
and excitable. 

When they pointed out that she would cry or laugh 
for no apparent reason,
she soon realized it was because 
of her ability to feel emotion, 
and express herself.

When they teased her for "soaking it all in",
she knew it was just an AWE-ness she had
and an appreciation for beauty. 

When someone rolled her eyes at her
and made her out to be some
sort of freak,
she knew, without a doubt
that she was misunderstood,
but that it didn't matter,
because she knew who she was.



As regular readers will know, I have been a constant advocate for lower business rates for smaller businesses in Wales since I started writing my first newspaper column for the Daily Post back in 2003.

And it would seem that this vital issue is now something that has become popular again amongst politicians in Wales.

Last year, we saw the publication of a Welsh Government commissioned review, chaired by Professor Brian Morgan of Cardiff Metropolitan University (above), into whether changing the business rates regime in Wales could aid economic development.

And not to be outdone, Plaid Cymru have now made an announcement on the future of business rates in Wales at their annual conference in Aberystwyth.

This would mean that firms with a rateable value of less than £10,000 would pay no business rates (rather than the £6,000 ceiling at present) and firms would qualify for reduced business rates if their rateable values were below £15,000 (rather than £12,000 under the current regime).

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I am wondering how the Welsh Conservatives would have felt on hearing this announcement given that Plaid’s policy is almost identical to the one they adopted in 2010 i.e. no small business having a rateable value of less than £12,000 would pay business rates in Wales?

To be fair to Plaid Cymru, they had previously made reduction in business rates one of their seven key electoral pledges prior to the 2007 Assembly election, announcing that they had “launched proposals to take 50,000 Welsh businesses out of the business rates net. The announcement is the last of Plaid’s 7 for ‘07 policies to transform Wales. Plaid Leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones outlined proposals, targeted at the West Wales and the valleys region, that would see an immediate increase in the number of businesses entitled to 50 per cent and 25 per cent rate relief and a total of over 50,000 businesses completely leaving the business rates net by 2011.

Yet, when Plaid Cymru became part of a coalition government between 2007 and 2011, did small firms throughout Wales finally get the business rate reductions they deserved?

Unfortunately, it was a promise they did not keep to Welsh electorate and with Scotland and England then introducing schemes that reduced their business rates, Welsh firms ended up being at an even greater disadvantage in terms of the local taxes they were paying.

And even during the dark days following the economic crash of 2008, the then leader of Plaid Cymru, in his role as the minister for economic development, steadfastly refused to consider reducing the burden on small firms, stating that he was not persuaded that business rate relief was the best use of the limited resources that the Welsh Government had.

To be fair, this antipathy towards reducing the taxation burden for Welsh small firms has not been shared across the whole of Plaid Cymru.

In fact, my fellow Daily Post columnist Lord Wigley is on record as stating that cutting business rates would enable money to be “re-circulating within the business sector, enabling it to take on more people, to set up new projects, and to have a new confidence and incentive for its work, than being gobbled up in the bottomless pit of bureaucracy, where so much of it ends up at present”.

With the weekend announcement on reducing business rates, it would seem that his influence on Plaid Cymru’s economic policies are on the increase again assuming, of course, that they actually keep to this promise if they enter the Welsh Government in 2016.

If they do, and with all the major parties in Wales now committed to reforming our business rates regime, that can only be good news for our small firm sector and, more importantly, their potential for creating wealth and employment across Wales.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

David Petraeus on Your Doctoral Project

When David Petraeus met with some doctoral students he emphasized again and again how your doctoral project should serve your long term needs. The professional doctorate encourages this. Petraeus's PhD dissertation at Princeton was about the counsel the brass gave after the Vietnam war, and the caution they expressed. He had a chance to interview top people, who would otherwise not be available to him since he was a captain? at the time. In reading his dissertation, I was struck how he had found subject matter experts to guide him and to argue with him, his greatest thank-you was to a Princeton professor who was on the other side of many issues. Be sure your chair is expert in your field. By the way, it is a good read, albeit encumbered with all the stuff that dissertations require in terms of surveys of the field. On the other hand, the footnotes are very interesting.
General Petraeus was, as I said, enthusiastic about the projects he heard about, glad they were of use to people’s actual work. In reading his dissertation, I was struck by how important it was for him to have the right advisors, early and often. They knew the fields, they knew the literature, and they could challenge him. Make sure you choose your advisor(s) with the same criteria. I mentioned this yesterday, but I was struck last night in recalling the dissertation’s acknowledgments how important that was. Of course, someone had to make sure he did all the right things bureaucratically, and I suspect that was not his advisor--  But what mattered was the substantive argument he received from his advisor.
One other thing. About methods courses. Make sure they suit the work you are going to do. People in education or psychology or perhaps economics think statistics as the methods. Or survey methods. But if your work is not quantitative, and involves other skills, maybe a course on how to write up cases, or a course on history writing, or… will serve you well.


It was announced today that "Start Up Loans" are now available across Wales as part of the Welsh Government Business Start Up service and can provide entrepreneurs starting a business in Wales with low interest rate loans.

I am naturally delighted that this has finally happened, as this was one of the recommendations of stage one of my access to finance review for the Welsh Government namely that:

"The Welsh Government should examine how UK Government funds can be used more effectively to support businesses in Wales, potentially through the provision of matched funding through its own resources. In particular, as it currently does not provide any loans to those start-ups that create the vast majority of jobs in the economy, the Welsh Government needs to develop an appropriate mechanism for this type of support, based on the Start-Up Loans programme operating in England, although this should be applicable to all new businesses and not only those started by 18-30 year olds".

More importantly, the principle of low interest rates for possibly the riskiest type of business shows that the high cost of borrowing should not always be a feature of government lending programmes, as some in Wales have suggested. Certainly, other countries are able to offer lower costs of lending to SMEs through the banks and the public sector working together and there is no reason why this should not happen in Wales in the future.

There have been positive reactions from both Cardiff Bay and Westminster to the announcement.

Welcoming the new loans, Economy Minister Edwina Hart said "I am pleased to support the introduction of Start Up Loans to Wales as part of our overall comprehensive business support package for young start up companies. Encouraging entrepreneurs to start their own business is an important strand in our strategy for economic growth although we are aware that access to finance can be a real issue for young businesses. The availability of relatively low levels of funding at a fixed interest rate addresses this and has the potential to make a real difference in getting a business up and running. The loans will be delivered in Wales as part of our Business Start Up service where the providers are already working with individuals wishing to start up in business. The availability of low interest rate loans, together with business advice and mentoring, enhances the overall package we can offer entrepreneurs.”

UK Government Business Secretary Vince Cable said "Last year there were a record number of start ups in the UK, supporting our efforts to make this the best place in the world to start and grow a business. The start up loans scheme continues to thrive, with 8,000 loans worth £45 million already advanced. This welcomed extension to Wales will provide even more opportunities for budding entrepreneurs to gain access to finance and receive professional business mentoring to help them start and run a successful enterprise.

Secretary of State for Wales, Rt. Hon David Jones said "Unleashing the potential that Welsh entrepreneurs and our small businesses have is critical if we want to see the economy continue on its journey from rescue to recovery. From Village Bakery in Wrexham (Fast Growth 50 award winner) to Smart Solutions Recruitment in Newport (Fast Growth 50 award winner), small businesses owners across the length and breadth of Wales have been harnessing the drive and ambition needed to expand and to create new jobs. It is clear that there is real scope to be entrepreneurial in Wales - and to succeed The roll out of the Start-Up Loan scheme in Wales will provide many more of our budding entrepreneurs with the opportunity to join in this success. I would encourage them to seize the support available to strike out and to turn their ideas into the viable, successful businesses of the future."

Start Up Loans CEO, Tim Sawyer, said: "I am delighted to announce the partnership with our colleagues in Wales. We are very much looking forward to forming strong relationships with both partners and entrepreneurs alike. And I am equally pleased to see the scheme extend to all ages . Now we are able to help any enterprising individual with a strong business idea, and the determination to see it through.”

The loans from the  UK Government backed  scheme will be delivered through the Business Start Up service that operates across Wales and applications must be supported by robust business cases. The minimum loan is £1000 with the average loan around £4,500. The loans are to be paid back within five years at a fixed rate of interest currently set at 6%.

The five lead delivery providers, who will approve loan applications locally on a panel basis, are: Antur Teifi, Wrexham County Borough Council, Business in Focus, Annog Cyf and The Centre for Business.