Academia responds to this year’s “econ nobel”

So it seems numerous Economists are scratching their heads about one of the winners of the “econ nobel”.  Some grad students are doing much worse (anonymously of course).  The Freakonomics blog sort of suggested this would happen, and there are a couple of good posts on Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson, at Marginal Revolution, Austrian Economists, Charter Cities and Vernon Smith.  The Economist has a good overview, Glaeser wrote a good blog post in the NYT, and the WSJ has good coverage as well.

The work Ostrom and Williamson have done is really interesting, and far more so than simplistic attempts to apply math to small data-sets from markets (here’s a non-naive one).  My own take on the “Why Now” debate is that the selection committee chose to highlight work they thought would be relevant during the Copenhagen round of negotiations for a new climate change treaty.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that most of the mainstream economics establishment is in the dog-house after two or three market bubbles have burst.

KBR/Halliburton employees can sue in court for sexual assaults

This story has been raising eyebrows for a while, but it took a new turn this week. It seems KBR/Halliburton (of Dick Cheney fame) may have tried to cover up repeated incidents of sexual assault amongst employees serving in Iraq (perhaps because it affected recruiting adversely). Many employees had unknowingly signed binding arbitration agreements that the company claims covers assault and criminal cases as well. One of the women who says she was assaulted sued KBR and the Fifth circuit heard her case. Her story ispretty harrowing, especially the bit where KBR investigators locked her up for 24 hours after she reported the assault. Apparently this wasn’t an isolated case and the non-disclosure and binding arbitration agreements had been used to keep the other cases out of the news. No doubt many of the women working for KBR would have reconsidered tours in Iraq if they’d known of the various assault cases.

So, Al Franken introduced an amendment to the defense appropriations bill to prevent any defense contracts being awarded to companies requiring binding arbitration for sexual assault cases. Here’s the surprising bit 30 senators voted against the bill! All of them Republican, all of them men. Jeff Sessions rambled on about why the government shouldn’t meddle in contracts, but he also said “It is a political amendment, really at bottom, representing sort of a political attack directed at Halliburton, which is politically a matter of sensitivity.” He’s right, it probably is shrewd politics for the Democrats, though god knows KBR/Halliburton has been pretty good at getting its way in Washington ever since Brown & Root started handing envelopes stuffed in cash to LBJ and the rest of the Southern delegation.  Still, even if you admit Halliburton needs to be protected from the likes of Al Franken, the female employees of KBR probably deserve some assistance from judiciary while they’re out serving on battlefields. BTW, David Vitter (R, AL)who frequented brothels in D.C. and New Orleans voted against it.