For 27.5.19

We are still brainstorming and mapping, including,

  • Searching for questions that interest us
  • Exploring the kinds of questions researchers ask
  • Looking for the specific questions those researching our topic are asking
  • And viewing these questions and discussions not as “the facts,” but as issues over which reasonable people disagree

Survey the kinds of questions that researchers ask and explore them as issues

For starters, you’ll want to study — and need to read this section a number of times as it is smart, complicated, and fundamental to the research eneteprise:

  • Craft, Chapter 3.3
  • Task Prompts from Steps to Better Thinking

It may help you to see how your classmates are starting to do this, as you will find in the excellent examples of

  • Marie and Giovanna
  • Kai and Aurelia

Asking questions

Look carefully at how they ask a lot of questions, first from wherever they happen to be, then as they rewrite the kinds of questions they find presented in “Steps,” like:

  • Ask questions from different points of view
  • Larger developmental context: How did the housing crisis begin? Why people are not getting apartments? Who suggested the expropriation solution?
  • Internal history: In which contexts has expropriation been implemented in recent decades? Has the expropriation already helped to resolve similar conflicts?
  • Fit together as a system: Is expropriation a solution accepted by all parties involved in this issue?
  • Function as part of a larger system: How can expropriation help to pacify society?

You don’t know yet which 2-3 questions will form the basis of your thesis, but to determine them you’ll need to survey dozens, list, then prioritize.

The best way to ask them is to brainstorm, not just once but a number of times over weeks, and both on your own and in pairs.

The best way to do that is to create a file on your phone, synchronized with your desktop, where, when you think of them, you write them down before you forget: if you do this a bunch of times over weeks, you’ll soon have an encyclopedic perspective from which to choose — if you wait to the last minute, you’ll just grab a couple and the only human intelligence evident will be luck — which is hardly intelligence

Learn how to distinguish between practical and conceptual problems

Until you “get it,” which some of you have, you’ll not be able to distinguish between practical and conceptual questions; last week, a number of you suffered the experience of realizing that what you thought was a conceptual question was in fact a practical one

  • For starters, study the difference between practical and conceptual problems you will find discussed in Craft 4.1.2 and 4.2.2 — as you are discovering, this is brainy stuff, you’ll likely need to read this many times until you “get it” (it took me some time to get it, too, don’t feel dumb, just be persistent!)
  • Write a bunch so that you can ask me to check, ask you questions, and with luck, as happened this week, you’ll suddenly “get it” (be patient, but persistent!)

Identify some of the expert questions

Best of all might be looking for what the professionals say and do, and below I’ll print an example — of how a writer examines what another has done and pulls it apart, thinks about it, and finds its limits — he really wants to know how better to examine the material, the writer he is examining is simply brilliant, but that only means that a lot of people have looked at his work and found the issues in it — things over which reasonable people disagree.

Globalization: Stiglitz’ Case, by Benjamin Friedman

What you will find in the paragraphs below — and the entire long third part of the Friedman article, linked above, does this over and over — is compare what Stiglitz claims to counter-examples. You get these counter-examples by identifying topics — again, issues, over which reasonable people disagree — discussed by others and where they do the heavy lifting for you: while you can try to “think the opposite” of what someone says, far easier and far more authoritative is when you find writers “picking a fight” and where you report on that fight. You don’t have to take a side in this fight, your opinion on this really is secondary, because you first want to understand how the big boys and girls are doing it — people who have researched these issues over years, know them deeply, and can draw on great learning, research, and experience. Essentially, you are looking for two or more people talking about a thing — sometimes you find them by looking up special keywords, at others by looking up footnotes — and where you compare and contrast what they say, in a very straight-forward way, like this:

Do Stiglitz’s criticisms hold up?

To begin, it is easy enough to accuse Stiglitz of selective memory. From reading Globalization and Its Discontents, one would never know that the IMF had ever done anything useful. Or that Stiglitz, and his colleagues first at the Council of Economic Advisers and then at the World Bank, had ever gotten anything wrong. Or that those against whom he often argued in the US government—especially at the Treasury, which he continually portrays as complicit in the IMF’s misdeeds, but at the Federal Reserve System too—had ever gotten a question right. (In the book’s sole mention of Alan Greenspan, Stiglitz accuses him of being excessively concerned with inflation to the exclusion of a vigorous expansion that could have otherwise taken place in the US during the Clinton years.)

One can also disagree with Stiglitz over the consequences of what the IMF plainly did, even including those policies it pursued that most people now agree proved counterproductive. By 2002 the Asian financial crisis of 1997–1998 is receding into the past. While some of the affected countries (most obviously Indonesia) still feel its effects, by now others have made solid recoveries. Stiglitz is right that they have not regained, and probably will not, the rates of growth they achieved before the crisis. But those rapid growth rates may well have been unsustainable in any case. Even in Russia, where per capita income remains well below what it was when the Soviet Union collapsed, and where the IMF pursued the policies toward which Stiglitz is the most scathing, the economic situation looks better today than it did when he was writing his book.