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Asking About Prices

A New Approach to Understanding Price Stickiness

Why do consumer prices and wages adjust so slowly to changes in market conditions? The rigidity or stickiness of price setting in business is central to Keynesian economic theory and a key to understanding how monetary policy works, yet economists have made little headway in determining why it occurs. Asking About Prices offers a groundbreaking empirical approach to a puzzle for which theories abound but facts are scarce. Leading economist Alan Blinder, along with co-authors Elie Canetti, David Lebow, and Jeremy B. Rudd, interviewed a national, multi-industry sample of 200 CEOs, company heads, and other corporate price setters to test the validity of twelve prominent theories of price stickiness. Using everyday language and pertinent scenarios, the carefully designed survey asked decisionmakers how prominently these theoretical concerns entered into their own attitudes and thought processes. Do businesses tend to view the costs of changing prices as prohibitive? Do they worry that lower prices will be equated with poorer quality goods? Are firms more likely to try alternate strategies to changing prices, such as warehousing excess inventory or improving their quality of service? To what extent are prices held in place by contractual agreements, or by invisible handshakes? Asking About Prices offers a gold mine of previously unavailable information. It affirms the widespread presence of price stickiness in American industry, and offers the only available guide to such business details as what fraction of goods are sold by fixed price contract, how often transactions involve repeat customers, and how and when firms review their prices. Some results are surprising: contrary to popular wisdom, prices do not increase more easily than they decrease, and firms do not appear to practice anticipatory pricing, even when they can foresee cost increases. Asking About Prices also offers a chapter-by-chapter review of the survey findings for each of the twelve theories of price stickiness. The authors determine which theories are most popular with actual price setters, how practices vary within different business sectors, across firms of different sizes, and so on. They also direct economists' attention toward a rationale for price stickiness that does not stem from conventional theory, namely a strong reluctance by firms to antagonize or inconvenience their customers. By illuminating how company executives actually think about price setting, Asking About Prices provides an elegant model of a valuable new approach to conducting economic research.

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Aspiration and Ambivalence

Strategies and Realities of Counterinsurgency and State-Building in Afghanistan

foreword by Bruce O. Riedel. Vanda Felbab-Brown

After more than a decade of great effort and sacrifice by America and its allies, the Taliban still has not been defeated, and many Afghans believe that a civil war is coming. Aspiration and Ambivalence analyzes the U.S. and international efforts in Afghanistan and offers detailed recommendations for dealing with the precarious situation leading up to the 2014 transition to Afghan control and beyond. Vanda Felbab-Brown argues that allied efforts in Afghanistan have put far too little emphasis on good governance, concentrating too much on short-term military goals to the detriment of long-term peace and stability. The Western tendency to ally with bullies, warlords, smugglers, and other shady characters in pursuit of short-term military advantage actually empowers the forces working against good governance and long-term political stability. Rampant corruption and mafia rule thus persist, making it impossible for Afghans to believe in the institutional reforms and rule of law that are clearly necessary. This must change — otherwise, the chances of building responsive and sustainable governmental structures are slim, indeed.

Felbab-Brown combines thorough research and analysis with vivid personal accounts of her time spent in the war-torn nation —powerful vignettes illustrating the Afghan aspirations for peace, stability, and sovereignty and the stubborn obstacles to securing them.

"The year 2014 will mark a critical juncture in Afghanistan's odyssey. After more than a decade of arduous fighting and political involvement, the U.S. and international presence there will be significantly reduced and circumscribed. Although the international community has committed itself not to abandon Afghanistan as it did in the 1990s, the onus will be on the Afghan government to provide for the security of the country, its economic development, and governance that attempts to meet the needs of the Afghan people. Difficult challenges, major unresolved questions, and worrisome trends surround all three sets of processes. The biggest hole in the U.S. strategy and international efforts to stabilize the country is the failure to adequately address the country's fractured and brittle political system and very poor governance." —from Aspiration and Ambivalence

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Atlanta Paradox

Despite the rapid creation of jobs in the greater Atlanta region, poverty in the city itself remains surprisingly high, and Atlanta's economic boom has yet to play a significant role in narrowing the gap between the suburban rich and the city poor. This book investigates the key factors underlying this paradox.

The authors show that the legacy of past residential segregation as well as the more recent phenomenon of urban sprawl both work against inner city blacks. Many remain concentrated near traditional black neighborhoods south of the city center and face prohibitive commuting distances now that jobs have migrated to outlying northern suburbs.

The book also presents some promising signs. Few whites still hold overt negative stereotypes of blacks, and both whites and blacks would prefer to live in more integrated neighborhoods. The emergence of a dynamic, black middle class and the success of many black-owned businesses in the area also give the authors reason to hope that racial inequality will not remain entrenched in a city where so much else has changed.

A Volume in the Multi-City Study of Urban Inequality

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Atlanta Unbound

Enabling Sprawl through Policy and Planning

Looking at Atlanta, Georgia, one might conclude that the city’s notorious sprawl, degraded air quality, and tenuous water supply is a result of a lack of planning—particularly an absence of coordination at the regional level. In Atlanta Unbound, Carlton Wade Basmajian shows that Atlanta’s low-density urban form and its associated problems have been both highly coordinated and regionally planned.
 
Basmajian’s shrewd analysis shows how regional policies spanned political boundaries and   framed local debates over several decades. He examines the role of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s planning deliberations that appear to have contributed to the urban sprawl that they were designed to control. Basmajian explores four cases—regional land development plans, water supply strategies, growth management policies, and transportation infrastructure programs—to provide a detailed account of the interactions between citizens, planners, regional commissions, state government, and federal agencies.
 
In the process, Atlanta Unbound answers the question: Toward what end and for whom is Atlanta’s regional planning process working?
 
In the series Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy, edited by Zane L. Miller, David Stradling, and Larry Bennett

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Atomic Frontier Days

Hanford and the American West

By John M. Findlay and Bruce Hevly

Takes readers behind the headlines into the Manhattan Project at Hanford and the communities that surround it and offers perspectives on today’s controversies in an area now famous for the monumental effort to clean up decades of nuclear waste.

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Australia Faces Southeast Asia

The Emergence of a Foreign Policy

Amry Vandenbosch and Mary Belle Vandenbosch

Australia as a Western society in the Orient faces a unique and paradoxical challenge in her relations with her close but unfamiliar neighbors of Southeast Asia. Explicitly dependent upon British foreign policy until the fall of Singapore in 1942, Australia has reluctantly and painfully begun the task of developing a policy of her own.

The Japanese conquest of Southeast Asia and many of the Pacific islands during the Second World War awakened Australia to the need to secure her own defenses and later, when Britain began a gradual withdrawal from Southeast Asia, Australia was thrown upon her own resources in dealing with her politically unstable and volatile neighbors and also with the larger Asian threat posed by Communist China. In Australia Faces Southeast Asia, Amry and MaryBelle Vandenbosch trace Australia's attempts to reconcile her cultural heritage and her geography.

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Avoiding Armageddon

America, India, and Pakistan to the Brink and Back

Bruce O. Riedel

India and Pakistan will be among the most important countries in the twenty-first century. In Avoiding Armageddon, Bruce Riedel clearly explains the challenge and the importance of successfully managing America's affairs with these two emerging powers and their toxic relationship.

Born from the British Raj, the two nations share a common heritage, but they are different in many important ways. India is already the world's largest democracy and will soon become the planet's most populous nation. Pakistan, soon to be the fifth most populous country, has a troubled history of military coups, dictators, and harboring terrorists such as Osama bin Laden.

The longtime rivals are nuclear powers, with tested weapons. They have fought four wars with each other and have gone to the brink of war several times. Meanwhile, U.S. presidents since Franklin Roosevelt have been increasingly involved in the region's affairs. In the past two decades alone, the White House has intervened several times to prevent nuclear confrontation on the subcontinent. South Asia clearly is critical to American national security, and the volatile relationship between India and Pakistan is the crucial factor determining whether the region can ever be safe and stable.

Based on extensive research and Riedel's role in advising four U.S. presidents on the region, Avoiding Armageddon reviews the history of American diplomacy in South Asia, the crises that have flared in recent years, and the prospects for future crisis. Riedel provides an in-depth look at the Mumbai terrorist attack in 2008, the worst terrorist outrage since 9/11, and he concludes with authoritative analysis on what the future is likely to hold for America and the South Asia puzzle as well as recommendations on how Washington should proceed.

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Awakening Giants, Feet of Clay

Assessing the Economic Rise of China and India

Pranab Bardhan

The recent economic rise of China and India has attracted a great deal of attention--and justifiably so. Together, the two countries account for one-fifth of the global economy and are projected to represent a full third of the world's income by 2025. Yet, many of the views regarding China and India's market reforms and high growth have been tendentious, exaggerated, or oversimplified. Awakening Giants, Feet of Clay scrutinizes the phenomenal rise of both nations, and demolishes the myths that have accumulated around the economic achievements of these two giants in the last quarter century. Exploring the challenges that both countries must overcome to become true leaders in the international economy, Pranab Bardhan looks beyond short-run macroeconomic issues to examine and compare China and India's major policy changes, political and economic structures, and current general performance.

Bardhan investigates the two countries' economic reforms, each nation's pattern and composition of growth, and the problems afflicting their agricultural, industrial, infrastructural, and financial sectors. He considers how these factors affect China and India's poverty, inequality, and environment, how political factors shape each country's pattern of burgeoning capitalism, and how significant poverty reduction in both countries is mainly due to domestic factors--not global integration, as most would believe. He shows how authoritarianism has distorted Chinese development while democratic governance in India has been marred by severe accountability failures.

Full of valuable insights, Awakening Giants, Feet of Clay provides a nuanced picture of China and India's complex political economy at a time of startling global reconfiguration and change.

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The Bachelet Government

Conflict and Consensus in Post-Pinochet Chile

Silvia Borzutzky and Gregory B. Weeks

Michelle Bachelet was the first elected female president of Chile, and the first women elected president of any South American country. What was just as remarkable, though less noted, was the success and stability of the political coalition that she represented, the Concertacion. Though Bachelet was the fourth consecutive Concertacion president, upon taking office her administration quickly faced a series of crises, including massive student protests, labor unrest, internal governmental divisions, and allegations of ineptitude and wrongdoing as a result of a major reorganization of Santiago's transportation system.

Candidate Bachelet promised not only different policies but also a different policymaking style--a style characterized by a kinder and gentler approach to politics in a country with a long tradition of machismo and strong male rulers. Bachelet promised to listen to the people and to return power to those who had been denied it in the past. Her attitude enhanced the influence of existing social movements and inspired the formation of new ones.

The Bachelet Government is the first book to examine the policies, political issues, and conflicts of Bachelet's administration, and the first to provide analyses of the challenges, successes, and failures experienced by the Concertacion since 1989.

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The Banking Crisis of 1933

Susan Estabrook Kennedy

On March 6, 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt, less than forty-eight hours after becoming president, ordered the suspension of all banking facilities in the United States. How the nation had reached such a desperate situation and how it responded to the banking "holiday" are examined in this book, the first full-length study of the crisis.

Although the 1920s had witnessed a wave of bank failures, the situation worsened after the 1929 stock market crash, and by the winter of 1932-1933, complete banking collapse threatened much of the nation. President Hoover's stopgap measures proved totally inadequate, the author shows, and by March 4, the day of Roosevelt's inauguration, thirty-four states had declared banking moratoriums. Of special interest in this study is Ms. Kennedy's examination of relations between Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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