babies and bathing water

With this reference I ended a comment on the entry of Paul’s blog, where he looks at the CORE-project.

In a nutshell: a textbook that is slightly better as others, does not make it sufficiently fit for use.

As my experience of working with the text-book shows, some more radical change is needed. And blaming a faulty economic system, narrow-minded economists and trumpy-dumy politicians should not tempt us to kill the baby …


Why can’t we do what we like to do?

Why can’t we do what we like to do?
– this was the question a Chinese student asked me when I visited the country the last time and walked across the Campus before going to the conference. It had been one of these somewhat strange encounters: a student seeing a Westener, taking the opportunity to proudly exercise a bit of English. I am never sure what to think about it – it reminds me of what can be read in Bakewell’s ‘Existentialist café’:
Not being black, not being gay, not being in Switzerland, there is still sometimes ‘something special’ about being white and hetero and in China [similar applies in other countries, including the occasional introduction as ‘Herrmann the German’ after having lived there nearly twenty years, and an introduction that actually was meant to be very kind] – sure, there is some ambiguity about it, depending on the ‘other person’ [the one who looks, stares or dares to talk …], the own mood and …, ah, so many things, including a possible nice smile or a somewhat rebukingly-fearing look.Is all this what some people man when they are talking about ‘social skills’?
A sentence in Marten Blix book on Digitalization, Immigration and the Welfare State [Edward Elgar, 2017] made me thinking about this in a wider context. On page 84 we can read:
Whether automation will hit an insuperable obstacle when it comes to to tackling tacit skills remains to be seen. Rather than being brick wall beyond which automation cannot venture, tacit knowledge might be reshaped or subject to circumvention and redefinition.
The highlighted part is as remarkable as easily overlooked: Skills, by [my??] definition have the tendency to be as set of rules, more or less easy to learn and also simple to algorithm-ise – the simplicity consists basically in something we may call ‘cutting off the edges, making the wedges’.
Life and living is not just a technical rule – though in the context of digitisation and IT-development technical rules surely play a more pronounced, more visible role. Underlying is a social rule: the arrogance of a class that aims on shaping a world according to its own image …. Doesn’t this remind the person, well versed in the bible of Genesis 26 ff.? There we read:
 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Those in the dark, remain invisible, are expelled, allowing the untouchables to be amongst themselves:
This egalitarian style can clash with the Valley’s reality of extreme income polarization. ‘Many tech companies solved this problem by having the lowest-paid workers not actually be employees. They’re contracted out’, Schmidt explained. ‘We can treat them differently, because we don’t really hire them. The person who’s cleaning the bathroom is not exactly the same sort of person.’
(Freeland, Chrystia, 2012: Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else; New York: The Penguin Press)
Are we really talking about New Princedoms and refeudalisation?
Coming back then to Anhui [and Changsha … – and even some international airports or some ‘melting pots’ of apparently complete and absolute indifference], perhaps one should think also more about the need of social knowledge as something that entails sovereign mastering of technical rules going hand in hand with empathy when encountering the other: fully understanding the other person [the one who looks or stares or dares to talk …], the own mood and …, ah, so many things, not least the respect of oneself as part of the situation: also with his/her own rights, defined by the interaction ….
And coming back to the question of the student:
why can’t we do what we like to do?
I suppose the answer is simple: because we are teaching and learning too many skills, and too little real knowledge. We are, even after the supposed enlightenment, and perhaps increasingly again ruled by gods, not by ourselves. And we do not even need a question as the answer is always the same, not allowing any critique anyway. And not even allowing a question … – boxing people ….

… boxing humans …

Well, moving in the academic realm is too often about boxing humans – yes, both sides going together: putting people into boxes and brutally beating them up. The following a letter I sent to relevant newspapers as comment on what is going on, how students [and lecturers] are mal-treated, disrespectful encounters when students are following their curiosity. It makes me increasingly sad, and I feel deeply ashamed …


Dear colleagues,

adding to the various discussions on ranking and formalistic approaches to studying, admission to universities and performance of third-level teaching and research, one point is easily overlooked – the following example is perhaps extreme, though not necessarily completely exceptional.

I worked for two years as professor of economics at Bangor College China, Changsha [BCC] before taking up my current position as research fellow at the Max-Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy in Munich, Germany. Still, one persisting bond to the previous job is concerned with writing references for some students. Some universities where students applied, accepted only references, requiring my mail-address from the previous job – but shouldn’t universities at this time and age accept that scholars are moving, following ambitions and calls in other positions? This means: they should also accept that mail addresses change, and one may even prefer to use a non-institutional address. Anyway, I mentioned the BCC-mail address – however, sending a mail to that address is answered by an auto-reply referring the sender to another address. This is the first point where the institution that was seeking the reference – the Graduate School, The Chinese University of Hong Kong – failed. They ignored the auto-reply and I did not know about the request they sent. Finally I was made aware of it [by the bright applying student], checked the dormant mail box and continued to the website for the submission of the reference. A form opened [after going through a more or less cumbersome procedure], asking for replies to multiple choice questions. I still think students are not made up of multiple choice elements, instead: they are real beings, humans with a multifaceted personality that cannot be squeezed into such forms – even when considering data-processing as an at-times appropriate tool. So, instead of ticking the boxes I preferred skipping them, attaching a recommendation letter instead. However, the system did not allow me to submit the letter unless I would first answer the multiple-choice questions which would feed into a one-dimensional profile. I complained, sent the letter as a mail attachment – and did not receive a reply by the said office of the Hong Kong University. At some stage, I agreed – honestly disgusted by the lack of qualification and respect towards students – ticked the boxes and attached the letter [again cumbersome, as one had to enter a code which was not clearly legible, not allowing to distinguish 0 and O]. I sent another letter of complaint to the Graduate School, The Chinese University of Hong Kong – which was again answered to the BCC address, and again they failed to resend the mail to the e-mail address mentioned in the auto-reply.

If these are the standards of entering higher education, one should not be surprised that at the other end, i.e. at the time of finishing studies, many people have difficulties. They feel their creativity being limited by the requirements of publishing, acquiring funding and the competition along lines of subordination under expectations instead of striving for innovation [see Maximilain Sippenauer: Doktor Bologna; Sueddeutsche Zeitung, 20.10.2017: 11]

Still, it is a bit surprising that all this is well known and still not much is changing. Surprising … ? Perhaps it is not really surprising if we consider that the income of top-administration posts increase while the income of lecturers does not follow accordingly [see for instance the article titled: Times Higher Education pay survey 2016 in The Times Higher Education;

It seems that there is a long way towards ‘supporting the brightest by open systems’, overcoming the dominant administrative policy of ‘wedge the narrowest by furthering their smart submission’.


Peter Herrmann

What we See – What we sometimes think – and What we have to learn

A Dedication to my Students, Around the World

The first impression on one of the the websites of my previous position was yesterday that of the

in its own way a very pleasing tune, matching the mood of the nicety of the previous Friday – for me much more than a beautiful autumn day

A day proving  the enjoyable lightness of being …

I scrolled down the site, saw the old photo showing me during the Shanghai Forum and was getting a bit curious, started the decipher …, wearisome …, to find out that all this is about the media centre and the ‘hyper-modern way of the networked world’ – where the global and the village come together …, perhaps not bad at all, if handled with care. Perhaps this is more important: the way to control the handling, not the instruments …

It surely means not least to be there for students – real, not virtual, and respecting …, no, accepting that we as teachers and as students have more in common than there are differences – where differences and arrogance, where delay and ‘servant-attitudes’ prevail, we have lost already our ingenuity.

Sorrows of Young Werther – not only

It had not been just the young Werther plagued by sorrows, and among the many concerned are academics – some old, some young; some knowing, some innocent; some forced and some voluntarily … .

[scan from: Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Faust – Der Tragödie Erster Teil, mit Illustrationen aus drei Jahrhunderten, ed. by Hans Hanning, Berlin: Rütting & Loening, 1982, 2nd ed., p. 123
Teufelspakt_Faust-Mephisto, by Julius Nisle]

All this is by no means new, the fine-tuning changed while the symphony itself is still the old lyre …

Career settings – career is a nice word actually: ‘a person really made a career’, we say it is somebody reached ‘high ranks’, and to get to the heights one has to make a career, i.e. move along a given path. Going back to Latin and Italian it is about the via cararia – the carriage road, the path on and along which the car – carrus – chariot moves. And it is about carrying, of course.

A brief outline then, if one gets an important part of the picture – surely not the complete one:

First step, getting the weight that needs to be carried – well prepared, and well wrapped:

Influence and manipulation in Teaching Economics – Backgrounds and Examples[1]

– There is at least an abstract in English language – and there is also an article on the topic[2]

Next step, prostitution[3] – it is not about what one says but how and where one says something.

And mind, see the progress: from the wrapped being presented, it is now about oneself, the young academic, wrapping.

Well, the end of the career? For some … the eternal wrappers, stepping higher and higher, the chariot being increasingly beautiful, the golden grids appearing as louvre – is it by accident that this is also the name of the great galleries in Paris?

For others the story ends …, well one may say Wertherian, i.e. by suicide – the way that social science goes too often[4] – actually the other side of prostitution – or its other side.

And indeed, there is some cunning of reason in the fact that this obituary on the academic freedom is published in a journal with access-by-payment-only … – Well, the Goethe, in his Faust, was clearer than Hegel with his hope for the cunning of reason, writing

To nonsense reason turns,

and benefit to worry.

And we basically have to fail if we maintain reasoning by simple reason, accepting that we are not quantum mechanic beings but real ones.

And still, exactly therefore we have to look where and how exactly the cat moves – accepting also that it cannot be understood if we use those concepts that are hidden behind the eclipsed reason.

Sure, some leave the wrapping post and move on as rapper – against the rapists.

The answer history will give ????   – well, it may be that you have to go for it



[1]            Silja Graupe: Beeinflussung und Manipulation in der ökonomischen Bildung Hintergründe und Beispiele; Duesseldorf: FGW – Forschungsinstitut für gesellschaftliche Weiterentwicklung e.V.

[2]            Silja Graupe. The Power of Ideas. The Teaching of Economics and its Image of Man; in: Volume 11, Number 2, © JSSE 2012 ISSN 1618-5293

[3]            Frey: PUBLISHING AS PROSTITUTION? Choosing Between One’s Own Ideas and Academic Failure;

[4]            Holmquist, Carin and Sundin, Elisabeth(2010) ‘The suicide of the social sciences: causes and effects’, Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research, 23: 1, 13 — 23

Responsibility versus Success?

“All that glisters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told:
Many a man his life has sold
But my outside to behold:
Gilded tombs do worms enfold
Had you been as wise as bold,
Your in limbs, in judgment old,
Your answer had not been in’scroll’d
Fare you well: your suit is cold.’ Cold, indeed, and labour lost: Then, farewell, heat and welcome, frost!”

― William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

Responsibility and Success, at times and in some cases may stand in contradiction, at least tension to each other … – while the cat is chasing its own tale, not being sure if it is dead or alive.
… It is said of medical doctors that they cannot perform well unless they overcome a certain kind of empathy – some interventions cause instant pain, providing relief in the longer run. Is that the same with doctors in economics and even social science in general?
In any case the question to be asked is more specific as empathy as such is a rather empty and shallow notion as long as it is not specified. And specifying means here as in most of the cases to ask the simple question for which in particular Marcus Tullius Cicero was getting famous:
Cui Bono – for whose benefit?
Reading the other day an interview, made with a former …, shall I still say colleague?, brought this question back to me. I do not want to question the interviewees qualification, have no doubts that he is committed – but that may make things even worse.
If finance and stock analysis is such an advanced discipline, I feel obliged to ask why in 2007 a crisis manifested, actually already visible for some time for attentive observers? And it had been a crisis in particular around finance and stock markets.
I also feel obliged to wonder how it is possible to elevate a tiny fraction of the economy, an actual tool of the entire socio-economic processes, making it a major?
Sure, I agree with the emphasis of students responsibility – but it is not about them entering life – students are surely already living and perhaps we, as teachers, should think more about keeping them alive, not killing these lives by subordinating them under the rules of the ‘Lehmans of this world’.
Reading, as said to students
You are not far away from productively enter society and the real world. For that, you  will need to be as ready as possible to become accomplished and successful professionals.
shows in my reading a bit of disrespect – at least as student, I and many of my generation, would surely not have accepted such suggestion – though what is presented in the interview is surely view on young people and on life reflecting very much an negative approach to academic work: first work and then think about what you are doing. First act, and then reflect on the issues of responsibility – and even more: you may come to the conclusion that you don’t have to. There is surely a complex issue at stake – unfortunately very positive experience of the Polytechnic Secondary School education in part of Germany, finding roots in Henry Holmes Belfield’s foundation of the Chicago Manual Training School [founded in 1883] are surely more valuable than orienting on professional skills training, without sound academic foundation.
Yes, it is indeed time to take on responsibility …. – I returned to Europe – the interviewee once talked about one of my ‘homelands’, namely Italy. At least there he was right, stating that the country is in a mess. But he also celebrated another of my ‘homelands’ Germany and the U.K. suggesting that their success was very much due to austerity measures … – well, there is a point in it: the relative wealth of both is founded in austerity which can be taken as externalisation of cost and privatisation of gain: social inequality in Germany is increasing; an increasing number of people, though in full-time employment, do not earn enough money to make a living; after a full working life, the old age pension is mot secure; the health system is deteriorating, although the private contributions are extremely high. the UK took another way: exiting the EU, hoping to be thus in a position to avoid any obligation under the gelding ’solidarity’ – Indeed, Cui Bono as in both countries the rich are getting richer and more infueotnail! Being in Europe now – a bit of a tour de force through Italy, Germany, France, The Netherlands it is very visible what it means … – and there are too many facets that would need to be highlighted.

I take a short passage, from the end of an article I am currently finalising [‘Plattformökonomie – flexi, ein Schritt vorwärts oder zwei Schritte zurück?’] … Sorry, it is in German language ….***

Ein Eindruck vom mehrfachen Druck

Ein Eindruck sei hier am Schluss gegeben – dies meint auch: eine eindrückliche Verdeutlichung des Gesamtzusammenhanges. Es handelt sich um ein persönliche Erfahrung des Autors – gemacht im August 2017: Ziel des Fußweges war die mehr oder weniger zentrale Geschäftsstelle einer Krankenkasse in einer größeren deutschen Stadt. Der Weg führte an den verschiedenen Geschäften der Ketten vorbei: einschließlich etwa Esprit,[1] TK, Starbucks, Karstadt, H&M, s.Oliver,[2] Victorinox, Subway, Zara, Primark, Nespresso, Manufactum, O2 – auch der ‚discounter’ Lidl, alle nun auch in den Zentren mehr oder weniger reicher Städte Deutschlands zu finden.

Vor dem discounter kniet ein Bettler, im danebenliegenden Kaffee wird der Verkäufer der Straßenzeitung von der am Tresen stehenden Verkäuferin vertrieben, in der Geschäftsstelle der Krankenkasse wird die Summe des Versicherungsbetrages genannt – es handelt sich um mehr als 16% des Einkommens. Im Falle der Einkommenslosigkeit sind es immer noch um knapp 180 €. – Glücklich, wer da noch beim discounter kaufen kann oder gar auf andere Weise den Wert der eigenen Ware Arbeitskraft senken kann, etwa durch die Inanspruchnahme des Foodora- oder Uber-Dienstes, möglicherweise bei einem Urlaubsaufenthalt, erschwinglich durch den solo-Unternehmer, der als Pilot arbeitet und die Airbnb-reduzierten Unterkunftskosten – die letzte Warnung: spätestens wenn der Trevi-Brunnen oder Ähnliches zum Verkauf angeboten wird,[3] sollte man sich fragen, ob die Grenzen nicht wirklich überschritten sind. – Déjà vu, das letzte Geschäft, welches ich nun auf dem Rückweg sehe – wohl Zufall, ebenso Zufall, wie die aufschimmernde Erinnerung an einen Platz in Rom, den ich vor einigen Jahren überquerte – selbst im Zentrum des katholischen Wohlgefallens ist bekannt, dass Wohlfahrt in der Konkurrenzgesellschaft Grenzen hat.

But I may submit something else to the discussion here – the short story written by L.N. Tolstoy: Master and Man – there is a no need to buy into the religious part of it. Many aspects are making if a good read – the main story line, and the little ramifications.
Reading the short story in the light of finance, there is one crucial sentence, and should not be forgotten when looking at the tool of finance – and applying tools without knowing sufficiently about the entire context:
Vasili Andreevich stopped, stooped down and looked carefully. It was a horse-track only partially covered with snow, and could be none but his own horse’s hoofprints. He had evidently gone round in a small circle. ‘I shall perish like that!’ he thought, and not to give way to his terror he urged on the horse still more, peering into the snowy darkness in which he saw only flitting and fitful points of light.
Indeed, limited perspectives don’t allow much – there is always good reason to take wider perspectives on studying, responsibility and life.
*** Too lazy, and not trusting google-translation, I still dared – the result is reasonable, here inserted without changes made.
An impression of multiple pressures An impression should be given here – this also means: an impressive clarification of the overall context. It is a personal experience of the author – made in August 2017: the goal of the footpath was the more or less central office of a health insurance in a larger German city. The route took us past the various shops of the chains: including Esprit, TK, Starbucks, Karstadt, H & M, s.Oliver, Victorinox, Subway, Zara, Primark, Nespresso, Manufactum, O2 Also in the centers of more or less rich cities of Germany.   In front of the discounter, a beggar kneels, in the coffee next to it, the seller of the road is expelled by the saleswoman standing at the counter, in the office of the health insurance the sum of the insurance amount is called – it is more than 16% of the income. In the case of loss of income, it is still around € 180. – Happy, who can still buy at the discounter or in some other way reduce the value of the own goods labor, for example through the consumption of the food or over-service, possibly for a holiday stay, affordable by the solo entrepreneur, who as Pilot works and the Airbnb reduced accommodation costs – the last warning: at the latest when the Trevi well or the like is offered for sale, one should ask whether the limits are not really exceeded. – Déjà vu, the last business I see on the way back – coincidence, just as coincidentally, as the glimmering memory of a place in Rome, which I crossed a few years ago – even in the center of the Catholic prosperity is well-known that welfare In the competition borders.

[1]            Ja, es ist ein bemerkenswerter Geist, der da über allem schwebt. Und wie Namen, Images und Design eine immer prägendere Rolle spielt, was unter anderem durch Halbbildung ermöglicht wird.

Yes, it is a remarkable spirit that floats above everything. And how names, images and design play an ever more prominent role, which is made possible, among other things, by semi-education.

[2]            Es fehlt nur das an das S angehängte t um dem Ganzen etwas Heiligkeit zu anzuhängen.

The only thing missing is the t attached to the S to add something holiness to the whole.

[3]            Vom Teilverkauf in der Form von Besichtigungskosten, gig-sightseeing-tours etc. abgesehen.

 From the partial sale in the form of sightseeing, gig-sightseeing-tours etc. apart.

On studying, teaching, responsibility … and a bit on economy and economics

Students at Bangor College China asked me for an interview – some would say it is about god and the world – but that is not really an appropriate wording when it comes to talking with an atheist about studying, teaching and responsibility, is it?

It may well be of interests to a wider audience — trying to make sense of studying today. And it surely links to many other statements made on various occasions of looking for firm grounds in a world of flux.

The students:

采访:李雨欣 彭博 龚佳亮 刘佳浩