July 25, 2014
by Ellen

Accounting and…Victorian Literature?

Yes, Victorian literature — as in British literature written during Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901). Why would you, accounting students in 2014, want to read Dickens, Eliot, or Hardy? Well, believe it or not, the concerns of that bygone era are not so different from those we struggle with today. The Victorian era was a period of great change — economic and social change brought about primarily through the Industrial Revolution. We, too, are living through significant economic and social changes influenced by factors such as globalization (the evolution of industrialization).

You have probably heard the term “Dickensian economy” mentioned a time or two in the last decade, particularly after the start of the Great Recession. See for example Alan Blinder’s piece for the Wall Street Journal, reprinted here in full by Yale Global Online, or Anna Shapiro’s piece for the Guardian. Such analyses are fascinating, for sure, but Victorian literature explores other themes that will interest you — growing up and finding your way in the world, the role and value of education, the underpinnings of class, women’s roles in society, social reform, and the impact of industrialization, to name a few.

You will be surprised by how interesting these novels are — plus, you’ll able to say you’ve read Charles Dickens (so cultured!). Here are a few suggestions. Most, if not all, of these books are available to download for free online at Project Gutenberg:

Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss

Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South


July 18, 2014
by Ellen

BRIC vs. the World Bank: Clash of the titans?

BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) have long talked of creating a development  bank to compete with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which are dominated by the U.S. and other major Western powers. But this week, at a summit of BRIC nations held in Brazil, these talks are happening in earnest. BRIC, with the addition of South Africa,  have all agreed to contribute billions of dollars to get the bank, which will be based in Shanghai, off the ground. What does this mean for the global economy and financial markets? Will it even work? See the reporting in the Wall Street Journal and  Business Week for more details.

July 10, 2014
by Ellen

Follow Up: Learning a Language

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how learning a second language can boost your career and earning potential. (You can read that fantastically written piece here.) I suggested you take some classes or look into Rosetta Stone to facilitate your learning — great suggestions that require a financial investment. Since then, however, I have stumbled upon an exciting and FREE way to learn a language.

It’s called “Duolingo” – a free app for your smartphone that you can also access online. It really is free — “100% free forever” as they say on the website. I looked into it, and apparently the program was created as a way to give non-English speakers in impoverished areas free access to a language learning program so they have a fair shot at getting higher-paying jobs. To fund the program, there are various documents posted on the website as “immersion” activities. The documents range from newspaper articles to form letters to Wikipedia pages and are translated, one sentence at a time, by advanced Duolingo users. The documents are crowd-sourced work that Duolingo sells — providing the needed revenue to keep the program alive. It’s brilliant.

Ok, so it’s free, but does it work? I was kinda skeptical at first — I mean, how effective can a free service be? To test it, I started the German program. As an English teacher who once lived and worked in Germany, I figured I could pretty easily judge the quality of the instruction. I was pleasantly surprised. The course has really refreshed my knowledge, and the app itself is addictive. It’s set up like any other gaming app, bells and whistles included — I have been sucked in for over an hour more than once.

While I was re-learning German, my ten-year-old son started the Spanish program. He has absolutely no experience learning a foreign language, but since most of his friends are native Spanish speakers, he’s pretty motivated to do it. He’s about 1/4 of the way through it and already able to carry on very basic conversations with his friends (“My name is…”, ‘I like to eat apples..” etc). That a 10 year old is catching on quickly is a great testament to the accessibility of the program. If he can do it, so can you!

Duolingo is effective because it integrates reading, writing, hearing, and speaking, which is awesome because in order to learn a language you need to be able to both understand and replicate what you are seeing and hearing. It also focuses on the basic outline of the language, rather than extensive lists of words to memorize. In other words, it shows you how the language “works” — how sentences are structured (the proper order of nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.) — and it gives you the basic vocab you would need to tell someone about yourself and to get around in the country as a tourist. The creators of Duolingo claim that by the time you complete the program, you will be functioning in the language at a “high intermediate” level (able to read with a dictionary, converse slowly and simply, and pick up words watching TV programs or listening to native speakers). From there, your fluency becomes a matter of adding vocab and increasing speed.

Duolingo is a great place to start learning another language, even if you’ve never tried before. Check it out.

July 3, 2014
by Ellen

My Controversial Summer Reading Recommendation

Whether you’re on the beach, by the pool, or taking a break at lunch, summer reading is a must. What better way to keep your brain working than a little controversy?

You may have heard some rumblings a few months ago about the publication of French economist Thomas Picketty’s new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. There has been no lack of heated debate over Picketty’s detailed analysis of  “a unique collection of data from twenty countries, ranging as far back as the eighteenth century, to uncover key economic and social patterns” surrounding the accumulation and distribution of wealth. Picketty argues that economic inequality, the gap between rich and poor, is on the rise and has reached levels greater than any other period in history.

As you may imagine, there are armies of economists both supporting and refuting his contentions, many of whom have written extensive reviews of the book. The most heated debate has been between Chris Giles of the Financial TimesPiketty findings undercut by errors – FT.com) and Picketty himself (Thomas Piketty’s Response To The Financial Times). The debate has also been summarized and further discussed in other publications such as the New York Times (Everything You Need to Know About Thomas Piketty vs. The Financial Times) and Forbes (http://www.forbes.com/sites/scottwinship/2014/06/02/financial-times-vs-piketty-on-us-smoke-no-fire/). And there are many, many others weighing in on the debate — just google “Picketty Capital” and you will see what I mean.

I bet dimes to donuts, at least a few of your colleagues have read the book, so why not see what all the hoopla is about? (If you can find a copy, that is — it has been sold out in most stores since the day it was published!) It could make for some interesting conversations. At the very least, it will expose you to points of view you never knew were out there.