Thursday, December 30, 2004

Regarding the "stinginess" of American aid

Every time I think I'm out on sabbatical, the blogosphere pulls me back in.

Virginia Postrel has kindly requested a comment from me on the kerfuffle* -- fueled today by the New York Times editorial page, no less -- over "whether the U.S. is 'stingy' with disaster aid." Similarly, Eugene Volokh posts the following:

[S]ince so much discussion has focused on whether we are in fact more or less generous than most other countries in terms of aid alone, with people making claims for both the "more generous" and "less generous" numbers given that metric, I'd love to see some solid data on this.

I've blogged on the topic, and written elsewhere about it. More importantly, I'm on the Board of Advisors for the Center for Global Development's Ranking the Rich exercise, which means I've seen a lot of these debates in the past. So I guess I have a duty to fill the information gap here. So here goes:

1) Is the United States stingy with disaster relief? Compared to other OECD countries, no.

President Bush was correct in pointing out that the U.S. is the largest provider of "humanitarian relief aid" in terms of total dollars -- in 2003, the U.S. gave $2.478 billion (all figures courtesy of CGD's David Roodman, who plucked them from the OECD's Development Assistance Committee).

Of course, the United States is also the biggest economy, so the raw dollar term doesn't mean that much. What about in per capita terms? Here's the ranking of contries by relief aid per capita per day (in cents, not dollars):

1. Norway 21.04
2. Sweden 11.81
3. Denmark 5.95
4. Switzerland 5.85
5. Netherlands 5.15
6. Belgium 2.94
7. United Kingdom 2.58
8. Finland 2.38
9. United States 2.34
10. France 2.17
11. Canada 2.10
12. Australia 1.93
13. Ireland 1.83
14. Austria 1.23
15. New Zealand 1.18
16. Spain 0.61
17. Germany 0.61
18. Italy 0.42
19. Greece 0.27
20. Japan 0.06
21. Portugal 0.03

Out of the 21 major donors, we're ninth -- hardly stingy, though not the most generous. One could make the case that comparing large economies with Scandinavia or the Benelux states is unfair, because the bigger economies have other public goods functions to fulfill (see Bruce Bartlett for this argument). If you limit the comparison to the G-7 countries, only Great Britain is more generous. Indeed, the most shocking figure in that table is how ungenerous the Japanese have been on this front.

[C'mon, though, just $15 $35 million pledged for tsunami relief efforts in the first few days?--ed. Well, that figure doesn't include the cost of military deployments or the dispatching of U.S. CDC personnel to the region. That said, here's the relevant graf from Jim VandeHei and Robin Wright's Washington Post story:

The usual U.S. contribution during major disasters is 25 to 33 percent of total international aid, according to J. Brian Atwood, a former USAID administrator. So far, the [official] U.S. contribution is 13 percent of the $270 million in international aid that has been pledged, the United Nations said Wednesday.

My guess is that the U.S. will ramp up its contribution as regional needs are properly assessed. {UPDATE: Drezner gets results from the Bush administration!!} And Chuck Simmins is correct to point out that private and corporate giving has been significantly greater. At a gut level, however, $35 million sounds puny compared to the devastation in the region. Combine this with reporters eager to feed the "Bush administration does not play well with others in world politics" meme and you've got a lovely political football. Of course, the initial comment by the United Nations official also fed right into the conservative meme about the UN being reflexively anti-American (see below for more on this).]

2) Beyond humanitarian relief, is the United States stingy with aid? Pretty much, yeah. But aid is not the only relevant dimension when talking about helping the world's poor -- and on those other fronts, the United States does pretty well.

Even if you factor in private giving, the United States ranks 19th out of 21 rich countries in terms of per capita expenditures, according to the 2004 Ranking the Rich exercise. Here's a link to the background paper for those curious about the methodology, which factors in the extent to which aid is "tied" (requiring recipients to spend it {inefficiently} on donor country goods) and whether the aid is going to governments that spend the money wisely. For what it includes, the methodology on this dimension is rock-solid.

This figure does not include remittances, but as I've argued previously, it's questionable whether this reflects the generosity of Americans -- or, more importantly, whether such an inclusion would dramatically alter the rankings.

This does not mean that the United States is particularly stingy on other dimensions of helping the poor. The Ranking the Rich exercise included aid as only one of seven components -- the others are trade, investment, migration, environment, technology, and security. When you aggregate the different components, the U.S. comes in at 7th out of the 21 countries (intriguingly, among the G-7, the Anglosphere countries -- Great Britain, Canada, and the U.S. -- come in at 1-2-3). It turns out that the U.S. is comparatively more generous on other dimensions.

*A final note: Matthew Yglesias correctly points out that the comment triggering the whole debate was not aimed specifically at the United States:

What the UN official actually said was that rich countries including the US are stingy with aid money. Whether out of anti-UN malice, or simply demented America-centrism, this has been widely reported as the claim that the United States is stingy which has pissed people off. But no one said that. (emphases in original)

Here's the actual quote from Bill Sammon's Washington Times piece with the disingenuous headline, "U.N. official slams U.S. as 'stingy' over aid.":

U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland suggested that the United States and other Western nations were being "stingy" with relief funds, saying there would be more available if taxes were raised.

"It is beyond me why are we so stingy, really," the Norwegian-born U.N. official told reporters. "Christmastime should remind many Western countries at least, [of] how rich we have become."

"There are several donors who are less generous than before in a growing world economy," he said, adding that politicians in the United States and Europe "believe that they are really burdening the taxpayers too much, and the taxpayers want to give less. It's not true. They want to give more." (emphases added)

It's clear that Egeland was indicting most of the OECD countries -- i.e., those not from Scandinavia. Egeland reiterated this point a day later:

Later in the day, Jan Egeland, United Nations undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, called the assistance pledged by the United States and Europe "very generous."

"I have been misinterpreted when I yesterday said that my belief that rich countries in general can be more generous," he added. "This has nothing to do with any particular country or the response to this emergency in the early days. The response so far has been overwhelmingly positive." (emphasis added)

Again the Washington Times goes with a U.S.-centric headline: "U.N. official backtracks after calling U.S. 'stingy'" -- but in this case there's a better justification, since Colin Powell was quoted as interpreting the remark in a manner similar to the right half of the blogosphere.

As to whether the rich countries are collectively stingy -- or wish he could pay more in taxes for development aid -- I'll leave that debate to the commenters.

UPDATE: This Heritage Foundation WebMemo by Brett Schaefer says that "the transcript of his [Egelend's] comments clearly identifies the U.S. as the primary target." If that was indeed true, it would explain the Washington Times headlines. However, none of these clear identifications show up in the attributed quotes in the Times piece, which made me want to check out the actual transcript.

Click here for the video of Egelend's press conference on Monday and draw your own conclusions. I've listened to the relevant portions of the transcript (go to 30:57 and 40:39) and my anti-American radar most certainly did not go off. Schaefer's radar might be overly... sensitive.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn for the link -- and do check out Bruce Bartlett and Chuck Simmins for their takes.

posted by Dan at 11:31 AM | Comments (128) | Trackbacks (24)

Monday, December 27, 2004

Unfortunately, this qualifies as a "mind-blowing" event

When I decided earlier this month to go on a brief blogging sabbatical, I said it was "barring some mind-blowing event." Regretfully, I think the earthquake and subsequent tidal waves in Southeat Asia qualify.

24,000 people dead. UPDATE: the latest estimate is approximately 44,000. It will likely increase further due to the poor health infrastructure in the affected countries. ANOTHER UPDATE: It's obviously higher than that now, but I'm not going to update the number further.

Just let that figure sink in for a minute.

A 9/11 attack -- six eleven times over.

For those who would like to help those affected by the earthquake and tidal waves, the Associated Press has a list of aid agencies that are directing funds towards that end. Here are the aid agencies listed in that report who have already posted about their activities on their web sites:

American Red Cross (International Response Fund)

Direct Relief International

Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres

Mercy Corps

Operation USA

Save the Children (Asia Earthquake/Tidal Wave Relief Fund)

Commenters are strongly encouraged to post URLs for relevant charities. UPDATE: The Command Post has more charitable links. This tsunami blog has more as well.

UPDATE: Here's InstaPundit's blog summary -- and Tim Blair is performing the thankless task of updating the death toll. It's still too early to estimate the aggregate economic damage, but it has to run into the tens of billions.

posted by Dan at 02:19 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (6)

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Some light reading for your holiday week

I'm still resolutely on sabbatical -- but as I'm typing this in my favorite bar in North Carolina, I do have a few minutes to kill. So here are two articles worth checking out:

1) The first is Nicholas Thompson's story in Legal Affairs on the controversy that four economists (Dartmouth's Rafael La Porta, Yale's Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes, Harvard's Andrei Shleifer, and the University of Chicago's Robert Vishny) are generating among legal scholars about an interesting empirical finding:

According to research published by a group of scholars beginning in 1998, countries that come from a French civil law tradition struggle to create effective financial markets, while countries with a British common law tradition succeed far more frequently. While the scholars conducting the research are economists rather than lawyers, their theory has jolted the legal academy, leading to the creation of a new academic specialty called "law and finance" and turning the authors of the theory into the most cited economists in the world over the past decade.

Read the whole thing. I've seen this stuff before, and Thompson does a solid job of characterizing the contours of the debate. For me, it boils down to whether their causal logic is correct or whether their observation is a contemporaneous correlation caused by an unobserved causal variable.

2) Andrew Higgins looks at whether American influence is on the wane in new EU entrants like Poland in the Wall Street Journal. Higgins is overstating the case a bit. Of course a new EU entrant is going to pay more attention to the EU. Somehow I don't see the WSJ running a similar post-CAFTA story with the headline, "At Expense of E.U., Nations Of North America Are Drawing Closer." And the bit on Ukraine drawing Poland closer to the EU is puzzling, since the US and EU have acted in concert on that front.

That said, this section is sobering:

Washington's ebbing influence in this most pro-American swath of Europe reflects a broader phenomenon this series of articles has explored: Some of the largest challenges facing the U.S. now flow from the sources of its great power.

Its democratic domestic politics can leave it deaf to even its closest friends abroad. America's sheer size and might breed resentment and, in the geopolitical marketplace, stir competition. Its economic example spurs Europe to band together to compete. Its faith in elections prompts an effort, in Iraq and Afghanistan, to impose democracy through arms. For many abroad, America's goals inspire, but its actions often exasperate.

"America failed its exam as a superpower," says Lech Walesa, the former Solidarity trade-union leader who became Poland's first post-Communist president. "They are a military and economic superpower but not morally or politically anymore. This is a tragedy for us."

Mr. Walesa laments what he sees as America's squandered leadership because he thinks the EU isn't ready for prime time. Encompassing 25 nations and 450 million people, it struggles to find a common voice or mission: "Even bird-watching clubs have a clear set of goals" -- but Europe, he says, doesn't.

When Lech Walesa starts speaking ill of the U.S., it's time for DC policymakers to think just a little harder about the costs and benefits of their foreign policy approach.

That's all -- enjoy the break!

posted by Dan at 03:58 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (1)

Thursday, December 16, 2004

A short blogging sabbatical

In recent days I've been feeling disoriented. It's not just that an increasing number of Republicans are calling for Rumsfeld's head, or Ariel Sharon talking about "historic breakthoughs" with the Palestinians. There's even a chance Turkey might join the European Union (though I won't be holding my breath on those negotiations).

There's also the fact that David Wells now plays for the Red Sox, while Pedro Martinez is now a Met. Time magazine has short-listed "the blogger" as its Person of the Year. And, finally, Eszter Hargittai is contemplating spraying herself with chocolate perfume.

It's too much -- I need a break.

Given that I started this year by both guest-blogging and meta-blogging, it seems appropriate to end the year with a small sabbatical.

Barring some mind-blowing event, blogging will resume January 1, 2005.

For the commenters, here's a topic for discussion -- check out this report by the Council on Competitiveness. Joanna Chung summarizes the report for the Financial Times:

The US must make innovation the top national priority or risk ceding its role as the world’s foremost economic power, an organisation of top business and academic leaders warned on Wednesday.

The warning came as the Council on Competitiveness, a Washington-based group, issued a comprehensive report recommending strategies for encouraging innovation and producing workers that “succeed, not merely survive” in the global economy.

At a conference held to release the report, Samuel Palmisano, chairman and chief executive of IBM, said American innovation had reached “a critical juncture” and the country was “somehow losing its edge at just the wrong time, when the game was becoming dramatically more competitive.”

Mr Palmisano, who is also the co-chairman of the group’s National Innovation Initiative, said about half of US patents belonged to foreign companies and inventors while foreign countries, including Japan, South Korea, Israel, Sweden an Finland spent more on research and development as a percentage of their gross domestic product than the US.

The report noted other disturbing trends, including a long-term decline in federal funding in research. Corporate research and development in the US had dropped nearly $8bn in 2002, the biggest drop in any year since 1950.

To regain the competitive edge, the report called for increased public funding for research, including the reallocation of 3 per cent of all federal research and development budgets toward grants that invest in novel, high-risk and exploratory research.

It offered new education proposals aimed at harnessing a talent pool of innovators domestically but also called for reforming US immigration policies so they attract the “best and brightest” foreign science and engineering students.

“Few would disagree that foreign scientists make critical contributions to the nation’s scientific and technical talent,” the report said. “There are indications, however, that post-9/11 visa policies are reversing decades of openness to foreign scientific excellence.”

“Delays and difficulties in obtaining visas to the US are contributing to a declining in-flow of scientific talent. And other countries can and do take advantage of our increasingly cumbersome visa process.”

posted by Dan at 11:58 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (3)

Michael Kinsley on the limits of conservatism

Post-election there was a lot of screeching that social conservatives wanted to roll back the "social progress" pushed largely by Northern Democrats over the past fifty years. Michael Kinsley's essay today in the Los Angeles Times points out the obvious -- at best, conservatives want to slow the accelerating change in social mores:

Gay marriage is on the verge of joining abortion rights on the very short list of litmus tests that any Democratic candidate for national office must support. Not gay rights, but gay marriage, or at least "civil union," which is an unstable half-step that is bound to turn into the real thing. Some say this just illustrates how far Democrats and liberals have drifted outside the mainstream. But the mainstream, and even the right, is not far behind.

Gay civil union, itself a radical concept from the perspective of just a few years ago, has widespread support outside of liberal circles. The notion that gay relationships should enjoy at least some of the benefits of marriage (hospital visitation rights being the unanswerable example) is probably a majority view. And even the most homophobic religious-right demagogue feels obliged to spout - and may well actually believe - bromides about God's love of gay people.

Today's near-universal and minimally respectable attitude - the rock-bottom, nonnegotiable price of admission to polite society and the political debate - is an acceptance of gay people and of open, unapologetic homosexuality as part of American life. This would have shocked, if not offended, the great liberals of a few decades ago - men such as Hubert Humphrey.

Such a development is not just amazing. It is inspiring. American society hasn't used up its capacity to recognize that it harbors injustice, and it remains supple enough to change as a result. In fact, the process is speeding up. It took black civil rights a century, and feminism half a century, to travel the distance gay rights have moved in a decade and a half.

This is also scary, of course, because there is no reason to think that gay rights are the end of the line. And it's even scarier because these are all revolutions of perception as well as politics. That means that all of us who consider ourselves good-hearted, well-meaning, empathetic Americans - but don't claim to be great visionaries - are probably staring right now at an injustice that will soon seem obvious, and we just don't see it. Somewhere in this country a gay black woman, grateful beneficiary of past and present perceptual transformations, has said something today in all innocence that will strike her just a few years from now as unbelievably callous, cruel and wrong.

Hat tip: Mickey Kaus.

posted by Dan at 06:00 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (2)

Apparently my forefathers could kick some ass

The Economist has a story about why anyone (such as myself) is still left-handed. From an evolutionary perspective this is a puzzle, since "on average, left-handers are smaller and lighter than right-handers. That should put them at an evolutionary disadvantage." However, left-handers ostensibly have a distinct advantage in fighting: "most right-handed people have little experience of fighting left-handers, but not vice versa."

These stylized facts led Charlotte Faurie and Michel Raymond, of the University of Montpellier II (it's in France), to propose the following conjecture: "the advantage of being left-handed should be greater in a more violent context, which should result in a higher frequency of left-handers."

The Economist summarizes their findings:

Fighting in modern societies often involves the use of technology, notably firearms, that is unlikely to give any advantage to left-handers. So Dr Faurie and Dr Raymond decided to confine their investigation to the proportion of left-handers and the level of violence (by number of homicides) in traditional societies.

By trawling the literature, checking with police departments, and even going out into the field and asking people, the two researchers found that the proportion of left-handers in a traditional society is, indeed, correlated with its homicide rate. One of the highest proportions of left-handers, for example, was found among the Yanomamo of South America. Raiding and warfare are central to Yanomamo culture. The murder rate is 4 per 1,000 inhabitants per year (compared with, for example, 0.068 in New York). And, according to Dr Faurie and Dr Raymond, 22.6% of Yanomamo are left-handed. In contrast, Dioula-speaking people of Burkina Faso in West Africa are virtual pacifists. There are only 0.013 murders per 1,000 inhabitants among them and only 3.4% of the population is left-handed.

While there is no suggestion that left-handed people are more violent than the right-handed, it looks as though they are more successfully violent.

Here's a link to the academic paper.

posted by Dan at 12:00 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (1)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The heat is on Rumsfeld -- but it's not too hot

More radicals are spewing their venom at Donald Rumsfeld's armor gaffe -- you know, radicals like William Kristol, Norman Schwarzkopf, Joe Scarborough, and John McCain.

In all likelihood, this media kerfuffle will die down. Bush has no incentive to get rid of his Defense Secretary now, and I'm sure he doesn't want to waste any of that political capital on a confirmation hearing for the next SecDef -- which, incidentally, is why there is probably going to be very little DoD turnover, period.

I'm sure President Bush wishes there was some way he could make things better for Rumsfeld. Too bad he's already received the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- cause the value of any award shoots WAY up after it's awarded it to Paul Bremer. (In fairness, here's David Frum's explanation for that decision -- though it's actually not fair, because I do believe most people recognize the difference between not "seeking a scapegoat" and awarding a Presidential Medal of Freedom).

posted by Dan at 11:07 PM | Comments (64) | Trackbacks (2)

Blegging for PDA advice

Five years ago I bought a Palm Pilot and discovered that I didn't have enough appointments to make it worthwhile -- so I wound up not using it all that much.

Five years later, I'm finding that my schedule is filling up more rapidly and further in advance. In other words, now I need a PDA.

What's the best one in the marketplace right now?

This is most definitely a job for my readers.

posted by Dan at 05:20 PM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (0)

West Africa and Islamic fundamentalism

As part of the Chicago Tribune's continuing series on the internal struggle among Islamic societies between the forces of moderation and the forces of radicalism, Lisa Anderson has a fascinating front-pager on the country of Mali.

Mali appears at first glance to be one of the most improbable democracies in existence -- life expectancy is at 45 years, infant mortality is higher than 100 deaths per 1,000 live births, it's literacy rate is 46%, and according to the CIA World Factbook, "is among the poorest countries in the world, with 65% of its land area desert or semidesert and with a highly unequal distribution of income."

However, as Anderson chronicles:

Mali's young democracy is thriving with all of the attendant institutions, including a legal system, however still imperfect, and a free news media that includes 42 privately owned newspapers and 124 private radio stations, the most popular medium in a highly illiterate country. It also is essentially free of human-rights abuses, according to a 2003 State Department report.

The bulk of her story is on efforts by Islamic radicals from Algeria and Pakistan to attract supporters in the arid northern part of the country, and American efforts to combat this push. Some highlights:

Democracy also guarantees freedom of religion, though, and new types of Islam are challenging the traditional faith. In the past three years, ultraconservative Wahhabis from Saudi Arabia have opened 16 mosques in Timbuktu, a development termed disturbing by the city's mayor, Aly Ould Sidi.

"All these people who are Wahhabi are not citizens of Timbuktu. They come from outside," he said. "Their presence here has raised a kind of conflict with the people."

Added Abdrahmane Ben Essayouti, imam of the Djingareiber Mosque, the oldest of three great 14th Century mosques: "Wahhabis come here from Saudi Arabia. They have means. They give money and build mosques and schools and buy books.

"If you don't have means, you cannot stop them," he said. "And if we don't pay attention, they will use the students against us."

Moreover, Wahhabism often clashes with Malian practice of Islam.

"According to Wahhabism, you cannot go through someone, but should go directly to God. That's why we have a problem here--we have 333 saints," said Imam Sidi Alpha Maridje of the Sareikeina Mosque.

He's not the only one disturbed by the situation, however.

As dusk fell, some two dozen men of Araouane, many swathed in the turbans and the long, loose robes of desert nomads, solemnly crammed into a one-room, mud-walled house, settled onto woolen mats strewn across the sandy floor and looked expectantly at Vicki Huddleston.

Seated on the floor before them in a modest white shirt and mushroom-colored, ankle-length skirt, she smiled and respectfully thanked the village chief for receiving her.

Throughout Mali's history, every village, however small, has had a chief, who either inherits the job or is selected by the village. Accountable to the people, he and his council make important decisions for the village, listen to problems and adjudicate disputes. The institution thrives under democracy and, in many ways, helped prepare the way for it....

The settlement, half-buried in sand, has a rudimentary Koranic school but no electricity, running water, roads or medical facilities. It needs everything, but most of all a source of clean water that isn't contaminated by the camels and goats.

Huddleston and her staff have come to discuss a new well and solar pump the U.S. will provide. But she takes up a more urgent matter first.

"I will be very frank with you," she began, sweeping the room with her eyes. "We are very worried about the Salafists who have been seen in this zone. We know you want to preserve your traditional religion. We think democracy depends very much on a traditional Islam like yours."

The chief said he had heard about the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, or GSPC, an Islamist group advocating overthrow of Algeria's secular government, but never had seen any of its members. Nonetheless, he assured Huddleston that Araouane had not abandoned the traditional and tolerant Malakite Islam of Mali. "We are against those who would try to change our religion and culture," he said.

Another element seeking to change Malian culture in recent years is the fundamentalist Pakistani sect Dawa al-Tabligh, which has joined the Wahhabis in seeking converts in Mali, particularly in the northern areas.

Fundamentalist bans on smoking, wearing protective fetishes and praying to ancestral saints do not easily endear these austere versions of Islam to easygoing Malians.

Many Malians, including President Toure, are skeptical that fundamentalists or terrorists will sink deep roots here.

"Mali is a very old Islamic country where tolerance is part of our tradition," Toure said.

"I'm not worried, but it's always good to take precautions," he said, noting that Mali has expelled some visitors and denies visas to others but declining to identify them.

Nonetheless, Toure agreed that in an environment like the north, where people are poor and opportunities are few, preachers bearing hope and extremists offering pride--and often cash--have their appeal.

"Poverty is the fertile ground of terrorism. Some get involved to get to heaven tomorrow. Others believe it can change the world today," he said, but he added that he sees no evidence of an immediate threat to the country.

Huddleston sees it differently.

"Like the Malians, I tend to agree that Mali is not going to change into a Wahhabi state," she said. "But it is worrisome because the more fundamentalism [there is], the more women are disenfranchised and the development of democracy is more difficult.

Read the whole thing. Anderson's implicit thesis -- and it's not a bad one, is that Mali's history of tolerant Islam is resilient enough to resist outside efforts at fundamentalism. Philip Smucker had a story in November's International Herald Tribune chronicling the efforts of African scholars -- with an assist from Harvard's Henry Louis Gates -- to exploit Mali's written history to reinforce this moderate brand of Islam:

Particularly relevant, black African and Arab scholars say, are accounts of how the African interpretation of Islam helped regulate the affairs of men, resolve disputes and provide a model of tolerance. Buried in the crumbling manuscripts of Timbuktu and neighboring cities, scholars are finding evidence of wars averted, sieges ended and lawlessness put to rest.

The information is all the more valuable for moderate Muslim leaders because of the rise of less tolerant forms of Islam, like Saudi Arabia's Wahhabism or the Salafist movement in Algeria, that are expanding their foothold.

[Oh, c'mon, this is French West Africa -- does this stuff really matter to Americans?--ed. Check out Nick Tattersall's report for Reuters on the significance of West African oil to the U.S. economy. This part stands out in particular:

The United States shares [China's] concern as it ventures into remote corners of West and Central Africa in search of alternative oil supplies to the turbulent Middle East which could also act as counterweight to OPEC's monopoly power.

The world's biggest energy consumer hopes the African region will provide up to a quarter of its oil imports within a decade, up from 14 percent now, and is working to guarantee stability in one of the most volatile parts of the planet.

From coup attempts inspired by dreams of petrodollars to concerns over Islamic extremists, political anarchy, civil war and piracy, the region around the Gulf of Guinea is seething with tensions that would faze the most intrepid investor.

"We are in no position to endure a serious oil supply disruption from the Gulf of Guinea today. The global oil market is stretched to capacity," said David Goldwyn, a former assistant energy secretary in the Clinton administration and head of a Washington-based strategy think tank.

"We are not ready for trouble, but trouble is on the horizon," he told a U.S. Senate committee earlier this year.

Washington is particularly concerned that militant Islamists may gain a foothold in its new oil haven, where policing is often lax, millions of youths are unemployed and the sheer size of territories makes maintaining full control almost impossible.

"It's a good place for people who want to be left alone to operate outside the reach of the law -- to go unnoticed, to take time to recruit, to regroup," General Charles Wald, deputy commander of U.S. European Command (EUCOM), told Reuters.

Click here for an African perspective on why the continent matters to the Bush administration. And, finally, check out John Donnelly's report in the Boston Globe on the military side of U.S. efforts to prevent Islamic terrorist groups from making further gains in the West African region.

posted by Dan at 11:53 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (1)

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Scott McConnell could use some evidence

Scott McConnell has an article in The American Conservative rebutting the Lawrence Kaplan thesis of a few months back that the realists have triumphed over the neocons within the Bush administration's foreign policy apparatus. Well, it's an attempt at a rebuttal. Well, actually, it's little more than an assertion. Here's McConnell's key evidentiary paragraph:

At this writing, the staffing of a new foreign-policy apparatus is not complete. But the broad strokes are plain. At CIA, there is a new emphasis on loyalty to the president over readiness to provide objective analysis; Porter Goss will ensure that the agency provides information that the White House wants to hear. At the cabinet level, the direction is clear. Colin Powell is leaving, exhausted by his losing tussles with the Pentagon, semi-humiliated by the president. His crime was that he was right about war in Iraq, right that we needed allies and more forces for the invasion, right that postwar Iraq would be chaos and quagmire. His caution about the use of force —the Pottery Barn rule—must have irked the president every time he saw him, so better to banish him. Promoted instead are those who were consistently wrong. Rumsfeld remains, though his neocon aides “stovepiped” phony intelligence about Iraq’s WMD capacity, he botched the post invasion, and was responsible for the Abu Ghraib torture. Stephen Hadley, who “forgot” to remove the false claims about Iraq’s yellowcake purchases from the president’s 2003 State of the Union speech, is the new National Security Adviser. Condi Rice, whose TV musings about “mushroom clouds” helped frighten a nation into an unnecessary war, becomes the nation’s top diplomat.

Objectively, the problem is that this paragraph says pretty much nothing about the realist/neocon debate. Rice -- a realist -- is replacing Powell -- who was the administration's only liberal internationalist. I've never heard Porter Goss described as a neocon. Rumsfeld is a neocon only in the sense that he believes in the revolution in military affairs. Hadley is generally described as a neocon, so that's a point in McConnell's favor.

Now, I had my problems with Kaplan's original thesis, but McConnell's rebuttal doesn't convince me that the neocons have remerged like a Phoenix to control foreign policy. Actually, that paragraph convinces me of only one thing -- Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay were right. Their primary thesis in America Unbound is that, despite what people say about neocons or realists, the person who's clearly in charge of American foreign policy is George W. Bush. The common denominator in all of Bush's foreign policy moves has been to expand the power of White House loyalists at the expense of everyone else -- regardles of ideology.

posted by Dan at 04:29 PM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (0)

So what's going on in Iran?

Patrick Belton links to this Economist story on the state of Iran's domestic polity. The highlights of their analysis:

Iran's liberals and reformers feel increasingly beleaguered, and [hardline] voices... are louder and more menacing than they were even six months ago. In that period, says one of Tehran's longer-serving foreign diplomats, “there has been a dramatic change in mood”. Bullying militias are again trying—so far without much success—to enforce the old morality. Last month a female MP from the conservative camp suggested that if ten “street-walkers” were executed, “We will have dealt with the problem [of prostitution] once and for all.”

More worrying from the liberals' point of view, the reform-minded but disappointingly dithery Mr Khatami has been the lamest of ducks since the ruling clergy and the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who succeeded Mr Khomeini in 1989, presided over a rigged general election in February when the candicacy of 2,000-plus reformers was blocked. As a result, the new parliament is distinctly more xenophobic and illiberal than its predecessor. Of its 290 members, more than a quarter share the sort of rabid views expressed by Mr Shariatmadari, and they seem to be mocking Mr Khatami with impunity in his last months in office....

Not that mass repression is needed to keep the media, or the Iranian people in general, in line. According to a respected human-rights campaigner, between 2,000 and 4,000 Iranians, including about 30 journalists, are behind bars for political reasons. The reason for the overall figure's vagueness is that many of those incarcerated are in “unofficial” prisons: even their relatives are not told they are there.

In the past few months detentions have swelled of “bloggers” who have set up internet sites, which the state has taken great trouble to block. A number of well-known campaigners for human rights have been prevented from going abroad or arrested on their return. Human Rights Watch, an independent lobby group, said this week that “secret squads operating under the authority of the Iranian judiciary have used torture to force internet journalists and civil-society activists to write self-incriminatory confession letters”.

The clampdown seems to be working. Many of the liberal and sophisticated professionals of northern Tehran, downcast by Mr Khatami's failure, seem to have withdrawn into a private life behind the walls of their villas. Many are emigrating, at an estimated rate of 200,000 a year, especially to the United States (where there may be 800,000 Iranians), Canada (perhaps the most popular destination), Britain, France and Australia....

The one thing everyone knows is that Iran is in a jam. Above all, plainly, there is a crisis of legitimacy. Only half of Iranians bothered to vote in February's election; not much more than a quarter of those in Tehran, which embraces at least 8m people, turned out. Western diplomats reckon that barely 15% of Iranians still support the ruling order. The low turnout reflected not just apathy and fatalism, which are indeed strong. Many sour and embittered Iranians consciously decided not to go to the polls as a gesture of protest....

According to some reports, disaffection with the regime even among the clergy is spreading. A cleric from an influential religious family, also out of favour with the supreme leader, derides the Council of Guardians for mostly taking “orders and hints from the powers that be”—a euphemism for Mr Khamenei. Most striking of all, sociologists and educators report that religious belief and observance, especially among the young, have slumped since the mullahs took power a quarter of a century ago. Instead of fortifying the people's devotion, the system seems to have switched many people off the spiritual side of life, inspiring a shallow materialism instead....

The mullahs have patently failed to revamp an economy that remains distorted by subsidies, closed to competition within Iran or from abroad, locked in the hands either of the state or of state-connected foundations known as bonyads, and increasingly reliant on the high price of oil: Iran has about a tenth of the world's known reserves. Barely a fifth of the economy is in private hands. The conservatives have made it hard for the timid Mr Khatami to sell off state firms or open up to foreigners. The merchants of the bazaar, a longstanding pillar of the mullahs' power, still protect their own cartels. Capital flight continues apace. Only four private banks exist (three of them linked to bonyads or to the state), with just 4% of the banking sector's assets. Corruption in every sphere of business stunts growth and puts off investors. People mutter about the mullahs' wealth and patronage....

In the face of such gloomy contrasts, Iran cannot make up its mind whether to co-operate with the perfidious infidel West to save its economic skin and strengthen its security, or to keep its Islamist soul unsullied. That dilemma is at the heart of the present wrangle over nuclear power....

The American administration's hope that sanctions and other pressures will eventually force a change of regime in Tehran looks, in the foreseeable future, forlorn. And an Israeli or American attack might well have the adverse effect of rallying Iranians to their rather unpopular regime.

Otherwise, only three things could jolt Iran out of its present torpor of stagnation and depression. One is the presidential election due in May. Another, further down the road, is a dramatic slump in the oil price. The third is the possibility of a Gorbachev figure emerging from within the clerical establishment to open up the deadening political and economic system. At present none of these three possibilities looks likely, at least not in the short run.

As I've said before, I'm very gloomy about the prospects of the theocratic regime toppling from "people power." [On the other hand, I was similarly skeptical about Ukraine, and events have progressed there in a far more peaceful and positive direction that I anticipated. Point is, I could easily be wrong.]

One question is whether expanding Iran's trade with the rest of the world would nudge them in a more positive direction. Based on this report, the Bush administration doesn't think so -- or, to be fair, they think it wouldn't lead to regime change prior to the mullahs developing nuclear weapons.

Commenters are heartily encouraged to devise a policy that would ensure peaceful regime change in Iran. I don't think it can be done -- but that could just be because I'm still jet-lagged.

posted by Dan at 02:48 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, December 13, 2004

Notes from Paris

So, what dirt was able to be gleamed from my trip to Paris? Here's the tidbits about the people, the place, and the ideas that are worth divilging:

1) I love it when stereotypes don't hold up. There was a moment in the second day when Ambassador Francois Bujon De L'Estaing sneeringly mocked Lawrence Kaplan's presentation about the European Union as the embodiment of the neoconservative stereotype -- after which Kaplan jibed back about the Ambassador also fulfilling his stereotype equally well.

For me, what was refreshing was the number of people who didn't conform to my preconceived expectations. For example, the big mooseheads at the conference -- William Schneider, Charles Cook, and Thomas Mann -- did a great job on their panel. Schneider, in contrast to his CNN smiling-face persona, was perfectly willing to cross swords with the other participants. Furthermore, the three of them actually attended every panel presentation. At events like these, the headliners often decamp after they've presented their own spiel -- particularly if they're in Paris. Not these three.

Similarly, it was refreshing to hear ACLU head Nadine Strossen say that 90% of the USA Patriot Act was completely unobjectionable (actually, it was just refreshing to hear a reasonable conversation about the Patriot Act). It was good to hear Dan Mitchell from the Haritage Foundation say that larger budget deficits do put upward pressure on interest rates (though he thinks the magnitude of that effect is pretty damn small). It was amusing to hear a French businessman blast the Kyoto Protocol -- not because the U.S. hadn't signed, but because the agreement put serious constraints on France but not China.

2) In an act of stunning symbolism for French diplomacy, the Foreign Ministry was supposed to host a grand lunch reception for all the participants, with an address by the Foreign Minister himself. When we got to the Quai D'Orsay, however, the Foreign Minister turned out to be a no-show -- and the "lunch" consisted of a paltry selection of finger foods that appalled even the French interlocuters.

3) Olivier Blanchard gave an excellent, accessible talk on the implications of the current account deficit that nevertheless bucked conventional wisdom on the topic. His basic argument was that the distribution of costs from a declining dollar was going to adversely affect Europe far more than the United States. A rising Euro renders European goods uncompetitive in the global marketplace, and for a variety of reasons, European consumption is not likely to increase by all that much. In contrast, the U.S. will benefit from an improved balance of trade, while inflationary pressures remain muted.

4) If Chuck Hagel delivers on-the-record talks like the one he gave to our group, the man has zero chance of becoming President. He spent so long praising the conference coordinator for assembling such a "distinguished panel of experts" that for a minute I thought he had misplaced his speech and was just tap-dancing while an aide found it. I've heard Hagel before in an off-the-record format, and he was pretty good there, but this was awful. More amusingly, until Hagel spoke the French had cleverly kept the conference room somewhat chilly to ensure that everyone stayed awake. Hagel requested the room be warmed up. Not surprisingly, there were a lot of closed eyes for the rest of the day.

By contrast, Connie Morella -- a former U.S. Representative for Maryland and currently U.S. Ambassador to the OECD -- was more interesting (though, to be fair, she didn't have to give a talk). Four years from now, any Republican nominee should short-list her for VP consideration. She's a blue-stater, was able to get re-elected in an overwhelmingly Democratic district until she finally succumbed in 2002, and after her OECD stint will have diplomatic and economic policymaking experience.

5) One wonders just how much anti-Americanism abroad is driven by the distorted lens of American expats. Whjile I was waiting in line to enter the magnificent Musee D'Orsay, I overheard one conversation between an American expat living in Germany and the French couple in front of her. The American explained that Bush is worse than Hitler and that he really didn't win the 2004 election -- he made Democrat ballots disappear.

C'est tout.

posted by Dan at 03:06 PM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (1)

Thursday, December 9, 2004

Name the book you're most embarrassed not to have read

In Paris, safe and sound. Panels have been lively and informative.

This Virginia Postrel post reminds me of an old parlor game among academics -- confessing the most important book in your field that you have never read.

I'll confess mine when I return to America.

UPDATE: Je suis revenu à l'Amérique! I'll post about Paris in a bit.

Now, before I confess, let me first confess that my list was much more distinguished before I started teaching Classics of IR Theory, not to mention the core sequences at the U of C.

However, at the moment, my answer would have to be.... Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, followed closely by Robert Dahl's Who Governs?.

I know at least one New Year's resolution....

posted by Dan at 04:40 PM | Comments (68) | Trackbacks (4)

Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Au revoir pendant une courte période

One of the quadrennial rituals following presidential elections is a whole series of conferences about "What Does This Election Mean?" For those who attend, it's an opportunity to acquire some semi-useful cognitive frames that sound good at cocktail parties and are even occasionally correct.

For those who are asked to present, this is an opportunity to go somewhere nice on someone else's dime and decompress from the exhaustion created by paying close attention to the election. There's a clear hierarchy of these types of conferences -- the more remote and enticing the locale, the better.

I'm not sure how I lucked into this one, but I'll be in Paris for the next few days to talk about "The United States After the 2004 Election," courtesy of the French Center on the United States. Here's a link to the provisional program.

Informed readers will be well aware that I'm punching above my pundit class compared to the other invitees. I plan on treating this the same way my wife and I did when we went on our honeymoon and stayed at resorts we never could have afforded under normal circumstances -- a mixture of bemused detachment and nervous awe.

Talk amongst yourselves -- or:

1) Check out the new scholar-bloggers -- Becker/Posner and Left2Right. And do remember that they're moving down the learning curve when it comes to the art of blogging.

2) There seems to be a kerfuffle about Natalie Portman. Click on Jonathan Last's Weekly Standard article to start, and then go here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Au revoir!!

posted by Dan at 03:53 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (1)

The tragedy of the dollar commons?

Brad Setser has the best blogging about the possibility of a drastic decline in the dollar's value/the possibility of the dollar losing its reserve currency status. This Sunday stpry by James Brooke and Keith Bradsher in the New York Times contains a tidbit that worries me in particular:

Mr. Asakawa, 46, is the top official at the Finance Ministry here responsible for managing the largest portfolio of United States government securities in the world, worth a staggering $720 billion. As the dollar has slumped this fall, many investors have started to worry that Mr. Asakawa and his counterparts elsewhere in Asia will be tempted to pare their holdings, perhaps causing the currency to plunge much further and setting off a round of interest rate increases in the United States that could send the global economy into a tailspin.

But Mr. Asakawa, at least for now, says that he intends to keep right on adding American holdings to Tokyo's portfolio.

"We've heard the rumors in the last few days that the Chinese guys, the Indian guys, the South African guys are diverting from dollars," Mr. Asakawa said. "We have no plan at all to divert from our dollar-denominated assets."

Still, Mr. Asakawa admits that he has not been sleeping so well lately.

What bothers me is the concern by Japan that others might be tempted to dump their dollars while they still hold so many of them. The Japanese and Chinese central banks own an enormous part of these dollar reserves, and if they don't move, a precipitous fall seems unlikely. However, both the Russians and the OPEC countries have started to diversify their holdings in favor of the Euro. If non-major Asian countries make the same move, the question for Japan and China is whether there is more to gain from moving first and getting a mediocre return on their dollar holdings or holding on and hoping the dollar slide won't last longer. The temptation to unilaterally defect here is quite powerful.

The beginning of the end of the Bretton Woods system was when the French announced in 1968 that they were going to convert their dollar holdings into gold. One wonders if OPEC and Russia represent a similar harbinger.


posted by Dan at 02:16 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (2)

Rumsfeld admits that maybe, just maybe, the RMA isn't all it's cracked up to be

As was much commented before the election, this administration has a thing about admitting error -- any kind of error. No politician ever wants to do this, of course, because it means taking a political hit. Sometimes, however, candor is good politics and can even lead to policy learning -- i.e., if you're willing to admit that your current course of action is wrong, it requires a search for a better policy.

So when President Bush announced that Don Rumsfeld would stay on as Secretary of Defense for the next term, my reaction was not completely dissimilar from Josh Marshall's -- on defense-related matters, we're getting four more years of bungled policy implementation. Rumsfeld's belief that the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) requires a transformation of warfighting strategy and tactics is not completely off-base -- however, Iraq certainly suggests that the notion of the RMA really transforming anything related to post-war occupation activities is bogus.

Today's Wall Street Journal front-pager by Greg Jaffe (that link should be good for non-subscribers as well) suggests, however, that even Rummy and the rest of the civilian leadership is willing to admit that mistakes were made. The highlights:

The Iraq attack was built on the premise that speed and high-tech equipment could radically change the way war was fought. Short, swift attacks against key targets -- such as communications stations and headquarters -- could confuse enemy forces and isolate them from their commanders, according to both Army and Defense Department doctrine. If you chopped off the enemy's head, the theory went, the whole body would die. Getting to the fight faster became the focus of modernization plans for the Army and all other U.S. armed services.

Now, the escalating insurgency in Iraq is showing that lightning assaults can quickly topple a regime -- but also unleash problems for which small, fast, high-tech U.S. forces are ill-equipped.

"We're realizing strategic victory is about a lot more than annihilating the enemy," says one senior defense official in Mr. Rumsfeld's office. Victory also requires winning the support of locals and tracking down insurgents, who can easily elude advanced surveillance technology and precision strikes. In some cases, a slower, more methodical attack, one that allows U.S. troops to stabilize one area and hold it up as an example of what is possible for the rest of the country, could produce better results, according to emerging Army thinking.

Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledges that the military, which is still organized "to fight big armies, navies and air forces on a conventional basis," must change in order to deal with guerrilla fighters and terrorists. "The department simply has to be much more facile and agile," he says in an interview. "We have got to focus more on the post-combat phase."

But he adds that the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate the "critical importance of speed and precision as opposed to mass or sheer numbers."

That's not much of a concession by Rumsfeld there, but it does suggest some adaptation.

Read the whole thing -- I particularly liked the observation that, "Commanders in Iraq have found that 70-ton tanks, which literally shake the ground as they move, can help ward off guerrilla attacks simply through intimidation."

And, lest one put all of the blame at Rumsfeld's doorstep, what I found particularly interesting was the motivation behind the Army's partial embrace of the RMA as well:

The notion of swift, high-tech wars was first championed by the Air Force in the early 1990s. After the 1999 Kosovo war, the Army began reluctantly to buy into the idea.

Kosovo had been a huge embarrassment for the Army. Gen. Wesley Clark, who led the operation, asked the Army to send 24 Apache helicopters to the Balkans to conduct strikes against Serb forces. The helicopters, accompanied by tanks and heavy Bradley fighting vehicles, arrived later than many expected. They were never employed. Two helicopters crashed during training exercises, killing two soldiers. The tanks were too heavy to cross key bridges.

Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army's chief of staff at the time, came away from the fiasco believing the Army needed to get faster and lighter. New fighting vehicles would rely on information technology and speed to protect them instead of heavy armor. Army doctrine, written after Kosovo, boasted troops using new equipment would "see first, understand first, and act first" allowing them to kill the adversary without being hit.

Among some senior Army officers, though, there was great discomfort with the notion that the U.S. could ever achieve the kind of quick victories that top Army officials and Mr. Rumsfeld seemed to be promising. Even if high-tech surveillance tools could pinpoint the location of enemy tanks, they couldn't find fighters hiding in buildings. Technology couldn't measure the will of shadowy insurgents or the likelihood the populace would resist.

As for Rumsfeld, he's definitely getting feedback from what James Q. Wilson would call "operators" in the system. Robert Burns has the goods on this for the Associated Press:

Disgruntled U.S. soldiers complained to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Wednesday about the lack of armor for their vehicles and long deployments, drawing a blunt retort from the Pentagon chief.

"You go to war with the Army you have," he said in a rare public airing of rank-and-file concerns among the troops....

Army Spc. Thomas Wilson, for example, of the 278th Regimental Combat Team that is comprised mainly of citizen soldiers of the Tennessee Army National Guard, asked Rumsfeld in a question-and-answer session why vehicle armor is still in short supply, nearly two years after the start of the war that ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?" Wilson asked. A big cheer arose from the approximately 2,300 soldiers in the cavernous hangar who assembled to see and hear the secretary of defense.

Rumsfeld hesitated and asked Wilson to repeat his question.

"We do not have proper armored vehicles to carry with us north," Wilson said after asking again.

Rumsfeld replied that troops should make the best of the conditions they face and said the Army was pushing manufacturers of vehicle armor to produce it as fast as humanly possible.

posted by Dan at 11:52 AM | Comments (36) | Trackbacks (1)

I don't envy her job

What do you do if you're the counselor for commercial affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia on the day after Jeddah? The same thing you do every day -- try to drum up interest among U.S. firms in foing business with the Saudis. Jerry Miller of the Manchester Union-Leader reports:

Just one day after an al-Qaida led band of terrorists invaded the heavily fortified U.S. Consulate in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, killing nine workers, this nation's counselor for commercial affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, was in the Granite State, working to drum up business for New Hampshire companies, interested in doing business in the family-run kingdom.

Nancy Charles-Parker led a roundtable discussion at the Pease Tradeport-based International Trade Resource Center involving nearly three dozen companies eager to do business in the often turbulent nation and other Middle Eastern locations.

With security-related issues on the minds of many participants, Parker did not avoid discussing Monday's killings, which involved the death of staffers she knew and respected.

"All of our people" at the consulate, meaning Americans, "are OK," she told the gathering. "They are understandably shaken up."

Charles-Parker, who left for the Saudi capital shortly after the local appearance, was eager to return to the area to support her co-workers and the families of those killed.

She said for those who fear traveling to the oil-rich Persian Gulf region, "You can sell in Saudi Arabia without being there physically. You can even sell there without going there" by carefully selecting a Saudi-based agent to represent your company's interests in the kingdom....

Asked if she feared for her safety, Charles-Parker, who described herself as a wife, mother and grandmother, responded, "I think it's manageable now."

Charles-Parker, the first women to head the commercial counsel's office at the U.S. Embassy in the Saudi capital, spoke about the role of women in the Saudi culture, saying the country is really two nations, one for men and another for women. There are banks where only men can do business and another separate set of banks for women. Shopping malls also have separate stores for men and women.

Females, including those on the embassy and consulate staffs, are not permitted to drive in Saudi Arabia,, and a man must accompany women who are on the streets.

A female, like herself, who works in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Arab world, must be "culturally sensitive," she said....

In Saudi Arabia, a woman cannot represent a foreign company in negotiations, although one can in other places in the region. In fact, in Saudi Arabia, men are not used to doing business with women.

Despite the cultural differences, Charles-Parker insisted Saudi Arabia is a very good place to do business, in large part because residents have money to spend and they opt for quality and brand names.

Readers are invited to pick the country where the counselor for commercial affairs would have the most difficult job. This obviously implies that the country is stable enough to have a counselor for commercial affairs.

posted by Dan at 02:16 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (2)

Tuesday, December 7, 2004

The question that haunts me about Iraq

Mickey Kaus, in responding to a Peter Beinart TNR column points out the maddening problem with performing an autopsy on what's happened Iraq: the cause of failures to date will never be determined:

[There] is the conceit, among Iraq war supporters, that what's gone wrong in Iraq must be the product of administration "bungling." There has been bungling, of course. But it's not at all clear that a lot of the problems we've encountered could have been avoided by the best planning and diplomacy in the world. Maybe there were big problems inherent in the whole project. This is the possibility--that the decision to go to war itself was wrong--that vehement talk of bungling conveniently excludes. (emphasis in original)

I argued back in May that there was a good prima facie case to be made that fault lay with the implementation, not with the ideas. However, I also added:

[W]e can't rewind history and replay Iraq with better implementation. It is impossible to say with absolute certainty that the flaw lay with the idea or the implementation. I clearly think it's the implementation, but I will gladly concede that there are decent arguments out there that the idea itself was wrong as well.

Six months later, I still believe I'm right about the poor implementation -- but there's no way to know for sure.

posted by Dan at 11:32 PM | Comments (33) | Trackbacks (1)

Regarding liberal bias in academia...

David Adesnik has a link-filled summary regarding the spate of recent articles discussing ideological homogeneity in the halls of academe. This has prompted a panoply of blog responses, including Timothy Burke (click here as well), Brad DeLong, Juan Cole, and David Vellemen at a new blog, Left2Right, which is a new group blog of left academics musing about "how to speak more effectively to ears attuned to the Right."

Kieran Healy, though not addressing the ideology question, does have a link-rich post on the tribal patterns of academic hiring that suggests how difficult it is for non-mainstream people to get hired at elite institutions -- even if they are more innovative.

[Um, so what does this meme mean to you?--ed] I've blogged about this before here, here, here, and here. I'm not sure if there's anything new to add now, but if I do, it will take some careful crafting -- for reasons that Jacob Levy outlined more than a year ago.]

posted by Dan at 10:25 AM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (2)

For the record...

I have not now nor ever have been a member of the Mandinka tribe of Gambia -- but I do have great respect for their theological beliefs.

[Hat tip to M.M. for the pointer]

For more... er... authoritative information about the Mandinka, click here and here.

posted by Dan at 10:01 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, December 6, 2004

So does this count as "good" outsourcing?

Whenever I talk to critics about offshore outsourcing, they tell me that the claim by proponents that offshoring addresses the problem of a skills shortage in the U.S. is bogus, that there are more than enough tech workers here to perform the necessary tasks. I don't think that holds for the late 1990's, when offshoring and the H1-B visa craze started, but that's neither here nor there. The point is, they argue that firms have no compelling need to to outsource offshore since the set of necessary skills resides in the United States.

Beyond the IT sector, however, there do appear to be instances where offshoring is a necessary and effective means of accessing a labor supply of specialty skills for which there is a shortage in the United States. Lindsey Tanner reports in the Associated Press of one example in radiology. The highlights:

When a patient in Altoona, Pa., needs an emergency brain scan in the middle of the night, a doctor in Bangalore, India, is asked to interpret the results.

Spurred by a shortage of radiologists in the United States and an exploding demand for more sophisticated scans to diagnose scores of ailments, physicians at Altoona Hospital and dozens of others are outsourcing work.

Over the past few years, the number of nighttime emergency cases was swamping Altoona's seven radiologists.

"Somebody was waking up all night to cover all this extra work," said Dr. Richard Wertz, a radiologist. And while that doctor was groggy, "we didn't have the luxury of that guy taking the next day off."

Using radiologists halfway around the world where it is daytime, "solves that problem for us," Wertz said.

Such moves are part of the telemedicine trend, with technology enabling the speedy transfer of medical data over the Internet to a compatible computer anywhere in the world. That means radiologists in Australia, India, Israel and Lebanon are reading scans on U.S. patients.

Despite fears of some doctors, advocates insist offshore radiology is not stealing U.S. jobs and replacing them with unqualified cheap labor. Most of the doctors are U.S.-trained and licensed, though Indian radiologists generally earn about a tenth of the estimated $350,000 median salary for those in the United States.

More typical is the Altoona situation, which involves doctors such as Arjun Kalyanpur. A U.S.-licensed and credentialed radiologist, Kalyanpur got his postgraduate training at Yale University and runs a two-man service in southern India.

The Pennsylvania hospital is among 40 that use Teleradiology Solutions....

In recent years, demand has far exceeded the supply of radiologists in the United States. A trade journal reported this year that an average of four vacancies existed for each radiology department at American academic centers since 2002.

Two questions on this:

1) I know nothing about the supply and demand of different medical specialties -- is the statement about there being a drastic shortage ofradiologists an accurate one?

2) Assuming that the answer to the first question is "yes," would traditional opponents of outsourcing concede that this case looks like a standard trade story that clearly provides value added to the United States?

UPDATE: This might be the most bizarre twist on outsourcing I've seen yet -- Europeans emigrating to India to work in offshored call centers (thanks to N.D. for the link)

posted by Dan at 05:00 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (1)

Equilibrating mechanisms at work

In theory, a declining dollar should help the U.S. balance of trade by making imports relatively more expensive to Americans and exports relatively inexpensive to foreigners. However, the current macroeconomic imbalances cause this equilibrating mechanism to carriy some risks. Among the many fears about the current dollar depreciation are:

1) U.S. demand for imports is so inelastic that price increases won't have much of an effect;

2) A sizeable chunk of the U.S. deficit is bilateral trade with China, and the dollar's fall has not affected that exchange rate too much;

3) East Asian central banks will only tolerate so much of a fall before they decide to liquidate their dollar reserves, which would trigger a financial panic/run on the dollar/cats and dogs living together/mass hysteria (see Brad Setser for more on this -- as well as the Economist)

Given all of this, it is nice to read about these equilibrating effects at work. Which leads me to today's front-pager in the Wall Street Journal by Emily Nelson and Brooks Barnes:

As the dollar has fallen to a 12-year-low against the British pound and an all-time low against the five-year-old euro, Europeans now view the U.S. as one giant half-off sale on everything from clothes to coffee to restaurant meals. Because so many businesses now operate globally, comparison shopping is easy.

At the London outpost of Nobu, the New York Japanese restaurant, a special set meal costs between $136 and $233 per person, at Friday's exchange rate of $1.94 to the pound. A la carte, the monkfish paté with caviar costs $24.29, and the baby spinach with whitefish salad $22.35.

All of which is out of the question for Catherine Watson, a 38-year-old photographer from Cardiff, Wales -- except when she can snap up cheap dollars to pay for the same meal at Nobu in Manhattan. There, one night recently, armed with dollars purchased at about $1.89 to the pound, she and a friend started with the monkfish pate for $17 and the spinach salad for $16. The chef's special dinners in New York are $80, $100 and $120, about 40% off London prices.

"Things seem so cheap that you turn into a bit of the child in a candy store," says Ms. Watson....

The hordes from the Old World streaming across the Atlantic are likely only to increase as the dollar, down about 10% against the pound and down 12% against the euro since April, is expected to fall further in 2005. Basic goods, such as household supplies, clothing and food have long tended to be less costly in the U.S., where sales and big discount chains are more prevalent than in Europe. But the disparity currently is much greater. And businesses, from airlines to hotel chains, are stepping up promotional efforts to portray the U.S. as a shopper's paradise.

Travel from some European countries to the U.S. is up nearly 25% so far this year, says Gabriella Vecchio, international marketing manager at the Travel Industry Association of America.

That pace well exceeds the forecast that the U.S. Department of Commerce office of travel and tourism industries made last April for 9.3 million Europeans to visit the U.S. this year, a 7% increase from 2003. American Airlines says its trans-Atlantic flights are 81.3% full, up 3.9 points from a year ago, and it has added flights as well. In London subway advertising, the airline's slogan is: "America Reduced."

"A weak dollar means bargain holidays," declared a recent article in London's Sunday Times. Other travel sections of British newspapers are filled with stories detailing how Christmas shopping in Manhattan promises savings even after hotel and airfare costs.

One can question whether the magnitude of these kind of flows will put a larger dent in the current account deficit. However, there is an intriguing question that this kind of story raises. As previously discussed, American productivity in nontradable sectors such as retail is considerably higher than other parts of the globe, which is one source of lower prices. If transport costs continue to decline, it would be interesting to speculate whether these sectors become an important comparative advantage for the United States on trade matters.

Just a thought.

posted by Dan at 02:05 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (1)

Open Jiddah thread

Feel free to comment on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Jeddah here. Reuters and CNN seem to have the most comprehensive reports. Also, the Associated Press has this interesting quote from the president:

President Bush said Monday an attack on the U.S. consulate in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, showed that "terrorists are still on the move'' and trying to intimidate Americans.

"They want us to grow timid and weary in the face of their willingness to kill randomly, kill innocent people,'' Bush said. (emphasis added)

Given the obvious, deep links between Al Qaeda and Saudi society, doesn't this mean that the terrorists prefer a home court advantage?

CLARIFICATION: In other words, given that a fair share of Al Qaeda are Saudi, wouldn't this attack signal that they're not on the move so much as staying local? I don't think this is what Bush meant by "on the move," obviously, but it's just an odd phrasing choice.

Comment away.

posted by Dan at 12:23 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

The next Krispy Kreme

As someone who's married to a cereal addict, my view on this might be skewed, but I predict that a year from now Cereality will be talked about the same way Krispy Kreme was a few years ago. It's a restaurant that serves only breakfast cereal and cereal-related products. Here's one story by Howard Shapiro of the Philadelphia Inquirer on the opening of their new eatery near Penn:

As suppertime approached last night, the line started to form inside Cereality, the nation's first all-cereal restaurant, just opened in University City.

Plenty of college kids and people who think they are still college kids were finding comfort and sustenance in the ultimate fast food, which comes from a box....

In an age when breakfast is becoming more experimental, when some restaurants find sixth and seventh grains to mix into pancakes and spoon caviars of many colors onto egg plates, plain old cold cereal remains a clear American staple. This is particularly so for many young adults, who may have grown up fleeing into the pantry for some Cap'n Crunch whenever their parents were licking their dinner chops over yucky-looking raw-fish rolls and icky foreign-tasting meats.

Thus Cereality, which opened to hoopla and speeches and live remotes Wednesday and had its first real-world day of business yesterday. It's at 3631 Walnut St., on the same block with Cosi, which was actually serving sandwiches last night at dinnertime, and Penne, the restaurant at the Inn at Penn, where the kitchen staff was grilling veal tenderloins and honey-glazed sea scallops, with nary a box of Frosted Flakes in sight.

But even Angel Hogan, Penne's manager, was impressed with the fare up the street. She'd gone over for a specialty cereal - not the basic Cereality offering of two scoops of anything with one topping for $2.95. Hers was oatmeal with bananas, apple streusel and molasses, "really delicious," she said. "It was like eating in Grandma's kitchen."

According to the company's web site: "If there's not already a Cereality near you, there will be soon. In 2004, we will be opening several new units in a variety of settings." And here's the menu. If they expand to university neighborhoods, this will be huge. Huge.

[Isn't the Krispy Kreme metaphor problematic, given their recent financial troubles?--ed. Nope, it's dead on -- I see a few years of awesome growth, followed by the passing of the fad.]

UPDATE: Several commenters have argued that the Krispy Kreme logic doesn't apply, because cereal can be procured and eaten (more cheaply) at home compared to Krispy Kremes. This may be true -- but I doubt that any home has the variety of cereal choices available at Cereality, or the variety of toppings. Consider a different example -- Coldstone Creamery ice cream parlors. Ice cream can be bought and consumed at home, but that does not prevent ice cream stores from thriving.

One last thought -- these stores would be like gold in airport terminals.


posted by Dan at 12:12 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (1)

More non-barking dogs in international relations

Last month I pointed out the tendency to focus on the parts of the globe in turmoil, occasionally neglecting non-events in places where everyone predicted turmoil.

Christopher Condon reports in the Financial Times about one of these non-barking dogs:

A referendum in Hungary on granting citizenship to ethnic Hungarians living abroad, a proposal that had divided the country and angered its neighbours, flopped on Sunday because of low turnout.

Of those who voted, 51.5 per cent approved the proposal, but not enough votes were cast to make the referendum count.

Referendums in Hungary are not valid unless either 50 per cent of eligible voters turn out or 25 per cent of those eligible vote one way.

Only 37.4 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots, and, with more than 99 per cent of the vote counted, the total Yes vote equalled only 18.9 per cent of the eligible electorate....

Despite a fiery campaign by proponents appealing to voters to reunite the nation, at least under one passport, most Hungarian citizens were apparently unmoved.

The referendum's rejection will quickly defuse tensions that arose in recent days between Hungary and neighbouring countries that were angered by the proposal, calling it provocative and intrusive....

The result also marks a victory for Ferenc Gyurcsany, Hungary's prime minister. Mr Gyurcsany called on voters to reject the measure or to simply stay at home. His government said the measure would cost the state budget an additional Ft500bn (€2bn, £1.4bn, $2.8bn) annually, or 2.5 per cent of GDP.

For fifteen years, a latent worry of East and Central Europe watchers was that Hungarian nationalism would rile its neighbors and trigger sectarian violence. The failure of this referendum is the fitting coda to easing that concern.

posted by Dan at 12:35 AM | Trackbacks (2)

Sunday, December 5, 2004

Good dirt on the World Bank

Back in October, I recommended Sebastian Mallaby's The World's Banker -- an intertwined history of the evolution of development policy and a biography of the Bank's current president, James Wolfensohn -- as an excellent read.

Today, I make the case at greater length in the New York Times Book Review. The closing paragraph sums it up:

Mallaby has done his homework, interviewing hundreds of World Bank officials, critics and government figures -- including Wolfensohn, whom he spoke to for nearly 20 hours. He has produced a book chock-full of affecting vignettes, and that rarest of treats -- an informed disquisition about public policy wrapped up in a fascinating narrative.

For the last time -- I really liked this book. I liked it so much it made it an extremely difficult book to review. Reviewing books one finds fault with is easy -- writing an interesting review that contains only praise is a much more difficult task.

The World's Banker comes out at an interesting time -- Wolfensohn has served as president of the Bank for two terms, and the word on the street is that he's angling for a third term. Will he get it? My sources say no -- this is a plum patronage apointment for Bush (the Bank President is by custom an American, just as the IMF president is by custom a European). I've heard three names bandied about for Wolfensohn's replacement, in decreasing order of likelihood:

1) Colin Powell
2) Robert Zoellick
3) Gary Edson (the G-7 sherpa at the White House).


UPDATE: Thanks to P. O'Neill for reminding me that John Harwood had some interesting gossip in Friday's Wall Street Journal:

Officials say Michigan State University President Peter McPherson is a dark-horse contender to head the World Bank. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman [Richard] Lugar, angered by allegations of mismanagement, mulls new oversight proposals including more financial transparency and whistleblower protections.

Here's a link to McPherson's vita, which suggests two things: a) McPherson has the substantive background to do the job; and, b) He's part of the Ford White House mafia -- i.e., Rumsfeld/Cheney.

posted by Dan at 01:05 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (1)

Saturday, December 4, 2004

Back to offshore outsourcing

Keen readers of may have noticed that I haven't blogged much about offshore outsourcing since my NYT op-ed in late September. This has been for several reasons:

a) I had a book manuscript to finish;
b) There was an election occupying my attention;
c) I was a bit burned out on the topic.

Well, the election is over, the book manuscript is off my desk, and a few months have passed since I've blogged about the topic. So... I'm back, baby!!

So what's been written that's worth reading on the topic since I've been away?

A couple of selections:

1) Mary Amiti and Shang-Jin Wei, "Fear of Service Outsourcing: Is It Justified?" Their answer would appear to be no:

The recent media and political attention on service outsourcing from developed to developing countries gives the impression that outsourcing is exploding. As a result, workers in industrial countries are anxious about job losses. This paper aims to establish what are the hypes and what are the facts. The results show that although service outsourcing has been steadily increasing it is still very low, and that in the United States and many other industrial countries “insourcing” is greater than outsourcing. Using the United Kingdom as a case study, we find that job growth at a sectoral level is not negatively related to service outsourcing.

Here's a link to a more accessible precis, which closes with the following:

Although service outsourcing is growing rapidly, it still remains a small fraction of industrial countries’ GDP. And it is not dominated by lopsided, one-way outsourcing from developed to developing countries. In fact, most industrial countries do not outsource more (when adjusted for economic size) than many developing countries. The United States, for example, which is a large importer of business services, is also a large exporter of these services and, as has been noted, has a growing net surplus in business service trade.

As for fears about job loss, our studies show that jobs are not being exported, on net, from industrial countries to developing countries as a result of outsourcing. In fact, the evidence suggests that job losses in one industry often are offset by jobs created in other growing industries. (emphasis added)

One problem with this study is that the data stop in 2002 -- and, to be fair, most opponents of offshore outsourcing argue that the phenomenon didn't really heat up until the last two years.

2) Kate Bronfenbrenner and Stephanie Luce, "The Changing Nature of Corporate Global Restructuring." This report was prepared for the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) and argues that existing estimates of job losses due to offshoring have been underestimated. From the executive summary:

Despite the increasing amount of trade between China and the US, and the increase in foreign direct investment from the US into China, there is no government body that collects information detailing the incidence of production shifts out of the US to China or any other country.... In order to conduct this research we developed a methodology that involves a combination of online media tracking and corporate research and the creation of a database including information on all production shifts announced or confirmed in the media during that period. In July 2004 the USCC asked us to update that research, starting with an initial period of January 1 through March 31, 2004....

Altogether we found announcements or confirmations for shifts of 48,417 jobs out of the US to other countries in January-March including 23,396 to Mexico, 8,283 to China, 3,895 to India, 5,511 to other Latin American countries, 4,419 to other Asian countries, and 2,933 to all other countries. Based on our estimates that media tracking captures approximately two-thirds of production shifts to Mexico and about a third of production estimates to other countries, these data suggest that in 2004 as many as 406,000 jobs will be shifted from the US to other countries compared to 204,000 jobs in 2001.

This is a serious study, and does a good job of suggesting that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has underestimated the raw number (though not necessarily the percentage) of jobs lost through offshoring in the first quarter of this year. However, that topline number seems based on some dodgy assumptions and serious guesstimation. And be sure to read pages 8-16 to get a sense of their methodology -- it's still unclear to me whether their count includes all actual and announced plant closings/layoffs during that time period, or just one or the other.

3) The University of South Florida's Globalization Research center commissioned Innovation Insight to produce a report, "Baseline Analysis of Offshoring in the Tampa Bay Region." From the executive summary:

The Tampa Bay region is estimated to have imported approximately $627 million in “other” private services from the US and abroad in 2002, including $33 million in fi nancial services, $97 million in business and professional services, and approximately $12 million in information technology (database plus computer services). However, the Tampa Bay has a signifi cant import/export surplus when it comes to private services; for all “other” private services combined, the region exported $478 million more than it imported in 2002.

Offshoring practices are increasing the demand for selected “soft skills” in US employees, in particular project management and defi nition skills, fl exibility, cultural sensitivity and facility, training, creativity, and organization skills.

Take those numbers with a small grain of salt. This paragraph best expresses the sentiment of the report:

We explored analysis, statistics, and relations between a number of other data sources for evidence of employment shifts caused by offshore outsourcing. Unfortunately, the US economy has demonstrated some large employment shifts away from agriculture, mining, and manufacturing into service and professional industries, and has also has seen its unemployment levels rise and fall during recent recessions. Tampa Bay’s economy refl ects national economic trends; our findings suggest that if an intra-sector shift (from one occupation or industry category to another) due to offshoring exists, it is so small compared to ongoing large scale (macro) employment shifts that it is effectively obscured. In other words, given existing data sources, it is difficult to tell which occupations are changing specifically due to offshoring or just the evolution of the national economic structure.

4) Finally, do check out Corante's new blog on outsourcing, which takes a critical view of the phenomenon (link via Tyler Cowen).

Thanks to Bruce Bartlett and Amardeep Singh for being good enough to help keep me up to speed.

posted by Dan at 11:10 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (3)

Friday, December 3, 2004

It's the 2004 Weblog Awards!!

I urge any and all readers to click over to the 2004 Weblog Awards and vote among the myriad categories. Unbeknownst to me -- thanks to R.H. for the link -- I see that I'm nominated for "Best of the Top 100 Blogs".

So... vote for me, dammit!! I've never won one of these awards, and if at all possible I'd like to avoid becoming the Harold Stassen of the blogosphere. And, looking at the voting to date, I appear to be getting my ass kicked. UPDATE: Ah, now I see why I'm getting my ass kicked -- Megan McArdle is playing dirty -- really, really dirty.

Logicians among the readership are invited to reconcile the conundrum of how the Best of the Top 100 Blogs would not therefore better than the Best Overall Blog -- since all of them are Top 100 blogs.

posted by Dan at 05:54 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

It's up to Putin now

The Ukrainian Supreme Court has now declared the presidential runoff election results invalid -- and has ordered that a repeat of the runoff be re-staged throughout the entire country on December 26. The Ukrainian parliament speaker has already urged the implementation of the Supreme Court ruling.

All of this comes less than 24 hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin slammed the idea of holding a runoff election. (click on this San Jose Mercury News timeline for the backstory.] After President Bush made a rhetorical push-back, Putin responded today by muttering dark warnings about the unipolar world:

"Attempts to rebuild the multifaceted and diverse modern civilization, created by God, in line with the barrack room principles of a unipolar world appear to be extremely dangerous," Putin said in a speech at the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund in New Delhi.

"The more persistently and effectively the authors and followers of this idea act the more often mankind will come up against dangerous disproportions in economic and social development and against global threats of international terrorism, organized crime, and drug traffic," he said.

What's becoming clear is that the correlation of forces within Ukraine are tilting in favor of a runoff election that would presumably lift Viktor Yushchenko to power. The emerging question is whether the correlation of forces outside Ukraine will permit this to happen. Will Putin tolerate the blow to his reputation that would come with a Yushchenko victory (remember, he and his administration campaigned hard for Yanukovich)?

Still developing....

posted by Dan at 01:02 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (3)

Boeing/Airbus update

It looks like the Bush administration has reached the same conclusions as about the cost of taking the Boeing/Airbus dispute to the World Trade Organization. Edward Alden reports on the U.S. decision in the Financial Times:

The US will offer an olive branch to Peter Mandelson, the European Union's new trade commissioner, next week by delaying any escalation of the dispute over subsidies to Airbus and Boeing, a US trade official said on Thursday.

The move means Washington will wait until early next year before deciding whether to seek formal settlement of the dispute before a World Trade Organisation panel.

Robert Zoellick, the US trade representative, and Mr Mandelson are set to meet for the first time on Monday in Paris. Mr Zoellick is attending a conference in France before travelling to Africa....

“While no one should doubt our resolve to press ahead with this case, we want to give the new trade commissioner time to review the issue,” the US official said.

Washington's decision may fuel speculation in Brussels that the US no longer intends to push the issue now that the November presidential elections are safely behind. EU officials have charged that the case was politically motivated.

As the story suggests, this could heat up again early next year. But it's good to see the administration attempt another bilateral accomodation.

posted by Dan at 11:46 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

December's books of the month

I initially feared that the general interest book for December may not necessarily of general interest, since it's Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season by Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King. However, then I remembered that this would be the pefect stocking stuffer for anyone who hates the Yankees, which accesses a broad spectrum of Americans. Publisher's Weekly says that, "Of all the books that will examine the Boston Red Sox's stunning come-from-behind 2004 ALCS win over the Yankees and subsequent World Series victory, none will have this book's warmth, personality or depth." That's good enough for me! Well, that plus the awesome cover photo.

The international relations book this time around is an oldie but a goodie -- Kenneth Waltz's Man, The State, and War. In my Classics of International Relations Theory class this year, this book easily sparked the most animated discussion. The reason is that this text -- in combination with Thomas Schelling's The Strategy of Conflict -- transformed the way people (or at least Americans) studied international relations.

Prior to Waltz, the great books in international relations either had a strong teleology embedded in their theory (Kant, Lenin) or came at the problem of international relations from a normative cast that colored their positive analysis (Hobbes, Angell, even Morgenthau).

After Man, The State, and War, the discipline underwent two changes -- first, it took on a much more positivist cast. The question of how to stop war was supplanted by the analysis of determining the causes of war. Although there is a normative explanation for this -- it is foolhardy to try and prevent war without understanding the causes of the phenomenon -- it has led to the discipline as a whole to shrink away from making policy prescriptions. Second, the field of study slowly shifted its explanations away from individual or even domestic-level approaches. Instead, the "system of states" -- i.e., the implications of anarchy at the global level -- became the overriding concern.

[Why not recommend Waltz's even-more-influential Theory of International Politics?--ed. As Henry Farrell points out, the price gouging on that book is pretty appalling.]

Another reason for recommending Waltz is this October address by Mitchell Reiss, the Director of Policy Planning for the State Department. The speech tries to place the Bush administration's foreign policy within the context of Waltz's Man, The State and War. It's certainly an interesting intellectual exercise -- though Reiss diplomatically elides Waltz's attack on assertive Wilsonianism -- the neoconservatism of its day.

posted by Dan at 01:19 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (2)

Eleven years ago in Ukraine....

Amanda Butler has an amusing post at Crescat Sententia about what it's like to celebrate Thanksiving in an ex-Soviet republic. That, plus the high stakes in Ukraine, caused me to open up the electronic diary I kept of the year I spent in Ukraine as a Civic Education Project lecturer to see how we celebrated Thanksgiving circa 1993.

Long diary entry after the jump...

11/27/93: I'm typing this in the Palace Hotel in Yalta. The trip here was interesting. Yalta is in the Crimea, which is supposed to be the garden spot of Ukraine. After a pleasant overnight trip, we got of at Simferapol and were greeted by a biting wind, snow blowing everywhere, and a temperature colder than in Donetsk. We were met by a guy from the local Renaissance foundation, who proved useless. We asked him where we could get tickets back to Donetsk; he answered that it was in the city centre. We then asked him repeatedly if there was an Intourist office at the train station; he said that you could only buy tickets there for the next day. It turned out later that he was of course wrong. It's real pathetic when I know more about how the system operates than the locals.

We hopped a minibus to Yalta; it's a two-hour drive. The snow was unusual for this area. This perhaps explained why they were throwing sand on the road by hand.

Yalta has a certain charm, there's no denying it. It existed prior to the USSR, which perhaps explains it. The streets are narrow and winding, and resemble the French Riviera, except there are no good restaurants, and people are much less snobbish. The boardwalk on the shore is lined with palm trees, and bears a more than passing resemblance to the Coisette in Cannes. Our hotel has high ceilings, spacious rooms, and constant power outages. It's also not prepared for subzero temperatures, so it is a tad cold in here. We had fun today, playing on the bumper cars. Lunch today was eaten to the sountracks of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, The Karate Kid, and something by Zamfir, Master of the Pan Flute. Actually, all we had was soup, but despite that fact we had to shell out 70,000 koupons [at the time, about $15] apiece. My guess is that the restaurant was pissed at us for ordering only soup, and therefore overcharged.

After this, we walked to the Hotel Yalta, a mammoth construction built by the Yugoslavs (yeah, they really knew how to hold things together) in the early 70's. In typical fashion, they built the hotel so that it's long side runs perpendicular to the ocean. Nothing is as depressing as a tourist hotel out of season, unless it's a Soviet hotel out of season. The building was 20 floors, with perhaps 50 rooms in each floor. Occupancy was maybe 10% now. The lobby level had tons of little shops which sold western products at outrageously high prices. To get down to the beach level, you have to take an elevator and then walk through a tunnel straight out of a nuclear shelter. On this level there was some more shops, a sauna, and a great Chinese restaurant, with the following dishes (the names are in English):

1) Macaroni and Meat
2) French Fried Meat
3) Meat and Mash Beans
4) Roasted Meat and Cauliflower
5) Roasted Beef on Iron Board (?!)
6) Pork with Onion

You get the idea. The place was obviously catering to westerners. There were signs for everything in at least German and English in addition to Russian. The service was, however, a bit lacking. We wanted to rent out a sauna room for CEP, and was told that the sauna was only open in the daytime until 5 PM, and that it would be impossible to use it after that. This begs the question: who exactly did they build this hotel for? It's too expensive for Russians and too inadequate for westerners. It was pointed out to me at this point that there are a lot of stupid westerners. Maybe so; after all, I'm here.

11/27/93: Whew, Lord, where to begin. Yesterday we went back to the Hotel Yalta to use the sauna. It was about ten of us. We get to the service desk, and they tell us it's not possible, the saunas are reserved now. I got very angry in Russian at him, and we started arguing. Finally, in a fit of pique, he said, "What is it with you Americans?! Why do you think that if you come you can do something immediately?"

I was tempted to answer, "Because there's a service sector in our economy, you nimrod." but didn't. Americans are a blunt bunch, but we are also pragmatic. Instead, I mentioned casually that there were ten of us, and that perhaps we would return several times to use it in the spring if we came back to Yalta. At this point, he quickly changed his tune, called another hotel, and booked us in a sauna there, which he frankly said was better. We all hopped into a minivan, and a guy drove us to the neighboring hotel and fixed us up in the sauna. We were given the run of a sauna (which had a tea room) and access to a swimming pool for three hours, for the princely sum of $25. Now this was decadence.

Even though it was a day late, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner, with all the trimmings (the turkeys were imported from Georgia). Just like a Thanksgiving dinner in the states, the side dishes were finished too soon and there was leftover turkey. Dinner was slightly delayed, because the power went out in the hotel several times. This has been a common problem in Yalta. The Crimean peninsula does not have its own functioning power station. An atomic plant was built several years ago, but it was so obviously unsafe that it was never switched on.

That night we went drinking in the hotel bar. We were the only westerners in the bar. During the evening, one of the locals dragged me from our table and offered me a vodka shot in the spirit of American Ukrainian friendship. This is a common practice. It is telling that I immediately downed the shot, said thank you, and walked back to my table as if nothing had happened. I've been in this country too long.

That night I got dressed up to go visit a local casino, the Casino 777. There had been signs all over, and I haven't been to one yet in this country (or my country, for that matter). I bought 15 dollars worth of chips (denominated in rubles, interestingly enough). The place was very nice, with maybe 10 blackjack and roulette tables. Each table had a rather attractive woman who dealt cards with as much dexterity as in Las Vegas. The bar was well stocked. Unfortunately, there was no one gambling. Admittedly, it's out of season, but on a Saturday night, it was astonishing to see this many people employed, doing nothing.

There was one other person gambling, a 40-year old man, and he was speaking only English with an Irish accent. His dress was Hollywood: Blazer over unbuttoned black silk shirts with lots of jewelry, and the week-old beard. I watched him lose about 150 dollars. I introduced myself, and, as I was only speaking Russian until that time, shocked the hell out of him. He was so pleased to see a Westerner that he bought me drinks for the rest of the night. I had the best vodka-tonics I have ever had (Schweppes bitter lemon and Absolut, with ice) and spent the better part of two hours with a wonderful Paddy named D----.

He's an actor in a BBC movie, starring Sean Bean, being shot here called "Sharp" (It will also be shown on Masterpiece Theatre). The movie is set in 1810 Spain, but being shot here. The reason, Darra explained, was that this movie needed a lot of extras and the Ukrainians are cheap. One of the dealers was an extra and paid only 9,000 kps a day (the wage was fixed from August). They had hired an entire army company to play a part in the movies, and every day they have to leave Simferapol at 3:00 AM to get to Yalta in time for shooting. The cast and crew of 400 were staying in a sanitorium, and the meals were catered. Apparently this caused almost 530 people to show up regularly for the lunch.

We had the usual conversation about life here, and he was just flummoxed by the place. I don't know how healthy it was for him to be here. He mentioned that he hadn't had a drink for five years before this shoot, but he was slurring his words badly (the woman behind the bar told me in Russian that she liked him, but thought he drank too much. That's something for a Russian to say). Of course, he mentioned the women. His problem is even worse than mine; he had a 16-year old interpreter blatantly offer sex. Apparently, during the shoot last year, 12 members of the cast and crew got the clap.

Paddy's view of this place was gloomy. He had been here last year for twenty weeks as well, and said that people were much less hopeful. He said, "I'm a Paddy, for Chrissakes, we have the worst poverty in Europe, and we're still hopeful. An Irishman would always be cheerful, but even I've become cynical about this place."

posted by Dan at 12:31 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, December 2, 2004

More than just a trend?

A year ago, lexicographers said that blogs were hip and trendy. Now the Associated Press reports the following:

The most requested online definition this year was "blog" - a word not even yet officially in the dictionary, Merriam-Webster says.

Editors had planned to include "blog" - the short term for Web log - in the 2005 annual update of both the print and online versions of Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary, said Arthur Bicknell, spokesman for the dictionary publisher.

But in face of demand, the company quickly added an early definition to some of its online sites, defining "blog" as "a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer."

Typically, it takes about 20 years of usage for a word to become prominent enough to merit a place in an abridged dictionary. Some Internet terms and new diseases, such as AIDS and SARS, have made it in a fraction of that time.

"Blog" began appearing in newspapers and magazines in 1999, according to the publisher's records. Merriam's lexicographers suspect the prominence blogs attained during the presidential campaigns and conventions this year sent people scrambling for a definition.

Link via Tom Sullivan. From an international relations perspective, I'm intrigued to see that "sovereignty" came in ninth by their metric of popularity.

UPDATE: If Microsoft has its way, you will become one with the blog.

posted by Dan at 12:03 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Musings on blogging and scholarship

I believe I am officially the last scholar-blogger in America to point out that Gary Becker and Richard Posner have decided to start a blog together. It's a testimony to their intellectual heft that their "test" post already has sixteen trackbacks. Having participated in workshops with both of them, all I can say is that the rest of the blogosphere is in for a treat.

Henry Farrell makes a keen observation about the legitimation effects of senior scholars taking up blogging:

There are lots and lots of philosophy blogs and law blogs, but many other academic disciplines, including economics, seem surprisingly under-represented in the blogosphere. I suspect that one of the important causal factors is legitimation. Junior academics may be unwilling to get involved in blogging. Not only is it a time-suck, but it may seem faintly disreputable - senior scholars in many fields of the social sciences take a dim view of ‘popularizing.’ However if there is a well known senior scholar in a discipline who blogs, it’s much easier for junior people in that discipline to dip their toes in the water without worrying that it’ll hurt their tenure chances.

Hmmm.... this leads to a small problem for Henry and myself. As one of the commenters to Henry's post points out, "I’ve noticed this lack of blogging from big names in my own field of political science." Indeed, perusing Crooked Timber's list of poli sci bloggers, I certainly do not see anyone approaching the stature that Becker or Posner have in their fields. To go further, there is no tenured political scientist at a top twenty institution who also blogs (see below).

[Insert sound of lonely wind blowing here--ed.]

To which I say.... shame on my tenured brethren!! To be sure, a lot of blogging (and some of my blogging) is entirely unrelated to matters of scholarship -- but that doesn't mean it has to be this way. Tyler Cowen has an excellent post in response to Eszter Hargittai on how blogging and scholarship are compliments rather than substitutes. Surely these reasons must be persuasive to some of my letter-writers for tenure senior people in political science!

Readers both in an out of political science are hereby invited to suggest which senior political scientist they would like to see start a blog. Must be someone who holds a Ph.D. in political science and holds a full-time tenured position at a Ph.D.-granting institution [Doesn't that impose some ideological constraints?--ed. Feh -- as Jonah Goldberg put it, "wrong and liberal are not synonymous terms."]

UPDATE: Hey, it turns out there is a tenured political scientist at a top twenty institution who's a blogger. Michael Munger -- chair of the department of political science at Duke, former president of the Public Choice Society, a prolific scholar who lists his occupation as "professional wrestler" in his Blogger Profile -- has had a blog since June of this year.

[He also appears to be threatening you with bodily harm--ed. Oh, yeah??!! Like I'm really scared of some newbie, candy-assed, penny-ante North Carolina blogger who calls himself "KGrease"? Bring it on, Duke boy!!! I'm not sure this kind of discourse is going to encourage other tenured faculty to start blogging--ed.]

posted by Dan at 12:13 AM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (2)

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Whatever shall global civil society do?

It's dangerous to ascribe a common set of preferences to the heterogeneous collection of NGOs, social movements, activist networks, charities, churches, and even some individual philanthropists that comprise "global civil society." But most people who study these entities would acknowledge a rough consensus among these groups that a) genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) should be regulated to within an inch of their existence; and b) land mines are evil and should be banned.

So I wonder which side of the fence these groups will fall on when they read about this tidbit blogged by Warren Ginn:

A Danish company, Aresa Biodetection, has developed genetically-modified flowers that change color when their roots come in contact with nitrogen dioxide in the soil. Explosives used in mines produce NO2 as the chemicals gradually decay. The company plans to sow fields of NO2-sniffing Arabidopsis thaliana (Thale or mouse cress) in areas riddled with long-forgotten ordinance from Angola to Cambodia.

Link via Virginia Postrel.

Aresa's web site has this to say on how these GM products would accelerate land mine removal:

There is only one method with global validity for the removal of landmines. This method (prodding) consists of putting a stick into the ground, locate the mine, remove it and detonate it. It is highly time consuming and risky....

By adding our process to the current prodding or other processes, we expect to represent the most cost efficient method ever invented, and increase speed for projects by a factor of 10 times. At the same time the risk will be reduced significantly, as mines will be located before prodding and removal takes place.

Pretty cool.

posted by Dan at 11:32 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Please, anything but cheap shrimp!!

Thank God the Bush administration is protecting me and other consumers from.... cheap seafood. Jeffrey Sparshott explains the Bush administration's heroic act of protectionism in the Washington Times:

The Bush administration yesterday said Chinese and Vietnamese shrimp are sold at unfairly low prices in the United States, siding with U.S. fishermen as they try to fend off overseas competition.

The decision reaffirms new trade barriers on the country's most popular seafood, though the new duties meant to counter the competition are not as high as requested by the industry.

"Although U.S. shrimpers believe the [Commerce] Department understates the amount of dumping in certain instances, they reaffirm our contention that shrimp is dumped in the U.S. market," said Eddie Gordon, president of the Southern Shrimp Alliance, which represents shrimpers from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas....

U.S. importers expect to pay more for shrimp from the two countries, though the impact on consumers is unclear.

"We're just looking at a very small segment of the market," said James Jochum, assistant secretary of commerce for import administration. "Putting on these various duties ... it's very unclear the direct impact it may have on prices."

The U.S. shrimp industry contends there will be no impact, though importers warn that prices certainly will rise.

One wonders... if consumer prices won't be affected, why would the Southern Shrimp Alliance seek protection in the first place?

posted by Dan at 01:57 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (2)