Thursday, June 30, 2005
Some cautionary notes on aid
Longtime readers of danieldrezner.com -- all seven of you -- are aware of my studied ambivalence about the idea that boosting foreign aid and debt relief to Africa will improve economic conditions in that area.
With the Live8 concert approaching, and the One campaign being hyped by celebrities (including a certain former poli sci student from south of the border), it seems worth pointing out that there's a big difference between wanting to help alleviate poverty and pandemics in Africa and actually doing it.
It's with that frame of mind that I came across this Financial Times story by Andrew Balls:
Read the whole thing.
Oh, and for conservatives who stress the productive role that remittances can play in fostering economic growth, be sure to click onto this IMF staff paper by Ralph Chami, Connel Fullenkamp, and Samir Jahjah. The abstract:
[So you're saying the situation is hopeless--ed.] Nope. The FT story goes on to observe:
Click here for the World Bank's press release on its latest Africa report.
Vladimir likes the bling-bling
Some stories are so odd that all you can do is post them without comment:
It's an amazing coincidence.... it's my understanding is this is exactly how it worked with Gazprom as well.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Open Bush speech thread
I wasn't able to watch Bush's speech tonight, but that doesn't mean you can't comment on it here. Fire away!
[What if they missed it?--ed. Then go check out David Adesnik's liveblogging.]
Signs that the end is not upon us
As the New York Times frets about China's rise to economic pre-eminence, Americans are understandably concerned about the size of the trade deficit and the possibility of a housing bubble. I've been moderately concerned about both -- but two small stories muddy up my worries a bit.
The first is the fact that the U.S. is relying less on official purchases to finance its current account deficit:
This is always the thing to remember about the U.S. economy -- as parlous as conditions may look right now, one must always compare the United States to other possible locations for investors. Compared to the regulatory, demographic, and political uncertainties present in Europe, Japan, and yes, even China, the U.S. looks pretty good.
As for the housing bubble, Daniel Gross points out in Slate that housing has been the primary job engine since the start of the 2001 recession -- but that could be changing:
None of this is to say that the U.S. does not suffer from some serious economic imbalances that will require a combination of policies to solve. However, the situation may not be as hopeless as many prognosticators are saying.
Monday, June 27, 2005
Interpreting Iran's election
The Economist asks the questions on many people's minds following Iran's presidential elections:
However, Gordon Robison has an op-ed in the Beirut Daily Star suggesting that the western media fell down on the job in covering the Iranian elections:
Well, to be fair, some of the western media had already figured some of this out:
Irwin Stezler's short-term memory
When Americans get skittish about China's growing economic power, free market advocates -- myself included -- tend to remind everyone about the excessive skittishness Americans had about Japan in the late eighties.
In the Weekly Standard, Irwin Stezler offers some reasons for why China now is different from Japan back then:
Now, I'm not necessarily disagreeing with Stezler's big point about the differences between China now and Japan then, but I remember enough of the late eighties hysteria to point out the various ways in which Japanophobes would have rebutted Stezler's alleged differences between Japan and China:
One final tidbit -- in 1990, Robert Reich conducted a poll of both elites and ordinary citizens and asked them to choose between a world where the U.S. economy grew by 25% and Japan grew by 75% over the next decade, or one where the U.S. grew by 10% and Japan by 10.3%. With the exception of economists, majorities in both groups preferred the second choice to the first one.
My point in this little exercise is not to exonerate China's less desirable qualities -- it's to point out that when another country is perceived as an economic threat to American hegemony, it is easy to find ways of painting that country in a sinister light.
UPDATE: The Economist has two articles worth reading on China's new interest in foreign direct investment. Neither the article about CNOOC in particular or the article about Chinese outward FDI is terribly sanguine about what's going on.
ANOTHER UPDATE: The similaities/differences between Japan and China were also the topic of Paul Krugman's column today. Krugman also touches on a theme mentioned by the other articles linked here:
Maybe my memory is off, but the Japanese also set up a fair amount of greenfield FDI in the auto sector as well.
Also, what difference wlould it make how the Chinese use their investments? None, unless you care about relative gains a fair amount -- which is what Krugman seems to be doing, according to both Tyler Cowen and Don Boudreaux.
Both also link to Sebastian Mallaby's sensible observation in the Washington Post:
LAST UPDATE: Alex Tabarrok goes completely medieval on Krugman.
Sunday, June 26, 2005
So how's the transatlantic relationship doing?
One of the bizarre sociological facts of attending multi-day conferences about current events is that – even as one is discussing policy topics of the day in earnest – a news vacuum is created, shielding participants to facts both new and salient to the topic of debate.
So, even as your humble blogger tirelessly debated the state of transatlantic relationship in conference rooms, poolside bars, sumptuous restaurants, and then back at more bars, the following events didn’t come up that much in conversation:
[So, the conference was a bust, eh?—ed.] First, no conference held at this location can be a bust. Second, I left this conference feeling much better about transatlantic relations than I have in quite some time.
This time around, there was a much greater sense of humility on both sides – the Americans on Iraq and the Europeans on, well, the future of the EU. From this humility, a fair amount of pragmatism appeared. Americans on both sides of the aisle emphasized the need for the United States to accentuate its soft power resources in the rest of the world. Regardless of their attitudes towards Iraq, the Europeans who attended were far more accepting of a value-oriented foreign policy than in the past -- i.e., democracy promotion. It was also the Europeans, and not Americans, who were questioning what the next step would be if engagement talks with Iran fell apart.
Does the growing public resentment of the United States mean that this new spirit of pragmatism at the elite level will die out quickly? I'm not sure. I doubt Bush's meeting with German President Gerhard Schroeder will be warm and fuzzy, but the leaders who are on the rise in Europe -- the UK's Tony Blair, Germany's Angela Merkel -- are the ones who favor closer relations with the United States. Despite Pew's findings, it remains the case that anti-Americanism is an empty platform for governance.
Thursday, June 23, 2005
Does China contradict the liberal paradigm?
The constant in U.S. policy towards a rising China for the past three administrations is encapsulated in the current National Security Strategy:
In other words, by trading with China, and by encouraging them to embrace the information revolution, the Chinese will inevitably morph into an ever-more-open society that will therefore become more benign in world politics.
There are valid reasons to doubt the second part of that logic, but I'm more concerned about the first part for now: is U.S. trade with China making the country more free?
I ask because of this Philip P. Pan front-pager in the Washington Post from last week on how Chinese President Hu Jintao is consolidating his power:
Meanwhile, Paul Mooney reports similar information about the Chinese academy in the Chronicle of Higher Education (sorry, subscription only):
As for the power of the Internet to make China more free, Rebecca MacKinnon has tirelessly covered the Chinese government's recent efforts to expand its monitoring and filtering capacities -- click here for one example.
This would all seem to suggest that our open trade policy with China ain't generating a lot of political openness on their side. By the Freedom House measures, China has been rated as "not free" for the entire history of our expanded trade relationship with them. Within that category there are some subtler trends -- in the eighties both the poliitical rights and civil liberties measures improved slightly. Both went back down after Tiannamen, and then since 1998 the civil liberties score has improved marginally.
So does China vitiate the underlying premise that an open economic relationship leads to political openness?
Well consider that even the Freedom House data and the Chronicle story suggests that economic openness can have an effect on civil liberties -- it's just that the effect is very small and trumped by Hu Jintao. See this section of the Chronicle story:
Second, remember that China is a special case because of its market size. China can get Microsoft to do what it wants, but smaller countries cannot.
Third, when questioning the utility of a certain policy, one always needs to compre it to the alternative set of options. There is no other option that would cause China to democratize any faster that a policy of openness.
Fourth, as I argued earlier this year, the effect of the information revolution on authoritarian states is not a continuous one. It is possible that repressive regimes can succeed in maintaining control for long periods of time -- but then crumble quickly. One reason for Hu's recent decision to crack down is his acute recognition of this fact.
So maybe current U.S. policy will work in the long run. The thing is, none of those points makes me feel any more sanguine about current U.S. policy in the short run.
UPDATE: David Shambaugh has an interesting piece in The Washington Quarterly on the complex triangle between the U.S., China, and Europe.
So how is moderate Islam doing?
Two years ago, then-Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohammed gave a controversial talk at the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The gist of it was, "We Muslims must embrace modernization -- so we can crush the Jews."
Two years later, current Malaysian PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is preaching the first, less offensive part of that message. The New York Times' Wayne Arnold explains:
Whether Abdullah is a Nixon going to China or a Mahathir in sheep's clothing is a question I will leave to the comments.... once they've digested those inelegant metaphors.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Need something more to worry about?
Foreign Affairs has a special section in their July/August 2005 issue devoted to "coping with the next pandemic." After reading Laurie Garrett's excellent introduction to the section (subscription only) about the emergence of the H5N1 avian influenza, I feel both better informed and freaked out.
Garrett also identifies the economic reasons why there isn't a booming market for flu vaccines:
Garrett also makes a very solid case for why, even in an open global economy, the U.S. government should ensure there is a domestic industry for these vaccines:
Kudos to Jim Hoge and Gideon Rose at Foreign Affairs for putting together this special section and scaring the bejeezus out of me.
Roger Cohen dreams of Eumerica
Since I'm supposed to be advancing transatlantic understanding, here's one relevant link -- in his Globalist column for the International Herald Tribune, Roger Cohen dreams of a world where the best of Europe and America are combined. I'm pretty sure both Americans and Europeans would find something to object to in his section on politics and economics, but this section might actually appeal to all:
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
What's causing the trade deficit?
Gosh darn it, if part of being a transatlantic fellow for the German Marshall Fund of the United States means going to northern Italy for the rest of this mid-June week to try and promote greater transatlantic understanding, then I have no choice but to do my duty. Blogging could be erratic over the next few days.
Talk amongst yourselves. Here's a topic -- is the a massive current account deficit a function of the sizeable budget deficit, the low U.S. savings rate, currency manipulation, or a global savings glut?
The global savings glut argument has been advanced by Ben Bernanke, who is likely to be the next Fed chairman. A quick precis of his argument: I will take issue with the common view that the recent deterioration in the U.S. current account primarily reflects economic policies and other economic developments within the United States itself. Although domestic developments have certainly played a role, I will argue that a satisfying explanation of the recent upward climb of the U.S. current account deficit requires a global perspective that more fully takes into account events outside the United States. To be more specific, I will argue that over the past decade a combination of diverse forces has created a significant increase in the global supply of saving--a global saving glut--which helps to explain both the increase in the U.S. current account deficit and the relatively low level of long-term real interest rates in the world today....
[S]pecific trade-related factors cannot explain either the magnitude of the U.S. current account imbalance or its recent sharp rise. Rather, the U.S. trade balance is the tail of the dog; for the most part, it has been passively determined by foreign and domestic incomes, asset prices, interest rates, and exchange rates, which are themselves in turn the products of more fundamental driving forces. Instead, an alternative perspective on the current account appears likely to be more useful for explaining recent developments. This second perspective focuses on international financial flows and the basic fact that a country's saving and investment need not be equal in each period....
That inadequate U.S. national saving is the source of the current account deficit must be true at some level; indeed, the statement is almost a tautology. However, linking current-account developments to the decline in saving begs the question of why U.S. saving has declined. In particular, although the decline in U.S. saving may reflect changes in household behavior or economic policy in the United States, it may also be in some part a reaction to events external to the United States--a hypothesis that I will propose and defend momentarily.
One popular argument for the "made in the U.S.A." explanation of declining national saving and the rising current account deficit focuses on the burgeoning U.S. federal budget deficit, which in 2004 drained more than $400 billion from the national saving pool. I will discuss the link between the budget deficit and the current account deficit in more detail later. Here I simply note that the so-called twin-deficits hypothesis, that government budget deficits cause current account deficits, does not account for the fact that the U.S. external deficit expanded by about $300 billion between 1996 and 2000, a period during which the federal budget was in surplus and projected to remain so. Nor, for that matter, does the twin-deficits hypothesis shed any light on why a number of major countries, including Germany and Japan, continue to run large current account surpluses despite government budget deficits that are similar in size (as a share of GDP) to that of the United States. It seems unlikely, therefore, that changes in the U.S. government budget position can entirely explain the behavior of the U.S. current account over the past decade....
The weakening of new capital investment after the drop in equity prices did not much change the net effect of the global saving glut on the U.S. current account. The transmission mechanism changed, however, as low real interest rates rather than high stock prices became a principal cause of lower U.S. saving. In particular, during the past few years, the key asset-price effects of the global saving glut appear to have occurred in the market for residential investment, as low mortgage rates have supported record levels of home construction and strong gains in housing prices.... The expansion of U.S. housing wealth, much of it easily accessible to households through cash-out refinancing and home equity lines of credit, has kept the U.S. national saving rate low--and indeed, together with the significant worsening of the federal budget outlook, helped to drive it lower. As U.S. business investment has recently begun a cyclical recovery while residential investment has remained strong, the domestic saving shortfall has continued to widen, implying a rise in the current account deficit and increasing dependence of the United States on capital inflows.
According to the story I have sketched thus far, events outside U.S. borders--such as the financial crises that induced emerging-market countries to switch from being international borrowers to international lenders--have played an important role in the evolution of the U.S. current account deficit, with transmission occurring primarily through endogenous changes in equity values, house prices, real interest rates, and the exchange value of the dollar.
Is Bernanke correct? This argument does jibe with recent research suggesting that reducing the budget deficit doesn't have a large impact on the trade deficit. However, for critiques of this argument, see Daniel Gross' link-rich essay in Slate, as well as cogent posts by Brad Setser and this post by Brad DeLong.
My take -- this isn't an either-or question. Bernanke identifies a cause that has been underplayed by administration critics, but Bernanke himself makes it clear that he thinks domestic factors also play a role.
Much more disconcerting is this section of Bernanke's speech:
There is another danger -- the encouragement of speculative investment in housing in the U.S. and elsewhere. See the New York Times' David Leonhardt and Motoko Rich, as well as the Economist, for more on this.
Open Downing Street Memo thread
A few commenters have asked me to post something on the Downing Street Memo(s). Truth be told, I missed this story while putting together the tenure file, and I've found with stories like this that it's tough to jump in in mid-wave. The memos already have their own Wikipedia entry, their own web site, and their own blog, so I'm not sure what I can add except my own initial reaction and a place for people to vent.
[And how is that different from every other blog entry of yours?--ed. As opposed to the half-assed thoughts that make up your average blog posts, I'm only using a third of my ass on this one.]
The big bad graf that everyone is harping on is this one from the :
According to downingstreetmemo.com:
My quick reaction:
So those are my thoughts. Feel free to contribute yours.
UPDATE: Check out Tim Cavanaugh's take as well.
Monday, June 20, 2005
Whither grade inflation?
If Thoma's finding hold up, it would appear to be a classic case of economic incentives outweighing social norms.
[Why?--ed. If asked to predict the pattern of grade inflation, I would have predicted the opposite trend. In my own experience, graduate students tend to be the harshest critics of undergraduate work, folloed by junior faculty (tenure track or not), followed by senior faculty. Mostly this is because, in my field, graduate students are first trained to be critics before they have to create their own work. One way this critical edge usually plays itself out is in grading others. However, Thoma's findings would suggest that this social effect is completely swamped by straight-forward material incentives. One question I would have, however, is whether this result holds at top tier research universities.]
Saturday, June 18, 2005
A fun book meme
Here are my five -- two of which might surprise Cole:
Which editor at the Washington Post owes Blaine Harden money?
I ask this question because a personal debt is the only possible explanation for why Harden landed a front-page story in today's WaPo about whether Starbucks is bankrupting America's highly educated youth:
Absolutely correct, it's a waste of money.... unless you believe that gourmet coffee generates efficiency improvements in human capital formation.... and student loans usually have lower-than-average interest rates.... and the income boost provided by law school massively outweighs the cost of Starbucks consumption.... and question whether after racking up over $115,000 in debt, it's really the extra thousand or two rom coffee consumption that affects career choices... and you believe Harden's underlying, unproven premise that too many students consume too many lattes.
Friday, June 17, 2005
How whirlpool does globalization
Louis Uchitelle has a nice case study of how one U.S. multinational deals with global sourcing questions in the New York Times:
Read the whole thing. One interesting result is that despite the fact that globalization supposedly flattens the world, geography (in the form of shipping costs) and history (in the form of past investments) still matter a great deal.
A very important post about.... Katie Holmes
For the past month I've been fighting my instinct to blog about the future Mrs. Tom Cruise. Even though the infamous Oprah video bothered me, and even though Cruise's comments about psychiatry in general and Brooke Shields in particular bothered me, my superego said this wasn't a blogworthy topic.
With the announcement of their engagement at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower, I think the question needs to be asked -- what is it about this coupling that provokes people into creating elaborate Free Katie web sites?
[Maybe it's the age gap--ed. If that was true, then Catherine Zeta-Jones' marriage to Michael Douglas should have provoked more outrage -- the gap in their ages is twenty years. Same with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening. Hell, I think the public's opinion of Ashton Kutcher went up after he started dating Demi Moore. Also, is anyone really shocked by a generational difference among celebrity couples anymore?]
[Maybe it's the Scientology?--ed. Well, Scientology certainly has its critics. But then again, so do most other religions. And frankly, why should we care if Ms. Holmes decides to leave the Catholic Church? Besides, the furor over their relationship began before any discussion of conversion entered into the mix.]
My hunch is that it's some syncretic combination of a bunch of factors, including the age gap, the Scientology, and the fact that, according to the Associated Press, "The former star of television's 'Dawson's Creek' grew up with a poster of Cruise on her bedroom wall and has said she grew up wanting to marry him." But I'm not sure.
So I will put it to the readers -- what is it about this relationship that weirds so many people out?
Unsung examples of U.S. soft power
A common meme among foreign affairs cognoscenti across the policy spectrum is that the U.S. needs to do more to improve its public diplomacy and "soft power" activities. This is a nice assertion to make -- I'm sure I've made it myself -- but it usually overlooks the fact that the U.S. government already has a lot of programs that try to advance this goal. We just don't hear about them all that often.
The Chicago Tribune's Mary Ann Fergus has a front-page story on one of these programs:
Read the whole thing. One interesting and unanticipated side-effect of the program has been the effect it has had on the different Afghan representatives:
Click here for more information on the State Department's Partnerships for Learning, Youth Exchange and Study: "During academic year 2004-2005, 450 students joined the program from: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel (Arab Community), Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, West Bank/Gaza, and Yemen."
Thursday, June 16, 2005
Projecting the demand for offshore labor
Peter Marsh writes in the Financial Times about what the global market for service jobs will look like with the rise in offshore outsourcing:
Marsh has another story about the MGI report here. One interesting bit:
This last point is stressed in the executive summary of the McKinsey report:
This jibes with data and analysis of the U.S. economy in recent years. In terms of employment, a glance at Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that manufacturing has suffered far more than services (though in both cases the extent to which offshore outsourcing has been blamed has been much greater than its actual causal effect). Similarly, the figures for which service sector jobs are theoretically likely to be outsourced match up with Ashok Bardham and Cynthia Kroll's study from 2003.
Thanks to George Adair for the link.
The biggest threat to Moneyball
With all of the debate over the business logic underlying Michael Lewis' Moneyball, there was a simple underlying assumption behind the book -- baseball teams that are successful on the field are also successful at the gate.
Erik Ahlberg had a front-pager in yesterday's Wall Street Journal suggesting that this assumption doesn't necessarily hold for the Chicago White Sox:
As it turns out, last night I took my father to a pretty exciting game at the Cell -- and would have to concur that the West Berlin answer makes the most sense. The park itself is actually quite nice -- it's not Wrigley, mind you, but it's fan-friendly. However, there is simply nothing (in the way of shops, restaurants, bars, etc.) surrounding the ballpark.
UPDATE: As has been pointed out in the comments, there is a double irony in all of this -- most sabermetric analysts predicted that this year's White Sox team -- built on speed and pitching -- would crash and burn.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
It's a strange day in the blogosphere....
But Wonkette does factor into the general cultural weirdness of my day by contributing "Wonkette on Wonkette" for the University of Chicago Magazine -- in which I discovered the following:
What to make of this corporate trend?
Tobias Buck reports in the Financial Times on the growth of an interesting corporate trend:
Click here for the actual KPMG report. Among the interesting facts:
If I'm working for an NGO devoted to corporate social responsibility, I'd be very, very happy with these results.
[Why? These corporations are primarily reporting to advance their own self-interest--ed. Yes, and that's a self-perpetuating mechanism, which is much better that corporations acting against their own self-interest. This might be a case where NGOs have managed to reconstitute how corporations define their interests]
Activating the Kurdish SEP field
Continuing the theme from my last post is this story by Steve Fainaru and Anthony Shadid in the Washington Post about what's going on in Kirkuk:
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Activating the Saudi SEP field
If you study international relations, you quickly become very aware of the power of an SEP field:
This Associated Press report by George Jahn makes me wonder just how many governments will be deploying an SEP field:
Debating grand strategy
Diplomatic History is "the sole journal devoted to the history of U.S. diplomacy, foreign relations, and national security," according to both its publisher and its editor. In a laudable attempt to generate topical scholarship, the journal has recently asked eminent historians to write about current American grand strategy from a historical perspective.
The June 2005 issue has a roundtable on "The Bush Administration’s Foreign Policy in Historical Perspective," led off by Melvyn Leffler. His thesis:
The editors of Diplomatic History then did something really provocative -- they asked non-historians to comment on Leffler's hypothesis.
This is a longwinded way of saying you can read my take on Leffler's hypothesis by reading my rejoinder, "Values, Interests, and American Grand Strategy." If you're pressed for time, here's the gist of it:
Click here for a summary of the issue -- other contributors include Robert Kagan, Walter L. Hixson, Carolyn Eisenberg, Arnold A. Offner, and Anna Kasten Nelson (plus a final reply from Leffler).
More importantly, congratulations to Diplomatic History for generating a useful and policy relevant debate -- and for giving me the guilty pleasure of publishing outside my disciplinary boundaries.
Monday, June 13, 2005
Why is GM still in business?
Following up on my last post, there's an interesting question to be asked about General Motors -- why is it still in business?
If that sounds heartless, it's not meant to be -- it's because I much of the past week's commentary sounds awfully familiar. For those who can remember the very early nineties, many were asking whether GM could survive -- at one point it had filed the biggest quarterly loss in the history of American business. GM may not be in great shape now -- but it's been 15 years and they're still the largest single producer of automobiles purchased in the United States.
The Economist has a story that touches on this question:
You can see the paper and the executive summary by clicking here. The takeaway points from the paper:
Reason #1 would explain GM's persistence -- global competition has increased in the auto sector, but it's still not a model of perfect competition.
[Hey, wasn't this done by management consultants?--ed. In part, yes, but their methodology seems sound.]
Sunday, June 12, 2005
Who wins from GM's misfortunes
The announcement by General Motors that it planned to 25,000 or more assembly-line jobs over the next few years would seem to advance the hypothesis that the United States suffers from expanding international trade.
Gregg Easterbrook does a nice job of pointing out why that's not true in the New York Times today:
[Yeah, but life is still bad for workers in the auto indistry, right?--ed.] Well, that depends on where you live. Easterbrook points out some other employment trends in the automobile sector beyond General Motors:
AIAM's press release about that report also mentions, "When the number of jobs created by the new American automakers is combined with related new vehicle dealership employment, this sector of the industry has generated 1.8 million jobs in the U.S. economy."
Friday, June 10, 2005
My colleges are in the news
I must also applaud President Schapiro (for whom I was a teaching assistant when he taight Economics 101) to for being savvy enough to lure Friedman out to Williamstown and getting some fine press for the institution in the New York Times.
Thanks to alert reader B.K. for the pointer.
UPDATE: The utility of searching the stacks contrasts nicely with James Falows' lament about computer searches in the New York Times:
Economists are flummoxed
When Alan Greenspan can't explain the bond market, I start to get very, very nervous.
Of course, what Greenspan is sure about doesn't make me feel any better:
Now part of the reason savings is at a historic low is that asset prices have been rising so dramatically over the past ten years -- equities in the late nineties and housing now. So it's tough to say that the American consumer is behaving irrationally -- why save income when your assets are appreciating at a healthy clip?
Tyler Cowen speculates on whether this is true and is just as flummoxed as Greenspan is about the bond market:
Now is normally the point in the post when I give you my take on things. Not this time -- I'm just as stumped as Cowen and Greenspan on these questions.
Thursday, June 9, 2005
One of my favorite Simpsons moments is when Homer is watching a TV set showing Prairie Home Companion’s Garrison Keillor -- at which point he bangs on the set and says, "Be funnier!!"
That moment came to my head when I read this Jackie Calmes report in the Wall Street Journal that this year's budget deficit is smaller than projected:
Why did I think of that moment? Because Bolten's comment was so absurd that I was tempted to bang the computer and yell "Spin better!!"
Finding out that the annual budget deficit is 20% smaller than previously should be manna from heaven for the administration. And there's an excellent line for the explanation -- the administration's policies have fostered faster-than expected economic growth which has increased tax revenues. So if I were working for the administration, I'd say, "With the president's focus on growing the economy, we're seeing an improved balance sheet for the government." That's spin in the best sense -- accentuating your positive attibutes.
What I wouldn't mention is "the president's focus on spending discipline," which brings up two unformortable facts: a) this administration has no spending discipline; and b) combine that with a Congress that loves to spend as well and you've got widening deficits for some time.
Wednesday, June 8, 2005
Can North Korea overtake South Africa?
This step by FIFA -- and North Korea's ongoing campaign for Rogue State of the Year -- got me to wondering: which country in the world has been the most popular target of sanctions approved by an international organization?
As someone who's written a bit about economic sanctions, I confess to not having a definitive answer -- to my knowledge, no one has ever researched this question. Certainly North Korea has been moving up in the ranks -- the UN (back during the Korean War), the IAEA in 1994, and now FIFA.
However, I'd still be willing to bet that the answer to this question is apartheid-era South Africa. At one point or another, the United Nations, Organization for African Unity, European Economic Community, South African Development Community, and the Commonwealth imposed sancdtions -- not to mention the International Olympic Committee and FIFA.
The hard working staff here at danieldrezner.com will be on top of this issue to see if and when North Korea can overtake the rogue state of the twentieth century. I hjave no doubt that the regime in Pyongyang is capable of pulling this off.
The costs and benefits of military primacy
I've blogged in the past about the security benefits of American military hegemony -- namely, that when one state holds military primacy, the incentives for other countries to engage in arms races and military advanturish declines. One obvious measure of these kind of security benefits is the reduction of aggregate military expenditures. As Gregg Easterbrook noted two years ago:
Soooo..... I was a bit chagrined to read this AP report that says global defense spending is on the rise:
What are the normative implications of this? We go back to the AP report:
The OECD's recipe for economic growth
Psst... hey, buddy -- want to make some more money?
Chris Giles writes in the Financial Times on the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's latest working paper:
You can access the OECD's summary here, and the full report here. By barriers, the authors are referring to tariffs, limits on foreign direct investment, and product market regulation. The bulk of the gains come from regulatory reforms.
How big are the benefits? This is from the report's cover letter:
UPDATE: Robert Tagorda at Outside the Beltway has some more thoughts on the OECD report.
Meanwhile, Gary Hufbauer and Paul Grieco's op-ed in the Washington Post yesterday makes a similar point about the past benefits of economic openness:
[But the costs... what about the costs!!--ed. Ah, yes, they measure that too:
Tuesday, June 7, 2005
492326* words later....
Readers may have detected a somewhat harried nature to my blog posts of the last few weeks. The reason is that I was preparing to hand in my tenure file -- the packet of information that is sent to external referees asked to write about my case. A tenure file consists of:
If this sounds like all it would require is a cloistered weekend and some toner, well, that's what I thought six weeks ago. I then discovered, however, that writing a statement of research and teaching is the equivalent of writing a ten page cover letter saying, "Look at me!! LOOK AT ME!!!" You'd think with my blog and everything this would be easy to write, but you'd be wrong.
Then I decided that this would be an excellent opportunity to revise my book manuscript and polish all of the draft articles I have in the wings. Not surprisingly, this took a bit longer than expected, and distracted me a hell of a lot more than my lovely wife expected.
I handed in the file this morning. As I sank back into my chair, I began to wonder just how many words I had printed out. In a fit of sheer bloody-mindedness, I opened up every document, did a word count, and added it all up. Which is where I got the title to this post.
[What's with the asterisk?--ed. Because that word count, while accurate, is nevertheless inflated. Like every other political scientist, I publish my scholarly work in both article and book form. Many of my articles are simply book chapters that have been hived off into stand-alone essays. Similarly, I have sometimes published more accessible forms of my research in policy journals. So while the word count is pretty high, there's a lot of duplication. How much duplication?--ed. I'd say that buried beneath that word count are about three big ideas, four pretty big ideas, three smaller ideas, and some nice moments of criticism.]
Anyway, it's off my desk and out of my hands -- so I'm now off to do some serious drinking.
After the whole process is over -- i.e., in early 2006 -- I might be motivated to post something about the political economy of getting tenure. For now, however, political scientists should click over to Henry Farrell's informative post about how to get your conference paper accepted for the American Political Science Association annual meeting.
Monday, June 6, 2005
What I got out of Mark Felt this week
The orgy of commentary and journalism produced by the revelation that W. Mark Felt was Deep Throat has been staggering -- and mostly unproductive. The revelation that a key source for Woodward and Bernstein was the number two man in the FBI and a J. Edgar Hoover loyalist has produced a lot of bullshit -- and in the case of Pat Buchanan, outright lies.
So has there been any commentary of value to be gleaned from this revelation? I've seen two things worth reading -- though both of them are only tangental to Felt's coming out party. Surprisingly enough, they're written by two people who probably don't get along very well -- David Brooks and Sasha Issenberg (click on this Noam Scheiber essay to find out why they don't get along).
Brooks does a great riff off of Bob Woodward's first person account of how he first met and got to know Felt. This allows him to talk about the topic he covers so well -- what aspiring young people do to get ahead:
As you would expect, one Junior Lippman takes the time to respond -- but if you ask me, Brooks' point has attracted too much attention for it to be dismissed lightly -- see Elizabeth Bumiller and Tim Noah for more on this theme.
Issenberg, meanwhile, has a great piece in Slate about how Felt's revelations bring to mind an excellent Watergate movie -- and it ain't All the President's Men:
Hmmm.... paranoid style in American politics infecting public commentary... yes, that sounds familiar. Well, at least Felt's revelations will put the conspiracy meme to rest on this question. Oh, wait....
When graduate students discover the Internet
"Alan Mendelsohn" has a pretty funny first-person account in the Chronicle of Higher Education about what happens when a literature department at "a major research university on the West Coast" sets up a blog for grad students. The results are not pretty at all. One example:
Ah, the academy -- almost everyone on the same side of the ideological fence, and nary an agreement in sight.
"Mendelsohn" concludes that maybe the Internet is not the nirvana of Habermasian discourse, but the academic version of crack:
"Alan Mendelsohn", by the way, is a pseudonym -- and I can't say I blame him. But I will always be grateful to him for the introduction of "postmodern wanker" into my lexicon.
Sunday, June 5, 2005
Giving a whole new meaning to "the chosen people" means
This Economist story makes me very, very uncomfortable:
Read the whole article to understand the explanation of Cochran et al. Here's a link to their working paper on the topic.
The thing is, Cochran has also advanced the idea that, "homosexuality is caused by an infection," which is just strange.
Saturday, June 4, 2005
June's Books of the Month
If last month's selection theme was books written by U of C faculty, this month's theme is threefold:
The international relations book for this month is my colleague Robert Pape's Dying to Win : The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. Pape has collected data on all events of suicide terrorism over the past three decades and distills from that data several interesting hypotheses and policy recommendations. [Why not go into more depth?--ed. Because I've blogged about Pape's work on this subject before -- click here, here, and here for my thoughts about Pape's argument, methodology, and policy pronouncements.]
The general interest book for the month is... on the same topic -- it's Mia Bloom's Dying To Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror. In contrast to Pape, Bloom conducted field research in conflict zones where suicide terrorism took place -- including Israel and Sri Lanka. The assessment from Publisher's Weekly:
Combined, Bloom and Pape offer a lovely refutation to claims that the academic study of international relations does not care about policy relevant research.
Go check them out.
Thursday, June 2, 2005
Run away!! run away!!!
Throughout my life there have been activities that I have shied away from, not because I disliked them but because I feared liking them so intensely that they'd impinge on the rest of my life. This was why I never played Dungeons & Dragons as a kid. My brain starts sounding like a Monty Python voice yelling, "Run away!! Run away!!!"
Occasionally, despite my mental efforts, one of these addictive activities sneaks its way through my defenses. I'm convinced that had I not gotten hooked on Sid Meier's Civilization II game, I'd have another article somewhere on my cv. Thankfully, I kicked that habit five years ago -- all that's left is a non-functional icon on my desktop.
[What about blogging?--ed. A more complex answer -- I'd probably have another article or two, but on the other hand the articles on outsourcing and blogging would not be there either.]
Which brings me to (if, as you're reading this, you know what I'm talking about and don't want to be hooked into another diversion, just click away now)...... sudoku!!!
What you see above you is a sample game of sudoku in an Economist article I stumbled onto while traveling last week. The rules of the game are very simple:
The Economist thinks this is the Next Big Thing in puzzles -- apparently the broadsheets in Great Britain are falling all over themselves to create the winning New-York-Times-crossword-style brand.
Stevenson goes on to analyze whether sudoku will be just as addictive as the NYT's crossword. His conclusion:
Proceed to the London Times sudoku page at your own risk.
Wednesday, June 1, 2005
Closer to home, Josh has managed to rustle up some high-profile international relations scholars and policy wonks for TPMCafe's foreign policy blog, America Abroad -- contributors include G. John Ikenberry, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and Ivo Daalder. As Henry Farrell put it, "The IR-academic corner of the blogosphere has been relatively underpopulated up until very recently.... it’s experiencing a bit of a population boom. Nice to see."
Yes it is -- now let's get to the fun part of critiquing the posts.
My very mixed reaction to this post:
A fnal query to readers. America Abroad and Duck of Minerva are the two recent blogs I've seen to be run by international relations scholars. Beyond them, Rodger Payne, and March Lynch (a.k.a. Abu Aardvark), readers are encouraged to clue me in to other IR scholar-blogs out there.
The Dutch say nee but not non
The Dutch were more emphatic than the French in saying no to the EU constitution -- but their reasons for saying no were not precisely the same. Oh, there were some surface similarities -- Emma Thomasson and Paul Gallagher explain for Reuters:
This rationale strikes me as different from the French fear of Turkey, which seemed predicated on both economic and cultural fears. In the Dutch case, I think the assassinations show it to be more of a direct concern with the threat to the Dutch commitment to liberal values (in both the classical and modern sense).
Marlise Simons of the New York Times provides more motivation behind the Dutch decision:
I'm more sympathetic to motivations behind the Dutch 'no' than the motivations behind the French 'non.'
If anyone can find a link to the actual exit poll results, post them in the comments.
I do wonder if this is another part of the master plot to prevent the euro from ffurther appreciation against the dollar.
As for the Netherlands, Dutch blogger Arjan Dasselaar asks a simultaneously provocative but obvious question:
ANOTHER UPDATE: Max Boot has an excellent analysis of the EU in the Los Angeles Times. The paragraph that must vex those in Brussels:
The housing market: foam or no foam?
I don't normally blog about the housing market (see here for an exception), but since everyone from Alan Greenspan to Brad Setser has been talking about whether the U.S. is experiencing a housing bubble right now, I thought it might be useful to link to this Chicago Fed Letter by Richard Rosen that suggests the answer is no. The highlights:
Do note the big caveats in the article, namely:
For a summary of the report, see this Chicago Tribune story.
No one trashes guido the killer pimp on my watch!!!
Any movie with the line, "Joel, get off the babysitter" deserves better treatment than that. Heresy, I say!! Heresy!!
On a slightly more serious note -- I haven't seen the movie in some years, but my memory is that it's quite a good flick. The interesting question is whether this is true because I first saw the movie when I was roughly the protagonist's age. It's possible -- not probable, but possible -- that I'm viewing this film through rose-colored glasses. There are movies that occupy a more prominent place in our personal pantheons because of when we see them, and the good memories we associate with that time. There are "generational" movies that are valued because they click on some level with one's entire peer group -- The Shawshank Redemption for Generation Y or Rebel Without A Cause for baby-boomers, for example.
Readers are encouraged to debate the merits of Risky Business, or to confess the movies that they adore but recognize may not be as good as they originally thought. Oh. and this seems as good a time as any to link to Time's "All-Time 100 Movies."
UPDATE: Hey, apparently this concern of mine has a name -- the Tron effect.
I wonder if Bangkok will take a check?
Note to self: no matter how much money they offer, never, ever accept an offer to become the governer of Thailand's central bank.
Adding insult to injury, the Bangkok Post reports that on top of the 186 billion baht, "The court also ordered Mr Rerngchai to pay 7.5% a year interest, retroactive to July 2, 1997, the date of the central bank's last currency transaction, although the court limited total interest charges to 62 million baht." I wait with bated breath to see if there is a Far East Economic Review story reporting that the court has also ordered Rerngchai's girlfriend to dump him.
Kidding aside, the Economist pointed out three years ago that, "The whole exercise seems grossly unfair, in that many other officials and politicians must have had a hand in the policy, as well as pointless, in that Mr Rerngchai seems unlikely to stump up the 186 billion baht he is alleged to owe." Actually, I think it's worse than that -- surely this will dissuade competent people from taking the job -- no matter how big Thailand's foreign exchange reserves are right now.
UPDATE: Brad Setser has semi-serious thoughts about whether the head of China's central bank needs to worry about this.
Don't hold your breath on TAFTA
Glenn Reynolds links to a John O'Sullivan column on the fallout from the French rejection of the EU constitution. It's an odd column, in that carries a lot of normative appeal to me but doesn't make complete sense.
O'Sullivan correctly brings up a worrisome byproduct of the French rejection -- the effect on Turkey:
No disagreement with that analysis. Then things get very strange:
Okaaayyyyy.... just a few questions for O'Sullivan:
To be clear, I think O'Sullivan's proposal has a lot of merit on substance -- I just don't think it has any hope of succeeding at the current political moment.
I am curious whether there would be support in the U.S. for something a bit simpler -- a free trade agreement with Turkey. Comment away!!