Thursday, November 30, 2006

Who's getting their Malthus on?

In the New York Times yesterday, Thomas F. Homer-Dixon got his Malthus on:

Mr. [Paul] Ehrlich and his colleagues may have the last (grim) laugh. The debate about limits to growth is coming back with a vengeance. The world’s supply of cheap energy is tightening, and humankind’s enormous output of greenhouse gases is disrupting the earth’s climate. Together, these two constraints could eventually hobble global economic growth and cap the size of the global economy.

The most important resource to consider in this situation is energy, because it is our economy’s “master resource” — the one ingredient essential for every economic activity. Sure, the price of a barrel of oil has dropped sharply from its peak of $78 last summer, but that’s probably just a fluctuation in a longer upward trend in the cost of oil — and of energy more generally. In any case, the day-to-day price of oil isn’t a particularly good indicator of changes in energy’s underlying cost, because it’s influenced by everything from Middle East politics to fears of hurricanes.

A better measure of the cost of oil, or any energy source, is the amount of energy required to produce it. Just as we evaluate a financial investment by comparing the size of the return with the size of the original expenditure, we can evaluate any project that generates energy by dividing the amount of energy the project produces by the amount it consumes.

Economists and physicists call this quantity the “energy return on investment” or E.R.O.I....

Cutler Cleveland, an energy scientist at Boston University who helped developed the concept of E.R.O.I. two decades ago, calculates that from the early 1970s to today the return on investment of oil and natural gas extraction in the United States fell from about 25 to 1 to about 15 to 1.

This basic trend can be seen around the globe with many energy sources. We’ve most likely already found and tapped the biggest, most accessible and highest-E.R.O.I. oil and gas fields, just as we’ve already exploited the best rivers for hydropower. Now, as we’re extracting new oil and gas in more extreme environments — in deep water far offshore, for example — and as we’re turning to energy alternatives like nuclear power and converting tar sands to gasoline, we’re spending steadily more energy to get energy....

Without a doubt, mankind can find ways to push back these constraints on global growth with market-driven innovation on energy supply, efficient use of energy and pollution cleanup. But we probably can’t push them back indefinitely, because our species’ capacity to innovate, and to deliver the fruits of that innovation when and where they’re needed, isn’t infinite.

Sometimes even the best scientific minds can’t crack a technical problem quickly (take, for instance, the painfully slow evolution of battery technology in recent decades), sometimes market prices give entrepreneurs poor price signals (gasoline today is still far too cheap to encourage quick innovation in fuel-efficient vehicles) and, most important, sometimes there just isn’t the political will to back the institutional and technological changes needed.

We can see glaring examples of such failures of innovation even in the United States — home to the world’s most dynamic economy. Despite decades of increasingly dire warnings about the risks of dependence on foreign energy, the country now imports two-thirds of its oil; and during the last 20 years, despite increasingly clear scientific evidence regarding the dangers of climate change, the country’s output of carbon dioxide has increased by a fifth.

Homer-Dixon has carved out an impressive career detailing the ways in which resource scarcity and ecological catastrophe will spell doom for the global political economy (Robert D. Kaplan's "The Coming Anarchy" was in many ways a popularization of Homer-Dixon's early work). However, methinks that he's only focusing on one side of the energy question -- the rising cost of supply provision. This is certainly an issue, but it doesn't address a compensating phenomenon -- that the energy-to-GDP ratio is rising even faster.

The McKinsey Global Institute just released an interesting paper that takes a look at this very issue. From the executive summary:

To date, the global debate about energy has focused too narrowly on curbing demand. We argue that, rather than seeking to reduce end-user demand, and thereby the choice, comfort, convenience, and economic welfare desired by consumers, the best way to meet the challenge of growing global energy demand is to focus on energy productivity—how to use energy more productively—which reconciles both demand abatement and energy-efficiency.

According to McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) research, global energy demand will grow more quickly over the next 15 years than it has in the last 15. Demand will grow at a rate of 2.2 per cent per year in our base-case scenario, boosted by developing countries and consumer-driven segments of developed economies. This acceleration in demand growth—particularly problematic amidst escalating world-wide concerns about the growing costs of energy, global dependence on volatile oil-producing regions, and harmful global climate change—will take place despite global energy productivity continuing to improve by 1.0 percent a year.

MGI’s in-depth case studies indicate that there are substantial and economically viable opportunities to boost energy productivity that have not been captured—an estimated 150 QBTUs1, which could represent a 15 to 25 percent cut in the end-use energy demand by 2020. This would translate into a deceleration of global energy-demand growth to less than 1 percent a year, compared with the 2.2 percent anticipated in our base-case scenario—without impacting economic growth prospects or consumer well-being.

I'm concerned about energy scarcity, but I'm not getting my Mathus on by any stretch of the imagination.

posted by Dan at 02:28 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Korean pessimism about the Doha round

But not the Doha round I'm usually talking about. David Pinto explains

UPDATE: While I'm in a linking mood, here's a link that contributes to blog studies.

posted by Dan at 12:36 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Message of Dr. Daniel Drezner to the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Dear Mahmoud,

Got your letter today, thanks. It's much more coherent than that letter you sent about six months ago. I like that you stress the commonalities between what Americans and Iranians want. The repeated references to the notion that, "We are all inclined towards the good, and towards extending a helping hand to one another, particularly to those in need" -- very Carter-esque of you.

You sum up as follows:

It is possible to govern based on an approach that is distinctly different from one of coercion, force and injustice.

It is possible to sincerely serve and promote common human values, and honesty and compassion.

It is possible to provide welfare and prosperity without tension, threats, imposition or war.

It is possible to lead the world towards the aspired perfection by adhering to unity, monotheism, morality and spirituality and drawing upon the teachings of the Divine Prophets.

Then, the American people, who are God-fearing and followers of Divine religions, will overcome every difficulty.

What I stated represents some of my anxieties and concerns.

It's good you got that out in the open.

Here are some of my anxieties and concerns -- which I'm willing to bet many Americans share:

1) You say in your letter that, "Hundreds of thousands of my Iranian compatriots are living amongst you in friendship and peace, and are contributing positively to your society." Do you remember why so many Iranians live in the United States? Do you believe that these Iranians could live peacefully under your regime in Iran?

2) You say in your letter that, "The US administration has undermined the credibility of international organizations, particularly the United Nations and its Security Council." The thing is, Mahmoud, your country is the one willfully ignoring Security Council resolutions. How could these actions do anything but erode the trust of Americans in the UN?

3) When you say that, "our nation has always extended its hand of friendship to all other nations of the world," does this include acts like the Khobar towers bombing or not?

4) You have repeatedly stated that you want a dialogue with the United States. Why, then, have you rebuffed U.S. initiatives to start face-to-face negotiations with your government?

5) You take great pains in your letter to highlight, "the ever-worsening pain and misery of the Palestinian people" and "Persistent aggressions by the Zionists are making life more and more difficult for the rightful owners of the land of Palestine." A two-part question here, Mahmoud -- a) why do you never condemn acts of Palestinian terrorism; and b) in what way would the forced migration of all Israeli Jews not constitute "the trampling of peoples’ rights and the intimidation and humiliation of human beings" that you claim all Iranians abhor?

6) Gideon Rachman has a blog at the Financial Times. Let's excerpt something from a post of his:

My [non-American] interviewee has a longstanding and continuing involvement in the Middle East peace process and personal knowledge of all the major protagonists....

My interlocutor has met President Ahmadi-Nejad and describes him as “truly scary”. He adds that he is used to dealing with populist Arab leaders, “but when you talk to them in private, they are usually quite reasonable and rational. Ahmadi-Nejad is not like that.” His impression is that Ahmadi-Nejad is now calling the shots in Iran, and has intimidated the moderates into silence: “They are all scared of him.”

He believes that Iran is currently stirring up trouble in many different areas including Lebanon, the Israeli occupied territories and Iraq. Iraq he believes is becoming the “arena for a regional power struggle”, pitting Sunnis against Shia.

Interestingly, this appears to be the reaction you provoke among Americans as well. What can you do to dissuade me and mine that you're not a little... er... touched in the head?
You probably notice a theme to these questions -- in all of your letters and interactions with Americans, you seem almost as obsessed with the United States as Lars von Trier. You have not, however, done anything to assuage the fears of Americans and others about the intentions and capabilities of your country. Why are you so mute about your own nation?

Write back as soon as you can!!

Best wishes,

Daniel Drezner

posted by Dan at 03:24 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (8)

"You have a good voice for media-whoring"

Well, I'm paraphrasing:

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The Inland North
The Northeast
The West
The South
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

posted by Dan at 02:47 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Drezner's iron laws of high school reunions

Your humble blogger attended his twentieth -- yes, I said twentieth -- high school reunion over the Thanksgiving break. Using some of the fancy-pants Ph.D.-level training I've picked up since my high school days, here are some tips for future reunion attendees that might be helpful:

1) Physically and emotionally, the men will have changed much more than the women. This is mostly physiology -- boys mature later, and are the ones who go bald. Plus, if they're very, very lucky, the men will also meet someone who can dress them better than when they were in high school.

2) If you have children, you will save yourself and everyone else a lot of time if you laminate some picture(s) of your offspring and staple them to your forehead.

3) That person you had a crush on in tenth grade? They're still going to look good.

4) Someone will be out of the closet -- with a 50% chance that that person was in your homecoming court (note to Generation Y: this will be reversed for all y'all -- someone who came out in high school will be in a heterosexual marriage, with two kids and a house in Schenectady).

5) WARNING: you will drink more at these functions than you probably should.

6) There will always be at least one woman who has given birth to many children in recent years but look like they could do a guest-hosting stint on E!'s Wild On series.

7) At any point during the reunion, you will observe a large number of women congregating near the bathroom, whispering to each other and giggling every five seconds.

8) Someone's going to bring their high school yearbook.

9) The food will leave something to be desired.

10) Unless he or she attended your high school, under no circumstances should you subject your spouse to this function. [Against the Geneva Conventions?--ed. Only if you think boring someone to death is a form of torture.]

As a public servive, readers are hereby requested to suggest their own covering laws.

UPDATE: James Joyner weighs in: "Women, much more than men, still define themselves by who they were in high school. Possible exceptions include men who were star athletes or otherwise peaked as teenagers."

Hmmm... I wonder if this applies to math team captains.....

posted by Dan at 08:48 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (2)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Google-Earthing Bahrain

Democratic activists in the United States achieved some success in Google-bombing Republican candidates during the 2006 midterms. Now, Passport's Mike Boyer reports that Bahraini cyberactivists are exploiting Google tools for their legislative elections:

In the run-up to the country's parliamentary elections this Saturday, cyber-activists in Bahrain are using Google Earth to highlight the excesses of the ruling al-Khalifa family. It's always surprised me that more authoritarian regimes do not block access to Google Earth. Bahrain has tried in the past, but its efforts to do so proved mostly futile. And since Google ratcheted up the resolution of its images of Bahrain, Google Earthing the royal family's private golf courses, estates, islands, yachts, and other luxuries has become a national pastime. Most Bahrainis have long known that these things existed, but they've been hidden behind walls and fences.

posted by Dan at 03:37 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (1)

An all poli sci bloggingheads!!!

Two political scientists matching wits on How can you not check it out?

See Henry Farrell and I debate Iraq, U.S. trade policy, David Horowitz, and Jacob Hacker by clicking here.

UPDATE: We managed to keep Laura McKenna awake!! Woo-hoo!

posted by Dan at 08:40 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Mickey Kaus' dream article

Ken Auletta's New Yorker story on CNN and Lou Dobbs has a Mickey Kaus two-fer -- potshots at CNN president Jonathan Klein and a discussion of how a hard line on illegal immigration has boosted Lou Dobb's ratings!!

Here are the parts of the article I enjoyed the most:

In many ways, Dobbs and Bill O’Reilly, of Fox News, who in 2003 wrote a book entitled “Who’s Looking Out for You?,” are kindred spirits. Dobbs, who lives on a three-hundred-acre farm in a prosperous part of New Jersey, admires his own capacity for compassion and self-effacement....

Unlike Fox, whose identity among its core viewers is often described as a celebration of conservatives, CNN seems to have adopted a “We’re on your side” stance as a way to boost ratings. It was encouraged by Dobbs, but also by Cooper, who expressed his outrage at the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, and by Jack Cafferty, in cranky commentaries on Wolf Blitzer’s “The Situation Room.” For nine nights in October, CNN ran a series called “Broken Government,” as well as two hour-long Dobbs town-hall meetings—the first on the “forgotten middle class,” the second on illegal immigration. CNN’s ratings improved dramatically, particularly among the most desirable demographic, twenty-five- to fifty-four-year-olds....

For some years, CNN has billed itself as “The most trusted name in news.” (A recent Pew poll, however, suggested that there is little difference in credibility among the cable news networks; the poll also noted that the number of Americans who said they believed “all or most” of what CNN reported has fallen from forty-two per cent to twenty-eight per cent since 1998.)....

Five correspondents work for Dobbs, and during the second half hour they usually report on a story that Dobbs treats as a scandal, and that he invariably describes as “outrageous,” “alarming,” “idiotic,” “disgusting,” or “sickening.” On the air, Dobbs’s reporters appear deferential. On August 16th, Christine Romans filed a report describing how the town of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, “decided to fight illegal immigration itself” by fining landlords a thousand dollars a day for knowingly renting to illegal aliens and by denying business permits to companies that hire them. In an interview with an A.C.L.U. official who opposed the law, she allowed him a single on-camera sentence; the mayor, who supported the measure, had seven lines and the last word. In a colloquy with Romans in the studio, Dobbs was told that the A.C.L.U. said that if voters were unhappy with federal laws they could always vote for new members of Congress. “Why doesn’t that apply, then, to the local community,” Dobbs asked, “and why are they interfering there, I wonder?”

“That’s a very good point, Lou,” Romans said.....

Dobbs believes that the middle class, which he has described as being composed of two hundred and fifty million Americans, is taken for granted, an argument that could be challenged by those who point to the growth of middle-class entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare, or to the unwillingness of elected officials to offend this constituency by curbing entitlements....

In conversation, he does not harbor much doubt. One day, in his fifth-floor office at CNN’s Columbus Circle headquarters, I mentioned that Henry Kissinger has said that many of the decisions he made as Secretary of State were sixty-forty choices, meaning that the opposing argument could claim forty per cent of the truth. Did the “rock hard” truths that Dobbs once told me he believed in exclude the possibility that the other side could claim twenty per cent, or even forty per cent, of the truth?

“In free trade?” he said. “In illegal immigration? In education? No. Everything I believe, I believe unequivocally.”....

One of Jon Klein’s stated aims has been to persuade the producers of CNN’s various programs to widen their vision (he speaks of them climbing out of their “silos”)—to make sure that, say, when Anderson Cooper travelled to Africa other CNN programs, from “The Situation Room” to Paula Zahn’s broadcast, would welcome his reports. Yet the dispatches filed by Dobbs’s correspondents are rarely welcomed. The senior CNN employee says that “other shows are not comfortable with them,” because too many of these reports are on Dobbs’s pet subjects and the reporters are widely perceived to be Dobbs’s acolytes, feeding him the alarming news that he wants.

“I think he’s the most influential political reporter of the time, certainly over the last year,” Klein told me. “He’s someone politicians ignore at their peril.” Klein cited Dobbs’s response to the Dubai ports deal: for fifteen evenings, Dobbs spoke about “the outrage” of allowing a Middle Eastern country “with ties to the September 11 terrorists” to operate six American ports. Dobbs certainly was not the only person to raise questions, but the resulting furor eventually prompted Dubai to abandon the plan. Slate recently wrote that Dobbs’s brand of economic nationalism had been reinforced by the results of the midterm elections, in which many Democrats expressed Dobbsian viewpoints. As for the “illegal immigration” story, Dobbs provided a nightly stage for like-minded members of Congress to express their opinions, an exposure that he believes helped to shift Congress’s agenda....

Some journalists at CNN worry that Dobbs harms the network’s credibility. John King says that he likes Dobbs and admires his talent, but adds, “Lou clearly has strongly held beliefs, and he’s decided to share these beliefs. In doing that, does it sometimes cause concern in the company? Yes.” Klein admits that he wants to “increase the audience’s intensity,” but not in the way he believes that Fox has. “They have a clear brand identity,” he says of Fox, “which does not afford them as many places to go when their viewership dips. They have a definite right-of-center view of the world. Most of their hard-core viewers are older; sixty-five-plus is their median age”—CNN’s median age is about sixty-one. “When you define yourself that way, it’s very hard to move to the center without alienating the core audience. I’d rather be playing our hand now. By focussing on news, there is much more we can do.” In response to Klein’s remarks, a senior Fox executive called him hypocritical for saying that he was pushing serious news, when, according to the executive, he was still running soft news and taking CNN “on a hard tack to the left.” The executive said of Dobbs, “He has tapped into strong opinion. He’d be good on Fox.”

posted by Dan at 04:21 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Living and breeding in sin in Europe

The European Union just released 2004 data on ferility rates for the EU 25 countries. Here's the interesting chart:

As you can see, there appears to be a positive correlation between higher birth rates and the percentage of births outside of wedlock.

Is this driving the results? Not necessarily. In a 2004 Journal of Population Economics paper, Alicia Adsera provided another explanation for the variation in birth rates: the structure of labor markets:

During the last two decades fertility rates have decreased and have become positively correlated with female participation rates across OECD countries. I use a panel of 23 OECD nations to study how different labor market arrangements shaped these trends. High unemployment and unstable contracts, common in Southern Europe, depress fertility, particularly of younger women. To increase lifetime income though early skill-acquisition and minimize unemployment risk, young women postpone (or abandon) childbearing. Further, both a large share of public employment, by providing employment stability, and generous maternity benefits linked to previous employment, such as those in Scandinavia, boost fertility of the 25–29 and 30–34 year old women.
To read a draft of the whole thing, click here.

posted by Dan at 03:48 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Does China have a slack labor market?

There are many questions that flummox me about China's economy (when will the central bank diversify its holdings? Are nonperforming loans a real problem or not? Why has Chinese saving increased just when Beijing took steps to boost consumption? Just how efficient is foreign and domestic Chinese investment?) In the Washington Post, Edward Cody suggests a new empirical puzzle -- how can I reconcile reports about the dearth of skilled labor in China with this one from Cody?

An open-ended rise in living standards, particularly for the educated middle class, has been part of an unspoken pact under which the party retains a monopoly on political power despite the country's turn away from socialism.

So far, the party has delivered on its part of the bargain: The economy has grown by more than 9 percent a year recently, and the main beneficiaries have been educated urbanites. Content to claim their share in the prosperity, most students have shown little interest in politics since the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

But a large pool of unemployed or underemployed university graduates, some analysts have suggested, could become a new breeding ground for opposition. An educated opposition, they said, would have far more organizational and ideological ability -- and present a greater threat to the government -- than the left-behind farmers who have been the main source of unrest in recent years.

The Labor and Social Security Ministry estimated recently that as many as 4.9 million youths will graduate from universities by the end of 2007, up by nearly 20 percent over 2006. Another 49.5 million will graduate from high school, also a 20 percent increase. The sharp climb in graduation rates represents a dramatic improvement in the lives of many Chinese, made possible by the economic transformation that has taken place here over the past quarter-century.

But indications have emerged that, booming as it is, the economy may not be able to absorb that many degree-holders into the jobs for which they are being trained. "The fact is that it's very hard for college students to get the right job these days," said Zhang Xuxin, a Zhengzhou student with close-cropped hair and plastic-rimmed glasses who plans to pursue postgraduate studies next year. "You may have a job, but it's very hard to have an ideal one."

A waitress in a German restaurant near Beijing's Ritan Park, for instance, said she has been looking for work in the computer industry since graduating last summer, but in the meantime, she has to serve sausages and beer to pay the rent because nothing is available in her field.

Tian Chengping, the labor and social security minister, predicted that about 1.2 million of the 2007 university graduates will have similar trouble finding employment. As a result, his ministry announced Tuesday, colleges will be forced to restrict admissions into study programs with low postgraduate employment rates. At a conference in Beijing, ministry officials said they also are seeking to improve employment counseling for high school graduates who do not plan to attend college.

Tensions over employment after graduation have exploded repeatedly in recent months, betraying the pressure students say they feel. Students at Shengda Economics, Trade and Management College, affiliated with Zhengzhou University, rioted in June when they discovered that their diplomas would not be the same as those from the university itself, putting them at a disadvantage in job hunting. A similar riot erupted last month at the Ganjiang Vocational and Technical Institute in Jiangxi province south of here. The Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy has recorded 10 such disturbances since summer.

The article suggests that a slackening economy is the culprit. Another possible explanation is that as labor productivity increases from the high rate of investment in capital stock, job growth in China will no longer keep pace with growth in GDP. Another, more quirky hypothesis is that the market for English students -- who disproportionately show up in western press reports -- is particularly bad.

But I'd be curious to hear other hypotheses.

posted by Dan at 02:46 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I'm sure glad the Democrats are improving our standing in Latin America

The Nelson Report has been assuring me repeatedly that the Democratic takeover of Congress will not mean the end of U.S. trade policy. Here's one example from a report from last week:

It’s our contention that even if the Democrats had not swept the House and Senate elections, the US would still face increasing difficulty as the political arena wrestles over the challenges of adjustment to globalization, especially dealing with a downside which includes mitigating pain at home, and enforcing better behavior by trading partners.
Nelson is correct to point out that trade integration was not exactly going gangbusters prior to the midterms -- but then again, this FT story by Eoin Callan points out that it's possible for integration to slow even further:
The US Congress will reject two trade deals agreed with Colombia and Peru, leading Democrats said, in a significant blow to President George W. Bush’s agenda for his final two years in office.

Democratic lawmakers drafted a letter to Mr Bush on Tuesday night signalling their opposition to the pacts because they lacked tougher labour standards, while a senior congressman rebuked the president for pressing ahead with today’s signing of the Colombian deal.

The fissure worsens the outlook for the administration’s bilateral trade agenda in the wake of the Democrats’ mid-term election sweep and will disrupt economic integration with the Latin American countries.

Sander Levin, a leading Democratic voice on trade issues, said the letter would send a clear signal that “the agreement would not receive the support of the vast majority of Democrats, as presently put together”....

The congressman said labour standards were at the “core” of Democrats’ objections - a sign that the influence of the labour movement within the party has been strengthened by the election result, which saw a notable rise in economic populism among voters.

UPDATE: The Washington Post's Sibylla Brodzinsky and Peter S. Goodman summarize how this kind of thing is going to be perceived south of the border:
"We watch the news and we're nervous about what might happen with what we send to the United States," said Janeth Palacio Ramirez, 35, who supports her 15-year-old daughter and her elderly parents by punching zipper stops onto 7,000 pairs of jeans a day, earning about $200 a month. "Everything we make here goes there, so if there are problems with exports, we'll all lose our jobs."....

The fortunes of Colombia and Peru -- home to more than 72 million people -- may hang in the balance. So, too, might the nature of American engagement with Latin America, regional experts say. The rejection of trade pacts with these countries would humiliate their leaders at a time when they stand as bulwarks against the anti-American populism pressed by Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez.

Latin America was already recoiling at the prospect of the United States fencing its southern border against illegal immigration. Now, some see the nation walling off its huge marketplace, rescinding the promise of trade, long proffered by the Bush and Clinton administrations as a means of furthering development.

"If you really look at the U.S. agenda in Latin America, trade is the only positive," said Michael Shifter, vice president for policy at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington. "The rest is immigration, anti-narcotics. It's all negatives." Latin Americans, he said, may well start to question "how serious Americans are about having a constructive relationship."

Hat tip: Pienso

posted by Dan at 05:28 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (4)

What's the more disturbing video of the week?

Over the past week, there's been a lot of blog chatter about a tazer incident at a UCLA library that was partially captured on video. To quote James Joyner, "I agree that the use of a taser against a skinny student for the crime of being a dumbass would appear to be an excessive application of force."

The video is extremely disturbing for the cries of the tazed student, Mostafa Tabatabainejad. What I found interesting, however, was the way in which every person on that video acted according to type. The security officers acted as brutal thugs who would not have their authority questioned; the students acted as the righteously indignant chorus. Even Tabatabainejad seemed to be playing a role, the belligerent protestor ("here's your f#$%ing Patriot Act!!"). The violence is disturbing, but the characters playing their parts grounds the sequence into familiar tropes. It is, therefore, perhaps less shocking than it should be.

For me, the more discomfiting video was Michael Richards' apology on The Late Show with David Letterman for his racially profane diatribe at an LA comedy club over the weekend. Richards, a comedian, is acting in a non-comedic fashion. The audience, confused about what's going on, begins to laugh at Richards' apology. Jerry Seinfeld, a comedian, tut-tuts the audience for laughing. Richards, who on Seinfeld played a character who seemingly fell ass-backwards into success, has put himself into the exact opposite situation, someone who seems completely mystified about how he wound up in his current predicament.

posted by Dan at 08:48 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

In defense of Hillary Clinton

Anne Kornblut and Jeff Zeleny have an NYT front-pager that seems designed to knock Hillary Clinton down a peg or two:

She had only token opposition, but Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton still spent more on her re-election — upward of $30 million — than any other candidate for Senate this year. So where did all the money go?

It helped Mrs. Clinton win a margin of victory of more than 30 points. It helped her build a new set of campaign contributors. And it allowed her to begin assembling the nuts and bolts needed to run a presidential campaign.

But that was not all. Mrs. Clinton also bought more than $13,000 worth of flowers, mostly for fund-raising events and as thank-yous for donors. She laid out $27,000 for valet parking, paid as much as $800 in a single month in credit card interest and — above all — paid tens of thousands of dollars a month to an assortment of consultants and aides.

Throw in $17 million in advertising and fund-raising mailings, and what had been one of the most formidable war chests in politics was depleted to a level that leaves Mrs. Clinton with little financial advantage over her potential rivals for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination — and perhaps even trailing some of them.

Now this would be an interesting story -- if the context suggests that she did in fact spend in a profligate manner compared to other politicos and diminshed her ability to collect future revenues.

Alas, the meat of the story suggests precisely the opposite:

[T]he way she spent the money troubled some of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters, many of whom have been called on repeatedly over the years to raise and give money for Bill Clinton’s two presidential campaigns, his legal expenses, his library, his global antipoverty and AIDS-fighting program and now his wife’s political career. One Clinton supporter said it would become harder to tap repeat donors if it appeared that the money was not being well spent.

Nonetheless, the senator is among the most formidable fund-raisers in her party and could raise a large amount of money quickly if needed....

Political campaigns are expensive affairs for any candidate, especially those running in a state as big as New York. Some of Mrs. Clinton’s expenditures, including the more than $10 million for direct mail fund-raising solicitations, will pay off if she runs for president by giving her an expanded list of individual donors around the nation.

She has now amassed a database that includes several hundred thousand new donors, 90 percent of whom contributed $100 or less, her advisers said. Under the new campaign finance law, such small donors are considered crucial to raising the large sums of money needed for a presidential campaign.

Other types of expenses are seen by campaigns as necessary good-will gestures toward donors and other supporters; Mrs. Clinton’s campaign cited this in justifying the roughly $51,000 she spent on professional photographers to provide pictures of her with guests. The candidate also sought to generate good will among her fellow Democratic candidates by giving more than $2.5 million to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and other party groups.

Candidates routinely use campaign money for all types of expenses. Representative Corrine Brown, Democrat of Florida, spent $24,000 of her campaign money this year on flowers; her campaign said she sent them to the families of constituents who died. Representative Richard W. Pombo, Republican of California, spent $17,250 on balloons for a single event in July.

Mrs. Clinton’s aides offered varying explanations for her spending record. Some, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they are barred from discussing Mrs. Clinton’s intentions for 2008, said much of the spending amounted to an investment in voter and fund-raising databases that could form the basis of a presidential campaign. Others said the money went to ensuring as convincing a victory as possible.

Look, any candidate that has enough money to hire a blog consultant is probably overspending just a bit. That said, anyone prepping for a 2008 run would be expected to overspend in this election cycle. Clinton needed to win convincingly and to amass a healthy donor base, and both of these activities cost money.

I'm hardly a big fan of Hillary's, but this piece seems like ovekill to me.

posted by Dan at 08:55 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Greed and envy are good

This New York Times story by Katie Hafner seems pretty upfront in making this point:

Envy may be a sin in some books, but it is a powerful driving force in Silicon Valley, where technical achievements are admired but financial payoffs are the ultimate form of recognition. And now that the YouTube purchase has amplified talk of a second dot-com boom, many high-tech entrepreneurs — successful and not so successful — are examining their lives as measured against upstarts who have made it bigger....

Seven or eight years ago, when it seemed that anyone with a business plan could get rich, the finger of fortune was generous — and democratic. By the time it occurred to people to be envious, it seemed, they were rich, too — at least on paper. It was in Silicon Valley, after all, that the term “sudden wealth syndrome” entered the clinical vocabulary.

In the end, of course, much of the paper wealth turned worthless. But now, in the wake of successes like YouTube and MySpace, which was sold last year to the News Corporation for $580 million, some people believe that the foundations for more solid success are now in place. For one thing, the viability of online advertising is no longer in doubt, as Google and others have proved.

And the success of a YouTube can produce not only envy but also serious motivation — in Silicon Valley and beyond.

“Over all, I think things like YouTube make people reconsider the possibilities,” said Bart Selman, a professor of computer science at Cornell. In 1999, at the tail end of the dot-com boom, Professor Selman had a start-up called Expertology, which used a Web-based system that tapped collective expertise to generate legal referrals. The business failed. “After the dot-com bust, people were thinking, ‘Maybe this is all just hype,’ ” he said.

Now, Professor Selman said, he has seen several start-ups, like and LinkedIn, successfully pursuing ideas along the lines of Expertology’s mission. “But of course, timing is everything,” he said.

And while he says he thinks the YouTube deal was “a little insane,” Professor Selman, who has watched several colleagues become highly wealthy after joining Google, is considering trying his start-up luck again, with a variant on the Expertology idea.

“Maybe there’s more to the economic model than we realized five years ago,” he said. “Maybe the new wave is a little more solid.”

Professor Selman, 47, said that while he was careful not to “overhype” the new wave, he routinely tells his students that they have a good chance of starting the next Google or YouTube. “I believe there are still many opportunities out there that we cannot even conceive of at this point,” he said.

With rewards of that scale on the horizon, the pressure to make a fortune can be enormous, and people have different ways of coping with it. Some find inspiration in others’ success, while some spend tremendous amounts of psychic energy worrying about how rich their friends are.

posted by Dan at 08:46 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, November 20, 2006

In honor of Milton Friedman, I'd like to see....

Milton Friedman's significance to the world has been revealed in the bevy of obits that we've all read in the past week. Much of the effort has been focused on those aspects of Friedman's ouvre that have become accepted wisdom -- the importance of monetary policy, the negative income tax Earned Income Tax Credit, etc.

Here's an open invitation to readers -- which of Friedman's policy proposals that have not become accepted wisdom would you like to see implemented?

My choice is not a difficult one -- it's a policy proposal that would manage to address U.S. foreign policy, economic development, the rule of law, crime, and race relations in one fell swoop.....

Drug legalization

If the United States were to legalize (and tax) illegal narcotics in the same manner that legal narcotics, like alcohol and tobacco, are treated, consider the effects on:

U.S. foreign policy: Because of current policies regarding narcotics, the United States is stymied in promoting the rule of law in Afghanistan and several Latin American countries because farmers in those countries keep harvesting products that American cunsumers demand. Because this activity is crminalized, the bulk of the revenues from this activity enriches criminal syndicates and terrorist networks. All for a supply-side policy that does nothing but act as a price support for producers.

Crime: What percentage of the criminal justice and penal systems are devoted to drug-related offenses (click here for some answers)? Even if the sums of money that were spent on drug enforcement activities were instead devoted to treatment, I have to think it would be money better spent.

There are other benefits as well -- such as eliminating the racial bias that exists within drug sentencing guidelines at the federal level.

There are two potential downsides to this move. First, actual drug use would likely increase -- but this can be dealt with via larger treatment budgets. Second, once this genie is out of the bottle, I suspect there's no going back. (For an extended argument against legalization, check out this Theodore Dalrymple essay from City Journal).

That said, I think Friedman was right -- legalization is the best policy to implement. For more on Friedman's thoughts on the matter, click here, here and here.

posted by Dan at 09:30 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

David Brooks rousts me from my Sunday torpor

In the past 24 hours I had to go from presenting a paper at the inaugural meeting of the International Political Economy Society to spending the night with my son at his Cub Scout campout. In other words, I'm wiped.

So I ordinarily wouldn't bother to blog today... until I saw David Brooks' column devoted to Milton Friedman.

Brooks accomplishes a unique two-fer in this column, simultaneously infuriating me on one point and making me agree with him on another.

So, in order... the part of the column that is utter horses%&t:

[Friedman's] passing is sad for many reasons. One is that from the 1940s to the mid-1990s, American political life was shaped by a series of landmark books: "Witness," "The Vital Center," "Capitalism and Freedom,""The Death and Life of American Cities," "The Closing of the American Mind." Then in the 1990s, those big books stopped coming. Now instead of books, we have blogs.

The big books stopped coming partly because the distinction between intellectual movements and political parties broke down. Friedman was never interested in partisan politics but was deeply engaged in policy. Today, team loyalty has taken over the wonk's world, so there are invisible boundaries that mark politically useful, and therefore socially acceptable, thought.

Oh, please, spare me the crap about how today's deep thoughts fail to rival those of the past. Brooks listed five books to cover five decades. Here are five books from the past decade that would meet his criteria (note I am far from endorsing the content of these books -- but they're big in the sense that their arguments cannot be ignored):
Samuel Huntingon, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.

Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.

Virginia Postrel, The Future and Its Enemies.

James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds.

Jacob Hacker, The Great Risk Shift.

I did this without breaking a sweat. If I actually glanced over to my library or checked out my book club recommendations, I could probably come up with twenty more.

To paraphrase Gloria Swanson -- books are big, it's the politics that got small.

Oh, and it's not the blogs either -- the last three authors in that list either have blogs or have interacted with them on a regular basis.

At the same time, Brooks got me to nod with this pararaph:

His death is sad, too, because classical economics is under its greatest threat in a generation. Growing evidence suggests average workers are not seeing the benefits of their productivity gains--that the market is broken and requires heavy government correction. Friedman's heirs have been avoiding this debate. They're losing it badly and have offered no concrete remedies to address the problem, if it is one.

posted by Dan at 12:32 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by the Nassau Inn

Blogging will be light for the next 48 hours as I wend my way to Princeton for the first meeting of the International Political Economy Society.

You can take a gander at the program here. Most of the papers and presentations are downloadable. This includes my own paper, which has the sexy, sexy title of "The Viscosity of Global Governance."

posted by Dan at 11:51 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (1)

The quickest and dirtiest path out of Iraq

Laura Rozen has a piece in the Los Angeles Times discussing the Bush administration's Plan B on Iraq (hat tip: Kevin Drum):

As sectarian violence rises in Iraq and the White House comes under increasing pressure to revamp its strategy there, a debate is emerging inside the Bush administration: Should the U.S. abandon its efforts to act as a neutral referee in the ongoing civil war and, instead, throw its lot in with the Shiites?

A U.S. tilt toward the Shiites is a risky strategy, one that could further alienate Iraq's Sunni neighbors and that could backfire by driving its Sunni population into common cause with foreign jihadists and Al Qaeda cells. But elements of the administration, including some members of the intelligence community, believe that such a tilt could lead to stability more quickly than the current policy of trying to police the ongoing sectarian conflict evenhandedly, with little success and at great cost.

This past Veterans Day weekend, according to my sources, almost the entire Bush national security team gathered for an unpublicized two-day meeting. The topic: Iraq. The purpose of the meeting was to come up with a consensus position on a new path forward. Among those attending were President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, national security advisor Stephen Hadley, outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.

Numerous policy options were put forward at the meeting, which revolved around a strategy paper prepared by Hadley and drawn from his recent trip to Baghdad. One was the Shiite option. Participants were asked to consider whether the U.S. could really afford to keep fighting both the Sunni insurgency and Shiite militias — or whether it should instead focus its efforts on combating the Sunni insurgency exclusively, and even help empower the Shiites against the Sunnis.

To do so would be a reversal of Washington's strategy over the last two years of trying to coax the Sunnis into the political process, an effort led by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad.

The political science literatue on civil wars would recommend backing the Shia. Monica Duffy Toft summarized this logic in a Washington Post op-ed:
The fighting can stop in a variety of ways -- by military victory or negotiated settlement. Historically speaking, military victories have been the most common and have most often led to lasting resolutions. So while a negotiated settlement may seem the most desirable end point, this resolution is frequently short-lived even with third-party support....

If [the US] supports the Kurds and Shiites -- the two peoples most abused under Hussein, most betrayed by the United States since 1990 and, as a result, the two most worthy of our support on moral grounds -- it risks alienating important regional allies: Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. On the other hand, doing the right thing (supporting the Shiites) also means doing the most practical thing, which is ensuring a stable peace and establishing long-term prospects for democracy and economic development. As a bonus, it is possible that U.S. support of the Shiite majority might pay diplomatic dividends as regards Iran's impending nuclearization.

If the United States supports the Sunnis, it will be in a position very close to its Vietnam experience: struggling to underwrite the survival of a militarily untenable, corrupt and formerly brutal minority regime with no hope of gaining broader legitimacy in the territory of the former Iraq.

Similarly, James Fearon summarized the state of poli sci knowledge about civil wars in his testimony to Congress:
By any reasonable definition, Iraq is in the midst of a civil war, the scale and extent of which is limited somewhat by the US military presence.

Civil wars typically last a long time, with the average duration of post-1945 civil wars being over a decade.
When they end, they usually end with decisive military victories (at least 75%).

Successful power-sharing agreements to end civil wars are rare, occurring in one in six cases, at best.

When they have occurred, stable power-sharing agreements have usually required years of fighting to reach, and combatants who were not internally factionalized....

The historical record on civil war suggests that this strategy is highly unlikely to succeed, whether the US stays in Iraq for six more months or six more years (or more). Foreign troops and advisors can enforce power-sharing and limit violence while they are present, but it appears to be extremely difficult to change local beliefs that the national government can survive on its own while the foreigners are there in force. In a context of many factions and locally strong militias, mutual fears and temptations are likely to spiral into political disintegration and escalation of militia and insurgent-based conflict if and when we leave.

The political science on this is pretty clear. The morality of such a policy is clearly more troubling. That said, Kevin Drum makes a valid point:
Would this be an appalling strategy to follow? Of course it would. Appalling options are all that's left to us in Iraq.

More to the point: is it worse than the other options at our disposal? Or, alternatively, is it slightly less bad? I'd guess the former: There's not much question that Shiite forces are eventually going to wipe out the Sunni insurgency, but it's probably slightly better for them to do it on their own instead of doing it with our active help, something that would alienate every Sunni in the Middle East. And don't think that we might be able to keep this a secret. Even if our support for this strategy were never publicly acknowledged, there's not much question that everyone in the region would understand perfectly well what was going on.

Such is the moral calculus we're left with in Iraq. It's not a battle between good and bad, it's a battle between bad and worse.


posted by Dan at 03:28 PM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (1)

Milton Friedman, R.I.P. (1912-2006)

Milton Friedman died today at the age of 94.

Here's the Cato Institute's obituary. And here's the New York Times obit. The best quote in that one comes from Ben Bernanke: "His thinking has so permeated modern macroeconomics that the worst pitfall in reading him today is to fail to appreciate the originality and even revolutionary character of his ideas."

The obit aso contains these surprising (to me) facts:

In his first economic-theory class at Chicago, he was the beneficiary of another accident — the fact that his last name began with an “F.” The class was seated alphabetically, and he was placed next to Rose Director, a master’s-degree candidate from Portland, Ore. That seating arrangement shaped his whole life, he said. He married Ms. Director six years later. And she, after becoming an important economist in her own right, helped Mr. Friedman form his ideas and maintain his intellectual rigor.

After he became something of a celebrity, Mr. Friedman said, many people became reluctant to challenge him directly. “They can’t come right out and say something stinks,” he said. “Rose can.”

During the first two years of World War II, Mr. Friedman was an economist in the Treasury Department’s division of taxation. “Rose has never forgiven me for the part I played in devising and developing withholding for the income tax,” he said. “There is no doubt that it would not have been possible to collect the amount of taxes imposed during World War II without withholding taxes at the source.

“But it is also true,” he went on, “that the existence of withholding has made it possible for taxes to be higher after the war than they otherwise could have been. So I have a good deal of sympathy for the view that, however necessary withholding may have been for wartime purposes, its existence has had some negative effects in the postwar period.”

posted by Dan at 02:03 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Why do foreigners overpay for US brands?

Daniel Gross asks this question in Slate with regard to foreign purchases of American conumer companies in the U.S. His answer:

It's not that dim foreign owners are screwing up the healthy American brands they acquire. Rather, they are buying brands that are already on a downward trajectory. To foreigners, these companies may seem like iconic, big brands. IBM did invent the PC. Reebok is a pioneer in fitness. And Pier 1 is the biggest independent home furnishings chain—as of February 2006, it had more than 1,100 stores in the United States (plus 43 Pier 1 Kids stores) and $1.78 billion in annual sales. Foreign companies like these brands not because they're global icons, although Reebok and IBM have international presences, but because of their domestic cachet. It would take immense sums of money to build such brands in the United States from scratch....

But iconic American brands only tend to come up for sale when they're damaged. IBM may have invented the PC in 1981. But by 2005, its parent regarded PCs as a low-margin business, one in which it didn't want to compete with Dell and HP. Reebok was facing tough competition from much-larger companies such as Nike and Adidas in the trendy footwear and athletic-apparel business. Pier 1 has simply been unable to compete with Target, Wal-Mart, and Lowe's.

Foreign buyers tend to get a look at such brands only after legions of domestic buyers have passed. The U.S. has an extremely lively market for corporate control—publicly held companies, activist shareholders such as Carl Icahn, private equity funds such as the Blackstone Group, and hedge funds spend their days and nights seeking takeover candidates. Any time an asset with any trace of value comes on the market, it inspires a frenzy of due diligence and meetings. With their deep pockets and willingness to use leverage, these players rarely get outbid. For six months, U.S. investors have had an opportunity to check out the aisles of Pier 1. None found it worthy of purchase.

So, it's no surprise foreign buyers of iconic companies find themselves losing dollars and customers. They've generally had to overpay for a damaged brand. The short-term prospects for these deals do indeed look grim. Anybody expecting Pier 1's fortune to revive quickly is hopelessly optimistic. For Jacobsen and other foreign investors, the opportunity lies in a tactic American financiers and entrepreneurs have pioneered: turning around castoff broken-down companies that have a viable core business. But those turnarounds don't happen quickly, and sometimes they don't happen at all.

Of course, sometimes American companies overpay for foreign assets too.

posted by Dan at 01:08 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Will Bush 43 become like Bush 41?

The theme du jour is the replacement of Bush 43 people with Bush 41 people. Matthew Yglesias argues that replacing Rumsfeld with Gates is essentially meaningless:

The purported dichotomy between 41 people (good!) and 43 people (bad!) is dramatically overstated.... Paul Wolfowitz was on the Bush 41 team. So was Condoleezza Rice. And, of course, so was Colin Powell. Don Rumsfeld, meanwhile, wasn't. The reality is that presidents almost always -- especially in the first terms of their administrations -- appoint reasonably diverse groups of people to national security positions. They proceed to disagree with each other. The President of the United States then decides what he wants to do. Bush 41 had some real nutters working for him who pushed some nutty ideas inside his administration. Bush 43 had some reasonably sensible people working for him who pushed some reasonably sensible ideas inside his administration. The difference wasn't in the advisors, it was in the presidents. More often than not, Bush 41 made reasonable choices while Bush 43 made bad ones.
This is a fair point, but it does not necessarily mean that the Gates/Rumsfeld switch doesn't matter. The key question is whether Bush 43 has learned from his decision-making failures. One could argue, in fact, that the Gates/Rumsfeld switch is evidence suggesting that he has decided to switch tack.

Or, it could be a PR stunt.

As I said when debating Matt, I'm not sure which it is. I assume my readers will have fewer doubts one way or the other.

posted by Dan at 06:59 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

I, for one, welcome our protectionist overlords

Kos is right -- if this Wall Street Journal editorial is any indication, James Webb is no conservative:

The most important--and unfortunately the least debated--issue in politics today is our society's steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century. America's top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years. It is not unfair to say that they are literally living in a different country. Few among them send their children to public schools; fewer still send their loved ones to fight our wars. They own most of our stocks, making the stock market an unreliable indicator of the economic health of working people. The top 1% now takes in an astounding 16% of national income, up from 8% in 1980. The tax codes protect them, just as they protect corporate America, through a vast system of loopholes....

In the age of globalization and outsourcing, and with a vast underground labor pool from illegal immigration, the average American worker is seeing a different life and a troubling future. Trickle-down economics didn't happen. Despite the vaunted all-time highs of the stock market, wages and salaries are at all-time lows as a percentage of the national wealth. At the same time, medical costs have risen 73% in the last six years alone. Half of that increase comes from wage-earners' pockets rather than from insurance, and 47 million Americans have no medical insurance at all.

Manufacturing jobs are disappearing. Many earned pension programs have collapsed in the wake of corporate "reorganization." And workers' ability to negotiate their futures has been eviscerated by the twin threats of modern corporate America: If they complain too loudly, their jobs might either be outsourced overseas or given to illegal immigrants....

America's elites need to understand this reality in terms of their own self-interest. A recent survey in the Economist warned that globalization was affecting the U.S. differently than other "First World" nations, and that white-collar jobs were in as much danger as the blue-collar positions which have thus far been ravaged by outsourcing and illegal immigration. That survey then warned that "unless a solution is found to sluggish real wages and rising inequality, there is a serious risk of a protectionist backlash" in America that would take us away from what they view to be the "biggest economic stimulus in world history."

More troubling is this: If it remains unchecked, this bifurcation of opportunities and advantages along class lines has the potential to bring a period of political unrest. Up to now, most American workers have simply been worried about their job prospects. Once they understand that there are (and were) clear alternatives to the policies that have dislocated careers and altered futures, they will demand more accountability from the leaders who have failed to protect their interests. The "Wal-Marting" of cheap consumer products brought in from places like China, and the easy money from low-interest home mortgage refinancing, have softened the blows in recent years. But the balance point is tipping in both cases, away from the consumer and away from our national interest.

With this new Congress, and heading into an important presidential election in 2008, American workers have a chance to be heard in ways that have eluded them for more than a decade. Nothing is more important for the health of our society than to grant them the validity of their concerns. And our government leaders have no greater duty than to confront the growing unfairness in this age of globalization.

The op-ed consists mostly of a critique of the existing situation -- not a lot of suggested solutions. For that, we have to go to his campaign web site, where we find:
This country is splitting into three pieces. As a result of the internationalization of the economy, the people at the top have never had it so good. The middle class is continuing to get squeezed by stagnant wages and rising cost of living. And we are in danger of creating a permanent underclass. We must reexamine our tax and trade policies and reinstitute notions of fairness, and also enforce our existing trade laws so that free trade becomes fair trade.
"Fair trade" is a vague term, but given Webb's rhetoric, it's safe to say that he kind of policies that Webb favors will:
a) Have little effect on the income of the richest Americans -- though their capital gains will fall dramatically;

b) Benefit some middle-class Americans in the form of preserving their import-competing jobs, while hurting other middle-class Americans by destroying their import-reliant jobs;

c) Have a mixed effect on the poorest Americans -- even if their wages rise from halting illegal immigration, their costs of living will rise even higher from the higher price of goods in the stores.

Combine that with reduced overall growth, and, well, it's gonna be a scary Senate for international economic policy.

UPDATE: Arnold Kling and Greg Mankiw have more. Mankiw makes a good point here:

[L]et's suppose for a moment that a free-market economist were hired by the Dems to offer policy advice. If the boss's goal is to reduce income inequality, what is the best way to do that?

The standard Democratic fare would be quickly rejected. Erecting barriers to trade, raising the minimum wage, encouraging the cartelization of labor via unions, and bashing Wal-Mart are inefficient and poorly targeted ways to redistribute income.

The tax system is probably the best vehicle to accomplish the Dems' goal. One possibility would be to reduce the payroll tax rate and to make up the lost revenue by increasing, or perhaps even eliminating, the cap on taxable payroll. That would benefit, approximately, the bottom 90 percent of the income distribution.

This policy change would, of course, have an efficiency cost. By raising taxes on taxpayers who already face the highest tax rates, the deadweight losses of the tax system would surely rise. But almost any attempt to achieve a more equal distribution of income would entail efficiency costs. The Dems' goal should be to minimize the efficiency cost for any given amount of redistribution. And that is most likely accomplished through the tax system rather than by more heavy-handed market interventions.

posted by Dan at 04:23 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

The sort of news story that keeps me up at night

This New York Times story by Robert Worth has very little good news in it:

More than 700 Islamic militants from Somalia traveled to Lebanon in July to fight alongside Hezbollah in its war against Israel, a United Nations report says. The militia in Lebanon returned the favor by providing training and — through its patrons Iran and Syria — weapons to the Islamic alliance struggling for control of Somalia, it adds.

The report, which was disclosed by Reuters on Monday, appears to be the first indication that foreign fighters assisted Hezbollah during the 34-day conflict, when Israel maintained a tight blockade on Lebanon.

The report also says Iran sought to trade arms for uranium from Somalia to further its nuclear ambitions, though it does not say whether Iran succeeded.

The 86-page report was issued by four experts monitoring violations of a 1992 United Nations arms embargo on Somalia, which was put in place after the country lapsed into civil war and remains in effect. The report is to be discussed Friday at the Security Council.

posted by Dan at 09:23 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Will Kaesong subvert North Korea?

I'm probably more enthusiastic than most about the ability of multilateral economic sanctions to topple the North Korean regime. On the other hand, it looks like real multilateral enforcement ain't gonna happen anytime soon.

So.... what's left? Well, there's the engagement option, of course. Which leads me to Anna Fifield's FT journal from Kaesong, the joint ROK-DPRK industrial zone. If commercial engagement is going to change the DPRK regime from within, this should be the flashpoint.

Fifield's piece sounds optimistic, but I have my doubts:

South Korea’s sunshine policy has clearly failed to change the regime’s behaviour – Seoul has sent billions of dollars to Pyongyang over the past eight years and has received almost nothing in return. Seoul must start to demand information about where its money is going – preferably paying Kaesong workers directly – and make it clear how it expects Mr Kim’s regime to act in return for this assistance.

But decades of American containment haven’t worked any better.

So despite the obvious moral dubiousness of paying money to a regime that lets its people starve while all the while developing nuclear weapons, the positives of Kaesong still outweigh the negatives.

Indeed, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that engagement is making a difference.

The trip to Kaesong marked my seventh visit to North Korea in the last two years. Even in that short time it has become apparent to me that economic links are having an impact in this most closed and communist of societies....

The 9,500 North Koreans now working at the Kaesong complex every day see how much taller, healthier and wealthier South Koreans are. If even 10 per cent of them go home and talk about their Southern colleagues, or about the foreigners who intermittently visit this park, that will have a profound effect.

This will only be amplified if Kaesong develops according to plans. It is projected to employ 500,000 North Koreans when it is completed in 2012.

South Korea knows this. “We never talk about this but the real reason behind engagement is to show the North Koreans that their system is based on lies,” one senior government official confides. “This will destroy the ideas that sustain their system. They can’t keep out these ideas of freedom and prosperity. It’s what is invisible that is most important.”

Indeed, Hong Heung-joo, the South Korean executive director of the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee, says he has already noticed significant attitude changes since the complex opened.

“The most important change is that North Koreans have realised the importance of production. Under the North Korean system there is no sense of profit, but here North Korean workers are working to targets and asking for extra hours. That means they are becoming aware of market economics.”

Personal contact does remain limited – the two sides eat lunch separately and conversation rarely strays outside work-related matters. Indeed, the tip sheet given to visitors by Southern authorities advises that North Koreans are “generally simple, naïve and emotional”.

Visitors should refrain from commenting on “the economic situation of either the North or the South, liberal democracy, the superiority of the market economy, unification-related matters, the North Korean leadership, education systems, human rights and/or other potentially sensitive issues,” the sheet says.

My research suggests that in places where sanctions don't look like a viable tool of statecraft, engagement does not work any better, but you, dear readers, be the judge -- is Fifield's cautious optimism well-placed?

posted by Dan at 08:47 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Best endorsement ever

This evaluation of the blog might have to be excerpted on the sidebar:

This is a personal website, by a person call Daniel D. Rezner, where he has a section on his opinions and terrorism and its impact on the world's economy. He has some interesting comments and suggestions so you can visit his site if you are interested.

posted by Dan at 08:44 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

What deep capital markets you have!!

A common lament among financial market analysts in the U.S. is that the onerous provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) are costing American equity markets lost listing oppotunities, threatening a sector that's vital to the United States. These people find unlikely allies in Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank.

I certainly support making SOX compliance easier for new start-ups, but it should be noted that I don't see the U.S. losing its primacy in equity markets anytime soon. For those doubters out there, click over to this Foreign Policy list of candidates to supplant the New York Stock Exchange.... in a century or two. The most important sentence in the piece is the first one: "The New York Stock Exchange dominates global trading. At nearly $23 trillion, its market capitalization—the value of the stocks it lists—is more than four times that of its closest competitor."

posted by Dan at 08:34 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Assignments for the Economist blog

I'm pleased to see that the Economist has entered the blogging age, with its Free Exchange blog. As per the Economist's rules for its print magazine, there is no identification of the authorship of individual posts, but I have it on good authority that Megan McArdle is using her invisible hands to guide its development.

As I am knee-deep in day-job activities, I would like to welcome Free Exchange into the blogosphere by requesting that it comment on two memes currently making their way through the blogosphere:

1) Over at Crooked Timber, Chris Bertram asks a pointed question to libertarians -- what kinds of inequality matter?
[T]he crux of Tyler [Cowen]’s argument has been that Europe’s ageing population matters because it will lead to lower growth rates and that the compounding effect of these will be that Europe’s position relative to the US (and China, and India) will decline, and that that’s a bad thing for Europeans. Whilst Tyler insists that these global relativities matter enormously, Will [Wilkinon] suggests that domestic relativities between individuals matter hardly at all. Since I think of Will and Tyler as occupying similar ideological space to one another, I find the contrast to be a striking one, and all the more so because I think that something like the exact opposite is true. That is to say, I think that domestic relativities matter quite a lot, and that global ones ought to matter a good deal less (if at all) just so long as the states concerned can ensure for all their citizens a certain threshold level of the key capabilities.
UPDATE: Drezner gets results from Free Exchange!!

2) The left half of the blogosphere is praising to the high heavens an article by Christopher Hayes from In These Times about the "neoclassical indoctrination" that allegedly takes place in introductory economics classes:

As taught by Sanderson, economics is a satisfyingly neat machine: complicated enough to warrant curiosity and discovery, but not so complicated as to bewilder ..., and once you’ve got the basics of the model down, everything seems to make sense. As the weeks go by, ... I come to love the class. The more reading I do, the more sense the op-eds in the Wall Street Journal make. The NPR program “Marketplace” becomes interesting. I even know what exactly the Fed rate is. A part of the world that was blurry and obscure begins to come into focus. My classmates seem to feel the same way. “I never thought I’d be interested in economics,” one sophomore told me. “Sanderson convinced me I was.”

The simple models have an explanatory power that is thrilling. Once you’ve grasped the aggregate supply/aggregate demand model, you understand why stimulating demand may lead, in the short run, to growth, but will also produce inflation. But the content of that understanding turns out to be a bit thin. Inflation happens because, well, that’s where the lines intersect. “A little economics can be a dangerous thing,” a friend working on her Ph.D in public policy at the U. of C. told me. “An intro econ course is necessarily going to be superficial. You deal with highly stylized models that are robbed of context, that take place in a world unmediated by norms and institutions. Much of the most interesting work in economics right now calls into question the Econ 101 assumptions of rationality, individualism, maximizing behavior, etc. But, of course, if you don’t go any further than Econ 101, you won’t know that the textbook models are not the way the world really works, and that there are tons of empirical studies out there that demonstrate this.”

The problem cited in the last graph is the exact reverse of how I remember my own Econ 101 class. In that course, we were first introduced to perfect competition, and then we were exposed to the ways in which the real world deviates from perfect competition -- monopolistic competition,oligopoly, monopoly, and, most important, the problem of externalities. We then learned that the best way to solve many of the problems of externalities was to use market mechanisms (i.e., taxes) rather than direct controls. The end result of the course was an appreciation of how technocrats can use incentives to improve social outcomes in the economy.

Fair enough. But it was not until graduate school that I saw anything resembling the public choice approach to economics, which calls into question the ability of the government to act as a Platonic Guardian in the world of regulation.

To be fair, Hayes wrote his piece after taking a macroeconomics course, where many of these issues would not have arisen. From my experience, however, after Econ 101 students probably have a greater appreciation for how markets work, but also develop a new enthusiasm for the ways in which the government can influence market outcomes.

I'd be curious whether others who took Econ 101 had my experience or Hayes' experience.

posted by Dan at 11:04 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

What's going on in international education?

A few odds & ends from the world of international education:

1) It would appear that the U.S. has finally reversed the decline in international students wishing to study in the U.S. Karen Arenson summarizes the latest information in the New York Times:
The number of new foreign students coming to the United States grew this school year, after several years of weakness that followed the terrorist attacks of 2001, according to a survey to be released today by the Institute of International Education.

According to the survey, conducted by the institute and other education groups, the number of new international students at American colleges and universities increased 8 percent this fall over last, to 142,923.

Another sign of a turnaround was a sharp upturn in student visas, said Allan E. Goodman, president of the institute. Dr. Goodman said the State Department issued a record 591,050 student and exchange visas in the 12 months ending in September, a 14 percent increase over the previous year and 6 percent more than in the year leading up to the 2001 attacks.

More than half of the approximately 900 campuses that participated in the survey said they had seen increases in the number of foreign students this fall.

Dr. Goodman attributed the increase to the easing of visa restrictions imposed after the terrorist attacks and to greater efforts by colleges to attract foreign students.

“We’ve been worried for three years that there would be a slow and steady decline in the number of international students studying here,” Dr. Goodman said. “But it looks like the decline is ending.”

Parenthetical thought -- how does Lou Dobbs feel about this info? On the one hand, the increase in student visas means greater flows of foreigners into the United States -- which Dobbs the nativist would surely condemn. On the other hand, the increase in foreign students actually improves our balance of trade ($13.5 billion according to this estimate), since they count as an export of services -- which Dobbs the mercantilist would surely like.

2) The Boston Globe's Jehangir S. Pocha looks at Western educational institutions aggressively courting export markets establishing new satellite institutions in rising economies:

So far, more than 100 Western schools and universities have set up in China, and the number is expected to grow.

A team from Harvard University headed by William C. Kirby, director of the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, was in China over the summer to evaluate how the university could establish a presence in China.

"It's an idea whose time has come," said Matthew Benjamin Farthing, headmaster of the newly opened Harrow International School in Beijing. "As the world is globalizing, it's only natural for education to globalize. Parents everywhere want the best education and while they once had to send their children to places like Harrow in the UK or US, schools like Harrow are now coming here."

While some of the educational institutions, including Harvard, are looking only to set up local centers where students from their home country can come to study China's dynamic economy and evolving society, others are seeking to enroll local students in degree or diploma programs.

"In our first year, we enrolled mostly expatriate children, both from Britain and countries familiar with the value of a Harrow education, but in two years I expect things will be different," Farthing said from his staid office as scores of students in Harrow's trademark ties milled around outside.

The prestige of such traditions and the reputation of schools such as Harrow are luring Chinese students and parents to international institutions....

The price tag for acquiring a education like this from one of the elite Western institutions in China is between $8,000 and $25,000 per year. Expatriates who send their children to these schools are mostly immune to sticker shock since it's mostly their employers that pick up the tab.

But even China's new upper middle-class isn't likely to be deterred by the bill.

Education is highly valued in China and despite the fact that the average American university or private school education costs more than a middle-class Chinese family can save in a generation, there are currently 63,000 Chinese students enrolled in universities in the United States, more than from any foreign country except India, which has 80,000 students in American schools, according to the New York-based Institute of International Education.

That number could be much higher but for the common practice of ensuring geographic balance in admissions, which ensures that Chinese students don't crowd out students from Europe, Latin America, and Africa.

With Chinese students facing steep challenges to study abroad, more and more of the foreign institutions creating campuses in China are hoping to woo locals by marketing their degrees as a Western-quality education in a Chinese setting -- at reduced prices. For example, a year at Harrow Beijing costs about $15,000, about half what it would cost in Britain.

3) Finally, while it's great to see U.S. universities retain their global comparative advantadge, I fear that the Canadians will soon be able to siphon away some of the greatest minds of our generation -- at least, if this Reuters report is correct (hat tip: reader S.S.):
The use of medical marijuana has given two Toronto professors the right to something that many students could only dream of -- access to specially ventilated rooms where they can indulge in peace.

The two, at the esteemed University of Toronto and at York University to the north of the city, suffer from chronic medical conditions that some doctors say can be eased by smoking marijuana. They are among nearly 1,500 Canadians who have won the right to use the drug for health reasons.

Using human rights legislation, the two petitioned their employers for the right to light up in the workplace. They faced a legal struggle, but the universities eventually agreed.

"Without the medication, I am disabled and I'm not able to carry out meaningful and valuable, productive work," said York University criminology professor Brian MacLean, who suffers from a severe form of degenerative arthritis.

First the "sexy sex sex" class, and now pot-smoking? The University of Toronto is going to clean America's educational clock.

posted by Dan at 10:58 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Sign # 347 that the Doha round is deader than a doornail

The Democratic victories have generated a lot of pessimism in the business press about there being any chance for a revival of world trade talks. I'm certainly not optimistic about a revival in trade talks.

That said, let me offer two counters to this -- one positive and one negative.

The negative is that there wasn't exactly a lot of momentum on trade liberalization before the election. The most symblolic evidence of this fact come from this Reuters story from November 2nd:

Comatose world trade talks showed a possible sign of brain activity on Thursday as World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy arrived in Washington to meet with U.S. officials.

Experts said Lamy could be gathering material for a possible draft plan to try to get the talks started again, although the visit was billed as a low-key opportunity for Lamy to meet with top Bush administration officials on the heels of meetings and speeches in New York and Boston this week....

Lamy will return to New York to run in that city's marathon on Sunday. (emphasis added)

Sounds like a cautiously positive story, until you get to the marathon part. I saw Lamy speak when he was on Boston, and it was clear that he had trained rigorously for the marathon. This is great for Lamy, but it raises the obvioius point -- no WTO Director is going to have the time to train for a real marathon if there's progress to be made on a trade round.

[So what should Lamy have done with his time?--ed. Oh, the impasse is not his fault -- the WTO director has practically no power. His ability to train for the marathon is a symptom of the stalemate among the key countries -- not a cause.]

Second, even if Doha goes down, and even if enthusiasm for free trade slows in the Congress, progress towards liberalization can still be made. Consider that in the past week, Vietnam was admitted into the WTO, and the US approved Russia's entry into the organization as well. There are a few other economies on the outside looking in -- Ukraine and Kazakhstan, not to mention a third of the Middle East-- and if the US can facilitate their entry, then the WTO can live up to its name.

posted by Dan at 11:38 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, November 10, 2006

The trouble with fair trade, continued

Two months ago I blogged about the serious pitfalls of implementing fair trade certifications in the coffee trade.

Now I see that the Economist's business.viewhas an interesting story about the brewing battle between Starbucks and Oxfam:

Coffee has become a big testing ground for what it means to be an ethical consumer. The hugely successful Fair Trade brand allows many coffee addicts to get their fix with a clearer conscience, safe in the belief that no farmers have been exploited in the growing of it.

So no wonder that Starbucks, an up-market global coffee chain, has reacted like a scalded barista to criticism from Oxfam, a development charity. Oxfam says that Starbucks is depriving farmers in Ethiopia of $88m a year, by opposing the Ethiopian government's efforts to trademark three popular varieties of local coffee bean. At least 60,000 customers worldwide have contacted Starbucks with expressions of concern, prompting the company to post leaflets in its stores defending its behaviour. It accuses Oxfam of “misleading the public”, and insists that the “campaign needs to stop”....

Starbucks also has questions about the different standards of fairness applied by the Fair Trade brand custodians in different parts of the world. It doubts even that the strategy of the Fair Trade movement, to secure farmers a premium over the market price for their beans, is the best basic approach. Starbucks prefers a code known as the CAFE practices (Coffee and Farmer Equity), which aims to help coffee farmers develop sustainable businesses through a mixture of technical support, microfinance loans, and investment in infrastructure and community development where the farmers live.

So far from being a bloodthirsty exploiter happy to keep farmers in poverty, Starbucks emerges as a responsible firm approaching difficult questions in a thoughtful way. It wants to help its suppliers improve their lot. It is certainly no cheapskate. Starbucks says that last year it paid an average price of $1.28 per pound, 23% above the New York Board of Trade's benchmark “C” price, for all its coffees.

Starbucks's enlightened behaviour makes good business sense. The firm has positioned itself at the quality end of the market, where ethically-minded consumers are concentrated. It has absolutely no incentive to behave badly. Strikingly, another quality coffee producer, Illy Café, has similar issues with the Fair Trade movement, and also prefers to build sustainable coffee farming rather than indulge in simplistic Fair Trade posturing.

Who's right? Decide for yourselves! Here's a link to the Oxfam campagn, and here's a link to Starbucks web page on sustaining coffee-producing communities.

UPDATE: Joshua Gans has some thoughts on the matter that are worth checking out.

posted by Dan at 07:14 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

The ultimate study of higher education

With the midterms and all I forgot to highlight this article from the New York Times education supplment about why ultimate frisbee is the sport of kings:

Forget college guides, U.S. News & World Report rankings, average SAT scores. The best gauge of an institution’s ex cellence may actually be … its ultimate Frisbee team. At least that’s the theory of Dr. Michael J. Norden, a Univer sity of Washington professor of psychiatry.

Ultimate started in the 60’s as the hippie’s anti-sport — a coach-free, referee-less, noncontact game comb - i n ing the free-form elements of Frisbee with the strategy, athleticism and goal-making of football or soccer. Players call their own infractions, and “The Spirit of the Game,” the ruling document, says that while competition is encouraged, it must not be “at the expense of the bond of mutual respect between players, adherence to the agreed-upon rules of the game, or the basic joy of play.” More than 500 colleges and universities now have teams competing interscholastically.

Dr. Norden analyzed the Ultimate Players Association “power ratings” of private national universities over a decade (the ratings assess strength based on past performance), and he discovered a startling pattern. “All the schools with above-average ultimate teams also have aboveaverage graduation rates,” says Dr. Norden, whose son is, not coincidentally, a serious high school player looking for a university with a good team. “They average a 90 percent graduation rate, while the average graduation rate for private national universities is just 73 percent. Statistically, that just doesn’t happen by chance.”

Furthermore, the private universities in the top half of ultimate standings had 208 Rhodes and Marshall scholars; the bottom half, just 15. The top seven — Stanford, Brown, Harvard, Tufts, Dartmouth, Yale and Princeton — had almost as many scholars as all the rest combined. (A followup study of public and liberal arts colleges found a similar correlation.) Dr. Norden cites another distinction: “Six of those top seven universities, all but Harvard, made Princeton Review’s list of the happiest students.”

My first thought is that this is correlation and not causation, but you'll have to read the article to see why Norden thinks there is a causal relationship.

posted by Dan at 07:10 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Watch me get tipsy on video

I'm on the road to NYC today. At about noon, however, my latest episode with Matthew Yglesias should be online at... er.... UPDATE: Here's the proper link.

In this episode:

1) As an act of political protest against Question 1 going down, I drink a lot; Matt, in an act of protest against his headset not working, uses an actual phone;

2) We debate Rummy's departure and its timing;

3) What does the new Congress mean for Iraq? For U.S. foreign economic policy?

4) Did the netroots acoomplish everything or nothing?

5) In an act of political bravery unparalleled in the history of the blogosphere, I defend the U.S. Constitution against Yglesias' desire for a parliamentary system of government;

6) What's K-Fed's future?

posted by Dan at 07:50 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Rumsfeld out, Gates in, Drezner happy
If this AP report is correct, then the midterms have claimed another big loser:
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, architect of an unpopular war in Iraq, intends to resign after six stormy years at the Pentagon, Republican officials said Wednesday.

Officials said Robert Gates, former head of the CIA, would replace Rumsfeld.

The development occurred one day after congressional elections that cost Republicans control of the House of Representatives, and possibly the Senate as well. Surveys of voters at polling places said opposition to the war was a significant contributor to the Democratic Party's victory.

President George W. Bush was expected to announce Rumsfeld's departure and Gates' nomination at a news conference. Administration officials notified congressional officials in advance.

If true, the news will provoke a triple "yee-haw!" from the hardworking staff here at

[Why three yells?--ed.] First, this blog has wanted Rummy to retire for quite some time. Second, Gates is a member in good standing of the Bush 41 crowd -- i.e., he's, you know, competent.

Third, if it is Gates, this might reduce some of the paranoia about Joe Lieberman-replacing-Rumsfeld-and-then-being-replaced-by-a-Republican scenario that's been discussed in some parts of the blogosphere. This also kills the Santorum-for-DoD campaign just after it starts, by the way.

UPDATE: It's official! Yee-haw!!

Rich Lowry makes an interesting point over at The Corner:

The public probably wanted Bush to reach out to and listen more to critics. They wanted him to break-out of the "stay the course" stalemate in his Iraq policy, which had been embodied by Rumsfeld. They wanted him to acknowledge, really acknowledge in a serious way, their deep disatisfaction with the course of things in Iraq. And lo and behold, about 18 hours after the election, he is doing all of things. American democracy is a marvelous thing.
ANOTHER UPDATE: In what I believe is the fifth sign of the coming apocalypse, the Rumsfeld resignation story was apparently broken by Comedy Central's Indecider blog.

posted by Dan at 01:15 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (17)

Nancy Pelosi's impact on the global economy

It would seem that the markets ain't thrilled with the midterm elections:

Global finance markets have wobbled on fears that a Democrat victory in the US Congressional elections could prompt less market-friendly policies in the world's biggest economy.

Investors watched nervously as jubilant Democrats seized power in the US House of Representatives for the first time since 1994 and edged closer to taking the Senate, pushing European and Asian equities lower and weighing also on the dollar.

European indices eased off fresh five-year highs struck the previous day, while Japanese shares tumbled by more than one percent, as investors also feared that a split in power in Washington would create legislative gridlock.

"The European market started slipping lower (on Wednesday) with the Democrats taking power from the Republicans, traditionally thought of as more business friendly," said Michael Davies, an analyst with the Sucden brokerage firm in London.

London's FTSE 100 index of leading shares slid 0.53 percent to 6,211.00 points, Frankfurt's DAX 30 index dipped 0.44 percent to 6,334.20 points and in Paris the CAC 40 index shed 0.47 percent to 5,412.18.

The DJ Euro Stoxx 50 index of top eurozone shares lost 0.41 percent to 4,055.98 points.

The US dollar meanwhile staged a slight retreat against the euro and the yen.

"Although the outcome of US elections is unlikely to have a huge effect on the greenback, there are many that argue that if the Democrats win control of the House of Representatives, this will lead to a rise in protectionist policies or to political deadlock that could slow reforms," Davies added.

It will be interesting to see how U.S. markets respond.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum labels this kind of story, "Idiotic Conventional Wisdom Watch." He might be right -- but that conventional wisdom seems pretty widespread in the business press. Consider Neil Dennis, "Stock markets stall after Democrats win House," Financial Times:

The win was seen as negative for equity markets, particularly if the Democratic Party also takes control of the Senate – a result which still hangs in the balance.

“A [overall] win for the Democrats would be considered negative for stocks as it would likely result in a less business friendly environment,” said Matt Buckland, a trader at CMC Markets.

US oil and drugs companies are expected to become subject to windfall taxes if the Democrats were to take control of the Senate, while companies are also likely to feel the pinch of a forecast rise in the minimum hourly wage.

“Unless we see an improvement in sentiment this could be the trigger to start booking some of the profits we’ve seen accrued since late September,” he added.

Meanwhile, the dollar remained mired at a six week low against the euro as uncertainty over control of the Senate led to cautious trade.

Or Wayne Arnold, "Asians wary of U.S. trade shift," International Herald-Tribune:
The victory by the Democratic party in U.S. congressional elections appears to have left President George W. Bush hampered in his efforts to push through free-trade agreements being negotiated with several Asian nations and facing an antagonistic legislature bent on placing its own stamp on policies from trade to defense to stem- cell research - all with potential ramifications for Asia and the rest of the world....

But analysts, diplomats and economists in Asia said that the vote could have much greater consequences for the region, as they appeared to herald a further turn inward for the United States, away from globalization and engagement with Asia.

"The message to the politicians is that we really don't want to get involved in foreign intrigues," said Tim Condon, an economist at ING Financial Markets in Singapore. "It reinforces this kind of populist thinking that there's only a downside to globalization."

The turn in his party's fortunes will undoubtedly weigh heavily on Bush during his trip planned for this month to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Hanoi. Analysts said a preoccupation in Washington with domestic issues was likely to play into the hands of China, which has been boosting its own diplomatic profile in Asia and the developing world.

Analysts said one of the clearest casualties of the Democratic victory was likely to be the Bush administration's trade policy.

Concerns that Congress will get tougher on China's trade surplus by pushing it to revalue the yuan are likely to push the dollar down in global markets, they said, on expectations that China and other Asian exporters will allow their currencies to rise to deflect such criticism.

"Democrats are seen as a bit more protectionist on that end," said Chua Hak Bin, an economist at Citigroup in Singapore. "Markets will expect a lot of these pressures to show up."

Jacob Weisberg, "The Lou Dobbs Democrats," Slate:
Most of those who reclaimed Republican seats ran hard against free trade, globalization, and any sort of moderate immigration policy. That these Democrats won makes it likely that others will take up their reactionary call. Some of the newcomers may even be foolish enough to try to govern on the basis of their misguided theory.
This Reuters report is downbeat on the U.S. stock market -- though the actual market decline seems pretty picayune to me.

On the other hand, this Forbes report attributes the equity market downturns to profit-taking rather than the Democratic takeover.

I agree that the reaction of equity markets is probably nothing -- but the effects on trade policy are nothing to be sneezed at.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum renews his ire at this kind of press coverage here -- he's got a decent case.

posted by Dan at 08:10 AM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (1)

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Open midterms thread

Comment away on the election results here. AP reporting on the exit polls is suggestive of a big Democratic night:

In surveys at polling places, about six in 10 voters said they disapproved of the way President Bush is handling his job, and roughly the same percentage opposed the war in Iraq. They were more inclined to vote for Democratic candidates than for Republicans.

In even larger numbers, about three-quarters of voters said scandals mattered to them in deciding how to vote, and they, too, were more likely to side with Democrats. The surveys were taken by The Associated Press and the networks.

Over at the US News and World Report blog, Kenneth Walsh notes a statement against interest:
More evidence of a big Democratic surge. Fox News's commentator panel led by Brit Hume, which is considered mostly right of center, has reason to be skeptical of this perception of Democratic gains. But the Fox panel, which includes Fred Barnes, Bill Kristol, Mort Kondracke, Juan Williams, and Hume, is now saying the exit polls and their analysis suggest what Barnes calls "a good Democratic night."

The conservative commentators warned viewers to beware of a Democratic bias in exit polls, but they conceded that things look very good for the Dems.

Fifty-seven percent of late deciders, the Fox exit polls show, are breaking for the Democrats, and 39 percent for Republicans. This is a very important harbinger.

I have mixed feelings on this evening. I only hope that Question 1 is approved in Massachusetts, and that there be as few disputed results as possible.

UPDATE, 10:30 PM: Question 1 goes down. Grrrr.......

UPDATE, 10:34 PM: Just when I think John Kerry can't say something dumber, he pulls it off. CNN showed him at the Deval Patrick headquarters saying the following:

We have made history tonight, because we have elected, for an unprecedented ninth time, the greatest Senator in the history of the United States Senate, Ted Kennedy!!

And we have made history, not just here but across the country, because it is clear, from those who are winning in America, that Americans are not just voting for Democrats and for Republicans, they are voting against the politics of smear and fear. They want a change.

That's how I'd interpret Kennedy's re-election as well.

UPDATE, 10:52 PM: I'm not going to stay up late, but glancing at the results so far, I can't imagine the Democrats will be overjoyed. If the numbers hold, the GOP will hold onto Senate seats in Virginia, Missouri, and Tennessee. Some of the vulnerable Republicans have held onto their House seats. If the Dems retake the House, it's impressive, but this doesn't look like 1994 at this point in the evening (see final update below)

We'll see how long it will be before the "blame Britney" crowd becomes a mob.

UPDATE, 12:17 AM: So I stayed up late -- so sue me. The Dems have retaken the house, and have a slim chance at the Senate since Jim Webb looks like he's barely going to beat George Allen. More impressive, but as Jeff Greenfield observed, this would be the first time in quite a while that the House flipped but the Senate did not.

Over at The Corner, Ramesh Ponnuru suggests the GOP will actually have to suck up to libertarians now:

If Sodrel loses in Indiana, as looks likely, it may be because a libertarian candidate took votes from him.... So far, losing because of libertarians hasn't caused Republicans to move toward the libertarians ideologically. But maybe things will change this time.
Good night.

UPDATE, 7:10 AM: Well, it seems like there are shades of 1994 in the election. If Jim Leach went down in Iowa, and the Democrats win the Senate and they win a majority of governorships, then it's fair to describe this as a tidal wave.

posted by Dan at 07:07 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

The ultimate election day surprise

Over the weekend, I blogged at Open U. about possible last-minute October surprises for the midterms.

Well, if the Dems do worse than expected in today's midterms, I think we know who to blame:

TMZ obtained the legal papers, filed today in Los Angeles County Superior Court, citing "irreconcilable differences." In her petition, Spears asks for both legal and physical custody of the couple's two children, one-year old Sean Preston and two-month old Jayden James, with Federline getting reasonable visitation rights.

As for money, sources tell TMZ the couple, who married in Oct. 2004, has an iron-clad prenup. Not surprisingly, Spears is waiving her right to spousal support. She's also asking the judge to make each party pay their own attorney's fees.

Spears gives the date of separation as yesterday, the same day she flaunted her incredible revamped physique during a surprise appearance on David Letterman's show. Sources tell TMZ there was no single reason for Britney pulling the plug, rather, it was "a string of events."

This is perfect timing for the GOP. She's demonstrated her love of George W. Bush in the past. Now consider the following chain of events:
1) Her divorce will fire up Andrew Sullivan to point out -- again -- how Britney has defiled the institution of marriage more than any gay man ever could.

2) This in turn fires up the conservative base over at NRO's The Corner.

3) In the next three hours, a outpouring of social conservatives forget the Ted Haggard follies and vote for the GOP

4) At the same time, under-30 voters -- considered to be overwhelmingly Democratic -- decide not to vote in favor of surfing the web to find out how the young Ms. Spears is looking doing.

5) The combined effects push the Republicans to actually pick up seats in Congress and in state capitols.

It's genius. Pure genius.

posted by Dan at 05:24 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (1)

In case you were wondering about the exit polls....

Howard Kurtz reports in the Washington Post that exit poll data will be more closely held this year than in the past:

The biggest behind-the-scenes change in network coverage involves what has been dubbed the Quarantine Room. Determined to avoid a rerun of recent years, when its exit polls leaked out by early afternoon to the Drudge Report, Slate and other Web sites, a media consortium is allowing two people from each of the networks and the Associated Press entree to a windowless room in New York. All cellphones, laptops and BlackBerrys will be confiscated. The designated staffers will pore over the exit polls but will not be allowed to communicate with their offices until 5 p.m.

The consortium, called the National Election Pool, is conducting no surveys for House races. The exit polling will take place for Senate and gubernatorial contests in 32 states with competitive races.

The recent track record with such polling has been pockmarked with failure. There was, of course, the debacle of election night 2000, when the networks used polling data from Florida to prematurely award the presidency, twice, within hours. In 2002, the network consortium's predecessor, Voter News Service, suffered a computer meltdown and pulled the plug on its exit polls. Two years ago, its sample was so skewed that the group's surveys showed Sen. John Kerry beating President Bush well into the night. (emphasis added)

The Los Angeles Times' Matea Gold reported on Saturday that the media reps in the Quarantine Room will "even monitored when they use the bathroom."

Lorne Manly has more at the New York Times Caucus blog.

Hat tip: Open University's David Greenberg.

UPDATE: Jim Lindgren is right: "Expect heavy hinting by the networks after 5pm ET today."

posted by Dan at 03:18 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

I live in a one-party state

So I went to vote this morning -- and discovered that a whopping three out of the 13 races had both a Democrat and a Republican running for office (and one of those was for Ted Kenney's seat, so it doesn't really count). A few of the minor state offices had a Green/Rainbow candidate as well as a Democrat running. Barney Frank was running unopposed.

How lopsided is this ballot? I remember there being more Republicans running in Cook County, for Pete's sake.

This leads me to wonder -- what's the most lopsided ballot in America this election day? Tell me, dear readers, how lopsided is your ballot?

posted by Dan at 09:08 AM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, November 6, 2006

My one endorsement for 2006

Unlike two years ago, the hardworking staff here at will not be offering any grandiose endorsements for anyone holding political office.

However, it is worth noting that the staff has finally found an issue where the blog wife and I will be voting one the same side: Question 1 on the Massachusetts ballot:

This proposed law would allow local licensing authorities to issue licenses for food stores to sell wine. The proposed law defines a “food store” as a retail vendor, such as a grocery store, supermarket, shop, club, outlet, or warehouse-type seller, that sells food to consumers to be eaten elsewhere (which must include meat, poultry, dairy products, eggs, fresh fruit and produce, and other specified items), and that may sell other items usually found in grocery stores. Holders of licenses to sell wine at food stores could sell wine either on its own or together with any other items they sell.
This is an easy call for the missus and me -- hell yes, I'd like to see grocery stores sell wine.

The Boston Globe's endorsement provides sufficient explanation:

In 34 other states, shoppers at grocery stores can buy wine with their steaks. This has not caused an epidemic of drunken driving or teenage alcohol abuse. But the availability of wine with groceries does make life a little more convenient for the many adults who like to sip wine with their dinner.

Massachusetts allows only limited sales of wine at supermarkets. By loosening some of the state's restrictions, Question 1 would promote competition among retailers, and convenience for consumers. The Globe urges a Yes vote on this question.

Ah, I love it when the Globe asks for more market competition. You can find more information on this ballot question by clicking here.

But let me urge all blog readers in the state of Massachusetts -- help the hardworking staff here at get tanked expand our consumption choice set.

posted by Dan at 04:13 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Why is the GOP gaining strength?

Over the past 72 hours, every poll announcement I've seen has the Republicans gaining momentum. Mickey Kaus and Charles Franklin argues that this trend actually started 10 days ago -- so no one blame Kerry.

How serious is this momentum shift? It's actually forced the NYT's Adam Nagourney to perform his prognostication pirouette 24 hours before the election takes place -- contrast today's Page One story with yesterday's Page One. The contrasts with Nagourney's usual tactic of having a "Democrats Gaining Steam" headline on Monday of election week followed by a "Republicans Display Hidden Strengths" headline Thursday.

I have a very simple question -- what's driving this? Is it:

a) Positive headline numbers on the economy (Dow Jones Industrial Average + falling unemployment numbers)?

b) Election coverage crowding out depressing Iraq coverage?

c) Foot-in-mouth syndrome among other prominent Democrats?

d) A general lack of faith that the Dems offer a viable alternative?

e) Republican "dirty tricks"?

UPDATE: Hmmm... maybe the GOP isn't gaining strength -- Fox News shows gains by Democrats (hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

posted by Dan at 10:23 AM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

Does Google-bombing matter for elections?

Tom Zeller's column in the New York Times today focuses on liberal efforts to Google-bomb vulnerable Republican candidates. Zeller reports that the effort has been successful:

A GOOGLE bomb — which some Web gurus have suggested is perhaps better called a link bomb, in that it affects most search engines — has typically been thought of as something between a prank and a form of protest. The idea is to select a certain search term or phrase (“borrowed time,” for example), and then try to force a certain Web site (say, the Pentagon’s official Donald H. Rumsfeld profile) to appear at or near the top of a search engine’s results whenever that term is queried....

To the extent that the public consciousness is now just as likely to be reached through a computer screen as a television, the idea that passionate sorts would engage in computer-ready actions should come as no surprise.

And yet many people were shocked by the revelation two weeks ago that left-leaning bloggers were trying to drop a Google bomb on the campaigns of dozens of Republican candidates — not least because its bellicose promise seemed to throw into question the very integrity of search engine results.

This took link bombing to a new level. The key phrases targeted were the names of the Republican candidates themselves. The goal was to tweak things so that searching for “Clay Shaw,” the Republican representative from Florida, for example, would return — high in the results — a news article, preselected from a relatively mainstream publication, detailing some negative aspect of the candidate’s record. This was repeated for 50 or so candidates.

Did it work? The short answer is yes — somewhat. The folks at, where it all began, have been tracking the progress quite out in the open at It’s worth a visit for people of all political persuasions, if only to catch a glimpse of the future of political strategizing.

The latest MyDD update suggests that the netroots have managed to push their preferred link (an unfavorable news story about the candidate in question) into the top 10 links for more than 50 candidates.

So, clearly, political Google-bombing has achieved its short-term goal of pushing particular stories into prominence.

That said, the Luddite in me remains convinced that this will actually have absolutely zero effect on the election. For this to work, you need to believe that undecideds are going to actively search for candidates on the web before making their vote, and in the process stumble across the unflattering story. This is possible in theory, but in practice my hunch is that the people more likely to use the Internet to acquire information on political candidates are more likely to have made their voting decisions already -- and hence the Google-bombing effect would be too late.

Or, to be more flip about it, James Joyner characterizes how these kinds of plans usually end:

Step Four: Sharks with lay-zers on their foreheads.

Step Five: Take over world.

Caveat: my analysis is predicated on an assumption that voters who use the Internet to access political information are more eager for that info, more politically committed, and therefore more likely to commit to a position earlier. I'll grant that there miight be eaknesses in this causal chain.

And, to be fair, a less stringent version of the Google-bomb hypothesis is that a few undecideds stumble across the Google-bombed story, and then e-mail it to everyone they know, creating a viral effect. This is the topic du jour in David Carr's NYT column:

Ken Avidor would not seem to constitute much of a threat to the Republican Party. A Minnesota graphic artist with no official political role, he is a self-described Luddite and a bit of a wonk with an interest in arcane transportation issues.

But last month, Mr. Avidor, a Democrat, managed to capture some video in which Michele Bachmann, a Republican candidate running for election to the United States House of Representatives from Minnesota’s Sixth District, suggested that, after some fasting and praying, not only had God told her to become a tax attorney, he had called her to run for Congress. And now that the election was near, God was “focused like a laser beam, in his reasoning, on this race.”

In the parlance of politics, Ms. Bachmann was “speaking to the room,” in this case, a group at the Living Word Christian Center in Brooklyn Center, Minn. The speech was Webcast live by the church group, allowing Mr. Avidor to use a video camera he borrowed from his 17-year-old daughter to capture the shaky but discernible video off his computer monitor. He then used a three-year-old Mac to edit the piece and then forward it to, well, the world at large.

The video on YouTube and Mr. Avidor’s video blog (, was picked up by other bloggers and eventually, The Star Tribune, the daily newspaper in Minneapolis. Ms. Bachmann’s opponents did everything they could to circulate the video and put her in a position of explaining God’s unpaid consulting role in her campaign.

People in the elections business often say that the most powerful form of endorsement, next to meeting and being actually impressed by a candidate, is the recommendation of a trusted friend.

In this election, YouTube, with its extant social networks and the ability to forward a video clip and a comment with a flick of the mouse, has become a source of viral work-of-mouth. As a result, a disruptive technology that was supposed to upend a half-century-old distribution model of television is having a fairly disruptive effect on politics as well.

posted by Dan at 09:08 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, November 3, 2006

Comments are down and help is wanted

The comments feature is not working, due to comment spam overload.

This and other persistent problems lead me no choice but to put out a "help wanted" sign. The hardworking but HTML-illiterate staff here at needs to remote hire someone for a quick fix for the blog. In particular, we need someone who will:

1) Install vigorous anti-spam measures
2) Restore trackback features
3) Fix the comments feature so that they are a) more legible; and b) time-stamped
Contact me at the e-mail address on the right. Remuneration to be negotiated.

UPDATE: All should be well now. New posts to follow soon!

posted by Dan at 11:52 PM

The A-Rod quagmire

Tom Peyer and Hart Seely, "Yankee Go Home." New York Times, November 3, 2006:

TRADE A-Rod’s continued failure to deliver in the clutch is diverting critical resources and dividing our team. He must go. We need to move on, now!

KEEP Trading A-Rod would lead to a disaster in the American League East. It would embolden other teams and threaten future Yankee clubs. To cut and run is not an option....

TRADE We’re sending our kids to fight an endless war in Boston, when it’s Detroit that attacked us. After we swept the Red Sox in August, you hung out your Mission Accomplished banner, but nothing has been accomplished.

KEEP The Yankees never said it was over. The news media said it was over. And I acknowledge the challenges. We must adapt. We must heed the experts. Joe Torre and his coaches have said they believe A-Rod should come back. We must listen to them.

TRADE Those are the same “experts” that batted A-Rod eighth!

KEEP You would stoop so low as to attack Joe Torre? Have you no shame? Have you no shame!

Best. Op-ed. Ever.

posted by Dan at 08:56 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

What's Liberal About The Liberal Arts? -- a review

I'm one of the many participants in John Holbo's Liberalpalooza 2006 -- i.e., a blogathon about Michael Bérubé’s What's Liberal About The Liberal Arts?

My (lengthy by blog standards) take on the book is below the fold:

UPDATE: Comments are down here -- but this review has been cross-posted over at The Valve, so say what you think over there.

What’s Liberal About The Liberal Arts? By Michael Bérubé. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006.

As a professor who hails from the conservative side of the political spectrum, I truly loathe the debate about liberal bias in the academy. It’s one of those questions that rears its head every year or two, at which point the same stale arguments are trotted out and not much of note is said.

About the only thing I like about this debate is how it forces both sides of the political spectrum to subvert their traditional arguments and appropriate the other side’s rhetoric. Conservatives wind up arguing that the bias problem is a structural one – and therefore the way to fix it is through some kind of ideological affirmative action program. Liberals, when confronted with the numbers, nevertheless insist that the academy is a strict meritocracy with no old-boy networks whatsoever – and that aspiring conservative academics should quit whining and pick themselves up by their bootstraps.

It is to Bérubé’s credit, then, to say that I enjoyed reading What’s Liberal About The Liberal Arts. Actually, to be more specific, I really enjoyed one of the books Bérubé has written. What’s Liberal About The Liberal Arts is really two texts – one about what it means to be a professor, and one that responds to the conservative critique of the academy. The first one is great; the second one is slapdash.

Bérubé’s explanation of the actual craft of teaching American literature is an utter delight. He accessibly relates the difficulties of coping with obstreperous students in seminars, or why gender is a salient factor in teaching My Antonia. Bérubé’s excellent, pithy summation of how to evaluate a paper will be familiar to many a professor:

All I ask is that their interpretations be plausible, and my criteria are lawyerly and austere. One, I read their essays to see how well they handle textual evidence, that is, how well they support whatever claims they make by reference to the material in front of them; and two, I want to know how well they anticipate and head off possible counterarguments. That’s it. Meet those two criteria in my classroom, and the field of interpretation is open.

Bérubé’s discussion of Rorty’s non-foundationalist approach was also useful in shining a light on what is often reflexively labeled “post-modernism” in colloquial discourse. As What’s Liberal About The Liberal Arts presents it, Rorty’s philosophy is more the intellectual successor to the pragmatist tradition in American thought than a child of Foucault or Derrida. These sections make me want to buy Bérubé a beer to see whether he thinks Rorty’s anti-foundationalism meets its match in Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments.

As Bérubé intended, these chapters are also the best rejoinder to the conservative accusation of liberal bias subverting the aims higher education. University research and teaching is a profession, with a set of rules, norms and practices that are not connected to one political ideology or another. This is the “procedural liberalism” that Bérubé discusses – though he is hardly the first. Even if the academy is overwhelmingly populated by substantive liberals, the professional norms evinced by Bérubé should serve as the most important bulwark against political corruption. It is for this reason, incidentally, that liberals should not fear institutions that are both professionalized and predominantly conservative – like the United States armed forces.

The chapters that explicitly address the conservative critique are more of a mixed bag. What’s Liberal About The Liberal Arts devotes a lot of pages to debunking David Horowitz and his ill-informed jihad against the academy. In these sections, Bérubé gets points for marksmanship – he does a great job of shooting a big fish in a small barrel.

Look, Horowitz is a guy who got bored with studying English literature because there was “nothing to research that was interesting anymore.” He’s now pissed off because Harvard professors don’t assign his books in courses and convinced that he’d be a Harvard department chair is he was liberal. In other words, it’s very hard to take his rantings about the academy seriously. As Michael pointed out in his blog, “Mr. Horowitz himself is not very appealing”. The best way to inoculate commentators and politicians against Horowitz’s crusade is simply to expose them to greater doses of Horowitz.

Horowitz’s prominence in the text underscores the fact that there are thornier questions about the sources and effects of liberal bias that Bérubé either elides or treats in a cursory manner. He acknowledges that, “there’s really no question, then, that campuses are teeming with liberal faculty, especially when campuses are compared with the rest of the country.” This is explained away as a matter of personal choice – liberals are more likely to pick a job that’s not terribly remunerative but has lots of security and flexibility. Here Bérubé commits an error similar to what Thomas Franck did in What’s The Matter With Kansas – he assumes that people are guided strictly by their material preferences. Surely, just as middle-class Americans might identify more strongly with the GOP's cultural values over the Democratic party's economic program, conservatives might value living the life of the mind ahead of the monetary rewards of a non-academic career?

As for the effects of liberal bias, Bérubé admits that this is not a good thing within his own discipline. The absence of traditional conservative scholarship creates the Millian problem of “dead dogma” – without being challenged, some tenets become accepted as given when they shouldn’t be. The other problem, which Bérubé does not discuss in detail, is one of power. In almost every social setting, those with less power tend to exaggerate the extent to which they need to please the more powerful to advance in life. So it is in the academy. Bérubé maintains that undergrads do not read is essays in Dissent or The Nation. That’s probably true – but I bet they read his blog, and I have to wonder if some potential English Ph.D.’s fear the ideological gap between them and their instructor, and choose to take a pass? This problem is not Bérubé’s fault, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

On the whole, Bérubé thinks the liberal bias problem is overblown – and therefore the conservative opposition must be masking a more sinister agenda – the academy, like Social Security, is an existential affront to conservatives:

on some level, the American right attacks universities not because they don’t work but because, by and large, they do….

America’s cultural conservatives may despise us for the obvious reasons—our cosmopolitanism, our secularism, our corrosive attitude of skepticism about every form of receive authority—but the economic conservatives, I think, despise us precisely because we work so well.

As an economic conservative, there are a few flaws in this line of argumentation.

Bérubé implies that American universities work so well because of Liberals Like Him. However, as he points out elsewhere in the book, it might be precisely those parts of the university that “conservatives heartily endorse” – basic science and R&D in nanotechnology or agribusiness – that’s providing a lot of the value-added. Furthermore, it’s worth pointing out that even though the state plays a significant role in tertiary education in this country, its role is considerably smaller when compared to other countries. Maybe, just maybe, it’s the competitive, non-state aspects of the American university that make them such a global attractor. True, for these parts of the university to work, they do have to adhere to Bérubé’s procedural liberalism – but this is an insight that is hardly original to either Bérubé or the left side of the political spectrum.

I'd recommend the book to those interested in seeing how humanities professors go about their work. As a refutation of the condservative critique, What's Liberal About The Liberal Arts leaves something to be desired.

posted by Dan at 03:39 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

How Kerry helped the Democrats in 2008

Over at The Guardian's website, James Crabtree makes a great point about how Kerry has helped his party for 2008:

Yesterday was, in fact, a tremendous day for the Democratic Party. John Forbes Kerry, uniquely among his fellow Americans, genuinely appeared to believe that the next President of the United States could be John Forbes Kerry. Much in the same way as Nixon ran against Kennedy, was defeated, and came back, Kerry thought his phoenix could rise again. That is now not going to happen. We can all breathe a sigh of relief. John Kerry 2008. RIP....

[T]here is something uniquely unfortunate about Kerry - his caution, his pratfalls, his pusillanimity - that invite this sort of attack. And somehow, the ways he overcompensates for his weaknesses ("reporting for duty", duck hunting, saying yesterday he had nothing to apologise for) only make it worse.

For Republicans, Kerry comes with an easy-hit red target painted right in the middle of his high-brow Brahmin forehead. Two little-known stories illustrate why. In the first, Kerry attended a campaign event in Missouri, in 2003. He was asked by a reporter if, hypothetically, Saddam actually had WMD and refused to disarm, would Kerry have invaded? He answered resolutely: "You bet I might have."

The second comes from a chapter in Joe Klein's book Politics Lost. Kerry was dithering over his address to the 2004 Democratic convention. His brilliant young advisor Andrei Cherny had drafted a brave, lyrical speech. In particular, the speech had Kerry taking on his opponents and addressing honestly the issues on which he and America disagreed. He was against the death penalty, but for reasons of Catholic faith. He was pro-life, in principle. He believed in a Kennedy-esque call to service and sacrifice.

What happened? Kerry nixed the speech. It was too risky. Frustrated, Cherny told Kerry he would have to take a risk somewhere if he was going to win the presidency. Kerry replied that he knew this. He would take a risk. On early years education policy.

posted by Dan at 10:53 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)