Friday, April 27, 2007
The greatest threat this blog has ever faced
I see that Dani Rodrik has now set up his own blog.
Great. Just great. Back in the day, I use to have the monopoly on blogging about the global political economy. Now Rodrik -- and his fancy-pants Albert Hirschman Prize -- comes along to make the competition more difficult. It's not enough that the man is responsible for Jaghdish Bhagwati's jeremiad against yours truly.
In all seriousness, Rodrik is a smart economist who can speak to non-economists -- so it's a very good thing that he's joined the blogosphere. And while we have some overlap in interest, his take is quite different from mine. So, in fact, everyone wins!
Imagine some change in the economy leaves Tom $3 richer and Jerry $2 poorer, and I ask you whether you approve of this change. Few economists, regardless of their political and philosophical orientation, would be able to give a straight answer without asking for more information.... In other words, most of us would care about the manner in which the distributional change occurred--i.e., about procedural fairness....I don't disagree with Rodrik's political argument here per se -- but I do have a few quibbles about it's generalizability:
1) Let's change the redistribution to the following:I suspect Rodrik's procedural concerns affect how attitudes about trade. But the simple act of redistribution across borders -- regardless of the reasons -- matters even more.a) Tom is 30 cents richer;That's actually a more accurate picture of trade's effects. In focusing striictly on the employment effects, however, Rodrik elides the biggest gain from trade -- lower prices. He's correct that this is weak beer politically, but it's still worth remembering.
Debatable debate headlines
I'm sure my readers will be shocked -- shocked!! -- that I did not watch any of the presidential debate last night.
However, from today's headlines, I have a clear sense of what happened:
"Hillary Clinton shines in Democratic candidates' debate," The Guardian
Thursday, April 26, 2007
In honor of David Halberstam...
Despite baseball's long literary tradition, reading about the sport never interested me... until I read David Halberstam's Summer of 49. Despite Halberstam's admitted pro-Yankee sympathies, the book was a gripping read.
In honor of his passing -- and his unique ability to move from engaging books about serious geopolitics to serious books about engaging sports -- this blog post will discuss both baseball and geopolitics.
Fidel Castro, 80, has experienced serious health problems in recent years, and his brother Raúl is Cuba’s interim president, a situation that has prompted speculation about the country’s future. Baseball officials began discussions a year and a half ago about how to approach the possibility of normalizing relations with Cuba.If you ask me, MLB should be even more aggressive in establishing cooperative baseball relations with Cuba. If ping-pong can thaw Sino-American relations, why not baseball for Cuba?
Meanwhile, it appears that the import of Daisuke Matsuzaka has increased demand for advertising for a lot of major league teams. The Boston Globe's Keith Reed explains:
If you watched the Red Sox play the Texas Rangers earlier this month and couldn't read the Japanese-language ads behind home plate, don't worry. Those were meant for fans watching overseas, not you.(hat tip to David Pinto for the link).
Finally, check out Baseball Prospectus' Jim Baker on why, in almost every way possible, baseball today is better than when you were a kid. It's pretty convincing.
An Iran deal?
Time's Tony Karon reports that significant progress was made in the latest round of EU-Iran negotiations. In the process, Karon does an excellent job of describing how Iran's domestic politics affects their negotiating posture:
One problem in reading Iran's intentions is that it's very easy to forget who's in charge in Tehran. The fact that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the President doesn't mean that he is, in Bush parlance, "the decider." In fact, Iran's president has little executive authority over national security decisions (including the nuclear program), and his constitutional position makes him, if anything, probably less influential over those decisions than more pragmatic figures such as Larijani, who convenes the key foreign policy decision-making body, the National Security Council. In the end, though, there is a "decider" — the supreme spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But Khamenei wields his authority carefully, and in a consultative manner, seeking to maintain the unity of the competing factions of Iran's political class. So, while he is said to pay greater heed to the counsel of more pragmatic advisers such as Larijani and former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, the Supreme Leader is careful to accommodate the popularly elected President Ahmadinejad. For example, while the recent compromise with Britain over the 15 Naval personnel captured at sea may have been brokered in substantial part in talks between Larijani and key British officials, it was Ahmadinejad who got to do the populist grandstanding in the ceremony accompanying their release.If this analysis is correct, then one has to expect Ahmadinejad to try and delay agreement for as long as humanly possible. The fact is, once the nuclear issue is settled, he will be hard-pressed to achieve any of his populist goals.
UPDATE: In the Financial Times, Najmeh Bozorgmehr decribes Ahmadinejad's five-day trip through the province of Fars. It presets a mixed picture of the president -- though Bozorgmehr concludes:
I can’t help but ponder the recent analyses in political and intellectual circles in Tehran, most of which has argued that Mr Ahmadi-Nejad is finished politically. After the five-day tour, this seems like wishful thinking. His rivals have a tough challenge ahead.ANOTHER UPDATE: Dennis Ross, on the other hand, argues over at TNR Online that Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guards are waning in power.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
The Jonathan Rauch interview
Let me join Andrew Sullivan and Virginia Postrel in linking to this Reason interview with National Jounal columnist Jonathan Rauch. Uneknownst to him, Rauch is partly responsible for the creation of this blog.
Two parts of the interview that stand out. The first reflects Rauch's spot-on take on government:
[R]ight-sizing government, if you mean imposing some preconceived size that you or I or someone else might have, is impossible. Impossible, probably inconceivable and simply not going to happen ever.The second reflects Rauch's wariness of blog triumphalism:
I'm not a fan of the idea that the journalist and the journalist's attitude should be front and center. I think that a good journalist's duty is to get out of the way. The hardest thing about journalism--the hardest thing, a much higher art than being clever--is just to get out of the way, to show the leader of the world as the reader would see it if the reader were there. Just to be eyes and ears. Calvin Trillin, another writer I greatly admired who steered me towards journalism, once said that getting himself out of his stories was like taking off a very tight shirt in a very small phone booth. He's right.Read the whole thing.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Ta-ta and au revoir
I'm off to Europe for an intensive week-long series of meetings to think about the transatlantic relationship. Blogging will hereby be intermittent for a few days.
Talk amongs yourselves. Topics:
1) Barack Obama gave a foreign policy speech. What do you think of it?
Monday, April 23, 2007
The politics of global warming, continued
Following up on my last post about global warming, I see there was a bit of a kerfuffle at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Sheryl Crow and Laurie David explain over at The Huffington Post:
The "highlight" of the evening had to be when we were introduced to Karl Rove. How excited were we to have our first opportunity ever to talk directly to the Bush Administration about global warming.The New York Times story by Jim Rutenberg on the encounter discusses the fallout:
Recriminations between the celebrities and the White House carried over into Sunday, with Ms. Crow and Ms. David calling Mr. Rove “a spoiled child throwing a tantrum” and the White House criticizing their “Hollywood histrionics.”Lots of blog reaction -- Joe Gandelman, Colin McEnroe, Ann Alhouse, and, well, lots of other places.
A few thoughts:
1) Laurie David is 100% correct on one thing -- no one should ever say "don't touch me" to Sheryl Crow. I mean, really, that's just wrong.Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe people like David and Crow will actually generate a Kumbaya-moment in world politics. But I'm very, very dubious about it.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
On global warming, life will not be fair
China will overtake the United States as the world’s biggest emitter of heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) either this year or next, the International Energy Agency said on Wednesday.Read the whole thing.
One could argue -- as China will -- that the U.S. produces far more pollutants per person -- not to mention the fact that the OECD countries are responsible for much of pre-existing pollution in the atmosphere.
However, if this IPCC report is correct, then global warming will have disproportionate effects on the poorer countries of the world. From a bargaining perspective, it will be interesting to see whether this effect will put greater pressure on China than the United States.
Thursday, April 19, 2007posted by Dan at 05:39 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)
Who are the go-to economists for the 2008 campaign?
For the 2008 campaign, the six leading campaigns have each signed up their first-string economic policy teams. These advisers don’t hold the sway that the political aides do, but they can ultimately have a bigger effect on the world. If the next president is going to reform health care, attack climate change or address middle-class anxiety, the solution is going to be shaped by these policy advisers. As Douglas Holtz-Eakin, John McCain’s director of economic policy, says, “If you’re specific about what you want to do and you win, you have a mandate.”Read the whole thing to see who's advising who. I'm relieved to see that Obama is getting decent economic advice -- his chief economic advisor is University of Chicago professor Austan Goolsbee.
Leonhardt's conclusion emphasized a point I've made here in the past: The truth is that if you put the economic advisers, from both parties, in a room and told them to hammer out solutions to the country’s big economic problems, they would find a lot of common ground. They could agree that doctors and patients need better incentives to choose effective medical care. They would probably hit upon education policies along similar lines, requiring that schools be held more accountable for what their students are, and are not, learning. They might suggest a carbon tax — a favorite idea of Mr. Mankiw — to deal with global warming. And they would shore up Social Security by reducing benefits for high earners, as Mr. Hubbard has suggested.
Not all of these ideas are politically feasible at this point, but presidential campaigns can change what’s feasible. Here’s hoping that this year’s crop of economic advisers has the courage of their convictions.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Sympathy for a neocon and other musings
This was a fun one for me, at least, because the conversation looped back around. Topics include the Virginia Tech shootings, whether one should feel pity for Paul Wolfowitz, the tension between being a presidential candidate and becoming president, and -- of course -- the book.
Are China scholars bought and paid for by Beijing?
Carsten Holz has a must-read in the Far Eastern Economic Review on the relationship between China scholars and the Chinese state:
Academics who study China, which includes the author, habitually please the Chinese Communist Party, sometimes consciously, and often unconsciously. Our incentives are to conform, and we do so in numerous ways: through the research questions we ask or don’t ask, through the facts we report or ignore, through our use of language, and through what and how we teach.[What about academics that rely on U.S. government funding? Isn't that the same thing?--ed. Potentially, and scholars have made this point. Because of the large number of U.S. foundations that can supply independent research funding, however, the effect is much more muted.]
This paragraph stood out in particular:
Article after article pores over the potential economic reasons for the increase in income inequality in China. We ignore the fact that of the 3,220 Chinese citizens with a personal wealth of 100 million yuan ($13 million) or more, 2, 932 are children of high-level cadres. Of the key positions in the five industrial sectors—finance, foreign trade, land development, large-scale engineering and securities—85% to 90% are held by children of high-level cadres.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
An open question to faculty readers
According to the Washington Post, there were some warning signs from Cho Seung Hui before he killed more than 30 people at Virginia Tech: "Cho was an English major whose creative writing was so disturbing that he was referred to the school's counseling service, the Associated Press reported."
This fact prompted an e-mail from a colleague that raises a disturbing question:
In 8 years, I've taught hundreds of students. 2 of them so alarmed me by their behavior, I contacted the Dean of Students office to see what could be done. The answer: nothing. The best I got was a half-baked assurance that voluntary counseling would be suggested to one of them (he was an undergraduate who had insisted on taking my graduate seminar, showed up and refused to leave on the first day of class, and then sent me increasingly enraged emails filled with expletives and threats to bring charges against me to the Dean of Students). I ended up having to have a staff member escort me to class in case the student showed up again. He didn't, fortunately. But I didn't follow up and I bet nobody else did, either.All professors have encountered or will encounter this problem in their careers -- the student who seems way too intense for their own good.
That said, I'm also concerned about overreaction. What happened at Blacksburg is a rare event, and red-flagging students just for being intense and weird can create problems as well. [UPDATE: Megan McArdle elaborates on this point.]
Time's Julie Rawe has one story on how different universities are coping with this problem.
A few questions to faculty readers out there, however:
1) Have you ever encountered a student you suspected of being capable of violence on this scale?
Just a typical Patriot's Day game at Fenway
A little comedy to cope with yesterday's tragedy. The following incident occurred at the Patriot's Day game between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels of Aneheim:
This clip has been in rotation on ESPN for the past day. But kudos to the Boston Herald's John Tomase, who actually tracked down those involved to get at the root causes of the incident:
Jason Sole just wanted to catch a foul ball. Matt Madore was merely trying to eat some pizza....Note to self: when taking son to Red Sox game, bring special pizza-protective clothing.
It should be noted that the Boston Globe abjectly failed to cover this pizza incident. [UPDATE: Drezner gets results from the Boston Globe's baseball blog!!!]
The Boston Herald -- politics, sports, and random pizza-throwing incidents. It's all there.
Monday, April 16, 2007
Tragedies, opportunities, and opportunism
I've blogged long enough to know that when an event like the Virginia Tech shootings takes place, I don't have all that much to say. This is true of many bloggers. Tragedies like this render most insta-commentary completely superfluous.
Eugene Volokh, however, raises a valid question -- is it appropriate to talk about policy immediately after such an event?:
I'm not sure what the answer is, but I thought I'd pose the question here (hoping that at least there's nothing wrong with using the tragedy as an occasion for asking this meta-question). I don't think the answer is clearly "yes, wait," the way it is as to critical obituaries of writers whose work one dislikes; responding to death using unpersonalized policy discussion is different from responding to death using personalized criticism of the dead person. On the other hand, I don't think the answer is clearly "no, go ahead," at least as a matter of first principles; perhaps we ought to have a social ritual of grief and condolences first, policy analysis (even of the most cerebral sort) later, and perhaps the very immediacy of the tragedy may lead to unsound first thoughts about the policy questions.Orin Kerr is more cautious:
[T]he problem with responding to news of tragedy with policy ideas right away is that we tend not to realize in such situations how often our "proposals" are really expressions of psychological need. It's human nature to respond to tragedy by fitting it into our preexisting worldviews; we instinctively restore order by construing the tragic event as a confirmation of our sense of the world rather than a threat to it.There's another problem, however -- events like today's shootings open up what John Kingdon labels a "policy window" -- a moment in the media glare for policy entrepreneurs to hawk their policy wares.
On the one hand there are first-mover advantages to framing an event in a way that privileges your preferred policies. The conundrum, of course, is that on the other hand, articulating such a frame before the facts are clear carries extraordinary risks of a) creating a backlash by pouring salt on a public wound; b) being labeled as opportunistic, and c) looking foolish as the facts become clearer.
I don't have any grand answers here -- but I'm sure my readers will.
China's fifteen months of vulnerability
Seth Weinberger posts about how Mia Farrow was able to pressure the Chinese regime into pressuring the Sudanese government on Darfur. Steven Spielberg is involved. What really matters, however, is that the Chinese leadership will do just about anything to ensure that the Beijing Olympics are a smashing success.
I've blogged before about how the Olympics will affect China's domestic policies. This example suggests that China's behavior between now and the summer of 2008 will nor necessarily reflect their long term foreign policy.
Bear that in mind over the next 15 months.
Question to readers -- given that China will be uniquely vulnerable for a short while, which shift in Beijing's foreign policy would you most like to see?
Will Paul Wolfowitz stay or go?
We have to ensure that the Bank can effectively carry out its mandate and maintain its credibility and reputation as well as the motivation of its staff. The current situation is of great concern to all of us. We endorse the Board's actions in looking into this matter and we asked it to complete its work. We expect the Bank to adhere to a high standard of internal governance.What exactly is "the current situation"? Let's go to Sebastian Mallaby:
The scandal centers on the pay of people around Paul Wolfowitz, the World Bank president. Kevin Kellems, an unremarkable press-officer-cum-aide who had previously worked for Wolfowitz at the Pentagon, pulls down $240,000 tax-free -- the low end of the salary scale for World Bank vice presidents, who typically have PhDs and 25 years of development experience. Robin Cleveland, who also parachuted in with Wolfowitz, gets $250,000 and a free pass from the IRS, far more than her rank justifies. Kellems and Cleveland have contracts that don't expire when Wolfowitz's term is up. They have been granted quasi-tenure.In context, the Development Committee statement is pretty damning. The New York Times' Steven Weisman explains:
Though the language was indirect, the message it sent was unmistakable, according to officials who have been meeting in Washington the last few days. “Words like ‘concerned,’ ‘credibility’ and ‘reputation’ are pretty unprecedented for a communiqué from a place like the World Bank,” said an official involved in the drafting of the statement.It should be noted that Wolfowitz has his supporters among African representatives. And lord knows the Bank does not have completely clean hands when it comes to corruption. As the Economist points out, the Bank's ethics board is complicit in giving Wolfowitz the ability to transfer Riza. Click here for Wolfowitz's own explanation. [UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal has an editorial that makes these points even more forcefully.]
In theory, I suppose Wolfowitz can try to ride out the media storm. In practice, I don't see how he can continue when he's alienated both the Bank staff and powerful donor countries.
Question to readers -- who leaves first, Wolfowitz or Alberto Gonzales?
Saturday, April 14, 2007
What would Jackie Robinson think?
The title of this post have been a running theme of sports columnists over the past few months. As we approach the 60th anniversary of Robinson breaking the color line in the major leagues, columnists and players are bemoaning the declining percentage of African-American players in Major League Baseball.
The 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson integrating baseball is tomorrow, and African American participation in what was once American's pastime has dropped to a stunning low. Only 8 percent of Major League Baseball players are African American. Historically black colleges and universities field teams that are often one-third to one-half white and Hispanic because African American children have no interest in playing the sport their fathers and grandfathers would play from sunup to sundown from the time slavery ended until the mid-1970s.The reason Wilbon's argument is nuanced is that he recognizes that this decline is due to individual choice rather than any implicit barrier:
[T]his problem, if it is one, too frequently is being laid at the feet of Major League Baseball. But this isn't a chicken-or-egg conundrum. We know which came first: Black kids stopped playing baseball, to some degree of their own free will. Nobody forced them out, or even nudged them. They fell out of love with baseball, probably at about the time Michael Jordan became America's No. 1 sporting icon, and have had a basketball obsession since the mid-1980s. Football, with its 85 scholarships per Division I school, vs. baseball, with an average of 11.7 scholarships per school, became firmly entrenched as the No. 2 sport in blackworld.Beyond college benefits, there are powerful financial incentives for poor kids to choose football or basketball over baseball. Because of baseball's minor league "apprentice" system, young players in baseball face a few years in bus leagues before earning a crack at The Show. In their first contract, potential stars will earn far more money between age 18-25 in basketball or football (though star baseball players have longer careers than players in other sports). Furthermore, star athletes from the first two sports receive far more in commercial endorsements -- especially basketball -- in the early stages of their career (as Wilbon points out, LeBron James had a $90 million endorsement deal from Nike before he played a single game in the NBA).
Is this system a cause for concern? Would it make Jackie Robinson sad? The answer depends on whether you believe that baseball remains the first among equals as the sport of significance. Although football and basketball are now equally popular, the cultural and literary traditions of baseball are very powerful in this country. For Americans of a certain age and political persuasion, there is a strong desire to see baseball as the mirror reflecting the way America should be.
I'm a baseball fan, but I'm an even bigger fan of expanded opportunities. So I can't get worked up about it.
UPDATE: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Terrence Moore thinks that commentators are exaggerating the declining interest in baseball among African-Americans. And ESPN's Eric Neel looks at one urban youth academy for baseball.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
True or false?
I'm conferencing tomorrow, so blogging will likely be light.
Talk amongs yourselves. Here's an interesting question, from this Peter Suderman post at NRO's Corner:
[T]he war is a major dividing issue in our country right now. It’s going to be tough to reach even a rough national consensus on it no matter what, but that we can’t even agree on who to trust for information—and, as a result, what’s actually happening—only makes things more difficult.Question #1: Is Suderman correct in his assessment?
Question #2: if Suderman is correct, then how can any useful policy be formulated?
Do not freak out about Iran's "industrial" nuclear program
In TNR Online, Michael Levi explains why Iran's claim of having an "industrial" enrichment program is a crock:
[Iran's] progress is actually much less than meets the eye. It has developed nothing remotely resembling an industrial capacity to enrich uranium, nor is there any evidence that it has made surprising new strides toward a nuclear weapon. And taking the Iranian claims at face value would be worse than error; it would be a strategic miscalculation that could help entrench the Iranian nuclear program and make it even more difficult to oppose.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
How does Jeffrey Sachs think about politics?
Via Greg Mankiw, I read with interest Chris Giles' Financial Times interview with Jeffrey Sachs. This part stood out in particular:
We move on to talk about a specific project Sachs is currently involved in, Millennium Villages, where his ideas on fertilisers, malarial bed-nets and the like are tried on the ground. My less-than-ecstatic reaction to his reports of their success is clearly the same as that of many aid agencies. It instantly raises his hackles. I suggest there are many examples where success in pilots does not translate into something that can be replicated on a large scale, and that you don’t necessarily need to try something to know it won’t work. ”I’m sorry,” he is almost shouting now. ”That, I disagree with completely. That’s preposterous.”Every once in a blue moon, politics works like Sachs decribes in the last paragraph. Most of the time, however, politics bears no relationship whatsoever to this kind of model. And the belief that this is how politics works is a problem that seems to plague really bright economists.
News stories to make Karl Rove weep
For six years, the essence of Karl Rove's political strategy has been to have a Republican base so unified, motivated, and organized that it gives the GOP a clear leg up on Election Day.
This is why I'm thinking that Rove can't be happy with stories like Martin Stolz in the New York Times:
The invitation extended to Vice President Dick Cheney to be the commencement speaker at Brigham Young University has set off a rare, continuing protest at the Mormon university, one of the nation’s most conservative.[Well, it could be worse, right? I mean, Rove can still count on veterans?--ed.] Yeah, not so much now. Peter Baker and Thomas Ricks explain the problem at the elite level in the Washington Post:
The White House wants to appoint a high-powered czar to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with authority to issue directions to the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies, but it has had trouble finding anyone able and willing to take the job, according to people close to the situation.[C'mon, that's just a couple of generals!!--ed.] As Bryan Bener explains in the Boston Globe, it's more than just generals:
Recent graduates of the US Military Academy at West Point are choosing to leave active duty at the highest rate in more than three decades, a sign to many military specialists that repeated tours in Iraq are prematurely driving out some of the Army's top young officers.[Well, I'm sure things will improve for the GOP in 2008!--ed.] Sure they will.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
The trailer that haunts me today
I have no idea if the movie will be as good as this trailer (though it seems to have won a few festival awards). That said, it's been 24 hours and I can't shake this from my head.
The official blog wife thinks it's because I'm becoming a complete sap. This is indeed a possibility.
Monday, April 9, 2007
Four different ways of looking at KORUS
A couple of days ago Robert Wright laid down a challenge to me on bloggingheads.tv about this post on the proposed Korea-US free trade agreement (KORUS). I argued that KORUS was a step forward for freer trade. Bob's basic contention is more bilateral FTAs that are created, the more the WTO is undercut. Even worse, these sorts of trade agreements threaten Bob's scheme to have the WTO become the anchor of enhanced global governance.
My answer is as follows: there are several different ways to look at KORUS, and whether it's a good or bad thing depends on what you care about:
1) If you care primarily about global trade expansion -- then you have to have mixed feelings about KORUS. On the one hand, the Doha round would have a far greater impact. On the other hand, as Tyler Cowen points out here, even FTAs without most favored nation clauses tend to encourage the negotiation of more FTAs. Plus, the United States and Korea are not small players in the global trading system. In terms of goods or services, the United States and South Korea are among the top 10 trading powers. In other words, this is a large enough FTA to matter on its own (though click here for a counterargument).In the end, I think the positives outweigh the negatives. The negatives of this strategy do exist, however -- and other people might trade off these policy concerns in different ways.
It's just the 19th nervous breakdown about the blogosphere
Brad Stone has a front-page story in the New York Times about the the fact that the some people display bad manners in the blogosphere:
Is it too late to bring civility to the Web?You can take a peek at the proposed code of conduct by clicking here. Comment away there or here. I hereby predict it will go nowhere -- I'm certainly not going to be banning anonymous comments anytime soon.
The one fascinating thing about Stone's story is what's not in it. Despite endless complaints about rising partisanship in the blogosphere, no example was given of declining civility in the political blogosphere. That doesn't mean it's not happening, of course, but it's still surpring that Stone failed to offer up such an example.
Open Starbucks overheard conversation thread
Virginia Postrel relates a conversation she head while at a Los Angeles Starbucks: "Two screenwriters working over a script that features both the CIA and some kind of evil mercenary hired by...a pharmaceutical company."
For some reason, the Starbucks I occasionally frequent here in the Boston area has much stranger conversations than the Hyde Park Starbucks. In the fall, I overheard two IT consultants bemoaning the fact that some outfit in Sudan (???!!!) was getting a whole bunch of World Bank money that allowed them to be competitive in some niche market. I have no idea if this was true or not, but it safely distracted me from work for twenty minutes.
Here's a good Monday question for readers -- what was the strangest conversation you have overheard in a coffee house?
Friday, April 6, 2007
When should sound science trump the precautionary principle?
Even the Onion is vlogging
Well, not vlogging so much as good old fashioned fake news that makes you squirm as well as laugh:
This is going to be very, very bad for my productivity.
Thursday, April 5, 2007
Least clarifying clarification.... ever
Via Blake Hounshell at Passport, I see that Israeli PM Ehud Olmert felt compelled to issue a "clarification" following Nancy Pelosi's visit with Bashir Assad. I don't find it beyond the realm of possibility that Pelosi screwed up her message, but the clarification is kind of strange too:
The Prime Minister emphasized that although Israel is interested in peace with Syria, that country continues to be part of the axis of evil and a force that encourages terror in the entire Middle East.Question to readers -- was there a point when Syria got officially added to the axis of evil category? Or, as Hounshell puts it, "I wasn't aware that 'axis of evil' had become a formal designation." Though I'm intrigued by the idea of the State Department issuing an Annual Report on Evil in the World ("The State Department found that Iran has become 30% more evil in the fiscal year 2006, but overall evil levels declined in most regions.")
How unusual is Daisuke Matsuzaka?
There's going to be an orgy of coverage about Dice-K's stellar pitching debut for the Red Sox today, and of course it is foolish to extrapolate from one start. That said, I can't resist quoting from Tom Singer's mlb.com postmortem on the start:
"His ball moves funny. To me, it was like working a knuckleball pitcher," said Jeff Nelson, the plate umpire who spent the day looking over catcher Jason Varitek's shoulders.UPDATE: For a play-by-play description of Daisuke's first game, you would be hard-pessed to beat Bill Simmons.
Blogging vs. vlogging
The biggest difference between consuming vlogging, which I do rarely, and consuming blogging, which I do continually, is that you can get the compressed product of a great deal of time and thought on a blog, but not in a vlog. For example, if I spend six hours on a blog item, or even just one, that a reader can consume in five minutes, they are getting the benefits of all the time and effort I put into it. But a five minute vlog will most likely provide only my thoughts as they exist in real time, or perhaps even only a note of skepticism as conveyed by a raised eyebrow, and no articulated thoughts at all. Five minutes with a blog can yield you six hours with a mind, but five minutes with a vlog will usually get you five minutes with a mind, or, sometimes, a face. The overall number of thoughts consumers will imbibe per minute is much lower on vlogs than on blogs.I wouldn't disagree with Garance so much as suggest that she's leaving something out of the equation -- I suspect most people consume blogs very differently from vlogs. To consume a blog you actually need to read it, which implies that you've given it top priority among the things your conscious mind is processing at that moment. Vlogs, on the other hand, can be consumed more passively. Yes, you can watch your screen as a bloggingheads segment plays. And, certainly, there are small snippets of video that will command one's full attention. On the whole, however people will treat a vlog the same way they treat the television or the radio -- it can be on in the background while the consumer is consuming other things.
Score one for the Blinder-Friedman hypothesis
Let it be noted that Anand Giridharadas had a story in yesterday's New York Times that offers some support for the Alan Blinder-Thomas Friedman view of offshore outsourcing:
Outsourcing is breaking out of the back office.Meawhile, Tom Friedman looks at call centers opening up in Kenya by a firm named KenCall.
UPDATE: Friedman's column prompts a bizarre comment from Matthew Yglesias:
The reason KenCall works is that its wages are so low. Its wages, in turn, are low because in Kenya at the moment the IT infrastructure necessary to operate a call center is very scarce relative to the level of English competency necessary to work in one. If an undersea cable makes it significantly easier to start up call centers, that may change. It all depends on how large Kenya's "large pool of educated, English-speaking talent" really is.I think Matt's point is that offfshoring jobs are constrained in their ability to generate sustainable growth in the developing world. That's wrong -- India has had pretty sustainable growth even though their talent pool is a small percentage of the population.
What would be more accurate to say is that if the education picture remained constant, the returns to being an offshoring magnet are a) limited to the upper tier of the popilation, and b) decline over time as wages would go up for (relatively) skilled labor.
On the latter point -- so what? Offshoring flows would decline as wages rise -- and rising wages are a good thing. On the former point, here's the question you have to ask -- what's better, a society that has a relatively even distribution of income or a society where the poorest are not made worse off but the educated earn much higher returns for their education?
I suspect Matt would say the latter but not be happy about it. Over the long haul, however, market signals about the increasing returns to education would encourage an expansion of educated individuals -- which counters the effect that concerns Yglesias, and happens to be a good thing in and of itself.
UPDATE: Yglesias clarifies his position here:
Friedman is portraying the issue as one in which Kenya needs to build better broadband access, and then the IT jobs would come. The counterpoint I meant to make was that the real chokepoint here seemed to me to be the Kenyan education system. Only a very small proportion of Kenyans are qualified for KenCall-style jobs. At the moment, only a small proportion of the qualified people can get KenCall-style jobs precisely because the physical infrastructure to easily set up competing firms isn't there, which makes wages low by world standards which makes Kenya an attractive outsourcing destination. Build more infrastructure, you'll get more firms, the labor market will tighten, wages will go up, and then growth will slow down as future outsourcers look to other, cheaper countries.
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
In the matter of Hobbes vs. Schelling....
Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria, along with the showdown over timetables for withdrawal from Iraq, have annoyed the president. Reuters reports Bush's frustration with Pelosi's visit:
President George W. Bush said on Tuesday visits by U.S. officials like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Syria send "mixed signals" and do nothing to change the behavior of a country the United States accuses of sponsoring terrorism.Meanwhile, the Boston Globe's Susan Milligan reports on how Bush is reacting to Congressional activism on Iraq:
President Bush declared yesterday that the military may suffer quick and devastating cuts if the Democrat- controlled Congress does not submit a war funding bill to his liking by mid-April, warnings that deepened a standoff between the White House and Capitol Hill over the Iraq war.Bush would find a kindred spirit in Thomas Hobbes here. Bush, like Hobbes, believes that a state can and should have only one center of power. In the Hobbesian formulation, the emergence of competing voices implies division and weakness, which outsiders can exploit.
There's something compelling to this logic. If one analogizes international relations to poker, then surely no one wants the strength or weakness of their hand revealed by someone else.
However, this is not the only logic that one could apply to international relations. As Thomas Schelling pointed out in The Strategy of Conflict -- and as Robert Putnam elaborated in "Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: the Logic of Two-Level Games" -- there are times when domestic weakness can be translated into international bargaining strength.
What has been particularly frustrating about the debate in Washington over Iraq is that everyone seems to be fighting one another and forgetting the fundamental mission of the war.Of course, for the Schelling strategy to work, Congress needs to bend -- they would have to agree that if the Iraqis completed a set of reforms by a given date, then complete withdrawal would not be necessary. Bush would also need to bend -- sometimes mixed messages are a good thing.
The really interesting question going forward is whether, in their diplomatic initiatives, both Bush and Pelosi will be more concerned with Hobbesian questions of authority or Schelling questions about signaling. Unfortunately, I share Panetta's frustration -- domestic politics will trump any gain that can be leveraged from these policy disagreements.
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
I saw it, so you're going to have to suffer as well
I'm going to have a stomach ache the rest of the day after watching this:I understand what Alanis was going for here, but the fact is, as Hua Hsu wrote in Slate two years ago about the original Black Eyed Peas song, "My Humps":
It is... proof that a song can be so bad as to veer toward evil....Which makes an "ironic" cover of the song... well.... pretty damn bad.
Monday, April 2, 2007
It's your last chance to help me help APSA to help you
Political scientists are strongly encouraged to read and critique draft, as I should have one more pass at it. I'm particularly curious if I've made the downsides seem too scary.
Two steps forward, one step back on trade
The two steps forward are that the United States and South Korea signed a free trade deal just before the deadline of having it approved under President Bush's Trade Promotion Authority. The New York Times' Choe Sang Hun explains:
United States and South Korean negotiators struck the world’s largest bilateral free-trade agreement today, giving the United States a badly needed lift to its foreign trade policy at home and South Korea a chance to reinvigorate its export economy.The step back comes from the Bush administration's weekend decision to slap tariffs on Chinese paper. Steven Weisman explains in the NYT:
The Bush administration, in a major escalation of trade pressure on China, said Friday that it would reverse more than 20 years of American policy and impose potentially steep tariffs on Chinese manufactured goods on the ground that China is illegally subsidizing some of its exports.[U.S. trade with China far exceeds trade with South Korea. Why is this only a step back compared to KORUS?--ed.] Two reasons. First, much as I despite countervailing duties, this policy shift seems to make sense within the context of what those duties are supposed to accomplish. As Weisman explains:
American law allows the United States to impose what are called antidumping duties when imports are sold in the United States at prices below what it costs to produce them.Second, I'm willing to bet that this case will end the same way the steel case ended. If the complainants are basing their argument on China's currency valuation, then the WTO ain't going to uphold this action. In which case, three years from now, we know how this wll end -- unless it gets settled in the bilateral Strategic Economic Dialogue between now and then.
UPDATE: they're not basing it on the currency valuation. Never mind. Meanwhile, Trade Diversion is skeptical of Commerce's ability to assess the magnitude of the direct subsidy.
Sunday, April 1, 2007
It's been six months -- let's revive the Book Club!!
I received a comment a few days ago pointing out that I needed to refresh my book suggestions. And, indeed, it's been a few months since my last selections. This has mostly been due to two factors: 1) the rigors of new course preps; and 2) I was paralyzed by a series of astonishingly interesting books.
Seriously, over the span of a few weeks at the beginning of the year, I got hit with advance copies or gifts of Scott Page's The Difference, John Lukacs' George Kennan: A Study of Character, A.J. Jacobs' The Know-It-All, and Eric Abrahamson and David Freedman's A Perfect Mess. I'll admit it -- the range of choice was dazzling enough to paralyze me for a few months.
I've regained my equilibrium, however. So, without further ado, my international relations book of the month is.... wait for it.... hey, what do you know, it's All Politics Is Global!!!!
[Um... the readers might be getting sick of the repeated plugs; is the book any good?--ed.] Hey, if it wasn't good, I wouldn't be hawking it so shamelessly on this high-quality blog! This book slices, it dices, and it can explain both the regulation of Internet pornography and the European Union's foreign economic strategy. It's a book that puts the lie to Carl Schmitt's claim that disputes about trade and regulation really weren't political. And it's the only book I will publish in 2007.
Besides, have you seen the cover?:
I mean, there are globes and everything.
The general interest book is the definitive edition of F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, edited by Bruce Caldwell. The definitive edition means, among other things, that Caldwell has cleaned up Hayek's footnotes, gathered all the introductions to the myriad editions, and included some popular writings of the period to put Hayek's work in context. Virginia Postrel has more on this point.
The best part, however, is that Caldwell included the two reader reports -- by Frank Knight and Jacob Marschak -- to the University of Chicago Press on whether the publish The Road to Serfdom. You'll have to buy the book to read the whole thing, but here's the concluding paragraph of Knight's report:
In sum, the book is an able piece of work, but limited in scope and somewhat one-sided in treatment. I doubt whether it will have a very wide market in this country, or would change the position of many readers.Even if you own a previous copy, go buy this one.
UPDATE: A bad news/good news/best news situation with All Politics Is Global:
1) The bad news is that Amazon.com is now saying it takes 3-4 weeks for delivery.Don't let Amazon.com stop you from ordering the book!
Put me in coach, I'm ready to blog.....
Baseball season starts today!! As Paul at the Yanksfan Vs. Soxfan blog pointed out, "We are officially in that golden time where all things are possible and nothing is sure. Soak it up. This is one of the best weekends of the year." Indeed -- this Saturday and Sunday, it's still possible to envisage the Kansas City Royals wining the World Series.
The Red Sox season starts tomorrow -- along with Passover. Prior to 2004, of course, this confluence of events would be freighted with more symbolic meaning. Now, it's just going to cause me to whisper "Next October in Fenway Park" at the end of the seder.
Two years ago, I was confident about the future of the Red Sox and gleeful at the anticipated downward trajectory of the Yankees. This offseason, on the other hand, has sobered me up. For all the talk about parity, the scariest thing facing Major League Baseball is a Yankee franchise that actually knows how to develop, trade, and inculcate top prospects.
Just about every reasonable projection I've seen has the Yankees winning the pennant again this year. I am not so foolhardy as to make predictions, but I do have several reasons for optimism regarding the Red Sox chances this year:
1) Neither Randy Johnson nor Ted Lilly is pitching in the Al East. As mediocre as their years were in 2006, these guys were always able to manhandle the Red Sox. That's a lot more competitive games against AL East rivals than in the past.Let the season begin!!
Newton North sure is getting a lot of media play today
Both the Boston Globe and the New York Times have big stories on Newton North High School today [Hey, won't your children be attending this high school at some point?--ed. Yes, but that is many, many years from now and I'm sure the time will pass very, very, slowly.]. Sara Rimer's front-pager for the New York Times is
Esther and Colby are two of the amazing girls at Newton North High School here in this affluent suburb just outside Boston. “Amazing girls” translation: Girls by the dozen who are high achieving, ambitious and confident (if not immune to the usual adolescent insecurities and meltdowns). Girls who do everything: Varsity sports. Student government. Theater. Community service. Girls who have grown up learning they can do anything a boy can do, which is anything they want to do.There's a lot of additional material on the Times web site -- including Esther's and Colby's college application essays.
I confess that I'm not entirely sure why this is on the front page of the New York Times. Is it a news flash that smart boys like girls who are smart as well? The thesis I gleaned from Rimer's story is that, despite all the internal and external pressures placed on these adolescents, they're coping pretty damn well. I suppose it's nice to see a long story about well-adjusted adolescents -- but I really have to wonder if Bill Keller is getting a kickback on Rimer's book advance.
As a Williams alum, however, my heart grew heavy when I read this section of the story:
Esther was in calculus class, the last period of the day when her cellphone rang. It was her father. The letter from Williams College — her ideal of the small, liberal arts school — had arrived.It is actually Ms. Rimer who is unschooled in admission letter intricacies -- unless Williams has changed its practice in recent years, everyone gets a thin envelope. For those who are accepted, the thick envelope with all the pertinent information comes later.
So Esther, don't blame your father for not being clued in (click on the story to see which colleges were bright enough to accept Esther -- she'll land on her feet).
It is already tagged as the most expensive high school in Massachusetts: a $154.6 million showplace, designed by an internationally renowned architect and awaited with some anxiety by the residents of Newton.UPDATE: Wow, in Episode #245 of How Gender Affects Interpretation in the Blogosphere, Bitch Ph.D has a very different take on the Times article: "Kinda depressing article.... high-achieving women feel a constant sense of inadequacy."
Maybe I'm grading on a curve, but by the standards of In-Depth Newspaper Stories About Adolescent Girls, the subjects of Rimer's story seem remarkably well-adjusted.