Thursday, May 31, 2007
My self-promotion cup runneth over
A few links by or about your humble blogger that I've been remiss in mentioning:
1) In the Fletcher newsletter, Timothy R. Homan profiles me, my blog, and my hatred of cellphones going of in class.Well, that should be sufficient overexposure for a few days.
A new global warming initiative, or just more hot air?
The Financial Times' Andrew Ward reports that with the G8 summit approaching, the Bush administration is contemplating a new initiative to combat global warming.
President George W. Bush on Thursday committed the US for the first time to take part in negotiations on a successor to the Kyoto treaty and agreed to set goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.The Washington Post's William Branigin and Juliet Eilperin add more reportage, suggesting that this won't be as big a policy shift as the Europeans would like:
The administration's plan involves cutting tariff barriers to the sharing of environmental technology and holding a series of meetings, starting this fall, on ways to limit greenhouse gas emissions by an agreed amount by about 2050. Bush wants this target to be set by the end of 2008.Here's the key portion from Bush's actual speech:
So my proposal is this: By the end of next year, America and other nations will set a long-term global goal for reducing greenhouse gases.Will this amount to anything? The Economist is skeptical, observing that, "Even the G8 members that are enthusiastically embracing ambitious targets are struggling to cut their emissions."
That said, if Bush can even convince China and India to attend this proposed meeting, he'll have achieved a significant political victory. Why? Because by their very attendance, China and India will be implicitly acknowledging that they are part of the global warming problem.
Their other option is to embrace the OxFam solution to the problem, which concludes that, "the USA, European Union, Japan, Canada, and Australia should contribute over 95 per cent of the finance needed. This finance must not be counted towards meeting the UN-agreed target of 0.7 per cent for aid."
I predict that the G8 will agree to this plan at roughly the same time John Bolton is elected to be the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Not your father's Yankees... or your older brother's, for that matter
At last night's Yankees-Blue Jays game, Alex Rodroguez, on the basepaths, may or may not have yelled "Mine!" during a routine pop-up, leading to an error.
More amusing than whether A-Rod bent the unwritten rules is the reaction of Yankee fans. Exhibit A:
Look, I wish I could offer more lofty sentiments, but let’s be honest. At this point in the Yankees’ season, if getting an actual win requires A-Rod to screw thirteen transvestite prostitutes, on a pile of corked bats, in front of Babe Ruth’s plaque in Monument Park? Fine.
Blogging as an intervening variable for stupidity
Jonathan Saltzman has a front-pager in the Boston Globe about an unusual court case in which blogging factored into the denouement:
It was a Perry Mason moment updated for the Internet age.Saltzman suggests that thiscase is indicative of how blogs can impact, you know, real life. And there's a grain of truth to this charge. Reading on, however, one begins to wonder if blogs are not the cause per se, but rather one of many enablers for people with poor impulse control:
Lindeman, a graduate of Yale University and Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, is board-certified in general pediatrics and pediatric pulmonary medicine, according to the Natick Pediatrics website.So, lessons learned:
1) If you're a defendant in a court case, try not to blog about it;More blog reaction from Suburban Guerilla, Michael Froomkin, and HubBlog.
[Might there be more of a correlation than you're letting on? Perhaps people with poor impulse control are more likely to blog?--ed. There's something to this, but blogs are merely one of many new forms of personal expression available to people. If the blog is not the outlet, perhaps the MySpace page, or the podcast, or the YouTube moment will be. Still, I leave this possibility to commenters -- who clearly have no problems with impulse control.]
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Lou Dobbs is a big fat liar
The most common complaint about him, at least from other journalists, is that his program combines factual reporting with editorializing. But I think this misses the point. Americans, as a rule, are smart enough to handle a program that mixes opinion and facts. The problem with Mr. Dobbs is that he mixes opinion and untruths. He is the heir to the nativist tradition that has long used fiction and conspiracy theories as a weapon against the Irish, the Italians, the Chinese, the Jews and, now, the Mexicans.[What if Dobbs relied on political science research instead?--ed.] He would find even less empirical support.
The farm lobby is cracking up, the New York Times is beating up on Lou Dobbs.... oh, I'm going to enjoy this summer.
UPDATE: Dobbs responds to Leonhardt here. As near as I can interpret it, Dobbs concedes the facts but claims Leonhardt is exaggerating their portent. Then there's this puzzler:
[T]he columnist writes that I suggested that new immigration reform bill would be the first step to a North American union. Nope. What I did say is that the proposed legislation, favored by President Bush and Senator Kennedy and others who are misguided, contains language in Section 413 that, if approved by Congress, would endorse and legitimize the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, which is the foundation of this administration's efforts to create a North American union, and which would further threaten, in my opinion, our national sovereignty.I checked out the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) of North America's website. The front page has yet to update the fact that Vicente Fox is no longer president of Mexico. A good rule of thumb: organizations with outdated web sites aren't threats to national sovereignty.
Here's a link to the SPP "myths vs. facts" page. If Dobbs is scared by this initiative, then he should really just go and buy his shack in Montana right now -- because there are dozens of other arrangements already on the books where the U.S. has ceded more sovereignty.
I hereby triple-dog-dare Lou Dobbs and his supporters -- name me one provision of the SPP that truly compromises American sovereignty.
Short-shorts, Jello wrestling, and a good word about Tom Friedman
Topics include: MySpace vs. the workplace, our favorite subways, the libertarian preference for president, Hugo Chavez, and unmitigated delight at the farm lobby's demise.
[Ahem, the title promised Jello wrestling and short shorts!!--ed. Oh, those are there -- but you'll have to watch the whole thing to find them.]
The occasional squeaks you will hear in the background? That would be my two-year old daughter, who is 98% cute and 2% pure concentrated evil.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
I'm a bad, bad man....
... for thinking that this picture brings sexy back way better than Justin Timberlake.
An incentive puzzle on education
College graduates earn more than high-school graduates, and that premium is a lot bigger than it was 20 years ago. There are numerous reasons but one might be that after rising for most of the postwar period, the share of the work force with college degrees stopped growing, constricting supply just as demand for highly skilled workers took off.The failure to respond to incentives is, well, puzzling.
It could just be a statistical hiccup. Another possible half-assed blog explanation, drawn strictly from casual empiricism: the decline is due to a greater number of high school graduates taking a year off before entering college. There is a swath of upper middle-class kids who are either working or backpacking for a year instead of heading straight to school. But I have no idea about the magnitude of this trend.
Alternatives are solicited from readers.
On the optimistic side of cautious optimism
George W. Bush will put forward former US Trade Representative and Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick to become the next president of the World Bank. The FT's Krishna Guha and Eoin Callan report on the reactions:
Hank Paulson, the US treasury secretary, said he recommended Mr Zoellick to the White House following consultations with the bank’s other shareholder governments. Mr Paulson told the Financial Times: “Bob Zoellick is someone who has a passion for development. He has trust, respect and support from all the regions of the world.”I've heard this last concern voiced by others in the know. To wich I'd say the following:
1) Having seen and interacted with Zoellick in the past month, he strikes me as being on the calmer side of the DC heavyweight spectrum. He's smart, he knows he's smart, and he does not suffer fools gladly. By beltway standards, however, abrasive does not spring to mind.Brad DeLong is pessimistic:
If Robert Zoellick had not served the Bush administration without distinction as Special Trade Representative and as Deputy Secretary of State, I would be enthusiastic about his World Bank President candidacy. But the fact that he has done nothing in his last two government jobs makes me wonder whether an alternative candidate should be found.In the past, I've disagreed with DeLong about Zoellick on precisely this point. He's a thoroughly competent man who has served a thoroughly incompetent administration. When Zoellick served in a competent administration, he accomplished only some minor things -- like helping to reunify Germany.
Actually, by moving to the bank, Zoellick will provide an ideal "natural experiment" to test out Brad and my takes on him. So I extend the following challenge to DeLong: if, in three years time, Zoellick is judged as having been successful by, say, Ken Rogoff, William Easterly, and Dani Rodrik, DeLong will owe me 100 units of Special Drawing Rights. If they judge him a failure, I'll pay DeLong.
A DVD extra for World News Tonight
If you watch ABC's World News Tonight tonight, there's a 50-50 shot I'll be in a story about President Bush's decision to impose additional sanctions against Sudan for its actions in Darfur. The point I tried to get across -- sanctions are unlikely to work in this instance because (in increasing order of importance:
1) The United States doesn't a large economic relationship with Sudan, and with pre-existing sanctions in place, there's not much left to cut off;We'll see how well this gets communicated in seven seconds.
Here's some info that won't be in the story: whenever news networks do these stories, there's always a "b-roll" in which they show the professor walking across campus or working at his computer, etc.
I bring this up because if they show that footage tonight, I was typing this very sentence!!!!!
Exciting behind-the-scenese stuff, eh?
UPDATE: The good news is that I did indeed appear in the story. The bad news is that the b-roll did not. Curses!!
Monday, May 28, 2007
Hugo Chavez vs. the telenovela
According to CNN International, Hugo Chávez has declared war on yet another facet of Venezuelan life:
Venezuela's most-watched television station -- and outlet for the political opposition -- went off the air after the government refused to renew its broadcast license.In a war between Hugo Chavez and the telenovela, I'll take the telenovela every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Never mess with an art form that is capable of producing the likes of Salma Hayek.
In the Guardian, Ben Whitford goes to town on Chávez 's decision:
Chávez and his officials unilaterally branded the network coup-mongers and pornographers - the latter apparently a reference to the trashy but popular telenovelas that are standard fare on all the region's networks. No investigations, meetings or hearings were held to assess the station's failings; no evidence was presented, and the network was given no right of reply.
That's right, I'm risking the wrath of the baseball gods
I've been holding off on the baseball posting for the first two months of the season, because, well, it's the first two months of the season. With Memorial Day weekend, however, comes a quick glance at the standings, and hey, what do you know, the Red Sox have an 11 1/2 game lead in the AL East and a 12 1/2 game lead over the Yankees.
Longtime Red Sox fans will recall 1978, in which the Red Sox frittered away an even larger cushion. However, over at Baseball Busings, David Pinto thinks history is unlikely to repeat itself:
Sure, nothing is set yet, but a big difference between now and 1978 is that New York was a lot of games back, but they were still a winning team. Today, the Yankees are much closer to Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Texas than they are to either Boston or wild card leader Detroit.I'm a tad more wary than David: if you look at runs scored and runs against, the Yankees should have a better record than they do (UPDATE: In a later post, David re-evaluates his own position). And, for the record, the Red Sox ain't a .700 team either. With the wild card, the Yankees still have a fair-to-middlin' chance of making the playoffs (just like the Red Sox in 2004). The difference is that the Yankees can't experience another stretch like the past two weeks, or their season is done.
Fortunately for the Olde Towne Team, many of the intangibles have been going in the Red Sox direction:
1) Yankee manager Joe Torre has lost his magic touch at right around the same time that Terry Francona acquired greater quantities of management acumen. Now a lot of this is luck, but some of it is Francona managing the bullpen better than Torre.Those last two points highlight the real reason the Red Sox are doing so well -- they have a more good, young pitching at their disposal and in the pipeline.
The best long-term news, however, is contained in this AP story:
Despite constant speculation about manager Joe Torre's job, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner says someone else also needs to deliver as the team looks to reverse its floundering start: general manager Brian Cashman.Please, please, pretty please with sugar on top, let George fire Cashman. He's made some short-term mistakes as GM (I believe Cashman is officially the only person in the known universe who believed that Carl Pavano would be healthy all season -- and this includes Pavano). Long-term, however, he's started to restock the farm system and shed grumpy old ballplayers. The best thing that could happen to the long-term plans of the Red Sox is if Steinbrenner fires Cashman in favor of a Steinbrenner toady. At that point, I bet you that the new GM would trade Philip Hughes, Jose Tabata, and Melky Cabrera for Johan Santana.
In which case, there will be seven fat years for the Sox, and seven lean years for the Yankees.
Friday, May 25, 2007
That's one fragile marriage
The most interesting sentence I read this week comes from Slate's "Dear Prudence" column:
I know of one marriage that collapsed on the honeymoon because the couple got in a power struggle over who would be responsible for the one room key they were issued.Whereas, in the case of my marriage, it was the minibar that almost did us in. Not.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Oh, I'm already feeling the love of Sarkozy's pro-American policies
George Parker and Adam Jones explain in the Financial Times why my post title is drenched in sarcasm:
Nicolas Sarkozy, French president, warned the world on Wednesday night that he expected Europe to take a much tougher stance in global trade talks and would not allow his country’s farmers to be sold “at the lowest possible price”.
Context is everything
I have two reactions to this ABC News Blotter post:
The CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert "black" operation to destabilize the Iranian government, current and former officials in the intelligence community tell the Blotter on ABCNews.com.On the one hand, of course the CIA should be doing this kind of thing. Iran's current regime -- whether of the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad-let's-wipe-Israel-off-the-face-of-the-map-crazy variant or the Ali Kamenei let's-act-in-a-more-prudent-fashion-to-establish-our-regional-hegemony-and-then-wipe-Israel-off-the-map variant -- clearly respresent a challenge to U.S. interests in the region (Saudia Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, etc.). It's natural for the U.S. to pursue covert policies to encourage a new regime in a country who's populace is pretty pro-American.
On the other hand, I have four qualms with this:
a) The CIA has a mixed track record at best when it comes to peaceful regime change. And the agency's particularly baleful history in Iran means the deck is already stacked against ay success.So, in the abstract, I'd have no problem with this kind of intelligence finding. In the here and now, yeah, I've got big problems with it.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Avast, ye scurvy bilge rats!! Them doubloons be mine!!!
One of the best feelings a scholar can have is when another scholar applies your model to a new issue area and finds out that it works pretty well. Over at Opinio Juris, Peter Spiro looks at the global governance of buried treasure. He discovers that the argument I made in All Politics Is Global works pretty well at explaining the status quo. He also uses the word "doubloons" -- a term that should be used far more often in modern discourse.
[This] is not to say that I think Drezner’s update of a great-powers methodology works across the board. Drezner takes globalization seriously, which is more than you can say about other rat-choice oriented state-based theorists. He also understands that any useful model today has to take account of non-states actors. But he ultimately concludes that although globalization "has led to the emergence of new issues to be analyzed by IR scholars, it does not imply that new paradigms are need to explain these issues." Drezner minimizes NGOs as lacking the material resources to compel state action, which relegates them mostly to the role of delegatees and cheerleaders of state-driven regimes. In Drezner’s view, great-power agreement is both necessary and sufficient to the establishment of international regulatory regimes.Now I could respond to this in the time-honored tradition that IR scholars deal with IL scholars -- namely, dragging them into a small, dark corner and beating them up, to symbolically demonstrate how coercion trumps the law. But that would be wrong. So let's engage Spiro's argument on its merits.
On the NGO question, Spiro posits a model where global civil society continues to amass power and influence over states, because they have done so in the past. Why don't I deal with this possibility? Three reasons:
1) It's a non-falsifiable assertion. Sure it's possible that global civil society will become ever more powerful -- just ask NGO activists. For some reasons discussed below, however, it's far from a sure thing. Furthermore, one of the frustrating parts of the NGO line of argumentation is that sham standard promulgated today (i.e., core labor standards) will acquire greater power and meaning over time. The thing is -- and I say this in All Politics Is Global -- it's impossible to disprove this assertion. The only way to test the NGO argument is to see what happens in the future -- which means I can't say anything definitive about it in the present.The great thing about this debate is that as the future unfolds, we will be able to figure out whether Spiro or I are correct. Let the best man win the doubloons!
Monday, May 21, 2007
Name this law!
Let me put this bluntly, in language even a busy blogger can understand: Criticism — and its humble cousin, reviewing — is not a democratic activity. It is, or should be, an elite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object). It is work that requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author's (or filmmaker's or painter's) entire body of work, among other qualities.Mark Kleiman does the public service of critiquing Schickel's critique. In the process, he names a law that I had heretofore simple called the Law of Crap:
All of this reminds me of Sturgeon's Law, named for the great SF writer Theodore Sturgeon, who was supposedly accosted at a Greenwich Village literary party by someone who said to him (I'm quoting from memory), "Sturgeon, how can you stand to publish in those science fiction magazines? Ninety-five percent of the stuff in them is crap." To which Sturgeon calmly replied, "Ninety-five percent of everything is crap."That said, I do find it extremely ironic that Schickel's essay -- essentially a critique of the literary blogosphere -- fails to follow its own dictum. His piece provides zero evidence that he has either the training or the experience to perform this critical task (this is not to say Schickel is a bad film critic; on blogs, however, he is clearly a victim of Sturgeon's Law).
There's a small part of me that wishes media critics would abide by Schickel's stringent criteria before tackling the blogosphere, as it would make posts like this irrelevant. However, as Matthew Yglesias points out, this is not a likely outcome:
Strident blog-haters seem to me to mostly discover blogs by reading a random sample of blogs that have recent posted hostile things about something the discoverer wrote. Naturally, one's tendency is to find such fare uncongenial, and even if you richly deserve the criticism the odds favor many of your critics being genuinely not worth reading. Under the circumstances, it's easy to convince yourself that the whole thing deserves to be tuned out. This, though, is obviously the wrong way to go about things. One doesn't learn the day's news by looking at a random assortment of "newspaper articles" drawn from wherever; as with anything, you need to know what you're doing for it to be worthwhile.Indeed.
[What's the deal with this post title?--ed. Here's a blog law that's worth naming: the phenomenon of reading something that warrants a blog post, procrastinating the actual writing, and then discovering that some other blogger has managed to post your precise feelings on the matter.]
Is there still an Iraq window?
Over at Harper's, Marc Lynch answers questions from Ken Silverstein. In light of the Bush administration's desperate new embrace of the Iraq Study Group, I found this response particularly interesting:
Q: So what’s the best policy choice at this point?Question to readers -- is there any reason to doubt this assessment?
So this week I'll be playing the part of Tocqueville
For this work week, I'll be guest-blogging over at the Economist's Democracy in America.
The blog here will not be neglected, but all my American politics-type stuff will be over there.
The most amusing sentence I have read today
"Like all red-blooded American women, [Michelle Obama] isn't afraid to publiclly mock her husband."Laura McKenna.
Just how bad is Iran's international image right now?
If you're a developing country that reflexively opposes the United States, you have to work exceptionally hard -- I'm talking years of effort here -- to do anything that provokes the ire of Noam Chomsky. I mean, this is a guy who had few qualms about the Cambodian genocide because the Khmer Rouge was anti-American. Clearly, the bar of awfulness is pretty high to get ol' Noam's attention.
Amazingly, Mahmoud Ahmdainejad's Iran has pulled this off. Robin Wright explains in the Washington Post:
Momentum is building behind an academic boycott of Iran to pressure the government to release imprisoned American scholar Haleh Esfandiari, director of Middle East programs at the Smithsonian's Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who was jailed in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison May 8 after more than four months under house arrest....If you're interested in registering your own protest about this action to the Iranian government, Amnesty International has conveniently set up a website to send letters to Ahmdainejad and other Iranian leaders.
American scholar Haleh Esfandiari has been charged with trying to topple the Iranian regime, Iran's state-controlled television reported today.I suspect that Iran's war against American "soft power" is going to have a lot of collateral damage.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Hugo Chavez approaches the Mugabe level of economic mismanagement
On Thursday the Wall Street Journal's Jose De Cordoba had a front-pager describing how Hugo Chávez's agricultural reforms are going:
Now Mr. Chavez is taking his revolution to the Venezuelan countryside. "We must end latifundios," he said in a televised speech in March, referring to large agrarian estates. "The people order it, and we will do it, whatever the cost." Then he announced the seizure of a land area larger than the state of Rhode Island.Chávez has now reached the Robert Mugabe level of economic incompetence by messing with the farm sector. Let's hope he does not move past that to the Mao Zedong/Great Leap Forward level of economic mismanagement.
Friday, May 18, 2007
May's books of the month
With the end of the semester, I can now proceed with this month's book selections.
The international relations book of the month is The Silence of the Rational Center, by Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke. Halper and Clarke offer up an attack against The Big Idea in foreign policy. They argue that the media marketplace tends to generate ideas that are provocative but wrong. Furthermore, the demand for 24/7 content reduces Big Ideas to empty slogans. In crisis moments, these forces overwhelm the "rational center" of experts that are capable of generating sound policy advice. Everyone comes in for attack -- cable news networks, think tanks, and academia. In many ways, this book is the bitter chaser to Jeffry Legro's Remaking the World.
Not all of Halper and Clarke's book is convincing. Indeed, in their fusillades aaginst the idea entrepreneurs, they engage in some of the simplifying, disingenuous tactics that they claim to abhor. That said, as rants go, it's an interesting rant.
The general interest book is Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism, and the Economics of Growth and Prosperity, by William Baumol, Robert Litan, and Carl Schramm. The authors are interested in the holiest of economic holies -- the sources of innovation and growth. They are interested in determining the optimal mixture of firms, policies, and government institutions that can foster radical path-breaking innovations. Their conclusion? A mixture of small and established firms, small barriers to entry, flexible labor markets, and -- wait for it -- free trade.
Go check them out!
This whole scholar-blogger thing... in Eph form!
Cathleen McCarthy has an article in the latest Williams Alumni Review about academics who blog. I'm profiled, along with Williams political science professors Marc Lynch and Sam Crane.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
The globalization of American sports
A theme of Michael Mandelbaum's The Meaning of Sports is that American sports don't travel well beyond our borders. Indeed, David Samuels brought up this very question in his Atlantic profile of Condoleezza Rice.
I'm increasingly wondering if this still holds up. To be sure, soccer/football remains the most popular global sport. However, the second most popular sport is basketball -- invented in the U.S.A. The globalization of baseball -- through imports like Daisuke Matsuzaka and exports like the World Baseball Classic -- is also proceeding apace.
The claim that American sports aren't followed outside of the U.S. rests primarily on American football, which is generally viewed by non-Americans as only slightly less offensive than dwarf-tossing.
Again, if this AP report is correct, I'm no longer sure if this holds:
The first regular season NFL game outside North America is shaping up as a hot ticket.None of these sports will eclipse soccer -- but that doesn't mean that they are globally unpopular.
Who I want to blog
Henry Farrell and I were talking the other day about the good thing that economist bloggers have going. The exchanges between Dani Rodrik, Tyler Cowen, Mark Thoma, Greg Mankiw, and Brad DeLong on trade issues have been engaging and informative. These kind of interactions have been all to rare among international relations scholars.
In part, this might be because a critical mass of blogging IR scholars has yet to exist. Which got me to thinking -- who among our colleagues would I like to see in the blogosphere?
The list is not as obvious as one might think. Obviously, you would want people who have active and interesting research programs. However, you would also want people who would "get" the blogosphere, would actually enjoy the prospect of blogging, would care about policy-relevant topics, and would write in a manner accessible enough to attract the interested layman. Also, to be on the safe side, they have to be tenured.
With those criteria in mind, here is my top 10 list of international relations scholars I want to see in blogspace:
1) James Fearon. Really, this guy just sickens me. It's not enough that he gets cited by anyone and everyone, or that he's one of the few formal modelers who can explain their work to the innumerate. Now he's actually starting to write for a wider audience. He should just start a blog and shame all of us at this as well.[Besides your fruitless exhortations, how can you entice these people into the blogosphere?--ed. I hereby plead the creators of the Fantasy IR game to offer five points to senior IR scholars who start blogs.]
Readers are encouraged to offer their own suggestions.
How's the diversification thing going, Hugo?
Over at Duck of Minerva, Peter Howard explains why Hugo Chavez's plan to diversify oil exports away from the United States will not work. This bit from a linked Washington Post story was particularly interesting:
During most of Chávez's eight years in office, more than 60 percent of the country's total crude exports have gone to the United States, up from 50 percent throughout much of the 1990s, according to Ramón Espinasa, a former chief economist at PDVSA who is now a consultant in Washington. The trend is due to growing U.S. demand, Venezuela's rising consumption and what oil analysts say is the state's inability to diversify its base of clients to include big consumers.Here's an interesting (and purely hypothetical) question: if Chavez is so gung-ho to nationalize the energy sector in Venezuela, what would happen of the United States government chose to nationalize Citgo?
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
It's a small, small world
Skipping through the blogosphere, I came across this Mark Thoma post about a Commonwealth Fund story comparing health care across the world.
In an odd coincidence, today I shared a cab to Reagan National airport with the head of this club, and heard her repeat these points to a Bloomberg reporter. To her credit, she apologized profusely after finishing.
The pressure is growing on Paul Wolfowitz to leave the World Bank. The Financial Times' Krishna Guha and Eoin Callan -- rapidly becoming the World Bank's internal newsletter -- lays out the situation:
Paul Wolfowitz’s handling of a secondment deal for his girlfriend Shaha Riza broke the World Bank’s code of conduct, three staff rules and the terms of his contract as bank president, the final report by a panel investigating his role has concluded.Tyler Cowen sums up the problem with Wolfowitz:
As an outsider it is hard to judge many aspects of Wolfowitz's tenure. I take his continuing unwillingness to resign to be the biggest argument against his managerial abilities. He has lost the public relations battle and can no longer be effective. Why should he want the job any more? The obvious hypothesis is that he is emotionally committed to a losing battle, and is not placing much weight on the long-term interests of the institution he is running.Cowen's argument could be extrapolate to apply to the Bush administration as well. Consider the Justice Department. At this juncture, it appears that the White House's revealed preference is to have a loyal but incapacitated and incompetent leader of that department over making any kind of concession to Congress.
What's so amazingly boneheaded about this "double-down" strategy is that, inevitably, the White House will lose on both issues. Which means they will not only lose on these personnel questions, they will lose in a way that further exposes their unique mixture of incompetence and political weakness.
Oh, and lest one think that Wolfowitz's insistence o keeping his job is not hurting the Bank's mission, click here.
UPDATE: The Economist's Free Exchange blog provides another knock against Wolfowitz.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Reactions to the trade deal
I still haven't seen any specifics on the trade deal between Bush and congressional Democrats. I have, however, seen a lot of criticism from across the board -- which either suggests its a really bad deal or it's the optimal outcome given the tight bargaining constraints involved.
In the Wall Street Journal, John D. McKinnon and Greg Hitt look at the usual suspects to see who's upset:
[A]s details of the agreement emerged, some labor and environmental groups pointed to what they viewed as some significant limitations.Free trade promoters? They're not too thrilled either. The Cato Institute's Center for Trade Policy Studies issued the following press release:
The deal constitutes a political victory for Democrats in Congress, who compelled the administration to swallow U.S. union demands, but is unlikely to lead to any new trade liberalization (another union wish). Forging trade policy is a balancing act: the more an agreement is limited to reflect domestic political demands, the less likely prospective trade partners are to see the benefit of agreeing. With respect to the three Latin American agreements, those countries will now have to reopen debate in their legislatures, which might reject the terms.Maybe, maybe not. As James Surowiecki points out in The New Yorker, the U.S. can get countries to swallow an awful lot of domestic political demands:
Free trade is supposed to be a win-win situation. You sell me your televisions, I sell you my software, and we both prosper. In practice, free-trade agreements are messier than that. Since all industries crave foreign markets to expand into but fear foreign competitors encroaching on their home turf, they lobby their governments to tilt the rules in their favor. Usually, this involves manipulating tariffs and quotas. But, of late, a troubling twist in the game has become more common, as countries use free-trade agreements to rewrite the laws of their trading partners. And the country that is doing this most aggressively is the United States.The power asymmetries are such that the U.S. can muscle its domestic preferences into an FTA when it can't do the same thing in the WTO.
Is ability this a good thing? Dani Rodrik doubts it:
[T]his new direction is full of pitfalls--not just disguised protectionism as free-trade fundamentalists fear, but also an inevitable tendency to want to impose our own ways of organizing society on our trade partners. The principle of the right to organize is fine, but different democratic societies have different labor laws, all arguably equally "democratic." If we start judging the adequacy of other countries' laws from the perspective of what WE think is the right set of requirements, we will soon be in trouble.I was originally opposed to these provisions, but have become more agnostic about them over time. On the one hand, there's decent evidence that the best way to eliminate labor and environmental abuses is to have countries grow more quickly, thus causing them to treat their workers and their environment better. On the other hand, there's also decent evidence that including these provisions has an actual effect on trading partners.
In a perfect world, I wouldn't clutter trade agreements with these provisions. In the world in which we live, I'll take these provisions as politically necessary -- so long as they are not so onerous that the proposed FTA partner nixes the deal.
UPDATE: My inside-the-beltway source on trade policy e-mailed me the following reaction:
The typical reactions around town last week... were highly skeptical about applicability, implementation, reaction of countries with recently "closed" FTAs, reaction of countries with ratified FTAs who now want might better deal (specifically with regard to pharmaceuticals), and about the methods by which the new dispute settlement mechanisms for labor and environment might actually work. You could probably sum the reaction of many trade pros as follows: "they're making it up as they go along."
Friday, May 11, 2007
The most bizarre analyses I've seen today
This is what I get for surfing the web instead of revising that paper-that's-really-just-perfect-the-way-it-is-and-I-don't-care-what-those-stupid-peer-referees-think.
First up, Scott Sullivan, "U.S. Jews Must Protect Wolfowitz," The Conservative Voice:
US Jews must protect Wolfowitz because the allegations against him are baseless and Germany’s motives in pushing these allegations are suspect. Meanwhile, President Bush wants to purge his administration of anti-Iran policy makers. As his legacy, Bush wants to make a strategic partnership with Iran’s Nazi President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Firing Paul Wolfowitz is the down payment on Bush's strategic partnership with Iran.Right.
Next up: Grady Hendrix, "Mocha Zombies," Slate:
The rage virus, with its ability to create red-eyed, screaming monsters, with its instantaneous transmission via liquid, and the fact that its frantic growth can only be stopped by firebombing, is an effective metaphor for the unstoppable, global spread of Starbucks.... Images of rabid globalization... still deliver a kick, and there's nothing that says "New World Order" more than a horde of single-minded zombies devouring the quick and assimilating them into their anonymous, ever-expanding ranks.I think this one is intended to be funny, but I'll let the readers be the judge.
There's a domestic deal on trade
I still need to look at the fine print, but this Steven Weisman story in the New York Times suggests that a deal has been cut on trade deals for the future:
The Bush administration reached agreement on Thursday with the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and other Democrats to attach environmental and worker protections in several pending trade accords, clearing the way for early passage of some pacts and improving prospects for others.Pelosi's presence at this announcement suggests that the dynamics I discussed back in late March kicked in.
The key to the agreement, said those involved, was the Bush administration's reluctant assent to Democratic demands for more stringent labor rules. Under the new policy, enforceable labor provisions will be written into the texts of trade deals to protect the rights of workers abroad to organize unions and bargain collectively, while banning forced labor, child labor and workplace discrimination.This should make Dani Rodrik very happy. Predictably, it's pissed off both David Sirota and organized labor.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
The New York Times looks deep into my blogging soul
Natasha Singer has a story in the NYT Styles section about blogs critical of the beauty-industrial complex. This is the lead paragraph:
Most bloggers have never met a beauty product or treatment they didn’t love. The fill their columns with wildly enthusiastic prose about the latest blush, the newest procedure or research that they laud as cutting-edge.This is just so true. Why, only yesterday James Joyner and I were getting facials and talking about how Glenn Reynolds was using this awesome new foundation that really brought out his cheekbones (but what is the deal with this fashion choice?).
Then it was off to a manny-peddy with Kevin Drum, who scored some cutting-edge Clinique products gratis because of his constant beauty blogging (though, man, could Drum be any bitchier about Andrew Sullivan's fashion choices?).
While we were waiting for our nails to dry, we regaled each other with the great Megan McArdle-Virginia Postrel blog feud over the best nail polish to wear when appearing on a Sunday morning talk show (let's face it, they're both just jealous of Laura McKenna's flaming red hair and Ann Althouse's age-defying skin cream).
Of course, my day was ruined when Jacob Levy came in to get some fancy-schmancy new chest waxing procedure. Whenever I bump into Jacob at the beauty parlor, he lords it over me how he has a named chair even though he's three years younger than me. It kills me that he looks ten years younger because of those killer highlights in his beard.
The New York Times: your infallible guide to the soul of the blogosphere.
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Time for the September call-ups in foreign policy
The Financial Times' Edward Luce reports that the Bush administration might have to put out a "Help Wanted" sign for its foreign policy team:
The Bush administration is facing growing difficulties in filling a rising number of high-level vacancies following a recent spate of senior departures.The last two years of an unpopular lame-duck presidency have the same feel of a losing baseball team's last month of the season. In September, all teams call up promising minor league players to see if they can hack it in The Show. In both cases, organizations respond to failure by giving the kids a chance to screw up.
The Bush administration will fill these positions because.... well, because they have little choice. My guess is that, rather than getting people with resumes commensurate with the positions (i.e., Paulson, Gates), they'll have to go a bit younger.
[Why would anyone take these jobs?--ed. Because if they want to get even better positions the next time a Republican takes office, they need to punch their ticket now. Are you one of these people?--ed. Not after this statement, no.]
Rainbow/PUSH goes off the deep end
As a recent academic study of NBA referees demonstrates, there's no question that race is something to be talked about in sports. Clearly, according to an ESPN/ABC poll, African-Americans view Barry Bonds' pursuit of the home run record in ways different than whites. Those differences are worthy of conversation, debate, and maybe even a bit of learning on both sides.
However, is it possible for sports fans of all races to agree that, according to this Atlanta-Journal Constitution story by Carroll Rogers, Rainbow/PUSH has offiially gone way, way off the reality-based reservation?:
Upset over the lack of African-Americans on the [Atlanta] Braves roster, members of Jesse Jackson's Rainbow-PUSH Coalition asked for a meeting with team officials. They got one Monday.For those in the audience sympathetic to affirmative action: is there any way to interpret Beasley's statements as anything other than a demand for a quota of African-Americans to be on the Atlanta Braves' 25-man roster?
Is there any way to interpret these comments without arriving at the conclusion that Rainbow/PUSH is run by idiots?
Seriously, I want to know.
The incredibly loud Hawaiian shirt edition of bloggingheads.tv
My latest bloggingheads debate is up, with Matthew Yglesias. As a special treat, I'm wearing a Hawaiian shirt loud enough to wake Don Ho from the dead. It's... arresting.
1) The Jon Chait netroots article.Go check it out!
Monday, May 7, 2007
Do I have blinders about Blinder?
Over the weekend, Alan Blinder once again vented his concerns about the future of offshoring, this time in the Washington Post:
[T]wo powerful, historical forces are driving these changes, and both are virtually certain to grow stronger over time.I've read Blinder's longer paper on this topic, and I must confess -- again -- that I don't see how he's coming to this "large, lengthy and painful" conclusion. As Greg Mankiw points out:
Alan says the transition to the new equilibrium will be "large, lengthy and painful." When he spoke at Harvard last week, he said the transition would take about 30 years. But the very length of the transition will make it less painful. Over the course of a generation, workers can gradually retire from shrinking industries, and new workers can be trained for the growing industries that take their place. Of course, some individuals will experience painful transitions, but that is always the case in a dynamic market economy. I don't expect future transitions to be macroeconomically different than past transitions. Even if imports as a percentage of GDP continue to rise as Alan predicts, I would nonetheless expect the average rate of unemployment for the U.S. economy to be about the same over the next thirty years as it has been over the past thirty.This brings us to a point that Dani Rodrik raised earlier in the week about what happens when economists start debating public policy:
Finally, let me note the irony in how a discussion on free trade among economists quickly ends up being a debate on its politics—that is, a debate on whether this or that trade policy which on economic grounds is actually desirable can also be politically feasible. We are way beyond our area of expertise. Your hand-waving is as good as mine.If you eliminate the word "free" from both paragraphs, then I agree 100 percent with Rodrik.
By economist standards, Alan Blinder is remarkably sophisticated about the ways in which politics and economics intersect. What puzzles me, therefore, is why he is making Cassandra-like noises about a phenomenon that does not justify such warnings if it takes place over several decades (and there's decent evidence that this is the case). As a political scientist, I have two hypotheses:
1) Blinder believes that the political effects of increased offshoring will be substantial enough to make the current tide of protectionist sentiment seem like a baby wave. To prevent a stronger backlash, he feels it necessary to warn people with Very Scary Numbers to prompt action.My concern is that however well-intentioned Blinder's tactics might be, he's overlooking another possible outcome of his self-proclaimed apostasy, which is that it empowers economic populists with the mantle of intellectual respectability. Saying that upwards of 40 million jobs will be threatened by offshoring sounds scary, even if the data as of yet doesn't show those jobs have actually been offshored. As some other economists have observed, entrenched interests will always exploit these kind of economic fears to implement policies that serve their own interests. Furthermore, some political scientists have pointed out that these protectionist policies will also be far from transparent.
Maybe Blinder is speaking truth to power and I am simply adopting too static a view of trade policy. But I can't shake the feeling that Blinder has adopted the Jeffrey Sachs theory of political change.
UPDATE: Robin Toner has an excellent front-pager in the New York Times today that gets at how these political questions are playing out among House Democrats. Some of them clearly share the Blinder view of what to do. What disturbs me, however, are passages like this:
Since the Democrats took control of the committee in January, the 75-year-old Mr. [Sander] Levin has met with restless Democratic freshmen who helped their party regain the majority by promising to “do something” about the job losses caused by a globalized economy — and who now want to deliver....Whenever a politician presents a demand or proffers a promise to "do something" about trade, I get hives.
Well, this was a bit of a surprise
My bold prediction about Sarkozy
Nicholas Sarkozy will be the next French President. The Economist spells out what this means:
By sheer drive and political cunning, Mr Sarkozy managed to build up an electoral machine, through the party that Mr Chirac originally founded, and reinvent himself—30 years after entering electoral politics—as a force for change.In a prediction that I believe Kevin Drum would label as, "Drezner says the sun will rise in the East tomorrow," I'm not terribly optimistic about Sarkozy's chances for reform implementation. Craig Smith put it nicely in yesterday's NYT Week in Review:
In the months leading up to today’s presidential voting in France, there was a lot of talk about breaking with the past. Don’t bet it will happen.[But what about Franco-American relations? Sarkozy has made repeated statements expressing his fondness for most things American!!--ed.] Yes, why, Sarkozy is clearly the most pro-American French president since.... Jacques Chirac, who when elected president stressed his fondness for America, developed after he worked in the States.
My guess is that Sarkozy will adopt more anti-American rhetoric -- regardless of U.S. foreign policy -- right around the time his first major domestic reform effort shuts down the streets of Paris.
Sunday, May 6, 2007
Random questions on a Sunday morning
Perusing the Sunday papers,I have two political questions for readers:
1) Maureen Dowd, covering the French presidential election, has some fun at Segolene Royal's expense, but then drops this stunner of a sentence:France is chauvinistic — women got the vote in 1944 and compose only a small percentage of the National Assembly — but the country seems less neurotic than America about the idea of a woman as president.Question: on what basis is Dowd making this assertion? I know that Hillary Clinton has many, many detractors, but has the discourse on her campaign to date really focused on her gender all that much? The dominant theme in the discussions about Clinton have been her position on Iraq and her campaign's Bush-like quality of recording friends and enemies. Where is this gender neuroses Dowd mentions?
Saturday, May 5, 2007
Crooked Timber vs. the suburbs
There's something about the suburbs that appears to periodically freak out the Crooked Timberites. Exhibit A was a Daniel Davies riff against big-box retailers that provoked a very interesting comment thread.
In the Top 10 for Singles are the fun, densely-populated places you might expect: New York, L.A., Washington, San Francisco, Chicago, etc. For Young Couples, we have cool hangouts like Portland, Austin, and Boulder. Empty Nesters get to kick back in Bellingham, Santa Fe, Tahoe and Berkeley....I confess to some puzzlement at Kieran's distress. What most of the top-ranked Family With Children places have in common is that they are semi-affordable suburbs adjacent to cities that fell into one of the other Top 10 categories [What about Noblesville IN?--ed. I got nothing, but that doesn't mean it's a bad place to live.]
In a follow-up comment, Kieran elaborates:
[C]ome on, everyone. Do people really not find the notional life transitions laid out in the chart—from New York or L.A. to Boulder or Austin to … Flower Mound or Gaithersburg—even slightly funny? It’s like, as if the endless diapers and slug-like minivans aren’t enough, here’s where you have to live.
Having made the move from one of the top 10 places for Singles to a place that I'm guessing ranks high on Families with Children, all I can say is, thank God for the suburbs (in fairness, Hyde Park is not exactly a typical urban neighborhood):
Five minute walk to the elementary school? Check.I suspect Kieran was mostly being flip, but I do think there's a part of him that shudders with dread about the exemplary suburban locale.
To which I have to say, sure, it's easy to find fault. But I'll take the small downsides of suburbandom over the nasty stares I recall getting when entering hip and trendy restaurants/supermarkets/stores/shopping malls with a few rugrats in tow. At this point in the 21st century, having small children is kind of like belonging to a different religious persuasion that others view as bizarre and discomfiting. It's nice to be with one's own kind during these years.
Friday, May 4, 2007
Forward progress on intellectual property
"Striking the proper balance on intellectual property rights" is one of those ideas I put in my conceptual hope chest along with "unilateral elimination of all agricultural subsidies" or "fiscal conservativism" or "NBC renewing Friday Night Lights for another season" as policies I'd really like to see but don't expect to happen.
So, it's a pleasant surprise to read the Economist's tech.view column explain that the Supreme Court actually took a positive step on patent rights:
In a unanimous decision that is being hailed as the most important patent ruling in decades, the Supreme Court early this week swept aside the non-obviousness test used by the appeals court. In its place, a common-sense standard based on real-world conditions is to be applied to all patent applications that combine (as most do) elements of existing inventions.
Thursday, May 3, 2007
Well, I'm glad that hiatus is over
After a short, four-year hiatus, Brink Lindsey is back and blogging. Go check him out.
Housing and the productivity slowdown
Labor productivity growth in the United States has declined every year since 2002. In the first quarter of this year it fell below the symbolic 2% barrier, evoking bad memories of the stagflation-era economy.
[M]any economists were concerned when productivity came in at just 1.6 percent last year. Was America returning to its old low-productivity ways? If so, that was a much bigger problem than the housing slowdown. But it looks like the housing slowdown itself has been making strong productivity look bad. Here is what the econ team at Goldman Sachs recently said on the topic:This seems like a peculiar inverse of what was happening in the economy circa 2002-3 -- astounding productivity gains that were not matched by wage or employment growth. One wonders if this means that, for the next year, the U.S. economy will observe the obverse of marginal productivity increases but robust wage and employment growth. Profit margins have been sufficiently high to allow this to happen -- though I confess I fail to see why firms would have an economic incentive to act in this fashion."We believe there is a straightforward explanation for slower productivity growth—the housing downturn. The sharp drop in homebuilding activity has not yet led to a significant decline in employment, so productivity in this sector is falling rapidly. Productivity growth in the rest of the nonfarm sector remains at a healthy 2.5 percent pace. Housing productivity should begin to improve within the year. Two factors—seasonal hiring patterns and the lag between the slowdown in home sales and the slowdown in home construction—have delayed the employment adjustment, but we expect declining residential housing employment to pull nonfarm payroll growth below 100,000 jobs per month in the spring and early summer."Dale Jorgensen, productivity guru and Harvard economics professor, told me a similar story in a chat today.
Will NBC save our marriages?
It started just the other week as I watched FNL's season finale. I had never bothered to introduce my significant other to the show, because, well, she likes football about as much as she likes my Star Wars lightsaber collection — which is to say, not very much — so I viewed the entire season by myself. But then something else dawned on me: Christina loves teen shows.... It occurred to me that, hey, Friday Night Lights is as much -- if not more -- a teen show than it is a football drama. So I implored her to give it a chance. To my shock, she agreed (again, we're talking about football here). We had the first nine episodes on DVD. We watched one. Then we watched another. Then I went to bed, and she watched two more. Next night, same drill. She went through episodes the way I go through cans of Milwaukee's Best. Only she didn't wake up with a headache in the morning.I lack Ross' NBC connections, but my wife got so hooked on the show after I introduced her to it that she caught up on all the episodes by watching them online (they're all still available, by the way).
And, as in Ross' case, my wife is a huge Riggins fan, even though he's the bad boy of the show. "He's just gorgeous... and smoldering," she said. She then tried to assuage any anxiety I might have had by reassuring me that, "you are as un-Riggins-like as you can possibly be."
I feel much better now.
[Yes, you, who link to Salma Hayek at the drop of a hat, should get upset at this!!--ed. True, though I have never (and will never) told my wife that she was "un-Hayek like."]
Oh, and for FNL afficionados, I'm neither a Lyla or a Tyra guy -- I'm a Tami guy through and through.
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
What I learned at the 2007 Brussels Forum
So, what did I learn at the 2007 Brussels Forum? Four things small and large:
1) I cannot stay in Brussels for longer than 72 hours. This has nothing to do with the city, it has to do with its chocolate sector. Its rich, succulent, delicious, and unbelievably fattening chocolate sector.If you want to catch the proceedings, click here and select the topic that interests you. You might even catch a few cameo appearances by your humble (and fatter) blogger.
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
As Rogoff goes....
It's a bad, bad sign for Paul Wolfowitz when Kenneth Rogoff decides to write a satirical memo in Wolfowitz's name for ForeignPolicy.com. It's an even worse sign when he can write the following paragraph:
I trust you [the staff] have not been unduly influenced by the recent letter calling for my immediate resignation, signed by forty-two former World Bank managing directors, senior vice-presidents, vice-presidents, and directors. You and I can surely see through this thinly-veiled attempt to manipulate the value of “Paul Wolfowitz resignation” claims [on TradeSports]. I want to assure you that the World Bank Internal Investigations Unit will look into this matter. If any of the letter’s signatories are found guilty of price manipulation, they will be dealt with harshly. Let’s not forget who is paying their pensions.Wolfowitz has argued that he's the victim of a smear campaign, and there's a small grain of truth to that charge in that he is not solely responsible for the current imbroglio over his paramour.
However, when the staff that runs Wolfowitz's signature initiative indicates that his problems are compromising that initiative, it's time to say adieu.
I'll be back in action soon
Your humble blogger has returned from Europe, and the 2007 Brussels Forum, filled to the brim with stuff to blog about (including the trade contretemps I unintentionally triggered). Alas, while the brain is willing, the body needs to recover from its jet lag... and, come to think of it, the brain has massive loads of grading to do.
So, more this PM. While you wait by your screens, however, anxiously hitting the refresh button to see if I've posted another missive, here's a question to you: any recent developments that you feel demand a blog post?