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.

2) I gave a talk about All Politics Is Global at the German Marshall Fund a few weeks ago. Richard Salt wrote it up on GMF's blog. Click here for a brief podcast.

3) In the Chronicle of Higher Education's Chronicle Review section, I have a brief article, "The Power of the State in a Global Economy" which is a precis for All Politics Is Global. Here's how it opens:

When I began working on my latest book, I also began regularly reading a news source greatly undervalued in international relations: The Onion. The timing was serendipitous because I soon stumbled across a mock headline that crystallized one of my central themes: "Correct Theory Discarded in Favor of More Exciting Theory."
This link should be good for a few days.
Well, that should be sufficient overexposure for a few days.

posted by Dan at 10:19 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

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 decision appeared to mark a landmark break by Washington from its longstanding opposition to global limits on carbon emissions, although the US plans still fall short of some European demands.

Mr Bush pledged to work with several other large economies, including China and India, to agree a “long-term goal” for reduction in emissions, together with strategies for achieving the target, within 18 months – before he leaves office in January 2009.

An administration official said the US would seek to convene a conference to set the process in motion, possibly as early as this autumn.

The process would complement broader international efforts to agree a replacement for the Kyoto treaty when it expires in 2012, said the official....

The policy shift came less than a week before Mr Bush travels to Germany for the annual G8 meeting of industrialised nations, where climate change is expected to be high on the agenda.

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.

The White House made clear, however, that the administration would continue to reject proposals advanced by European nations to deal with global warming through caps on carbon emissions and a global carbon-trading program that would allow countries to meet limits on carbon dioxide levels by buying and selling credits.

"We do not endorse global carbon trading," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters before Bush's speech.

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.

To help develop this goal, the United States would convene a series of meetings of nations that produced most greenhouse gas emissions, including nations with rapidly growing economies like India and China.

In addition to this long-term global goal, each country would establish mid-term national targets and programs that reflect their own mix of energy sources and future energy needs.

Over the course of the next 18 months, our nations would bring together industry leaders from sectors of our economies, such as power generation and alternative fuels and transportation. These leaders will form working groups that will cooperate on ways to share clean energy technology and best practices.

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."

I'm also skeptical for reasons I've discussed in the past.

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.


posted by Dan at 01:39 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

posted by Dan at 01:25 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

As Ivy League-educated pediatrician Robert P. Lindeman sat on the stand in Suffolk Superior Court this month, defending himself in a malpractice suit involving the death of a 12-year-old patient, the opposing counsel startled him with a question.

Was Lindeman Flea?

Flea, jurors in the case didn't know, was the screen name for a blogger who had written often and at length about a trial remarkably similar to the one that was going on in the courtroom that day.

In his blog, Flea had ridiculed the plaintiff's case and the plaintiff's lawyer. He had revealed the defense strategy. He had accused members of the jury of dozing.

With the jury looking on in puzzlement, Lindeman admitted that he was, in fact, Flea.

The next morning, on May 15, he agreed to pay what members of Boston's tight-knit legal community describe as a substantial settlement -- case closed.

The case is a startling illustration of how blogging, already implicated in destroying friendships and ruining job prospects, could interfere in other important arenas. Lawyers in Massachusetts and elsewhere, some of whom downloaded Flea's observations and posted them on their websites, said the case has also prompted them to warn clients that blogs can come back to haunt them.

Still, Andrew C. Meyer Jr., a well known Boston personal injury lawyer who followed the case, said he had never heard of a defendant blogging during a trial.

"Most of us investigate whatever prior writings our clients might have had, so they are not exposed to their inconsistencies in their testimony," said Meyer, who has begun warning clients against the practice. "But it's impossible to do if you don't know that your client is blogging under an assumed name."

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.

In recent years, he has shared his medical views on local television news programs, on the "Manic Mommies" podcast produced by two Ashland mothers, and in magazines.

He is also the author of drfleablog, in which he calls himself Flea and identifies himself only as a pediatrician in the Northeast. A flea, he told the Globe this year, is what surgeons called pediatricians in training. The Globe's medical blog, White Coat Notes, has occasionally included links to Lindeman's blog, which he has recently taken down.

Mulvey, who said she only learned of the blog a couple weeks before the trial, said after reading scores of back postings that it was controversial yet intellectually stimulating.

Over the past year, Lindeman increasingly used it to rail against the malpractice suit....

Shortly before the end of his second day on the witness stand, while focusing on Lindeman's views of a pediatric textbook, Mulvey asked him whether he had a medical blog, she recalled. He said he did. Then she asked him if he was Flea. He said he was.

The exchange may have been lost on jurors, but Meyer said Mulvey had telegraphed that she was ready to share Lindeman's blog -- containing his unvarnished views of lawyers, jurors, and the legal process -- with the jury.

The next day, the case was settled.

So, lessons learned:
1) If you're a defendant in a court case, try not to blog about it;

2) Blogs don't hurt people. Poor impulse control hurts people.

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.]

posted by Dan at 09:28 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Lou Dobbs is a big fat liar

New York Times economics columnist David Leonhardt does a public service and fact-checks Lou Dobbs. The results are not pretty (a fact that will not surprise longtime readers of

His conclusion:

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.

There is no denying that this country’s immigration system is broken. But it defies belief — and a whole lot of economic research — to suggest that the problems of the middle class stem from illegal immigrants. Those immigrants, remember, are largely non-English speakers without a high school diploma. They have probably hurt the wages of native-born high school dropouts and made everyone else better off.

More to the point, if Mr. Dobbs’s arguments were really so good, don’t you think he would be able to stick to the facts? And if CNN were serious about being “the most trusted name in news,” as it claims to be, don’t you think it would be big enough to issue an actual correction?

[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.

David Weigel also has some fun at Dobbs' expense.

posted by Dan at 11:09 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Short-shorts, Jello wrestling, and a good word about Tom Friedman

Yes, it's all there on my latest episode, with the Economist's Megan McArdle.

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.

posted by Dan at 12:44 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I'm a bad, bad man....

... for thinking that this picture brings sexy back way better than Justin Timberlake.

posted by Dan at 11:57 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

An incentive puzzle on education

Via Brad DeLong comes this puzzling Washington Wire post from Wall Street Journal economics reporter extraordinaire Greg Ip:

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.

Earlier this decade, there were signs of a shift. Responding perhaps to both the college wage premium and the weak job market, the proportion of high-school students who enrolled in college the fall after they graduated rose from 61.7% in 2001 to 68.6% in 2005, the highest since data began in 1959. To be sure, many of those enrollees never finished college but on balance it suggested the supply of college graduates was about to head higher.

But last fall, the college enrollment rate dropped back to 65.8%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this week.

Exactly why is unclear. The tighter labor market ought to have encouraged some kids to take jobs instead of go to college. But the report showed just 46% of high-school graduates were working last fall, down from 49.3% the prior year. The proportion unemployed but looking for work rose to 13.7% from 11.4%, and the proportion neither working, looking for work nor in college also rose, to 12.3% from 9.9%.

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.

posted by Dan at 11:45 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

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.”

Mr Paulson said Mr Zoellick would be able to build international consensus and get results. “He has got great energy and enthusiasm – he gets things done.”

Mr Zoellick, 53, a former US trade representative who is a senior official at Goldman Sachs, is a respected internationalist with extensive contacts in Europe, China, Latin America and Africa. He played a prominent role in the peaceful reunification of Germany and led efforts to revive the Doha trade talks round....

Mr Paulson said he did not come under serious pressure to open up the search process during talks with finance and development ministers.

“Even people who said that in theory they favour an open global search said, given the turmoil at the bank, ‘Please find someone who will have global support and can get appointed quickly so we can get the bank focused on its mission again’,” he said

A senior World Bank manager said there would be mixed feelings about Mr Zoellick’s nomination, with respect for his diplomatic skills offset by concern about his hard-driving management style. The manager said Mr Zoellick was “highly regarded” but seen as a “bit abrasive” with his staff.

“I think there is scepticism about Zoellick’s management skills,” he said.

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.

2) A mix of diplomatic skills and hard-driving management is pretty much the recipe for the World Bank. Although Paul Wolfowitz did not cover himself in glory during his tenure, the Bank staff also acted in a manner that raised a number of red flags about inmates running the asylum. We'll see where the Bank goes from here.

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.

UPDATE: Philip Levy makes the case for Zoellick over at

posted by Dan at 11:18 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

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;

2) Conflict expectations between Sudan and the United States are already pretty high, so even if the sanctions were costly, Khartoum would be reluctant to concede anything substantive;

3) Sudan has a "white knight" (or "black knight" if you will) in the form of China. With that country pumping billions into the Sudanese economy, the U.S. financial sanctions are little more than a hiccup in their economic trajectory.

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?

[Hey, how did that copy of All Politics Is Global get into the corner of the shot?--ed. Because I am that shameless.]

UPDATE: The good news is that I did indeed appear in the story. The bad news is that the b-roll did not. Curses!!

posted by Dan at 02:25 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), which has been broadcasting for 53 years, was replaced by a state-run station -- TVes -- on Monday. The new station's logo began running immediately after RCTV went off the air.

Leading up to the deadline, police on Sunday used water cannons and what appeared to be tear gas to break up thousands of demonstrators protesting the government's decision to close the country's most-watched television station.

The protest began in front of National Telecommunications Commission headquarters after members of the National Guard seized broadcast equipment, including antennas, the result of a Supreme Court order on Friday....

Inside the studios of Radio Caracas Television, employees cried and chanted "Freedom!" on camera, AP reported.

"We are living an injustice," presenter Eyla Adrian said, according to AP. "I wish that tonight would never come."

President Hugo Chavez announced in January that the government would not renew the broadcast license for the station, long an outlet for opposition parties.

Chavez has accused the station of supporting the failed 2002 coup against him and violating broadcast laws.

He called the station's soap operas "pure poison" that promote capitalism, according to AP.

RCTV, which has been broadcasting for 53 years, is slated to be off the air at midnight. It will be replaced by a state-run station.

"To refuse to grant a new license for the most popular and oldest television channel in the country because the government disagrees with the editorial or political views of this channel, which are obviously critical to Chavez, is a case of censorship," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

"We have arrived at totalitarianism," said Marcel Granier, president of Empresas 1BC, which owns RCTV. (emphasis added)

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.

It wasn't until this March, three months after announcing its decision to revoke the station's license, that the government deigned to release a "White Book" giving an official account of the station's transgressions. More polemic than policy paper, the book only serves to underscore the arbitrary and politicized nature of the government's decision; RCTV is accused of a raft of minor sins, from sensationalizing its coverage of a recent murder to showing alcohol consumption during its coverage of a baseball game. RCTV had never previously received more than a warning for these violations; other stations guilty of the same or worse errors have been allowed to retain their licenses.

It's hard to see RCTV's closure - which was opposed by 70% of the Venezuelan people - as anything more than an act of political retaliation for the network's continuing, and increasingly isolated, resistance to the Chávez administration. While it's true that the country's media remains largely in private hands, most of the other opposition channels have allowed themselves to be cowed by Chávez's threats, and have substantially cut back their news and editorial coverage. Of the stations with national reach, only RCTV had remained an outspoken critic of the government; on Sunday night that voice, too, fell silent. (Claims that RCTV could stay on the air by switching to cable or satellite are disingenuous; even if the network survives, it will reach only a tiny fraction of its current audience.)

In pulling the plug on RCTV, Chávez appointed himself judge, jury and executioner; and in doing so, struck a dangerous blow against Venezuela's proud traditions of democracy and free speech. Worryingly, he did so as part of a wider campaign to stifle dissenting voices and independent views. Since coming to power, Chávez has pushed through a barrage of regulations designed to breed a compliant and uncritical media sector; organizations now face swingeing fines and license suspensions if they fail to meet vague and arbitrary "social responsibility" criteria, while draconian defamation regulations and "insult laws" make it illegal to show disrespect for government officials and institutions....

A few minutes after RCTV flickered off the air, a new network took its place: Venezuelan Social Television. The new public channel, run by Chávez appointees, will provide news and entertainment that is more palatable to Chávez's government; it will join a growing portfolio of state-owned channels that one government station chief says is part of Chávez's wider plan for "communication and information hegemony". The failure of the likes of Tariq Ali and Colin Burgon to recognize this as a blow to Venezuela's tradition of free speech shouldn't surprise anyone; Chávez is a past master at playing the international left to his own ends. The truth, though, is that this is one occasion when people on both the left and the right, as supporters of liberal democracy, should be prepared to cry foul.

posted by Dan at 12:43 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

2) Opposing players are ripping Yankee fans and praising Red Sox fans (to be fair, the player in question used to play for the Red Sox). This rant provides some supporting evidence.

3) Red Sox Nation is expanding into China.

4) Seven words: back to back to back to back.

5) For a savior, Roger Clemens is taking his own sweet time getting back to the majors. It now apeears that he is going to miss the Sox-Yankees series later this week. With only six games remaining between the two teams after this week, one wonders just how much of an impact he can have.

6) In sharp contrast, the Red Sox "savior" is a 22-year old cancer survivor who, in the span of six months, has gone from undergoing chemotherapy to throwing curveballs. When he returns to the team, he's slotted as the fifth starter.

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.

"He's on a big hook," a spirited Steinbrenner told The Associated Press in a rare interview from this Tampa office. "He wanted sole authority. He got it. Now he's got to deliver."....

"The boss is the boss,'' Cashman said before Friday night's game against the Los Angeles Angels. "There are no surprises here. He's said this to me privately."

Cashman agreed with Steinbrenner's assessment.

"I'm on the hook. You can't describe it any better than that," Cashman said. "It's my job to figure it out.

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.

posted by Dan at 09:27 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

posted by Dan at 02:56 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

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”.

Mr Sarkozy, on his first presidential visit to Brussels, called on Europe to “protect” its citizens, buying them time to adapt to the pressures of globalisation.

His comments suggest he will pursue an assertive French agenda in Europe that could put him in conflict with free traders including Angela Merkel, German chancellor, and Gordon Brown, incoming UK prime minister.

Mr Sarkozy’s passionate defence of French farmers will concern Europe’s trade partners who hoped he might be more flexible in his approach to cutting EU farm tariffs than Jacques Chirac, his predecessor.

The French president has previously criticised the European Commission for offering too many concessions on agriculture during world trade talks. On Wednesday night he said: “It is goodbye to naivety.” He said he would not allow cuts to support for European farmers while their US counterparts benefited from the same policies, adding: “I’m not going to sell agriculture to get a better opening for services.”

posted by Dan at 11:34 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

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

The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, say President Bush has signed a "nonlethal presidential finding" that puts into motion a CIA plan that reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran's currency and international financial transactions.

"I can't confirm or deny whether such a program exists or whether the president signed it, but it would be consistent with an overall American approach trying to find ways to put pressure on the regime," said Bruce Riedel, a recently retired CIA senior official who dealt with Iran and other countries in the region....

The sources say the CIA developed the covert plan over the last year and received approval from White House officials and other officials in the intelligence community....

Current and former intelligence officials say the approval of the covert action means the Bush administration, for the time being, has decided not to pursue a military option against Iran.

"Vice President Cheney helped to lead the side favoring a military strike," said former CIA official Riedel, "but I think they have come to the conclusion that a military strike has more downsides than upsides."....

The "nonlethal" aspect of the presidential finding means CIA officers may not use deadly force in carrying out the secret operations against Iran.

Still, some fear that even a nonlethal covert CIA program carries great risks.

"I think everybody in the region knows that there is a proxy war already afoot with the United States supporting anti-Iranian elements in the region as well as opposition groups within Iran," said Vali Nasr, adjunct senior fellow for Mideast studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"And this covert action is now being escalated by the new U.S. directive, and that can very quickly lead to Iranian retaliation and a cycle of escalation can follow," Nasr said.

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.

b) Look, maybe I'm biased by past events, but I simply don't trust the Bush administration to competently manage this kind of operation. Any other administration, the fallout from a failed attempt would be contained. With this administration, I can't help but think that a failed attempt would have regional implications. The fact that current personnel are blabbing to the press also suggests to me that there isn't unanimity on this, which lowers the odds of success.

c) If I have to choose between a 20% chance at regime change (I'm being generous) or an 80% chance of Iran's current regime agreeing to suspend its nuclear weapons program (equally generous), I'll take the latter option. For that option to succeed, the CIA can't be doing this kind of thing (or, at the vey least, be so fractious that ABC can report about it).

d) The timing of this news story could not be worse for Haleh Esfandiari. It actually gives Ahmadinejad a rhetorical leg to stand on.

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.

posted by Dan at 08:16 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

Spiro, however, is not completely on board with my argument:

[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.

I don’t think that works in all cases, and even less so into the future. In the context of international labor standards, for example, Drezner dismisses codes of conduct with an unsourced paragraph. He does take on the “semi-deviant” (from his theory) case of TRIPS and public health (and the Doha Declaration), highlighting that AIDS is now processed through a security lens and as a threat to great power interests traditionally defined. But that seems to accept great-power framing at face value, and here again he ignores the civil society-corporate dynamic outside of an intergovernmental tent (or in ones more friendly than the WTO, like the World Health Organzation). The book also fails to confront the trendlines. It concedes that NGOs are more powerful than they used to be; couldn’t we expect them to become more so, and if not, why not? All that said, the book is clearly an important addition to the IR [international relations] literature, and one that should be of interest to IL [international law] scholars.

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.

2) With (1) in mind, I don't think the rise of NGOs is an inexorable process, because that version of history treats states as passive, non-strategic actors. If there's anything I learned in my research for All Politics Is Global, it is that governments are never more agile than when they face a challenge to their authority. My expectation is that the contest for authority between states and global civil society will more closely resemble the offense-defense balance in military technology. That is to say, whenever the offense acquires a distinct tactical advantage, there are powerful incentives to invest in innovations in defensive weaponry -- and vice versa. Global civil society is more powerful today than in the past (unless one counts the Catholic Church as part of civil society) because in the past they were powerless. From here on in, however, I expect that states will learn to adapt over time.

3) Finally, whatever influence global civil society has amassed has come in an era when the two largest economic powers are the US and EU. Those two entities are relatively open societies. As some have recently observed, however, there are rising powers on the horizon, and it is far from clear whether they will be so friendly towards non-state actors. This doesn't mean that global civil society will be shut out, but it does mean that their task will be harder whenever China is in the green room.

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!

posted by Dan at 08:39 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Name this law!

Critic Richard Schickel clearly thinks his life is too boring:

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.

[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.]

posted by Dan at 03:22 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

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?

A: The United States should commit to a withdrawal, not tomorrow but with a clear endpoint – benchmarks, or whatever you want to call them. The insurgents have made it pretty clear in a series of public statements and private communications that they’re willing to start talking and dampen down the violence if the United States commits to withdrawing from Iraq. We’re at a moment where there’s actually a chance for positive developments, because we have a common interest with the insurgents in defeating Al Qaeda and they are putting out clear signals that they are willing to make a deal. But everything hinges on the United States making a commitment to withdraw – politically, they can’t and won’t get in the political game without that because it would destroy their credibility and because, frankly, getting the United States out really matters to them. But there’s a window here that I’m afraid we’re going to let close because of domestic politics. The insurgency factions turned against Al Qaeda because its Islamic State of Iraq project has been growing in strength, and if they can’t show some gains soon the tide may turn against them within the Sunni community.

Question to readers -- is there any reason to doubt this assessment?

posted by Dan at 01:41 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

My first post is already up, asking readers a question that puzzles me about the Bush administration's management style.

The blog here will not be neglected, but all my American politics-type stuff will be over there.

posted by Dan at 01:17 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

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.
posted by Dan at 09:39 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

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....

MIT professor Noam Chomsky also issued a statement today calling Esfandiari's detention "deplorable" and warning that the action by Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security was "a gift" to American policymakers trying to organize support for military action against Iran.

"Now is a time for diplomacy, negotiations and relaxation of tensions, in accordance with the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans and Iranians, as recent polls reveal," he said. "The intolerable treatment of this highly respected scholar and human rights activist severely undermines the efforts of those who are seeking peace, justice and freedom in the region and the world."

In his popular blog, University of Michigan Middle East expert Juan Cole announced today that he has canceled plans to attend a conference this summer in Iran because of Tehran's imprisonment of Esfandiari.

"Everyone should be outraged about this story," he said. "Her arrest should be an issue for everyone who believes in human rights, in academic freedom, and in women's rights."

Cole added, "I don't see how normal intellectual life can go on when a scholar at the Wilson Center can't safely visit Iran." He also suggested that academics and others mobilize to protest in front of Iranian diplomatic missions around the world.

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.

UPDATE: Wright's follow-up report is not good:

American scholar Haleh Esfandiari has been charged with trying to topple the Iranian regime, Iran's state-controlled television reported today.

Iran's Intelligence Ministry accused Esfandiari, director of Middle East programs at the Smithsonian's Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, of trying to foment a soft revolution by setting up a network "against the sovereignty" of Iran. Esfandiari was imprisoned May 8 after more than four months under virtual house arrest.

"This is an American-designed model with an attractive appearance that seeks the soft-toppling of the country," state TV reported, according to the Associated Press....

In a statement published by Iran's ISNA news agency, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security charged that Esfandiari had received money from George Soros's Open Society Institute.

"The long-term and final goal of such centers is to try to enable this network . . . to confront the ruling powers. This model designed by the Americans . . . is following the 'soft revolution' in the country," the statement said....

Esfandiari, a 67-year-old grandmother who is a dual U.S. and Iranian national, was originally in Iran to take care of her 93-year-old mother when her passport was taken in a robbery as she was en route to the airport Dec. 30. When she went in to get a replacement, she was put under interrogation for six weeks.

I suspect that Iran's war against American "soft power" is going to have a lot of collateral damage.

posted by Dan at 09:27 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

Since coming to power, The Chávez government has handed over 8.8 million acres, an area bigger than Maryland, for use by the poor. While much of this was state-owned land that was either idle or leased to ranchers, some 4.5 million acres were "recovered" from private owners, Mr. Chávez said recently. In some cases, the government compensated them. In most others... it has simply turned a blind eye to land invasions.

The government bills land reform as a way to make Venezuela self-sufficient infood. But so far, the effect has been to undercut production of beef, sugar and other foods, as productive land is handed over to city dwellers with no knowledge of farming. Established farmers and ranchers, fearing their land may be seized next, are cutting investment in their operations to a minimum.

The chaos in the countryside has contributed to shortages in basic items like milk and meat, a paradox in a country enjoying an economic boom traceable to high oil prices. Also spurring the shortages are price controls on certain foods that keep them prices below the cost of production. Meanwhile, 19%-plus inflation--as oil revenue floods the economy--spurs panic buying: purchasing price-controlled and other goods the shopper might not immediately need for fear of having higher prices in the future or not finding the items at all.

"You get up at dawn to hunt for a breast of chicken all over town. Housewives are in a foul mood." says Lucylde Gonzalez, a Caracas homemaker, who says she hasn't seen an egg in a week."

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.

posted by Dan at 09:49 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (1)

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!

posted by Dan at 10:32 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

posted by Dan at 08:51 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

The first 40,000 tickets for the Oct. 28 game between the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants at the new Wembley Stadium sold in 90 minutes Wednesday.

"The speed in which such a large number of tickets were snapped up ... demonstrates the great excitement and appetite for the game in this country," said Alistair Kirkwood, managing director of NFL UK. "We know that the last few tickets available in this first batch will be gone very soon."

None of these sports will eclipse soccer -- but that doesn't mean that they are globally unpopular.

posted by Dan at 10:46 PM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (1)

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.

2) Elizabeth DeSombre. Because I have the pulse of the internets at my finger, I'm dimly aware that environmental issues might be kinda important over the next few decades. Beth always has an interesting take, she's published two books on environmental regulation, and I know for a fact that she read blogs. Go on, Beth, take the next step.

3) Michael Tierney. Mike is an occasional commenter to this blog, but he has a set of interesting research interests, ranging from World Bank governance to what other IR scholars think. In other words, he knows enough about enough topics to be well-suited to the blogosphere. Besides, he's living my dream -- he's gone back to teach at his alma mater.

4) David Victor. Hmmm.... let's check out his research interests -- energy policy, climate change, role of technology, innovation and competition in development. Too bad no one cares about those things.

5) Erik Gartzke. Erik has a citation count that would shock and awe entire departments. He's one of the best large-N security scholars in the field, and he's already had a blog run-in with R.J. Rummel. He doesn't bruise easily -- perfect for blogging.

6) Iain Johnston. China is an important country. You would think IR people would therefore know a lot about it, but you would be wrong (to be fair, this is being corrected very quickly. I have had conversations with at least a dozen colleagues planning research trips to China). Iain, on the other hand, knows a great deal about the place. He should share a little.

7) Sumit Ganguly. India is important too. Furthermore, Sumit holds the Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations, which just sounds great.

8) Amy Zegart. Not enough has been written about the organizational politics that plague foreign policy agencies. Amy, however, has written two excellent books on the topic. People should listen to her more often.

9) Hein Goemans. Hein is one of those people who has research programs exploding from his brain. I think a blog would do Hein good, allowing him to figure out which research ideas are really good and which ones just need a few blog posts. Plus, he was darn cute as a child.

10) Randy Schweller. Last fall, on 30 Rock, Alec Baldwin had a great line to describe one character: "In five years we'll either all be working for him or be dead by his hand." This is how I kind of feel about Randy's place in international relations. If Randy ever translates his seminar persona to the blogosphere, the rest of us will be as interesting as wallpaper paste.

[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.

posted by Dan at 10:47 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

But in an ideologically drawn battle, one marked by constant verbal slings, Chávez has promised to veer sales away from the United States.

He often says that PDVSA is considering selling Citgo, its refining and retail arm in the United States, which processes and sells the extra-heavy brand of crude mined in Venezuela. His government has also increased sales to China, with 300,000 barrels a day now headed there, Rafael Ramirez, the energy minister and PDVSA's president, said in an interview this month....

So a country less capable of producing oil, analysts say, is more tied to the United States, where refineries wholly or partly owned by PDVSA refine Venezuela's molasses-like oil. The installations exist nowhere else, which makes some analysts skeptical that Venezuela is exporting as much to China as it claims.

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?

posted by Dan at 12:03 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

Mark also has a post about how economists think about globalization that is worth checking out.

posted by Dan at 11:52 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

The Wolfowitz Bush managerial style

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.

The report asks the bank’s board to consider, in the light of its findings, “whether Mr Wolfowitz will be able to provide the leadership needed to ensure that the bank continues to operate to the fullest extent possible in achieving its mandate”.

It suggests that the board should take into account in making this judgment the “damage done to the reputation of the World Bank group and its president, the lack of confidence expressed by internal and external stakeholders in the present leadership, the erosion of operational effectiveness...and the important strategy and governance challenges the World Bank group is facing”.

also asks the board to undertake a review of the bank’s governance structures “with the aim of ensuring that it is capable of effectively dealing with the challenges raised for the institution”.

The report’s findings – released by near unanimous demand of the board – will lend enormous momentum to the European-led push for Mr Wolfowitz to resign or be forced out.

The US is expected to try to schedule a conference call of deputy finance ministers from the Group of Seven industrialised nations to address the crisis at the bank on Tuesday, after failing to set up such a call on Monday....

Robert Bennett, a lawyer for Mr Wolfowitz, declined comment on the specific findings of the report, but said that overall it was ”clear that the ad hoc committee has simply ignored the overpowering case we presented that he was acting in good faith”.

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.

posted by Dan at 08:07 AM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

Many businesses had worried the deal would make international labor provisions enforceable against American employers. On Friday, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue said in a statement that the chamber is "encouraged by assurances that the labor provisions cannot be read to require compliance."

That doesn't sit well with AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, who said the agreement doesn't give enough " challenge U.S. laws." He also complained that in the event of violations, "there is no guarantee the executive branch will enforce any new rights workers may gain through these negotiations." He said his organization would reserve judgment on the deal for the time being.

Some environmentalists raised concerns that big potential loopholes remain for foreign investors -- particularly oil and gas companies that have made large investments in South America.

In addition to worker and environmental protections, the deal calls for quicker access to generic drugs for developing countries. Democrats had made inclusion of such a measure a priority, but brand-name drug makers had fought it.

Billy Tauzin, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said his group has been "extremely concerned during this process that core American intellectual-property rights remain protected." Drug makers said they will try to win back lost ground in other coming trade battles in Congress this summer.

Manufacturers, meanwhile, complained that many of the new worker and environmental protections will be hard, if not impossible, to enforce. They urged the U.S. to focus more on currency manipulation, theft of intellectual property and other unfair trade practices.

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.

Our recent free-trade agreement with South Korea is a good example. Most of the deal is concerned with lowering tariffs, opening markets to competition, and the like, but an important chunk has nothing to do with free trade at all. Instead, it requires South Korea to rewrite its rules on intellectual property, or I.P.—the rules that deal with patents, copyright, and so on. South Korea will now have to adopt the U.S. and E.U. definition of copyright—extending it to seventy years after the death of the author. South Korea will also have to change its rules on patents, and may have to change its national-health-care policy of reimbursing patients only for certain drugs. All these changes will give current patent and copyright holders stronger protection for longer. Recent free-trade agreements with Peru and Colombia insisted on much the same terms. And CAFTA—a free-trade agreement with countries in Central America and the Caribbean—included not just longer copyright and trademark protection but also a dramatic revision in those countries’ patent policies.

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.

Which is why I don't think the attempt to enlarge trade agreements to incorporate social and other considerations can go really far (unless you are really serious about it and want to create legal and political integration along with economic integration, as in the case of the EU).

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."

posted by Dan at 11:01 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

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.

posted by Dan at 02:58 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

The unusual agreement, which came after weeks of negotiations, would guarantee workers the right to organize, ban child labor and prohibit forced labor in trading-partner countries. It would also require trading partners to enforce environmental laws already on their books and comply with several international environmental agreements.

While the understanding was a victory for Democrats, it also represented a shrewd compromise by the White House. The agreement is the first major bipartisan economic deal to emerge since Democrats took control of Congress in January. It has immediate importance for four countries — Colombia, Panama, Peru and South Korea — that are seeking to enter into trade pacts with the United States.

But officials in Washington predicted that the agreement’s effect would go beyond those countries and could be a template for all trade deals, including a possible worldwide accord.

Administration officials are hoping that the agreement will cause many Democrats to support future trade deals. They hope that enough Democrats will join with Republicans, who generally support such measures, to make passage of the agreements probable, if only narrowly.

Pelosi's presence at this announcement suggests that the dynamics I discussed back in late March kicked in.


UPDATE: Here are links to the Financial Times and Washington Post stories. The Post highlights the key concession:

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.

The Bush administration resisted such rules, reflecting the fears of business interests that they could boost the power of U.S. labor unions, opening a backdoor for them to rewrite U.S. law to their advantage. But the administration concluded that it had to swallow the labor rules lest its trade deals die in a Congress controlled by the other party.

The deal also includes an agreement between the White House and Congress to develop a "strategic worker assistance and training initiative" that would increase job training and financial assistance for communities that suffer job losses to overseas competition and automation. Democrats said those programs would go beyond existing benefits, but they provided few details.

This should make Dani Rodrik very happy. Predictably, it's pissed off both David Sirota and organized labor.

posted by Dan at 09:25 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

posted by Dan at 08:14 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (1)

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.

In the last 10 days alone Mr Bush has lost four senior officials and more resignations are expected to follow. “I wouldn’t describe this as disintegration,” said one senior official. “But there are worrying large gaps opening up and it is very hard to recruit high-quality people from outside.”

Recent departures include J.D. Crouch, the deputy head of the national security council, who wants to spend more time with his family, and Randall Tobias, the head of USAID, who resigned after it was revealed that he used a call girl agency for “legal” erotic services. Mr Bush has also lost Dina Habib Powell, the administration’s most senior Arab-American, who is leaving the State Department to join the private sector, and Timothy Adams, the number three at the Treasury department.

Officials say that the flurry of departures is not unusual during the latter part of a second term and deny there are common themes driving their exits. But they come at a time when Mr Bush is having difficulty filling the new position of “war czar” to oversee the administration’s prosecution of the war in Iraq.

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.]

posted by Dan at 05:07 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

Joe Beasley, Southern Regional Director for the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, said he and Dexter Clinkscale, the director of sports for the organization, met Monday morning for nearly two hours with Braves general manager John Schuerholz, assistant general manager Frank Wren and three other Braves officials.

"The team slipped ... down to [no African-Americans]; it wasn't something that just happened," Beasley said Monday afternoon. "I think it was a lack of diligence on the part of the Braves to recruit African-American players. There's not diminished enthusiasm for African-Americans playing baseball. It's simply the opportunity hasn't presented itself."....

Less than 10 percent of major league players are African-Americans. In a recent interview on the subject, Schuerholz said: "You go to where the talent leads you. Finding major league-caliber baseball players is far too difficult if you try to narrow your criteria down to demographics."

Countered Beasley, "As I expected, [Schuerholz?s] idea is the bottom line: I'll put the best 40 men I can get wherever I can get them from on the field, and that's fair. But the fact of the matter is if they put resources into recruiting here in the United States, and more specifically here in Atlanta, there are talented players here."....

"You slipped down to nothing, now you've got one, we expect it to start going up higher," Beasley said was the sentiment he voiced in the meeting. "We want to see incrementally it move back up, rather than moving down. There was an openness on [Schuerholz's] part to talk and to be in dialogue and hopefully be in partnership in trying to make sure that it happens. He was very nice, a gentleman. I'm going to hold him to his word to work with us and move those numbers back up to a respectable level." (emphases added)

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.

posted by Dan at 11:55 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

The incredibly loud Hawaiian shirt edition of

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.

Topics include:

1) The Jon Chait netroots article.

2) Our place in the wonkosphere (and, yes, Henry, you should feel bad for that neologism).

3) Is Alan Blinder on crack or is he on crack... like a fox?

4) Those bigoted NBA refs.

5) Those bigoted baseball fans.

6) Why France will not change.

Go check it out!

posted by Dan at 08:39 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

The first is technology, especially information and communications technology, which has been improving at an astonishing pace in recent decades. As the technology advances, the quality of now-familiar modes of communication (such as telephones, videoconferencing and the Internet) will improve, and entirely new forms of communication may be invented. One clear implication of the upward march of technology is that a widening array of services will become deliverable electronically from afar. And it's not just low-skill services such as key punching, transcription and telemarketing. It's also high-skill services such as radiology, architecture and engineering -- maybe even college teaching.

The second driver is the entry of about 1.5 billion "new" workers into the world economy. These folks aren't new to the world, of course. But they live in places such as China, India and the former Soviet bloc -- countries that used to stand outside the world economy. For those who say, "Sure, but most of them are low-skilled workers," I have two answers. First, even a small percentage of 1.5 billion people is a lot of folks. And second, India and China will certainly educate hundreds of millions more in the coming decades. So there will be a lot of willing and able people available to do the jobs that technology will move offshore.

Looking at these two historic forces from the perspective of the world as a whole, one can only get a warm feeling. Improvements in technology will raise living standards, just as they have since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. And the availability of millions of new electronically deliverable service jobs in, say, India and China will help alleviate poverty on a mass scale. Offshoring will also reduce costs and boost productivity in the United States. So repeat after me: Globalization is good for the world. Which is where economists usually stop.

And where my alleged apostasy starts.

For these same forces don't look so benign from the viewpoint of an American computer programmer or accountant. They've done what they were told to do: They went to college and prepared for well-paid careers with bountiful employment opportunities. But now their bosses are eyeing legions of well-qualified, English-speaking programmers and accountants in India, for example, who will happily work for a fraction of what Americans earn. Such prospective competition puts a damper on wage increases. And if the jobs do move offshore, displaced American workers may lose not only their jobs but also their pensions and health insurance. These people can be forgiven if they have doubts about the virtues of globalization.

We economists assure folks that things will be all right in the end. Both Americans and Indians will be better off. I think that's right. The basic principles of free trade that Adam Smith and David Ricardo taught us two centuries ago remain valid today: Just like people, nations benefit by specializing in the tasks they do best and trading with other nations for the rest. There's nothing new here theoretically.

But I would argue that there's something new about the coming transition to service offshoring. Those two powerful forces mentioned earlier -- technological advancement and the rise of China and India -- suggest that this particular transition will be large, lengthy and painful.

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.

After the Blinder-Bhagwati debate last week, there was a dinner at the Harvard Faculty Club at which Ben Friedman asked Alan a good question: Now that Alan has had this epiphany about offshoring, does he favor economic policies any different than he favored a decade ago? Alan thought about the question for a moment and then said no. I found that answer reassuring. My fear is that many politicians reading Alan's work on offshore outsourcing will not come to the same conclusion.

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.

Scratch any strongly-held view about free trade, and you will find (typically) unexamined political assumptions underneath. Even if we do not end up agreeing, the value of the present exchange is that it is getting us to reveal what those assumptions are.

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.

2) Blinder believes that the United States should more closely resemble the Scandanavian countries in being both economically open and more socially democratic. Since a direct political campaign for a European-style social welfare state will not fly in the U.S., he feels it necessary to use Very Scary Numbers about trade as a backdoor tactic.

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....

Mr. Levin and his fellow Democrats face a political backlash on trade and globalization as intense as it has been in years, a point underscored by the freshman class of 2006. Across the industrial heartland and the Northeast, those freshman campaigned on a scathing critique of American trade policies. How could Americans compete against workers in developing countries, they asked, while maintaining decent wages, health benefits and pensions?

“It’s an issue near and dear to our hearts, and one we feel we need to deliver change on,” said Representative Betty Sutton, a Democrat from northeast Ohio.

Whenever a politician presents a demand or proffers a promise to "do something" about trade, I get hives.

posted by Dan at 11:49 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Well, this was a bit of a surprise
Which God or Goddess are you like?
Your Result: Goddess Bast

You are the Goddess Bast. You are quiet and calm, but when need be, you are firm and fierce. You are full of love, and you always care. People often come to you for advise or guidance, and you willingly give it. Congatulations!! You are Goddess!!

Goddess Sekhemet
The Christian God
God Zeus
You are your own God or Goddess
Which God or Goddess are you like?
Make Your Own Quiz
posted by Dan at 11:48 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

The question now is how far Mr Sarkozy will be able to implement some of the controversial reformist elements of his programme. In his election-night speech, he declared that "the French people have chosen change.” Among the first reforms that he intends to bring about are labour-market measures: he plans to secure minimum service on public transport during strikes; to break the big five unions' stranglehold on union representation; to change the unemployment-benefit rules to penalise those who refuse two job offers; and to introduce a single job contract with progressive rights.

Unlike President Chirac, who in 1995 also tried to bring about reform but had been elected on an uncontroversial promise to "heal the social fracture", Mr Sarkozy arrives in office with a clear mandate to change. Not only was his score high, but turn-out—at about 85%—was too. Mr Sarkozy knows that he has to move fast to capitalise on that. On minimum service for trains and buses, for instance, he says that he will let the unions and bosses' organisations try to negotiate a deal until the end of the summer; after that, in the absence of agreement, he will legislate. There will doubtless be resistance, and strikes and street protests are widely predicted. Indeed, on election night there were already clashes between riot police and anti-Sarkozy protesters.

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.

The French are notoriously resistant to change, and any new president would be hard-pressed to deliver any dramatic departure from the way people here live and work and get along with each other (or don’t)....

Mr. Sarkozy promised pension reforms and limits on unions’ ability to strike. Already, the most critical union federations are warning him to expect people in the streets if he tries to push through either change.

“Radical change in an authoritarian manner will lead to a situation of blockage,” said Michel Grignard, national secretary of the French Democratic Confederation of Labor. French unions are strong in part because the right to strike is written into the Constitution.

And then there is the French love of their vacations.

Parliament usually is away from mid-July to October, but Mr. Sarkozy has suggested he would call a special session to push through legislation while most of the French are vacationing — and when it would be hard for unions to mobilize them.

The unions warned against it. “Whoever is elected president, if he or she thinks there are things that must be decided very fast, in a flash, and pass them in July, watch out,” said Mr. Mailly of the Force Ouvrière federation. “There’ll eventually be a boomerang effect.”

[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.

posted by Dan at 09:18 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

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?

2) In the Washington Post, Perry Bacon Jr. profiles the GOP's non-candidate candidate, Fred Thompson. The lead is pretty clear:

Fred Thompson fervently backed the Iraq war, railed against an expanding federal government, took stands that occasionally annoyed his party and rarely spoke about his views on social issues during his tenure as a senator from Tennessee or in his writings and speeches since leaving office.

In short, the man some in the GOP are touting as a dream candidate has often sounded like the presidential hopeful many of them seem ready to dismiss: Sen. John McCain.

The story makes it clear that besides his strong defense of federalism and his obvious telegenic qualities, Thompson does not cut a profile different from the top-tier GOP candidates. Question: will Thompson only be the flavor of the month until he announces?

posted by Dan at 10:27 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

Exhibit B is Kieran Healy's shock at viewing the most desirable places to live for his demographic:

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....

But what does my demographic, Families with Children, get? Number 1 in the nation: Louisville CO. It’s followed closely by Gaithersburg MD. Roswell GA, Lakeville MN, and Flower Mound TX round out the top five. Now, I don’t want to offend the many fine people of Gaithersburg, MD or Noblesville IN, but Roll on the Empty Nest, I say.

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.

Five supermarkets within a ten-minute car ride? Check.

Lots of children for our children to befriend? Check.

Reasonable access to big city to enjoy childless activities once in a blue moon? Check.

Swinging key parties to get to know the neighbors better? Thankfully, this isn't The Ice Storm, so no.

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.

posted by Dan at 09:52 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (1)

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.

The case ruled on by the justices concerned an accelerator pedal developed by a Canadian company called KSR. The pedal could be adjusted for a driver’s height and used an electronic sensor, rather than a mechanical cable, to change the engine speed. Teleflex, a rival manufacturer, demanded royalties, claiming the device infringed one of its patents.

KSR argued that Teleflex had combined existing elements in an obvious way, and that its patent was therefore invalid. A district court in Detroit agreed, but the decision was subsequently overturned by the appeals court in Washington, DC. Under the Supreme Court’s new definition of obviousness, Teleflex would have been lucky to get a patent for the pedal in the first place.

The justices’ opinion has been welcomed by the high-tech community. It is impossible to build a laptop, mobile phone or video recorder without infringing dozens of the thousands of patents that cover the various components involved. Computer firms have responded by engaging in a patents arms race and negotiating cross-licensing deals with everyone they expect will be involved.

This is wasteful enough for the Intels, Microsofts and IBMs that can afford such profligate practices. But it can be life or death for smaller, innovative firms. When challenging incumbents’ old-fashioned ways, upstarts like Vonage can find themselves forced out of the market by dubious patent litigation rather than actual competition.

The Supreme Court’s ruling this week will make such anti-competitive practices harder to sustain. Vonage, for one, may be the first of many to seek legal redress from all the shoddy patents endorsed by America’s over-eager courts.

posted by Dan at 12:56 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

posted by Dan at 11:21 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

Over at Capital Commerce, James Pethokoukis argues that the slowdown should not be a cause for concern:

[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:
"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.
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.


posted by Dan at 09:03 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Will NBC save our marriages?

Either my wife has secretly married Entertainment Weekly writer Dalton Ross, or the television show Friday Night Lights has an interesting gender effect. Ross explains in his Glutton column:

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.

Now, I know what you're thinking: How is your marriage in trouble? You've found a show you both love! What's the problem? Well, the first problem is that when I asked Christina whether she was a Street girl or a Riggins girl, she replied emphatically, ''Riggins!'' This means she digs the bad boy, and not being a bad boy myself by any stretch of the imagination, this causes me some concern. (She in turn inquired whether I was a Lyla or Tyra guy, which I refused to answer because I am smart and realize that either answer would come back to haunt me in the long run.) The bigger problem, however, is this: I'm out of episodes. Like an addict that is being denied her fix, my wife is going through serious withdrawal symptoms. She actually ordered me to not come home until I got more DVDs (which might explain why I remain typing here at 10:23 in the evening). Luckily, I have my sources. My peeps over at NBC Universal have taken pity upon me and are hooking Christina up with the rest of the season.

Whew — crisis averted. But for how long? Sure, we'll get a dozen more episodes, but at this rate that'll take her about a weekend to plow through them. What then? In case you hadn't noticed — and judging by the ratings, you hadn't — Friday Night Lights is not exactly what you'd call an audience favorite. A critical darling, to be sure, but a seriously low-rated one....

And as much as I absolutely adore Friday Night Lights, I clearly recognize that this show will never, ever be a hit. What fans love about it — its realism and understated nature — does not appeal to mass audiences. Twenty million people are simply not going to watch a show with shaky cam shots of kids in a diner, so it's hard for me to convince the powers-that-be to keep the show on the air in the hopes that it will suddenly do big numbers. Convincing NBC brass of the show's excellence is also rather futile, because everyone that works there seems to be a big fan of the program. They know it's good. So I am left to play the only card I have left — the preservation of my holy matrimony. Look, NBC, I have children — two of them! Do you want them to grow up in a broken home just because you benched what might be the best drama on network television?

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.

posted by Dan at 08:40 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

2) It might surprise those aware of America's unpopularity in Europe that the transatlantic relationship seems on pretty solid ground -- more solid than in 2006. There are quibbles, to be sure, and Iraq remains a bone of contention. Across a wide array of other topics, however -- Kosovo, China, the transatlantic marketplace, and Russia -- the differences were not that great.

3) It would be safe to say that the Russians did not have a good conference. Indeed, they were acting like... well.... like Americans acted circa 2003. Generally throwing their weight around, acting callous towards states that disagreed with them, proffering implicit threats of action, that sort of thing. The most provocative moments of the conference came with debates between Russians and everyone else over exactly what Putin was thinking. The dust-up over the moving of an Estonian monument prompted spontaneous applause/hissing and catcalling at one one-the-record session (go to 49:30 of the recording). Things got worse once the camera and record-keeping was turned off.

4) When it comes to the transatlantic relationship, China is the 800-lb. elephant in the room. Its rising power cannot be ignored. The $64,000 question is whether China's rise will cause the Americans and Europeans to compete for Beijing's favor or force greater coordination between the US and EU.

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.

posted by Dan at 08:56 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

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 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.

posted by Dan at 02:06 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

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?

posted by Dan at 08:44 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)