Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dan Balz confuses me

Over at the Washington Post's blog The Trail, Dan Balz makes an observation about the Democrats shifting to the left:

The story line almost writes itself: Democratic president candidates snub centrists but plan to court liberal bloggers. Another sign of the party's leftward drift?

That's the easy and partially correct interpretation of what is happening this week. But not the whole story.

In the past two years, the Democratic Leadership Council's (DLC's) annual summer meeting has been a Mecca for would-be candidates. Two years ago, Hillary Clinton was there along with three Democrats who have since fallen by the wayside: Evan Bayh, Mark Warner and Tom Vilsack. Last year in Denver, Clinton among others was there again.

Today, none of the presidential candidates will be in Nashville to address the group that helped redefine the Democratic Party in the late '80s and early '90s -- but the man who did most to put the DLC on the map and who used it as a springboard to the presidency, Bill Clinton, will be.

The candidates cite scheduling conflicts for their absence in Nashville, but a number of them have found time later this week to address the second Yearly Kos convention in Chicago--a clear sign of the ascendance of the blogosphere's influence on politics generally and the Democratic Party in particular.

So what's the whole story? I'm not entirely sure. Balz implies that the DLC is simply less relevant now because of, "the collective desire to put aside what differences remain and focus on winning the White House in 2008." Um, OK, but didn't that collective desire also exist in 2004? Isn't the primary difference between then and now is that the netroots are better organized?

Then Balz closes with:

The Democratic Party has moved to the left since Bill Clinton left office and many independents have moved toward the Democrats because of the Iraq war. But DLC officials predict the party's nominee almost certainly will be at next summer's gathering.
Again, that's actually a sign of waning DLC influence. What matters now is whether the DLC-types can influence who the nominee will be. They have little choice but to provide a platform for whoever the Dems pick.

The fact that YearlyKos matters more than the DLC seems like pretty damning straightforward and uncomplicated evidence to me of where the party has traveled over the last four years.

UPDATE: Changed the word "damning" -- it was a bit more pejorative than I had intended.

Meanwhile, Kevin Drum thinks the shift is less about substance than style:

The real difference is that the average Kossack is obsessed with Democrats having the stones to stand up to the modern Republican machine. Presidential candidates get trashed in the Kos diaries not so much when they take disfavored policy positions (though of course that happens too), but when they're viewed as backing down from a fight. The median Kossack may indeed be to the left of the median Democrat — it would be shocking if an activist group weren't — but mainly they just want their candidates to show some backbone.

I suppose in some sense this is a distinction without a difference. A median Democrat who stands up to the GOP and refuses to budge is, willy nilly, going to end up to the left of a median Democrat who looks for bipartisan compromise. But let's face it: if YearlyKos were genuinely more substantively powerful than the DLC, you'd see the big three candidates taking public positions considerably to the left of the party's positions ten years ago. If that's the case, though, I've missed it. No one's talking about rolling back welfare reform. No one's proposed a healthcare initiative even half as comprehensive as the 1994 Clinton plan. All three candidates continue to claim they're personally opposed to gay marriage. Their rhetoric on guns and abortion is much more muted than in the past. They mostly agree that some of the Bush tax cuts should be allowed to expire, but not much more. They want to get out of Iraq, but that's a thoroughly mainstream position, and none of them are willing to commit to a complete withdrawal in any case.

posted by Dan at 09:33 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

I, for one, suspect Michael Bay

First Ingmar Bergmann dies.

Now it's Michelangelo Antonioni.

Clearly, someone or something is killing Europe's great film directors.

Anyone seen Michael Bay recently? How about Brett Ratner?

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

Monday, July 30, 2007

It's not so bad out there

Gideon Rose argues in the international edition of Newsweek that despite the dour headlines, the world is actually not going to hell in a handbasket... yet:

For all the whining and worrying in the United States and abroad, therefore—and for all the real and pressing problems that remain—the world has never had it so good. The most advanced countries are allies and are generally devoted to the betterment of their own and other peoples. More than a third of humanity lives in countries growing at about 10 percent annually. Living standards have never been higher, life spans longer or politics freer, and there is every reason to expect such trends to continue. This generally benign context, in which great-power war and depressions are extremely unlikely, is the backdrop against which less serious or more speculative problems—terrorism, diplomatic rivalries, slow or unevenly distributed growth, future climate changes—loom large.

It is crucial to remember, however, that our generally happy condition is neither accidental nor inevitable. It is the result of wise choices made by leaders and publics in decades past—a legacy that could be squandered if we take things like great-power peace or an open global trading system for granted, or get spooked into rash or imprudent actions that create more problems than they solve.

This was the Bush administration's real failure: intoxicated by self-righteous hubris, it never understood that dominance could be exercised but legitimate authority had to be earned. So it scorned the routine diplomatic maintenance necessary to keep the system in good working order, only to find itself isolated when its pet projects came a cropper. At this point, having squandered most of his capital and having defined himself so starkly through his initial policies, there is little Bush can do to change anyone's mind about anything. His successor, however, will get a fresh start. And if the next administration can avoid Bush's mistakes, it should find keeping the world on track much easier than most currently expect.

posted by Dan at 10:55 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

The power of a bad airport

In the Financial Times, Christopher Adams reports on British concerns about a badly functioning airport:

London’s status as one of the world’s leading financial centres risks being undermined by excessive delays at Heathrow and the airport’s sprawling layout, the new City minister warns on Monday.

In her first interview in the role, Kitty Ussher has told the Financial Times that the government shares business concerns about queues at passport control, the effect of security measures and the airport’s set-up.

Calling herself an “advocate” for business in government, she spoke of the unhappiness felt by executives at the so-called “Heathrow hassle” and the miserable experiences they have suffered.

In frank criticism that reflects mounting government concern, she voiced fears that multinational companies could question the rationale for holding annual or other important meetings in London. “I want multinational companies to feel really confident about housing their annual general meetings here,” she said.

“They often have it in a different financial centre every year, or board meetings, that kind of thing. I don’t want their New York or Dubai executives saying ‘Oh God, I don’t want to go through Heathrow’. I don’t want that to be an issue.”

She said of the airport: “You spend so much time being processed. That’s the issue... passports, security, just the layout of the buildings which makes it more difficult.”

I understand Ussher's concerns, but if a bad airport really drove away that much business, the city of Miami would desolate wasteland.

Still, this prompts a question to readers -- in terms of lines and general disorganization, what's the worst airport you've ever experienced? Has an airport been so bad that you actually altered your future tavel to bypass it?

posted by Dan at 09:00 AM | Comments (34) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, July 27, 2007

A great way to referee the Obama-Clinton debate

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have been a fussin' and a feudin' since their disagreement at the YouTube debate over whether they would be willing to negotiate with foreign dictators. The Washington Post's campaign blog summarizes the state of play:

Sen. Barack Obama accused Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of taking the same closed-door approach as President Bush in handling rogue states.

"You'll have to ask Senator Clinton, what differentiates her position from theirs?" Obama challenged reporters in a conference call on Thursday.

Clinton waited a few hours, then fired back. "What ever happened to the politics of hope?" she said in a CNN interview, tweaking the optimistic Obama campaign theme.

Their tussle -- the first real verbal engagement of the Democratic primary between the top two candidates -- began during Monday night's debate in South Carolina.

Asked whether they would agree to meet leaders from hostile countries such as North Korea and Iran in their first year in office, without preconditions, Obama had said he would. Clinton said she would not. Clinton advisers quickly cast Obama's answer as a rookie mistake, and in an interview on Tuesday, Clinton referred to him as "irresponsible and naïve."

Obama, who has promised to run a "different kind of campaign" free of acrimony, did not shy away from quarreling with Clinton over the substantive policy question at hand. "The Bush administration's policy is to say that we will not talk to these countries unless they meet various preconditions. That's their explicit policy," Obama said. But he did qualify his earlier answer about meeting with rogue leaders without preparation.

"Nobody expects that you would suddenly just sit down with them for coffee without having done the appropriate groundwork. But the question was, would you meet them without preconditions, and part of the Bush doctrine has been to say no," he said.

By late Thursday, officials from the Clinton and Obama campaigns were squabbling on a split-screen on CNN over the matter.

Now campaign reporters love this sort of thing, for obvious reasons. For the rest of us, it's still too damn early.

However, this particular tiff provides a great way to divine whether there's a real difference in their foreign policy approaches. Campaign reporters, please steal the following question from this blog and pose it to both the Clinton and Obama camps:

Yesterday Cuban leader Raul Castro signaled his willingness to negotiate with the person who succeeds George W. Bush as president. This is the third time Castro has stated this desire since assuming power a year ago. If elected, would your administration be willing to negotiate directly with the communist regime in Havana? Would you be willing to meet with Castro personally? Would you attach any preconditions to such a meeting?

posted by Dan at 08:06 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Matthew Yglesias agrees with John Bolton

Matt Yglesias doesn't like the nuclear deal with India:

What's happening in this deal is that we're granting India concessions related to its nuclear program and India is giving us . . . essentially nothing in exchange....

Meanwhile, from a neoconnish perspective the fact that this undermines the nonproliferation regime is probably a good thing. They hate the idea that diplomatic agreements might actually work and undermine their efforts to start an endless series of wars.

Yeah... there are a few problems with this interpretation. The biggest, of course, is that the biggest neocon involved in the nonproliferation question opposed the India nuclear deal.

As for Matt's interpretation of the deal.... I've defended it before, but I'll ask the same question again -- under what set of magical circumstances was India ever going to agree to give up their nuclear weapons?

Not everything the Bush administration does is part of the neocon grand plan. Indeed, I think we can all agree that "neocon grand plan" is a really bad joke.

posted by Dan at 04:45 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

I'm very rarely right, so I'm going to savor this

Three years ago, I argued in Foreign Affairs that the growth projections about offshore outsourcing were wildly overstated. Others have suggested that growth projections about offshore outsourcing are wildly understated.

This Economist story provides a point for me and against the Blinder-Friedman hypothesis:

The latest quarterly report on the state of global outsourcing from TPI, a consultancy, was published earlier this month. It showed that both the number and value of contracts awarded during the first half of this year had declined in comparison with the same period in 2006. In 2007 the total value of contracts awarded in the first six months was the lowest since 2001....

As growth slows it is clear that making money is becoming more difficult for outsourcing firms. Competing on price is getting ever harder. Established vendors are hiring workers in the same low-cost locations as their offshore rivals—the likes of Accenture and IBM have been furiously ramping up their operations in India, for example. One response is to keep searching for ever-cheaper locations, both within India and outside it, but a race to the bottom on price threatens both the quality of service and profit margins. For the top-tier providers, the way to stand apart from the crowd is to deliver more valuable services....

Outsourcing firms are moving into more countries in order to deliver the right mix of cost, risk and quality. As Western providers concentrate on beefing up their presence in low-wage centres, Indian vendors are focusing on the markets where the buying decisions are made. Physical and cultural proximity is important for building closer client relationships, for delivering certain types of services (such as unscripted selling) and for soothing concerns about data security and confidentiality. Hiring locals also has the effect of cutting down on visa hassles.

Wipro, one of the big three Indian providers (along with Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services), is close to reaching an agreement with the authorities in Atlanta, Georgia, to set up its first software-development centre in America. The three other cities shortlisted during the selection process—Austin, Texas; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Richmond, Virginia—stand a good chance of hosting other centres. Azim Premji, Wipro's chairman, says that the proportion of local employees (as opposed to visiting Indians) in the company's overseas locations will rise from 10% to one-third over the next three years.

Few providers expect the topic of offshoring to lose its political sting—despite plenty of evidence, including a recent OECD report on the subject, showing that it is not a big cause of job losses and has an overall positive effect. But the maturing of the outsourcing industry ought to mean that scaremongering about jobs flowing from rich countries to poor ones will sound less and less convincing.

posted by Dan at 01:36 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

The power of the farm lobby

The New York Times' David Herszenhorn explains in depressing detail why farm subsidies will not be cut back anytime soon -- despite the fact that market conditions are at an ideal point for doing so:

For the many critics of farm subsidies, including President Bush and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, this seemed like the ideal year for Congress to tackle the federal payments long criticized as enriching big farm interests, violating trade agreements and neglecting small family farms.

Many crop prices are at or near record highs. Concern over the country’s dependence on foreign oil has sent demand for corn-based ethanol soaring. European wheat fields have been battered by too much rain. And market analysts are projecting continued boom years for American farmers into the foreseeable future.

But as the latest farm bill heads to the House floor on Thursday, farm-state lawmakers seem likely to prevail in keeping the old subsidies largely in place, drawing a veto threat on Wednesday from the White House.

“The bill put forth by the committee misses a major opportunity,” Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said Wednesday. “The time really is right for reform in farm policy.”

Faced with fierce opposition from the House Agriculture Committee, Ms. Pelosi and other Democratic leaders lowered their sights and are now backing the committee’s bill, in part to protect freshman lawmakers from rural areas who may be vulnerable in the 2008 elections....

A group of dissident lawmakers led by Representatives Ron Kind, Democrat of Wisconsin, and Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, is still pushing a plan to curtail the subsidies sharply.

But they have been largely outmuscled by the Agriculture Committee. It 46 members are slightly more than 10 percent of the House but their districts received more than 40 percent of all farm subsidies from 2003 to 2005, according to a database compiled by the Environmental Working Group, which opposes the subsidies.

Critics in Congress include fiscal conservatives who deride the payments as wasteful government spending and liberals who call them corporate welfare for agribusiness. All say the measure will simply perpetuate the overly generous subsidy system, at a point when American farmers are well-positioned to weather changes.

“When farm prosperity is as good as it is right now, this is the time to reform,” said Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin and a member of the dissident group. “If we can’t reform these farm programs at this moment in our history, we will never be able to do it.”

The group has proposed an amendment to the farm bill that would cut subsidies and increase spending on environmental conservation, rural development and nutrition programs, including food banks. It would end subsidies to farmers earning more than $250,000 a year, similar to the $200,000 cap proposed by the Bush administration. It would also substantially limit payments that farmers receive under guaranteed loan programs.

The effort by Mr. Kind has exposed divisions among House Democrats, some of whom argue that he could cost the party its new majority. The fear is that freshmen Democrats from rural swing districts could lose their seats if voters blamed them for lower farm subsidies. Mr. Kind rejected such assertions. “The vast majority of our new members benefit from our proposal,” he said....

The strategic maneuvering by the administration, and some unusual alliances on Capitol Hill, reflect the curious politics of farm policies, cutting across party lines and mirroring regional interests more than partisan loyalties.

The keen interest in the bill, even among urban lawmakers from districts without a corn or barley field, underscores the vast scope of the farm bill, which includes not just agriculture policies but nutrition programs like food stamps, and an array of energy, land conservation and other programs.

posted by Dan at 11:20 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

A post in which I send my readers on a blog hunt

President George W. Bush and New York Governor Eliot Spitzer both seem way too fond of executive privilege.

Bush, of course, has gone so far as to order Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten ignore Congressional subpoenas. The AP story sums up the state of play:

Miers' testimony emerged as the battleground for a broader scuffle between the White House and Congress over the limits of executive privilege. Presidents since the nation's founding have sought to protect from the prying eyes of Congress the advice given them by advisers, while Congress has argued that it is charged by the U.S. Constitution with conducting oversight of the executive branch.

The dispute extended to Congress' request for information on other matters, including the FBI's abuses of civil liberties under the USA Patriot Act and Bush's secretive wiretapping program.

But it is a pair of congressional subpoenas for two women who once were Bush's top aides that has moved the disagreement to the brink of legal sanctions and perhaps a court battle.

Former White House political director Sara Taylor appeared Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee and in a tentative performance sought to answer some lawmakers' questions and remain mum on others, citing Bush's claim of privilege. Senators didn't seem eager to cite her with contempt, but Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, said he had not yet made that decision.

Miers, in contrast, chose to skip the House hearing Thursday, citing White House Counsel Fred Fielding's letter to her lawyer conveying Bush's order not to show up. In letters sent the night before to Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and Sanchez, Bush and Fielding cited several legal opinions that they said indicated that the president's immediate advisers had absolute immunity from congressional subpoenas.

Miers and Bolten now face possible contempt of Congress charges.

Now we turn to Eliot Spitzer. Danny Hakim summarizes the state of play in the New York Times:

Gov. Eliot Spitzer vowed on Wednesday to fight any State Senate inquiry into his administration’s internal operations, even as Republican senators were laying the groundwork for an investigation that could lead to subpoenas of top officials.

The administration’s stance sets the stage for a potential showdown with the Senate, and it came amid rising concerns even among Mr. Spitzer’s fellow Democrats about whether the governor and his staff had been candid about their office’s effort to discredit a political rival.

A scathing report issued on Monday by Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo concluded that the governor’s staff had broken no laws but had misused the State Police to gather information about Joseph L. Bruno, the Senate majority leader, in an effort to plant a negative story about him.

The governor has maintained that he was misled by his staff and knew nothing about the effort to discredit Mr. Bruno. But two of his closest aides refused to be interviewed by the attorney general’s investigators, intensifying suspicion, especially among the governor’s critics, that Mr. Spitzer and his staff had not been forthright.

At a fiery press conference in Saratoga Springs, Mr. Bruno, the state’s top Republican, lashed out at the governor and signaled that the Senate fully intended to examine the matter further....

[W]ith the decision to fight a Senate inquiry, Mr. Spitzer appeared to be shifting from quiet contrition to a more confrontational stand. The move not only sets up a potential constitutional clash over executive privilege, but could also create a major distraction in the Capitol. Senator George H. Winner Jr., the chairman of the Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations, wrote to Mr. Cuomo on Wednesday, seeking copies of depositions, statements and e-mail traffic he had obtained. Mr. Bruno, asked if a Senate committee had the power to subpoena the governor, said “I am told by counsel that we have subpoena powers and that we can subpoena the governor, anybody.”

But Christine Anderson, the governor’s press secretary, said in a statement, “The State Senate lacks the constitutional authority to conduct investigatory hearings into the internal operations of the governor’s office.”

Assignment to blog readers: is there anyone in the blogosphere partisan enough to defend one of these claims of executive privilege but attacked the other?

posted by Dan at 10:40 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A small Harry Potter break in the blogging.... and we're back and grumpy

Am reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with spare time.

[It took you five days to get the book?--ed. No, it took the Official Blogwife that many days to read it and then give it to me.]

Everyone go away for a while. Like Megan McArdle, I'm going into semi-withdrawal for a few days.

UPDATE: Is it just me, or does anyone else derive satisfaction from tearing through Rowling at warp speed? I normally don't plow through 750 page books in a day, but I always read Harry Potter about twice as fast as other books. My hunch is that Michael Berube is correct -- the books are a combination of a fully imagined world and the pure essence of plot and narrative. I feel the same way reading a Harry Potter book as I do when I was running a really fast wind sprint.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Fans of both Harry Potter and the Sopranos should really click here.

FINAL UPDATE: OK, I've finished the book and opened the comment thread back up. My critical take on the book appears after the jump [WARNING: MASSIVE PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD]:

I have to say, I thought Deathly Hallows was the weakest of the bunch. Part of this was inevitable -- the ending can't satisfy everyone, a lot of loose ends needed tying up, and there is a clear tension between what Rowling's adult fans and younger fans wanted to see happen. These tensions existed in the previous books as well, but Rowling was always able to kick the can down the road in the earlier volumes. As a reader, I was always confident that unanswered questions (what is Snape up to?) would be dealt with before the series ended.

Now that the series has ended, however, there are still a bunch of cans lying on the road. Rowling has always been able to control her unruly plots, but when I finished this book, I had a hell of a lot of questions:

1) How the bloody hell does the sword of Gryffindor get into the friggin' Sorting Hat? UPDATE: I knew Wikipedia had its uses: "The two items share a particular bond; whenever a "true Gryffindor" needs it, the Sword will let itself be pulled out of the hat."

2) Does anyone completely buy Dumbledore's explanation for why Harry survived Voldemort's attack in the forrest? Reminded me a wee bit of this.

3) What purpose does the Deathly Hollows portion of the plot serve?

4) Why does Rowling completely whiff on Draco Malfoy's character? She sets him up for some interesting character developments at the end of Half-Blood Prince. In Deathly Hallows, Potter saves him, he's alreay feeling unsure about Voldemort, and he still tries to join the Death Eaters?

More generally, I'm with Russell Arben Fox on this: "I wanted to see Horace Slughorn lay it on the line to the Slytherin students, shut Pansy Parkinson up, and demonstrate (as Phineas Nigellus insisted) that there's a real reason for Slytherin House after all."

5) Is it just me or does the final duel between Potter and Voldemort revolve around.... correctly defining the property rights of wands?!

6) This one is the biggest, and touches on Megan Mcardle's complaint that, "most of [the characters] spend the latter books pointlessly withholding information from each other that, if shared, would end the installment somewhere around page ten." Let's see if I have this straight: At the last minute, Harry Potter needs to be told that he has a Horcrux in him and must be willing to die when he faces Voldemort. Following secured, compartmentalized information protocol, Dumbledore entrusts this information to Snape and Snape alone. Dumbledore then has Snape promising to kill him at the right moment -- which he does, in front of Harry Potter, who has no idea why this is happening.

So, here's my question -- how in the hell was Snape ever going to relay the necessary information to Potter in a way that Potter would have believed him? Harry hates Snape -- how could he possible have believed him? Rowling comes up with a way, but surely Dubledore could not have counted on this serendipitous series of events taking place.

Even Potter knew to tell Neville about dispatching Nagini before he heads into the woods, because Ron and Hermione might not make it. Why didn't Dumbledore also tell McGonagall or Mad-Eye this crucial bit of info?

It wasn't all bad. The scene with Harry walking to his doom, accompanied by all the dead who love him, was particularly affecting. The battle of Hogwarts was friggin' awesome (one looks forward to seeing that on film). Rowling always knows when to surprise with the humor. And I think I liked the epilogue more than most -- Harry and his friends have more than earned their happiness. On the whole, though, Michiko Kakutani is full of it -- Dealthly Hallows is a disappointment.

For other takes, see Russell Arben Fox, Ross Douthat, and Slate's Book Club.

Rowling provides a few more details about the epilogue here.

posted by Dan at 12:10 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

When should experts matter?

An underlying theme of a few recent posts is the role that experts could and should play in a democracy. There is no clear-cut answer to this question. One can extol the wisdom of crowds -- except when crowds are sometimes mobs. One can extol experts -- except that experts are frequently wrong. This issue is especially sticky with social science questions, because while expertise exists, it is more inexact and generally less respected by publics.

Of course, even "hard science" has its problems in the policy world. For a non-American example, the following New York Times story by Elisabeth Rosenthal:

Amflora potatoes, likely to become the first genetically modified crop in the last decade to be approved for growth in Europe, have become the unlikely lightning rod in the angry debate over such products on the Continent.

The European Commission now says it will approve the potato “probably this fall,” even though European ministers have twice been deadlocked on approval over the last eight months, with only a minority voting in favor. According to European Union procedures, “the ministers have not been able to take a decision, so we will have to reaffirm our earlier opinion to recommend it,” said Barbara Helferrich, spokeswoman for the European Commission’s Environment Directorate.

But European environmental groups are critical of Amflora potatoes, saying they could release dangerous genes into the environment. Approving Amflora would make “a mockery of E.U. law,” said Marco Contiero, an expert on genetically modified organisms at Greenpeace in Brussels.

Still, perhaps the biggest hurdle for Amflora is the visceral popular reaction against genetically modified crops on a continent whose food culture is ancient and treasured.

“I just don’t like the idea,” said Monika Stahl, 31, waiting for a bus with a sack of fresh vegetables in Mannheim, just 12 miles from the Amflora field. “I worry about safe food and about the environment. I have children and worry about them.”

In one sense, the irony is that Amflora is not a food at all. Although it looks, feels and smells like any other potato, each one is actually a genetically engineered factory for amylopectin, a starch used to make glossy paper coatings, clothing finishes and adhesive cement.

A few questions to readers:
1) Is massive public hostility to GMOs a sufficient reason to ban their use?

2) As I discuss in All Politics Is Global, here is a strong scientific consensus that GMOs are as safe as conventionally cultivated crops. If this scientific consensus, in and of itself, is insufficient to change public attitudes, can anything change public opinion on this point?

3) The scientific consensus on GMOs cannot refute concerns about possible losses in biodiversity. Is this unknown still a sufficient reason to ban their use? In other words, when is the precautionary principle sufficient to warrant regulatory action?

posted by Dan at 10:01 AM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

In honor of great aunt Shirley

The White Plains Times runs a story about my great aunt Shirley Rodkinson, who celebrated her 106th birthday last month. My favorite part of the article:

It’s clear that Shirley has always lived her life by her own terms. According to Richard, his grandmother has “rode life at a very even keel,” and has always been both independent and “firm in her opinion.” He added, with a laugh, that “Shirley’s not your typical Jewish grandmother; she never tried to tell you how to live your life.”

[Her daughter] Florence also makes note of her mother’s strong spirit, recalling when Shirley was first admitted into White Plains Center for Nursing Care. Her first reaction? “When do I get out of here?”

Aunt Shirley is my late grandfather's older sister. I'm very fond of her -- despite her New York Yankee loyalties.

posted by Dan at 09:18 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Why TAA is not a valuable bargaining chip

I've had enough conversations with Hill staffers to know the political lay of the land on expanding Trade Adjustment Assistance to service sector workers:

1) Everyone recognizes that the current TAA rules -- which only apply to the manufacturing sector -- make little sense in a world where more and more services are tradeable;

2) Everyone also recognizes that the cost of expanding TAA is pretty small by federal gov't standards -- we're talking a billion or two;

3) Democrats want to expand TAA, but for the past five years Republicans have held TAA hostage for something valuable in return -- support on a particular free trade agreement, an extension of fast track, etc.

4) No deal has ever been made.

I bring all this up because of Lori Montgomery's front-pager in the Washington Post today:
As part of their campaign to soothe an anxious middle class, congressional Democrats are preparing legislation that would significantly expand federal aid to the most obvious victims of the global economy: workers whose jobs move offshore or are lost to foreign imports.

Under a Senate bill to be introduced today, computer programmers, call-center staffers and other service-sector workers who make up the vast majority of the nation's workforce would for the first time be eligible for a generous package of income, health and retraining benefits currently reserved for manufacturing workers who lose their jobs to international trade.

Democrats say the expansion of the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program would begin to reweave the social safety net for the 21st century, as advances permit more industries to take advantage of cheap foreign labor -- even for skilled, white-collar work. By providing special compensation to more of globalization's losers and retraining them for stable jobs at home, they say, an expanded program could begin to ease the resentment and insecurity arising from the new economy.

A similar bill is nearing completion in the House, and Democrats hope to approve the expansion before the program expires Sept. 30. Trade Adjustment Assistance typically gets strong bipartisan support; Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) is co-sponsoring the bill with Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

But this year, rancorous politics have developed around broader trade issues, threatening the proposed expansion and, potentially, the program's survival.

"This is not going to be a slam-dunk," said Howard Rosen, executive director of the nonprofit Trade Adjustment Assistance Coalition....

Republicans as well as Democrats have long called for an overhaul of Trade Adjustment Assistance. President Bush has praised the program and promised to improve it. But the politics of trade have been complicated since Democrats took control of Congress with the help of many candidates who campaigned against further trade liberalization.

In the past, Trade Adjustment Assistance has been renewed alongside legislation granting the president fast-track authority to negotiate trade deals without congressional interference. But Bush's fast-track authority expired in June, and House Democrats have made it clear that they do not intend to restore it.

In addition, many Republicans feel scalded by Democratic delays on free-trade deals that the Bush administration has negotiated with Peru and Panama. Those agreements, and more politically divisive agreements with South Korea and Colombia, have not been brought to a vote since a deal to move them forward was made in May.

Now, even some Republican champions of Trade Adjustment Assistance say they are reluctant to sign on to its renewal unless Democrats reconsider their opposition to fast-track authority.

"Frankly, TAA is a very integral part of our efforts to reduce barriers and expand trade . . . and my view is they ought to go together," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the senior Republican on the Finance Committee.

The Bush administration was actively working on a reauthorization proposal for Trade Adjustment Assistance when fast-track expired, the program's advocates said. Now, the administration appears to have backed off to recalibrate its strategy.

I'd love it if the GOP could get this quid pro quo, but it ain't gonna happen. I can't see any TAA program that would convince Democrats to renew fast track.

This is so partly because although many Democrats genuinely want to expand the program, others are offering it only lip service. Unions, in particular, loathe TAA, because even if it provides fiscal relief to their members, it also facilitates the movement of workers to non-union sectors. In other words, TAA undercuts the organizational power of unions. They can't outright oppose it, because they've been calling for it for decades now, but they don't love it.

So, an interesting question -- knowing that fast track ain't happening, should TAA be exapanded? I say yes, because of the poll numbers discussed in the last post. My hunch, however, is that GOP congressmen are going to say no.

The two direct losers from this kind of impasse: service sector workers displaced by offshore outsourcing, and free trade advocates. The first group is small -- the second group is smaller.

posted by Dan at 12:14 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The public aims at the wrong bogeymen


What you see above you is the result of a Financial Times/Harris poll among various OECD countries about globalization (note, by the way, that the FT wierdly flip-flops the categories halfway through the graph). The associated story sums it up as follows:

The depth of anti-globalisation feeling in the FT/Harris poll, which surveyed more than 1,000 people online in each of the six countries, will dismay policy-makers and corporate executives. Their view that opening economies to freer trade is beneficial to poor and rich countries alike is not shared by the citizens of rich countries, regardless of how liberal their economic traditions.
Indeed, as the poll shows, there's either majority or plurality enthusiasm for "setting pay caps for the heads of companies." The breadth of support surprises Mark Thoma.

For a pro-globalization type like me, there's not a lot that's funny about this kind of public sentiment. There is something ironic, however, about the extent to which publics believe that this kind of measure will reduce income inequality. On this point, I click over to Marginal Revolution and find the following:

We consider how much of the top end of the income distribution can be attributed to four sectors -- top executives of non-financial firms (Main Street); financial service sector employees from investment banks, hedge funds, private equity funds, and mutual funds (Wall Street); corporate lawyers; and professional athletes and celebrities. Non-financial public company CEOs and top executives do not represent more than 6.5% of any of the top AGI brackets (the top 0.1%, 0.01%, 0.001%, and 0.0001%)....

...we do not find that the top brackets are dominated by CEOs and top executives who arguably have the greatest influence over their own pay. In fact, on an ex ante basis, we find that the representation of CEOs and top executives in the top brackets has remained constant since 1994. Our evidence, therefore, suggests that poor corporate governance or managerial power over shareholders cannot be more than a small part of the picture of increasing income inequality, even at the very upper end of the distribution. We also discuss the claim that CEOs and top executives are not paid for performance relative to other groups. Contrary to this claim, we find that realized CEO pay is highly related to firm industry-adjusted stock performance. Our evidence also is hard to reconcile with the arguments in Piketty and Saez (2006a) and Levy and Temin (2007) that the increase in pay at the top is driven by the recent removal of social norms regarding pay inequality. Levy and Temin (2007) emphasize the importance of Federal government policies towards unions, income taxation and the minimum wage. While top executive pay has increased, so has the pay of other groups, particularly Wall Street groups, who are and have been less subject to disclosure and social norms over a long period of time. In addition, the compensation arrangements at hedge funds, VC funds, and PE funds have not changed much, if at all, in the last twenty-five or thirty years (see Sahlman (1990) and Metrick and Yasuda (2007)). Furthermore, it is not clear how greater unionization would have suppressed the pay of those on Wall Street. In other words, there is no evidence of a change in social norms on Wall Street. What has changed is the amount of money managed and the concomitant amount of pay.

Oh, and there's no apparent correlation between higher pay and the openness of a sector to international trade.

To be fair, I suspect publics would support capping the income of Wall Street groups if they were asked. CEOs might simply be a proxy for "evil capitalist pg-dogs." That said, CEOs do tend to be the first target whenever this kind of sentiment is translated into political action.

I can't dispute the rising resentment about rising inequality -- but that doesn't mean that the resentment has acquired the correct target (I don't think there is a clear target, but that's a topic for another day). There is support, clearly, for some really stupid policies.

posted by Dan at 11:51 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

What does YouTube mean for punditry?

Ezra Klein has a provocative answer:

Increasingly, though, the incentives [for television appearances] are changing. Assume that the incentive for going on television is to raise your profile (which is about 75 percent correct). If I went on television five years ago, a large part of my incentive would be to make the host like me. After all, these appearances pass in an instant, and most of you would never see the program. So if I want to reach the maximum number of people with my arguments and do the most to increase my visibility, I want to keep coming back.

Now, however, with YouTube and GoogleVideo and online archiving, a single, contentious appearance can be seen on the internet a million times. Everyone, after all, has seen Stewart berate Tucker Carlson on Crossfire, but very few of us had actually tuned in that day. Similarly, my segment on the Kudlow show, replayed on the internet a few thousand times, did much more for my reputation among the audience relevant to my success than have my more friendly, but bland, appearances on other shows.

Making sense often requires you to be disruptive, and not long ago, being disruptive was probably a bad idea. Now it's a good one. And since the channels are wising up and putting their videos online with advertising before them, they also want widespread online dissemination of appearances, and so their incentives are increasingly aligned with mine. Does this mean more folks will be making sense? Not necessarily. But it means their might be more room for sense-making.

Alas, I think Ezra has his logic backwards. What attracts viewers' attention when watching pundits is not whether or not they're making sense, but whether or not they're being disruptive. This, of course, was why Crossfire was on the air for so long. This is why Robert Novak's most memorable TV moment will be when he walked off the the set of Inside Politics. This is why blogginghead.tv's biggest viral moment involved a lot of disruption but not a whole lot of sense.

To put it in terms of inequalities, I would agree that (disruptive + making sense) > (disruptive + nonsense) for most TV viewers, but that (disruptive + nonsense) > (polite + making sense) for most TV viewers as well.

One could argue that this means that the best pundits will be both disruptive and make sense, crowding out everyone else. Color me skeptical, however, for two reasons. First, it's much easier to be disruptive than it is to make sense, and so for an aspiring pundit, the risk-averse attention-getting strategy is making as big a stink as possible. Making sense is optional.

Second, sometimes making sense is not disruptive -- it's boring. Most of the time, life is not simple, does not fit neatly into ideological categories, and requires "on the one hand, on the other hand" calculations. This kind of analysis can be really, really boring to people -- especially if they crave informational shortcuts in the form of brightly colored answers.

Of course,to defend this position, I hereby challenge Ezra Klein to a mano-a-mano, no-holds-barred bloggingheads smackdown to debate the issue -- a prospect that scares other pundits.

posted by Dan at 11:04 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, July 20, 2007

A dose of the old bloggingheads

My latest bloggingheads diavlog is now online, with DLC Ed Kilgore (who blogs now at Democratic Strategist). Among the topics under discussion:

1) The Senate sleepover;

2) What will Bush do about Iran?

3) Why do the GOP candidates like war so much?

4) Why is Michael Gershon putting the hate on Rudy?

5) Edwards vs. Obama on poverty;

6) The Democrats and economic populism

7) More mockery of The Elders.

I'll just apologize now for the fact that my face is much closer to the camera than prior bloggingheads. They actually wanted this, believe it or not.

posted by Dan at 12:19 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Your one-sentence U.S. foreign policy advice of the day

George Packer, "Total Vindication," The New Yorker online, on Iran:

The regime there is brutal, and we should talk to it.
Read the whole piece -- no one will acuse Packer of having any illusions about the Iranian regime.

posted by Dan at 10:27 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Starbucks liberalism (??)

There's something about writing about Starbucks that apparently renders me incapable of determining whether the writer is being satirical or straight (click here for an earlier example).

Will someone please tell the hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com whether or not Shadi Hamid is trying to be funny in these paragraphs?

There is something rather amusing (and self-indulgent) about “coffee-cup liberalism,” but at the end of the day, I kind of like it. Let’s export it. Oh yea, we’re already doing that. If you weren’t aware, Starbucks is in the process of colonizing Egypt. I can’t say that this is a bad thing, particularly as there is a new theory emerging in the political science literature called the “Starbucks peace theory" – i.e. countries with Starbucks don’t go to war with each other. So, instead of invading the Iranians, why don’t we force a Starbucks store in Tehran down their throats? That can be our stick, until we think of a carrot (or is it the other way around?).

Back to the original point. Your local Starbucks store is a fun place to spend time in with your laptop. If you spend enough time there, you begin to form a community of people endlessly peering with quizzical stares at their laptop screen while indulging in an exceedingly expensive coffee concoction of some sort, and you make lifelong friends (on one of those big six-person tables with the two blue lamps…yeah, you know what I’m talking about). This is liberalism at its best, and I’d very much like to see us impose it on other people. Why not?

UPDATE: I'm glad too see that others are confused by Starbucks.

posted by Dan at 09:22 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Clive Crook vs. economic populism

Clive Crook's Financial Times column today ($$) plows a familar road -- the Democratic turn towards economic populism:

Whoever wins their party’s presidential nomination, the Democrats are preparing to fight the next election on a platform of left-leaning populism. The contrast with Bill Clinton is evident. He was a centrist, pro-trade, pro-enterprise president – an avowed “New Democrat”. The next Democratic occupant of the White House, if the candidates’ campaigns are to be believed, will be old-school.

Mr Clinton campaigned against the odds to secure passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Today the party is against such deals. Mr Clinton worked hard to get China into the World Trade Organisation. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are Senate co-sponsors of a new China-bashing law. And the move to the populist left is not confined to trade. All the Democratic contenders are turning up the volume on stagnating middle-class wages, soaring profits, swindling bosses, dwindling union membership (Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama back the abolition of secret ballots on union representation), tax loopholes for the super-rich, oil company gouging, insurance company gouging, drug company gouging and every other kind of gouging....

Mr Clinton’s conviction that globalisation was good for America owed a lot to the experts – including economists of the highest professional standing – who surrounded him. Recently, eminent economists such as Alan Blinder, Paul Krugman, Larry Summers (who served as Mr Clinton’s Treasury secretary) and Brad DeLong have all expressed new doubts about the benefits of globalisation for the US. It is all more complicated than we thought, they say. It was hard enough for Mr Clinton to fight for freer trade when every highly regarded economist in the country said it was good for the US. Now that their message has changed to “We might have been wrong about this. We’ll get back to you”, the prospects for liberal trade have dimmed.

Economic populism traditionally marries scepticism on trade with fear of big business: “It’s all about profit.” A striking feature of many Democratic proposals is the belief that cheaper petrol, cheaper drugs, universal health insurance, higher wages, more generous employment benefits, almost any good thing you can think of, can be achieved by demanding them, in one way or another, from companies, or else by raising taxes on the super-rich.

The perverse results of the tax-subsidised healthcare mandate on American businesses show where this approach leads. In the end, the burden falls back on workers and consumers as lower wages and higher prices. The dispiriting wedge between growth in productivity and growth in earnings, the organising principle of the Democratic party’s current economic thinking, gets even bigger.

There is no question that the Democratic contenders are talking about the issues that concern most Americans. There is an excellent centrist case to be made for tax reform, to lift the burden of income and payroll taxes from the low-paid and to increase the burden on the better-off. Universal healthcare is long overdue, a shameful state of affairs in so rich a country. Americans pay more than they should for their medicines. More generous and more imaginative assistance for Americans who lose their jobs because of trade – or because of changing tastes and technology – is needed.

The present administration has little to offer on any of these questions. But the costs of reform cannot be confined to foreigners and plutocrats.

posted by Dan at 10:55 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

A long overdue Salma Hayek post

Many, many fans (at least four) of danieldrezner.com have inquired about how my wife copes with my fondness harmless obsession with Salma Hayek (who, according to pollsters, is officially the hottest woman on the planet). Here's a two-part answer:

a) The Official Blogwife does not really read the blog (she is constantly amazed that there are people who regularly read it);

b) I'm not as dumb as Dalton Ross

Over at Entertainment Weekly's web site, Ross writes about how Salma Hayek has invaded his marital bliss:
[B]ack in 1997, not long after Christina and I had started dating, a TNT movie version of The Hunchback came on. ''Oh, I think Salma Hayek is in this,'' I said. Talk of Hayek as the new hottest woman on the planet was just starting to bubble over everywhere but I had never actually laid eyes on the woman. I was curious about all the Hayek hype. Naturally, Christina was curious as to why I was curious about an actress she had never heard of in a made-for-basic-cable movie. ''What, is she supposed to be hot or something?'' she inquired.

''Well, she is hot,'' I replied, merely repeating what every horny male had led me to believe.

That innocent four-word comment has caused me more grief in the past 10 years than every other marital miscue since. First came the accusations that I was a skeezy horndog obsessed with clown boobs. Then came the inevitable ''Who's hotter, me or Salma?'' queries. Finally, we came to the incessant sarcastic apologies, things along the lines of ''Well, sorry I'm not Salma Hayek!'' and ''Sorry I don't have a EE-cup size like your girlfriend Salma Hayek!''

You think all this would have died down after a while, but you would be thinking wrong. Another round of Hayek harassment blew through recently when my college buddy Eric Mabius told me all about the love scenes he got to shoot with Salma in an elevator on Ugly Betty. I made the mistake of relaying the conversation to Christina (because that's just the type of open, honest guy I am!). Her reaction was somewhere between ''Whoa, bet you're jealous!'' and ''Did you warn Eric to get his hands off your girl?''

The point is, if I could just learn to keep my mouth shut, we'd both be better off.

posted by Dan at 09:57 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Elders are coming, the Elders are coming!!

In his column today, Thomas Friedman ($$) writes the following:

President Bush baffles me. If your whole legacy was riding on Iraq, what would you do? I’d draft the country’s best negotiators — Henry Kissinger, Jim Baker, George Shultz, George Mitchell, Dennis Ross or Richard Holbrooke — and ask one or all of them to go to Baghdad, under a U.N. mandate....
Clearly, the reason Bush hasn't done this is that he's been waiting for.... The Elders!!!!

Cue the press release:

Out of deep concern for the challenges facing all of the people of our world, Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel, and Desmond Tutu have convened a group of leaders to contribute their wisdom, independent leadership and integrity to tackle some of the world's toughest problems.

Nelson Mandela announced the formation of this new group, The Elders, today in a speech he delivered on the occasion of his 89th birthday. He was joined by founding members of the group, Desmond Tutu, Graca Machel, Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter, Li Zhaoxing, Mary Robinson and Muhammad Yunus. Founding members, Ela Bhatt and Gro Harlem Brundtland were unable to attend.

"This group can speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and behind the scenes on whatever actions need to be taken," Mandela commented. "Together we will work to support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict, and inspire hope where there is despair."

Tutu, Chair of The Elders remarked, "Despite all of the ghastliness that is around, human beings are made for goodness. The ones who ought to be held in high regard are not the ones who are militarily powerful, nor even economically prosperous. They are the ones who have a commitment to try and make the world a better place. We -- The Elders -- will endeavor to support those people and do our best for humanity."

The Elders will use their unique collective skills to catalyze peaceful resolutions to long-standing conflicts, articulate new approaches to global issues that are or may cause immense human suffering, and share wisdom by helping to connect voices all over the world....

"I see The Elders as a small but independent group that may fill an existing void in the world community," said Jimmy Carter. "Almost impervious to the consequences of outside criticism, the group will conduct unrestrained analyses of important and complex issues and share our ideas with the general public and with others who might take action to resolve problems."

The Elders will invite new members who share the attributes of the original ten: trusted, respected worldly-wise individuals with a proven commitment and record of contributing to solving global problems.

You can read Michael Wines' New York Times write-up by clicking here.

Before I succumb to the Elders' power of unrestrained analysis, I have to point out that their website makes the language in the press release seem modest. My personal favorite: "Never before has such a powerful group of leaders come together. Free from political, economic or military pressures. The only agenda of The Elders is that of humanity." I mean, with an agenda like that, Bush would be a fool not to turn over Iraq to them.

The founders of The Elders are Richard Branson and Peter Gabriel (according to Wines, “I was talking about the need for a group of global elders to be there to rally around in times of conflict,” [Branson] said, “and Peter said he’d had a similar idea.”), so you know this group will have both plush travel accomodations and a kick-ass theme song (they're so much... larger than life). Just imagine Jimmy Carter parachuting into Iraq to solve the civil war there backed by this song. Or, better yet, Desmond Tutu standing in the West Bank with a boom box over his head playing this song over and over again until all sides relent.

I could go on and on with the mockery (just imagine the supervillians that will unite to counter The Elders!!), but that's not really fair. This group has a large enough collection of Nobel Peace Prizes to ponder: bombastic language aside, will The Elders actually have any influence?

My hunch is "not much", based on this quotation from Wines' story:

Asked how [The Elders] differed from what United Nations diplomats were supposed to do, Mr. Annan replied: “We are not out to defend the positions of any institution or government. We’re ordinary global citizens who want to help with the problems of the world.”
While Track II diplomacy has its occasional uses, the fact is that most conflicts in the world usually require the cooperation of powerful institutions and governments. And sometimes they disagree -- not because of misunderstandings or mispeceptions, but because their interests genuinely diverge. And all the cajoling of all the trained negotiators in the world won't fix that problem.

The Elders won't be able to solve the conflicts that bedevil Iraq, or the Greater Middle East, or Darfur, or Somalia, or Nigeria, or Colombia, or Kosovo, and so on. At best, they will be able to leverage their star power to address problems or conflicts that are so off the radar that the great powers truly do not care... think Congo, for example.

Of course, once they start wearing capes, all bets are off.

UPDATE: Blake Hounshell finds another reason to be wary of The Elders.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I believe The Elders have found their Zan and Jeyna!!!

Mark Steyn alerts me to a Nick Clooney column alerting me to yet another new grouping of famous progeny. According to Clooney, they are called -- I swear I am not making this up -- the "Gen II Peace Team"!!! Click here to read their press release:

The Gen II Global Peace Initiative will work to promote world peace and nonviolence by building on the examples set by members' parents and grandparents to inspire current and future generations to fight injustice and encourage nonviolent means to achieve positive change. They will examine a range of options that will draw attention to humanitarian crises and potential solutions to conflict and to decide on a series of initial fact-finding missions to such "hot spots" as Darfur, the Middle East, Burma and Korea.
Among the participating luminaries listed is Naomi Tutu, daughter of Desmond Tutu, Chair of the Elders.

I, however, refuse to take the Peace Team until they have a pet monkey.

If The Elders and the Peace Team ever unite forces.... hoo, boy, look out.

posted by Dan at 10:21 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

This is a responsible negotiating partner?

One of the standard mantras uttered by Middle East experts is that if the Bush administration had approached Hamas differently when they came to power in 2006, that group could have eventually cut a deal with Israel.

This may very well be true, but every once in a while I run into a story like this one in the New York Times that makes me wonder just how much wishful thinking is embedded in that sentiment:

Hamas television, which was criticized for a Mickey Mouse-like character named Farfur who spouted anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish nostrums at children, has replaced the mouse with a bee named Nahoul, who says he is Farfur’s cousin.

Farfur was beaten to death by an Israeli who wanted his land on the previous episode of the children’s show “Tomorrow’s Pioneers.”

Nahoul, the bee, says: “I want to continue on the path of Farfur, the path of ‘Islam is the solution.’ The path of heroism, the path of martyrdom, the path of jihad warriors.”

In the name of Farfur, the bee says, “we shall take revenge on the enemies of Allah, the murderers of the prophets, the murderers of innocent children, until Al Aksa will be liberated from their filth.”

UPDATE: In the words of my people... sweet fancy Moses!!

posted by Dan at 08:30 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Coping with the global economy

In response to my last post on the rise of economic populism among Democrats (admittedly, one of a long series), Kevin Drum poses the following questions to yours truly:

  • Thanks to many decades worth of trade agreements, trade is pretty darn free already. So while trade agreements may not be huge sources of job loss, signing additional trade agreements to get that last 10% of free trade isn't a likely source of huge economic gains either, is it? It seems as though both sides may be making mountains out of molehills here.

  • How come free traders always yell and scream about, say, labor clauses or environmental requirements being inserted into trade agreements, but don't seem able to muster up the same passion when it comes to special treatment for favored industries? Seems to me that if it's a choice between forcing a trade partner to institute some kind of minimal child labor protection and forcing a trade partner to accept oppressive IP regulations favored by the U.S. content industry, the labor regulations are actually more justified and produce less economic distortion. Dan?

  • If Dems should be concerned about stagnant wages but shouldn't be demagoging it with trade, what should they be doing? That is, what should they be doing that conservatives wouldn't assault like mad dogs until the last breath was torn kicking and screaming from their bodies? Stronger unions? Higher minimum wage? Expanded EITC? More progressive taxation? Vastly increased assistance to help people displaced by trade agreements? Throw me a bone here. Anything?
  • Answers to these questions after the jump....

    1) The trouble with populism is (mostly) not about the remaining 10% of barriers to trade (though see below), it's about efforts to f$%& up the 90% of barriers that have been dismantled. The Baucus-Grassley-Schumer-Graham bill, for example, isn't about halting new trade openings -- it's about finding new ways to clamp down on existing openness.

    Furthermore, this is never going to go away. Protectionism is a great way to reward concentrated interests with diffuse costs, so members of Congress will always have an incentive to act in this way. The current populist mood makes it easier to do it out in the open, but as Daniel Kono has shown, it will also be done behind closed doors as well.

    This is why I'm so adamant about trade liberalization -- the status quo never stays the status quo, but creeps back ever so slowly towards economic closure.

    2) I'm pretty agnostic on "trade plus" kinds of agreements involving either IP or labor standards, and I challenge Kevin to find me a free trader who's been really gung-ho about intellectual property rights enforcement. I do understand, however, why U.S. trade negotiators care more about the former and not the latter. A general disregard for intellectual property protections across the developing world does blunt the incentive to innovate in the United States. The abuse of child labor, in contrast, plays a pissant role at best in the global economy, and has no direct effect on the United States.

    3) Policy proposals "that conservatives wouldn't assault like mad dogs until the last breath was torn kicking and screaming from their bodies"? Hmm.... let me offer four suggestions:

    a) Health care portability. Every poll I've seen suggests that workers are more scared of losing their health coverage than anything else... including their job. If the Democrats can propose something that's in the same ballpark as what Mitt Romney implemented in Massachusetts, it would go a long way towards alleviating public anxiety about globalization.

    b) Tax reform. In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Kenneth Scheve and Matthew Slaughter propose a "New Deal for globalization" that includes making the payroll tax much less regressive:

    A New Deal for globalization would combine further trade and investment liberalization with eliminating the full payroll tax for all workers earning below the national median. In 2005, the median total money earnings of all workers was $32,140, and there were about 67 million workers at or below this level. Assuming a mean labor income for this group of about $25,000, these 67 million workers would receive a tax cut of about $3,800 each. Because the economic burden of this tax falls largely on workers, this tax cut would be a direct gain in after-tax real income for them. With a total price tag of about $256 billion, the proposal could be paid for by raising the cap of $94,200, raising payroll tax rates (for progressivity, rates could escalate as they do with the income tax), or some combination of the two. This is, of course, only an outline of the needed policy reform, and there would be many implementation details to address. For example, rather than a single on-off point for this tax cut, a phase-in of it (like with the earned-income tax credit) would avoid incentive-distorting jumps in effective tax rates.

    This may sound like a radical proposal. But keep in mind the figure of $500 billion: the annual U.S. income gain from trade and investment liberalization to date and the additional U.S. gain a successful Doha Round could deliver. Redistribution on this scale may be required to overcome the labor-market concerns driving the protectionist drift. Determining the right scale and structure of redistribution requires a thoughtful national discussion among all stakeholders. Policymakers must also consider how exactly to link such redistribution to further liberalization. But this should not obscure the essential idea: to be politically viable, efforts for further trade and investment liberalization will need to be explicitly linked to fundamental fiscal reform aimed at distributing globalization's aggregate gains more broadly.

    Slaughter was a Bush appointee to the Council of Economic Advisors, by the way.

    3) Eliminate all tariffs on food products, footwear and apparel. Because they are concentrated in food and clothing, the remaining U.S. tariffs hurt the poor much more than the rich as a fraction of income. Don't take my word for it, this is the argument made by the Progressive Policy Institute: "tariffs appear at least on average to be the only major tax in which effective rates rise as incomes fall." [UPDATE: Kudos to Congressmen Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and Kevin Brady (R-TX) for proposing legislation that addresses this issue.]

    4) Finally, if you really, really need to go after China, go read this.

    I now officially triple dog-dare the Democrats to embrace any or all of these proposals.

    posted by Dan at 10:40 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

    The best sentences I read today

    From the AP, "Positive Trends Recorded in U.S. Data on Teenagers," July 12th:

    The teenage birth rate in 2005, the report said, was 21 per 1,000 young women ages 15 to 17 — an all-time low. The rate in 1991 was 39 births per 1,000 teenagers.
    Is it just me, or is that both a stunning and unambiguously positive change?

    Actually, Ezra Klein manages to provide just a smidgen of ambiguity (though I suspect even he would approve of this outcome).

    posted by Dan at 02:17 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

    Dear Mr. President: please leave Iran in limbo

    Dear George,

    I trust you and yours are doing well. I'm writing because Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger have this story in the Guardian that says you want to solve Iran by the time you leave office:

    The balance in the internal White House debate over Iran has shifted back in favour of military action before President George Bush leaves office in 18 months, the Guardian has learned.

    The shift follows an internal review involving the White House, the Pentagon and the state department over the last month. Although the Bush administration is in deep trouble over Iraq, it remains focused on Iran. A well-placed source in Washington said: "Bush is not going to leave office with Iran still in limbo."

    The White House claims that Iran, whose influence in the Middle East has increased significantly over the last six years, is intent on building a nuclear weapon and is arming insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    The vice-president, Dick Cheney, has long favoured upping the threat of military action against Iran. He is being resisted by the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the defence secretary, Robert Gates.

    Last year Mr Bush came down in favour of Ms Rice, who along with Britain, France and Germany has been putting a diplomatic squeeze on Iran. But at a meeting of the White House, Pentagon and state department last month, Mr Cheney expressed frustration at the lack of progress and Mr Bush sided with him. "The balance has tilted. There is cause for concern," the source said this week.

    Nick Burns, the undersecretary of state responsible for Iran and a career diplomat who is one of the main advocates of negotiation, told the meeting it was likely that diplomatic manoeuvring would still be continuing in January 2009. That assessment went down badly with Mr Cheney and Mr Bush.

    "Cheney has limited capital left, but if he wanted to use all his capital on this one issue, he could still have an impact," said Patrick Cronin, the director of studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

    The Washington source said Mr Bush and Mr Cheney did not trust any potential successors in the White House, Republican or Democratic, to deal with Iran decisively. They are also reluctant for Israel to carry out any strikes because the US would get the blame in the region anyway.

    This story jibes with what I'm hearing about your mindset as well.

    George, George, George.... haven't you learned to prioritize? Last I checked, Pakistan's tribal areas are falling apart, Al Qaeda seems resurgent, your homeland security chief has a bad gut feeling, and, oh yes, there's Iraq. Aren't there enough current threats to focus on without fretting about threats that could manifest themselves 5-10 years from now.

    Speaking of Iraq, there's another reason I'd like you to kick the Iran can down the road. I was sent a screener of a new documentary, No End In Sight. Here's a preview in case it wasn't sent to you:

    The documentary consists almost entirely of observations from former administration officials and servicemen. What they have to say suggests that even if you are the decider, you and yours suck eggs at being the implementer.

    The truth is, no matter how many times I game it in my head, I can't see a scenario where, by focusing your energies on Iran and adopting Cheney's perspective on what to do, you make the situation there even a smidgen better. And in almost all of them, you dramatically worsen the problem.

    Please, I beg you, just stop worrying about Iran. Worry about other things instead.


    Dan Drezner

    posted by Dan at 11:02 AM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

    The libertarian center cannot hold

    This month's Cato Unbound is a debate over Brink Lindsey's Age of Affluence. In the lead essay arguing that the country is more and more libertarian, Lindsey allows the following caveat to his argument:

    [A]t best libertarianism exists as a diffuse, inchoate set of impulses that operate, not as an independent force, but as tendencies within the left and right and a check on how far each can stray in illiberal directions. Second, as I conceded in an earlier essay for Cato Unbound, American public opinion is noticeably unlibertarian in many important respects. In particular, economic illiteracy is rife; much of government spending – especially the budget-busting middle-class entitlement programs – remains highly popular; and the weakness for moralistic crusades, long an unfortunate feature of the American character, remains glaring (though today’s temperance movements direct their obsessive zeal toward advancing health and safety rather than virtue).
    At which point we flip over to Robin Toner's lead story in today's New York Times:
    On Capitol Hill and on the presidential campaign trail, Democrats are increasingly moving toward a full-throated populist critique of the current economy.

    Clearly influenced by some of their most successful candidates in last year’s Congressional elections, Democrats are talking more and more about the anemic growth in American wages and the negative effects of trade and a globalized economy on American jobs and communities. They deplore what they call a growing gap between the middle class, which is struggling to adjust to a changing job market, and the affluent elites who have prospered in the new economy....

    Even as Mrs. Clinton has sought to associate herself with the economic growth of her husband’s administration, she, like other Democratic presidential candidates, has been expressing a sharp skepticism toward trade and globalization under President Bush. In recent weeks she has announced her opposition to the proposed South Korean Free Trade Agreement and denounced globalization that “is working only for a few of us.” She accepted the endorsement of former Representative Richard A. Gephardt, who spent much of his political career fighting what he asserted were unfair trade agreements.

    And Mrs. Clinton has increasingly focused on “rising inequality and rising pessimism in our work force,” and suggested that another progressive era is — and ought to be — at hand.

    Former Senator John Edwards, another Democratic candidate, staked out similar positions months ago and regularly notes that in the last 20 years, “about half of America’s economic growth has gone to the top 1 percent.” Mr. Edwards praises recent efforts to raise taxes on private equity and hedge funds. His campaign manager, former Representative David E. Bonior, notes that Mr. Edwards has been sounding these themes since his first presidential campaign in 2004.

    “John Edwards was there at the beginning of this,” Mr. Bonior said.

    While campaigning in Iowa last week, Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, suggested that even those who followed the standard advice for coping with a globalized economy — get more education for higher-skilled jobs — were losing out.

    “People were told, you’ve got to be trained for high-tech jobs,” Mr. Obama said, “and then it turned out that some of those high-tech jobs were being outsourced. And people were told, now you need to train for service jobs. And then it turned out the call centers were moving overseas.”....

    Representative George Miller, the California Democrat who is chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, said, “Trade may not be the reason, or the number one reason, they’re losing their jobs, but they think it is.” (emphasis added)

    Kudos to Miller for at least being honest that much of the Democrats ire is wildly misplaced.

    The Democrats are right to focus on stagnant wages and health care concerns -- those are their bread-and-butter issues. Conjuring up a trade bogeyman as the primary source of all of this.... well, let's just say it fuels Dani Rodrik's barbarians quite nicely.

    UPDATE: Kevin Drum asks some questions about this post -- and I provide some answers.

    posted by Dan at 09:13 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    Saturday, July 14, 2007

    Meet David Petraeus, patsy or savior

    William Kristol, "Why Bush Will Be A Winner," Washington Post, July 15, 2007:

    Bush has the good fortune of having finally found his Ulysses S. Grant, or his Creighton Abrams, in Gen. David H. Petraeus. If the president stands with Petraeus and progress continues on the ground, Bush will be able to prevent a sellout in Washington. And then he could leave office with the nation on course to a successful (though painful and difficult) outcome in Iraq. With that, the rest of the Middle East, where so much hangs in the balance, could start to tip in the direction of our friends and away from the jihadists, the mullahs and the dictators....

    What it comes down to is this: If Petraeus succeeds in Iraq, and a Republican wins in 2008, Bush will be viewed as a successful president.

    Thomas E. Ricks, "Bush Leans On Petraeus as War Dissent Deepens," Washington Post, July 15, 2007:
    Some of Petraeus's military comrades worry that the general is being set up by the Bush administration as a scapegoat if conditions in Iraq fail to improve. "The danger is that Petraeus will now be painted as failing to live up to expectations and become the fall guy for the administration," one retired four-star officer said.

    Bush has mentioned Petraeus at least 150 times this year in his speeches, interviews and news conferences, often setting him up in opposition to members of Congress.

    "It seems to me almost an act of desperation, the administration turning to the one most prominent official who cannot act politically and whose credibility is so far unsullied, someone who is or should be purely driven by the facts of the situation," said Richard Kohn, a specialist in U.S. military history at the University of North Carolina. "What it tells me, given the hemorrhaging of support in Congress, is that we're entering some new phase of the end game."

    In his public comments, Bush has not leaned nearly as heavily on the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker, Petraeus's political counterpart in Baghdad. At his news conference Thursday, the president mentioned Petraeus 12 times but Crocker only twice, both times in his prepared statement.

    This is not a "same planet, different worlds" kind of comparison. If the Iraq war ends well, then Kristol's scenario is correct; if the status quo persists or worsens, then the Ricks scenario is correct.

    Unfortunately for Petraeus, I suspect most experts would give Kristol's scenario less than a 10% chance of coming true.

    posted by Dan at 11:39 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

    Calling all international lawyers!

    As a general rule, international law (IL) scholars don't get a lot of love from international relations (IR) scholars. IR types tend to think that IL people hold naive and unsubstantiated views about the power of global rules to compel governments into certain forms of behavior. In turn, IL types tend to look askance at us IR types, convinced that because we do not hold international law in such high esteem, at any moment we will bully them, beat them up, and hog the best hors d'oeuvres at all the good conferences (this last accusation carries a ring of truth).

    Nevertheless, there are moments when us IR types need to confess that we're not entirely sure why states are behaving in a certain way, and turn to IL types for support. This is one of those times: why, suddenly, is the Bush adfministration so gung-ho about ratifying the Law of the Sea Convention?

    This treaty was negotiated during the seventies and completed in 1983. The Reagan administration rejected ratification at the time because of disputes over seabed mining that appear to have been hashed out. The U.S. essentially honors 99% of the treaty anyway, but only now has there been any momentum to formally ratify the treaty.

    Vern Clark and Thomas Pickering have an op-ed in the New York Times today making this case for ratification:

    The treaty provides our military the rights of navigation, by water and by air, to take our forces wherever they must go, whenever it is necessary to do so. Our ships — including vessels that carry more than 90 percent of the logistic and other support for our troops overseas — are given the right of innocent passage through the territorial seas of other states. In addition, the treaty permits American warships to board stateless vessels on the high seas.

    The treaty also provides an absolute right of passage through, over and under international straits and through archipelagoes like Indonesia. These rights — the crown jewels of the treaty — did not exist before 1982, when the Convention was concluded. Our security and economic interests are tied directly to these rights.

    Another provision in the treaty establishes the breadth of the territorial sea — the area within which a state may exercise sovereignty — at 12 miles. This allows the United States to extend its territorial sea from three miles to 12 miles, while making several other nations reduce their excessive claims.

    Our national security interests alone should be sufficient to persuade the Senate to act now. But the Convention also advances the economic interests of our country. It gives us an exclusive economic zone out to 200 miles, with sovereign rights for exploring, exploiting, conserving and managing the living and non-living natural resources of the zone. Coastal states are given sovereign rights over the continental shelf beyond 200 miles if the shelf meets specific geological and other scientific criteria. Under the Convention, our Arctic continental shelf could extend out to 600 miles.

    Our nation will be in a much stronger position to advance its military and economic interests if we ratify the treaty. We can guide and influence the interpretation of rules, protecting our interests and deflecting inconsistent interpretations. The agreement is being interpreted, applied and developed right now and we need to be part of it to protect our vital interests in the area of security and beyond.

    This is pretty much the official Bush administration position as well. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England also add an additional reason:
    Accession makes sense from the perspective of U.S. leadership on the world stage. Joining the convention would give the nation a seat at the table, a voice in the debates, to help shape the future development of oceans law, policy and practice. Accession would also give the United States better opportunities to keep a close watch on other nations' efforts to exercise their rights under the law of the sea and to counter excessive claims if necessary.

    Finally, accession would powerfully and publicly reiterate the nation's commitment to the rule of law as the basis for policy and action. It would make U.S. leadership more credible and compelling, in important multi-national efforts like the Proliferation Security Initiative -- designed to counter proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and other dangerous materials. And it would strengthen the general argument in favor of more robust international partnership in all domains -- partnerships essential to meeting today's global and transnational security challenges.

    So far, so good. Except that earlier this month, Jack Goldsmith and Jeremy Rabkin argued in the Washington Post that this treaty would actually hinder WMD interdiction efforts:
    The Bush administration is urging the Senate to consent this summer to the Convention on the Law of the Sea, the complex and sprawling treaty that governs shipping, navigation, mining, fishing and other ocean activities. This is a major departure from the administration's usual stance toward international organizations that have the capacity to restrain U.S. sovereignty. And it comes in a surprising context, since the convention has disturbing implications for our fight against terrorists....

    [Ratifying the treaty] would put America's naval counterterrorism efforts under the control of foreign judges. Suppose the United States seizes a vessel it suspects of shipping dual-use items that might be utilized to build weapons of mass destruction or other tools of terrorism. It's not a wild supposition. Under the Proliferation Security Initiative, the United States has since 2003 secured proliferation-related high-seas interdiction agreements with countries such as Belize and Panama, which provide registration for much international shipping. If the United States ratifies the Convention on the Law of the Sea, the legality of such seizures will, depending on the circumstances, be left to the decision of one of two international tribunals....

    At minimum, these tribunals would pose awkward questions to the United States about the evidence behind a seizure, how we gathered it and who vouches for the information. At worst they would follow the recent example of the International Court of Justice and use a legal dispute to score points against American "unilateralism" and "arrogance" for a global audience keen to humble the United States. In every case, a majority of non-American judges would decide whether the U.S. Navy can seize a ship that it believes is carrying terrorist operatives or supplies for terrorists.

    It's true that the convention exempts "military activities" from the tribunals' jurisdiction, but it does not define the term. The executive branch, worried about this ambiguity, has proposed a condition to ratification that would allow the United States to define the exemption for itself. But this condition amounts to a "reservation" disallowed by the treaty. International tribunals would still have the last word on the validity of the U.S. condition and the resulting scope of permissible U.S. naval actions.

    Supporters note that many of the treaty's "freedom of the seas" provisions favor U.S. interests. But the United States already receives the benefits of these provisions because, as Negroponte and England acknowledged, they are "already widely accepted in practice." They maintain that ratifying the convention would nonetheless provide "welcome legal certainty." In recent years, however, the United States has not received much legal certainty from international tribunals dominated by non-American judges, and what it has received has not been very welcome. There is little reason to expect different results from these tribunals.

    Over at Opinio Juris, Peter Spiro pours a lot of cold water onto Goldsmith and Rabkin's argument. Spiro may be right that Goldsmith and Rabkin are overhyping the threat from international tribunals. However, I do know the following is true:
    1) The PSI is a linchpin for the Bush administration's anti-proliferation policies;

    2) One Bush administration's few international law initiatives has been to build up soft law precedents allowing for the U.S. to interdict flagged ships on the open seas if they suspect it of carrying WMD materials.

    3) Ratifying the Law of the Sea treaty appears -- here I might be misreading things -- to undercut that initiative just a wee bit.

    4) The U.S. already reaps the benefits of the Law of the Sea treaty, since it honors its provisions and every other country respects it as well. In other words, the gains from ratification don't seem that great.

    In this administration's balance sheet, it's always been willing to jettison international legal strictures even if it theoretically constrains U.S. freedom of action.

    So, my question -- why is the Bush administration suddenly so gung-ho about ratifying the Law of the Sea treaty? Is there a hidden quid pro quo that I'm missing? Is this strictly a PR stunt where the Bush administration can claim it's multilateral? Am I simply overstating the treaty's constraints on PSI? What gives?

    UPDATE: Chris Borgen misinterprets this post a little. I'm not stating that the costs of ratifying the LOS outweigh the benefits (to me it really does depend on how much, if at all, LOS constrains PSI). I'm saying that by revealed preference, I would have expected the Bush administration to have made this calculation.

    And yet they didn't. Why?

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Thanks to alert reader S.B., who e-mail a Reuters story suggesting one additional benefit for LOS ratification:

    Canada will buy at least six patrol ships to assert its sovereignty claim in the Arctic, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper backed away on Monday from an election pledge for navy icebreakers that would ply the waters of the Northwest Passage all year....

    Canada’s claim over the Arctic Northwest Passage that links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is disputed by countries, including the United States, that consider much of the region to be international water.

    posted by Dan at 08:57 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, July 13, 2007

    The most frightening sentence I've read today
    "A lot of suburbanites have moved to the city in the last five years looking for action," said Beehive co-owner Darryl Settles
    Suzanne Ryan, "The place to be (over 30)," Boston Globe, July 13, 2007.
    posted by Dan at 03:55 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thief foiled by Democratic party caricature

    In the Washington Post, Allison Klein writes about an attempted robbery thwarted by.... Camembert:

    A grand feast of marinated steaks and jumbo shrimp was winding down, and a group of friends was sitting on the back patio of a Capitol Hill home, sipping red wine. Suddenly, a hooded man slid in through an open gate and put the barrel of a handgun to the head of a 14-year-old guest.

    "Give me your money, or I'll start shooting," he demanded, according to D.C. police and witness accounts.

    The five other guests, including the girls' parents, froze -- and then one spoke.

    "We were just finishing dinner," Cristina "Cha Cha" Rowan, 43, blurted out. "Why don't you have a glass of wine with us?"

    The intruder took a sip of their Chateau Malescot St-Exupéry and said, "Damn, that's good wine."

    The girl's father, Michael Rabdau, 51, who described the harrowing evening in an interview, told the intruder, described as being in his 20s, to take the whole glass. Rowan offered him the bottle. The would-be robber, his hood now down, took another sip and had a bite of Camembert cheese that was on the table.

    Then he tucked the gun into the pocket of his nylon sweatpants.

    Click on the story to read what happens next... but group hugs are involved.

    posted by Dan at 03:23 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, July 12, 2007

    A whole-assed effort on a half-assed policy measure

    In response to this post blasting the Baucus-Grassley-Schumer-Graham China bill -- and the presidential candidates who endorse it -- I received the following e-mail from a Hill staffer who shall remain very, very anonymous:

    Over the next few months, our committee is going to be considering trade legislation on China, including the currency issue. I've read with interest your recent blog about your concerns with the Baucus-Grassley-Schumer-Graham bill. If we accept that something needs to happen legislatively (for political, if not substantive reasons) on currency, do you have any thoughts on what a sensible piece of legislation would look like?
    So, the problem is that a political imperative exists to do something, but even the staffers know that the something proposed is bad, bad, bad.

    The task, therefore, is to devise a bill that is perceived as doing something about China but in point of fact does not seriously rupture either the bilateral economic relationship or the U.S. economy. A bonus if the policy were to actually achieve the desired end -- a slow appreciation of the yuan.

    Faced with this assignment, and after pleading numerous times to just do nothing, I'd offer four recommendations that might make this kind of thing look sensible:

    1) Give China 18 to 24 months to achieve a quantifiable degree of appreciation (no, I'm not going to provide a number) before any measures are enacted. This kicks the can down the road for a while, and with some luck Beijing will head in that direction anyway.

    2) Since a tariff will result in a) higher consumer prices and b) higher interest rates if China retaliates or acquiesces, have the bill suspend any punitive action unless the inflation rate is below 4.5% and/or the Federal funds rate is below 5.5%.

    3) Demand that the Treasury Department investigate sovereign wealth funds, akin to their investigations of currency manipulation.

    4) Screw trying to punish China for currency manipulation and focus on consumer health and safety instead. This gets at the issue sideways, but Beijing is clearly vulnerable on this point, no matter how many ex-regulators they execute. This is also an an issue where, for reasons I've elaborated at length elsewhere, Beijing is more vulnerable.

    Please excuse me so I can wash my hands until they're clean.

    posted by Dan at 05:04 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

    The thing about handling Iran...

    Over at foreignpolicy.com, Monica Maggioni makes a case about how the U.S. should handle Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that will be familiar to readers of this blog:

    In Tehran, the mood is quickly shifting. And it’s easy to feel it every time you stop to buy a newspaper, have a coffee, or wait in line at the grocery store. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s star is fading fast.

    Since his election in June 2005, Iranians have had conflicted feelings about their president. At first, he evoked interest and curiosity. And there were great expectations from this humble man who was promising economic reform, an anticorruption campaign, and a rigid moral scheme for daily life. Then came fear—when Ahmadinejad began to destroy any chance of good relations with the outside world.

    But today in Iran, laughter is supplanting fear. Mocking the president has become a pastime not only for rebellious university students, but also members of the establishment and the government itself.

    Behind the high walls of Iranian palaces or in the quiet of Tehran’s parks, Iranian elites will indulge in a quick laugh about the president’s intelligence or his populist bombast. Jokes about his résumé are especially popular. Many refer to his “Ph.D. in traffic” or his letter last May to U.S. President George W. Bush, in which he proclaimed, “I am a teacher.”

    The jokes—and who is delivering them—tell the story of a man whose power is on the decline as Iran’s economy collapses around him. Prices for basic goods are skyrocketing, and the government is unable to cope with increasing poverty. Just last month, over 50 Iranian economists sent an open letter excoriating the president’s mismanagement of the economy....

    [I]t’s likely that Ahmadinejad’s power will decrease dramatically even before 2009. The elections for Iran’s parliament in March 2008 could represent a turning point if the majority inside the parliament shifts against him. Ahmadinejad still has a strong supporter in Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, who heads the 12-member Guardian Council that holds the political reins in Iran. The Council must clear all candidates for the presidency and parliament. But the Council itself is not monolithic, and it will be impossible to keep all the reformists and pragmatist conservatives out of the electoral race. But even if Ahmadinejad makes it through next spring, many analysts in the country are ready to bet that he won’t be reelected in 2009; the opposition is just too strong, and the economy will likely be in worse straits by that time.

    In fact, the only thing that could save him now is the United States. Nobody knows this better than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As his support within Iran has evaporated, he has cranked up the anti-American rhetoric, and the U.S. military has publicly accused the Pasdaran of arming insurgents in Iraq and even Afghanistan. At this point, the only way Ahmadinejad can revive his flagging fortunes is by uniting his country against an external threat. U.S. officials adamantly maintain that Washington is committed to using diplomacy to resolve the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program and its aggressive role in the region. Yet pressure is mounting in some branches of the Bush administration to take military action against Iran. That pressure should be resisted. For military action would give Mahmoud Ahmadinejad exactly what he wants most: job security.

    I don't really disagree with this analysis, but there's one nagging concern. As Maggioni points out, Ahmadinejad is aware of his own political conundrum. He therefore has an incentive to pursue policies that antagonize the United States as much as possible -- in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in the Persian Gulf, towards Israel, etc. The U.S. response, according of every Iran-watcher I've heard from regardless of party affiliation -- should be low-key.

    Here's my problem -- doesn't this approach essentially give Ahmadinejad carte blanche to do whatever he wants in the region? Is "multilateral pressure" really going to prevent him from arming Iraqi insurgents, seizing more sailors, threatening the Saudis, and accelerating the nuclear program?

    I think the short-run costs of tolerance clearly outweigh the long-term benefits of Ahmadinejad backing himself into a corner. But I also have to admit I'm not thrilled with the menu of options here.

    posted by Dan at 08:45 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, July 11, 2007

    What motivates economic journalists?

    At least once a year, journalists who cover economics like to use the trope of "the dominant market-friendly paradigm is being challenged, changing economics as we understand it." It's safe to say that Patricia Cohen's New York Times story from yesterday fits that bill:

    For many economists, questioning free-market orthodoxy is akin to expressing a belief in intelligent design at a Darwin convention: Those who doubt the naturally beneficial workings of the market are considered either deluded or crazy.

    But in recent months, economists have engaged in an impassioned debate over the way their specialty is taught in universities around the country, and practiced in Washington, questioning the profession’s most cherished ideas about not interfering in the economy.

    “There is much too much ideology,” said Alan S. Blinder, a professor at Princeton and a former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Economics, he added, is “often a triumph of theory over fact.” Mr. Blinder helped kindle the discussion by publicly warning in speeches and articles this year that as many as 30 million to 40 million Americans could lose their jobs to lower-paid workers abroad. Just by raising doubts about the unmitigated benefits of free trade, he made headlines and had colleagues rubbing their eyes in astonishment.

    “What I’ve learned is anyone who says anything even obliquely that sounds hostile to free trade is treated as an apostate,” Mr. Blinder said.

    And free trade is not the only sacred subject, Mr. Blinder and other like-minded economists say. Most efforts to intervene in the markets — like setting a minimum wage, instituting industrial policy or regulating prices — are viewed askance by mainstream economists, as are analyses that do not rely on mathematical modeling.

    The story conflates a bunch of things (adopting interventionist policy positions, deviating from formal methods, behavioral economics, heterodox economics) together. Alex Tabarrok has a nice takedown (and see also Greg Mankiw). Even Dani Rodrik (cited in the piece) thinks the article "does overstate it quite a bit."

    What's of interest to me is that this kind of scattershot critique of standard economic theory -- in which a whole bunch of disparate, even contradictory critiques are lumped together -- seems to be a common trope among journalists. My question is, why?

    There's a Freakonomics-style question to be asked here -- are journalists who wash out of Ph.D. programs more or less likely to do this? What about journalists with overt ideological biases? And why the hell hasn't The New Republic written its standard, contrarian, "the neoclassical model does better than you think" kind of piece?

    posted by Dan at 05:29 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, July 10, 2007

    Clinton and Obama officially scare the crap out of me

    About a month ago I was talking with a big-name economist who was advising a couple of presidential campaigns. I've differed with this person on a few policy issues, but I'd be very comfortable with this person in a position of authority.

    I asked him which candidates on the Democratic side would be able to pursue a responsible trade policy, and he replied, without hesitation, "Clinton and Obama."

    After reading Eoin Callan's Financial Times story, I'm afraid I can't believe that anymore:

    Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the frontrunners for the Democratic presidential nomination, have agreed to co-sponsor legislation that would levy punitive duties on Chinese goods to cajole Beijing into revaluing its currency, according to aides....

    Brian Pomper, a former Democratic adviser, said China was becoming a proxy for US political anxiety about globalisation and that sponsorship of the bill was the most combative position yet taken towards Beijing by the two candidates.

    Sandra Polaski, a trade analyst at the Carnegie Endowment, said US politicians were making China a scapegoat in the face of widespread economic insecurity among voters. “Opinion polls consistently show the American public has a balanced view of China. It is campaigning politicians who are turning the heat on Beijing,” she said.

    Brad DeLong makes the point better than I:
    Of course, then the candidates will be attacking US consumers (who will pay higher prices for imports), workers in the construction industry, US borrowers (who will then pay higher interest rates to domestic and foreign creditors), and US homeowners (who will see the higher interest rates push down housing prices and reduce their equity). The net short-run effect is surely a minus--it's not as though we desperately need to swap construction jobs for manufacturing jobs right now, and we surely don't need a more-rapid decline in housing prices right now.

    In the long run of three to five years, yes: The renminbi needs to become worth a lot more (primarily for China's sake). Pressure on China to adopt better policies is helpful (provided we don't shoot ourselves in the foot). But this strikes me as a classic threat to shoot ourselves in the foot: it is not a good policy move on either Obama's or Rodham Clinton's part.

    This prompts Matt Yglesias to ask the following:
    Now where I tend to lose the plot is this. If mainstream economists like Brad think it's a bad idea to use threats of tariffs to push China into changing its exchange-rate policies, how come the economics mainstream seems to have so few complaints about the fact that it's completely normal for US trade negotiators to use exactly this sort of leverage to try to get other countries to change the intellectual properties policies or to privatize their water systems or what have you? Why is the threat to shoot ourselves in the foot okay when made on behalf of pharmaceutical companies and movie studios, but not when made on behalf of import-competing manufacturers? Often when I see this argument made, I feel like the point is -- aha! hypocrites! you should support our China bill after all! -- but I really do think Brad's right, this is a bad bill. But by the same token, the people who complain about this sort of thing ought to complain about the other sort of thing as well.
    To answer Matt's question to the best of my ability, you have to realize the following:
    1) All trade sanctions, when imposed, are welfare-reducing. The hope in deploying them is that they will be sufficiently painful to the targeted country that its government will acquiesce in a prompt manner -- i.e., before they really bite.

    2) The kind of sanctions that Matt discusses -- "leverage to try to get other countries to change the intellectual properties policies or to privatize their water systems or what have you" -- have actually worked pretty well. Even better, they've worked at the threat stage, so the costs of sanctions imposition have not been incurred. They've worked remarkably well when the WTO authorizes them, which they do if a dispute resolution panel decides that a country is imposing a protectionist measure. So Clinton and Obama aren't completely crazy to think this tactic could be applied towards China.

    3) On the whole, this tactic has worked because the U.S. has a really big market, and the countries we've targeted for sanctions have been much smaler, highly dependent upon the U.S. market, and don't have more than a trillion dollars in U.S. debt lying around.

    4) China is a pretty big economy, and they do have that trillion dollars. If the regime is facing any domestic pressure, it's a nationilist impulse to say "f#@k you" to the United States. Furthermore, we're asking them to do something far more significant than enforce intellectual property rights in some sectors. We're asking them to f$%k with what's been their primary engine for growth for the past two years. DeLong is correct that this engine is unsustainable in the long run, but -- and this is the key point -- they're not going to acquiesce to this threat anytime soon. If anything, nationalist sentiment will make it less likely that Beijing would acquiesce after sanctions were imposed than at the present moment.

    Clinton and Obama are willing to screw over the American consumer for a self-defeating measure. Both of them should know better.

    UPDATE: Dani Rodrik blogs an intriguing proposal on how to remedy China's undervalued currency. That is to say, it would be intriguing if the policy could be executed in a vacuum with zero political externalities. I don't think it can actually be implemented.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Several commentators have suggested that a) Clinton and Obama are merely posturing; and b) Republicans are just as bad.

    My response to (a) is that it stops being posturing when you're co-sponsoring legislation that has a decent chance of passing. My response to (b) is a free round of tu quoque for everyone.

    posted by Dan at 03:06 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

    Drezner's pop culture minute!!

    One of the pernicious side-effects of shuttling around small children in one's car is that it causes one to lose with touch with today's music. Anything that's not on "Music Together" or the theme song from Maisy is lost on my youngest child, and she gets very grumpy when her music is not being played.

    Even with this caveat, I'll go out on a limb and declare myself a better arbiter of pop music meanings than David Brooks.

    This is based on Brooks' column ($$) in the New York Times today, a sociological exegesis of three hit songs today:

    If you’ve been driving around listening to pop radio stations this spring and summer, you’ll have noticed three songs that are pretty much unavoidable, and each of them is a long way from puppy love....

    [Brooks' three songs: Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats," Pink's "U + Ur Hand," and Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend". I'll go out on a limb and add that I think Kelly Clarkson's "Never Again" is actually a better song than these three and better represents what Brooks is trying to get at in his column.--DD]

    If you put the songs together, you see they’re about the same sort of character: a character who would have been socially unacceptable in a megahit pop song 10, let alone 30 years ago.

    This character is hard-boiled, foul-mouthed, fedup, emotionally self-sufficient and unforgiving. She’s like one of those battle-hardened combat vets, who’s had the sentimentality beaten out of her and who no longer has time for romance or etiquette. She’s disgusted by male idiots and contemptuous of the feminine flirts who cater to them. She’s also, at least in some of the songs, about 16.

    This character is obviously a product of the cold-eyed age of divorce and hookups. It’s also a product of the free-floating anger that’s part of the climate this decade. But as a fantasy ideal, it’s also descended from the hard-boiled Clint Eastwood characters who tamed the Wild West and the hard-boiled Humphrey Bogart and Charles Bronson characters who tamed the naked city.

    When Americans face something that’s psychologically traumatic, they invent an autonomous Lone Ranger fantasy hero who can deal with it. The closing of the frontier brought us the hard-drinking cowboy loner. Urbanization brought us the hard-drinking detective loner.

    Now young people face a social frontier of their own. They hit puberty around 13 and many don’t get married until they’re past 30. That’s two decades of coupling, uncoupling, hooking up, relationships and shopping around. This period isn’t a transition anymore. It’s a sprawling life stage, and nobody knows the rules. (emphasis added)

    A few thoughts:
    1) David needs to haul his current research assistant into his office and bitchslap him or her for a while. It's the RA's job to have a better grasp of pop culture, and in this case there has been a clear failure, because this kind of song has been around for a while. A decade ago, there was Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know," Fiona Apple's "Sleep to Dream", and Meredith Brooks' "Bitch."

    Two decades ago, there was Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do With It?"

    Three decades ago, there was Blondie's "One Way (Or Another)"

    2) The persistece of this song suggests that Brooks' fears might be just a wee bit exaggerated. II'll wager it's been at least three decades since educated women have had to marry the farmer next door at gunpoint. The fact that this period has stretched out further (for both sexes) does not breed more confusion -- it simply means that a higher percentage of the population has experienced the kind of traumatic break-up that generates the songs discussed above. [Did you experience this?--ed. Yes, but in my case it manifested itself into marathon watchings of thirtysomething back when it was aired on Lifetime. You were such a wuss!!--ed. I was keenly aware of this fact, yes. ]

    3) Pop songs are about moods more than permanent states of personality. The mistake in Brooks' column is to assume that the mood identified in these songs lasts beyond a summer. They don't.

    4) I've wasted way too much time on this post.

    posted by Dan at 09:25 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, July 9, 2007

    Why there will never be a reality show about academia

    Four years ago (?!!), I blogged the following:

    [T]he caricature of academia in popular culture is a collection of lecherous white male who inevitably bed one or more of their students.
    In The American Scholar, William Deresiewicz uses many more paragraphs to make a similar point:
    Look at recent movies about academics, and a remarkably consistent pattern emerges. In The Squid and the Whale (2005), Jeff Daniels plays an English professor and failed writer who sleeps with his students, neglects his wife, and bullies his children. In One True Thing (1998), William Hurt plays an English professor and failed writer who sleeps with his students, neglects his wife, and bullies his children. In Wonder Boys (2000), Michael Douglas plays an English professor and failed writer who sleeps with his students, has just been left by his third wife, and can’t commit to the child he’s conceived in an adulterous affair with his chancellor. Daniels’s character is vain, selfish, resentful, and immature. Hurt’s is vain, selfish, pompous, and self-pitying. Douglas’s is vain, selfish, resentful, and self-pitying. Hurt’s character drinks. Douglas’s drinks, smokes pot, and takes pills. All three men measure themselves against successful writers (two of them, in Douglas’s case; his own wife, in Daniels’s) whose presence diminishes them further. In We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2004), Mark Ruffalo and Peter Krause divide the central role: both are English professors, and both neglect and cheat on their wives, but Krause plays the arrogant, priapic writer who seduces his students, Ruffalo the passive, self-pitying failure. A Love Song For Bobby Long (2004) divides the stereotype a different way, with John Travolta as the washed-up, alcoholic English professor, Gabriel Macht as the blocked, alcoholic writer.

    Not that these figures always teach English. Kevin Spacey plays a philosophy professor — broken, bitter, dissolute — in The Life of David Gale (2003). Steve Carell plays a self-loathing, suicidal Proust scholar in Little Miss Sunshine (2006). Both characters fall for graduate students, with disastrous results. And while the stereotype has gained a new prominence of late, its roots go back at least a few decades. Many of its elements are in place in Oleanna (1994), in Surviving Desire (1991), and, with John Mahoney’s burnt-out communications professor, in Moonstruck (1987). In fact, all of its elements are in place in Terms of Endearment (1983), where Jeff Daniels took his first turn playing a feckless, philandering English professor. And of course, almost two decades before that, there was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

    What’s going on here? If the image of the absent-minded professor stood for benevolent unworldliness, what is the meaning of the new academic stereotype? Why are so many of these failed professors also failed writers? Why is professional futility so often connected with sexual impropriety? (In both Terms of Endearment and We Don’t Live Here Anymore, “going to the library” becomes a euphemism for “going to sleep with a student.”) Why are these professors all men, and why are all the ones who are married such miserable husbands?

    Deresiewicz answers his own question with a Jungian flourish ( "they are a way of articulating the superiority of female values to male ones: of love, community, and self-sacrifice to ambition, success, and fame"). Actually, there are several Jungian flourishes, to match the many answers he provides.

    Rather than tangle with Deresiewicz, let me offer up an explanation, provided my the Official Blogwife, that Deresiewicz leaves unexplored: "The reason professors sleep with their students in fiction is because any realistic portrayal of your jobs would bore readers out of their skulls within ten minutes."

    Alas, this is true. I'd like to think I've carved out an interesting career, but a diary of a typical working day for me would probably run as follows:

    9:00 A.M.: Dan turns on computer.

    9:01 A.M.: Dan checks e-mail.

    9:10 A.M.: Dan surfs news sites.

    9:30 A.M.: Dan considers writing referee report that was due ten days ago; decides it's better tackled after lunch.

    9:31 A.M.: Dan opens up Word document containing manuscript du jour and stares blankly at it for a while.

    9:41 A.M.: Dan decides that he's really itching to work on the other manuscript du jour, because this is where his mind is wandering. He opens up that document and stares blankly at it for a while.

    9:51 A.M.: On a good day, Dan gets a small piece of inspiration that he quickly converts into a paragraph of prose that will buttress his thesis.

    9:56 A.M.: Dan scratches his ass.

    And so on.

    UPDATE: Jeez, even the librarians have more fun. At least, however, professors retain their mighty fun advantage over either economic journalists or graduate students.

    posted by Dan at 09:36 AM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

    Saturday, July 7, 2007

    Happy Live Earth Day!!!

    As the Live Earth concerts proceed today, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee appears to join Greg Mankiw's Pigou Club on how to tackle global warming. "Apears" is stressed because John Dingell might have different motives than Mankiw. The New York Times' Edmund L. Andrews explains:

    A powerful House Democrat said on Friday that he planned to propose a steep new “carbon tax” that would raise the cost of burning oil, gas and coal, in a move that could shake up the political debate on global warming.

    The proposal came from Representative John D. Dingell of Michigan, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and it runs directly counter to the view of most Democrats that any tax on energy would be a politically disastrous approach to slowing global warming.

    But Mr. Dingell, in an interview to be broadcast Sunday on C-Span, suggested that his goal was to show that Americans are not willing to face the real cost of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. His message appeared to be that Democratic leaders were setting unrealistic legislative goals.

    “I sincerely doubt that the American people will be willing to pay what this is really going to cost them,” said Mr. Dingell, whose committee will be drafting a broad bill on climate change this fall.

    “I will be introducing in the next little bit a carbon tax bill, just to sort of see how people think about this,” he continued. “When you see the criticism I get, I think you’ll see the answer to your question.”

    Dingell's gambit has irritated environmentalists. Let's go to BlueClimate for a reaction:
    Congressman Dingell understands that most people do not understand what cap and trade is but that they do understand a tax. By using the easier-to-understand carbon tax to impute a cost associated with climate change legislation, Dingell hopes the American people will rise up and block the plans of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others Democrats who favor taking stong action on climate change.

    Informing people about the cost of climate change legislation is good as long as it is done honestly and people are informed at the same time about the dangers we face if we do not act to drastically reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases....

    So what about the carbon tax on the merits? Is it a good idea? There are a number of sincere proponents of a carbon tax. They believe that it is easier to administer than a cap and trade program. On that point they are probably right. However I am afraid it has a fatal flaw that has nothing to do with the technical arguments of a carbon tax versus a cap and trade approach.

    I have favored the cap and trade approach because I felt that a carbon tax would be too vulnerable to political attack. I am afraid that the necessity of addressing global warming will be in great danger of being lost in the noise if a carbon tax is the centerpiece of climate change legislation.

    If Dingell introduces his carbon tax we may soon find out if congress will be able to discuss it in a reasonable and rationale fashion or whether the debate descends into raw bumper sticker politics. My bet is the latter. Dingell's carbon tax has the potential to derail climate change legislation in the House. Maybe that is what he wants.

    Well of course that's what Dingell wants.

    But BlueClimate's objection raises a big-ass warning flag for those of us in the squishy middle who are genuinely concerned about global warming but are also concerned about the overall costs of dealing with it (not to mention the distribution of those costs). If Dingell is downplaying the benefits of reducing global warming, to what extent are environmentalists like BlueClimate downplaying the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions? As far as I can figure, cap and trade systems differ from tax systems in that they are a) less effective; and b) more opaque in distributing the costs. Sure, Dingell is playing politics, but from the tenor of BlueClimate's post, he's not doing it differently from environmentalists.

    I believe it was Daniel Patrick Moynihan who posited that broad-based reforms cannot be enacted without the consent of two-thirds of the American public. Until environmentalists realize that earning that consent will require a) being transparent about the costs and benefits of reducing greenhouse gases; and b) convincing Republicans, then there will be no progress on how to address global warming beyond some nice music concerts.

    UPDATE: Mankiw frets that Dingell's ploy will destroy the Pigou Club.

    posted by Dan at 09:26 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, July 5, 2007

    Earn yourself a high-profile acknowledgement!!!

    The hard-working staff here at danieldrezner.com is calling on its readers for help.

    Your humble blogger has a forthcoming article in Perspectives on Politics that, in draft form, used the following editorial cartoon to explain a particular theory of public opinion formation:


    In order to publish the cartoon in the article, I need to locate a cleaner version of this caroon, plus copyright permission from the syndicate that distributes it.

    The thing is, I have no idea who drew this editorial cartoon, or which syndicate distributed it. As the cartoon probably suggests, I clipped it out of a newspaper more than a decade ago because I thought it was funny. I had no idea I'd be using it for a scholarly article.

    So, whoever can identify the artist and syndicate that distributed this sucker will get added to the acknowledgments in the paper itself. {Wow, a real acknowledgment!! Are employees eligible?--ed. Eligibility restricted to individuals not directly related to the blogger.]

    Go to it!!

    UPDATE: Thanks to the many readers who responded with the correct answer -- the Akron Beacon Journal's Chip Bok. Alas, only the first responder gets the acknowledgement.

    posted by Dan at 06:52 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    Just a wee bit of the old historical revisionism

    Brad DeLong responds to my post giving credit where credit is due to the Bush administration with the following rejoinder:

    [C]onstructive engagement with China is not the policy of "Team Bush" but rather the policy of "Team Paulson" or "Team State Department" or "Team Reality-Based Interest Groups." The China policy of "Team Bush" was and is Cold War followed by Hot War--but fortunately they got distracted by other things: James Fallows Anecdote of the day (from Gary Hart, at Aspen):
    [Gary] Hart said. “I am convinced that if it had not been for 9/11, we would be in a military showdown with China today.” Not because of what China was doing, threatening, or intending, he made clear, but because of the assumptions the Administration brought with it when taking office. (My impression is that Chinese leaders know this too, which is why there are relatively few complaints from China about the Iraq war. They know that it got the U.S. off China’s back!)

    Lee Hamilton, who had also been on the commission, was sitting at the same lunch table and backed up Hart’s story. Another chapter in the annals of missed opportunities in recent years.

    OK, let's stipulate that there were neoconservatives who looked at China as the big, bad threat that justified bellcose action. Let's also make clear, however, four rather important facts:
    a) None of these people held an official positions in the Bush administration;

    b) Most of these people backed John McCain in 2000, not George W. Bush;

    c) If "the China policy of 'Team Bush' was and is Cold War followed by Hot War," then they missed a golden opportunity to act on the second part of their policy in April 2001 when an EP-3E spy plane had a mid-air collision with a Chinese fighter and was forced to land in Hainan Island in the PRC.

    When that incident occurred, no one was concerned about terrorism being the primary threat to the U.S. If Team Bush had really wanted to ratchet up tensions between Washington and Beijing, that was the moment. Instead, after a week or two of angry rhetoric from both sides, we got the following letter delivered to Beijing:

    Both President Bush and Secretary of State Powell have expressed their sincere regret over your missing pilot and aircraft. Please convey to the Chinese people and to the family of pilot Wang Wei that we are very sorry for their loss.

    Although the full picture of what transpired is still unclear, according to our information, our severely crippled aircraft made an emergency landing after following international emergency procedures. We are very sorry the entering of China's airspace and the landing did not have verbal clearance, but very pleased the crew landed safely. We appreciate China's efforts to see to the well-being of our crew.

    After the incident, President Bush did make a provocative statement or two about Taiwan, but even before 9/11 the administration had abandoned a confrontational approach towards China.

    d) Does anyone think that Henry Paulson is implementing China policy without the approval of George W. Bush? Does anyone think that Paulson would have accepted the Treasury position unless he and Bush knew damn well that he'd have the China portfolio?

    My own counterfactual -- had 9/11 not occurred, bilateral relations with China would be pretty much where they are now.

    posted by Dan at 01:52 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

    So how's the offshoring tsunami going?

    Your humble blogger has been unusually consistent in his position on offshore outsourcing:

    1) The initial offshoring of tasks will slow as a) mistakes are made and as b) labor markets begin to equilibrate;

    2) Offshoring will be limited to tasks that can be segmented into simpler jobs.

    Let's see how things are going now, shall we?

    The Influence Peddler reports that some Silicon Valley firms are now engaged in "reverse offshoring":

    No Joke:
    The rising cost of paying engineers in Bangalore has prompted at least one Silicon Valley start-up to save money by closing its Indian engineering centre and moving the jobs back to California.

    While this “reverse offshoring” remains unusual, it points to a broader belief in the US technology industry that the savings that drove software engineering jobs to India’s technology capital are quickly eroding.

    Like.com, a search engine company that uses image recognition software to find pictures on the web, took the step of closing in India after seeing the wages of top-level engineers in some cases rise close to US levels.

    “Bangalore wages have just been growing like crazy,” Munjal Shah, chief executive, complained in a blog post. In the next few months, Like.com would have had to lift the salary of one of its Bangalore engineers to 75 per cent of the US level, even though the same engineer earned only 20 per cent as much as an equivalent US-based worker two years ago, Mr Shah said.

    It's almost as if there's this crazy... international labor market -- and higher value skills and greater value added lead to higher wages. And then when companies no longer save money by locating jobs abroad, the potential actually exists for them to return to the US.
    The rising wage problem is disputed by Nasscom, the Indian software association -- though they acknowledge that the shortage of high quality workers is a growing problem.

    The other problem is local knowledge, as this New York Times story by Steve Lohr suggests:

    “Once you start moving up the occupational chains, the work is not as rules-based,” said Frank Levy, a labor economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “People are doing more custom work that varies case by case.”

    In the field of technology services, Mr. Levy said, the essential skill is “often a lot more about business knowledge than it is about software technology — and it’s a lot harder to ship that kind of work overseas.”

    The offshore specialists in India are learning that lesson. As they increasingly compete for higher-end work, the Indian companies are hiring thousands of workers this year in the United States, adding an odd twist to the offshoring trend. Tata alone plans to recruit 1,000 workers in America, said Surya Kant, president of the company’s American unit, for “the near-shore work that requires regular contact with clients in person.”

    Lohr demonstrates the need for hands-on workers by profiling an IBM project for a Texas utility. IBM is using both domestic and international units to complete the assignment. For the domestic employees, the skill set required would be difficult, at best, to outsource offshore: The utility project I.B.M. is doing in Texas offers a glimpse of the global formula. The far-flung work team includes research scientists in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., and Austin, Tex.; software developers in Pune and Bangalore, India; engineering equipment and quality-control specialists in Miami and New York; and utility experts and software designers like Mr. Taft that have come from Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Raleigh, N.C., and elsewhere.

    I.B.M. plans to use the skills learned and software written for the smart-grid project in work with utility clients around the world. In the services field, these are deemed “reusable assets,” reducing costs in the future.

    Ron Ambrosio, a senior I.B.M. researcher, has been down to Houston a few times, attaching sensors to power lines and collecting gigabytes of data on electricity flows. He and others at I.B.M. are studying how to predict and prevent power failures, optimize performance, reduce costs and conserve energy. “We’re looking at this as part of a worldwide opportunity,” he said.

    Dennis Hendon, an account executive, and Rob Calvo, a senior services consultant, lead the I.B.M. team in Houston. Mr. Hendon is an engineer by training, while Mr. Calvo has a business degree, but their real skills lie in years of on-the-job training — what labor experts call “passive knowledge” and “complex communications,” observing, listening, coordinating, negotiating and persuading. The two men say they think of themselves as orchestra conductors, getting all the human parts working smoothly together, inside and outside I.B.M. “We aren’t mounting the poles, but our subcontractors are,” Mr. Hendon said.

    This kind of human capital formation raises an interesting question for economists like Alan Blinder who feel that we need to redirect K-12 education right now to address the offshoring revolution: if the skill set required to develop non-offshorable jobs comes largely from on-the-job training, how would educational reform address the offshoring "problem"?

    posted by Dan at 09:54 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

    For China Inc., it's going to get worse before it gets better

    David Barboza reports in the New York Times on another nail in the coffin that is China's reputation for product quality:

    China said on Wednesday that nearly a fifth of the food and consumer products that it checked in a nationwide survey this year were found to be substandard or tainted, underscoring the risk faced by its own consumers even as the country’s exports come under greater scrutiny overseas.

    Regulators said the broad survey of foods, agricultural tools, clothing, women and children’s products and other types of goods turned up sizable quality and safety failure rates for products that are sold domestically.

    The government said, for instance, that canned and preserved fruit and dried fish contained excessive bacteria; that 20 percent of the fruit and vegetable juice surveyed was deemed substandard, and that some children’s products were defective or laced with harmful chemicals.

    The announcement came in the midst of a growing scandal over the quality and safety of Chinese-made exports and follows a series of international recalls involving everything from contaminated pet food ingredients and counterfeit toothpaste to toxic toys, defective tires and contaminated seafood.

    The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said the survey, conducted in the first half of this year, showed quality and safety improvements compared with conditions in the period a year earlier. But the announcement also suggested that Chinese consumers are at serious risk of being harmed by purchasing tainted foods, substandard goods and suspect or defective equipment.

    Regulators said, in effect, that goods sold in China were far more hazardous than the exports that were driving the country’s economic growth and now partly the subject of safety and quality debates.

    This is going to be a huge, long-term headache for Beijing. Brand images are not easy to change, and China has been beset by a perfect storm of health and safety scares over the past six weeks. Furthermore, as Barboza points out, improving the brand is not merely a function of the central government "getting it" (and cases like this one suggest that they do not "get it" across the board):
    Experts say aggressive and opportunistic entrepreneurs continue to take advantage of the country’s chronically weak enforcement of regulations, choosing to blend fake ingredients into products; to sign contracts agreeing to sell one product only to later switch the raw materials for something cheaper; and to doctor, adulterate or even color foods to make them look fresher or more appetizing, when in fact they might be old and stale.
    strong enforcement of regulations will require a widespread change in both the government and business cultures, and addressing head-on issues of corruption.

    In other words, this problem won't be going away anytime soon.

    posted by Dan at 09:44 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, July 4, 2007

    U.S.A.!!! U.S.A.!!!

    It's a 4th of July miracle!!

    In a gut-busting showdown that combined drama, daring and indigestion, Joey Chestnut emerged Wednesday as the world's hot dog eating champion, knocking off six-time winner Takeru Kobayashi in a rousing yet repulsive triumph.

    Chestnut, the great red, white and blue hope in the annual Fourth of July competition, broke his own world record by inhaling 66 hot dogs in 12 minutes -- a staggering one every 10.9 seconds before a screaming crowd in Coney Island.

    "If I needed to eat another one right now, I could," the 23-year-old Californian said after receiving the mustard yellow belt emblematic of hot dog eating supremacy.

    posted by Dan at 03:05 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    In praise of social science

    Virginia Postrel is attending the Aspen Ideas Festival, and has a scabrously funny post on the opening festivities. Her basic complaint -- too many humanities types and not enough social scientists:

    [The opening night] illustrated a bizarre lacuna in the conference in general: a distinct lack of social scientists. The absence of economic thinking is glaring, especially given its dominance in the rest of public discourse, but it's not as though the lineup is full of sociologists or psychologists either. The presumption seems to be that anyone can opine on those topics, especially if they're experts in something else, and that there are no new ideas or discoveries to be found in the social world.
    This is a problem Brad DeLong encountered last month as well in the pages of The New Yorker.

    This leads to an interesting question: what publication outlets and/or bigthink conferences would benefit the most from an infusion of social scientists?

    And, just to be contrary, which publication outlets and/or bigthink conferences would benefit the most from an infusion of humanities types?

    posted by Dan at 08:58 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

    Zimbabwe invites an anarchy pool

    Michael Wines' describes Zimbabwe's comical efforts to fight inflation in the New York Times:

    Zimbabwe’s week-old campaign to quell its rampant inflation by forcing merchants to lower prices is edging the nation close to chaos, some economists and merchants say.

    As the police and a pro-government youth militia swept into shops and factories, threatening arrest and worse unless prices were rolled back, staple foods vanished from store shelves and some merchants reported huge losses. News reports said that some shopkeepers who had refused to lower prices had been beaten by the youth militia, known as the Green Bombers for the color of their fatigues.

    In interviews, merchants said that crowds of people were following the police and militia from shop to shop to buy goods at the government-ordered prices.

    “People are losing millions and millions and millions of dollars,” said one merchant in Bulawayo, referring to the Zimbabwean currency, which is becoming worthless given the nation’s inflation, the world’s highest. “Everyone is now running out of stock, and not being able to replace it.”

    Because the government has threatened to seize any business that does not sell goods at the advertised price, the merchant said he was keeping his shop open, but with virtually nothing on the shelves.

    Economists said that the price rollbacks were unsustainable and that shops and manufacturers would soon shut down and lay off workers rather than produce goods at a loss.

    “You can’t buy eggs or bread or things of that sort,” said John Robertson, an economic consultant in Harare, the capital. “Suppliers can’t supply them at a price that allows retailers to make a profit.”

    “It’s pretty chaotic,” he added. “But I think the impact will be worse if it stays in place.”

    Zimbabwe’s annual inflation rate was last reported to be 4,500 percent in May, a figure the government has yet to confirm. Mr. Robertson and others say that the true rate now is probably about 10,000 percent, but official statistics apparently are no longer being released.

    He and others said they feared that the economic collapse would quickly lead to social unrest if Zimbabwe’s already shrunken work force were hit by huge layoffs and foods like cornmeal, cooking oil and sugar became unavailable.

    I'm offering five weeks as the over/under before complete lawlessness and anarchy break out in that country.

    posted by Dan at 08:32 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, July 3, 2007

    Pinch-hitting for Seth Mnookin....

    One of Seth Mnookin's favorite pastimes is beating up on the New York Times' Murray Chass (click here for one example).

    Seth appears to be MIA today, so for the general good of Red Sox Nation, let's have some fun at Chass' expense.

    Three weeks ago, Chass projected the following in his column:

    [H]ere is one projection that could actually have some potential as a barometer. Even better, it could create some fun: At the rate at which the Yankees are slashing into Boston's lead in the American League East, they will pass the Red Sox in the standings by July 4.

    If that happens, can you imagine the fireworks in the Red Sox' front office, their dugout, their clubhouse, at Fenway Park? Fenway would become a pyrotechnic pit. Fenway fans, burned once more, might torch their season tickets.

    Impossible, you say? There's no way the Yankees could catch the Red Sox in the next three months, let alone the next three weeks? Curb your skepticism and look at the facts: Only 10 days ago, the Red Sox led the Yankees by 13 1/2 games; today, their lead is 9 1/2.

    As July 4th is tomorrow, it's clear that Chass' projection ain't happening. To his credit, Chass is aware of this fact, and devotes today's column to explaining why he was wrong: "If They Had Done Their Job, the Yankees Could Have Led":
    The target date arrives tomorrow, and the easy explanation for why the lead change will not happen is that the Yankees didn’t maintain their rate of the first half of June. Had they done their job properly, the Yankees could have given their employer the best birthday present ever. But happy birthday anyway, George, and many more healthy ones.

    Even a tie would have been a welcomed gift, but the Yankees couldn’t manage that either....

    In the past two weeks, the Red Sox have done their part to make the July 4 projection a reality, but the Yankees have failed to do theirs.

    Let's crunch some numbers here. Consider the following:
    1) When Chass wrote his first column, the Red Sox had a 9-1/2 game lead.

    2) In the 19 games since Chass wrote that column, the Red Sox have gone 10-9. Let's be generous to Chass and say that the Sox lose tonight's game against the Devil Rays, leaving them a mediocre 10-10 record in the three weeks prior to July 4th.

    3) So, what would the Yankees have had to do in order to catch the Sox in the standings? Not much... they just would have had to win all 19 games they had played in the past three weeks.

    Far be it for me to defend the New York Yankees, but expecting any team to reel off 19 wins in a row borders on the delusional.

    [But what if the Yankees had "maintain[ed] their rate of the first half of June"?--ed. The Yankees did go 8-2 in their first 10 games of June. Had they maintained that pace... they would have gone 16-4 and remained 3 games back.]

    Consider that, even after the fact, Chass thinks a 19-0 run was feasible. This indicates one of three possibilities:

    1) Chass is really, really bad at math;

    2) Chass is a worse sports columnist than Dan Shaughnessy;

    3) All of the above.

    posted by Dan at 01:20 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

    Dead men tell no tales

    While we're on the subject of historical analogies, it's worth reading a posthumous Vanity Fair essay by David Halberstam on George W. Bush's flawed view of history. First, there's this lovely paragraph on the difficulties of historical generalization:

    [W]hen I hear the president cite history so casually, an alarm goes off. Those who know history best tend to be tempered by it. They rarely refer to it so sweepingly and with such complete confidence. They know that it is the most mischievous of mistresses and that it touts sure things about as regularly as the tip sheets at the local track. Its most important lessons sometimes come cloaked in bitter irony. By no means does it march in a straight line toward the desired result, and the good guys do not always win. Occasionally it is like a sport with upsets, in which the weak and small defeat the great and mighty—take, for instance, the American revolutionaries vanquishing the British Army, or the Vietnamese Communists, with their limited hardware, stalemating the mighty American Army.
    The ralpunch comes in the closing paragraphs, however, where Halberstam identifies a key mispeception about the end of the Cold War that badly warped post-9/11 thinking about foreign policy:
    I have my own sense that this is what went wrong in the current administration, not just in the immediate miscalculation of Iraq but in the larger sense of misreading the historical moment we now live in. It is that the president and the men around him—most particularly the vice president—simply misunderstood what the collapse of the Soviet empire meant for America in national-security terms. Rumsfeld and Cheney are genuine triumphalists. Steeped in the culture of the Cold War and the benefits it always presented to their side in domestic political terms, they genuinely believed that we were infinitely more powerful as a nation throughout the world once the Soviet empire collapsed. Which we both were and very much were not. Certainly, the great obsessive struggle with the threat of a comparable superpower was removed, but that threat had probably been in decline in real terms for well more than 30 years, after the high-water mark of the Cuban missile crisis, in 1962. During the 80s, as advanced computer technology became increasingly important in defense apparatuses, and as the failures in the Russian economy had greater impact on that country's military capacity, the gap between us and the Soviets dramatically and continuously widened. The Soviets had become, at the end, as West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt liked to say, Upper Volta with missiles.

    At the time of the collapse of Communism, I thought there was far too much talk in America about how we had won the Cold War, rather than about how the Soviet Union, whose economy never worked, simply had imploded....

    After the Soviet Union fell, we were at once more powerful and, curiously, less so, because our military might was less applicable against the new, very different kind of threat that now existed in the world. Yet we stayed with the norms of the Cold War long after any genuine threat from it had receded, in no small part because our domestic politics were still keyed to it. At the same time, the checks and balances imposed on us by the Cold War were gone, the restraints fewer, and the temptations to misuse our power greater. What we neglected to consider was a warning from those who had gone before us—that there was, at moments like this, a historic temptation for nations to overreach.

    America remains the most powerful country in the world, but Halberstam's prose encapsulates the inherent limitations that even hegemons face in the modern world.

    posted by Dan at 01:03 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, July 2, 2007

    A post I knew I'd have to write sometime before January 2009

    Both Matthew Yglesias and Brad DeLong go off on Fred Hiatt's column in the Washington Post yesterday. Hiatt's lament first:

    As the Bush presidency implodes, some of its worst policies mercifully will go, too -- including, we can hope, the torture and unregulated detention of alleged enemy fighters that have so discredited the country throughout the world.

    But valuable strands of policy also may end up strewn in the wreckage, victims (in varying combinations) of President Bush's ineptitude, inconstancy and unpopularity. Among these are what Bush called compassionate conservatism, now moribund; American promotion of democracy abroad, now flailing; and accountability in elementary and high school education, losing ground as it approaches a major test in Congress.

    This prompts the following from Yglesias:
    There's just no story here. The Bush administration has almost no positive legacy, and on those areas where good things have happened (NCLB and AIDS funding are the two I can think of) Democrats show every sign of wanting to continue the positive and perhaps make some improvements around the margin.
    DeLong goes even further, however:
    The policies that were Bush's weren't valuable. The policies that were valuable weren't Bushes--they were either implemented by others or they never got implemented, being for the Bushies at most boob bait for the bubbas who populate the Washington Post editorial board.
    Look, let's stipulate that on many dimensions, the Bush administration has implemented policies that border on catastrophic. On other dimensions, there's simply been either benign or malign neglect. I'm not claiming here that George W. Bush has done anything close to a great job. On foreign policy, the issue I care about, the only two president who come close to matching Bush's negatives in the past 50 years are Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson.

    With all of this so stipulated, DeLong's statement is simply false. Here are ten policies that team Bush implemented that I would qualify as a) important; b) constructive; c) not simply a continuation of prior policies; and d) not guaranteed to persist in their current form or at current funding levels past 2009:

    1) The Millennium Challenge Corporation

    2) The Strategic Economic Dialogue with China

    3) The Proliferation Security Initiative

    4) Our bilateral policy towards India (general warming trend + civilian nuclear deal)

    5) Applying the post-Enron brakes on corporate governance regulations (Remember, when it was passed, Sarbanes-Oxley was thought to be milquetoast reform; now it's though to be too onerous)

    6) Appointing Ben Bernanke to replace Alan Greenspan as Federal Reserve chairman.

    7) The Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (I'm being optimistic about Senate passage here).

    8) Trying to cut China and India into existing global institutions.

    9) Creating the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization in the State Department.

    10) Creating the Security and Prosperity Partnership Of North America (I confess that this one's in here mostly to annoy Lou Dobbs).

    None of this outweighs the screw-ups in Iraq or New Orleans. But they are policies that suggest Hiatt has a small point. Reflexively rejecting a Bush policy only because Bush proposed it is as stupid as... as.... rejecting Bill Clinton's policies because Clinton favored them (which is pretty much what the Bushies did when they took office in 2001).

    Question to readers: what other Bush policies do you want to see maintained?

    posted by Dan at 05:27 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sign #453 that GM is not a well-run company

    The Associated Press, "GM Hopes Film Will Transform Sales," July 2, 2007.

    Posters outside theaters across the country list Jon Voight, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel and Megan Fox as the stars of the summer action flick "Transformers."

    But in the labs and cubicles where General Motors Corp. workers design and market new cars, the true leads are the Chevrolet Camaro, Pontiac Solstice, GMC TopKick and Hummer H2.

    "You're going to see these cars as the heroes. You're not going to see the other actors," said Dino Bernacchi, GM's associate director of branded entertainment. "These cars are the stars, literally, in the movie."

    GM, which long has sought to reach younger car buyers to so-so results, is hoping to draw the 18-to-34 set to its showrooms thanks to the company's oversized presence in the film and in the accompanying toys and video games.

    The Detroit auto giant is spending millions to promote and market its "Transformers" tie-ins, but wouldn't give a figure. With a shrinking U.S. automotive market and amid stiff competition from overseas rivals, GM is banking on the exposure translating into sales.

    "This is hopefully a discovery point for maybe some of those who didn't know the great design, the great-looking vehicles that we have out today," Bernacchi said. "I find it really difficult to believe that a global blockbuster movie like this that has so many merchandising components to it that we're not going to get incremental exposure."

    posted by Dan at 02:42 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    Clearly, I haven't been posting about Salma Hayek recently

    I'm pleasantly surprised about my blog rating:

    Online Dating


    [That's f$%#ing awesome!!--ed.]

    This result, on the other hand, is thoroughly unsurprising:

    68%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?


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

    July's Books of the Month

    This month's international relations book is John Nye's War, Wine, and Taxes: The Political Economy of Anglo-French Trade, 1689-1900. Nye takes on the standard narrative about trade liberalization in the 19th century, which asserts that everyting started with Great Britain's repeal of the Corn Laws. Instead, he points out that France was in many (though not all) ways a more economy until 1890. If this sounds like an arcane dispute, it's not to those who study the global political economy. The events of the 19th century form the basis of hegemonic stability theory (HST). HST is to the global political economy as the Keynesian IS-LM model is to macroeconomics -- everyone knows that the theory is at best incomplete and at worst internally inconsistent, but it's usually the first model out of the toolbox to explain change.

    Nye then goes on to examine the history of British commercial policy up to the Corn Laws repeal, explaining why Great Britain practiced a form of targeted mercantilism in wine and spirits for centuries. Along the way, he challenges the conventional poli sci (North and Weingast 1989) read of events like the Glorious Revolution. In so doing, he demonstrates conditions under which protectionism and trade liberalization can actually build on each other.

    Nye does a good job of challenging the old school international political economy (Gilpin and Krasner), though he seems unaware of more recent work on this era that gives France its proper due in the liberalization of the 19th century (Art Stein and David Lazer, for examples). Nevertheless, I concur with Tyler Cowen -- this is a very important work of economic history.

    The general interest book covers a topic near and dear to my heart -- Joyce Antler's You Never Call! You Never Write!: A History of the Jewish Mother. For a taste of the book, check out Slate's slide show summary of Antler's argument. As Emily Bazelon observes:

    The Jewish mother's greatest act of sacrifice, perhaps, is to be the gift that keeps on giving: first to generations of male writers like [Philip] Roth, Mel Brooks, and Woody Allen, and then to female ones like Wendy Wasserstein and Sarah Silverman.
    If you don't buy this book, it's OK. I'm sure your mother would understand... while she sits alone in her kitchen.... thinking of nothing but your happiness.

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

    Sunday, July 1, 2007

    Meet Neville Bush

    Lynne Olson is the author of Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England. Today he has an op-ed in the Washington Post that discusses George W. Bush's admiration of Winston Chruchill. The key paragraph:

    I've spent a great deal of time thinking about Churchill while working on my book "Troublesome Young Men," a history of the small group of Conservative members of Parliament who defied British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasing Adolf Hitler, forced Chamberlain to resign in May 1940 and helped make Churchill his successor. I thought my audience would be largely limited to World War II buffs, so I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the president has been reading my book. He hasn't let me know what he thinks about it, but it's a safe bet that he's identifying with the book's portrayal of Churchill, not Chamberlain. But I think Bush's hero would be bemused, to say the least, by the president's wrapping himself in the Churchillian cloak. Indeed, the more you understand the historical record, the more the parallels leap out -- but they're between Bush and Chamberlain, not Bush and Churchill.
    Read the rest of Olson's essay to see the comparisons. For someone who was not terribly familiar with Chamberlain's leadership style, the parallels are quite surprising.

    UPDATE: Meanwhile, in Slate, US Weekly editor Janice Min compares Bush to someone else entirely.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Peter Baker has a front-pager in the Washington Post today that discusses Bush's frame of mind. Olsen's book is mentioned explicitly -- Olson's analogy is implicit but shot through the piece.

    posted by Dan at 08:09 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)