Saturday, January 11, 2003
BACK TO KRUGMAN: I received
BACK TO KRUGMAN: I received a fair amount of flack for my "sophisticated exegesis" of Paul Krugman last month. One blogger noted -- correctly -- that I hadn't provided any specific examples of Krugman becoming too strident or over-the-top. I didn't do this -- in part -- because this dimension of Krugman's writing had been acknowledged in the very articles that praised him. [What's the other part?--ed. I'm also lazy].
However, for those who want the proof, check out Lying In Ponds statistical analysis of the last year in pundity. The summary:
"After evaluating all 2,129 columns written by our 37 pundits in 2002, it's time to draw some conclusions. I've stressed all along that Lying in Ponds is attempting to make a distinction between ordinary party preference (there's nothing wrong with being opinionated or having a political ideology) and excessive partisanship ("blind, prejudiced, and unreasoning allegiance"). While it's obviously difficult to draw a definitive line, the top three pundits in the rankings clearly revealed excessive partisanship by the remarkable consistency of their extremely one-sided commentary throughout the year. The New York Times' Paul Krugman took the partisanship lead early and lapped the field. In a year in which Mr. Krugman generated lots of buzz and won an award, his 18:1 ratio of negative to positive Republican references and 99 columns without a single substantive deviation from the party line were unmatched in the Lying in Ponds portion of the punditocracy."
For some specific examples from this past week, there's Paul Krugman's web site, which is beginning to have blog-like qualities. In this entry, he defends his comparison of George W. Bush to Ferdinand Marcos:
"In case you're wondering: no, I don't think that Bush is the moral equivalent of Marcos, and I'm not endorsing the theory that 9/11 was a Carlyle Group conspiracy. But as many people have now acknowledged, this is an administration of 'access capitalists' - which is just the American version of crony capitalism. Is there also a resemblance in the sense that Bush has used fears of terrorism for political gain? Of course there is. Memos from Karl Rove are quite explicit about using the war on terror as a political issue. Moreover, the Bush administration's creation of a cult of personality, its obsessive secretiveness, its propensity for mass arrests, and its evident fondness for Big-Brotherish schemes of public surveillance are not the actions of men who have a deep respect for the democratic process."
Then there's the latest Krugman post. Let's first be clear that Krugman has every right to be pissed off by the triggering e-mail -- hell, I'd have posted something really nasty to "drstrangelove" in response. However, these passages are just bizarre:
"Poor drstrangelove. He (she?) doesn't realize that friends of the administration must have already looked into all of this.... I'm also a 'Centenary Professor' at the London School of Economics - it doesn't pay me anything, but might be a helpful connection when I'm forced to flee the country."
Now, this is certainly not strident. It does border on megalomaniacal paranoia, however.
Friday, January 10, 2003
Back to Iraq
John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt offer up the best argument out there on why the U.S. shouldn't attack Iraq in the latest Foreign Policy. [C'mon, let's get to the full disclosure--ed. Mearsheimer is a senior colleague of mine here at Chicago; Walt used to be]. Essentially, it's that Saddam Hussein can be deterred, and can therefore be contained. They marshall some strong evidence to support their case. But:
1) Using the fact that Saddam Hussein only initiated two wars in the past twenty years as evidence that he's not a serial aggressor is like arguing that pre-1945 Germany was not inherently hostile because they only triggered two world wars. War's an esceptionally rare event in world politics, and the fact that Hussein triggered two of the last three inter-state conflicts in the Middle East is not a point in his favor.
2) Assume that Hussein can be deterred -- is deterrence really as stable an outcome as Mearsheimer and Walt posit? The status quo in the Middle East has been a slow erosion of the U.S. position and a rise in Anti-Americanism. A lot of this is based on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but a lot is also predicated on the U.S. being the prime movers behind the sanctioning of Iraq, combined with the presence of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia.
I said last fall that the best reason to invade Iraq is to remove the need for large-scale U.S. forces to be based in Saudi Arabia, which has destabilized that country for the worse. I've found that this argument plays very well with much of the anti-war crowd, but they don't believe that the Bush administration is really thinking that way. However, Fred Kaplan's latest "War Stories" piece in Slate suggests otherwise. The key graf:
[Is that the only reason you like Kaplan's piece?--ed. Well, I also like the fact that he's echoing what I said back in October. Advantage: Drezner!!]
DREZNER GETS RESULTS ON SOUTH
DREZNER GETS RESULTS ON SOUTH KOREA!!: The too-clever-by-half strategy of contemplating withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea appears to be having a salutory effect. As I said yesterday: "My guess is that a majority of South Koreans still want a U.S. presence, but aren't being vocal about it. Certainly having a public debate about the issue might lead to greater pro-U.S. mobilization."
From the New York Times' Seth Mydams:
"In Seoul, several moves were under way to repair ties with the United States. The relationship has been strained by widespread demonstrations calling for a more equal relationship with Washington.
On Thursday, South Korea's Defense Ministry warned in a monthly newsletter, Defense News, that the withdrawal of the 37,000 American troops here 'could send foreign investors flooding out of the country in fear of instability, throw the economy into turmoil and give North Korea a chance for provocation.' The newsletter added, 'North Korea tries to weaken the South Korea-U.S. alliance's capability of deterring war.'
Public opinion polls here indicate that 55 percent of South Koreans, most of them older people, want the American troops to stay. In an indication that South Korea's silent majority may be starting to stir, about 400 South Korean military veterans and housewives staged a pro-American rally on Wednesday, burning an image of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, clinging to a missile.
Separately, the office of President Kim Dae Jung issued a statement on Thursday implicitly asking South Koreans to tone down the weekly vigils outside the American Embassy here.
'We need to calm excessive worries of the international community about the anti-U.S. atmosphere,' the statement said.
Conservatives criticize the government for addressing symptoms of anti-Americanism without addressing an underlying cause: a deep erosion among young people in the belief that American troops are needed in South Korea.
'Now is the time to sincerely consider whether or not to continue the weekend candlelit protests and risk our national security and healthy relations with the U.S. at this crucial time,' The Korea Times, said on Thursday."
UPDATE: The international reaction also conforms to the hypothesis that a threat of withdrawal forces regional actors to stop buckpassing.
WHAT'S WHAT ON THE STIMULUS
WHAT'S WHAT ON THE STIMULUS PACKAGE?: I must say I have mixed feelings. Ryan Lizza makes a great case for why the administration is pushing so hard for a tax cut on dividends -- boosting the stock market leads to a wealth effect that pumps up consumption. Lizza cites the work of one Dean Maki, who was a terribly smart classmate of mine in the Stanford economics program. Go Dean!
I'm also a bit puzzled at the Democratic emphasis on the distributional implications of the tax cut. OK, I'm not, but here's the thing -- hasn't this economic slowdown had a disproportionate impact on the middle class? [You don't know?--ed. Look, this is Mickey Kaus' bag. Mickey, has the slowdown disproportionately affected the bottom 20%? Will this impact welfare reform?] This Census table suggests that I could be wrong, but it ends in 2001.
That said, I'm troubled by the the effect of a burgeoning deficit on increasing long-term interest rates. Despite Megan McArdle and Mickey Kaus' best efforts, I tend to side with Brad DeLong on this one. There's a political argument against the tax cut as well, and it comes from today's Washington Post:
"President Bush's 10-year, $674 billion economic growth package -- coupled with a war with Iraq -- would push the federal budget deficit well into record territory next year, and possibly as high as $350 billion, private-sector budget forecasters said yesterday.... in sheer dollar terms, it would easily eclipse the $290 billion record set in 1992, the last year of George H.W. Bush's administration. It also would be a steep fall from the record $236 billion surplus of 2000."
Does W. really want any parallels drawn between the current economy and the 1992 economy?
Plus, I can't escape the parallels between the current economic situation and 1993. In both situations, the economy was sluggish, but the long-term fundamentals (i.e., labor productivity) looked good, except for long-term interest rates. If you recall, Clinton wanted a short-term spending boost, but it was wisely shot down by deficit hawks. I can't escape the feeling that -- economically -- this remains be the best course of action for the present. However, both politicians and pundits have a bias that favors action over inaction.
UPDATE: The New Republic's &c sagely defends the logic of ceteris paribus against the Wall Street Journal's editorial page. It's truly a sad day when the TNR has to explain the building blocks of economic theory to the Journal.
Thursday, January 9, 2003
CHINESE COMMUNISTS HATE BLOGS: John
CHINESE COMMUNISTS HATE BLOGS: John Jay Ray and others are saying China has blocked access to all blogspot websites. According to Glenn Reynolds, Blogger is still accessible, which leaves bloggers in China in the weird position of being able to post but not read what they've just posted.
THE DOONESBURY KISS OF DEATH:
THE DOONESBURY KISS OF DEATH: Garry Trudeau highlighted/mocked Howard Dean's presidential campaign in yesterday's strip. Most election seasons, Trudeau latches onto one of the lesser candidates as a foil -- usually Mike Doonesbury goes to work for him. These guys -- John Anderson, Steve Forbes -- are simultaneously flummoxed and flattered by the additional press coverage. Dean is no exception.
The thing is, they also tend to lose.
THE MERITS OF THREATENING TO
THE MERITS OF THREATENING TO WITHDRAW FROM THE KOREAN PENINSULA: Josh Marshall grudgingly admits the logic of conservatives threatening a pullout of U.S. troops from South Korea, but thinks that it's too clever by half:
"Are these tough-guy tactics? Sort of. Is there are certain logic to it? Yes. But you can get so caught up in the details that you lose track of the larger ridiculousness of the whole discussion: the Koreans south of the DMZ are OUR ALLIES! We're actually in a serious crisis with the North Koreans and the hawks are too busy trying to go mano a mano with the folks who are supposed to be our friends."
Two points in response:
1) Aren't we being good allies if we oblige the wishes of South Koreans? If there are South Korean protests against U.S. forces being there, then it's only polite to consider the question. My guess is that a majority of South Koreans still want a U.S. presence, but aren't being vocal about it. Certainly having a public debate about the issue might lead to greater pro-U.S. mobilization. It might also publicize one source of irritation in the relationship, which is the interpersonal frictions between American G.I.'s and their Korean neighbors (click here for an academic treatment of this problem].
It's also worth pointing out that withdrawals have happened elsewhere without the alliance fraying. The U.S. pulled out of Subic Bay and Clark Air Force base in the Philippines, and it would be safe to say we maintain warm bilateral relations with Manila.
2) We're trying to make a point to China and Russia as well. And that point is, quit buckpassing. As I said before, China and Russia can exercise greater influence over North Korea than the U.S. Why haven't they? Because they're buckpassing, which is a technical term for freeloading. Why should they invest resources in defusing a situation when they're convinced that the hegemon will pony up? This is also why China likes the U.S. keeping its troops in South Korea. Those troops act as a big security blanket for Seoul and Tokyo, and the last thing China wants is for either of those countries to be untethered from the U.S. security embrace. Beijing gets hives at the prospect of either a nuclear Japan or a reunified and nuclear Korea on its doorstep. It prefers the status quo, which depends on the U.S. staying involved in the region. Any threat of withdrawal would have the salutory effect of forcing Moscow and Beijing to act responsibly.
WHY WE CAN'T INVADE NORTH
WHY WE CAN'T INVADE NORTH KOREA: Patrick Ruffini e-mails to ask:
"Why shouldn't we go to war with North Korea, not now, not next year, but if and when we're ready? Why shouldn't we simply declare that the existence of the the persistence of the DPRK's regime is not in the national interest of the United States, and therefore, we
I actually answered this question back in October; here's the key part:
"Why, then, is the U.S. going after Iraq while 'consulting' on North Korea? It’s not because pre-emption can’t apply to both countries; it’s because the power politics of the Middle East are radically different from those of the Far East. Invade Iraq, and no other great power’s sphere of influence is dramatically affected; the Middle East will remain an American bailiwick for quite some time. North Korea borders China and Russia; a pre-emptive attack against Pyongyang understandably ruffles more feathers."
To expand, imagine that the U.S. pursues regime change. Forget the claims that the DPRK army numbers a million -- let's assume that North Korea could be conquered in less than three months. The political and economic fallout would nevertheless be enormous. North Korea borders both China and Russia, and they'd be as happy with an invasion as we would be if either of those countries decided to conquer Mexico. Such an act would undoubtedly trigger the security dilemma, lead other capitals beyond Moscow and Beijing to ally against us in the long term. [But why wouldn't China and Russia bandwagon in the face of U.S. might?--ed. Here's where I part company with the neocons and agree with the realists. Vulnerable Middle Eastern regimes may choose to bandwagon when faced with U.S. power projection -- though this book suggests otherwise -- but China and Russia are not going to appease a country that invades one of their neighbors without any accomodation to their security interests].
The impact on the Korean peninsula would also be devastating. The geographic proximity of Seoul to North Korean artillery means that, regardless of whether Pyongyang has a functioning nuclear weapon, they can engage in mutually assured destruction. It would take South Korea at least a generation to overcome the damage to their capital, plus the costs of assisting the economic wasteland that is North Korea [C'mon, how expensive could it be?--ed. In 1995, the DOD estimated the costs of a ground campaign on the Korean peninsula to exceed $1 trillion; the U.S. would have to pony up at least $100 billion. Oh, and the casualty estimates range from 80,000 to 100,000 U.S. casualties, and ROK casualties in the hundreds of thousands].
The latest on Latin America
The current meme about Latin America is the huge backlash against "Washington Consensus"-style policies, because of the massive inequalities they cause. In response, voters are turning towards the protectionist, populist left.
Today, the Financial Times has several stories on Latin American economies that contradict two elements of that narrative. The first is the supposed correlation between market-freiendly policies and mass immiseration. Chile has pursued policies -- fiscal conservatism, pension privatization, deregulation, free trade agreements with everyone who's willing -- most closely in line with the Washington Consensus. As a result, it has been able to issue its largest bond offering ever. This story notes that: "Chile is one of the few Latin American countries whose credit quality has remained stable in recent years, and the pricing of the bond issue was tighter than expected at 163 basis points over US Treasuries. The credit quality of most Latin American countries deteriorated last year and few are expected to improve in 2003, according to Standard & Poors."
In contrast, there's Venezuela: "Venezuela will be forced to default on payments due to state oil company bondholders or on its domestic debt with private banks in the next few weeks if the government is unable to restart crippled oil production, bankers and oil industry officials said on Wednesday.
A five-week-old strike by opposition-aligned workers at Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), who are pressuring President Hugo Chávez into resigning or calling early elections, has cut daily output from 3.1m barrels to about 300,000 barrels.
Employees loyal to the government have so far made minimal progress in restarting oil production, resulting in a collapse in export revenue. PDVSA sells its oil at between 30 and 45 days' credit, and executives at the company say cashflow has now dried up."
The scale and success of the Venezuelan protests suggests that perhaps the other part of the meme -- the leftist turn in Latin America -- has been overstated. [But what about Lula in Brazil?--ed. Given his administration's recent actions on state debt and monetary policy, it looks like Brazil is actually moving closer to neoliberal fiscal policies and away from populism. So there.]
Wednesday, January 8, 2003
It's the 2003 globalization index!!
A.T. Kearney, in concert with Foreign Policy, has been publishing an annual globalization index for the past three years. Their 2003 report just came out, which includes a globalization ranking of 62 countries. Three interesting facts:
1) Globalization is correlated with environmental protection: Look at this graph. Or read this:
"The world’s most global countries rank higher in environmental performance, according to a comparison of the Globalization Index and an analysis of the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) administered by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network at Columbia University. Seven of the Globalization Index’s top 10 are among the EPI’s most environmentally friendly nations."
Note that this holds even after controlling for per capita income.
2) 9/11/2001 didn't stop the globalization phenomenon: The economic downturn following 9/11 did reduce cross-border flows of foreign direct investment. However:
"other aspects of globalization sustained their forward momentum. Political engagement deepened as a result of factors like international cooperation in the war on terrorism and the continued integration of China and Russia into the world economy. Membership in international organizations expanded, and while the number of U.N. peacekeeping missions declined, the number of countries participating in them grew.
Levels of global personal contact and technological integration also continued to grow, with rising numbers of Internet users and a steady expansion in international telephone traffic offsetting the first decline in international travel and tourism since 1945. Worldwide telephone traffic grew more than 9 percent to reach 120 billion minutes, while the number of Internet users grew 22.5 percent to well over 550 million people, with China alone adding 11 million new users."
3) Muslim countries are losing out. Ten countries with Muslim majority populations are included in the list. One of them (Morocco) is among the top 50% of globalizing countries -- the other nine are in the bottom half. The two least globalized countries in thesurvey? Saudia Arabia and Iran.
Tuesday, January 7, 2003
Cracking the North Korean nut
I’ve been remiss in posting on North Korea. My thoughts on the current situation:
1) Give up the blame game. Josh Marshall and David Adesnik are playing a good game of tag about whether the Bush administration is respinsible for the current situation. Marshall thinks Bush's rejection of Kim Dae Jung's "sunshine policy" and inclusion of North Korea in the "Axis of Evil" caused the situation to deteriorate to our current state of affairs. Adesnik points out in response that it was the North Koreans who started a uranium enrichment program in 1999 and declared last fall that the 1994 Agreed Framework was null and void.
Look, there's enough blame to go around. Dole out most of it to the North Korean leadership, who decided to go down this road back in 1999, and then reacted belligerently when confronted with evidence of their duplicity. Dole out some of it to the Bush administration, for publicly rebuking Kim Dae Jung's sunshine policy in early 2001 instead of privately consulting with him. This has undoubtedly complicated bilateral relations, though not as much as Josh Marshall wants to think. But be sure to dole out some more to both Kim Dae Jung and Junichiro Koizumi, for blindly pursuing engagement policies towards Pyongyang, pretending that North Korea would never trigger a reprise of the 1994 crisis, and then blaming the United States for discovering that they were being played for saps.
2) This is more serious than Iraq. Robert Lane Greene does a nice job of explaining why North Korea is just as bad as Iraq. Greene undersells it, however, since North Korea has a much greater incentive to proliferate than Iraq. Pyongyang knows that the more rogue states possess nuclear weapons, the more difficult it will be for the U.S. to focus on North Korea. However, while Iraq probably doesn't want Syria, Iran, or Turkmenistan to acquire nukes, North Korea simply doesn't care. Furthermore, Iraq has at best a nascent nuclear weapons program; North Korea has gobs of enriched plutonium and the necessary delivery mechanisms.
3) “All policy options stink.” When I was researching the 1994 episode for my book, that quote from a high-ranking U.S. policymaker rang true. Even though North Korea is now more dependent on trade with the outside world, economic sanctions won’t return things to the status quo. The simple fact is that North Korea anticipates future conflicts with the U.S., so it views any concession made in the present to undercut its bargaining leverage in the future. The sanctions would be costly, but to the DPRK leadership, giving in would be costlier. Furthermore, as in 1994, North Korea has made it clear that it equates sanctions with war. The threat of multilateral sanctions provides some leverage, but not a lot.
Military statecraft is fraught with risk. Any attempted regime change would devastate Seoul. A limited strike against the Yongbyon reactor would not solve the WMD problem, and could invite North Korean retaliation. Plus, as I pointed out in October, there is the problem of having China and Russia very close by.
As in 1994, inducements combined with the threat of coercion could buy a stalemate for a few years. The problem with this is twofold. First, once it gobbled up the carrots, North Korea would undoubtedly defect from any agreement freezing its nuclear program. Second, consider the message this option sends, given the Bush administration position that North Korea already has nuclear weapons. It creates a clear incentive to develop a crash nuclear weapons program to ensure successful proliferation prior to being detected.
There is also the threat of disengagement – call everyone’s bluff and let China, Russia, South Korea and Japan sort everything out. This could be a useful tactic, but only to focus the attention of these countries. It would have no effect on the North Koreans.
4) Remember 1991. The first Bush administration deserves high marks for how it handled the DPRK problem. It repeatedly offered negative security guarantees – such as pulling out all tactical nuclear weapons from the peninsula – but made sure that North Korea’s allies pressured Pyongyang to reciprocate. Coercive pressure has worked on North Korea before, but only when its allies applied the pressure. China vetoed North Korea’s proposal for a 1975 invasion of South Korea; the Soviet Union was able to get the DPRK to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1985 by threatening to withhold a trade agreement. Both countries successfully pressured North Korea to negotiate with South Korea. Obviously, the agreement didn’t hold up, but it did buy the region some time to prepare for the next conflict.
So, intimate to the key players the implications of DPRK proliferation (neither Russia nor China would be thrilled with the proliferation of nuclear weapons to Muslim-majority countries) and/or U.S. disengagement, and then combine some U.S. assurances of North Korean security with Chinese/Russian pressure on Pyongyang to behave better. The result of today's meeting between South Korean, Japanese, and American negotiators is a good step in this direction.
It’s not a permanent solution by any stretch of the imagination, and it will require constant coordination among five or six capitals. But, to paraphrase, all other policy options stink. The U.S. concessions that would be given to North Korea would be of the diplomatic variety, and have been repeated in the past. This eliminates -- or at least minimizes -- David Adesnik's fear of acquiescing to nuclear blackmail.
HOW TO OVERHYPE: John Zogby
"North Carolina Senator John Edwards has surged into a tie for second place among rivals for the 2004 Democratic nomination, latest Zogby America Poll results show.
Among likely Democrats nationwide, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman leads with 11%, followed by Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and North Carolina Senator John Edwards, both at 9%. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt is next at 8% and Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle follows at 7%.
In July, Edwards was a distant seventh place among 2004 Democratic hopefuls with 2% support among likely voters.
The poll of 432 likely Democratic voters, was conducted Jan. 4-6 and has a margin of sampling error of +/- 5%." (my bold italics).
Given the sampling error, a more accurate way to report this would be: "In the wake of Al Gore's decision not to seek the Democratic Party nominaion for president in 2002, the remaining hopefuls have statistically indistinguishable levels of support hovering in the high single digits."
I think John Edwards will be a serious contender for the nomination, and my guess is that Zogby believes this as well and is priming the pump. But the amount of breathless hyperbole in that copy -- given the reliability of the data -- is a bit nauseating. Maybe Zogby is plumping for Edwards, or maybe some public relations flack had way too many lattes before writing that.
UPDATE: An alert reader e-mails with the valid point that the sampling error decreases as the support numbers go to either extreme (single digits or above 80%). Still, I doubt the error figure would have declined to the point where Edwards' support is significantly greater than either Gephardt or Daschle.
THE POWER OF INSTAPUNDIT: Did
THE POWER OF INSTAPUNDIT: Did the Washington press corps wake up yesterday and independently decide to focus on blogging? Yesterday it comes out that the New York Times is digging for negative comments on the hardest working man in the Blogosphere, Glenn Harlan Reynolds. Today, the Chicago Tribune runs a piece on InstaPundit, with very flattering quotes from Walter Shapiro, Michael Barone, and Arianna Huffington. Check it out, if only to see Glenn being gracious to another blogger.
Monday, January 6, 2003
THE (IM)BALANCE OF POWER IN
THE (IM)BALANCE OF POWER IN THE BLOGOSPHERE: Will Kieran Healy trash Glenn Reynolds in the New York Times? Apparently not. Will he devote considerable efforts at mimicry in an effort to put me down? Alas, yes.
Could this be because InstaPundit might get a wee bit more traffic than my blog, and therefore Kieran is too dependant on Reynold's links? Is Kieran bandwagoning? [Could you please not post in the form of a question?--ed.] Another possibility: Reynolds' mug is just scary, whereas mine is, shall we say, closer to geeky.
Oh well. At least I have Patrick Ruffini's Bloggie nominations to fall back on. Thanks, Patrick!
THE DEBATE ABOUT GLOBALIZATION AND
THE DEBATE ABOUT GLOBALIZATION AND INCOME DISTRIBUTION: Laura Secor at the Boston Globe has an outstanding article reviewing the various arguments about whether globalization leads to greater or lesser inequality between the developed and developing world. Basically, the declining-inequality argument relies on more comprehensive but shoddier World Bank data, while the increasing-inequality argument relies on better data but a more suspect time period. Then we get to the good part:
"By many accounts, even where inequality is increasing, poverty is on the decline. The 2002 UNDP Human Development report notes that the proportion of the world's people living in extreme poverty dropped from 29 percent in 1990 to 23 percent in 1999. Says [Harvard economist Benjamin] Friedman, 'If it's inequality you're worried about, the world is becoming a less good place. But if it's poverty you're worried about, while we still have a ways to go, the world is becoming a better place.'"
Other economists dispute this figure, for good reasons, but their arguments seem to me to reduce the magnitude but not the direction of the current trend. The whole piece is worth a read as an excellent (and all too rare) example of a lucid treatment of economics in the mainstream press.
UPDATE: Alan K. Henderson has some further thoughts about why poverty rather than income inequality should be the focus of the debate.
White House staff smackdown, part deux
Matt Drudge has posted an exclusive on the White House reaction to former speechwriter David Frum's new book, The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush. The money quote:
The Drudge excerpt suggests that there will at least be some criticism of Bush and the White House in the book, some of which echoes John DiIulio. (Among the White House staff, there was a "dearth of really high-powered brains,"). Last month, if you'll recall, John DiIulio pulled off a double verbal flip-flop over the accuracy of a Ron Suskind Esquire article on Karl Rove that quoted DiIulio extensively. The final result was DiIulio completely renouncing his remarks and abjectly apologizing to the White House, even though Suskind was quoting directly from a DiIulio e-mail. This led many (click here and here and here) to gasp in awe at the White House's (read: Karl Rove's) ironclad control over its current and former staff.
Will Frum feel similar White House pressure, and, to put it bluntly, will he have the stones to resist? My guess is yes and yes. The fact that a staffer talked to Drudge suggests that someone was trying to send a message to Frum. Furthermore, Frum's quasi-authorship of the "Axis of Evil" tag line will dredge up some potentially awkward questions about why North Korea was added to the list. However, unlike DiIulio, Frum is the author of the source of controversy, he's not a befuddled academic, and he can turn a phrase. Plus, he's a blogger, so he's got the instincts to counterattack fast and hard. He's probably got the incentive and the verbal ammunition to put up an effective resistance.
Frum announced on his blog that he's taking a 10-day break to promote the book. However, I do hope he blogs thereafter about the reactions he gets.
UPDATE: The Los Angeles Times and New York Daily News have more on the contents of Frum's new book. From these excerpts, it seems that Frum has another tactic in his arsenal -- reversing the conventional wisdom on Karl Rove and Karen Hughes. From the book:
Actually, my favorite quote comes from the Times story: "The television show 'The West Wing' might as well have been set aboard a Klingon starship for all it resembled life inside the Bush White House."
The perils of hegemonic power
Michael Ignatieff's cover story on empirein yesterday's New York Times Magazine will be discussed in the next few days, but I actually think James Dao's Week in Review piece on U.S. troops in Korea makes many of the same points more concisely. The problem facing the U.S. is that even though critics on all sides are currently attacking the U.S. right now for trying to dictate affairs across the globe, these same critics are also likely to assail the U.S. for any retreat from its current positions.
Imagine for a second that the U.S. announced that it had decided to heed the calls to reign in its power. Say U.S. troops were pulled out of Europe, Korea, and the Middle East. No change in our economic or cultural policies, just a withdrawal of troops from the globe. What would happen? Undoubtedly, some of the animus towards the U.S. would dissipate in the short run. However, within the next year:
1) Japan would go nuclear.
I don't deny that the looming specter of U.S. hard power in Iraq and elsewhere is eroding our capital of soft power. However, to paraphrase Churchill, the current policy is without question an awful one, until you consider the alternatives.
On the margins, I believe that more accommodating U.S. policies on trade and the environment might buy an additional amount of good will from the developing and developed world, respectively. But those changes will not conceal the overwhelming U.S. advantage in military might, nor will it erase the natural emnity that comes with it.
Tales of two conferences
Both the American Economics Association and the American History Association wrapped up their annual conferences over the weekend. That their conferences are always at this time is Reason #47 that I'm glad to be a political scientist. The American Political Science Association meets over Labor Day weekend, when snarky culture journalists (many of whom are refugees from an attempted Ph.D.) are usually on vacation and thus can't write articles ridiculing my profession. No such luck for the historians, as the Chicago Tribune runs a typical (and unfair) put-down piece. However, for the AEA, no journalist can top Brad DeLong's hysterical snippets of overheard conversation. Glenn Reynolds' favorite one is here; mine is the following:
"I had an extended conversation with Joe Stiglitz on why the internet is dominated by right-wingers." "That's funny. I had an extended conversation with Bill Niskanen on why the internet is dominated by left-wingers."
P.S.: Not all media coverage of these events is condescending. Click here for an interesting summary of an AHA roundtable on plagiarism, including some surprising comments from Richard Posner.
P.P.S: Jacob Levy reminds me of another big reason why I'm glad my big conference not at this time of the year.