Thursday, January 16, 2003
For the next two weeks I will be on vacation, bicycling, hiking, and kayaking in New Zealand with the Officially Certified blogbrother and blogfather.
Will I be posting during this time? Hmmmm.... what would Moses do? [He'd be laughing his ass off at the ridiculousness of the question--ed.] I'd say there is only a 5% chance of blogging until February.
MICHIGAN'S AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: Lots of
MICHIGAN'S AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: Lots of blogosphere kudos to President Bush for his decision to oppose the University of Michigan's affirmative action plan (Here's Josh Chafetz and Andrew Sullivan). Yesterday, the New York Times made its views known with a truly misleading editorial:
"The two cases, which challenge the University of Michigan's use of race as a "plus factor" in undergraduate and law school admissions, have huge implications for the nation's efforts to widen racial equality and increase campus diversity by opening institutions of higher learning to more blacks and Hispanics. Moreover, in the aftermath of the Trent Lott embarrassment, the administration's stance will be seen as an indicator of the president's commitment to moving his party and the country beyond the segregationist past."
There are serious errors in both sentences. Arguing that opposing affirmative action is the equivalent of supporting segregationism is absurd on its face. As for the implicit notion that opposition to affirmative action indicates racism, liberals of good conscience were careful to flatly reject that assertion during the height of the Lottroversy.
As for the description of Michigan's use of race as a "plus factor," here's the Chicago Tribune's description of the exact weights used:
"The Michigan undergraduate program awards students up to 150 points for a variety of factors, including 20 points for African Americans and some Hispanic students. That's more than a student can earn for having perfect SAT scores (12 points) or for having an outstanding essay (3 points), and is often enough to be the decisive factor for a student's admission, administration officials said.
Michigan's law school sets aside a specific number of seats each year for minority students." (my italics)
Face it -- these are quota schemes.
The Tribune also has a nice profile on how Michigan's obsession with racial diversity crowds out other forms of diversity.
Wednesday, January 15, 2003
WHAT'S GOING ON IN AFGHANISTAN?:
WHAT'S GOING ON IN AFGHANISTAN?: One of the best things about teaching international relations at the University of Chicago is the plethora of seminars that go on around here. The Program on International Security Policy does a particularly good job of bringing in "policy-relevant" types to talk about current foreign affairs.
Yesterday's speaker was Barnett Rubin, America's leading Afghan expert and late 2001's must-have commentator. Rubin's talk on the current situation in Afghanistan -- compared to my casual perusal of press clippings on the subject -- actually cheered me up in several ways. Here are the conclusions I came away with:
1) Given the degree of difficulty, peacebuilding has been pretty successful. Pundits who talk about "reconstructing" Afghanistan automatically stack the deck in their appraisals, since that term implies a desirable, stable, and pre-existing status quo. However, the prior status quo in Afghanistan has been 20 years of violence with considerable interference from its neighboring states. The mere absence of large-scale violence -- as well as the low level of neighboring country mischief-making -- is significant.
2) There is a conception of statehood in Afghanistan. For all of the discussion about different ethnicities in the country, Rubin noted that "Afghans insist they are Afghan" -- meaning that all tribes want to see a strong central government and possess some sense of nationhood. They might disagree about the allocation of resources from that government, but that's hardly unique to Afghanistan. (They might be saying those things just to please Westerners, but Rubin seems pretty plugged in).
3) Neither the Taliban nor Al Qaeda are coming back. Critics of the war often posit that reconstruction will eventually falter, paving the way for the Taliban to re-emerge. However, this is unlikely for three reasons. First, Al Qaeda now has little interest in Afghanistan. They liked it as a base -- beyond that, it holds no value for them. Second, the remaining remnants of the Taliban are weak in number and lack natural allies even among the Pashtuns. Third, those Taliban remnants have no illusions about being able to displace U.S. forces.
4) Afghanistan will not be a fully functioning democracy -- but that's too much to expect. Look at Afghanistan's neighbors -- when Pakistan and Iran are the most liberal states in your region, you know that Lockean democracy has yet to flourish. It is unlikely that democratic institutions will function as expected -- but even if they function at some basic level, it's an improvement over what Afghans have endured for the past two decades.
Tuesday, January 14, 2003
THE RESIDUE OF RACISM: One
THE RESIDUE OF RACISM: One mantra that persisted throughout the Lottroversy was that racism remains a problem in American society. That's an easy thing to say, but what exactly does it mean?
This story does a nice job describing the nature of the problem:
"CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) -- It helps to have a white-sounding first name when looking for work, a new study has found.
Resumes with white-sounding first names elicited 50 percent more responses than ones with black-sounding names, according to a study by professors at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The professors sent about 5,000 resumes in response to want ads in the Boston Globe and Chicago Tribune. They found that the 'white applicants they created received one response -- a call, letter or e-mail -- for every 10 resumes mailed, while black' applicants with equal credentials received one response for every 15 resumes sent."
Click here for the actual study. If you read the story, it's clear that the researchers controlled for other explanatory factors. [But c'mon, don't researchers who engage in these studies mine the data for results that favor their pre-existing beliefs?--ed. One of the researchers, the University of Chicago's Marianne Bertrand, has conducted other studies about economic discrimination. This abstract of a co-authored NBER paper suggests that she does not manipulate her data].
UPDATE: OK, I was apparently way behind the curve on this study, which Alan Krueger discussed in his column last month in the New York Times. Brad DeLong, Kevin Drum, and Thomas Maguire posted on this more than a month ago. The criticism of the study is that the name selection could merely indicate a bias against "outside-the-mainstream" names, and not necessarily racism. The authors do seem to have covered this with survey research on attributing names to racial backgrounds -- and they're also quite forthcoming about the drawbacks of their testing approach in the paper. Steven Postrel e-mails to raise a better criticism, which is that the African-American names were the most "countercultural" while the white names were as WASPish as you could get. Point taken.
One possible problem that occurred to me was that the experiment was carried out "between July 2001 and January 2002 in Boston and between July 2001 and May 2002 in Chicago." Since several of the African-American names have Islamic-sounding names, I wondered if those names combined with 9/11 were responsible for the result. Surprisingly, the results (Table 2 in the paper) don't suggest that either.
HOPES VS. EXPECTATIONS IN NORTH
Prospect theory predicts that, when faced with sudden reversals in fortune that present no-win scenarios -- like North Korea -- pundits will envisage best-case outcomes as a way of advancing their preferred policies. This is rarely done for tactical reasons, but rather because in situations like the current one, frustration with the range of depressing alternatives leads human beings to sketch a sunnier outcome than one should realistically expect. We prefer the riskier strategy because the possible rewards are great, even though the likelihood of that outcome occurring is small.
Which brings me to Nicholas D. Kristof's op-ed. He argues:
Now, Kristof would get points from David Adesnik for joining the Kevin Drum Club of Bush critics who acknowledge that this option amounts to backing down. I also strongly support the boosting of Playboy's export revenues. And certainly, the notion that unbridled capitalism will destroy dictatoriships has a long and distinguished history. It's also the rationale for our openness to the People's Republic of China.
I would love it if Kristof was right -- but a sober appraisal of the situation would conclude that's he's completely wrong. This gets to the distinction between a totalitarian and an authoritarian state. China or Singapore fall into the latter camp -- political dissent is stifled, but in other spheres of life there is sufficient breathing froom from state intervention to permit the flowering of pro-market, pro-democratic civil society. North Korea is totalitarian, in the sense that the state control every dimension of social life possible.
In authoritarian societies, the introduction of market forces and international news media can has the potential to transform society in ways that central governments will not be able to anticipate. In totalitarian societies, reform can only take place when the central government favors it. These societies have to take the first steps towards greater openness before any outside force can accelerate the process. Usually, such societies turn brittle and collapse under their own weight.
There is no more totalitarian state on earth than North Korea. To paraphrase P.J. O'Rourke, unapproved interactions unhappen in Pyongyang. As I've argued previously (click here , here and here), every North Korean feint towards openness has turned out to be an attempt at misdirection.
For the past decade, the DPRK leadership has been completely consistent about one thing -- it prefers mass famine and total isolation over any threat to the survival of its leadership. Uncontrolled exchange with the West will threaten that leadership. I have no doubt that Pyongyang is enthusiastic about the creation of segmented economic zones where foreign capital would be permitted -- so long as the rest of North Korean society remained under effective quarrantine.
I wish it were otherwise -- but I know it isn't.
AN ECONOMICS SMACKDOWN: Brad DeLong
AN ECONOMICS SMACKDOWN: Brad DeLong has a fascinating post on the failure of Joeph Stiglitz -- the 2001 Nobel Prize winner in Economics -- to make any headway among economists in advancing his argument that capital controls are a good thing. DeLong explains:
"Joe is losing the argument. He is not losing the argument because rational debate shows that his is the worse cause (although I think that rational debate is likely to reach that conclusion). He is losing the argument because of something he wrote about former MIT Professor, then Principal Deputy Managing Director of the IMF, and current President of Citicorp (Group?) International Stanley Fischer:
'Moreover, the IMF's behavior should come as no surprise: it approached the problems from the perspectives and ideology of the financial community, and these naturally were closely (though not perfectly) aligned with its interests. As we have noted before, many of its key personnel came from the financial community, and many of its key personnel, having served these interests well, left to well-paying jobs in the financial community. Stan Fischer, the deputy managing director who played such a role in the episodes described in this book, went directly from the IMF to become a vice chairman at Citigroup, the vast financial firm that includes Citibank. A chairman of Citigroup (chairman of the Executive Committee) was Robert Rubin, who, as secretary of [the] Treasury, had had a central role in IMF policies. One could only ask, Was Fischer being richly rewarded for having faithfully executed what he was told to do? (pp. 207-208 of Globalization and Its Discontents)
It is the sentence that I have highlighted in bold that was Stiglitz's complete and total disaster. I have met nobody who knows Stanley Fischer who believes that the answer to Stiglitz's question is, "Yes." Everybody I have met who knows Stanley Fischer sees Stiglitz's question as a knowingly-false and malevolently-intended act of slander. The implication that Fischer was rewarded for slanting IMF policy in a pro-Citigroup direction in return for a future fat private-sector paycheck is universally rejected as totally false.
And as a result, every day at the AEA, it seemed that there were at least 300 friends of Stanley Fischer who woke up in the morning thinking, 'I have to defend Stan against Joe.' And they did so, quite effectively."
Read the whole post, as well as the comments it has inspired.
DeLong is correct to say that the right set of ideas is winning, but for political rather than intellectual reasons. Alas, I feared something this would occur back in September, in part because Stiglitz has yet to recover from his bruising experiences of being on the losing side of policy disputes in DC, for reasons that I elaborate on here.
Monday, January 13, 2003
WHEN LIBERALS HAVE A POINT:
WHEN LIBERALS HAVE A POINT: I've blogged in the past about this administration's tendency towards smugness in their articulation of policy decisions (click here and here). Certainly, this habit of brushing away outside opinions -- both foreign and domestic -- has infuriated the left, and partially helps to explain their use of the overrreaching Bush-as-dictator trope.
However, the liberals do have a valid point on the smugness. According to Bob Novak, Senate Republicans are equally irate about the administration's arrogance and tendency to stonewall (link via Drudge):
"Republican senators gathering last Wednesday for their session-opening 'retreat' should have been happy, blessed with a regained majority and a popular president. They were not. Instead, they complained bitterly of arrogance by the Bush administration, especially the Pentagon, in treatment of Congress along the road to war.
Two years of growing discontent boiled over during the closed-door meeting at the Library of Congress. White House chief of staff Andrew Card was there to hear grievances from President Bush's Senate base that it is ignored and insulted by the administration, particularly by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in preparing for war against Iraq. Recital of complaints began with Sen. John Warner, a pillar of the Senate GOP establishment."
Then there's this exchange, confirming the worst parts of Will Saletan's piece last week in Slate:
"Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri next got up to tell Card that the administration had better put out more information justifying military action against Iraq as part of the war against terrorism. 'What is the connection between Iraq and al-Qaida?' Bond asked. 'Don't worry,' replied Card, indicating the information would come along."
The administration can choose to ignore opinions from the "outside" -- the costs and benefits of this strategy are clear. However, ignoring the legislative branch of government goes beyond the realm of simple arrogance and enters the realm of power-grabbing stupidity.
MOCKING M.A.D.D.: InstaPundit and TalkLeft
MOCKING M.A.D.D.: InstaPundit and TalkLeft have been arguing that Mothers Against Drunk Driving, having succeeded in stigmatizing that offense, is now going overboard. This includes pushing overly strict statutory blood alcohol levels that do little to contribute to the public good, and calling for public officials to resign for first-time DUI offenses. As TalkLeft puts it, "MADD has moved into dangerous territory and needs to be reigned in. Or, since that's unlikely, ridiculed."
I believe the ridicule has begun -- in the comic pages, of course.
UPDATE: Alert reader J.S. informs me that there is an actual organization devoted to what is lampooned in today's Foxtrot, but that it's likely a student-perpetrated hoax. So it's either intentionally or unintentionally hilarious.
Sunday, January 12, 2003
YOU KNOW THE CULTURE HAS
YOU KNOW THE CULTURE HAS CHANGED WHEN...: I hold some mutual fund investments with Janus Funds [Wow, so you must really be raking the dough, huh?--ed. It's a Sunday; take the day off]. Their year-end report just arrived in my box, which does not make for happy reading. It includes a letter from their Managing Director of Investments, Helen Young Hayes. Her missive contains this startling paragraph:
"The year will also be viewed by historians as a time of 'cleansing' by the market sweeping away the greed, blind ambition and fraud that had built up during the bull market. Starting with Enron in the fall of 2001, one corrupt management team after another has fallen under the glare of the market's spotlight, punished for financial and corporate governance misdeeds. Aggressive accounting practices that were sometimes employed in the ebullient 1990's have been replaced by a more conservative, transparent culture on Wall Street, a shift that was long overdue and that we believe will have a positive and meaningful long-term effect on the health of the financial markets."
Now, I'm all for rigorous accounting standards. But an investment director blasting greed and ambition? Why, exactly, do these people think I'm an investor?
Maybe I need to rethink my portfolio [Yeah, then you could pay me--ed. Right now you're earning as much as I am for this.]