Saturday, May 31, 2003

The scholar-blogger report

THE SCHOLAR-BLOGGER REPORT: The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on scholar-bloggers. Yours truly is quoted, but Daniel Urmann easily has the best line in whole piece.

There's also a good list of academic blogs at the end.

UPDATE: Kieran Healy has some additional thoughts, including a good-natured jab at my colleague Jacob Levy.

Two additional points. First, compared to a some of the reporters I've dealt with, I was pleased to see that my words weren't distorted in the Chronicle piece. Thank you, David Glenn.

Second, I think the piece underemphasizes the scholarly reason for blogging. Picking apart the scholarship of a Michael Bellesiles or a John Lott is a rare occurrence. More important is the way blogs can engage an audience outside the small world of students and colleagues. At their best, scholar blogs can function as what Hayek called "second-order intellectuals," applying abstruse theories to real-world problems. They can open a window on the inner workings of ivory tower, debunking stereotypes of academics as detached from the real world.

At their worst, no one reads them and you get denied tenure for engaging in such base pursuits.

posted by Dan at 04:23 PM | Trackbacks (1)

Bynamist on fire

Virginia Postrel has a passel of new posts up, all of which are good reads. My personal favorite, however, is her takedown of Bill O'Reilly:

Contrary to his image as some kind of conservative ideologue, O'Reilly is just a long-winded cab driver with a TV show and no real interest in policy, ideas, or facts.

Ouch. She even has a link to empirical evidence supporting the long-winded charge.

UPDATE: More trouble for O'Reilly (link via OxBlog)

posted by Dan at 12:39 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, May 30, 2003

Regarding income inequality

OK, my take on the income inequality situation. [What the hell took you so long?--ed. Sorry, the teaching and research are more time-consuming at the moment.] This will probably be a letdown after talking about it for so long. I have three basic points:

1) Measuring static inequality is in some ways unfair, since the question is whether individuals and families experience upward mobility over time. This Urban Institute report has some valuable background information on the question of mobility vis-a-vis inequality. The money graf:

[S]tudies of relative mobility have produced remarkably consistent results, with regard to both the degree of mobility and the extent of changes in mobility over time. Mobility in the United States is substantial according to this evidence. Large proportions of the population move into a new income quintile, with estimates ranging from about 25 to 40 percent in a single year. As one would expect, the mobility rate is even higher over longer periods—about 45 percent over a 5-year period and about 60 percent over both 9-year and 17-year periods. (emphasis added).

Furthermore, this lengthier Urban Institute report contains an interesting tidbit from a 1992 Treasury Department study on mobility during the 1980s, which was a decade in which by static measures the rich got richer and the poor got poorer:

The Treasury study uses income tax return data between 1979 and 1988, tracking the adjusted gross income of a group of households that paid income taxes in all ten years examined. The study finds that 86 percent of individuals who were in the bottom quintile in 1979 had moved up by 1988. An individual in the bottom quintile in 1979, in fact, was more likely in 1988 to be found in the top quintile than in the bottom one. (emphasis added)

Does this vitiate Kevin's argument? No, not really. If you read the report, it turns out that income mobility in the U.S. is not appreciably different than it is in, say, Scandinavia. Furthermore, mobility has not changed as income inequality has increased -- if anything, mobility has shrunk for those without a college education. Still, an implicit implication of those who fret about rising inequality is that such a rise will lead to greater class stratification -- and that's not happening.

2) So, if we stipulate that income inequality is rising, is this squeezing out the middle class and the poor? The answer is no. If you care only about income, the poorest percentage of the population made great strides during the late nineties, completely erasing any losses from the previous twenty years. Business Week pointed this out in an April 2002 story. Some key grafs:

Real wage gains for private-sector workers averaged 1.3% a year, from the beginning of the expansion in March, 1991, to the apparent end of the recession in December, 2001. That's far better than the 0.2% annual wage gain in the 1980s business cycle, from November, 1982, to March, 1991. The gains were also better distributed than in the previous decade. Falling unemployment put many more people to work and swelled salaries across the board: Everyone from top managers to factory workers to hairdressers benefited. Indeed, the past few years have been "the best period of wage growth at the bottom in the last 30 years," says Lawrence F. Katz, a labor economist at Harvard University....

What's more, workers with a wide range of skills and occupations thrived over the past decade. In the '80s business cycle, real wages of blue-collar and service workers fell substantially. Blue-collar wages, for example, declined by 3.5% from 1982 to 1991. But in the '90s, real wages for these less-skilled jobs rose by 12%. Full-time cashiers saw their median weekly earnings jump by 11% (adjusted for inflation), while auto mechanics' pay went up by 14%, after falling sharply in the 1980s. Hairdressers got an almost 18% boost. That's despite Clinton-era welfare reform and a huge influx of immigrants, both of which were expected to hold down wages at the bottom. [Not to mention claims that economic globalization would cause a race to the bottom in wages]....

It's important to step back and quantify how the productivity gains of the 1990s were distributed. Consider nonfinancial corporations, where annual productivity growth accelerated from less than 1.8% in the 1980s to 2.2% in the 1990s. Over the course of the 1990s business cycle, this increase in added productivity translated into $812 billion in additional output, measured in 2001 dollars. Out of that sum, an astounding $806 billion--or 99%--went to workers in the form of more jobs and higher compensation, including exercised stock options. In effect, not only did the economy speed up in the 1990s but the workers got a bigger share of the pie.

So, the rich may be getting richer, but this is not at the expense of the poor. It's also worth pointing out that even though income inequality is rising, but as Mickey Kaus loves to point out, poverty has fallen over the past 20 years -- though not in a linear fashion. The decline in poverty was more pronounced among African-Americans than the rest of the population, by the way.

3) OK, so rising inequality is not causing an absolute drop in poor families. Still as Kevin argues in an e-mail, increasing inequality means that, "people who successfully move into the middle class are moving into a class that's not as good as it was for their parents, relatively speaking."

Actually, I'd argue the reverse -- more people are enjoying a middle class that's, on the whole, better off that prior generations. Consider two basic staples of a "middle class" lifestyle -- a college education and home ownership. This table shows that between 1980 and 2000, the percentage of all Americans aged 18-24 enrolled in a college or university increased by 40%. A greater fraction of Americans are receiving the college education so necessary for achieving a higher income. Furthermore, this fraction is considerably higher than any other OECD nation except for Canada (click here for some basic cross-national comparisons on education).

What about home ownership? This web site points out that home ownership rates have been steadily rising over the past decade. In 2001, 67.8% of American households owned their home -- the highest rate of home ownership since the Census Bureau began reporting these statistics in 1965.

But what about other quality-of-life issues, like crime, health, safety, and the environment? Gregg Easterbrook wrote a great New Republic piece in January 1999 demonstrating that on every social indicator imaginable, things were improving across the board for ordinary Americans over the past twenty years.

Calpundit's original point was that the distribution of benefits from economic growth over the past 20 years was skewed too much towards the rich. However, the fact remains that the rest of the population has received substantial benefits during the same period.

Furthermore, Americans don't begrudge the rich getting richer. Part of this has to do with the aforementioned mobility -- part of it is probably due to a greater discomfort in the U.S. to income redistribution than in other OECD countries. David Brooks makes this point repatedly (click here and here). His main point:

Income resentment is not a strong emotion in much of America.

If you earn $125,000 a year and live in Manhattan, certainly, you are surrounded by things you cannot afford. You have to walk by those buildings on Central Park West with the 2,500-square-foot apartments that are empty three-quarters of the year because their evil owners are mostly living at their other houses in L.A.

But if you are a middle-class person in most of America, you are not brought into incessant contact with things you can't afford. There aren't Lexus dealerships on every corner. There are no snooty restaurants with water sommeliers to help you sort though the bottled eau selections. You can afford most of the things at Wal-Mart or Kohl's and the occasional meal at the Macaroni Grill. Moreover, it would be socially unacceptable for you to pull up to church in a Jaguar or to hire a caterer for your dinner party anyway. So you are not plagued by a nagging feeling of doing without.

Brooks, by the way, is hardly the first person to make this point about Americans.

Economic growth over the past 20 years was a Pareto-optimizing move. It's not clear to me that the income from the richest 5% could have been redirected towards the poorest 20% without some deadweight loss in income. And given that the lower and middle classes have substantially benefited from the 1980-2000 economic boom, and their lack of resentment towards those who are perceived to have benefited disproportionately, it seems pointless to argue ex post that there should have been a greater focus on redistribution.

UPDATE: A comment on Arnold Kling's blog points out -- correctly -- the criticisms of the Treasury study that I cite above. I still cited it because the study does address the question of class stratification -- i.e., whether, over time, individuals and households do see natural rises in income due to increased work experience.

posted by Dan at 11:14 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, May 29, 2003


TUNE IN TOMORROW: I really meant to get to the question of rising income inequality in the United States today, but I'm just swamped. In the meantime, more contributions on the debate from Stephen Karlson, John Quiggin, Yankee Blog, and Kevin Drum redux.

posted by Dan at 02:59 PM | Trackbacks (0)

The merits of American diplomacy

Critics of U.S. foreign policy tend to focus on the statements/actions of policy principals (i.e., cabinet secretaries) and their immediate deputies. However, a signal virtue of U.S. diplomacy is the ingrained habit of trusting subordinates to innovate and adapt to local circumstances, and then copying those innovations when they work. This is true even in the most centralized and hierarchical foreign policy organization -- the U.S. military.

Two examples. The first should make the guys at OxBlog happy. According to the Chicago Tribune, in Afghanistan the U.S. military has modified its position on how to deal with incidents that lead to civilian causalties:

One night last month, an American bomb killed all of Mawiz Khan's children.....

The U.S. military says it is not liable for death and damage suffered by civilians in combat. Publicly, it says it does not compensate families for the deaths of relatives, even in cases like the one in Shkin, when the bombing was a result of American mistakes.

Yet here, U.S. military officers did something they have rarely, if ever, done in Afghanistan. They went to Mawiz Khan's house, apologized and promised to rebuild it, relatives and Afghan officials say.

"They came and visited, about 40 people including the Americans, and they said, `Please forgive us,'" Khan said. "I said, `What can I do? I am not a powerful man. I forgive you. That's all I can do. It's already happened. It's over. It's finished.'"

The apology represents a subtle shift in the way American forces are dealing with civilian casualties here, 19 months after the U.S.-led coalition began bombing Afghanistan. No longer are the dead labeled collateral damage. Quietly, the U.S. government is searching for ways to win back those who have suffered--by rebuilding their homes and villages, giving them money and gifts or simply expressing condolences.

"It is a big change," said Mohammad Ali Paktiawal, governor of Paktika province, where the Shkin bombing occurred.

Another example is the extent to which local commanders in Iraq are fostering the beginning tendrils of democratic institutions. First it was Mosul -- now it's Kirkuk:

Voting in an election that U.S. officials are calling an early but significant step in the democratization of Iraq, a council of community leaders selected Abdulrahman Mustafa, a mild-mannered lawyer, as the interim leader of Kirkuk, a vital oil town plagued by conflict between Arabs and Kurds.

The landmark poll took place even as U.S. intelligence reports indicate that high-level fugitives from Hussein's crumbled regime--including figures on Washington's list of 55 most wanted Iraqis--may be hiding out on boats southwest of the city, on an isolated tributary of the Tigris River.

"I believe this is a true historic moment for Kirkuk," Army Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the commander of the 4th Infantry Division, told an auditorium filled with delegates after the often-raucous election. "For the first time in nearly 30 years, you have the new freedom to determine your future."

The 4th Infantry Division organized the vote as part of a U.S. program to return a degree of political control to the Iraqi people as a means of preparing the country for national elections and as an escape valve for anti-U.S. sentiments.

Such makeshift experiments in democracy have been carried out in Mosul, Basra and a handful of other major Iraqi cities, with mixed success.

Both of these examples are small steps. They'll probably have a mixed record of success. However, actions like these by local foreign policy operators are a key way in which the wellspring of successful American foreign policy is constantly replenished.

posted by Dan at 11:24 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

A roiling debate on inequality

David Adesnik, Kieran Healy, and Kevin Drum are having an intellectual smackdown on the growth in income inequality in the United States over the past two decades and what to make of it. To recap:

Kevin Drum is arguing that the poor are not getting their fair share of the increasing economic pie:

It's one thing to say that the rich have most of the money — after all, that's the whole point of being rich. But it's quite another to say that as our country grows ever more prosperous, the rich should actually grow richer at a faster rate than anyone else.

David Adesnik responds to Drum's post by pointing out the following:

one can make a strong case that an unequal distribution is (a) the natural outcome of market interactions and (b) especially likely given the United States' recent transition from an industrial to a service-based economy.

Kieran Healy responds to Adesnik. His key point:

Look at the comparative cases —- other advanced capitalist democracies don’t have nearly as much wealth inequality as the U.S., and the U.S. itself for most of its history didn’t have such severe inequities either. So it’s hard to argue that the changes we’ve seen over the past 25 years are simply a matter of the Iron Laws of the Market.

David Adesnik responds here and here.

I'll be posting my thoughts on this debate tomorrow. In the meantime, read all of their posts.

UPDATE: More posts to read on the subject, from Dan Simon, Robert Tagorda, and -- a bit tangentially -- Matthew Yglesias.

posted by Dan at 03:30 PM | Trackbacks (0)


DOES MEXICO CITY MAKE SENSE?: My Chicago School companion Jacob Levy argues that the Bush administration's Mexico City of prohibiting "U.S. government funding of any organization that performs abortions or advocates for the liberalization of abortion laws in other countries" is incoherent.

He's got a good argument. Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 03:17 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, May 27, 2003


BLOGGERS ON THE WARPATH: Josh Marshall is all over Tom DeLay's role in the Texas redistricting case; Mickey Kaus is all over the New York Times' latest embarrassment involving Rick Bragg and the reliance by Times reporters on stringers.

I don't have much to add to Marshall's reporting, except this link to a Chicago Tribune piece on a similar anomalous redistricting taking place on Colorado.

As for the Times imbroglio, Glenn Reynolds, Charles Murtaugh, and Jonah Goldberg all observe that one fallout from the Bragg affair is that prominent columnists are starting to acknowledge the work of their minions -- I mean, research assistants.

If this trend takes hold, there's going to be a veeeerrrrryyyy interesting revolution in today's op-ed pages. It is common knowledge that op-eds and essays attributed to prominent people are usually not written by them, but rather by their minions/flunkies/research assistants (go to the chapter on intellectual life in David Brooks' inestimable BoBos in Paradise for the best description of this part of the knowledge economy). It will be interesting to see if more of these kinds of essays are now explicitly rather than implicitly co-authored.

If so, good for the broad spectrum of twentysomethings with Georgetown BAs and Masters from SAIS who finally earn some recognition. However, Richard Posner makes a provocative point -- that plagiarism in its myriad forms is a venial and not a mortal sin:

copying with variations is an important form of creativity, and this should make us prudent and measured in our condemnations of plagiarism.

Especially when the term is extended from literal copying to the copying of ideas. Another phrase for copying an idea, as distinct from the form in which it is expressed, is dissemination of ideas. If one needs a license to repeat another person's idea, or if one risks ostracism by one's professional community for failing to credit an idea to its originator, who may be forgotten or unknown, the dissemination of ideas is impeded....

The concept of plagiarism has expanded, and the sanctions for it, though they remain informal rather than legal, have become more severe, in tandem with the rise of individualism. Journal articles are no longer published anonymously, and ghostwriters demand that their contributions be acknowledged.

Individualism and a cult of originality go hand in hand. Each of us supposes that our contribution to society is unique rather than fungible and so deserves public recognition, which plagiarism clouds.

This is a modern view. We should be aware that the high value placed on originality is a specific cultural, and even field-specific, phenomenon, rather than an aspect of the universal moral law.

I'm still not convinced that Posner is correct -- but I am convinced that the blogosphere will strongly resist Posner's assertion. We traffic in the very ideas that Posner discusses. To us, any theft of our ideas is a theft of our intellectual progeny. To the general public, however, it matters not a whit.

posted by Dan at 01:22 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, May 26, 2003

Postwar pressure on Israel, redux

Great article in Ha'aretz describing the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments among Israel's ultra-conservatives after the Israeli cabinet's decision to accept the "steps" of the road map -- which means accepting the concept of an independent Palestinian state in the occupied territories. The key grafs:

Less than a month ago, analytical Israeli hawks, buoyed by President George W. Bush's Six Week War victory in Iraq, his sympathy for Israel's battle against terrorism, his neoconservative advisers, his pro-Israel power bases among fundamentalist Christians and Jews in key states, as well as the pressures of a coming election year, began to take confidence in the possibilty that the road map could be delayed into oblivion.

Nonetheless, for some on the right, the interminable process of putting off the road map seemed flawed, the idea that it would simply go away like its modest predecessors the Tenet and Mitchell plans, too good to be true.

This week, the boom fell.

Going farther than any previous government in formally endorsing the concept of Palestinian statehood , the cabinet Sunday gave a qualified but high-profile endorsement to the road map, which provides for an independent Palestine in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by 2005.

Shellshocked hawks were at a loss to explain how Israel's most rightwing government had taken the most left-leaning bedrock policy decision in the history of the Jewish state.

Analysts said the vote, in which Sharon, the progenitor of the system of settlements and for decades Israel's best-known hawk, bordered on a revolution in Israel.

At the same time, "for the settlers and their supporters, the cabinet's acceptance of the road map is an earthquake," says Haaretz commentator Nadav Shragai. "When Yesha Council members say 'the road map is worse than Oslo,' they mean every word, without exaggeration."

This really should not have been a surprise -- it's a replay of Gulf War I. After the 1991 war, the Bush administration recognized the need to move forward on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and forced a Likud government into accepting the Madrid conference, which helped paved the way to Oslo.

One disturbing difference is the relative power of the settlers in the occupied territories -- they are simply a larger constituency now than before. Here's more from Ha'aretz:

Longtime Yesha Council official and former MK Elyakim Haetzni, a Hebron resident, blasted the cabinet vote an act of "national treason" and a "national catastrophe." It was a historic day "in the same sense that the Destruction of the Temple was historic," Haetzni said....

Asked about apparent majority backing for the road map, Haetzni shocked Israelis by telling state-owned radio:

"Yes, of course. And the Jews also willingly boarded those trains [to the Nazi concentration camps], believing everything that the Germans told them. The Jews are a people which is very dangerous to itself. It is a people that has brought Holocausts down on itself throughout the course of its history.

Haetzni, it developed, was only warming up. "It is a people that has extraordinary powers of construction, and extraordinary powers of destruction. It builds and destroys, and this is an intrinsic part of Sharon's personality - Sharon is the greatest builder that we have had, and the greatest destroyer. Today he is in a destruction phase."....

For some Israelis, Haetzni's strident anti-government tone, echoed by a range of far-right demonstrators and groups, posed dangers not only of a volatile, ugly split on the Israeli right, but of dangers to the society at large.

posted by Dan at 10:20 AM | Trackbacks (0)