Saturday, August 23, 2003

Give yourselves a hand

Due perhaps to my own personality quirks, I will confess to having had some trepidation about adding a comments feature to the blog. Will Baude and Jivha (and countless others) have speculated on the reasons why top-tier bloggers don't have them.

As a non-top-tier blogger, I was basically worried that the comments would be too difficult to manage, overhelming the posts by going off topic, just being nasty, or as James Joyner notes, more disturbing behavior.

I'm glad to say I was wrong. On the whole, the comments have been of exceptionally high quality. I've had to delete very few of them. And as Mickey Kaus) has pointed out about a recent post of mine: "The relatively high-quality comments... are also recommended."

So, thanks to all of you for the value-added!!!

posted by Dan at 02:25 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, August 22, 2003

Libertarian smackdown

Radley Balko and Pejman Yousefzadeh have dueling articles in Tech Central Station over whether the Do Not Call registry -- about which I've posted here -- is consistent with the libertarian credo.

Start off with Yousefzadeh's original TCS essay. Then move onto Balko's rejoinder essay. Then check out Pejman's response to Radley, and Radley's responses to his critics.

If you checked my original post, you'll see I'm torn on this one. I'll post my thoughts after reading everything I just assigned.

UPDATE: OK, I've read everything, including this Julian Sanchez post, and Yousefzadeh wins by KO. I'll explain why sometime this weekend. Hint: it has something to do with Ronald Coase.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Well, this is what I get for procrastinating -- "pj"'s comment below summarizes what I was going to say in a more pithy way than I could have devised. The problem here is that because of the absence of well-defined property rights, the issue is a distributional one. Either the telemarketers are assigned the property right of being able to make automated calls, or the individual consumer is assigned the property right of blocking unwanted calls. I have no problem whatsoever with the consumer receiving this particular property right, particularly given the blackmail problems associated with allocating the property right to producers.

Another fact, which neither Balko or Yousefzadeh mention, tips me in favor of the registry: unless one believes that consumers are irrational or have time-inconsistent preferences, the registry should be a Pareto-optimizing move. The consumers who don't want the service of unsolicited offers don't get it by signing up. The producers, are also provided valuable information. They are told which calls would be completely unproductive. Even if the cost of making the calls is minimal, it's still greater than zero -- ergo, a profit-maximizing producer should be glad to receive this information as a way to cut costs.

Of course, this raises an interesting theoretical question: if the government merely informed the telemarketing industry who had signed up for the do-not-call registry, but provided no sanctions for making calls to those individuals, would the telemarketers still comply? I suspect not, because the telemarketers believe they could still extract a high-enough yield to warrant the costs. That action, however, suggests that these firms believe they could override an individual's prior choice -- and that bothers the hell out of me.

In the end, any theory of libertarianism must place great confidence in the ability of individuals to make choices that will maximize their self-interest. Balko's argument regarding the nanny state violates that assumption for me.

LAST UPDATE: A final hat tip to Balko for linking to all of the negative reaction he's got while still sticking to his guns.

posted by Dan at 12:48 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (4)

Thursday, August 21, 2003

The grand opening

Those of you prowling around the rest of have probably figured this out, but for the rest of you, I've added a few bells and whistles to the site. [You've added?--ed. Good point!! A big thank you to Robyn for all of her help in getting everything fixed up. My apologies for occasionally marring your beautiful design with some slapped-on code of my own.]

In no particular order:

1) On the right, you'll notice a book recommendation page, which contains some classic and recent books on international relations and political economy that are worth checking out.

2) Also on the right, you will also notice a Book of the Month selection. For the rest of August, it's Meghan O'Sullivan's Shrewd Sanctions, which I've mentioned in the past. [What's the deal with the Amazon ad?--ed. Buy the book via my site, I get a small cut. Trying to make a profit on the blog?--ed. More like trying to recoup sunk costs.]

3) The rest of the site is now up. This includes research and teaching pages for those interested in my day job, and a personal interests page for those who are yours truly. Highlights from the rest of the site include my academic cv*, my paper-writing advice, and a small photo of me skydiving.

If you want to see anything else within reason, let me know and I'll see what I can do. Otherwise, enjoy!!

*WARNING: Those of you more comfortable with the word "resume" will be flabbergasted at both its length and the extent of piddling stuff that's included on my cv. That's not me being vain; that's just the nature of academic resumes for those without tenure.

posted by Dan at 11:03 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (2)

Philosophy hijinks

This year's World Congress of Philosophy ended a few days ago in Istanbul. According to Ioanna Kuçuradi, President of the Federation of Philosophical Societies:

The main theme of the Congress will be Philosophy Facing World Problems. By selecting this theme we wish to put the accent on the need of philosophical, including ethical, knowledge in dealing with global problems at the outset of the new century.

So how'd they do?

Well, there's this story:

At the fifth day of the 21st World Philosophy Congress, currently in Istanbul, philosophers from around the world heavily criticised the United States and shared their suggestions on what to do about the world's only superpower.

After reminding the Congress that the U.S. Administration organised an operation in Iraq with the excuse of finding Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) and then threatened North Korea with the same excuse, Australian philosopher Prof. Peter Singer asked if launching a preventive operation against countries having WMDs was a legitimate right. He then suggested that the U.S. also has WMDs and North Korea may have the same right to launch an operation against the U.S.

Singer suggested that the United Nations' (UN) structure should be changed in order to counter U.S. hegemony. He proposed the abolishment of veto power and a change to a pluralist system. Asserting that the UN is not democratic, Singer said, "5 countries have the power of a veto and four of them share a Christian tradition. Not even one Muslim country has the power to veto."

Despite such statements, the Congress has not endeared itself to local Islamic philosophers.

And then there's this closing headline, "Philosophy Congress Ends in Chaos." (news links via Political Theory)

Ah, if only some of the Crooked Timber folk had been in attendance to provide a firsthand report.

posted by Dan at 01:28 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

About that flypaper hypothesis

Mickey Kaus links to a lot of blogosphere and op-ed commentary touting the "flypaper" thesis of Austin Bay and David Warren. The thumbnail version of the argument (from Warren):

While engaged in the very difficult business of building a democracy in Iraq -- the first democracy, should it succeed, in the entire history of the Arabs -- President Bush has also, quite consciously to my information, created a new playground for the enemy, away from Israel, and even farther away from the United States itself. By the very act of proving this lower ground, he drains terrorist resources from other swamps.

Kaus observes:

It seems only yesterday that the "flypaper" theory of U.S. strategy in Iraq was a tiny little meme-speck on the horizon.... Today, it's perilously close to Conventional Wisdom status

The thing is, I don't buy it. In terms of the broader neocon vision of transforming the Middle East, Iraq needs to be an oasis of stability, not a grand opening for Terrorists 'R Us. [But what about Josh Marshall's theory that the neocons want greater instability as an excuse for greater U.S. intervention?--ed. If Marshall was correct, then the last thing the administration would want is for destabilizing elements to leave their home countries and go to Iraq. That would make it harder, not easier, to justify U.S. incursions elsewhere in the region.]

There's also this little nugget of information contained within today's Los Angeles Times story regarding the U.S. decision to seek another U.N. Security Council resolution in Iraq:

One possible compromise between the United States and other Security Council members would establish a separate contingent of UN forces that would report to a UN command structure and provide security for humanitarian missions and some reconstruction efforts. This might satisfy countries that want to help but don't want their soldiers under U.S. command.

Washington also hopes the resolution will call on Iraq's neighbors, particularly Iran and Syria, to block the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, according to diplomats in Washington. The influx of foreign forces has become a leading U.S. security concern. (emphasis added)

If the flypaper hypothesis is correct, then why would the administration be so concerned about border protection?

Maybe the LA Times sources are way off (nothing like this appeared in either the NYT or WaPo stories), but if they're right, then either the flypaper thesis is a load of bulls@#t, or the Bush administration underestimated how sticky the Iraq flypaper has turned out to be.

posted by Dan at 11:44 AM | Comments (40) | Trackbacks (3)

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Welcome to the blogroll

I've added three new blogs to the roll. The first one was long overdue -- Tom Maguire's Just One Minute.

The second is Eric Zorn's new j-blog for the Chicago Tribune, which has a great title, Breaking Views. This column provides Eric's raison d'etre for the blog. He writes mostly about Chicago issues, but occasionally looks into foreign affairs.

The third is John Scalzi's new blog for AOL, entitled By the Way. [That name sounds familiar--ed. Scalzi also blogs here.] He now joins the very small ranks of people who earn a living by blogging. According to this page on John's personal web site, AOL fired him back in 1998; his new job must be some form of karmic payback.

By the Way is part of the new "AOL Journals" campaign to enter the blogosphere in grand fashion -- click here and here for background. In John's first live post for AOL, he explains his ambassadorial role:

My job is also to keep AOL Journalers connected with what's going on with AOL Journals, both on the technical side (the AOL Journals tool you use to post entries) and in the emerging community surrounding AOL Journals. And let's not forget the larger blogging and journaling community that already exists out there ("The Blogosphere," as it is generally known). We're now a part of that, too. So when you have questions, comments and observations about any of it, just let me know.

Welcome aboard!!

posted by Dan at 08:31 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Your source for outsourcing

Follwing up on some previous links on outsourcing, Brad DeLong has a long post on why outsourcing will not doom the U.S. economy. He's particularly trenchant on this point:

Remember: few would be worried about "outsourcing" if the U.S. unemployment rate were still close to four percent, rather than at the above six percent level that it is. To the extent that a structural cure is being proposed for what is really a macroeconomic problem, do not expect it to end well. And remember: a network-design job artificially kept in Sacramento when it could be done more cheaply in Singapore produces extra income for a network engineer in Sacramento, but has costs as well: in a diminished capital inflow that reduces construction and the earnings of construction workers, in higher costs for businesses installing their networks that shows up in lower salaries they pay their workers, in lower earnings and stock prices for HP.

That said, Glenn Reynolds is also correct in pointing out that precisely because of our current macroeconomic travails, this will be a campaign issue.

Why? Not because outsourcing is new, but because it's going to affect an entirely new set of professions. As Raghuram Rajan and Luigi Zingales (for more about them, click here) point out in Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists, (p. 282):

For centuries, technology has created new products and new ways of making them that render workers and their skills redundant. While the dislocation stemming from technological change is not new, its pace has increased tremendously. Moreover, it is now affecting the professions that have not much changed their way of doing business over the centuries (emphasis added).

That quote, by the way, provides the best counter to outsourcing anxiety. Opposing it perfectly akin to opposing technological progress. They're both Luddite.

[That's easy for you to say. You're an academic facing minimal market pressures.--ed.] Not true. Rajan and Zingales use academia as one example of a profession newly affected by technology:

Technology is also having a differential impact on within professions. Take our own, teaching in universities. Using new communication technologies, one gifted professor can teach students in many locations around the country. While technology will increase the demand for such superstar teachers, it will reduce the demand for the mediocre that may vanish completely. Teaching is a job that has been performed the same way for thousands of years, by people who have not feared becoming redundant even in the worst of economic depressions. This will change. While the new economy will increase the demand for education, it may not have room for all of us (p. 283).

posted by Dan at 11:40 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Thoughts on the UN attack

There's a lot of blogosphere speculation about the "who?" and the "why?" of the bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad -- see Matthew Yglesias, David Adesnik, Glenn Reynolds, Juan Cole, and -- in a heartbreaking post -- Salam Pax.

As I've said before, such speculation often leads commentators to fit overly neat narratives into messy realities. However, this New York Times news analysis of the bombing, which has a paragraph that just startled me:

No one claimed responsibility for the attack. But it seems clear that any improvement in the standard of living of Iraqis is viewed by opponents of the occupation as a victory for the United States and its efforts to create a stable, democratic Iraq.

So the question is, what group is nihilistic enough to see victory in the mass immiseration of fellow Arabs and the destruction of international supportagencies?

While the B'aathists are contemptible, while in power they were always clever enough to play the United Nations off the U.S. and Great Britain. This attack has the feel of someone incapable of making such distinctions yet willing to hit soft targets. In other words, an Al Qaeda subsidiary. So, my money's on Ansar al-Islam.

UPDATE: William Dyer is less than pleased with the Times coverage of the bombing (link via InstaPundit).

posted by Dan at 11:22 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (1)

Mounting multilateral pressure on Pyongyang

When the multilateral talks on North Korea were announced a few weeks ago, Russia's seat at the table raised a few eyebrows. Until that point, the U.S. insistence was on five-party talks -- the U.S., North Korea, South Korea, Japan, and China. Russia's inclusion -- and its historical ties to the DPRK -- caused some to wonder if this was some kind of effort to level the playing field for Pyongyang.

Well, as Fred Kaplan and the New York Times indicated yesterday, that speculation was way off. According to the Times:

Russia, traditionally an ally of North Korea, embarked today on a 10-day maritime exercise, partly in waters near North Korea, that will involve two traditional enemies of the North, Japan and South Korea. The exercise is the first time that warships from those three countries have conducted joint maneuvers.

Also today, China and Japan announced that for the first time they would conduct mutual visits by warships. In addition, on Sept. 1, Shigeru Ishiba, chief of Japan's Defense Agency, is to travel to Shanghai and Beijing, the first visit by a Japanese defense minister in five years....

North Korea, in response to this effort to isolate it ahead of the talks scheduled from Aug. 27 to 29 in Beijing, blasted the United States today, attacking Washington for leading 10 other nations in the Proliferation Security Initiative, an alliance devised to intercept North Korean ships suspected of carrying contraband....

This Saturday, in the thin strip of Russian territory that was a rear staging area for Soviet military support for North Korea in the Korean War, border troops and civil defense officials are to conduct drills based on the premise that huge North Korean refugee flows could start as a result of a new war on the Korean peninsula or by the collapse of the government of Kim Jong Il....

China, under the new leadership of Hu Jintao, asked North Korea earlier this year to renegotiate their half-century-old mutual defense treaty. North Korea reportedly replied that the timing was not good, with the United States pressuring North Korea over its nuclear program.

Japan, another maritime neighbor of North Korea, is also growing increasingly wary.

The Japanese Coast Guard has added two patrol cutters armed with 20- millimeter cannons on its west coast facing the Korean peninsula, and 26 officers have been added to customs offices in eight seaports frequented by North Korean freighters.

Surrounded by increasingly hostile neighbors, Mr. Kim, North Korea's leader, increasingly acts like a hunted man. In the last six months, he has kept a low profile, never appearing publicly at an event that was scheduled and publicized ahead of time.

Fred Kaplan explains the significance of Russia's actions in Slate. The key grafs:

In previous multilateral negotiations—for that matter, throughout its half-century history—North Korea has played other, larger powers off one another, often quite shrewdly. A "shrimp among whales," a nation founded on guerrilla tactics at the height of the Cold War, North Korea sees this sort of manipulation as essential to survival.

The importance of Russia's unprecedented involvement in this week's military exercises—the signal that it appears quite pointedly to be sending—is that Kim Jong-il will no longer, or at least not so easily, be able to play this game. At this negotiation, on this issue, Russia stands aligned with all the other foreign powers.

Actually, rereading the Times story, Kaplan is understating things. Russia's participation in naval exercises is a powerful signal, but just as significant is the bulking up of Japan's forces and the cooling down of China's friendship with Pyongyang.

Ironically, by the time the talks start, the countries in the multilateral coalition that will have the biggest policy differences will be the U.S. and South Korea. Jim Dunnigan manages, in a single paragraph, to neatly summarize why the U.S. and South Korea disagree so frequently on what to do with North Korea (link via InstaPundit):

Why is there disagreement between the United States and South Korea over how to deal with the North? The main problem is that Americans fear that the north will quietly sell nuclear or chemical weapons to terrorist groups, and these weapons will end up being used in the United States. The north has used terrorist attacks against South Korea for decades, so we know what they are capable of. Thus American are anxious to do something about North Korean nuclear and chemical weapons. South Koreans are more afraid of the North Attacking the south directly, which they did once before in 1950. To deal with the terrorist threat, it seems reasonable to threaten the north. But to deal with the war threat, you have to use more conciliatory moves. South Korea and America both fear the north, but for different reasons, and each wants to apply a different, and somewhat incompatible, solution.


posted by Dan at 01:06 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (1)

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

The blogosphere and the Guardian take on agricultural subsidies

The Guardian has set up what it calls a "campaign blog" to Kick All Agricultural Subsidies, or KickAAS (link via OxBlog).

This is from their first real post:

Everyone gains. Abolition would save Western governments over $300 billion a year (equivalent to a cashback of over $200 for everyone) while giving a huge boost to agriculture in developing countries. Poor countries could sell products – like sugar, cereals and skimmed milk – they are much better suited to produce. At the moment they are being undercut even in their own domestic markets by subsidised Western produce. Sometimes trade is better than aid. And it costs nothing.

The present system doesn't even do what it claims to do. According to the OECD less than half of the $300 billion handouts get through even to the most efficient farmers. Even farmers would gain from abolition – by kicking subsidies that have become a dependency habit.

Abolishing agricultural subsidies is one of the very few campaigns that unites right, left and centre.

Well, not everyone. I also have no doubt that either Pat Buchanan or Lori Wallach could come up with a reason to oppose this. Still, you get the idea.

Go check out the site, which contains some useful links.

Just as interesting as the battle to end agricultultural subsidies is the fact that the Guardian, in setting up the site, thinks that the blogosphere can affect political change. I've expressed my doubts on this score in the past, but I also hope I'm wrong in this case.

We'll see if these kinds of campaign blogs are more interesting than the ones that Maureen Dowd ripped to shreds last week.


UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias is pessimistic that anything of substance will be accomplished with this campaign, because of the limited reach of English-language blogs and the concentration of interests within the agricultural sector of the U.S.

I share his sense of pessimism but not its depth. First, as KICKAAS itself observes, the key actors to influence are the United States and the European Union. The blogosphere's power in the U.S. is much debated, but it occasionally demonstrates some pull.

As for the EU, I hear they speak some English on the continent. Indeed, given the elite nature of EU policymaking, a blog sponsored by a major media outlet might actually significant attention in the corridors of Brussels.

As for the U.S., the concentration of interests is acute, but it's worth remembering that U.S. agriculture is not a monolithic bloc. In some sectors (sugar) the United States is not competitive; in others (wheat, I believe) it is. So, some of these concentrated interests stand to gain from liberalization in agriculture.

So, to sum up: still generally pessimistic, but not as dour as Yglesias.

posted by Dan at 04:55 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (1)

Interesting company I keep at Amazon

So I was clicking on to Amazon to see how my sanctions book was selling. Then I notice this part of the page:

Customers who bought titles by Daniel W. Drezner also bought titles by these authors:

Amartya Sen
Joseph S. Nye Jr.
Niall Ferguson
Bob Woodward

I have no explanation for this -- except for Nye's latest book, I don't think I've cited or discussed the other authors in either the blog or my research. I just thought it was good company to keep.

posted by Dan at 12:50 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 18, 2003

Current events economics on the web

Some "current events" economics worth reading on the web:

1) In Tech Central Station, fellow Chicagoan and blogger Lynne Kiesling has a concise essay on the state of play in electricity regulation and deregulation in the wake of last week's blackout.

2) Via Tyler Cowen, two Washington Times essays -- one by Dan Griswold and one by Bruce Bartlett -- on why the U.S. does not need to fear outsourcing.

3) Brad DeLong has an informative post on the extent to which the U.S. trade deficit is unsustainable. Well, it's informative in that DeLong is honest about what's known and unknown regarding the sustainability of the deficit.

Go check them all out.

posted by Dan at 02:17 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (1)

Trouble brewing for the EU

An awful lot of international relations scholarship is devoted to the European Union, in part because it doesn't look like any other actor in world politics. Is it simply an international organization run by the powerful member states (Germany, France, the U.K.) or is it a genuinely supranational authority with preferences and resources of its own? The IR community remains split on this issue (click here for the "EU is only an international organization" thesis, and here for the "EU is a supranational authority" argument).

However, even die-hard realists had to acknowledge that, with the Euro and the establishment of the Maastricht criteria of fiscal and monetary constraints designed to keep Euro as a viable currency, something different was taking place in Europe. Parallels to antebellum America have been made repeatedly.

I raise all of this because 2004 could provide a crucial test of the EU's internal cohesion, according to the Financial Times:

The European Commission has warned Germany that it could face the imposition of radical restrictions on its domestic fiscal policymaking as early as the beginning of next year if it looks set to exceed the stability pact's deficit limit in 2004.

"If Germany breaches the stability pact's 3 per cent ceiling next year, we will present Ecofin with a new recommendation. It is our duty", said Pedro Solbes, the European Unions's monetary affairs commissioner in an interview with FT Deutschland....

Gerhard Schröder, German chancellor, hinted - in an interview with the FT last month - that a breach of the stability pact for a third year running in 2004 is not ruled out....

If Germany breaches the pact in 2004, EU rules demand that Brussels impose the stability pact's highest political sanction: Ecofin, the council of EU finance ministers, would have the right to impose fiscally binding sanctions against Germany.

Germany is not the only country to face this problem -- France also appears to be in violation of EU rules on this score.

If the European Commission and EcoFin can actually manage to force Germany and France into austerity programs with the threat of fiscal sanctions, then the supranational argument wins the day. If not -- my strong suspicion -- it doesn't completely vitiate the supranational argument, but it comes damn close.


posted by Dan at 12:01 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (3)

Sunday, August 17, 2003

"nerdy, inane and barely grammatical"

The above quote is embedded in an Economist article on various efforts to make a profit in the blogosphere. The full paragraph:

Web logs, known to their users as blogs, are web pages for self-anointed pundits—personal online journals, often updated throughout the day, full of raw, unedited opinions and links to other sites. Most are what one would expect from a new internet medium: nerdy, inane and barely grammatical, and intelligible only to teenage subcultures. But others are erudite and thoughtful—such as, a political commentary. Some are used in business—team members can keep abreast of progress on a project with blogs instead of messy trails of group e-mails. There are blogs for numerous online “communities”, including fat people, vegetarians, and Democratic presidential candidates. By some estimates, 750,000 people now blog, and the number is growing daily.

I should make this my new tagline --, your best source for nerdy, inane and barely grammatical thoughts!!

The article does contain some interesting suggestions on how blogs can generate earnings. One surprise -- no mention of the revenue stream that worked best for Sullivan, the tip jar.

posted by Dan at 05:35 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

The real power of DVDs

The New York Times has not one, not two, but three articles in its Sunday edition on the allure of DVDs. David Kirkpatrick has a front-page page story on who's purchasing DVDs (mostly men) and what they're buying (mostly action movies).

In the Sunday Arts section, Elvis Mitchell discusses DVD's effect on watching films; Emily Nussbaum on its effect on television.

Both the Sunday Arts articles are worth reading, but they focus more on the pleasure of seeing quality works of art with commentary tracks and behind-the-scenes interviews. Far more interesting is the effect of DVD technology on really bad pieces of pop culture ephemera.

Every new film released on DVD now seems to require additional commentaries and interviews. It's fascinating to watch actors, actresses and directors providing high-minded reasons for why they decided to participate in some piece of schlock. In some cases, these efforts are far better acting jobs than what actually appears on the screen.

For an example, rent the DVD to Kiss of the Dragon, a forgettable Jet Li martial arts flick. The DVD includes a priceless conversation in which Bridget Fonda -- a good actress who appeared in some fine films in the 1990s -- explaining with deep conviction why she was artistically attracted to the role of the junkie whore with a heart of gold. Now that was an Oscar-caliber performance.

posted by Dan at 10:47 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)