Saturday, November 1, 2003

An interesting survey and a depressing fact

Via Chris Betram, I found this political compass survey page. Taking the survey, I was shocked, shocked to discover that I'm a economic and social libertarian!!*

At the end of the survey, this page says:

A diverse professional team has assessed the words and actions of globally known figures to give you an idea of how they relate to each other on the political compass.

Here's the chart:


Here's the depressing fact -- not a single political leader listed is in the same quadrant as me (the lower-right one).

Can anyone think of a head of state who would fit in that category?

* For those who care about my exact score: 4.38 on the "Economic Left/Right" axis, and -2.77 on the "Libertarian/Authoritarian" axis.

posted by Dan at 03:16 PM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (3)

A very important post about.... porn

For your weekend reading, I refer you to James Joyner, who takes Naomi Wolf to task for making the following assertion about pornography:

The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as “porn-worthy.” Far from having to fend off porn-crazed young men, young women are worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, their attention.

Garry Trudeau has been making a similar point this week in Doonesbury. To which Joyner responds:

Watching beautiful movie stars with silicon-enhanced breasts romping around naked is interesting. For a while. And then it becomes, while not exactly boring, at least mundane. Seeing a good looking but famous woman nude in a movie or on a computer screen is, for those of us past adolescence, interesting in the way that the Blog Chicks Pix is: it's a curiousity. And, frankly, "More, more, you big stud!" isn't exactly the height of stimulation.

Real women, unlike those on a screen, are, to use a techological term, interactive. They have personalities. Plus, they're, well, corporeal. They're warm. They smell good. They taste good. They laugh at your jokes. And that's not to mention emotional attachment, the ability to share our lives, have babies, and all those other reasons why heterosexual men are drawn to women. Until fantasy gains those qualities, real women have no competition.

Joyner's absolutely right. I mean, after looking at Salma Hayek pics online, it starts to get boring, tedious, mundane.... which is why I'll switch to looking at Alex Kingston pics. And then Ashley Ju-- [we get the idea--ed.].

My point is not to suggest that Joyner's completely off-base -- despite what was just said, I have the same preferences regarding the sensory advantages of real women. However, my sneaking suspicion that some men prefer two-dimensional fantasy to three-dimensional reality. David Amsden makes a similar point in his recent New York Magazine cover story. An example that eerily echoes Wolf:

Over beers recently, a 26-year-old businessman friend shocked me by casually remarking, “Dude, all of my friends are so obsessed with Internet porn that they can’t sleep with their girlfriends unless they act like porn stars.” A 20-year-old college student who bartends at a popular Soho lounge describes how an I-porn-filled adolescence shaped his perceptions of sex. “Looking at Internet porn was pretty much my sex education,” he says. “I mean, in school, it was just, ‘Here’s a gigantic wooden dildo, and now we’re putting a condom on it,’ whereas on the Internet, you had it all. I remember the first time I had sex, my first thought as it was happening was, Oh, this is pornography. It was a kind of out-of-body experience. I was really uncomfortable with sex for a while.” (emphasis on original)

This is not a reason to adopt Andrea Dworkin-style attitudes towards porn, or even Katie Couric-style attitudes for that matter. However, perhaps Hugh Hefner was a bit off-target as well.

Speaking of Hef, in Slate, Laura Kipnis has an interesting cultural appraisal of Playboy on its 50th anniversary and why no one's reading it for the articles anymore. Go check it out.

UPDATE: Sara Butler has some thoughts on the subject at Crescat Sententia here and here. She also wrote a Chicago Maroon story that provides way too much information about campus social practices:

Whether you participated in one yourself, or merely gossiped about it after the fact, welcome to this sexually-liberated campus. No-strings-attached physical encounters have replaced dating, and women in particular have been encouraged to take charge of their own sexuality, which usually means behaving like our worst stereotypes of the promiscuous male.

This is at the University of Chicago??!! Sara also highlights the fact that Protection From Pornography Week just ended.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Michelle argues below that bloggers are equally to blame for the dysfunctional dating scene. Heh. [Of course, she posted that comment at 11:00 PM on a Saturday night!--ed. Yes, and you read it at 11:15 on the same Saturday night. D'oh!!--ed.].

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis has tons of links on the relationship between sex and blogs. Alan K. Henderson points out that those who love porn and those who despise it haved more in common than you would think. Via Lauren's Blog, I found this Cleveland Plain Dealer story about how women are also into Internet porn. This graf must be quoted in full:

The editors of Today's Christian Woman, an evangelical magazine, had heard anecdotes of churchgoing women getting hooked on pornography, so they conducted a survey asking readers of their online newsletter if they had intentionally visited porn sites. Thirty-four percent said they had.

[Three updates in less than twelve hours? You're a machine!--ed. Well, I must confess that I am endowed with what I am told is an extremely large.... appetite for information.]

posted by Dan at 12:05 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (2)

Friday, October 31, 2003

Is this a real story?

The top national story in today's Chicago Tribune, "War contractors are big donors," is about the correlation between those firms receiving reconstruction contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the political contributions such firms made. Here's the first few paragraphs:

Many of the companies that have received some of the nearly $8 billion in reconstruction contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan also have been strong contributors to the Republican Party or have close connections with government officials, a new study by a government watchdog group concluded Thursday.

The report, issued by The Center for Public Integrity, a non-partisan, non-profit investigative group, was the result of a six-month investigation into contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Charles Lewis, executive director of the center, said in a statement that the report reveals "a stench of political favoritism and cronyism surrounding the contracting process in both Iraq and Afghanistan."

The Tribune is not the only paper to run with this -- it's also in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and Washington Post.

If you want to see the whole report, it's available here.

Sounds pretty damning? Well, yes, until you consider the following facts:

  • The report basically equates campaign contributions with cronyism -- in other words, there's no direct evidence of wrongdoing, just a claim that campaign contributions contributed to the allocation of reconstruction contracts. What's presented is circumstantial evidence.

  • Even the circumstantial case is pretty damn weak. Look at the top ten companies in terms of contract amounts (here's the full list) and then look at the size of their campaign contributions since 1990 (here's the full list). If you look at the top ten firms in terms of the size of awarded contracts, you discover that only four of them made contributions greater than $250,000 over the entire twelve-year span. In other words, the majority of the top-ten contractors were actually quite miserly in their campaign contributions.

    Is that how the Center for Public Integrity or the media sees it? Nope. Here's the Washington Post paragraph:

    The winners of the top 10 contracts for work in Iraq and Afghanistan contributed about $1 million a year to national political parties, candidates and political action committees since 1990, according to the group, which studies the links between money and politics.

    This is mathematically true, but overlooks the fact that the overwhelming majority of these contributions come from only three of the firms on the list -- Bechtel, Dell, and Kellog, Brown & Root (yes, they're a subsidiary of Halliburton).

  • As even Josh Marshall -- who thinks this is a story -- pointed out last month:

    [W]hen this much money is flying around, you inevitably get a lot of it steered into friendly hands, even without systematic crony-ization of the whole process. And one hears more and more examples of contracts getting very inexpensive bids from local Iraqi companies, only to end up in the hands of American companies whose bids are an order of magnitude higher. I don't think you have to figure wholesale corruption or even favoritism is taking place, at least not only that. The people who award the contracts are likely acting under provisions which (understandably and rightly) give preferential treatment to American companies. And many of the people making the calls probably have little knowledge of Iraqi society or business practices and thus little way of evaluating the trustworthiness and reliability of local operators.

  • The Center for Public Integrity wants to claim that there's a fire here. Looking over their numbers, I'm not even convinced there's any smoke.

    More on this soon.... and now it's here.

    UPDATE: While the allegations of systemic corruption appear to be bogus, that doesn't mean that the reconstruction process is being efficiently managed. This Newsweek story (hat tip to mc_masterchef for the link) suggests that incompetence is a much bigger problem than malfeasance when it comes to reconstruction. The first two paragraphs:

    Helmut Doll waits. And waits. Doll, the German site manager for Babcock Power, a subcontractor of Siemens, is hoping for the arrival of Bechtel engineers at the Daura power plant, Baghdad’s largest. U.S. construction giant Bechtel has the prime contract, now worth about $1 billion, for restoring Iraq’s infrastructure. That includes Daura, which should supply one third of the city’s generating capacity but today, six months into the U.S. occupation, is producing only 10 percent. “Nobody is working on the turbine,” explains Doll. “Bechtel only came and took photos. We can’t judge Bechtel’s work progress because they’re not here.” Questioned, Bechtel spokesman Howard Menaker says Iraq’s power has to be viewed as “a holistic system”—generation doesn’t have to come from a particular plant—and in recent weeks Bechtel has sent engineers to the site. He also blames the delay on more stringent—or finicky, depending on your point of view—American standards. Menaker said the Daura turbine is “covered with friable asbestos and is right now a hazardous work site.” The company says it has just completed “a protocol for asbestos abatement.”

    Still, It's not easy determining why the biggest power plant in Iraq’s largest city seems to be such a low priority. Baghdad is still beset by blackouts, and so much of America’s success or failure depends on power: the economy can’t recover with-out it. The next logical place to ask is the U.S. Agency for International Development, which gave Bechtel the contract last April. Questioned by NEWSWEEK about Daura, USAID chief Andrew Natsios referred to a priority list drawn up by a coordinating committee under the Coalition Provisional Authority—the chief occupying power—and said he didn’t know where Daura was on it. His aide said the CPA would know. No, Natsios said, he thought Bechtel would know. But Bechtel’s Menaker responded: “We perform the work tasked to us by USAID. We don’t make decisions on priorities. USAID and CPA make those decisions.” Some CPA officials concede privately that the problem stems from the lack of preparation before the war. “It always comes back to the same thing: no plan,” says one CPA staffer. (emphasis added).

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Tom Maguire has a newsbreak on another Center for Public Integrity study.

    posted by Dan at 12:00 PM | Comments (53) | Trackbacks (11)

    Thursday, October 30, 2003

    A note on civility

    While reading Josh Chafetz's take on the Atrios-Luskin dust-up, I came across this Chafetz post from earlier this month on "the norms of civility." These paragraphs are worth repeating:

    Are people really so sure of themselves that they simply cannot acknowledge that anyone who disagrees could be intelligent? Have they no humility whatsoever? Of course we all think we're right -- if we didn't think we were right, we'd change our opinions until we did. Maybe I'm just naive, but it really does amaze me when people claim that everyone who disagrees with them (on topics where general opinion is relatively divided -- I'm not talking about largely uncontroversial opinions like "slavery is wrong") is either malevolent, stupid, or both.

    Why is it so hard to acknowledge that, on almost every issue, there are people on both sides who are both intelligent and well-meaning? That doesn't mean that neither side is right, or that you should give up arguing for your side. It just means paying the other side some respect, listening to their position, trying honestly to grapple with it. I'm not saying that there aren't malevolent and/or stupid people out there -- but they're on both sides of every issue, and on almost no issue is everyone on one side stupid and/or malevolent. It's fine to point out when someone is saying something stupid (or when someone is being malevolent). If they're malevolent and/or stupid often enough, it's fine to conclude that they, as people, are malevolent and/or stupid. But to conclude that everyone who disagrees with you is ipso facto malevolent and/or stupid ... well, I envy your certainty, but you frighten me. That kind of certainty is precisely what extremist movements of all kinds -- left and right -- are made of.


    UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds has an update on the Atrios/Luskin episode that contains a slightly different take.

    [W]hile comments are nice, they do pose a problem. When you have a lot of comments, it's very difficult to police them. I loved The Fray at Slate, -- but it had Moira Redmond riding herd on it full time. What blogger can do that? And the real enemy of a blogger isn't trolls who disagree, but the commenters on "your side" who go over-the-top. And comments sections tend to breed that sort of extreme commentary, it seems. That's not a reason why people shouldn't have comments, necessarily, but it's a downside.

    So you're dissing your own readers now?--ed. Actually, no, because A) 99% of the comments have been civil; and B) None of the readers agrees is on "my side" consistently enough fall into this category. If I had Glenn's traffic, though, I'd probably abstain from having a comments section as well.

    Andrew Northrup has a good post on this as well.

    posted by Dan at 09:03 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (1)

    Wesley Clark, whipping boy of the blogosphere

    David Adesnik and Josh Marshall go after Clark with a vengeance today.

    Adesnik first:

    Wes Clark seems to be blaming Bush for 9/11. No, not Iraq. 9/11. While the Administration has hardly been forthright about the intelligence failures that contributed to the attack, Clark really seems to be going out on a limb.

    In a follow-up post, David thinks that Clark deviated from the written text of the reported speech.

    Meanwhile, Josh Marshall, who was at the speech where Clark made his accusations, has a different beef with the candidate:

    [L]et's be honest: the air's going out of his campaign. In money, in direction, in the polls, at the grass roots.

    In fact, that doesn't even quite capture it. The air's going out of his candidacy because he doesn't have a campaign. Where's the campaign, the strategy, the organization?

    What's surprised me most is that he's managed to do as well as he has over the last six weeks even with the complete lack of direction and organization from Little Rock.

    The operation is being run by an interlocking directorate of folks who can't be bothered to be more than absentee proprietors of the general's campaign. (emphasis in original)


    UPDATE: Marshall has more on Clark.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Mark Kleiman thinks Adesnik's off base:

    Adesnik converts Clark's well-reasoned rebuke of Bush -- for trying to blame the failure to notice that al-Qaeda had plans to use jetliners as missiles on lower-level intelligence personnel -- into the absurd assertion that Bush, rather than bin Laden was responsible for the crime.

    posted by Dan at 11:41 AM | Comments (39) | Trackbacks (1)

    Are gray skies clearing up?

    You could say that the economy picked up a little in the last quarter. The Associated Press reports:

    The economy grew at a scorching 7.2 percent annual rate in the third quarter in the strongest pace in nearly two decades. Consumers spent with abandon and businesses ramped up investment, compelling new evidence of an economic resurgence.

    The increase in gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the economy's performance, in the July-September quarter was more than double the 3.3 percent rate registered in the second quarter, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

    The 7.2 percent pace marked the best showing since the first quarter of 1984. It exceeded analysts' forecasts for a 6 percent growth rate for third-quarter GDP, which measures the value of all goods and services produced within the United States.

    Reason for celebration? Absolutely. Does this mean the economy is going to start generating more jobs? Slate's Daniel Gross is skeptical:

    It would be hard for the economy not to surge when you consider how much money the administration has poured into it in the form of tax cuts and government spending. It remains to be seen whether the economy can produce jobs and growth without continual booster shots, and whether the massive deficits the administration is running will drag down growth for years to come....

    So, we might well be on the cusp of a period of above-trend growth, low interest rates, and booming asset values—the likes of which we haven't seen since, well, the late '90s. Or we may be muddling through an extended period in which we have some good quarters, some bad quarters, and the occasional great one—just as we have for the past few nonbooming years. As the most recent GDP release shows (see Table 1 in the link) the economy has occasionally performed impressively—5 percent growth in the second quarter of 2002 and 4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2002—only to lapse back into subpar numbers. It could be that the third quarter's reputed 6 percent growth, aided substantially by higher government spending, and tax cuts, and rebates, just isn't sustainable.

    Irwin Stelzer also sounds some cautionary notes.

    I understand their wariness, but a closer look at the third-quarter data suggests that much of this concern is misplaced. For example, on the role of government spending, the AP report observes, "Federal government spending, which grew at a 1.4 percent rate, was only a minor contributor to GDP in the third quarter. Spending on national defense was flat."

    Clearly, the tax cuts played a more important role, but the Financial Times suggests that business investment is just as important:

    Growth was led by continued strong consumer activity, aided by low borrowing costs and the Bush administration's tax cuts. Consumer spending rose by 6.6 per cent.

    Business spending rose by 11.1 per cent, the strongest rate of growth since before the dotcom bubble burst. Equipment and software spending led the way, up 15.4 per cent.

    Economists said GDP growth was particularly impressive given the continued fall in inventories, a negative for the headline number.

    "This bodes very well for output in the coming quarter as stocks are replenished," said Adam Cole, strategist at Credit Agricole Indosuez. "Overall, the data are clearly encouraging for growth - not just in the quarter just ended, but also going forward."

    Is 7.2% growth sustainable? of course not. But, if the FT is correct that "growth is expected to cool to about 4 per cent in the final quarter of the year," that is sustainable.

    Hey, if Brad DeLong is optimistic, then so am I.

    UPDATE: James Joyner makes a great point that really applies to all presidents:

    Obviously, if this trend continues, it will help President Bush next November--especially if it manifests in substantial job creation. Does he deserve much credit for the turnaround? No. But, then, he didn't deserve much blame for the preceding slump. Such is politics.


    ANOTHER UPDATE: More good news!! Megan McArdle links to this story, which summarizes this World Economic Forum report, which highlights the comparative strength of the U.S. economy.

    posted by Dan at 11:21 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (5)

    Nation-building in Afghanistan

    The Chicago Tribune reports on the latest success in restoring stability to Afghanistan, courtesy of a British-led Provincial reconstruction team. The vital grafs:

    Sholghara owes its tentative peace to a rare combination of military and humanitarian efforts. In August, British soldiers from the Provincial Reconstruction Team, United Nations officials and top commanders of the two main armed factions in the north, collected about 400 weapons and expelled eight of the most recalcitrant commanders from the valley....

    The innovative approach of the Mazar-e Sharif PRT, one of four such teams of coalition troops in Afghanistan, has won praise from Afghan officials and guarded support from aid groups that initially opposed the teams' creation. It also has made the British PRT a potential model for NATO's expanded peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.

    Instead of building schools and digging wells, as U.S.-led PRTs have done around the country, the British troops in Mazar have concentrated on improving security, leaving reconstruction to humanitarian and aid groups. Among other projects, the PRT is setting up an academy to train local police.

    While the policy of the U.S.-led military coalition has been to track down remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda while steering clear of Afghan factional conflicts--known in military jargon as "green-on-green" fighting--the British soldiers in Mazar spend much of their time helping to resolve disputes between factional leaders and attempting to clear up misunderstandings that could lead to more fighting.

    "If you want to stop factional fighting, you need to get stuck in and help," said Col. Dickie Davis, commander of the British PRT in Mazar. "I regard what we do as fundamental to our mission."

    This follows up on previous Tribune reports indicating that PRTs can succeed in the nitty-gritty of stabilization.

    Given that NATO just decided to expand its stabilization force outside of Kabul, do you think it would be possible to increase the number of PRT's to more than four?

    For those readers skeptical of nation-building -- think of it as town-building.

    posted by Dan at 09:05 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (1)

    Catching up on my correspondence

    Two quick notes for today (go read this Mark Kleiman post for some background):

    Dear Atrios,

    What I said last week about anonymous blogging?

    I take it back.


    Daniel W. Drezner

    Next letter:

    Dear Donald Luskin,

    I have certainly expressed misgivings about Paul Krugman's punditry in the past. I can certainly sympathize with some of your critiques. Hey, I've even linked to some of them.

    But dude, you need to chill. Legal action and the blogosphere do not mix well. At this point, your criticisms of Krugman are so over-the-top that they are counterproductive. Take a day off. Get some perspective.


    Daniel W. Drezner

    P.S. I've glanced through your blog. Intellectually, yes, you're stalking Paul Krugman.

    That's stalking!! STALKING, STALKING, STALKING!!!

    Kevin Drum, Armed Liberal, Brad DeLong, Andrew Sullivan, and Glenn Reynolds also weigh in. Actually, a lot of bloggers weigh in. Atrios follows up here, here, and most amusingly, here.

    UPDATE: NRO's Jonathan Adler, Robert George, and Jonah Goldberg weigh in on Luskin's behavior. I agree wholeheartedly with George:

    Wasn't Don paying attention during the Fox News v. Franken debacle? There's nothing worse than when someone who has a certain amount of success by sharing his opinions in a forceful, straightforward, manner, then running to the lawyers when he feels like he's getting tweaked himself.... Luskin['s] action can't help but garner sympathy for Atrios/Eschaton -- particularly in the blogosphere -- regardless of where someone falls on the political spectrum.

    Goldberg tries to explain Luskin's actions as a result of being new to the medium:

    I feel for the guy. Yes, he was wrong to start Litigating the Eschaton -- which, still, isn't as bad as immanentizing it. But it seems to me he made a classic new-to-the-web blunder. This sort of thing happens when you're new to the hurly-burly argy-bargy of the interent and you think you have to take every little thing seriously....

    The ironic thing is that Krugman himself is a great example of this sort of thin-skinnedness. Remember how he freaked out about Andrew Sullivan's criticism, talking about his site like it was some sort of neo-Nazi compound?

    Goldberg is right about Krugman but dead wrong about Luskin. He's not new to the web. In fact, today is the one-year anniversary of Luskin's blog. In terms of the blogosphere, that's a pretty long time to be around. Long enough to know the very simple rules of the game -- no tears, no legal action.

    posted by Dan at 12:47 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (2)

    Camille Paglia's grandstanding narcissism

    Camille Paglia's latest interview in Salon must be consumed in its entirety to appreciate the title of this post.

    At one point, she characterizes Maureen Dowd as "that catty, third-rate, wannabe sorority queen." I can't read that without a chuckle, because Camille Paglia is Maureen Dowd gone to grad school.

    I mean that with all its positive and negative implications. Paglia's rants are riveting when she talks about celebrity. When she talks about politics the first two adjectives that come to mind are "inane" and "dyspeptic."

    Oh, and here's her take on blogs:

    The Web has also dealt a fatal blow to the culture of stardom because isolated types can now instantly express and exhibit their conflicts and find fellow sufferers around the world through the Web. But e-mail is evanescent. And the blog form is, in my view, the decadence of the Web. I don't see blogs as a new frontier but as a falling backwards into word-centric print journalism -- words, words, words!....

    Blog reading for me is like going down to the cellar amid shelves and shelves of musty books that you're condemned to turn the pages of. Bad prose, endless reams of bad prose! There's a lack of discipline, a feeling that anything that crosses one's mind is important or interesting to others. People say that the best part about writing a blog is that there's no editing -- it's free speech without institutional control. Well, sure, but writing isn't masturbation -- you've got to self-edit.

    Now and then one sees the claim that Kausfiles was the first blog. I beg to differ: I happen to feel that my Salon column was the first true blog. My columns had punch and on-rushing velocity. They weren't this dreary meta-commentary, where there's a blizzard of fussy, detached sections nattering on obscurely about other bloggers or media moguls and Washington bureaucrats. I took hits at media excesses, but I directly commented on major issues and personalities in politics and pop culture.

    If bloggers want to break out of their ghetto, they've got to acquire a sense of drama and theater as well as a flair for language. Why else should anyone read them? And the Web in my view is a visual medium -- I don't log on to be trapped on a muddy page crammed with indigestible prose....

    No major figure has emerged yet from the blogs -- Andrew Sullivan was already an established writer before he started his. A blog should sound conversational and be an antidote to the inept writing in most of today's glossy magazines. (emphasis added)

    It is truly breathtaking to see someone take down the genre she claims to have invented. Paglia joins Darrell Hammond as the only people to successfully mimic Al Gore. Or, to use the pungent prose Paglia prefers:

    [W]ho needs to be desirable to others when you've got a big fat love affair with yourself to tend to.... Maybe that wasn't writing as masturbation, but I think it at least qualifies as a dry hump.


    UPDATE: Mickey Kaus and Andrew Sullivan offer their takes on the Paglia interview.

    posted by Dan at 12:03 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, October 29, 2003

    Inside the numbers on U.S. foreign aid

    Tyler Cowen at the Marginal Revolution links to Carol Adelman's new Foreign Affairs essay, "The Privatization of Foreign Aid: Reassessing National Largesse." The key paragraph:

    All in all, the United States is the most generous. In addition to giving more foreign aid, in absolute terms, than any other country, it has long provided the most foreign direct investment to the developing world and generated the bulk of the world's research and development, spurring long-lasting economic development and saving lives through better food and medication. The United States also contributes the most militarily, guaranteeing the security necessary for growth and democracy. The big point--that the totality of U.S. foreign assistance far exceeds U.S. ODA [official development assistance]--corrects the criticism that the United States is stingy in giving abroad.

    Pejman Yousefzadeh and Glenn Reynolds, reading Tyler, conclude that the U.S. is the most generous nation in the world.

    Longtime blog readers are aware that I agree with much in quoted paragraph, which was why I took the Center for Global Development (CGD) to task for calling the U.S. a miser earlier this year. However, my Tech Central Station article on this -- which did get results from the Center for Global Development -- did not mention the factoring in of private aid flows as a measure of generosity. On this, Adelman says:

    [A] conservative estimate, based on surveys and voluntary reporting, puts annual private giving around $35 billion. Even this low-ball figure is more than three and a half times the amount of official development assistance (ODA) given out in a year by the U.S. government. (emphasis added)

    Was I just thick-headed in not raising this point? Well, no. If you read p. 32 of the primary technical paper that supported the CGD rankings -- they do deal with this:

    A recent argument from the U.S. government in defense of its aid policies is that the United States, while a relatively stingy supplier of official aid, is a huge source of private charitable contributions to developing countries (USAID, 2003), which ought to be weighed in any comparison of donors. Much of this flow is tax deductible and/or tax exempt in the United States, and so is a credit to U.S. policy. The U.S. Agency for International Development estimates these flows at $15.6–23.7 billion per year (USAID, 2003, p. 146).

    To judge the importance of this consideration, we experimented with treating these flows as if they were an increment to aid—in the case of the United States only. We treated them as aid that is completely untied and allocated with the same administrative cost and selectivity as official U.S. aid. The effect.... left its rank unchanged at 20 [out of 21 countries]. (emphasis added)

    Now, the key question is whether private aid flows are in the $15-23 billion range -- which don't seem to affect the rankings all that much -- or are nearly double that at $35 billion -- which one would expect to have a more appreciable effect. I went to the referred source, USAID's "Foreign Aid in the National Interest," specifically Chapter 6, p. 146. What I found is that Adelman's figure is accurate if you include foreign remittances, and the CGD's figure is correct if you don't include them.

    Remittance flows are clearly important, but counting them as examples of American generosity strikes me as a bit off-kilter. Americans aren't remitting this money -- foreign nationals are. The U.S. deserves a measure of credit for permitting foreign workers into the country and sending money back -- indeed, I agree with Tyler Cowen that remittances are, "the most effective welfare programs ever devised." However, this policy is of a different kind than either public or private aid.

    I don't think Adelman is incorrect in her core thesis. But lumping remittances in with charity flows exaggerates the generosity of Americans as a people.

    posted by Dan at 06:23 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (7)

    Links on Latin America

    Wondering how I know what I know about Latin America in my latest TNR Online piece?

    For my gloomy mood on the Bush administration's foreign economic policy, see my previous TNR Online column on "hypocritical liberalization." On the current state of the WTO, Philippe Legrain sounds a pessimistic note (subscription required).

    A good source on Brazil's behavior during the WTO and FTAA talks is Peter Hakim's Financial Times op-ed on Brazil's trade policy from a few weeks ago. Hakim is the president of the Inter-American Dialogue, which is a fine source on the politics and economics of Latin America. For example, their report on "The Troubled Americas" is typical of the concern mounting about Latin America's direction. On the rise of more market-suspicious leaders, see this St. Petersburg Times news analysis.

    On Bolivia being an example for the anti-globalization movement, see this New York Times article, from earlier this month, entitled "Bolivia's Poor Proclaim Abiding Distrust of Globalization." Here's an even more effusive account from earlier this year.

    Here's a link to the Washington Post editorial cited in the column. The information on Mexico came straight from Virginia Postrel's first-person account of a speech by former Mexican Finance Minister Francisco Gil Diaz.

    Never heard of the 1879-1884 War in the Pacific involving Chile, Bolivia, and Peru? Shame on you, and click here. On the notion that there has been a new solidarity among indigenous third world peoples, see Moises Naim's latest in Foreign Policy.

    The RAND Corporation has some economic analyses demonstrating the futility of pursuing a supply-side strategy in the war on drugs. Here's one from 1993; here's another from 2001.

    Finally, Winds of Change has a link-rich briefing on the latest in Latin America. Go check it out.

    posted by Dan at 01:10 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (1)

    Remember Latin America?

    All those readers who suspected that I'd lost track of the global political economy while refereeing debates on Iraq will feel better by checking out my latest New Republic Online essay. It's on globalization and Latin America. Go check it out.

    posted by Dan at 11:56 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, October 28, 2003

    Defending the idle rich?


    David Brooks has argued repeatedly that Americans do not begrudge the rich. I'd qualify that statement a bit -- during tough economic times, Americans will begrudge those who are born rich.

    My evidence? Consider the imminent onslaught of popular culture devoted to the idle rich. According to Newsweek:

    Could anyone be this stupid? Thank heavens, yes. [Nicole] Richie (Lionel’s daughter) and [Paris] Hilton (the hotel heiress) are the stars of Fox’s “The Simple Life,” which like all TV shows steals its concept—in this case, it’s “Green Acres” with two real “celebutants” filling the stilettos of one Gabor. “The Simple Life” debuts in December, and it already looks like the next reality-TV phenom. By then, we’ll be well primed by a slew of rich people behaving badly. Later this month MTV will launch “Rich Girls,” which follows Tommy Hilfiger’s daughter, Ally, and her spoiled friends as they navigate high school from the back of a limo. And HBO will air a documentary called “Born Rich,” in which Ivanka Trump, Georgina Bloomberg, magazine heir S. I. Newhouse IV and others discuss the burdens of inherited wealth.

    Maureen Ryan writes in the Chicago Tribune that there's an excellent reason for this new-found attention:

    Why do people watch reality TV, if not to judge others? Who's easier to judge than someone who was born with millions? This time, "the twist" is that nobody has to win stacks of money -- they just have to prove that having it doesn't make them jerks. The fun part is, you and I get to be the jury.

    Passing judgment on the foibles of the rich is nothing new; since the Gilded Age, there's been a whole subset of journalism devoted to exposing -- or is it reveling in? -- the lifestyles of the rich and richer. The fact that the economy is stuck in neutral and that good jobs are hard to find makes the overcompensated especially tempting targets for TV voyeurs. We get to both envy their megabucks lifestyles and judge the frivolity of them all at once. Paris Hilton in a pig pen? Bring it on, especially if she's wearing Versace.

    Another example: this faux Hilton sisters blog -- at least, I think it's a faux blog.

    These pop culture sneers do reveal a libertarian dilemma: to put it delicately, defending the right of the idle rich to inherit their wealth in its entirety is one of the knottier positions to advocate in public. This resentment of the inheriting class is particularly acute during a slow economy. It's easy to defend property rights in the abstract. It's harder to defend the property rights of those who are perceived to be dumb-ass dilettantes.

    Take me. Readers of this blog know that I think concerns about economic inequality are misplaced. However, whenever I see a promo for the Hilton sisters on television, I find myself reflexively muttering under my breath, "they'll be the first ones up against the wall when the revolution comes." [Even when they're dressed like this?--ed. Bad, distracting editor!! Besides, they don't hold a candle to my celebrity of choice.]

    Beyond the philosophical arguments in favor of property rights and against double taxation, are there pragmatic reasons to say that the sneering towards those who inherit vast sums of money is misplaced?

    Oddly enough, Timothy Noah provides a partial answer in a series of Chatterbox columns during the debate over the estate tax, posted here, here, here, and here. I say this is odd because Noah starts off saying:

    Chatterbox won't dispute that some people who inherit vast sums of wealth devote their lives to contemplation and philanthropy. But based on Chatterbox's glimpses of the "I inherited so much money that I'll never have to work" set, enlightened magnificos constitute a very small fraction, and are dwarfed by the number of head cases, drug addicts, and rustic dropouts.

    However, as Noah dug deeper into the question, he found mixed evidence for this assertion. There is limited evidence that inherited wealth contributes to social and psychological dysfunction. However, Noah also quotes the following from The Millionaire Next Door:

    On average, [parental] gift receivers donate significantly more to charity than do others in the same income categories. For example, gift receivers who have annual household incomes in the $100,000 category normally donate just under 6 percent of their annual incomes to charitable causes. The general population in this income category donates only about 3 percent. Gift receivers give in proportions that are much like those of households with annual incomes in the $200,000 to $400,000 bracket.

    One final thought: after watching "Born Rich," it was harder to sneer at these people. Of the 12 individuals in the "Born Rich" documentary, I saw one raging asshole, three or four obnoxious but potentially redeemable personalities, and seven or eight nice but slightly withdrawn individuals. Drag a random dozen people in off the street, I'm betting you get the same distribution. It's true that the inheriting class has done nothing to "earn" their millions. But the people off the street haven't either.

    There are valid arguments in favor of keeping an estate tax, and I'm not unsympathetic to all of them. However, part of me wonders if those sympathies are driven in part by our culture's occasional tendency to ridicule the idle rich.

    Just a thought.

    UPDATE: Jay Drezner has some thoughts on this issue.

    posted by Dan at 10:23 AM | Comments (53) | Trackbacks (2)

    Monday, October 27, 2003

    Rumsfeld gets results from Ray Odierno!!

    At one point in the much-discussed Rumsfeld memo, the Secretary of Defense asks:

    Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?

    From the Associated Press:

    The commander of the Army's Fourth Infantry Division in Tikrit, Iraq, is measuring success in dollars.

    Major General Ray Odierno (oh-dee-EHR'-noh) says relentless pressure from coalition forces is making it more expensive for insurgents to fund attacks, and forcing them to change their tactics.

    He says when the Fourth Infantry arrived in Iraq, people were paid 100 dollars to attack coalition forces, and 500 dollars if they were successful. Now, he says attackers are demanding up to two-thousand dollars just to attack.

    Odierno says the price has gone up because fewer people are willing to attack U-S forces head on -- afraid of taking a lot of casualties. He expects to see more roadside bombings and more attacks on civilian targets like the Red Cross, which was targeted today.

    Thanks to Tom Holsinger & Trent Telenko for the link.

    UPDATE: Phil Carter and Kevin Drum are not as sanguine. Calpundit conclusion rings true:

    The lesson he [Bush] needs to learn isn't from 1992, it's from 1968. The public didn't turn against the Vietnam War because we lost the Tet Offensive — in fact, it was a considerable military victory — but because Tet made it obvious that our leaders had been lying about how much progress we were making. Americans may not mind a "long, hard slog," but they do mind a president who seems willfully out of touch with reality.

    Bush and his advisors risk the same fate as LBJ unless they publicly acknowledge that the situation in Iraq is serious and then provide some sense that they have a realistic plan for turning things around. I don't doubt that internally they understand this, but their happy talk PR campaign gives no sign of it, and they're going to pay a price if they keep it up.

    Alex Massie has further thoughts on the subject.

    posted by Dan at 05:39 PM | Comments (85) | Trackbacks (2)

    Drezner to the right: stop whining about media bias

    In my previous post, a devoted reader posted the following comment:

    President Bush will be opposed by the eventual Democrat nominee (most probably Howard Dean)---and the hostile liberal media. The latter subconsciously see it as their duty to assist the Democrats. I am convinced that George W. Bush has an 80% chance of being reelected, but it would be 95% if the “mainstream” media weren’t out to destroy him.

    Now, this is a frequent lament for those on my side of the aisle. And it will not be an easy one to give up when it ceases to be true.

    So I suspect that conservatives will encounter some trepidation reading the latest City Journal article from Brian Anderson, "We’re Not Losing the Culture Wars Anymore." The first paragraph:

    The Left’s near monopoly over the institutions of opinion and information—which long allowed liberal opinion makers to sweep aside ideas and beliefs they disagreed with, as if they were beneath argument—is skidding to a startlingly swift halt. The transformation has gone far beyond the rise of conservative talk radio, that, ever since Rush Limbaugh’s debut 15 years ago, has chipped away at the power of the New York Times, the networks, and the rest of the elite media to set the terms of the nation’s political and cultural debate. Almost overnight, three huge changes in communications have injected conservative ideas right into the heart of that debate. Though commentators have noted each of these changes separately, they haven’t sufficiently grasped how, taken together, they add up to a revolution: no longer can the Left keep conservative views out of the mainstream or dismiss them with bromide instead of argument. Everything has changed.

    You should read the whole article, but to suym up: Anderson's three seismic changes are:

  • The proliferation of cable (the intriguing combination of Fox News and South Park);

  • The right half of the blogosphere;

  • Conservatve publishing houses such as Regnery Books and the Free Press.
  • For good measure, Anderson adds the following:

    There’s another reason that conservative books are selling: the emergence of conservative talk radio, cable TV, and the Internet. This “right-wing media circuit,” as Publishers Weekly describes it, reaches millions of potential readers and thus makes the traditional gatekeepers of ideas—above all, the New York Times Book Review and the New York Review of Books, publications that rarely deign to review conservative titles—increasingly irrelevant in winning an audience for a book.

    So does this mean that conservatives need to quit whining about media bias? Not exactly. Anderson's closing:

    Here’s what’s likely to happen in the years ahead. Think of the mainstream liberal media as one sphere and the conservative media as another. The liberal sphere, which less than a decade ago was still the media, is still much bigger than the non-liberal one. But the non-liberal sphere is expanding, encroaching into the liberal sphere, which is both shrinking and breaking up into much smaller sectarian spheres—one for blacks, one for Hispanics, one for feminists, and so on.

    It’s hard to imagine that this development won’t result in a broader national debate—and a more conservative America.

    I'm too suspicious of a free lunch to be told that I can bitch about media bias even though things are improving in my favor. However, I'm sure we will find such cake-eating in our trusty comments section.

    UPDATE: For stories related to this topic, check out Jeff Jarvis' post about Roger Ailes, and then Glenn Reynolds' summary of a bloggercon panel. The key graf:

    : The Democratic candidates are kicking the ass of the Republicans in terms of Presidential campaign blogging, and use of the Internet generally. Dean especially. The Dean people have figured out that you can get power on the Internet by giving up control. The Bush people -- partly because they're incumbents, partly by philosophy -- are still very big on control. So, in varying degrees, are the other Democratic candidates, and I heard quite a few stories of Edwards turning away offers of help from the likes of Oliver Willis. Foolish.

    posted by Dan at 04:49 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (2)

    Why I'll never be the RNC chairman

    Last night I participated in an online interactive chat at John Hawkins' Right Wing News. The other participants were Steve Martinovich, the editor and chief of Enter Stage Right, Bryan Preston from JunkYardBlog, and Mike Hendrix from Cold Fury.

    Here's the link to "A Blogger Symposium On The 2004 Election." Go check it out.

    You might notice I'm the most pessimistic of the bunch. Bearing in mind my track record on predicting elections, however, I'd listen to the others more carefully.

    posted by Dan at 11:08 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (1)

    Sunday, October 26, 2003

    The division of labor in the blogosphere

    Tyler Cowen comes to the following conclusion after dinner with Glenn Reynolds:

    Glenn is so successful because he understands the idea of blogs as portals. (This is my view, not Glenn's own self-description.) Blogs that offer too much of the author, and the author alone, are vulnerable to other blogs that cream-skim them, and other blogs, thereby offering the superior product. The question is not who can write the best stuff, but who can collect the best stuff, and comment on it most effectively. Really smart people are not always used to these terms of competition, I might add. The future of blogging lies in the hands of those who recognize the intellectual and literary division of labor. (emphasis in original)

    The greater the number of blogs, the greater the importance of "portal blogs," such as Glenn's.

    This has prompted a fair amount of angry reaction in the blogosphere. Will Baude summarizes the objections nicely:

    Pardon, but an RSS feed can do that. The reason I don't read Instapundit is that I don't particularly agree with Glenn Reynolds about what's wheat and what's chaff....

    Sure, there's a place for aggregator blogs like Instapundit (or more critically How Appealling). But if you're trying to make your way in the blogosphere, it's better to offer an occasional portal to the truly obscure and a lot of original, sound, and hard-hitting analysis.

    The problem with this debate is that it's not an "either-or" situation. A while back I wrote that there were two types of blogs:

    First, some blogs can act as focal points for information provision. Now, by definition, there can only be one or two focal points. Glenn Reynolds generally acts as one for bloggers. During concentrated crises -- Josh Marshall in the case of Trent Lott's downfall, or Kelley for Operation Iraqi Freedom -- others can spring up. These blogs serve the useful purpose of collecting and distributing already available information to interested readers. In doing so, these individuals help to frame and propel debates of the day. They also reduce search costs for the rest of us....

    Second, most bloggers provide value added in the form of criticism and commentary. We don't generate new facts so much as put already existing facts into a larger framework. We then look at other people who do this and comment and critique their efforts. This is my comparative advantage, at least.

    A glance at the Blogosphere Ecosystem suggests this division of labor is more stable than Cowen's post suggests. Consider the top ten blogs:

    1. Instapundit
    2. Eschaton (Atrios)
    3. Talking Points Memo
    4. Daily Kos / Political State Report
    5. The Truth Laid Bear
    6. Andrew Sullivan
    7. Little Green Footballs
    8. CalPundit
    9. USS Clueless
    10. The Volokh Conspiracy

    I'd characterize five of these blogs (Instapundit, Atrios, Daily Kos, N.Z. Bear, and LGF) as primarily portals or focal points. The other five (Marshall, Sullivan, Drum, Den Beste, and Volokh) are more commentary than portal. [C'mon, Atrios and Glenn offer commentary!--ed. Yes, but I'm using a simple dichotomy. Drudge would be an example of the perfect portal, but beyond him most blogs have a mix of links and commentary.] Given that by definition one would predict portal blogs to be clustered among the top ten, it looks like commentary blogs aren't going anywhere.

    If you think about, this makes sense, and like most divisions of labor improves the productivity of both sides. Without commentary blogs, there would be less of a demand for the skills required to be a portal blog. Without portals, those specializing in commentary would face higher search costs in developing their topics and arguments.

    Baude is also correct that newcomers to the blogosphere will have to go the commentary route. For example, here's a new blog that's worth checking out, especially for Californians. I particularly like this post critiquing Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

    posted by Dan at 02:29 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (4)

    Some minor historical revisionism

    Peter Wallison has an op-ed in today's New York Times exhorting George W. Bush to be like President Reagan (Wallison was Reagan’s counsel in 1986 and 1987). The key sections:

    Early in his first term, Mr. Reagan faced very similar pressures: his economic program was not yet producing the promised results, and his foreign policy — in that case, his confrontational approach to the Soviet Union — was criticized by the Democrats and the press and opposed by most Europeans and their governments....

    In February 1982, with public support slipping, Mr. Reagan wrote in his diary: "I'm convinced of the need to address the people on our budget and the economy. The press has done a job on us and the polls show its effect. The people are confused about [our] economic program. They've been told it has failed and it's just started."

    With a midterm election less than a year away, Republicans in Congress were restive. The prevailing economic theory of the time was that deficits would cause high interest rates, prolonging the recession. Howard Baker, the Republican leader in the Senate, called Mr. Reagan's tax policies a "riverboat gamble." After meeting with Republican Congressional leaders on Feb. 23, Mr. Reagan wrote in his diary, "they are really antsy about the deficit and seem determined that we must retreat on our program — taxes and defense spending."

    In retrospect, Ronald Reagan's stand on principle seems an easy choice, since he was re-elected in 1984 in a landslide. But in the dark days of 1982 it took unusual tough-mindedness. And while it is true that he was re-elected in part because Americans had begun to see the success of his economic policies, there is also no question that voters liked his attachment to principle in hard times. It was as rare then as it is now to find a politician who actually believed in something.

    Three thoughts on this:

    1) Wallison doesn't need to worry about Bush acting like Reagan on sticking to his principles. As I pointed out in August, stubborness is simultaneously Bush's greatest strength and greatest weakness as president.

    2) Wallison also engages in a bit of revisionist myth-making. It's certainly true that Reagan stood firm on foreign policy issues. However, in the wake of deficit projections in 1982, Ronald Reagan signed the largest tax increase in history a year after enacting the largest tax cuts in history. In other words, Reagan didn't stick to his principles as much as Wallison alleges.

    3) Wallsion's advice is of cold comfort to Bush. Reagan's low point came at the midway point of his first term. Two years later, in 1984, the economy had recovered to the point where Reagan was able to win 49 of 50 states. The point is, Reagan's trough came early enough in his presidency to ride out.

    For Bush, the window for such a turnaround is shorter. The current election is only a year away. While the economy is growing, net job creation remains anemic at best. My hunch is that the economy will pick up steam, but that may be too late for it to be an asset to the Bush campaign.

    The aftermath of a brilliant military victory in Iraq is proving messier than many thought, and the economy is still sluggish. At this point none of the Democratic contenders looks like a particularly formidable candidate against President Bush. However, winning primaries can often generate gravitas on its own.

    Wallison wants everyone to think it's 1982 all over again. The problem is, it may be 1991 instead.

    UPDATE: Drezner gets results from Bruce Bartlett!!

    posted by Dan at 10:42 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)